Freedom with Violence

Race, Sexuality, and the US State

Freedom with Violence

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: October 2011

Author: Chandan Reddy

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory

In Freedom with Violence, Chandan Reddy develops a new paradigm for understanding race, sexuality, and national citizenship. He examines a crucial contradiction at the heart of modernity: the nation-state’s claim to provide freedom from violence depends on its systematic deployment of violence against peoples perceived as nonnormative and irrational. Reddy argues that the modern liberal state is organized as a “counterviolence” to race even as, and precisely because, race persists as the condition of possibility for the modern subject. Rejecting liberal notions of modernity as freedom from violence or revolutionary ideas of freedom through violence, Reddy contends that liberal modernity is a structure for authorizing state violence. Contemporary neoliberal societies link freedom to the notion of legitimate (state) violence and produce narratives of liberty that tie rights and citizenship to institutionalized violence. To counter these formulations, Reddy proposes an alternative politics of knowledge grounded in queer of color critique and critical ethnic studies. He uses issues that include asylum law and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to illustrate this major rethinking of the terms of liberal modernity.


“[A] significant contribution in both critical ethnic studies and queer studies. Reddy’s willingness to look beyond his examples could even be the reason it offers so much.” — Stine H. Bang Svendsen, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“In this ambitious book, Reddy examines the coupling of freedom and violence under the modern state. He untangles literary texts, legal structures and social practices to argue that the state legitimizes further racial violence through granting freedom.” — Chandra Russo and Howard Winant, Sexualities

“Reddy has produced a substantial work that rethinks the interconnections between race and sexuality as constitutive to the vision of freedom and identity, and he exposes the violence that attends those ideals in the 20th century. . . . This book forced this reviewer to rethink his own engagement with these issues in his teaching. It will challenge many boundaries in the university and in US culture. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Sophisticated upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty.” — D. E. Magill, Choice

“Reddy’s previous work brilliantly spilled over disciplinary boundaries in ways that have made Freedom with Violence one of the most widely awaited first books in my memory. George Lipsitz’s back cover assessment of it as ‘one of the most important books of our times’ captures both the import and the timeliness of Reddy’s contribution.” — David Roediger, American Quarterly

Freedom with Violence is a one of a kind, once in a generation book. Chandan Reddy argues that ‘American political modernity’ depends absolutely on a notion of freedom crafted out of a constitutive violence which takes the form of race. In chapters on Du Bois and the logics of nationality and territoriality; Nella Larson and the history of black alienation; immigration and sexuality; and gay marriage and the perils of legal recognition, he pulls his argument into tighter and tighter spirals, connecting his thesis about race to brilliantly original accounts of sexuality and making stunning connections between North American racial politics and European colonialism. This is a classic, landmark study.” — Judith Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure

Freedom with Violence is one of the most important books of our time. Chandan Reddy formulates a new understanding of the relationship between the state and nonnormative social identities, explains the epistemological foundations for prevailing political practices, and argues for the urgent need to deploy queer of color critique and build a critical ethnic studies from it. Moving deftly across disciplines and decades, analyzing literature and law, social identities and state formation, expressive culture and critical theory, he reveals unexpected links between the race-gender-sex-citizenship nexus that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and the one that prevails at the turn of the twenty-first.” — George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place

“Deft, capacious, and provocative, Freedom with Violence promises a major shift in how we think race, sexuality, and US imperialism in relation to the compromised project of modernity. Our political and intellectual formations will never be the same again.” — M. Jacqui Alexander, author of Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Chandan Reddy is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Freedom's Amendments: Race, Sexuality, and Disposability under the State Form 1

Part I

1. Freedom and Violence in W. E. B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk: The Land of Racial Equality 55

2. Legal Freedom as Violence in Nella Larsen's Quicksand: Black Literary Publics during the Interwar Years 90

Interlude 134

Part II

3. Rights-Based Freedom with Violence: Immigration, Sexuality, and the Subject of Human Rights 143

4. Moving beyond a Freedom with Violence: The Politics of Gay Marriage in the Era of Racial Transformation 182

Conclusion. Don't Ask, Don't Tell 219

Notes 247

Bibliography 283

Index 297
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2012 Lambda Literary Awards, LGBT Studies category

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5105-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5091-0
Publicity material