Feminine Singularity
The Politics of Subjectivity in Nineteenth-Century Literature
Ronjaunee Chatterjee



TO BE “SINGULAR” IS usually understood to be one and only one. Yet the grounds of what makes anyone a one—a subject and an individual—are multiple, fractured, and contested. Across nineteenth-century literature, we find feminine figures who chafe against a picture of individuation as predetermined oneness that folds into some larger calculation: women and sisters who are similar and alike but not the same (Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” Charles Baudelaire’s “The Little Old Ladies”), and lyric speakers and girl protagonists who cannot be read as “one” through the contours in place for making oneness and difference legible (Lewis Carroll’s Alice books). These figures of femininity testify to philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s observation that “there is no pure and simple ‘one.’1 Drawing on the strangeness and richness of these literary models for understanding likeness, difference, and oneness anew, I offer the term “singularity” to describe a model of subjectivity—particularly feminine subjectivity—grounded in what is partial, contingent, and in relation rather than what is merely “alone.” Feminine Singularity turns to a range of nineteenth-century and contemporary literary texts that grapple with the ongoing violence of a Western liberal imaginary (which is necessarily imperialist and capitalist) to construct different paths to subjectivity and to gender that do not rely on empirical notions of selfhood anchored by the term “identity.” It is my understanding throughout this book that literary-theoretical methods of interpretation remain vital to scripting a vision of singular subjectivity that could exceed identitarian models of gendered personhood in the present.

In “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (1978), Black feminist theorist Audre Lorde deploys a theory of the erotic as an internal “measure” of excellence and an “electric charge” that lives outside the exchange value of a capitalist system of labor.2 This kinetic source of one’s unique sense of pleasure and striving is importantly nonsubstitutable, even though its energies are driven toward a sharing between women. Lorde prioritizes the sharing of the erotic—however beautiful and pleasurable or fraught—as structuring the conditions of possibility for greater political and social justice that might have been functionally impossible: for “joint concerted actions not possible before.”3 Yet she is also careful to note that the “erotic cannot be felt secondhand,” that it can and should be shared, but not reproduced through an economy of profit and gain. It is this quality or “kernel” of the women-identified subject Lorde theorizes here that I align with singularity: what cannot be reproduced, but can and should exist in relation, and can and should finally generate new critical possibilities for subjectivity. It is important to recall the contexts in which Lorde developed this reading and her broader theories of difference as a dynamic, contingent, and ultimately generative condition that opposes wooden and binaristic ideas of gender, as well as racial and sexual categorization. Lorde was writing and speaking against second-wave ideals of white female individuality in American feminist circles, which is a climate ostensibly removed from mid-nineteenth-century Britain and France, where I situate the literary archive of this book. My approach to Lorde’s work is the same one I take with the other critical traditions I engage in this introduction for a definition of singularity: continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, queer of color theory, and the Black radical tradition. Hers is a theory of the subject, a philosophy of difference, and a profound resource for feminist inquiry in the present.

I invoke Lorde’s essay as an initial feminist theoretical touchstone for a definition of singularity to set up one of the key stakes for this book. First, in attending to representations of femininity and femaleidentified figures that I read as singular in (mostly) mid-nineteenth literature, I set these works in new theoretical constellations that can further our thinking about gender, racial, and sexual difference. Putting Lorde and other theorists into conversation with the literary texts I read in this book establishes the methodological and critical relations that I perform throughout my chapters, which each take a nineteenth-century text and read it closely with a contemporary literary or critical one: oneness and femininity in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books is framed through an essay by Hortense Spillers, and Christina Rossetti’s short lyrics reveal something new in Maggie Nelson’s experimental poem, Jane: A Murder (2005). I model this critical confrontation as a way of finding freedom from existing disciplinary divisions. My chapters are grounded in close readings sensitive to the historical conditions of the nineteenth century, but they are also committed to shaking loose certain historical trajectories that have been kept apart from one another in scholarship as well as in a broader culture. This disruption is necessary if there is to be a feminist theoretical conversation involving nineteenth-century literary texts that expands beyond the interests of second-wave white feminist perspectives. More broadly, this critical disruption can help us challenge received ideas of literary history as well as neoliberal accounts of the subject in the present.

This book follow a critical approach the queer theorist and performance scholar Jose Esteban Muñoz calls “thinking beyond the moment and against static historicisms.”4 I look carefully at literary texts from the 1850s through the 1870s in particular—a historical era generally regarded by Victorianists to be consonant with the “rise of liberalism”—and read capaciously outside this moment as well to untangle what this short period appears to consolidate in the long view: a universal liberal subject forged largely out of gendered and racialized disavowals. Feminine Singularity delimits girlhood outside the emergent statistical imaginary of the nineteenth century (chapter 1 on Carroll’s Alice Books); it makes visible a dissolution point of capital in which modern subjectivity is ensnared (chapter 2 on Baudelaire); it allows for a femininity untethered to heterosexual difference (chapter 3 on Rossetti); and it reveals the logic of sameness that structures both conventional femininity and whiteness (chapter 4 on Collins’s The Woman in White). A brief epilogue that takes up the avant-garde promise of singularity against its widespread use as a harbinger for contemporary artificial intelligence follows. In looking at these texts and figurations, I point to gender’s fundamental entanglement with racial difference and uncover an expanded model of relationality that unsettles the differences that have shaped a conventional account of gender.

Singularity, Sameness, and Difference

Singularity has been central to a range of philosophers writing in the post-Kantian tradition, including Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (whose divergent works on singularity, difference, repetition, and “iterability” I revisit later in this introduction) and more recent theorists such as Derek Attridge, Timothy Clark, and Samuel Weber.5 I owe a debt to all of these theorists, but I also aim to provide an account of the subject that is crucially new. For Derrida, what is most singular—unique and irreducible—is what is paradoxically iterable and repeatable. For Deleuze, what is most singular is “opposed to the ordinary.” Singularity is an inflection point and zone of potentiality, one that is constitutively multiple rather than single.6 We find a similar refusal of the “single” in singular in Nancy’s well-known phrase, “being singular plural.” “Being singular plural” articulates the constitutive plurality of being and the strangeness and besideness that marks living in a world stripped of essentialized origins. The question of community for Nancy is not about the grouping of “identities” around particular kinds of sameness but around the mutual “strangeness” of existing.7 I want to emphasize and elaborate on the complexity of this formulation—which emerges, in part, from Nancy’s careful readings of Heidegger—for a feminist theory of the subject that moves away from second-wave models of female individuality predicated on limiting notions of oneness and difference. Instead, I mine literature and its figurative tools to develop a lexicon of terms that produce alternatives to these ideas: namely, singularity, likeness, and minimal difference. In the literary works I analyze, singularity maps moments and occasions of gendering when likeness and minimal difference allow for unforeseen or imperceptible forms of uniqueness to leak out and change conditions of possibility in these texts, what Eve Kosofky Sedgwick calls “the surrounding ecologies of sexuality and of gender.”8 Understanding feminine singularity as inhabited by incalculable forms of difference and likeness refocuses our attention on Kevin Quashie’s observation that “oneness is not incompatible with relation; rather, oneness is a relation.”9 “Being singular plural” has become an oft-quoted line of Nancy’s, but it contains a considerable amount of potency for understanding gender, race, and subjectivity anew, both for literary scholars in Victorian studies and those further afield.

