During her seminar on “Freud to Klein: Death Drive, Plesure, Ethics” at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry (The New School), Judith Butler pointed to the fact that “push” might be a better translation of the German “Trieb”, a term largely elaborated by Sigmund Freud and deeply significant for Butler’s critical update to the theory of so-called drives.
I had planned to do Aaliyah at Union Square as a non-religious return to the Jewishness my family was denied by the Inquisition and that I am now denied by institutional Judaism. I wanted to convert historical cleansing in a declaration of spiritual queerness at the heart of diaspora New York has been since the late 19th century. However, after the Orlando mass killing of gay and trans people mainly from Puerto Rico, a crowd gathered in Union Square to mourn the victims and I felt like the action I had in mind should be postponed.
I knew, however, that I didn’t want to leave New York without doing something about returning or turning something back in non-violent ways, so I invited all the fellows at The New School seminars to join me in a collective performance called Push. I prompted them to do whatever action they wished on me without causing my death or permanent damage. Actions ranged from kissing and cheerful dancing to light spanking, from writing on my skin to throwing wine on me. As my objectification became more and more clear, a certain malaise could be felt in the air. Most witnesses were caught by surprise as I started returning the actions to the ones who had acted them on me, albeit in a non-violent way and through diverse interpretive operations. The poignancy it generated in an academic setting was probably the most notable strength of the action. A few days later, I got some email messages from witnesses ackowledging the impact it had had on them; and one of them even mentioned the way it made her recall her relatives’ stories of survival to the Shoah. In a certain way, Push had become something of a new Aaliyah for her.