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Willful Subjects

sara ahmed

Willful Subjects

duke university press

Durham and London

© 2014 Duke University Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States
of America on acid-free paper ∞
Typeset in Chaparral Pro by
Westchester Book Group

Library of Congress Cataloging-

in-Publication Data
Ahmed, Sara, 1969–
Willful subjects / Sara Ahmed.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-0-8223-5767-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 978-0-8223-5783-4 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Will. 2. Will—Philosophy.
3. Will—Social aspects. I. Title.
bf611.a294 2014
153.8—dc23 2014007340

Cover art: Fred Tomaselli, Bouquet, 2002.

Mixed media, resin on wood. 28 × 22 in.
© Fred Tomaselli. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery,
New York / Shanghai.
On page 293: Rhiannon Williams, Wall of Arms, 2014.

Ac know ledg ments vii

Introduction: A Willfulness Archive 1

One: Willing Subjects 23

Two: The Good Will 59

Three: The General Will 97

Four: Willfulness as a Style of Politics 133

Conclusion: A Call to Arms 173

Notes 205

References 257

Index 277
Ac know ledg ments

I have written this book with many women behind me, including my
aunties, mother, and sisters. My heartfelt appreciation to my partner
Sarah Franklin, who traveled with me on this willful journey, and in-
spired me to pick up many of the trails. I am grateful for feminist friend-
ships and queer collegiality: thanks especially to Lauren Berlant, Sienna
Bilge, Lisa Blackman, Ulrika Dahl, Natalie Fenton, Yasmin Gunaratnam,
Jonathan Keane, Sarah Kember, Elena Loizidou, Angela McRobbie, Heidi
Mirza, Nirmal Puwar, Sarah Schulman, Beverley Skeggs, Elaine Swan,
Isabel Waidner, and Joanna Zylinska. Thanks to Judith Butler and Audre
Lorde for your words and wisdoms. My appreciation to my department,
Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, for providing a home for
waifs and strays, and to Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers, and Gen-
der Studies at Cambridge for proving me with alternative intellectual
homes while I started this project in 2009 and completed it in 2013.
Thanks to my publisher Duke University Press, especially Ken Wissoker,
for supporting this willful work, whichever way it went. I also want to
acknowledge members of audiences for my talks on will and willfulness,
who helped me in the project of causing trouble by sharing anecdotes
and stories of willful subjects of various kinds. It is the best kind of help!
This book is dedicated to the many willful women fighting to keep
feminist hopes alive.


There is a story called “The Willful Child.”

nce upon a time there was a child who was willful, and would
not do as her mother wished. For this reason God had no plea-
sure in her, and let her become ill, and no doctor could do her
any good, and in a short time she lay on her death-bed. When she had
been lowered into her grave, and the earth was spread over her, all at
once her arm came out again, and stretched upwards, and when they
had put it in and spread fresh earth over it, it was all to no purpose, for
the arm always came out again. Then the mother herself was obliged
to go to the grave, and strike the arm with a rod, and when she had
done that, it was drawn in, and then at last the child had rest beneath
the ground. (Grimm and Grimm 1884, 125)1

What a story. The willful child: she has a story to tell. In this Grimm story,
which is certainly a grim story, the willful child is the one who is disobedi-
ent, who will not do as her mother wishes. If authority assumes the right
to turn a wish into a command, then willfulness is a diagnosis of the
failure to comply with those whose authority is given. The costs of such
a diagnosis are high: through a chain of command (the mother, God, the
doctors) the child’s fate is sealed. It is ill will that responds to willfulness;
the child is allowed to become ill in such a way that no one can “do her
any good.” Willfulness is thus compromising; it compromises the capac-
ity of a subject to survive, let alone flourish. The punishment for willful-
ness is a passive willing of death, an allowing of death. Note that willful-
ness is also that which persists even after death: displaced onto an arm,
from a body onto a body part. The arm inherits the willfulness of the
child insofar as it will not be kept down, insofar as it keeps coming up,
acquiring a life of its own, even after the death of the body of which it is a
part. Willfulness involves persistence in the face of having been brought
down, where simply to “keep going” or to “keep coming up” is to be stub-
born and obstinate. Mere persistence can be an act of disobedience.
In the story, it seems that will and willfulness are externalized; they
acquire life by not being or at least staying within subjects. They are not
proper to subjects insofar as they become property, what can be alienated
into a part or thing.2 The different acts of willing are reduced to a battle
between an arm and a rod. If the arm inherits the child’s willfulness,
then what can we say about the rod? The rod is an externalization of the
mother’s wish, but also of God’s command, which transforms a wish into
fiat, a “let it be done,” thus determining what happens to the child. The
rod could be thought of as an embodiment of will, of will given the form
of a command. And yet, the rod does not appear under the sign of willful-
ness; it becomes instead an instrument for its elimination. One form of
will seems to involve the rendering of other wills as willful; one form of
will assumes the right to eliminate the others.
How can we account for the violence of this story? How is this vio-
lence at once an account of willfulness? The story belongs to a tradition
of educational discourse that Alice Miller in For Your Own Good (1983)
describes as a “poisonous pedagogy,” a tradition that assumes the child
as stained by original sin and that insists on violence as moral correc-
tion, as being for the child (see chapter 2). This violence is a visible
violence, one that it would be very hard not to notice. In this book I aim
to show how the Grimm story is pedagogic in another sense: it teaches
us to read the distinction between will and willfulness as a grammar,
as a way of ordering human experience, as a way of distributing moral
This story, “The Willful Child,” is a finding. I found it because I was fol-
lowing the figure of the willful subject: trying to go where she goes, trying
to be where she has been. It was another figure, related, or perhaps even
a relation, a kind of kin, that of the feminist killjoy, who first sparked
my interest in this pursuit. Feminist killjoys: those who refuse to laugh
at the right points; those who are unwilling to be seated at the table of
happiness (see Ahmed 2010). Feminist killjoys: willful women, unwilling to
get along, unwilling to preserve an idea of happiness. I became interested
in how those who get in the way of happiness, and we call these those
killjoys, are also and often attributed as willful. In witnessing the unruly
trouble making of feminist killjoys I caught a glimpse of how willfulness

2 Introduction
can fall, like a shadow on the fallen. This book is an attempt to give my
glimpse of a willful subject a fuller form.
George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss gave me an initial glimpse. I offered
a reading of this novel in The Promise of Happiness (2010) as part of a genre
of female trouble-making fiction. In reflecting on trouble in Eliot’s text,
I wrote a footnote on willfulness: “Writing this book on happiness has
sparked my interest in theorizing the sociality of the will and the ways
in which someone becomes described as willful insofar as they will too
much, or too little, or in ‘the wrong way’ ” (2010, 245). It was the charac-
ter Maggie Tulliver, a willful heroine, who inspired this note and thus
this subsequent book Willful Subjects. Maggie Tulliver has been the object
of considerable feminist desire and identification over time. We might
share affection for Maggie as feminist readers, as we might share affec-
tion for the many willful girls that haunt literature. Simone de Beauvoir
identified with Maggie so strongly that she was reported to have “cried
for hours” upon her death (Moi 2008, 265). Lyndie Brimstone in her per-
sonal reflections on literature and women’s studies similarly relates her
own experience to Maggie’s: “Maggie with her willful hair” who “made
one dash for passion then went back to rue it for the rest of her truncated
life” (2001, 73). Maggie’s willful hair comes to express her willful charac-
ter: her refusal to be straightened out by the fashions of femininity. The
assumption of Maggie’s willfulness seems to explain the unhappiness of
Maggie’s situation. My hunch (how often do we start on a trail with a
hunch; if we tend to write these hunches out as we acquire confidence
in our arguments, we can write them back in) in moving from the figure
of the feminist killjoy to that of the willful subject was that willfulness
and unhappiness share a historical itinerary. We learn from our traveling
To be identified as willful is to become a problem. If to be willful is to
become a problem, then willfulness can be understood as a problem of
will. And it is the will that points us back in the direction of happiness,
which has been consistently understood as the object of the will. The
seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal argued: “All men
seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means
they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and
of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different
views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of
every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves” ([1669]
2003, 113, emphases added). Even suicide is an expression of the will to

A Willfulness Archive 3
happiness. The implication of this rather extraordinary description is
that happiness should be thought of not as content but form: if in tend-
ing toward something, we tend toward happiness, then happiness pro-
vides a container for tendency. Happiness must be emptied of content
if it can be filled by “whatever” it is that we are tending toward.
One of our tasks might be to ask what happiness does as a container
of the will, however empty. Does happiness lead us “willingly” in a certain
direction? For Augustine, the fourth-century theologian often credited as
the starting point in the history of the will, that is, as the scholar who first
gives the will the status of an independent power (see chapter 1), happi-
ness is not simply what motivates will, but is what follows for those who
will in the right way: “Those who are happy, who must also be good, are not
happy simply because they will to be happy—even the wicked will that—
but because they will it in the right way, whereas the wicked do not” (On
Free Choice of the Will, 1.14.23).3 Happiness follows for those who will right.
Those who will wrong still will happiness. To quote again from Augustine:
“To the extent that someone strays from the path that leads to happiness—
all the while insisting that his only goal is to be happy—to that extent he is
in error, for ‘error’ simply means following something that doesn’t take us
where we want to go” (2.9.47–48). The unhappy ones are the strays, those
who in leaving the path of happiness are going the wrong way. Unhappi-
ness is thus understood as an error of will; to err is to will wrong, to err is
to go astray. An error message is the message of unhappiness.
Willfulness too has been understood as an error of will. Let’s take a
typical definition of willfulness: “asserting or disposed to assert one’s
own will against persuasion, instruction, or command; governed by will
without regard to reason; determined to take one’s own way; obstinately
self-willed or perverse.”4 Willfulness is used to explain errors of will—
unreasonable or perverted will—as faults of character. Willfulness can
thus be understood, in the first instance, as an attribution to a subject
of will’s error. Willfulness and unhappiness seem to meet at this point, a
stray point. This intimacy of willfulness and unhappiness remains to be
thought. And to think that intimacy is to queer the will.

A History of the Will

I turned toward the category of “the will” because the figure of the willful
subject took me there. The timing of this sequence matters. Following
the figure of the willful subject, making her my priority, is another way of

4 Introduction
proceeding, another way of writing a history of the will.5 If the problem
of willfulness cannot be separated from the problem of will, then willful-
ness returns us to the will.6 We will need to ask: what does it mean to
write a history of will? For some philosophers, to write such a history
would be to write a history of a ghost; after all Gilbert Ryle ([1949] 2009)
famously calls the will “a ghost in a machine.”7 There are those who doubt
the existence of such a thing called “the will” understood as a faculty of
a subject, as something you or I might have. Even if the debate over free
will and determinism continues to be rehearsed as, or in response to, the
development of new sciences of the mind,8 the vocabulary of “the will” is
not exercised with much regularity in either of its historically privileged
domains: philosophy and psychology. But of course even ghosts have
histories, even objects that are understood as illusions or fancies have
a story to tell, a story that is not independent of the story of those for
whom such illusions and fancies are tantalizingly real. A ghostly history
may be no more or less real than any other.
In writing a history of the will, are we writing the history of an idea?
Peter E. Gordon observes that a historian of ideas “will tend to organize
the historical narrative around one major idea and will then follow the
development or metamorphosis of that idea as it manifests itself in dif-
ferent contexts and times” (2012, 2). Can we approach the will through
its metamorphosis as an idea? But as Brad Inwood notes, “there are few
words in the philosophical lexicon so slippery as ‘will’ ” (2000, 44). The
will might be too slippery to be treated as a single idea with different
manifestations. The will has indeed moved around: associated by some
with activity, others with passivity, some with mind, and others with
body. If the will comes up most often in a restricted debate about human
nature and action (usually with the adjective “free” and with its sparring
partner “determinism”), the will has also been understood as what con-
nects humans to all other things, from atoms to amoebas and stones.
The will could even be described as one of philosophy’s most promiscu-
ous terms.
It is thus not surprising that there are few attempts to offer a his-
tory of the will. Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind is singular in its
explicit aim to offer such a history.9 It is noteworthy that Arendt defines
her own task in terms of writing a history of the will that is not the his-
tory of an idea. For Arendt the task of writing the history of will as an
idea (which she translates very quickly, possibly too quickly, into a his-
tory of the idea of freedom) would be “rather easy” because it would be