For Weber as for Attridge, literature affords a special place to think about both the irreducible uniqueness and constitutive plurality of singularity because literature resists full conceptualization or explanation. This is my wager too, though I also share Weber’s view that writing about singularity can be “embarrassing.”10 This is because what is singular for all of the theorists I mention here “tends to belie efforts to conceptualize it,” can be described only on its own terms, and therefore slides away from total understanding. In this regard, singularity can be said to be integral to philosophy but also to escape philosophy itself because it does not tarry with the particular nor with the universal.11 Yet despite evading conceptualization and explanation, singularity remains thinkable in vital ways, especially in and through the literary. I risk the nonconcept of these definitions to open singularity to questions of gendered and racial difference (ideas latent to the philosophies mentioned here but never directly explored). I take inspiration from the perfunctory way contemporary poet Lisa Robertson, whose experimental work The Baudelaire Fractal (2020) I read in chapter 2, defines the promise of the feminine read through singularity: “still lacking any concept, I could only invent.”12 The capacity for invention is one I locate in canonical “Victorian” texts (such as Collins’s The Woman in White) and wider nineteenth-century ones (such as Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal). My method of reading hopefully underscores that these works are stranger, more experimental, and ultimately more generative than what is often assumed about them.

At the heart of Feminine Singularity is a question that has animated decades of feminist critical thought: namely, in envisioning new horizons for subjectivity, how can we hold on to the possibility of “difference” without generating new and more coercive antinomies—that is, without collapsing into either essentialized difference or essentialized sameness? One way I approach this question is to observe figures of the feminine across literary genres whose singularity appears in and through relation, specifically relations of likeness or “minimal difference.” Minimal difference manifests across a poetic line through simile, the “like two” of Rossetti’s seemingly interchangeable “maids” Lizzie and Laura in “Goblin Market”; is lived by way of siblinghood and relations of kin that are not filial or parental, like the sisters of Collins’s sensation novel and of Nelson’s Jane; and is even enacted in a series, in which each element of that series gains meaning only in lateral proximity to one another, such as the serial men and women from Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens. These forms of being “like” something or someone else saturate literature, visual culture, and psychic life. Yet what makes us like someone or something else, but not entirely the same as them, remains an undertheorized problem for feminist theory. This is despite the work of Sedgwick, Kaja Silverman, Juliet Mitchell, and Lynne Huffer.13 In Ugly Feelings, American cultural theorist Sianne Ngai names the feeling—and the possibility of a politics—that results from gathering feminine subjectivity around likeness rather than pure sameness or difference: “envy.” Jonathan Flatley further describes a queer practice of “everyday liking” in Andy Warhol’s art in which “things that are alike or similar are neither incommensurate nor identical; they are related and resembling, yet distinct.”14 In Victorian studies, Helena Michie’s Sororophobia (1992) unpacks some forms of likeness and difference in Victorian texts in a way that has influenced many of my ideas in this book. For Michie, “sororophobia” is an attempt to “describe the negotiation of sameness and difference, identity and separation, between women of the same generation, and is meant to encompass both the desire for and recoil from identification with other women.”15 These negotiations, however fraught and ambivalent, remain a powerful way to think beyond “the limits of the usefulness of difference as a governing structure”16 and reorient ourselves to those forms of likeness and minimal difference that are not given in advance. Reading for minimal difference opens ways of conceiving a subject that are not scripted by preexisting categories. And rather than assume that there are any firm ontological grounds for the term “femininity” in my readings, I instead consider how minimal difference might foundationally structure a relationship to gender rather than follow from it.

I begin this book with the assumption that femininity in modernity is always racialized and that a theory of the subject centering femininity centers its foundational entanglement with race too. The geopolitics of nineteenth-century liberalism, the topic of the next section, undergirds all literary texts written in the mid-nineteenth century, whether they directly take up race and the feminine or not. Reading them with some contemporary works additionally reveals the extraordinary reach of liberal individualism, a discourse and a political orientation grounded in notions of proprietorship, moral and aesthetic categories of “taste” and “opinion,” and an oppositional stance toward the collective. Liberal individualism remains the dominant mode for conceptualizing subjects as whole and either “neutral” or marked by categorical and taxonomical forms of difference (typically race, gender, class, and sexuality). My chapters show instead that there are figurations of the feminine across literary genres in the nineteenth century that are not accessible through this framework, and I make use of the term “singularity” to argue for ways of understanding subjectivity outside of it. These works provide a new entry point onto the feminine, a (non) category that remains contested. But more acutely, they open onto subjectivity itself. Feminine Singularity subsequently excavates a much broader terrain of relationality and subjectivity in mid-nineteenth-century literature than the basic terms of liberal individuation—oneness, sameness, particularity, and universality—allow.

Liberalism and the Discourse of Difference

Nineteenth-century literary representations of female subjectivity, and the substantial critical discourse shaped by them, have tended to cluster around gendered types and taxonomies, often positioning themselves entirely vis-à-vis white bourgeois individualism. Antoinette Burton makes the crucial point that “Victorian feminism . . . came of age in a self-consciously imperial culture,” which leaves us with “the problem of how and why the modern British women’s movement produced a universal female ‘we’ that continues to haunt and, ironically, to fragment feminists worldwide.”17 Dismantling the “universal female ‘we’” and its scripted forms of sameness and difference is a key critical horizon for theorizing singularity in this book and for distinguishing singularity from the particularity that grounds these familiar types and groupings. To begin doing so, I want to unpack the contours of an individualism that liberalism helped shape in the nineteenth century. My aim is to unsettle long-standing scholarly rigidities around the following questions: Who counts as one? What are the limits of difference as a conceptual tool? How do we imagine a feminist world without collapsing into the universal female “we”? And how do we untangle the relationship between a model of female individualism and various forms of difference?18

