Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Eric Clarke’s “The Citizen’s Sexual Shadow,” March 2, 2008

This is the forty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the fourth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

2 March 2008

Summary of Eric Clarke’s “The Citizen’s Sexual Shadow”


Clarke uses Kant’s philosophical promotion of marriage within “sexual commerce” to critique the recent shift in the gay and lesbian community towards the right of marriage as well as question how same-sex sex may fit into a modification of Kant’s philosophy on the sexual citizen.

Clarke works through Kant’s philosophy of non-objectivity as essential to human subjectivity.  The uniquely human objectification of others for sexual pleasure can be dealt with/neutralized through marriage.  For Kant, “sexual inclination…is a necessary animal aspect of humans” (114).  However, it is an aspect that must be challenged through rationalization and moral choices lest one “become less than human” (114).  For Kant, the solution to that is heterosexual marriage.  Within marriage, each person gives his/herself to the other, and thereby reclaims the self.  Therefore, objectification is rendered moot within the realm of heterosexual marriage, which promotes human dignity in a human economy of value totally separate from a baser economy governing the inhuman (e.g., same-sex sex).

Kant’s philosophical system promotes a universal equality within heterosexual marriage.  However, it should be noted that this fits into an Enlightenment metanarrative of heteronormativity ad an idealized Romantic love signified by heterosexual marriage.  Within this promulgation of Enlightenment thinking and the categorization of the human, Kant combines civic values (e.g., citizenship and enfranchisement), and sexual values (e.g., heteronormativity and marriage).

Clarke attacks Kant’s philosophy based on the latter’s grammatical formulation in the subjunctive mood, which for Kant ensures each marriage partner is a sexual object of possession to the other partner as well as property owner in his/her own right of the other, which is integral to Kant’s idea of human subjectivity.  Furthermore, Clarke takes Kant to task over his employment of the categorical imperative, which universalizes a moral law if it ca be conceived by a rational agent as a moral law.

In the concluding “Citizen Slut” section, it’s fascinating how well Kant aligns with the recent rhetoric of gays and lesbians who desire a normalizing right to marriage.  Larry Kramer and Bruce Bower are shown to repeat and reinforce a Kantian view of sexual economies equating same-sex promiscuity and fluid sexuality as negative and that only through same-sex marriage can those persons, as Kramer states, “‘honor ourselves and our relationships and our innate humanness, beyond just our sex’” (qtd. in Clarke 122).

Clarke brings up some significant questions in his conclusion.  He asks, “Can there be a right to sex or a sexual citizen other than through marriage” (123)?  He questions the universality of Kantian moral-civil subjectivity and wonders if relying on communal norms might be a better solution.  Also, how far can/should equality go–“Should equality be abstract and formal, to allow greater autonomy, or more substantive, so as to recognize difference” (123)?  With these questions, he seeks to find a solution beyond Kantian moral philosophy, which is clearly hitched to heteronormativity grounded in the larger project of post-Enlightenment modernity.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.