A Willfulness Archive 5
premised on a false separation of ideas as “mental artefacts” from the
history of the human subject as “the artificer” (1978, 5). She argues that
she “must accept what Ryle rejects, namely, that this faculty was indeed
discovered and can be dated. In brief, I shall analyze will in terms of its
histories, and thus of its difficulties” (5).10 To discover something implies
that thing already existed. But I think the more important implication
is that once discovered, the will acquires a certain hold. For Arendt, given
that the will is an idea of a subject, the history of will is also the history
of the transformation of the subject who has that idea.
Arendt’s history of the will can thus be related to Michel Foucault’s
genealogy of the subject. Foucault describes a genealogy as a history of
what is usually felt as without history, including a history of the felt.
A genealogy, Foucault suggests, “must record the singularity of events
outside of any monstrous finality: it must seek them in the most un-
promising places, in what we tend to feel is without history: in senti-
ments, love, conscious, instincts” (1977, 139). For Foucault the will might
have been too unpromising to have been made an explicit object of in-
quiry. He notes in an interview, “What Is Critique?,” how the thematic of
power should have led him to the question of will. Foucault admits: “One
cannot confront this problem, sticking closely to the theme of power
without, of course, at some point, getting to the question of human will.
It is obvious that I could have realised it earlier. However, since this prob-
lem of will is a problem that Western philosophy has always treated with
infinite precaution and difficulties, let us say that I have tried to avoid
it as much as possible” (1977, 74–75).11 Perhaps it is the difficulties that
Arendt mentions (“I shall analyze will in terms of its histories, and thus
of its difficulties”) that makes Foucault bypass the question of will, even
though his genealogical method was indebted to Nietzsche’s The Geneal-
ogy of Morals ([1887] 2003) which could, and indeed has, been understood
as a “genealogy of the will.”12
And it is Nietzsche who offers us not only an account of how the will
becomes an idea of the subject, but how this idea does things. In Twilight
of the Idols Nietzsche suggests that the error of will is part of the general
error of causality. As he describes: “We believed ourselves to be causal
agents in the act of willing; we at least thought we were there, catching
causality in the act” ([1889] 1990, 60, emphasis in original; see also Nietz-
sche [1887] 2001, 204). Perhaps we catch nothing but the sight of our-
selves catching. Nietzsche offers more than a critique of the error of will.
He suggests that the error of will has a purpose: the “free will” is “the

6 Introduction
most infamous of all the arts of the theologian for making mankind
‘accountable’ in his sense of the word” (64). An account of will is an ac-
count of becoming accountable, of becoming guilty: “the doctrine of will
has been invented essentially for the purpose of punishment, that is, of
finding guilty” (64). Not only does the will allow actions to be referred
back to a subject, but it is through the will that the subject is unified as
an entity. In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche notes that although “phi-
losophers are accustomed to speak of the will as though it were the best-
known thing in the world,” the unity of will, “is a unity only in name”
([1886] 1997, 12).13
In following the will as a unity, we are following a name, one given to
a subject. It is not simply that we need to account for this subject but
that, after Nietzsche, we might need to track how this subject is held
to account by being given a will. It is this model of the will that allows
a philosophical idea to be translated into a social or cultural diagnos-
tics. The will is transformed in contemporary culture into “willpower,”
into something that a responsible and moral subject must develop or
strengthen. When the will becomes will power, then the fate of the sub-
ject becomes “in its power.” And when social problems are narrated as
problems of will, they become a consequence of the failure of individu-
als to will themselves out of situations in which they find themselves.
Lauren Berlant notes: “In the new good life imagined by the contracting
state, the capitalist requirement that there be a population of poorly re-
munerated laborers-in-waiting or those who cobble together temporary
work is not deemed part of a structural problem but rather a problem
of will and ingenuity” (2004, 4, emphasis in original). When a structural
problem becomes diagnosed in terms of the will, then individuals be-
come the problem: individuals become the cause of problems deemed
their own.

A Queer History of Will

What would it mean to offer a queer history of will? Given that the will
becomes a technique, a way of holding a subject to account, it could be
understood as a straightening device. If we have this understanding of
will, we would not be surprised by its queer potential: after all, you only
straighten what is already bent. Even when error is treated as what must
be corrected, error might be the ground covered by a queer history of will.
Recall the etymology of error: from err, meaning to stray. The landscape

A Willfulness Archive 7
of will might appear differently, might appear queerly, if we notice how it
is littered with waifs and strays.
Rather than tracking the history of the will as an idea, which would
assume that idea as having a consistency that it may or may not have, I
offer a history of willing associations. A queer history of will might fore-
ground the association between will and error and explore its myriad
forms.14 We have already noted how Augustine makes this association;
and others have followed. René Descartes, for example, contrasts the
object of the will to the object of perception. The latter appears before a
subject: “The perception of the intellect extends only to the few objects
presented to it and is always externally limited.” The horizon of the will
is not limited by this before: “The will, on the other hand, can in a certain
sense be called infinite, since we observe without exception that its scope
extends to anything that can possibly be an object of any other will—
even the immeasurable will of God. So it is easy for us to extend our will
beyond what we clearly perceive; and when we do this it is no wonder that
we may happen to go wrong” ([1644] 1988, 171, emphasis added). Accord-
ing to Descartes, it is given this contrast between the finite faculty of the
intellectual and infinite faculty of the will that subjects tend to err. As
Stephen Menn explains, “The juxtaposition of these faculties does not of
itself produce error, but it gives me occasion to err, since the will extends
beyond the bounds of my understanding” (1998, 316). For Descartes, if to
will is to will what is beyond the reach of the subject, then willing easily
amounts to going wrong. Perhaps in this “easily amounts” is a firmer ar-
gument: the will is errant.
We might note the spatial and temporal aspects of the argument: we
tend to will what is not present, in the sense of here as well as now. It
is the futurity and distance of will that seems to render will faulty. We
go wrong when we try and gather what is not within reach. Descartes’s
account of will and error could usefully be compared to John Locke’s
empirical psychology. For Locke it is will that can carry the subject away
from what it wants. Even if we know what we want—happiness—we
don’t always aim wisely: “though all men desire happiness, yet their wills
carry them so contrarily” ([1690] 1997, 246, emphasis added). The contrari-
ness of the will, for Locke, is that it can carry us away from a desired
future. To be carried contrarily by will is to be carried away from happi-
ness. We can again hear the echo of Augustine: to leave the path of happi-
ness is to be willing wrong, or going the wrong way. Willing is how we
end up deviating from the right path, as well as the means for directing

8 Introduction
ourselves along that path. Perhaps if we follow the will we might in turn
leave this path, we might even wander away from the path of the willing
subject. A queer history of the will might allow the will to wander away
from such a subject.
To wander away we must first recognize the path we are asked to fol-
low. Arendt addresses Augustine as “the first philosopher of the will.”15
She is not assuming that concepts such as deliberation or preference
began with Augustine (after all, these are key ethical themes in classical
Greek philosophy), but rather suggesting that until Augustine, and the
development of “a Christian ethics of interiority” (Ferrarin 1991, 339),
the will was not understood as an independent human faculty. One might
pause here and note how a queer history of sexuality might cover some of
the same ground as the history of the faculty of the will. Augustine has
figured prominently in queer histories, for example, in Jonathan Dol-
limore’s Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991).
Augustine calls upon the will in his confessions of desire, allowing us
to reflect on will and desire as sharing a historical itinerary. Indeed,
Dollimore shows how in Augustine there is an intimate relationship
between free will and the privation and perversion of desire. A queer
history of will might proceed by investing the entangled emergence of
will and desire.
I have no doubt of the queer potential of Augustine’s work, and he
remains a key figure in my own willful history of will. But if we are not
assuming the subject of will as the only way that will becomes a subject,
we might begin elsewhere. We might start with Lucretius, the Roman
poet and philosopher, whose poem The Nature of the Universe we can
inherit because of the queer thread of history, as Stephen Greenblatt
has shown in his book The Swerve (2011). The Nature of the Universe is
a queer poem, no doubt, queer not only for its content but queer in the
very matter of its survival. A poem assumed lost for centuries only to be
found again because of the dedicated wandering of a medieval humanist,
a poem that survived on parchment, a material made out of the skin of
sheep and goats because parchment is matter that can survive the “teeth
of time” (2011, 84);16 a poem hidden in a monastery, concealed under the
mark of another’s signature.17 Greenblatt notes how the “reappearance
of his poem was such a swerve, an unforeseen deviation from the direct
trajectory—in this case, toward oblivion—on which that poem and its
philosophy seemed to be travelling” (7). For the poem to exist for us, it
must have persisted. Remember our Grimm story: mere persistence can

A Willfulness Archive 9
be an act of disobedience. Perhaps there is nothing “mere” about persis-
tence. Persistence can be a deviation from a trajectory, what stops the
hurtling forward of fate, what prevents a fatality.
The swerve of history helps us to find the swerve in history. We can
ask: how does making Lucretius a turning point in the history of will turn
that history? Jane Bennett writes of Lucretius in Vibrant Matter (2009)
and although this book has a section on the willing subject, Lucretius is
not addressed as a philosopher of the will. If we address Lucretius in this
way, we can bring to the foreground the perversity of will. In The Nature
of the Universe Lucretius offers an account of the will precisely not as a
faculty of a human subject separated from the world, one whose work
is to work upon the world. The will for Lucretius is understood as the
swerve, also described as the clinamen (this word is invented by Lucre-
tius but derives from the Latin clīnāre, to incline) in order to mount a
philosophical defense of Epicurean atomism. The will makes human be-
ings continuous with atoms, made from the same stuff; stuff understood
neither as shaped by a preordained purpose and design, nor as lifeless
and inert, but as motion and deviation. In his descriptions of the physi-
cal universe, Lucretius offers an account of will in the form of swerving
atoms: “when the atoms are travelling straight down through empty space
by their own weight, at quite indeterminate times and places, they swerve
ever so little from their course, just so much that you can call it a change of
direction” (2.66, emphasis in original). To swerve is to deviate: it is not to
be carried by the force of your own weight. What better way of learning
about the potential to deviate than from the actuality of deviation. The
swerve is just enough not to travel straightly; not to stay on course. Oh
the potential of this not!
The beauty of Lucretius’s account of the universe is that swerving
atoms are a point of continuity with all living creatures, which makes con-
tinuity into discontinuity: “If the atoms never swerve so as to originate
new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting sequence
of cause and effect—what is the source of the free will possessed by living
things throughout the earth?” (2.67). To swerve or to deviate can snap the
bonds of fate, understood as the forward trajectory of a straight line. It is
will that allows humans too not to be pushed in a certain direction, not
to travel straight by their own weight. The will is understood here as the
capacity or potential to enact a “no,” the potential not to be determined
from without, by an external force. The “no” is what makes humans on a