Feminine Singularity takes up the wider assumption that the mid-nineteenth century was a turning point in modern liberalism’s conceptual grounding in broad notions of progress and individual freedom. Yet it is commonly understood that both liberal progress and freedom are abstractions shored up by histories of enslavement and colonial violence.19 Liberalism writ large unfolded as a universalizing philosophical and political project that mobilized difference as a conceptual apparatus to formalize racial, gendered, and sexual categories of personhood. If British liberalism’s techne is the ballot and the census, then the resulting form of personhood made legible before the liberal state is a countable one, an assumption shared by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and other prominent figures of British liberal thought in the nineteenth century. And while the idea of countable units of personhood appears at odds with liberalism’s other emphasis on an individual with character, judgment, and moral agency (someone who “counts”), the two were messily entangled, as Elaine Hadley has shown, and literary genres like the multi-plotted novel often manifest.20 Liberalism’s discourse of difference thus shaped an understanding of subjectivity as particular and countable: a notion of a “one” whose legibility fundamentally emerged through quantifiability, and who could be folded into the social whole, whether that whole was a society, a population, or even the species.21

To illustrate further what I mean by countable personhood, let us briefly recall one of the most important touchstones for the crisis of Atlantic quantifiability in this period. In direct opposition to Bentham’s apocryphal nineteenth-century utilitarian dictum of “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one,” we find the unspeakable violence of the 1781 massacre of at least 150 enslaved peoples onboard the British slave ship Zong, for insurance collection.22 If this utilitarian calculation of Bentham’s requires that society’s collective happiness be maximized, the dictum also mandates each person’s legal protection and representation, such that each “one” is given equal weight before the law. But in the case of the Zong, the arithmetic failed. The ship’s water supplies had been contaminated on the way to Jamaica, and Luke Collingwood, its captain, drowned the sick and the elderly Africans onboard to claim financial compensation for property loss and damages under the standard marine insurance policy. Each “one” thrown overboard was consequently stripped of their singularity, as their names were never written down. In her celebrated conceptual poem Zong! (2008), based entirely off the words of the insurance trial that followed the mass murders, contemporary poet M. NourbeSe Philip emphasizes that each “one” nevertheless remained quantifiable because their “financial value was recorded and preserved . . . at 30 pounds sterling.”23 Zong!, consequently, is a contrapuntal work of literature, whose words unfold on the page in an increasingly dizzying manner to testify to the scattering of any singular “one” in this lost archive. Asks Philip, in “Zong! #23”: “was / the weight in being / the same in rains / the ration in loss / the proved in fact / the within in is . . .”24

Being/rains/loss/fact/is. The kinds of violent equivalency illuminated by Philip around countable personhood is the hallmark of a kind of liberalism willfully blind to its own foundations. To Mary Poovey, Catherine Gallagher, and Victorianist scholars who have attended to the development of modern, countable personhood, the consequences are many, and they exceed the disciplinary boundaries of liberal politics and the ideological boundaries of the British nation itself. Poovey’s extensive scholarship in Making a Social Body (1994) and The History of the Modern Fact (1998) catalogs the deepening imbrication of laissez-faire consumer capitalism, statistics, and liberal individualism in the nineteenth century, a conceptual and theoretical problem that underwrites the ledgers of the Zong and that I explore more fully in chapter 1. Political economy, for instance, “provided what looked like both theoretical and descriptive justifications for liberal governmentality by focusing on particulars that could be observed (and quantified) yet subordinating those particulars to abstractions that could not be seen.”25 Though French political liberalism, of relevance to chapter 2 on Baudelaire, develops differently (and more eccentrically), it too found itself dependent on colonial violence elsewhere, and it made newly visible the particularity of an individual who could be folded into a greater whole.26 And while, as Lauren Goodlad notes, “liberalism is conceptually protean,”27 the nineteenth century more broadly manifested “an Atlantic cycle of capital accumulation,” to borrow Ian Baucom’s phrase, that stretches from the eighteenth-century heights of the Atlantic slave trade to twenty-first-century global capitalism.28 The nineteenth century’s dominant logic of accretion and atomization therefore extends well into our contemporary world.

Though scholars of Atlantic slavery have already pointed to the Zong as a paradigmatic historical site for the emergence of a racialized calculus around who counts as a one, I see traces of this calculus shaping literary texts on femininity seemingly far afield. For example, here are the quietly scathing opening lines to Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio” (1856): “One face looks out from all his canvases, / One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:” (lines 1–2). The feminine “one” Rossetti describes is an artist’s model: another “nameless girl” sacrificed to patriarchal art and ambitions. She is particular: lovely, with “true kind eyes,” “a queen in opal,” or “a saint, an angel” (5–7). The contours of her identity are given to only the vaguest description, but the poem repeats its particularized count of her as a “one” nonetheless, like a failed incantation. Only the sonnet’s volta makes clear that such a “one” is different only insofar as she is the same, that her particularity is in service of a higher One, a totalizing vision of art: “every canvas means / The same one meaning, neither more or less” (my emphasis, 7–8).

I want to emphasize through the juxtaposition of these two textual moments that Rossetti’s “ones” find their deep theoretical footing in an ideological oneness that is both patriarchal and racially violent. The sonnet seeks neither the limiting “ones” of female particularity nor the One of universal aesthetic meaning, power, and closure. This gendered and racialized tension between a countable person and someone who “counts”—that is to say, who matters—is one I explore throughout my chapters because counting almost always reveals a gap between the ideals of quantification and its objects. In most of the literary texts I read here, counting is a trope that deliberately references the bureaucratic energies of the nineteenth century around personhood while remaining rife with possibilities for understanding a “one” otherwise. This is the case in both of Carroll’s Alice books, in which seven-year-old Alice’s fears about being “one respectable person” in Wonderland lead her to experiment with other forms of enumeration to understand her subjectivity as a girl. Being a one, forming a two, counting to three—I argue throughout my readings that these seemingly basic counting procedures speak to far-reaching questions of being a subject, of difference, and of collectivity, both in the nineteenth century and beyond it.

