Waste of Identity: The Activist Who Never Existed

A conversation with Leo Bersani and others, building upon Bjarne Melgaard's work, exploring questions of gay identity, activism, and militancy


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions



Jean-Michel Rabaté, Aaron Levy


Department of English, University of Pennsylvania, Bjarne Melgaard Studio, Greene Naftali Gallery

Opens to public



50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Waste of identity: the activist who never existed," an evening conversation with Leo Bersani, Jonathan Katz, and Kaja Silverman, moderated by Jean-Michel Rabaté, on Thursday, October 6, 2011 from 6:30-8pm at Slought.

The conversation at Slought takes Bjarne Melgaard's filmed interview with the gay theoretician and cultural critic Leo Bersani as a point of departure. Melgaard's film emerged from a seminar he led for arts students at the University Iuav of Venice (joined by Bersani in the last week of the semester). During the seminar and in this film, Melgaard and Bersani raise such questions as: What is the nature of gay activism today? Is the militancy advocated by Melgaard a viable course of action? Has the idea of a gay identity become obsolete? Might it be possible to be both for and against gay marriage? Can psychoanalysis play a significant role in queer theory? What do you think "being queer" means?

Please note that a special screening of Bjarne Melgaard's Bjarne Melgaard Interviews Leo Bersani (2011) will be held from 2-3:45pm, and from 4-5:45pm, courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery, New York. Selected passages from the film will also precede the evening discussion. This will be the first screening of the film since it was shown in the Norwegian pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

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"Directing our attention back to the late urban culture of the 1980s, when pre-relational practices such as transgressive literature, sex workerism, punk feminism, s/m, and "death porn" captivated the Foucault-reading brains and bodies of downtown Manhattan and San Francisco, Melgaard at the same time performs a sort of archaeology of the present, tracing the lineage of a gay terrorist movement that never happened. Asking why we missed the board, Melgaard shows no love for the white-collar activism of ACT UP or for the legalization of gay marriage.

The manic antagonism that drives his practice is steeped in a melancholic vision of the way contemporary culture absorbs and neutralizes any insurrectional desire almost instantly. So he's made an installation against installations, founded on a workshop about death, and opened up a speculative space--under the sign of the baton sinister, a medieval heraldic emblem signifying illegitimacy--that abandons all hope of integration within neoliberal society, as well as any fear of the end of neoliberalism's normalizing humanism."

-- John Kelsey, "The Ignorant Schoolmaster" in Artforum, September 2011