10 Introduction
deviant line with atoms: “There is within the human heart something that
can fight against this force and resists it,” he suggests and “in the atoms
you must recognise the same possibility” (2.68). Teresa Brennan’s descrip-
tion of free will as “the ability not to go with the flow” (2004, 56) recalls
the poetry of Lucretius’s swerving atoms.
Some have challenged the way Lucretius has been interpreted as an
account of the will of a conscious human subject, for example, by Karl
Marx in his early Hegelian work on ancient materialism. Jane Bennett
describes Marx’s “too-quick translation of atoms into human beings”
(2001, 121). We need to slow down if we are to be enchanted by matter.
To find only the human in Lucretius would certainly be to miss the point.
The point is not at the same time to expel the human from the possibility
named by the will. The human subject becomes part of the will story: just
a part, not the start. And indeed we learn from the continuity of humans
with atoms that there is another way of thinking of will: “the will” is a
name given by or in history to the possibility of deviation.
How queer is this will! As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has elaborated, the
word “queer” derives from the Indo-European word “twerk,” to turn or to
twist, also related to the word “thwart” to transverse, perverse, or cross
(1994, viii). That this word came to describe sexual subjects is no acci-
dent: those who do not follow the straight line, who to borrow Lucre-
tius’s terms, “snap the bonds of fate,” are the perverts: swerving rather
than straightening, deviating from the right course. To queer the will is
to show how the will has already been given a queer potential. Without
doubt for Lucretius this potentiality is valorized: but for others, the same
potentiality is narrated as a problem or threat, the problem or threat that
subjects might not follow the right path. Willfulness might be a conver-
sion point: how a potential is converted into a threat.
If we reread Augustine through the lens of Lucretius, we discover how
for Augustine too willing is what keeps open the possibility of deviation.
Augustine in On Free Choice of the Will suggests that even if “the movement
of the will” is similar to “the downward movement of the stone,” the stone
“has no power to check its downward movement” (3.1.72). Of course for
Lucretius the stone would have its own inclinations: the stone would not
be understood as without power, even a checking power, as the power not
to be moved straight down in a vertical line. But we can put the matter of
the stone to one side, at least for now,18 and note how the will matters as
an idea for Augustine. He seeks to explain how evil can exist in the world

A Willfulness Archive 11
despite the goodness and sovereignty of divine will. He does not describe
will simply as the potential to do evil: rather he describes will as the poten-
tial to do good. If humans did not willingly follow God, goodness would
not refer to humans but to God. Humans must be free not to be good in
order to have the possibility of being good; humans must be free to “turn
away” from the right path if that path is to become their own. This means
for Augustine it is better to leave the right path than to stay on that path
because you have no will: “A runaway horse is better than a stone that
stays in the right place only because it has no movement or perception
of its own” (On Free Choice of the Will, 3.5.81).19 In some translations this
runaway horse is a “wandering horse.” The will signifies that it is better to
leave the right place than to stay in the right place because you are unable
to move on your own. The will might even describe the relative value of
not staying in the right place. It is not simply that Augustine suggests that
to will wrongly is to deviate from the path of happiness. If the will names
the possibility of deviation, then that possibility becomes intrinsic to will.
The will is thus called upon to resolve the problem of the will: not
being fully determined from without becomes the requirement to deter-
mine from within. The will might even be willful before it becomes the
will; before it can fulfill its own requirement. It is worth noting here that
Jane Bennett’s own appreciative reading of Lucretius uses the language
of willfulness: “A certain willfulness or at least quirkiness and mobility—
the ‘swerve’—is located in the very heart of matter, and thus dispersed
throughout the universe as an attribute of all things, human or other-
wise. The swerve does not appear as a moral flaw or a sign of the sinful rebel-
liousness of humans” (2001, 81). There is a clear hesitation in Bennett’s use
of the word “willfulness,” a hesitation that takes the form of simultane-
ously using and replacing the word (“at least quirkiness or mobility”). My
arguments in Willful Subjects explain this hesitation. What happens if we
assume that the word “willfulness” is the right word? If Lucretius teaches
us that the will does not belong to the subject (if will names a potential
that matters to all matter) then willfulness too might not reside within
a subject. Willfulness is the word used to describe the perverse potential
of will and to contain that perversity in a figure. Our tendency to associ-
ate willfulness with human flaws and sin would become a symptom not
only of the desire to punish the perverts but to restrict perversion to the
conduct of the few. If willfulness provides a container for perversion, my
aim is to spill this container.

12 Introduction
A Willful Method
In following the figure of a willful subject, I assemble a willfulness
archive. This assembling is my method: a willful method. What do I mean
by a willfulness archive? We could hear in the oddness of this expres-
sion a stretching of the meaning of archive, or even an evacuation of the
archive. There is no building in which the documents of willfulness are
deposited. Or is there? Perhaps a document is a building, one that houses
or gives shelter. A willfulness archive would refer to documents that are
passed down in which willfulness comes up, as a trait, as a character
trait. Even if the documents are not contained in one place, they could be
described as containers. We could draw here on Jacques Derrida’s reflec-
tions on archives as domiciliations, where the documents are guarded, are
put under “house arrest” (1996, 2). If documents can be buildings, they
can be where an arresting happens. Perhaps it is the willful subject who is
under arrest. To arrest can mean not only to “cause to stop” but can also
be used figuratively in the sense of to catch or to hold. The willful subject
is under arrest in coming to appear to a watchful eye, to the eye of the
law, as the one who has certain qualities and attributes.
To be arrested is not to be stationary. She moves around; she turns up
by turning up in all the wrong places. The willful subject led me to where
she came to appear. In following this figure, I thus came across materials
I had not previously encountered. The Grimm fable, “The Willful Child,”
is one such example. Even as the figure of the willful child became fa-
miliar, I was still surprised by the “how” of her appearance. Research in-
volves being open to being transformed by what we encounter. This fable
redirected my thinking and became a pivot, or a table, that supported
my travels. It was thinking through this fable that led me to reconsider
how the the part/whole distinction relates to the will/willfulness distinc-
tion. I had already begun drawing on descriptions of the general will in
Pascal’s Pensées, discussed in chapter 3, in which the image of a body and
its parts (the foot as well as the hands) is so powerful. Once I found the
Grimm story, this image from Pascal made a much stronger impression.
The arm that keeps coming up began to haunt me. I began to notice other
wayward body parts. This book is full of them and the promise as well as
terror of their agency.
The Grimm story has allowed me to attend to the part of other parts. I
situate the Grimm story within a wider body of work that can be described

A Willfulness Archive 13
as “education of the will” in which the will becomes the object as well
as method for teaching a child. It is in this body of work that the figure
of the willful child appears most frequently and is called upon with the
greatest urgency. In the history of education of will, the willful child
has been hard at work.20 The function of the will as a pedagogic tool
is hard to separate from its function as a moral organ (see chapter 2).
All texts in which the figure of the willful child is “at work” could be
described as part of the history of the education of the will, which in-
cludes literary as well as philosophical materials concerned with moral
I have already noted the significance of George Eliot’s The Mill on the
Floss to the development of this project, a novel that could be described
as bildungsroman, focusing on the moral and psychological development
of a protagonist. In going back to my starting point, I ended up working
through all of Eliot’s novels, which eventually came to form a key part
of my willfulness archive, even though this book is not itself a book on
Eliot.21 I decided to work with George Eliot’s novels not only because they
were crucial to how I embarked on the willfulness trail but also because
Eliot can be thought of as a novelist of the will: she exercises the lan-
guage of will in her description of character. As Michael Davis has noted
in George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Psychology, Eliot was engaged in
the intellectual debates of the time which “dismissed the notion of the
will as free or spontaneous” (2006, 120; see also Bonaparte 1975). Within
her novels, the will appears not simply as something characters have but
as part of a moral and affective landscape. Davis concludes that Eliot
“maintains a sense of the will as a psychologically and ethically signifi-
cant category” such that “her awareness of the problems attached to the
concept of will” provides “the basis of a subtle and complex redefinition
of that concept” (2006, 120). Working closely with Eliot’s texts has helped
give more coherence to my own. Perhaps, in returning to the same body
of work, I have found a respite from wandering.
Eliot’s texts have also helped me to think of how will works as an idea
that converts into narrative, creating a world in which will as well as will-
fulness become assignments that pertain not only to persons but also
to things. As Moira Gatens notes, George Eliot can be thought of as a phi-
losopher as well as a novelist, or we could approach her novels as a “new
form of philosophical writing” (2009, 74). Eliot’s works could be described
as a novel form of philosophy. My choice of Eliot as a willful companion
reflects my own interest in reimagining the relationship of philosophy to

14 Introduction
literature. In reading Eliot as a philosopher, I also read philosophy as liter-
ature. In this book I engage with a wide range of “philosophies of the will”
and treat these philosophical works as strands of a willfulness archive. In
other words, I read philosophies of the will not simply for the content of
arguments about will, but with a reflection on how the will (sometimes
but not always in relation to willfulness) takes form and is given form
within the works themselves.
I do think of the arguments of this book as philosophical arguments
even if the book does not inhabit in any “straightforward” way the house
of philosophy. The philosophical project of the book could even be de-
scribed as not philosophy. What do I mean by this? To be doing not philoso-
phy is a way of framing one’s relation to philosophy albeit in apparently
negative terms. Not philosophy is practiced by those who are not philoso-
phers and aims to create room within philosophy for others who are not
philosophers. Not being a philosopher working with philosophy can be
understood as generative: the incapacity to return texts to their proper
histories allows us to read sideways or across, thus creating a different
angle on what is being reproduced. Not philosophy aims not to reproduce
the body of philosophy by a willful citational practice: if philosophers are
cited (and in this book many philosophers are cited) they are not only
cited alongside those who are not philosophers but are not given any
priority over those who are not. This is how I come to offer as my final
hand a rereading of Hegel’s master/slave dialectic as a companion fable
to the Grimm fable.
By not philosophy I am not, however, only referring to the philosophy
produced by those who are not philosophers. Not philosophy also attends
to “the not,” making “the not” an object of thought. Not philosophy is also
a philosophy of the not. In this book I argue that the will can be rearticu-
lated in terms of the not: whether understood as possibility or capacity,
as the possibility of not being compelled by an external force (I have dis-
cussed this understanding of will in Lucretius), or as the capacity to say
or enact a “no” to what has been given as instruction. Indeed, willfulness
as a judgment tends to fall on those who are not compelled by the rea-
soning of others. Willfulness might be what we do when we are judged as
being not, as not meeting the criteria for being human, for instance. Not
to meet the criteria for human is often to be attached to other nots, not
human as not being: not being white, not being male, not being straight,
not being able-bodied. Not being in coming up against being can trans-
form being. This statement can be heard as aspiration: not philosophy, in

A Willfulness Archive 15
reinhabiting the body of philosophy, queers that body. Willfulness: phi-
losophy astray, a stray’s philosophy.
A queer body can be a queer body of thought. Thinking through the
relationship between will and willfulness has allowed me to reorientate
my relation to the will as a philosophical idea. The arguments offered
in this book could be read alongside the work of scholars such as John
Smith (2000) and Peter Hallward (2009) who have both argued that the
critique of the volitional subject within poststructuralist thought does
not mean volition as a concept no longer has its uses. Smith argues that
some readers of “contemporary theory” might assume that “the will is an
outmoded concept” (2000, 12). He suggests that for feminist readers the
will might be understood as a “masculinist concept,” as belonging to the
subject that has been the subject of feminist critique (12).22 Smith also
notes how the will has become difficult to disentangle from Nazism, with
its triumphant “triumph of the will.”23 Hallward in turn reflects on the
tendency within poststructuralist theory to “dismiss the notion of will
as a matter of delusion or deviation” (2009, 20).
Against these dismissals of will, Smith and Hallward argue for a revised
and dialectical concept of will as a praxis or activity. I agree that the con-
cept of the will is not exhausted. I am not interested, however, in rescuing
volition from the established critiques (not all of which I would describe,
as Hallward does, as dismissals)24 even though in chapter 4 I reflect on the
importance of political will, and even if by the end of the research I began
to feel a certain commitment to the possibilities left open by will. But I am
not arguing for the will, even if I draw on its utility. One of my aims in
Willful Subjects is to deepen the critiques of voluntarism by reflecting
on the intimacy between freedom and force. I respond to Eve Kosofsky
Sedgwick’s call for us “to resist simply re-propelling the propaganda of a
receding Free Will” by drawing on willfulness to rethink the relationship
between “voluntarity and compulsion” (1994, 138). Power relations can
be secured “willingly.” When willing is secured, a will project is a security
project. Once secured, the will is not easy to apprehend as will. Phenom-
enology has been an important resource in developing this argument by
helping me to reflect on how willfulness “comes up” given how what has
been “already willed” (chapter 1) or “generally willed” (chapter 3) tends
to recede or become background. The willful subject might be striking
in her appearance not only because she disagrees with what has been
willed by others, but because she disagrees with what has disappeared
from view.