The ideological oneness that grounds the bureaucratic energies of the mid-nineteenth century around gender crystallizes in a phenomenon known as the “Woman Question” debates. The “Woman Question” debates pulled together various perspectives on women’s social, political, and economic status in the 1850s and 1860s. These debates helped mobilize a host of visible “types” of femininity in the broader Victorian imaginary: poet Coventry Patmore’s “Angel in the House,” the fin-de-siècle’s “femme fatale,” and the “New Woman.” More caustic and damning taxonomies include Eliza Lynn Linton’s “Wild Woman,” the sacrificial “Hindoo woman,” the “Venus noire,” and politician W. R. Greg’s infamous “Redundant” or “Surplus woman.” And though taxonomies like the “New Woman” historically arose as progressive formulations, they too manifest a rigid particularizing grounded in clearly demarcated forms of difference and individualism. In turn, modern criticism has generated well-known classificatory categories of its own to name various problems of gendered and sexual difference: an enduring example is the “madwoman in the attic.”29 Even Mill, writing in The Subjection of Women (1869), is quick to note that the proliferating statistical ethnographies of women’s social status can never substitute for an impoverished knowledge of women as subjects: “to understand one woman is not necessarily to understand any other woman.”30 On a more sardonic note, Frances Power Cobbe, the nineteenth-century Irish writer and social reformer, observes: “shall we say [femininity] resembles the botanical scheme of the governess who informed her pupils that ‘plants are divided into Monandria, Bulbous roots, and Weeds’?”31

These taxonomies of femininity and their contemporary afterlife in criticism perform a double capture: the point at which “feminist criticism reproduces the axioms of imperialism.” This is what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak diagnosed as the “high feminist norm,” a norm that remains in operation in a scholarly as well as a more quotidian register.32 My way around this problem is not necessarily to stop reading literary texts from the nineteenth century, but to read them with writers and theorists who can help us expel the mirage of white female individuality that continues to hover over the feminist literary-critical project. Reading for singularity instead allows for a confrontation with the proliferating identities and individuations of the present that contemporary liberal capital purports to fold into itself. In the next section, I turn to a series of philosophical and theoretical texts to emphasize that singularity is a mode of perceiving subjectivity as irreducibly unique and in relation.3

Black Holes and Sea Creatures: The Philosophical Grounds of Singularity

To conceive of difference outside of identity, to be “singular plural,” is to understand a “one” in a way that is profoundly at odds with how individuality, aloneness, and singleness are typically conceptualized. I pull together various theories of singularity in this section from philosophy after Kant—Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, and feminist psychoanalysis—that are often read as conflicting in their basic premises.34 However, I see them circling around the same problem of the subject as partial rather than whole. To this I add the work of Caribbean and Black studies scholars such as Édouard Glissant, Fred Moten, and Kevin Quashie, and quantum theories of singularity, which offer two critical optics that nuance an intellectual field comprised of many usual suspects. Both approaches to singularity further deploy a powerful critique of Western metaphysics I find necessary and urgent. What I am striving for in my account of feminine singularity is not the incoherence of the self—which I recognize is not only alienating but also often politically unuseful—but a deeper sense of what it means to be a subject whose partiality is a source of invention and promise rather than a limitation.

Kant’s formulation of the aesthetic in the Critique of Judgement (1790) is one touchstone for theorizing singularity within continental philosophy and for critiques from Black and postcolonial studies of the Enlightenment subject writ large. For Kant, an aesthetic judgment does not follow from the determinate grounds of a “concept,” and in this, it is “unique of its kind,” irreducibly singular.35 In that Kant theorizes the boundaries of knowledge as the beginning of a philosophical procedure, his can be understood as an Enlightenment philosophy of the transcendental approached through its very limits. What I find most illuminating about the aesthetic in Kant is that there is paradox, ambivalence, dissatisfaction, and resistance inscribed throughout The Critique of Judgment. These are part and parcel of the strange singularity of the aesthetic, as commentators such as Robert Lehman, Rebecca Comay, Robert Bernasconi, and Kandice Chuh have pointed out. For this reason, the aesthetic lends itself to powerful critiques of existing modes of conceiving gender, sexual, and racial difference, and I argue that it can help us rethink “the subject” from within the basic fault lines of Enlightenment discourse.

It’s useful to go over some of the tension that distinguishes aesthetic judgments from other sorts of judgment in Kant’s philosophy. While the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) discusses how determinative judgments construct the relationship between universals and particulars in an epistemological correlation, the Critique of Judgment’s defense of the aesthetic functions differently. The aesthetic for Kant is the strongest example of a reflexive judgment, in which the particular cannot be invoked in the name of a general concept or principle. These judgments arise instead from “subjective feeling” (49) rather than “cognition” (45) and are wholly “disinterested” (55). This is opposed to other judgments of taste discussed by Kant, such as the judgment of what is merely “pleasant” or “good.” As soon as aesthetic judgments are submitted to generalizing, as in the oft-recognized example Kant provides that “all roses are beautiful,” they lose their singularity and become “logical” judgments instead.

If an example of an aesthetic judgment seems to run precisely against its singularity—its submission to assent or generality—then Kant’s own examples, even of the flowers, are theoretically loaded. Ian Balfour parses this tension in Kant by turning to Derrida’s reading of the Third Critique, which brings to the fore the singularity of the aesthetic and of Derrida’s own thought. In that Kant mandates that the singularity of the aesthetic and of the feeling of beauty must be given to language and representation, he evokes “the desire to make sense of the singular in terms that are not themselves singular.”36 For Derrida this always has consequences for the subject. Balfour puts the stakes thusly: “if the irreducibly singular experience of the aesthetic poses something of a threat to philosophy, might not the ‘subject’ writ large or at large present a similar obstacle, as the locus of feelings, desires, and a body, and thus the locus of something other than thought proper, the putatively proper domain of philosophy?”37 I should emphasize that the language of “feelings, desires, and a body” that describe thought’s “other” easily recalls a matrix of gendered and racial difference that poses a threat to a “neutral” and abstracted notion of the subject of the nineteenth century.

If what is most singular for Kant is “subjective feeling”—which preexists judgment, community, and language—then theorists like Spivak and Moten have pointed out how Kant’s overall philosophy restricts the affective potential of judgment to European people and withholds it from colonized and Black people, because for Kant (especially in other texts like The Critique of Practical Reason), race and “raced figures” become the material grounding for the regulation of key ideas: freedom, knowledge, the imagination.38 But for Moten, reading Kant with racialization and sexualization in mind—in other words, through the Black radical tradition—also reveals “the rapturous advent of an implicit but unprecedented freedom.”39 This strain of the aesthetic is “the surprising, multiple singularity of the event” that Moten elsewhere finds in jazz and music.40 In his celebrated work of queer theory, Cruising Utopia (2009), Muñoz too writes of “a surplus of both affect and meaning within the aesthetic.”41 For Muñoz, these possibilities within the aesthetic are interruptive as well as future-oriented ones from which to think a politics of queerness and queer subjectivity.42 The aesthetic remains a “threat” to a universal, but it also, for Moten as for Muñoz, constitutes an opening within philosophy. This bears on my thinking as I look for instances throughout literature that activate such an opening and challenge the basic organization of difference under existing frameworks.

