Elspeth Probyn – Outside Belongings

outsidebelong

Elspeth Probyn, Outside Belongings, Routledge, 1996.

What is the ‘outside belongings’? What does Probyn try to describe with the notion? How do the ‘outside’ and the ‘belongings’ comes together and why? To begin with, instead of identity politics, Probyn defines her study of body and desire as the “sociology of the skin” (5) in which the sensibilities are underscored and “being captured by other manners of being and desires for becoming-other” (5) is the object of the study. In the sense that desire for becoming-other is what she calls “belonging,” her strategy seems to be oriented toward outside of subjective bodies. In other words, her body politics is, first of all, more focusing on something other than inner being – psychological understanding of the self.  The fact that she emphasizes the notions of skin, outside, or surface reminds us of what Fredric Jameson sees as the features of postmodernism: flatness, depthlessness, superficiality etc. As if there’s nothing inside the body, once all the postmodern theories have posed the question of outside, surface, and skin. In this sense, she might be a postmodern theorist of body.

However, her strategy is not simply what is called the postmodern, which sneers any attempts to grasp social or historical meaning of things, since her argument does not lie in praising the glamorous and superficial surface. Rather, she wants to “focus on the ways in which the surface presupposes a rendering visible of the forces which constitute the outside and the inside as dichotomous” (12). Moreover, she argues that “the outside … is more adequate figure for thinking about social relations and the social than either an interior/exterior or a center/marginal model” (11).

As Probyn acknowledges it, this kind of politics of surface (or outside) is derived mainly from Deleuze’s philosophy of body, desire and difference as well as Deleuzian feminist, Elizabeth Grosz. Deleuze regards the inner self (or subjectivity) – if we have to call so – as a sort of folded outside. Put it differently, the self as independent from the social does not exist, and if the self exists, it does in the way in which the social body is internalized, reflected, or articulated in individual bodies. Thus, for Deleuze, the clear distinction of interior and exterior of body is illusionary, and in Spinozian sense, there is no discontinuity between individual body and social body. Consequently, “rendering surface” or “surfacing” comes to be the important process, because the surface is the space where various social forces are produced and become visible. The surface can also be regarded as a network where we connect different positions and desires and where singularities emerge through the relations of proximity.

In this context, her notion of belonging can be read as a desire of becoming-other, the restless process “in-between being and longing” (35). And this belonging is happening on the surface of connections – or outside of the interior self – where diverse forces are transverse. Thus, the puzzling title of the book, “outside belongings” can be understood through an image of a network on which singular (queer?) desire to be connected with other singular desires. Probyn traces the process of outside belongings through the mixture of her autobiographic narrative and other queer and postcolonial texts. While she is theoretically concerned with the singularity of lesbian desire, her project is related with the rewriting of queer writings – she does queer politics and queer literary criticism simultaneously. But how can queer politics of surface be linked to queer fiction – storytelling of self? Will the journey of body and desire written and narrated in the fictional form give us a new way of life, a new style to think about our lives? What is the effect of this kind of theoretical practice after more than a decade of experiments? 

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