16 Introduction
To bring materials together as a willfulness archive might create an
even stronger impression of the willful subject. There are risks in strength-
ening an impression. We might presume she is the impression she leaves.
We might think we have found her there like that. It is important that we
do not assume that willfulness simply describes a disposition: although
as a description (of disposition) willfulness might have certain effects
(on disposition). We are following a depositing rather than finding what
is deposited. This book thus asks not, what is willfulness, but rather what
is willfulness doing? To ask what willfulness is doing is also to ask what
we are doing when we are being willful: this is how the question of doing
does not pass over the question of being. With these questions come oth-
ers. Where do we tend to find willfulness? When does willfulness come
up? Who is attributed as willful? A key aspect of the argument is that
willfulness is not only deposited in certain places but that through this
depositing the will is unevenly distributed in the social field. The reverse
mechanism is the same mechanism: the uneven distribution of the will is
how a figure can appear as willful (some wills appear as too full of will, a
fullness that is also narrated as an emptying or theft of will from others).
No wonder that the figure of the willful subject—often but not always a
child, often but not always female, often but not always an individual—
has become so familiar. It is the depositing of willfulness in certain places
that allows the willful subject to appear as a figure, as someone we recog-
nize, in an instant. It is this figure that explains why we might hesitate in
using the language of willfulness to describe the potential of the swerve.
She is a powerful container.
I aim to make this familiar figure of the willful subject strange by re-
flecting on the familiarity of her form. And it is thinking of the status
of the willful subject as a figure that allows us to open up the concept of
the archive. Donna Haraway (1997) has shown how figures are semiotic
and material. If figures mean; they matter. If figures matter; they mean.
A willfulness archive assembled around a figure does not only include
documents or texts. Or we could say that when we assemble an archive
(and to assemble is an action, a gathering of materials that would other-
wise remain dispersed or scattered) we do not need to approach those
materials only as texts. When figures are exercised, they move; and we
are moved by them. Just think of the Grimm story; a written text cer-
tainly, although one that no longer appears in official editions of Grimm
stories (perhaps the violence of this story is too visible though of course
the violence of the Grimm stories is never far from the surface); a written

A Willfulness Archive 17
text that might and can be read as just one translation of the oral stories
gathered by the Grimm brothers; stories in which the child’s arm or hand
coming out of the grave was a common motif.25 But I am not just think-
ing of the histories that are at stake in the arrival and passing around of
a given text. How else can we describe “The Willful Child” other than as
a text? We get further with our descriptions if we include the affective
realm. How do these words affect the reader? If the story is intended for a
child, how would it reach that child? Does it touch her because it is touch-
ing? The figure of the willful child is saturated with affect. The word “will-
ful” is an inheritance in how it is affective, which makes willfulness effec-
tive or efficient in its result. Words can smother us, enrage us; they can
leave us full or empty. When they touch us, they create an impression.
I write this book as someone who has received a willfulness impres-
sion. It is perhaps because I too was called a willful child that this figure
caught my attention. I have heard the intonation of this call, how it
can fall harshly, as accusation. This call is often a calling out to a child,
to someone who can be addressed in this way, who, at least at this time
or in my time, was assumed not to have the right to return the address.
The willful child can be part of our own history, embodied as memory:
someone we might have been or someone we might have been thought
to be, someone we became in the face of having been thought to have
been. I became interested in this figure, a ghostly figure, perhaps, a trace
or impression of a person, as someone, or as somewhere, I have been. In
including myself within this text I am, as it were, laying my cards on the
table. I am giving you my hand. I have no doubt that some would con-
clude that my hands cannot be impartial. They are not; and I fully intend
this not. I write this book with partial hands.26 Impartial hands would
leave too much untouched.
In assembling a willfulness archive, I am also working with concepts,
and I hope to return concepts to bodies. Concepts can be sweaty: a trace
of the laboring of bodies. Willfulness becomes a sweaty concept if we can
reveal the labor of its creation.27 If we hear the definition of willfulness,
cold and dusty from being lodged in a dictionary, as a call, as an address
to someone, we can think of how words and concepts leak into worlds. To
recall: “asserting or disposed to assert one’s own will against persuasion,
instruction, or command; governed by will without regard to reason;
determined to take one’s own way; obstinately self-willed or perverse.”
To be called obstinate or perverse because you are not persuaded by the
reasoning of others? Is this familiar to you? Have you heard this before?

18 Introduction
When willfulness is an attribution, a way of finding fault, then willful-
ness is also the experience of an attribution. Willfulness can be deposited
in our bodies. And when willfulness is deposited in our bodies, our bodies
become part of a willfulness archive.28
To follow willfulness around thus requires moving out of the history
of ideas and into everyday life worlds. If we inherit this history, it leaves
an impression on the skin. I could not have worked with these impres-
sions on my own, even if the experience of being called willful can feel
like being cast out. I needed the hands of others, virtual and fleshy
others, to support my own effort to make willfulness the sustained ob-
ject of theoretical reflection.
The book is organized as threads of argument that are woven together
and tied up somewhat loosely. I have used echoes and repetitions across
the chapters (the same things come up in different places). I have relied
on the sound of connection to build up a case from a series of impres-
sions and have thus imagined the writing as poetic as well as academic.
This is not to say there is no reason in the rhyme. In structuring this
book, my aim has been to thicken gradually my account of the sociality
of will. After all, the judgment of willfulness derives from a social scene:
how some have their will judged as a problem by others. The first chapter
draws on examples of individuals who are “willing together” in actual-
izing a possibility; the second reflects on how the project of eliminat-
ing willfulness from will becomes a moral imperative that is binding; the
third reflects on how some wills are generalized in a social or institu-
tional body; and the fourth considers how willfulness is required when
you come up against what has been generalized as will. One of my key
aims is to explore how the will becomes a question of time by thinking
through how will relates to the past as well as the future, and how the
will is thus never quite present or in the time we are in: the subjective
time of will is thus described as non-spontaneity and the social time of
will as non-synchronicity. The question of will becomes a question of
precedence, and in the book I explore specific figures including the guest
(chapter 1), the child (chapter 2), and the stranger (chapter 3), who can be
thought of as sharing a condition: that of coming after.
In chapter 1, “Willing Subjects,” I consider willing as an everyday experi-
ence and social activity. I explore willing as a project form, as how subjects
aim to bring certain things about. I begin in this way to depersonalize
willfulness (which as a judgment can often feel too personal, as if it is
about a person) by showing how willfulness can be attributed to whatever

A Willfulness Archive 19
gets in the way of an intention, including objects as well as subjects. In
chapter 2, “The Good Will,” I return to the figure of the willful child and
consider how she becomes a tool in the history of the education of will.
The chapter also explores how the will itself becomes a project, as what
a subject must work upon, and offers a critique of the universality of the
good will by reflecting on the gendering of the will as well as willfulness.
In chapter 3, “The General Will,” I analyze the distinction between will
and willfulness as it relates to the distinction between the general and
particular will. I explore how parts that are not willing the preservation
of the whole are charged with willfulness, including nonproductive and
nonreproductive parts. The book then offers a recharge of the charged
term of willfulness by thinking through how we are in this charge. In
chapter 4, “Willfulness as a Style of Politics,” I reflect on how willfulness
has been actively claimed. If willfulness involves a conversion point (how
a potential is converted into a threat), this chapter explores another con-
version point, what we might call a counter-conversion (how a threat can
be converted into potential). However, the mood of this chapter is not
simply or only celebratory. I reflect on experiences that are difficult and
do not wish to resolve that difficulty (to resolve difficulty would be to
lose proximity to what is difficult). In the conclusion if I do celebrate, at
least in part, willful parts (perhaps in the original sense of “celebrate” as
to frequent in numbers or to crowd), I also acknowledge that willfulness
does not provide our action with a moral ground. Being less supported
might also mean being willing to travel on unstable grounds even if (or
perhaps because) our aim is to find support.
In writing about willfulness, I concede the possibility that my own
writing will be judged as willful: as too assertive, even pushy. One of my
arguments is that some bodies have to push harder than other bodies just
to proceed; this argument might be true for arguments as well as bodies.
The Oxford English Dictionary (oed) describes the meaning of willful as
strong willed “in the positive sense” as both obsolete and rare. The nega-
tive senses of willfulness (or even willfulness as a negative sense) have
become so deeply entrenched that to open up a history of willfulness one
might have to insist on other more positive senses. I might have become
rather insistent about the potential of being insistent. Sometimes you
might even have to “over-insist” to get through a wall of perception; it is
a reflection of what we have to get over. At the same time, I am conscious
that a book on willfulness needs willing readers; by which I mean those
who are willing to keep reading, to stay with the text, whether or not they

20 Introduction
agree with it. I have thus taken as much care as I can in how and when I
have introduced willful subjects. And I have taken my time; indeed, it is
not until the last chapter of this book that I describe the world from their
point of view, from the point of view of those who receive and are shaped
by this judgment. I use the third person plural here even though I include
myself within a willfulness archive. I often address this book in this way,
thinking of it in terms of what they are doing. When I came to rewrite it,
I wondered whether they would agree.
Over time I began to reimagine the project of the book as lending my
ear to willful subjects. Although some of the stories of willfulness are
individual, the project of the book is collective: it is not only about bring-
ing individual stories together, but hearing each as a thread of a shared
history. Strays, when heard together, are noisy. Perhaps the book itself
has become plural in being filled with willful subjects. It might even have
become like what it has been filled with; willful subjects who insist on
their separation, who refuse to be subjected to my own will. Has Willful
Subjects become a willful subject? I will answer this question with a firm
yes. It is an affirmation that leads me on another willfulness trail. Femi-
nist, queer, and antiracist histories are full of rather willful books. Gloria
Anzaldúa describes Borderlands, La Frontera: The New Mestiza as follows:
“The whole thing has had a mind of its own, escaping me and insisting
on putting together the pieces of its own puzzle with minimal direction
from my will. It is a rebellious, willful entity, a precocious girl-child forced
to grow up too quickly” ([1987] 1999, 88).29 The book as a “whole thing”
can become a willful girl-child, the one who insists on getting her own
way, who comes to you with her own explanations of what it is that she
is doing. In making this connection between the willful subjects in the
book and the book itself, I was becoming a point on the genealogical line
of feminist and queer of color scholarship. This line is not a straight but
a wayward line, as it must be if we are to find each other in the puzzle of
what unfolds. In wandering away we might even reach the same places.
As I explore throughout this book, the willful subject is often depicted
as a wanderer. When you stray from the official paths, you create desire
lines, faint marks on the earth, as traces of where you or others have
been.30 A willfulness archive is premised on hope: the hope that those
who wander away from the paths they are supposed to follow leave their
footprints behind.