For me, Kant’s text itself manifests moments of surplus that further draw out the alterity of the aesthetic, its singularity as more than just a question of philosophical abstraction in a Western humanist frame. In discussing the notion of “free beauty” (81), for instance, Kant suggests that “many birds . . . and many sea shells [sometimes also translated as crustacea] are beauties in themselves” (81). The situation of the sea shells, adrift from any determining generality (the ocean?), feels like a particularly apt metaphor for the reflexive judgment itself rather than simply an offhand example of the beautiful. As Derrida writes presciently of the Third Critique in “The Parergon,” “the reflective judgment has only the particular at its disposal and must climb back up to, return toward generality: the example . . . is here given prior to the law, and, in its very uniqueness as example, allows one to discover” (my emphasis).43 The action of “climbing” describes the sort of thinking behind the reflexive judgment, the aesthetic, and behind Feminine Singularity I want to press on here, a thinking that allows for ideas to unfold without immediate capture. It is a labor—aligned with the example of Kant’s sea creatures—perhaps not entirely consonant with the realm of Enlightenment human capacities for “sense.”

Moten uses some terms in theoretical physics to characterize the “appositional”—that is, proximate and frictional—singularity of Kant’s aesthetic and of the Black radical tradition. It is the language of “dark matter,”44 and of the “broken, breaking, space-time of an improvisation,”45 that, to my mind, makes newly resonant the grammar of a black hole (“dark matter” and “space-time”) for aesthetic and literary ways of knowing. Black holes are one shorthand for a singularity: a term in mathematics and physics that names a structural breakdown of existing laws—something of an impossibility. Here is how physicist Kip Thorne puts it: “A singularity is a region where—according to the laws of general relativity—the curvature of space-time becomes infinitely large, and spacetime ceases to exist.”46 It is a “sharp edge” from which one cannot “back away” since “space, time, and spacetime cease to exist at the singularity.”47 The language of a different “space-time” is a different optic, a different difference (as it were) altogether. Black holes and phenomena this dizzying therefore pose an obvious and outsized fascination. They might be our best examples of a cosmological sublime, and they strike a compelling yet not altogether comforting note about the possibilities of other worlds and ways of being. Even more so, they present a fundamental stumbling block to any sort of current thinking—in the humanities and elsewhere—that prioritizes empirical facts and clear boundaries grounded in limited notions of the human.

Black holes reveal a vertiginous field of difference that cuts through quantum theory and relativity and, as I contend here, to a reinscription of existing ideas about femininity and subjectivity. Black studies scholars, such as Christina Sharpe, have called attention to the cosmological and environmental consequences of singularity as it is defined in physics to subvert long-standing assumptions over who gets to claim oneness in a Western humanistic frame.48 They also interrogate the chromatics of blackness throughout these discourses while offering an overall theorizing of singularity, or a form of subjectivity that takes shape outside of liberal individualism, important to my project in this book. For Quashie, the space of the singular, the “one” that is also potentially an infinite multiplicity, is always a “one” entangled with another: “in every relation is a world, one of space and contact and unknowing and obliteration.”49 This form of relation paves the way for a dismantling of the racial and gendered logics that allow some subjects—typically white and usually male—to claim “oneness,” while other subjects, in Quashie’s analysis, largely Black women, remain foreclosed from its fundamental grounds. Relation, for Quashie, is further “the capacity of unfurling, of becoming more and more in/through the tension with another.”50 I would emphasize that this definition of relation does not prioritize preexisting notions of difference and sameness that eventually structure the contours of a world and one’s existence within it. Quashie’s definition of relation recurs to that of Caribbean theorist Édouard Glissant’s in Poétique de la Relation (Poetics of Relation). This relation maintains, indeed opens up, a difference among repetition. Such a notion of relation, like the way quantum physics conceives of entities in the world, “always changes all the elements composing it, and consequently, the resulting relationship, which then changes them all over again.”51

Black holes—space-time singularities—further open up to questions of gender, race, and difference in my thinking. As we can see, this is largely because they index the dissolution of existing frameworks for the subject steeped in a liberal calculus. What comes alive when we pay attention to the resonances between black holes, the poetics of repetition, and the philosophical grounds of subjectivity is an idea of a “one” whose difference is shaped by forms of likeness and forms of relation that are not a recognizable coupling nor a hierarchical organization of identity. In his ground-breaking early work Difference and Repetition (1968), Deleuze explains that “we tend to subordinate difference to identity in order to think it.”52 Repetition “too is thought in terms of the identical, the similar, the equal or the opposed.” Rather than oppose repetition, seriality, and structures that seem to only generate sameness to difference, Deleuze proposes a sort of pure difference “in itself” that grounds being and that preexists any notion of the “one.” In his ontology, singularities are remarkably like black holes in physics, “turning points and points of inflection,” zones of potentiality in a relation of forces.53 I bring back Deleuze here because while he prioritizes pure immanence and affirmation over the negation that grounds psychoanalysis and deconstruction—two important fields of inquiry I pick up in what follows—he nevertheless shares with these theories a desire to locate difference in places that are nondialectic and nonoppositional. Doing so brings minimal difference, likeness, and relation into the field of subjectivity and helps us understand the capacity of these structures for generating the new.

I want to say a bit more about how deconstruction and psychoanalysis offer theories of singularity that help us read femininity against the grain. These frameworks do more than simply rehearse the over-derided “hermeneutics of suspicion” they are charged with. Instead, they offer important coordinates for thinking singularity as the basis for a subjectivity alive to questions of gender and race: that is, alive to both not as identities to comfortably occupy but as “knots” of figurative, structural, and psychic likeness and difference. Singularity in both theories, as a result, becomes the ground of a possible politics too. Throughout Derrida’s work, the “irreducibly singular” appears in language and in living through forms of difference that do not congeal into a binary nor resolve into synthesis (à la Hegel). What Derrida calls “iterability” is a familiar term that allows us to reorganize ideas around identity conceived of as rigid and immutable. Iterability, from my perspective, always partakes of gender and sexuality. We should initially recognize the terminology from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990). Butler gives us a still-canonical account of gender performativity on the basic structural premise that the “need for repetition at all is a sign that identity is not self-identical.”54