A Willfulness Archive 21
Chapter One


knew that I had a will, as surely as I knew that there was life in me”
(Augustine, Confessions, 7.3.136). In Augustine’s Confessions the will
becomes a property of a subject, something it has, as surely as it has a
life. Before the cogito “I think therefore I am,” before, that is, the certainty
of a subject established in thought or as thought, there is condensed in
Confessions a certainty of a subject established in will or as will.1 To speak
of the will as certain might be how the will becomes a certainty. Simon
Harrison (2006) has suggested that Augustine, in asking the philosophi-
cal question of how I know I have a will, does not assume the will in
a straightforward way, even if his answer seems certain: the question
provides a “way into” the will. Perhaps self-certainty is not how the will
becomes what is given to a subject, but how a subject can become itself:
“I have a will” understood not only as a sign of existence, “I will therefore
I am” but as an impulse to existence: “I will then I am.”
The subject of will in philosophy becomes difficult to separate from the
will of the subject, what we might call the metaphysical will. This will finds
its most perfect articulation in the German idealists including Hegel and
Schelling. The latter describes the will in the following terms: “In the final
and highest instance there is no other Being than Will. Will is the pri-
mordial Being, and all predicates apply to it alone—groundlessness, eter-
nity, independence of time, self-affirmation! All philosophy strives only
to find this highest expression” ([1809] 1936, 24, emphasis added). All
predicates end up belonging to the will: if philosophy culminates in the
will, then the will cancels out the other predicates, including predicates,
one might speculate, that were not even assumed to belong to a subject;
the world becomes will.
We have before us strong critiques of the metaphysical will includ-
ing those offered not only in Nietzsche’s work, but also in Heidegger’s
reading of Nietzsche.2 In the introduction to this book I suggested that
an alternative way of telling the story of will, one in which willfulness
is given priority, would be to allow the will to wander away from this
subject. So why start with this subject? To wander away from a path does
assume that this path provides at least a starting point for a journey. To
leave something, we must first start with something. Perhaps the ques-
tion is to find a way of starting on a path that can allow us to leave that
path. When we wander away from the subject of will, we could then take
the willing subject with us.
This chapter explores the willing subject not by assuming the will be-
longs to the subject, but following the “assumption” that it does so. It is
tricky to follow an assumption without seeming to make it. But we regularly
speak of the will as a way we speak of ourselves. Public culture is saturated
by “will talk” not only in the specific genre of self-help but more widely in
how subjects are addressed or address themselves as having wills. We do not
need to universalize this assumption to follow the assumption. Given that
we routinely describe certain experiences by exercising the language of will,
the will comes into existence, whether or not something called “the will”
exists independently of these modes of address. In this chapter, I reflect on
the will as experiential not as something we already have, but as something
we come to experience ourselves as having. An experience can mean to ap-
prehend an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind, as well
as an active participation in events or activities. An experience might also
be an event or a series of events participated in or lived through, and, more
systematically, the totality of such events in the past of an individual or
group. Taking these related meanings together, I reflect on how we come
to apprehend ourselves as having a will over and in time. I ask how it is
that an apprehension of will allows subjects to experience themselves as
participating in events, as “going through” them willingly, or even as ex-
periencing events, or the totality of events, as if they are “brought about”
by volition. When we use the word “will” or “willing” it implies then an
experience a subject has of itself as bringing something about, whether
or not the subject is bringing something about.3 It is possible then to
experience oneself as willing something that one does not bring about.
From this opening description, it should be obvious that I am brack-
eting the question of whether or not something called “the will” exists
as a faculty; or, again, in phenomenological terms, I am suspending my

24 Chapter One
own belief in its existence. My descriptions in this chapter contribute
to the development of a social phenomenology of will. It is worth ask-
ing how this phenomenological method can “sit” with the genealogical
critique of the will offered by Nietzsche that I evoked affirmatively in
my introduction. How can phenomenology and genealogy be seated at
the same table? After all, the phenomenological method of the epoché,
which requires we bracket our presuppositions of a given object, might
also require we bracket our knowledge of the history of that object. In
Queer Phenomenology, I combined phenomenological and genealogical
approaches (in this case to tables, and yes, tables will return) by reflect-
ing on the temporal as well as spatial aspects of “the behind.” As Hus-
serl showed in the first volume of Ideas, we cannot see the object from
all sides; the object is viewed in profile. If I walk around the table, the
“one and the self-same table,” my perceptions change but the table does
not ([1913] 1969, 130). As such, the table as a self-same object can only
be intended by consciousness: an intentionality I redescribed in queer
terms, as a conjuring of a behind (Ahmed 2006, 36). What is behind the
object in a temporal sense also involves secrecy or withdrawal: it is not
available from a viewing point. Just as it involves time and labor to see
more than a profile (to reveal an object, however partial this process of
revelation remains, since we never quite “catch” the whole thing at once);
so too it involves time and labor to recover an object’s historicity (to re-
veal what is behind an object, its conditions of arrival).4
An object can be a material thing in the world. Or an object can be
what we apprehend; what we turn toward, or what is created as an effect
of turning. It follows that a subject can be the object we are apprehending.
To relocate the will as an object of thought, as what we are apprehend-
ing, requires the use of phenomenological and genealogical methods.
We need simultaneously to suspend our commitment to will as what is
behind an action and to give a history of how the will comes to be under-
stood as “behind.” In other words, it is the very normative assumption
of a faculty of will that creates the impression of a subject that is behind
an action. When we give a history of this assumption, we are putting it
out of action; we thus achieve an ability to describe willing as a mode of
Nietzsche and Husserl allow in different but related ways a reorientation
toward willing. As I have already noted, Nietzsche offers a critique of the
faculty of the will as part of the general error of causality. This disbelief
in “the will” allows him to offer a phenomenological redescription of

Willing Subjects 25
willing.5 In Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, willing becomes described
in terms of bodily sensations as well as orientations: “Let us say that in
all willing there is firstly a plurality of sensations, namely the sensation
of the condition ‘away from which we go,’ the sensation of the condition
‘towards which we go,’ the sensation of this ‘from’ and ‘towards’ itself, and
then besides, an accompanying muscular sensation, which, even with-
out our putting into motion ‘arms and legs,’ commences its action by
forces of habit, directly we ‘will’ anything” ([1886] 1997, 12–13, emphases
in original).6 Willing is redescribed here as a process of being affected
that involves orientations toward and away from things. Indeed, what is
being sensed in willing is not the will as such but a “from” and “towards,”
that is, a body in action. Nietzsche’s account of willing in terms of bodily
orientations (that might not be noticed when we assume a will as behind
an action) involves a reorientation not only toward the faculty of will,
but also to the limbs of the body, which might be assumed to be lagging
behind, obeying a command given by a will.7 In turn, Husserl teaches us
how phenomenology offers not only a critique of empirical psychology
but also a theoretical attitude to and thus “reorientation” of an already
existing attitude ([1936–54] 1970, 280). Husserl also describes an exist-
ing attitude in terms of habits of the will: “Attitude, generally speak-
ing, means a habitually fixed style of willing life comprising directions
of the will or interests that are prescribed by this style, comprising the
ultimate ends, the cultural accomplishments whose total style is thereby
determined” (280). Phenomenology provides an important resource for
thinking about willing as a purposeful activity, as a way of being directed
toward certain ends or goals whose value is given within what Husserl
describes here as a “historical situation” (61). Furthermore, phenomenol-
ogy offers a set of critical and reflexive methods for investigating not
only consciousness, but the relationship between the voluntary and in-
voluntary aspects of experience.8 I draw on Husserl, among other phe-
nomenologists, to consider willing as a way we experience inhabiting a
world with others.

Calling upon Will

How does the will become a form of address?9 I want to reflect here on
Augustine’s Confessions as a style of self-writing or autobiographical
writing that gives voice to will. Richard Freadman in Threads of Life: Auto-
biography and the Will treats Confessions as the locus classicus of reflective

26 Chapter One
autobiography, showing the inseparability of the genre of autobiography
from the emergence of the genre of the will (2001, 23). A line of inheri-
tance can be drawn from Augustine to Husserl, who concludes his Carte-
sian Meditations with a quote from Augustine: “Do not wish to go out; go
back into yourself. Truth dwells in the inner man” ([1931] 1999, 157). We
can note the continuity between Husserl’s phenomenological method
and the method of self-investigation used by Augustine in Confessions.
Husserl notes: “I must lose the world by epoché in order to regain it by
a universal self-examination” (157). This “losing” of the world is tempo-
rary: going back is a way of returning to oneself, or turning into oneself
in order to return to the world.
Augustine’s Confessions could thus be read as a “phenomenology of
the will” as Robert Bernasconi (1992) suggests. To read the book in this
way is to make a methodological point, which is to say, to point to the
method of the book as central to its depiction of will as a phenomena.
The book is written as an address to God, such that “the will” takes the
form of an address. It is in the context of such an address that Augustine
speaks of his certainty about will: “One thing lifted me up into the light
of your day. It was that I knew I had a will, as surely as I knew that there
was life in me. When I chose to do something or not to do it, I was quite
certain that it was my own self, and not some other person, who made
this act of will, so that I was on the point of understanding that herein
lay the cause of my sin” (7.3.136). Here the certainty of will is not simply
about self-certainty but also about being the cause of one’s actions, and
in particular, being the cause of one’s own sin. If will is narratable as free-
dom (to will freely is to be one’s own cause) then freedom is affectively
registered as guilt.
This sentence does more than assign guilt: it creates a subject who can
receive the assignment. The “I” that is speaking is an “I” that is spoken.
The split between the I that speaks and the I that is spoken is a split that
has been much reflected upon within poststructuralist thought and is
a key component of Lacanian psychoanalysis (as the split between the
subject of enunciation and the subject of the énoncé), marking the advent
of the subject into language. We might develop a different angle on this
theme by considering how “willing” is involved in the scene of splitting:
the split between the willer and the willed is a split within the subject.
If in willing I am willing myself, then willing creates a distinction in self.
The will appears on both sides of an address, on the side of a subject and
the object: who is willing, what is willed.

Willing Subjects 27
Throughout Confessions, Augustine in calling upon this will creates a
will that can be called upon. The will in being called upon is not given “a
unity” even in name (Nietzsche [1886] 1997, 12). In addressing his own
will, Augustine talks of having more than one will, and of an internal war
as a war between wills:
I was held fast, not in fetters clamped upon me by another, but by my
own will, which had the strength of iron chains. The enemy held my
will in his power and from it he had made a chain and shackled me. For
my will was perverse and lust had grown from it and when I gave in
to lust habit was born, and when I did not resist the habit it became
a necessity. These were the links which together formed what I have
called my chain, and it held me fast in the duress of servitude. But
the new will which had come to life in me and made me wish to serve
you freely and enjoy you, my God, who are our only certain joy, was
not yet strong enough to overcome the old, hardened as it was by the
passage of time. (8.5.164)
A struggle between old and new wills is a struggle between good and evil,
but where good and evil are represented as forces within oneself rather
than forces simply coming from the outside. One can be self-shackled
if one’s will is in a state of imperfection. Note an imperfect will is as-
sociated for Augustine with desire and lust, which have become trans-
formed from will into habit, from freedom to necessity. The passage gives
an account of an internal war with oneself. Although an enemy can be
identified as the one who has one’s own will “held in his power,” enmity
cannot be eased by being projected onto a stranger. An enemy can be
one’s own will: a will that in being older is a trace of where a subject has
been.10 To struggle with will is here a struggle against oneself and one’s
own history.
When one’s wills are at war, one is at war with oneself. This internal
war is represented as war not only between wills but between body and
mind. Augustine contrasts willing the body, where “to will it was to do
it” (in cases when what is willed is within one’s bodily competence), with
willing the mind, where one can will and “not do it” (8.8.171).11 Augustine
introduces a command structure: to will is to order oneself to will. An order
to will is a willing to do, and willing to do is a sign of not having done:
The mind orders itself to make an act of will, and it would not give
this order unless it willed to do so; yet it does not carry out its own

28 Chapter One
command. But it does not fully will to do this thing and therefore its
orders are not fully given. It gives the order only in so far as it wills,
and in so far as it does not will the order is not carried out. For the will
commands that an act of will should be made, and it gives the com-
mand to itself, not to some other will. The reason, then, why the com-
mand is not obeyed is that it is not given with the full will. If the will
were full, it would not command itself to be full, since it would be so
already. (8.9.172)

Accounting for this rather extraordinary passage is one of my tasks in

this book. If willing is to command to will, then willing by virtue of the
command is not or not yet to carry out what is willed. A full will is that
which does not need to will itself to be full. Willing is thus what a subject
does—or even must do—when a command has not been obeyed. A com-
mand is when a subject wills itself to will. We can note Nietzsche’s own
redefinition of the will as the “emotion of the command” ([1886] 1997,
12). He suggests “we are at the same time the commander and the obey-
ing parties” (13). Perhaps we cannot quite be both parties at once. In com-
manding, we have not carried out what is being commanded; in obeying,
we are dependent on a command having already been given.
I will be returning to the question of the relationship between will,
commandment, and obedience in the following chapters. Suffice to say
here that willing as an activity rests precisely on a subject that is out of
time with itself. The subjective time of willing could even be described
as an experience of non-spontaneity; a willing subject is always behind or
ahead of itself. As Hannah Arendt describes in her reading of Confessions:
“the price paid for the Will’s Omnipotence is very high; the worst that,
from the viewpoint of the thinking ego, could happen to the two-in-one,
namely, to be ‘at variance with yourself,’ has become part and parcel of
the human condition” (1978, 83). Self-variance even if it is represented in
Augustine as the agony of not willing what one wills oneself to will is also
an opening: the experience of not obeying what has been given as a com-
mand. It is possible to give a different inflection to this warring scene:
the price of Will’s omnipotence—self-variation—could be retheorized as
an escape valve, a way of not carrying out what has been given as com-
mand. A willfulness archive is an archive of will’s incompletion.12
One could extend the dramatic scene of Augustine’s warring wills to
a more everyday sense of willing (and we would be following Augustine’s
lead here, as Confessions is an account of willing in an everyday sense): we