What is “iterable” for Derrida is not the same as what is given to assent or generalizability. In “Signature, Event, Context,” (1971), he emphasizes the active, constituting possibilities of iterability, whose etymological roots are in the Sanskrit word itara, which stands for “other” or alterity. “Iterability” for Derrida is not rote, mechanical repetition that reasserts sameness. It is a likeness, a spacing, and a swerve that inhabits language and, by extension, experience: a constitutive “dehiscence and a cleft [brisure] which are essential.”55 Refuting the notion that the uniqueness of the “event” and its iterability oppose one another, Derrida writes that “rather than oppose citation or iteration to the noniteration of an event, one ought to construct a different typology of forms of iteration.”56 Such a “typology” is a nontypology; it is “no more than a minimal idealization” because it draws out the singularity that emerges from iterability rather than referring back to a transcendental ideal or totality.57 Derrida’s iterability helps us understand how minimal difference could craft feminine singularity because this sort of repetition opens up to a more radical singularity in emphasizing the nondialectic possibilities of each mark, of each spacing.58 Iterability further makes itself available to feminist reading and feminist politics because, as poet Gail Scott muses elsewhere, “this akin-to-the-spacing-which-is-writing keeps open the possibilities of subjects not caught up in a binary thematic, but potentially multiple.”59 The spacing Derrida invokes throughout “Signature, Event, Context”—and indeed, throughout most of his work—borrows from Kantian aesthetics the lack of a-priori origins that nevertheless remains generative, but not reproductive in a heteronormative context. This is a “minimal idealization” that orients toward the future while attending to possibilities inscribed in what is normally shrugged off or sublated to a higher form of cohesion.

It is vital to mention psychoanalysis here as a theory of partial subjectivity oriented around the opaqueness of the unconscious and the drives, and of the singularity of these relations too. For Sigmund Freud, and Jacques Lacan after him, the subject is always partial, never emerging through “wholeness” or completion but through lack and negation.60 Psychoanalytic scholar Mari Ruti argues that “singularity” largely sutures a subject’s relationship to the real—that kernel of the unsymbolizable in Lacan’s thinking that nevertheless remains fundamental to desire. This pulsing of the real, of the unassimilable, leads Ruti to describe singularity as what “slides into view from within the fissures of social subjectivity, puncturing the subject’s coherent organization of being.”61 For feminist psychoanalytic thinkers such as Jacqueline Rose, this is a powerful starting point for theorizing our way to a feminine singularity not grounded in the limiting notion of transparent identities.62 Throughout my chapters I engage feminist psychoanalysis—and try to grapple with its limitations, particularly around racialization—to chart new models for subjectivity that might move the conversation forward both in nineteenth-century literary studies and in feminist theory.

Let me return to the image of a black hole to summarize what we might take away from these various theories of the singular. A space-time singularity is not nothing, the void, nor the ether. Nor is it everything, a totality, a bounded entity that can be counted. Rather, singularities in the quantum sense involve a something. This “something of the one”63 approaches what Jack Halberstam has elsewhere called the constitutive and immeasurable plurality of subjectivity: “‘Some’ is not an indefinite number awaiting a more accurate measurement, but a rigorous theoretical mandate whose specification, necessary as it is (since ‘the multiple must be made’), is neither numerable nor, in the common sense, innumerable.”64 Feminine Singularity therefore aims to explore the space between the numerable and innumerable—the poetics of this “something”—as the place where a theory of the subject might dwell.

The Form of Feminine Singularity

While primary works of literature from the nineteenth century form the basis of each of the following four chapters, the theoretical field these texts generate for me is much wider than the critical apparatus provided solely by one field (i.e., Victorian studies) or another. At its core, this book is very much a work of literary criticism, so I would hesitate to call it interdisciplinary. I do, however, aim to activate the dual strangeness of the literary—its alterity and resistance to full explanation—and of feminist theorizing itself. Here I follow Sarah Ahmed’s note, glossing Teresa De Lauretis, about feminist theory in “Whose Counting?” Ahmed argues that feminist theory needs to operate in a “double register” that “will both contest other ways of understanding the world (those theories that are often not seen as theories as they are assumed to be ‘common sense’), as it will contest itself, as a way of interpreting the world (or of ‘making sense’ in a way which contests what is ‘common’).”65 This is also what Butler, in an interview about Luce Irigaray with Pheng Cheah, Drucilla Cornell, and Elizabeth Grosz, has claimed should be a constant troubling of shared assumptions about feminist theorizing, for “feminism has to allow its own fundamental precepts to come into crisis in relationship to other critical paradigms.”66 Finally, in aiming for a liberatory theory of the subject, I am compelled and challenged by the following provocation by Rachael M. Wilson: that “what is necessary to feminism is that which cannot be weighed or measured out: it is exactly that which escapes dispensation.”67 In this regard, feminist thought and method needs to be read as singular too: partial, contingent, and always formed in critical relation to the world it seeks to transform.

Chapter 1, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books and the Ones and Twos of Femininity,” explores the representation of girlhood and the act of counting in Carroll’s Alice stories (1865 and 1871). Throughout both books, Alice persistently asks, “Who am I?” and attempts to answer the question through a basic mathematical procedure of enumeration. My analysis in this chapter is inspired by a short anecdotal moment that opens Black feminist theorist Hortense Spillers’s essay “All the Things You Could Be by Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother,” in which Spillers discusses being seven years old and imagining splitting off into different iterations of herself. I show that counting allows Alice to recalibrate conventional ways of thinking difference and sameness, and that this is a question about femininity rather than a “neutral” question about identity. I further contextualize Alice’s question within wider shifts toward statistical aggregation in the nineteenth century evidenced by two other texts, William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” (1798) and John Ruskin’s The Ethics of Dust (1865). I ultimately suggest that through counting, Alice demonstrates a logic of gender as merely emergent and, therefore, as potentially open and multiple. This chapter finishes with a reading of Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” and in particular, her invocation of a “cyborg Alice” to consider the contemporary resonances of Alice’s question.