Willing Subjects 29
will ourselves to will, we will to will, when our will has not been carried
out. The will then is what is addressed by the subject when it addresses
its own failure to carry out a command. In hearing will as a command,
we might imagine the will as externality, as another, one who says: keep
going! The personal trainer as “will enforcer” might make explicit what
is implicit in our relation to the will: a tendency to think the will’s exter-
nality, as if the will is coming from the outside. This sense of will’s exter-
nality has an audible component: the voice of will can be heard as the
voice of an outsider (is it more “commanding” when a command is given
by another?). One wonders whether the externalization of the will makes
external what is already external; in other words, that the subject imag-
ines the will as if it is coming from the outside in order to preserve a
fantasy of interiority (as if I had myself put the trainer “there” to express
my own will, as if without the trainer, the will would be mine).
It might be easier to imagine the will as externality than to face our-
selves as the giver of a command that is not full (easier in the sense of
heightening one’s readiness to obey). That will is experienced as an inter-
nal barrier, or an internal wall, offers us another way of thinking about
will in relation to freedom. Consider the feeling of fright, when there
is no barrier between one’s body and an approaching train; you might
step back, as if without that barrier, you could step forward into that
train, that lurching figure for the alarm of futurity. As Søren Kierkegaard
suggests, fear can be experienced as “the alarming possibility of being
able” ([1844] 1957, 40), a fear of not having a constraint between one-
self and what lies ahead. We can understand how the word we often use
for freedom becomes the word that is invested with the power of check-
ing that freedom: the will. The potential to fall into the abyss of the not
yet becomes the requirement that the subject stop itself from falling. In
other words, to exercise will is to negate the potentiality the will names,
understood in negative terms, as the potential to compromise the very
ground of one’s own existence.
Perhaps it is by exercising will that “the will” acquires coherence. The
futurity of will—the sense that our future depends on being willing to
will—is thus retrospective. A present (“I willed myself”) can happen
because the subject can recall the will (calling upon will is thus a recall-
ing). We might in calling upon the will in situations of difficulty not only
bring the will into the existence by giving it an existence, but also give
the will a certain character (as friend, as foe, as whom we need, as who
drives us, and so on). We could think of the sensible will as memory: a

30 Chapter One
memory of willing as an activity undergone in certain situations is how
the will acquires coherence. A memory of will might be not only how the
will persists as an idea (as an idea of persistence), but also how the will
is charged with affective value: in remembering willing, we might also be
remembering situations in which willing seemed necessary. Over time,
we come to have a sense of the “protracted continuity of the will,” as
Judith Butler describes in her reading of Nietzsche (1997b, 71). The expe-
rience of will as an activity, as something that happens in and over time,
thus creates a sense of the longevity of will. Willing over time and in time
creates the very impression of “the will.”
If calling upon will is what creates the impression of continuity, then
recalling the will is also an affirmation. Edmund Husserl in Experience
and Judgment reflects on willing in relation to acquisition ([1948] 1973,
201–2). An acquisition is not “mere memory” of will:
It is reproduced otherwise than in a mere memory: a modification of
the will is present, as with every acquisition. This gives it the character
not only of something which has been voluntarily apprehended ear-
lier, but of an acquisition which still continues to be valid, which we
still hold in our will, not simply repeating the act of will, but willing
in the form of reproduction, which is that of the “still”: I, the present
ego, as belonging to the particular mode of the present am still willing:
therein it is implied that I am in accord with the past act of will, that
I am also willing it, holding it as conjointly valid—I, the present ego,
presently willing. (202, emphases in original)
If to be willing is to be still willing, then willing is not only in accordance
with the past but affirms that accordance. In willing, there is an agree-
ment not only with what is being willed, but with the past that has been
willed, and that is being reproduced in will.

The Will as Project

Even when “the will” is called upon by a subject, and thus called into ex-
istence, it describes a complicated situation rather than a unity. We call
upon the will in situations when will is required to carry out a command,
one that is heard as directive: what ought to be followed but has yet to
be followed. The timing of will thus seems crucial: if one “wills to will”
then willing seems to operate in the future tense, although of course the
future becomes tense in the present. In other words, if the will makes

Willing Subjects 31
itself into an object, the object is not present: if the will is willing itself,
then the will is bringing something into existence that does not yet exist,
which includes in some way “the will” itself.
The futurity of willing seems at one level self-evident. Will has both
verb and noun forms. I will focus on the former. The verb “will” can be
used as a simple auxiliary verb to express the future tense (“the party
will take place tomorrow”), or can carry the implication of intention or
volition (“I will bake a cake for the party”). It derives from the Old En-
glish word willan, wyllan,13 which also suggest wish and want, and can be
contrasted with “shall” deriving from sceal, which implied must or ought
(Smith 1996, 142).14 If the words “will,” “wish,” and “want” are related,
then one history of will could be understood as the evacuation of wish
and want from will. The will acquires meaning and force as that which
can eliminate desire from human intention. This history begins with Au-
gustine and culminates most obviously in Kantian ethics, which invests
in the will as a moral faculty that must be distinguished from the patho-
logical nature of all inclinations. I will return to the moral status of the
faculty of the will in the following chapter. Assuming the kinship of these
terms for the moment, we can note that to wish for something, to want
something, and to will something all register a “good intention” in rela-
tion to something that does not exist at present. I use the expression
“good intention” in the sense that wishing, desiring, and willing imply
a positive evaluation of something: they are positings of the positivity
of the not yet thing. Wishing, desiring, and willing thus all are activities
that face a future in a certain way in or even as the aim to bring some-
thing about.
The history of the word “will” also implies a different kind of relation
to futurity than do “wish” and “want.” Although the words “wish” and
“want” can imply intention, they do not tend to be used in the same way
to denote a subject’s commitment to a future action. You can wish and
want without doing anything; you can even withdraw from the imme-
diacy of action by becoming wishful. Indeed, it is the relation between
willing and action that seems specific to will (although recalling Augus-
tine willing might point to action insofar as we are willing when we are
not doing). Whether or not we assume there is faculty of the will, the
language of will is the language of intention: the will as a verb allows
us to make promises as well as to break them. It is understandable why
Nietzsche’s genealogy of will focuses on the creation of a subject who is
“competent to promise” ([1887] 2003, 36, emphasis in original).

32 Chapter One
It is not that all comings and goings imply or involve willing, but
that willing describes how some comings and goings are “carried out.”
It is this relationship between will and intentionality that explains why
a phenomenological approach is well suited to address the will. We can
begin with Paul Ricoeur’s observation that willing is a form of intention-
ality. Indeed, Ricoeur suggests that volition is “intention par excellence,”
as to will something is to aim at something (1967, 16). Will thus “places
us at the heart of the intentional function of consciousness” (17). We
could argue that willing makes “literal” the aim of consciousness. Hus-
serl might help us to develop a more precise argument about the inten-
tionality of will by not making will into an expression of intentionality.
As Ullrich Melle suggests with reference to Husserl’s essay, “Valuing and
Value,” Husserl offers an understanding of intentionality as twofold:
firstly, in the usual sense of consciousness; and secondly, in the sense of
striving or tendency (2005, 75). My interest here will be to think about
how the first sense of intentionality as “of-ness” or “aboutness” can be
related to the second sense of intentionality as striving.
It is important to recognize that Husserl did not offer one thesis
that could be called a phenomenology of the will. And yet we can track
in his intellectual genealogy a genealogy of thinking about the will. In
the first book of Ideas, Husserl describes “the sphere of the Will” in the
following way:
On the one side we have the resolution we make at any moment, with
all the experiences which demand it as a basis, which indeed it includes
within itself taken in its concreteness. A variety of noetic phases be-
long to it. Volitional affirmations presuppose affirmations in regards
to values, positing of things, and the like. On the other hand, we find
the resolve as a unique type of absorption into the object, belonging
specifically to the domain of the will, and obviously grounded in other
and similar noematic absorptions in the object. If then as phenom-
enologists we suspend all our real affirmations, the phenomena of
will, as a phenomenologically pure intentional experience, retains its
“willed as such,” as a noema proper to the will; the “will’s meaning (Wil-
lensmeinung), and in this precise way in which it subsists as “meaning”
in this will (on its full essentiality), and with whatever is willed “in all
of its ramifications.” ([1913] 1969, 278, emphases in original)
Husserl begins if you will with the “natural attitude” implicit to willing: in
a particular moment you might resolve to do something. Such a resolution

Willing Subjects 33
has a concreteness (it has something “in mind”), and in its very concrete-
ness, it cannot simply be separated from other noetic acts. If to have a
resolution is to resolve to do something, it is also to make a value judg-
ment about that thing. The resolution is also an affirming of something,
even if that thing does not exist in the present.15 One cannot will, with-
out also positing and valuing the willed. Although resolution cannot be
separated from other noetic acts, there is also an implication that willing
is a specific kind of act, which is described here as “unique absorption.”
Perhaps because a resolution is to bring about something that does not
yet exist, it requires a particular effort or striving. And in the method
of the epoché, in bracketing our affirmations, Husserl suggests we can
find the noema proper to will, the “willed as such,” which is not to say the
concrete object that we resolve to bring about, but the essential meaning
of this willing about, in all of its ramifications.
In the second book of Ideas, Husserl offers a more elaborate phenom-
enological description of the kind of activity of willing, or what we can
think of as a “willing about” that attends to its object in the effort to
bring it about. In his description of willing, he sets a scene:

I am first of all engaged in setting the scene; the action which now un-
folds is constituted as having happened according to my will, as hap-
pening through my agency as a freely willing being; I am constantly
there as bringing about the strived for, as aiming in will. And every
phase of the aiming itself is such that in it the pure willing subject
“attains” the willed as such. The pure Ego not only lives in singular
acts as accomplishing, as active and as passive. Free and yet attracted
by the Object, it goes forth from act to act, and it experiences exci-
tations from the Objects constituted in the “background,” without
immediately giving in to them, it allows them to intensify, to knock
at the door of consciousness; and then it surrenders, perhaps even
“completely,” turning from the one Object to the other. ([1952] 1989,
104–5, emphasis in original)

The scene of willing hesitates between a past tense (“having happened”

is an accordance with will), present tense (singular acts that are ac-
complishing), and future tense (turning toward that which is not fully
present). We can think of willing as between tenses. The will in mov-
ing from object to object is not bringing something about that did not
exist beforehand: the will permits what already exists to come forth to
consciousness (“bringing about” as “allows them to intensify”). To turn

34 Chapter One
toward something in willing is to move something from the back to the
front; to bring about is to bring forth.
A willing subject leans toward what is being willed. To get behind
something is to orientate the body that way. Think of those situations
when your own body has nothing to do with an event but participates as
if it is “right there.” You are a spectator at a sporting event, and you are
watching your favorite team. You might “will” the ball into the goal by
leaning that way. You are getting behind your team by the direction in
which you lean, even when you know leaning that way has nothing to do
with what happens. Or think of those situations when you “will some-
thing on” knowing that your willing is not a switch that turns something
on. You might be waiting for someone to come home, and be willing the
plane to go faster as if the weight of your desire for the arrival of the
plane could carry the plane forward, even though you know it cannot.
The feeling of getting behind something is a bodily feeling that is not
necessarily always intended to influence an outcome. The feeling of in-
fluencing might be a satisfying feeling even when it is separated, or per-
haps because it can be separated, from being influential. Otherwise, we
might need to exercise a more cautionary refrain: be careful what you
will for.
However, this is not to say that willing is always separated from the
possibility of being influential. The separation “makes sense” insofar as
it borrows from the possibility implied by willing. The body moves as if
it is contributing to making something possible because it recalls prior
acts of willing. We can think of the impressions of willing as bodily im-
pressions. For Husserl willing is corporeal: a willing is a bodily turn. In-
deed it is noteworthy that Husserl describes the body as “an organ of the
Will” ([1952] 1989, 159) insofar as the body is the object, even the “one and
only Object” for “the will of the pure ego” that is “moveable immediately
and spontaneously” (159, emphases in original). This is why for a willing
subject possibility is practical; a subject “can do” this or that because of
how they are orientated, this way or that, what they are already near. A
faculty is “not an empty ability” but “a positive potentiality” (267, emphases
in original).16 Something can only become a thematic of the will insofar
as it has already achieved the status of being practically possible: “It is
only between practical possibilities that I can ‘decide,’ and only a practi-
cal possibility can (this is an other theoretical ‘can’) be a theme of my
will. I cannot will anything that I do not have consciously in view, that
does not lie in my power, in my competence” (270). To bring something