My second chapter, “Charles Baudelaire and Feminine Singularity,” develops a wider account of lyric singularity untethered to aloneness or singleness. It focuses on the work of Baudelaire, noting that while a variety of feminine figures abound in his oeuvre, most critical readings of the poet have largely concentrated on the tendency toward objectification, and even denigration, in his portrayal of women. By contrast, this chapter’s first sections read his famous poem on the city from Les Fleurs du mal, “À une passante,” in conjunction with Baudelaire’s observations from Mon Coeur mis à nu, Fusées, and Le Peintre de la vie moderne, suggesting that a form of feminine singularity crystallizes in his work that refuses classification under the broader tenets of urban capital and political liberalism. The second section discusses “Les Sept Vieillards” and “Les Petites Vieilles” to make a claim for a redrawing of gendered individuation in Tableaux Parisiens. I finally examine the scant evidence around Baudelaire’s mixed-race partner, Jeanne Duval, reading her through fin-de-siècle visual culture, critical race theory, and Vancouver poet Lisa Robertson’s experimental novel, The Baudelaire Fractal (2020). Robertson’s narrative enacts femininity through description and, in doing so, begins to dislodge gendered and racialized ideas of the aesthetic. I argue overall that Baudelaire’s outsized influence on mid-century literary constructions of gender, urban capital, and aesthetics marks his work as a vital stopping point in theorizing nineteenth-century singularity.

Chapter 3, “Christina Rossetti and the Form of Likeness,” engages Rossetti’s prose and poetry to theorize a model of minimal difference. I argue that in Rossetti’s work, likeness, specifically in the form of sisterhood, rather than binary difference grounded in the form of the heterosexual couple, shapes lyric individuation. Rossetti’s short fiction and poetry from her earliest work in Goblin Market and Other Poems to her collection of children’s stories, Speaking Likenesses (1871), bear out an interest in a “one” or a singular subject who lies outside of normative understandings of difference and kinship. This paradoxical mode of conceiving a feminine self largely out of the vexed psychic realm of similarity recalls Sianne Ngai’s theorizing of envy in Ugly Feelings (2005) as a potentially enabling affect for representing feminist collectivity, and it echoes throughout Maggie Nelson’s book-length experimental poem Jane: A Murder (2005). Rossetti’s work therefore offers us new models for theorizing affiliation that rest on an often contentious but nevertheless generative conception of likeness rather than sameness.

My fourth chapter, “Seriality, Singularity, Sociality: The Case for Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White,” builds on my earlier arguments about likeness and singularity in a reading of Collins’s celebrated sensation novel, a serialized tale of two women who are switched for an inheritance scheme, only to reveal their sisterhood. Transgressing the boundaries of identity, substituting one woman for another, justifying violence against certain bodies to maintain the fictional coherence of others: all of the moves enacted within Collins’s The Woman in White speak to the well-known anxieties of the Woman Question debates and, in particular, the consequences of negotiating marital law in Britain, which rendered women the physical and economic property of their husbands. But these are crucially the same tropes that distinguish nineteenth- and twentieth-century passing narratives that examine what W. E. B. DuBois describes as the “color line.”68 This chapter therefore studies The Woman in White and its material afterlife—the popularity of the figure of a “white woman” in visual and popular culture in Britain—to contest the stable epistemic grounds of “woman” and “whiteness.” In revealing that women cannot be substituted for one another after all, Collins’s novel exposes a gap between the visible body and its alleged interior as a stable locus of gendered and racialized subjectivity.

In theorizing the long durée of nineteenth-century conceptions of a subject, the concluding section of the book finds that problems of likeness and seriality haunt contemporary posthuman accounts of being as much as they do an earlier liberal humanism. Insofar as contemporary science fiction inherits tropes of doubling and iteration handed down from the Gothic, it remains enmired in basic questions around how difference functions to articulate ontology. I turn to a contemporary film, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014), and consider the presently popularized artificial intelligence definition of singularity, observing that the latter definition is animated by earlier trajectories of literary and philosophical thought. To do so, I offer a short close reading of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818) and then concentrate on Ex Machina’s horizon of liberal individualism in its portrayal of the female robot Ava. I focus on the possibilities of robot ontology—which is lateral and serial—to unravel the racial hierarchies that subtend Ava’s particularized model of gender. This epilogue is especially concerned with theorizing difference outside liberal models of ever-expanding inclusion.


1. Nancy, Being Singular Plural, 5.

2. Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic,” 54.

3. Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic,” 59.

4. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 17.

5. The texts I am thinking of are the following: Attridge, Singularity of Literature; Clark, Poetics of Singularity; and Weber, Singularity and Theatricality as Medium. All three scholars take up a definition of singularity in the long aftermath of Kant’s aesthetic judgment, a genealogy I touch on later in this introduction. They also share an orientation to the literary recognizable within the deconstructive tradition. Critics like Attridge treat literary texts not as objects but as events that produce something new or unforeseen with each reading.

6. Deleuze, Logic of Sense, 52.

7. Nancy, Being Singular Plural, 5.

8. Sedgwick, “Is the Rectum Straight?,” 75.

9. Quashie, “To Be (a) One,” 73.

10. Weber, Singularity, i. Attridge defines singularity as the following: “the singularity of a cultural object consists in its difference from all other such objects, not simply as a particular manifestation of general rules, but as a peculiar nexus within the culture that is perceived as resisting or exceeding all pre-existing general determinations” (Singularity, 63). In The Poetics of Singularity, Timothy Clark identifies a definition of the singular as that which cannot be stated in terms other than its own in the work of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Hans George Gadamer.

11. This is a claim made by Balfour, “Singularities,” 338.

12. Robertson, Baudelaire Fractal, 47.

13. In addition to Sedgwick, see Huffer, Are the Lips A Grave?; Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh; and J. Mitchell, Siblings.

14. Flatley, Like Andy Warhol, 5.

15. Michie, Sororophobia, 9.

16. Johnson, Feminist Difference, 4.

17. A. Burton, Burdens of History, 4.

18. This model for female individualism has been held up largely in the British realist novel and its critical tradition. See Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction. See also Freedgood, Worlds Enough, for an account of how twentieth-century literary criticism of the British realist novel has shaped a persistent idea of its form as closed-off and, by extension, I think, an idea of the subject as similarly bounded.

19. This is well understood to scholars of postcolonial history and the nineteenth century such as Edward Said, Uday Singh Mehta, Andrew Sartori, Nathan Hensley, and Nasser Mufti, and to scholars of Atlantic slavery such as Saidiya Hartman and Paul Gilroy. Mehta reminds us: “Britain, in its self image, was a democracy, yet it held a vast empire that was, at least ostensibly, undemocratic in its acquisition and governance” (Liberalism and Empire, 7). Reading Locke, Burke, and other thinkers important to liberal theory, Mehta further uncovers a language of “classificatory schemes” that “configure the boundary between the politically included and those politically excluded” (58). Feminist political theorists such as Chantal Mouffe, Linda Zerilli, and Carol Pateman have made similar claims. Pateman writes that to neutralize what is the ideal liberal subject’s irrevocably dominant masculinity, “contract theorists constructed sexual difference as a political difference, the difference between men’s natural freedom and women’s natural subjection” (Sexual Contract, 5).