Willing Subjects 35
about thus requires something to already exist within a horizon, as the
determination of what is within reach.
We can thus understand why it is important that willing is not simply
seen as “intentionality” par excellence, but is a specific mode of inten-
tionality. As Husserl himself argues in Analyses concerning Passive and
Active Synthesis, the meaning of the will has been taken up “too broadly.”
He suggests that the will should be used to refer to a “special mode of
activity which spreads over all other regions of consciousness insofar as
all activity can occur in the form of voluntary activity” ([1966] 2001, 282).
I want to describe the special nature of will intentionality by thinking of
it as “end orientated.” What do I mean by this? A conventional (but not
universal) formulation is that in willing we are always willing something.
Arthur Schopenhauer, for example, argues that “when a man wills, he
wills something: his will is always directed toward an object and can be
thought of only in relation to an object” ([1839] 2005, 14). We can con-
trast this idea of willing as directed toward objects with Hannah Arendt’s
description: “In order to will, the mind must withdraw from the immedi-
acy of desire, which, without reflecting and without reflexivity, stretches
out its hand to get hold of the desired object; for the will is not concerned
with objects but with projects, for instance, with the future availability
of an object that it may or may not desire in the present. The will trans-
forms the desire into an intention” (1978, 76). For Schopenhauer to will
is to will an object; for Arendt, to will is to suspend your relation to an
object, at least in the present tense, which is at once the intuitive sense
of an object’s presence.17
Willing might be directed toward an object, to the point of absorption,
but that object in becoming an object of will is simultaneously a project:
not simply what consciousness aims at, but what it aims for. An experi-
ence of willing might be bound up with how a subject experiences itself
as being for. You get behind what you are for. We can describe such experi-
ences as projection. Heidegger’s account of projection would be an obvi-
ous reference point here.18 In Being and Time, Heidegger suggests that
projection “has nothing to do with comporting oneself toward a plan
that has been thought out,” but rather as being what “throws possibil-
ity before itself as possibility” ([1927] 1962, 185). Following Heidegger,
we can recall that the word “project” (“throw forward”) shares its origin
with the “object” (“throw against”): both derive from the Latin jacere, “to
throw.” Perhaps there is a jostle between a forward and against. The will
might throw what it comes up against forward. If willing something is to

36 Chapter One
be involved in a project in the present, then the project itself can be an
object, a “what” that is thrown forth.
Husserl allows us to attend to how the “throwing forth” of projection
takes us back. As I have already suggested, for Husserl something can only
be a thematic of the will if it is already practically possible. To become
absorbed can be to allow something to make an appearance. This appear-
ance is a bringing forth, where something that was background becomes
foreground. A project can be rethought as a bringing forth. The subject
experiences itself as actively involved in this bringing. We can thus put
the “plan” back into project by returning to Husserl: thinking of the plan
not simply as a program of action, but as an idea of a future possibility that
a subject is willing to actualize.
The object of will is thus simultaneously an end: if to will is to will this
or that, then willing has a particular end in sight, a realization of a future
possibility. We might describe the work of willing as accomplishment (to
accomplish is to fulfill, fill up, complete). To will is to put one’s energy into
becoming accomplished in this way or that. This sense of will as energetic,
as getting the body “behind” an action is important. It is not that the will
is behind the subject but that willing might describe the feeling of get-
ting behind something. If willing is an energetic relationship to a future
possibility, not all possibilities become an object of will, not all possibili-
ties require energy to become actualized. So I might will myself to write
not only because I have an end in sight (becoming a writer, becoming one
who has accomplished writing), but because I am blocked, or because I
encounter myself as being blocked (the obstacle that gets in the way of
the will can be myself and my own body). Willing might be how we en-
counter an obstacle as that which is to be overcome: we might perceive
the will as a resource insofar as it is bound up with a scene of overcoming.
We do not have to give power to the will to suggest that how we expe-
rience willing is involved in how we experience power (understood here
as capacity or competence). This is not to say willing is necessarily con-
fident. Willing can be anxious: we might be anxious that what is willed
will not be accomplished or even that “without will” we would not be able
to accomplish our aim (if we feel we need will for an accomplishment,
will is given the power to prevent an accomplishment). No wonder will-
ing is moody. Arendt suggests the normal mood for willing is anxious:
“The normal mood of the willing ego is impatience, disquiet and worry
(Sorge), not merely because of the soul’s reacting to the future in fear and
hope, but also because the will’s project presupposes an I-can that is by

Willing Subjects 37
no means guaranteed” (1978, 37). But perhaps even if willing admits the
anxiety that what is willed might not happen, it is possible that there are
different willing moods depending on the subject’s own “sense” of what
can be reached. When a subject is willing something, reaching for what is
not yet reached, it would experience a gap. A willing mood might fill this
gap by judging the gap: when hopeful and confident, the gap seems to be
shrinking; when worried or anxious, the gap seems to become larger. A
willing mood might, in other words, not simply attribute an object with
feeling (all willing, we might assume, gives that object the “content” of an
aim or end, in other words, estimates something as a desirable thing)19
but is a judgment of the relative proximity or distance between a subject
and what is being aimed for. How we feel about what we are for is affected
by how close we feel to that what.
When will seems necessary for an accomplishment, the will becomes
the object of consciousness. We tend to the will as a way of attending to
what is not yet reached, as a way of reaching what is not yet. Edith Stein
describes willing as a relation to tiredness or fatigue: the subject calls
on its will, when the achievement of its aim seems to be receding from a
horizon of possibilities. To give way to tiredness is for Stein a giving up
of will and its objectivity ([1916] 1989, 55–56).20 This is how it becomes
possible that the will itself can be an object, something that one is con-
scious of as will, as that which is being called forth; we might even, in
willing this or that, have our will “in sight” as what we need to complete
an action. Rather than assuming the will as a faculty of the subject, the
will would be an object of experience, as what we experience when we ex-
perience ourselves as willing. At this moment, when will glimpses itself
willing, the object of the will is a project, and the object of consciousness
is the will.
To anticipate what is to come is to inhabit a sphere of possibilities
that are not only present but also behind us. Husserl’s own emphasis on
time consciousness, on the relation between the now and the just past
and the barely glimpsed future, might help us to think the complexity of
willing as present tense. When willing something I might even have to
keep the idea or value of that thing present to myself, where “keeping
present” (keeping something intense, or “knocking at the door of con-
sciousness” to draw on Husserl’s earlier description) involves an effort of
attention. We could thus think of will as a struggle to avoid what is being
willed receding as a possibility from the present, or receding in advance
of actualization. William James describes how an act of will is required

38 Chapter One
in situations where an object would otherwise slip away: “Everywhere
then the function of effort is the same: to keep affirming and adopting
a thought which, if left to itself, would slip away” ([1890] 1950, 565).21 If
willing is a valuing of a future possibility, then willing might be required
when we perceive a possibility slipping away, or even more simply, in the
perception of slipping.
When willing is required for a possibility to become actual then will-
ing is a relation to that which has not yet arrived, as what we can glimpse
(and must glimpse in order for it to come more fully into view) insofar
as it is “not now.”22 Perhaps once it is now, we no longer need to will it at
least in the active or conscious sense. An arrival appears as a will cessa-
tion; or perhaps the cessation of willing is an arrival (the already willed).
Willing might involve protention, which Husserl describe as the “intui-
tive effective” way of inhabiting the present by “fore-seeing” what lies
just ahead, where to foresee is at once to retain what has happened just
before ([1966] 2001, 614; also see Rodemeyer 2003). Or willing might in-
volve the most active form of protention: to will is to protend (“to hold
out, to stretch forth”), when we have to aim for a “not yet” to become
now. The project form of the will is how a body comes to stretch out, in
the very process of actively converting a possibility, or at least of feeling
itself as involved in this conversion. This stretchiness is well described
by Paul Ricoeur: “If we call ‘project’ in the strict sense the object of a
decision—the willed, that which I decide—we can say that to decide is
to turn myself towards the project, to forget myself in the project, to
be outside myself in the project, without taking time to observe myself
willing” ([1950] 2007, 43). A decision is willed, and is thus how possibility
acquires “a consistency and almost physical density: it is on the way to
actualisation” (54). As a possibility comes within reach, a density of expe-
rience is acquired. Willing might be an experience of being “on the way”
to actualization.

The Will Sphere

I have suggested willing as an activity might refer to a sense of accom-
plishment. In willing, we feel we are accomplishing something. Our aim
to become accomplished might be how willing not only points toward a
future, but is the feeling of the future coming closer. For Nietzsche when
the will encounters the past, it can only be frustrated as the will cannot
“will backwards” ([1883–85] 1961, 114). Indeed, Heidegger, drawing on

Willing Subjects 39
Nietzsche, puts the argument in stronger terms: “The ‘it was’ becomes
a stumbling block for all willing. It is the block which the will can no
longer budge. Then the ‘it was’ becomes the sorrow and despair of all
willing, which, being what it is, always wills forward, and is always foiled
by bygones that lie fixed firmly in the past. Thus the ‘it was’ is revolting
and contrary to the will” ([1954] 1976, 92). The description of the “it was”
makes the past into a willful object: what is not movable by the will is
contrary to the will.23
An alternative angle would be to reflect on how it is by having willed
that a subject is surrounded with the scenes of accomplishment. The
writer can write because she can take up the equipment that is already
“there” as she has this intention, whether or not she writes. The objects
that surround her are objects of hope. If a project becomes what is behind
you, then it can place objects in front of you, as things that can be taken
up again. An accomplishment might, in other words, be how a will ap-
proaches the past not with frustration but friendliness. We might rely on
the past as how we can be prepared to take things up again. Frustration
happens: for instance, if something is missing, something we expected
to be there (because we had put it there), we are unable to complete an
action we thought we were prepared for. When an expectation is frus-
trated, then frustration is directed toward a future (as that which has not
been brought about).
To actualize a potential is to create a horizon. If you will something,
then certain things must be around, those things necessary to accom-
plish something. Things are within reach, because they have already been
gathered. It is not simply a subject who is becoming accomplished in
an accomplishment. What is “here” is also accomplished. The risk of as-
suming “here” as accomplished is the risk of assuming a will behind that
accomplishment. At the same time, a political reorientation to what is
“here” often works through suggesting that what is “here” does not have
to be “here.” As Hannah Arendt describes (in reference to Henri Bergson’s
work), once an action is accomplished “it loses its air of contingency”
(1978, 30). To think of “here” as an accomplishment is to restore an air of
contingency. The distinction of “here” and “there” reminds us too of the
orientated nature of space. A “there” can also be the product of “willed
human work.” This expression “willed human work” is one of Edward
Said’s definitions of Orientalism (1978, 140). The suggestion is not simply
that the Orient is brought into existence, or made to exist, but also that
the very labor of creating the Orient, the land of the stranger; the land