20. See Hadley, “Nobody, Somebody, and Everybody.”

21. The problem of aggregating the individual into a greater whole such as a “population,” “society,” or “species” is the topic of several midcentury British novels by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and, later, George Eliot. Critics who have addressed this question include Hadley, Catherine Gallagher, Mary Poovey, and Emily Steinlight.

22. Bentham is quoted in Mill, Utilitarianism, 93. Mill, the patron saint of nineteenth-century liberalism, notably revised and also critiqued Bentham’s arguments. We might recall Bentham’s more famous axiom, “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.”

23. Philip, Zong!, 194. The court case was Gregson v. Gilbert, 99 E.R. 629 (K.B. 1783).

24. Philip, Zong!, 40. Glossing Zong!’s formal strategy and approach to the gendering of violence, Nicole Gervasio explains: “Insofar as Philip adopts an antinarrative strategy not to give voice, she also mobilizes herself against a long trajectory of feminist idealism that has aimed to recover slaves’ voices” (“Ruth in (T)ruth,” 8).

25. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, xxi.

26. “French liberalism” gathers a wide variety of political, economic, and social thought in the nineteenth century. Though French liberalism writ large was more “suspicious” of the individual and statist as a consequence, my interest is in how French liberalism too was made to confront the fragility of its cherished notions of rights and freedoms throughout the multiple upheavals and colonial encounters of the nineteenth century. Geenans and Rosenblatt, French Liberalism, 3.

27. Goodlad, Victorian Literature, 3.

28. Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic, 112.

29. “The madwoman in the attic” refers to Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic.

30. Mill, Subjection of Women, 152.

31. Cobbe, “Criminals,” 107.

32. Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts,” 143.

33. A reading of relation that has been crucial to my own formulation here is provided by Christoff, Novel Relations. There, she theorizes the writings of British object-relations psychoanalysis to “take fuller measure of the wide relational possibilities—and realities—of novel reading” (21). Christoff begins with the premise that reading and feeling never happen alone. Thus, for Christoff, even solitude is relational.

34. For example, the immanent, fundamentally affirmative ontological condition of the singular in Deleuze is usually read as conflicting with Derrida’s differance (and certainly with psychoanalysis’s general focus on lack and negativity). Both theorists, however, reach around and past the Hegelian Aufhebung to consider definitions of the singular and to look for other means through which to contemplate difference.

35. Kant, Critique of Judgement, 80.

36. Balfour, “Singularities,” 343.

37. Balfour, “Singularities,” 345.

38. In Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak charts the foreclosure of the figure of the “native informant” or “Raw man” in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment.

39. Moten, “Knowledge of Freedom,” 274. Moten calls this “a detour of Kant onto a Heideggerian path” (ibid.).

40. Moten, “Knowledge of Freedom,” 273.

41. Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 3

42. Kandice Chuh glosses Muñoz’ project as being one that can “recognize the stakes of aesthetic inquiry as resting in the question of the radical potential of art to interrupt, reframe, and re-form the fundamental grounds upon which phenomenological, material existence is made (real).” “It’s Not ‘About’ Anything,” 126.

43. Derrida, “Parergon,” 339.

44. Moten, “Knowledge of Freedom,” 275. Elsewhere Moten writes of a “radicalization of singularity” through Charlie Patton’s voice. Here, too, Moten links this singularity to what I read as Derridean iterability, as Patton’s voice “becomes an instrument not repeatable outside of itself, its own repetitions” (Fitzgerald, “Interview with Fred Moten,” n.p.).

45. Moten, In the Break, 26. A similar energy drives Amiri Baraka’s assessment of Black music and his description of what he calls “the changing same,” which describes how avant-garde as well as popular Black music both practice a continual reinvention and a newness while remaining tethered to a core of tradition. The phrase has come to anchor a specific Black aesthetic and trope of Black temporality that marks “a black position, one of outsideness or of alienation and resistance.” Mackey, “Changing Same,” 360.

46. Thorne, Black Holes, 450. Einstein’s equations for general relativity have enabled most of the current thinking around black holes.

47. Thorne, Black Holes, 450.

48. See the chapter on singularity as an event, “The Weather,” from C. Sharpe, In the Wake, and Wright, Physics of Blackness.

49. Quashie, “To Be (a) One,” 74.

50. Quashie, “To Be (a) One,” 73.

51. Glissant, Poetics of Relation, 172. I find that the following observation of Attridge’s helpfully adds to what Glissant is noting here: “singularity is not pure: it is constitutively impure, always open to contamination, grafting, accidents, reinterpretation, recontextualization” (Singularity of Literature, 63).

52. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, xv.

53. Deleuze, Logic of Sense, 52.

54. Butler, Gender Trouble, 131.

55. Derrida, “Signature, Event, Context,” 18.

56. Derrida, “Signature, Event, Context,” 18.

57. Spivak, “Revolutions,” 38.

58. My readings of Derrida here owe a great deal to Weber’s arguments on iterability and theatricality via Derrida and Walter Benjamin. See Weber and Benjamin, Benjamin’s -abilities.

59. Scott, “Feminist at the Carnival,” 44.

60. Freud’s Three Essays is the best account of partiality and subjective development in his work. Lacan’s conception of the mirror stage, for instance, builds on these insights in Freud. Lacan’s later work continues to develop the subject’s partiality through terms such as the objet petit a, the kernel of unconscious desire that is not internal to the subject but rather exists outside of its knowledge.

61. Ruti, Singularity of Being, 3.

62. Jacqueline Rose writes of the tension of defining femininity and feminine subjectivity in and through Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis: “the ‘feminine’ stands for a refusal of [phallic] organisation, its ordering, its identity. For Lacan, on the other hand, interrogating that same organisation undermines any absolute definition of the ‘feminine’ at all.” “Introduction-II” in Mitchell and Rose, Feminine Sexuality, 56–57.

63. Jacques Lacan and Alain Badiou after him address the question of “oneness” and of singularity as an act and an event, something partial and contingent. For a more in-depth philosophical treatment of this argument of Lacan’s and how it structures Western philosophy, see Reinhard, “Something of One.”

64. Halberstam and Livingston, Posthuman Bodies, 9.

65. Ahmed, “Whose Counting?,” 110.

66. Butler, qtd. in Cheah et al., “Future of Sexual Difference,” 41.

67. Wilson, “Without Measure.”

68. DuBois, Souls of Black Folk, 125.