40 Chapter One
far away, is what establishes a direction. Once the Orient has come to
exist, there is a willing of its existence; to keep going that way is to keep
that way going. Willed work is work that in willing that way creates a way
that can be willed. It is not as the old cliché says—where there’s a will
there’s a way—but that to will is to way.
We can think about willing as a way by returning to the matter of the
table, or how tables matter.24 Willing might be a way of being occupied
by, as well as orientated toward, the table. The writer might be facing
the table. Around the writer are objects that support the action of writ-
ing, not only the table, but also the paper and the inkwell, or the com-
puter and the keyboard. What surrounds or gathers around the writer
are objects that in being signs of tendency point toward certain actions.
What Husserl calls “the near sphere” or “the core sphere,” “a sphere of
things that I can reach with my kinestheses and which I can experience
in an optimal form through seeing, touching etc” ([1946] 2002, 149)—
could thus also be described as “a will sphere.” A will sphere is dynamic: if
you reach for what is already within reach, reaching can also extend what
is within reach. The will sphere is also worldly: showing us how we are
involved in our surroundings. The looseness of this gathering (think of
the objects lying around) gives us a pointer on the nature of this involve-
ment. If we can reach for certain things without thinking, the already
willed has receded into the background. This recession is temporary: if
the already willed denotes a sphere of activities, then objects come to the
foreground and recede into the background in a dynamic way. Even when
objects gathered are foregrounded (when the writer sits at the table, or
takes up her pen), these objects might be ready insofar as they are willing
to recede.
An object of will can be thought simply as a willing object. The relation
of subjects to objects as a relation of will, or as a willing relation, has most
often been thought in terms of property. For example, Hegel defines prop-
erty as “a person putting his will into an object” ([1820] 2005, 10). Marx
suggests that “commodities are things, and therefore lack the power to
resist man. If they are unwilling, he can use force: in other words, he can
take possession of them. In order for the objects to enter into relation
with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves
in relation to one another as persons whose will resides in those objects and
must behave in such a way that each does not appropriate the commod-
ity of the other, and alienate his own, except through an act to which
both parties consent” ([1867] 1990, 178, emphasis added).25 Objects are

Willing Subjects 41
emptied of will by being given the content of a subject’s own will.26 Marx
demonstrates how property relations depend on objects “being willing”
in such a way that they would be forced if they were not. Will and force
can thus amount to the same thing: if not willing, then forced. When
willing is a way of avoiding the consequence of force, willing is a conse-
quence of force.
How quickly willfulness becomes part of this picture. If becoming an
object is to receive the will of a subject, then an object that does not allow
a subject to carry a will would be described as “willful.” Willful objects
would be objects that do not allow subjects to carry out their will. Will-
ful objects are means that demand to be ends rather than means to an
end.27 In other words, we attribute willfulness to objects when they are
not willing to be means. Objects that are not willing to be means might
even be given the affective quality of being mean (in the other sense of
mean as being stingy or unkind): remember the moodiness of will judges
the relative proximity of subjects to their own ends.
The object might be broken. The subject might turn to the object in
frustration. The friendliness of a gathering would cease. In Heidegger’s
analysis of the hammer in Being and Time, it is when the hammer is “too
heavy,” that is, too heavy to hammer with, that we become aware of the
hammer as an entity ([1927] 1962, 200). This is how a theoretical judg-
ment about the hammer (about, say, its property of heaviness) becomes
a circumspective concern, which registers a transformation of how the
object is given. What is not ready-to-hand or handy is obtrusive: “it
‘stands in the way’ of our concern” (103).28 When something is not ready-
to-hand or handy, we have lost something, not necessarily an object but a
capacity to make use of it: “In conspicuousness, obtrusiveness that which
is ready-to-hand loses its readiness-to-hand in a certain way” (104). A
circumspective concern is the concern that would look at the object, as
well as what is around, one that might lead to an awareness of one’s sur-
roundings (after all if the hammer is broken we might look around the
hammer for something else that could take its place). We might turn to
the world. A concern with things once they are broken, once they are not
working (and we are not working), could thus be thought of as a worldly
concern: no longer absorbed in a task, we look up. We might have more
than an object revealed to us at such a moment.
The hammer we might say is a willing object, if or when the hammer
allows us to complete a task, such as building something. It “points” in
the right direction. What is handy? More than an object, we might say.

42 Chapter One
Handiness refers not only to being skillful with hands but to what is con-
venient and thus in agreement with a specific purpose. Everything that is
“going on” would be pointing the right way in hammering. The hammerer
is also in agreement: not too tired, not too distracted, preoccupied with
the task of hammering. The hammerer can also recede from the ham-
merer’s view. How would the argument in Being and Time be different
if the thumb of the hammerer broke: if the body rather than the object
stopped working?29 A body can become a willful thing, when it gets in
the way of an action being completed. Or we can be more specific: a sore
thumb is what sticks out, getting in the way.
Willfulness might be bound up with this process of revelation. Arthur
Schopenhauer argues that we tend to notice what disagrees with the will:
“Just as a stream flows smoothly on as long as it encounters no obstruc-
tion, so the nature of man and animal is such that we never really no-
tice or become conscious of what is agreeable to our will. On the other
hand, all that opposes, frustrates, and resists our will, that is to say, all
that is unpleasant and painful, impresses upon us, instantly, directly, and
with clarity” ([1850] 2004, 3). When something is agreeable to our will,
we tend not to notice it, which is to say the impression created is not
as distinct. When something resists will, an impression becomes more
distinct. If the hammer breaks, it would create quite an impression, as
would the thumb, if it broke.
Even if we learn from breaking points, we don’t always know what
breaks at these points. I want to take as examples two accounts of objects
breaking in George Eliot’s novels; the first from Silas Marner; and the
second from Adam Bede. This novella is Silas’s story: the story of a wan-
derer, who settles, a stranger in this place of his settlement. In many
ways this novella is a story of the loneliness of the wanderer, for whom
settling is experiencable as being apart, not being part (see chapter 3).
But in this story, before Silas finds a child (and becomes a member of
the community through “kinning”) we do have a love story, a love story
between Silas and a pot:
Strangely Marner’s face and figure shrank and bent themselves into a
constant mechanical relation to the objects of his life, so that he pro-
duced the same sort of impression as a handle or crooked tube, which
has no meaning standing apart. . . . It was one of his daily tasks to
fetch his water from a well a couple of fields off, and for this purpose,
he had had a brown earthen ware pot, ever since he came to Raveloe,

Willing Subjects 43
which he held as his most precious utensil, among the very few conve-
niences he had granted himself. It has been his companion for twelve
years, always standing on the same spot, always lending its handle
to him in the early morning, so that its form had an expression for
him of willing helpfulness, and the impress of its handle on his palm
gave a satisfaction mingled with that of having fresh clear water. One
day as he was returning from the well, he stumbled against the step
of the stile, and his brown pot, falling with force against the stones
that overarched the ditch below him, was broken in three pieces. Silas
picked up the pieces and carried them home with grief in his heart.
The brown pot could never be of use to him anymore, but he stuck the
pieces together and propped the ruin in its old place for a memorial.
([1861] 1994, 17, emphasis added)

Silas is touched by his pot. Silas is not only shaped by the objects in his
life he even takes their shape.30 The pot lends Silas its handle, and in
turn his palm receives the warmth of an impression. The will sphere is
thus a sphere of mutual or reciprocal impression. The intimacy of body
and pot is not here about losing awareness of the pot; the pot has not
receded from Silas’s view. We learn that you can be conscious of what
is willingly helpful, where this consciousness takes the form of appre-
ciation and affection. Perhaps we “zoom in and out” of consciousness of
things, depending on what we are doing. This passage offers a different
angle to the pot’s readiness: we can be attentive to things, how they can
matter, because they allow us to complete an action.31 When the pot is
filled with the content of its agreement, its expression becomes that of
willing helpfulness.
At the same time, it is not simply Silas’s conscious appreciation of the
pot’s “potness” that registers the pot’s significance as company, or as a
“companion species” to borrow Donna Haraway’s (2003) helpful expres-
sion for describing helpful encounters. Whether or not Silas is conscious
of the pot, of its thingness; the pot matters. The intimacy body and pot
takes the form of projection: the pot allows Silas to carry out his task,
to carry the water from the well. If they actualize a possibility together,
they are thrown together. The pot’s mattering is at least in part how it
too points to an action; how it too is mingled with other things that share
this direction, the fresh clear water that the pot helps to carry; the body
carrying the pot, the path taken in the carrying of the pot from the well
to the house. The pot matters not only in how it appears to the body that

44 Chapter One
carries it, but in the matter of its form, what gives it the capacity to hold
and to pour. And yet, when an object breaks, it is no longer experiencable
as “willing helpfulness.” It is not that we attribute objects with qualities
as such (it is that objects have qualities that explain why we turn toward
them for this rather than that). Rather we attribute to objects the quali-
ties of a relation: if they resist our will; they are no longer quite so agree-
able, no longer willingly helpful.32 When the pot breaks, it is no longer
in use, of use; it can take up its place by becoming memorial; a holder of
memories, not water.
In the case of the broken pot, it is Silas who in stumbling breaks the
pot. But he does not stumble on his own; just as he does not carry on his
own. He stumbles against something: the step of a stile. Just as the will
can be distributed in the completion of an action, so too a disturbance
can be distributed: the step of a stile that trips a body; a body that falls
against a stone; a pot that shatters. A worldly encounter transforms the
world encountered. It is noteworthy that Silas does not himself offer
an explanation of the cause of the breakage. If he did, I would speculate
that willfulness would come up. I want to take as an example another
account of an object breaking from Adam Bede: in this case, a jug breaks,
or to be more precise, two jugs break. Here the setting is more obviously
social: we are at home with a family. The child Molly breaks a jug when
completing a task for her mother, Mrs. Poyser: she is drawing the ale,
but she is taking her time. “What a time that gell is drawing th’ ale” says
Mrs. Poyser ([1895] 1961, 220). Molly here we could say is “too slow,”
she is lagging behind an expectation. Molly then appears, “carrying a
large jug, two small mugs, and four drinking-cans, all full of ale or small
beer—an interesting example of the prehensile power possessed by the
human hand” (221). Perhaps a handy hand is like a willingly helpful pot:
it is filled with the content of agreement. But then Molly has a “vague
alarmed sense” (there is a storm; her mother is impatient). When she
“hastened her step a little towards the far deal table” she caught “her
foot in her apron” and “fell with a crash and a smash into a pool of beer”
(221). It is perhaps not a coincidence that a rebellious foot gets in the
way of the prehensile hand (see chapter 3). But whatever makes Molly
fall, by falling she breaks the jug; leaving her “dolefully” to “pick up the
fragments of pottery” (221). Molly’s clumsiness gets in the way of her
completion of an action. This connection between clumsiness and will-
fulness is one I will return to, perhaps as a way of picking up the shat-
tered pieces of a broken jug.

Willing Subjects 45
Once the jug has broken, what happens? Mrs. Poyser remarks: “Ah,”
she went on, “you’ll do no good wi’ crying an’ making more wet to wipe
up. It’s all your own willfulness, as I tell you, for there’s no call to break
anything if they’ll only go the right way to work” (222). Molly is too
easily affected: her tears create another spillage, something else to wipe
up. Mrs. Poyser suggests Molly’s willfulness is what causes Molly to be
wrong footed. Willfulness is here a stopping device: it is how a chain of
causality is stopped at a certain point (for the child to become the cause
of the breakage we would not ask what caused the child to fall). Recall my
suggestion in the introduction to this book: the willful subject is under
arrest. We can witness here how an arresting happens. And yet willful-
ness seems catchy. Perhaps we should say that willfulness is an attempt
to stop something from catching, an attempt that seems, in this case at
least, to fail: “Mrs. Poyser had turned around from the cupboard with the
brown-and-white jug in her hand, when she caught sight of something
at the other end of the kitchen; perhaps it was because she was already
trembling and ner vous that the apparition had so strong an effect on
her; perhaps jug-breaking, like other crimes, has a contagious influence.
However it was, she stared and started like a ghost-seer, and the precious
brown-and-white jug fell to the ground, parting for ever with its spout
and handle” (222). Mrs. Poyser, we might say, catches Molly’s alarm. It is
as if she sees a ghost, an apparition, so that the jug “in her hand” falls.
The jug in falling is not a willing part: it breaks apart; it loses “its spout
and handle.” The broken jug: a sad parting.
We might note that when Mrs. Poyser breaks this jug, she does not
blame herself. She offers a kind of fatalism: “What is to be broke will
be  broke” (222, emphasis in original), a way of using will seemingly as
a simple future auxiliary verb, but one that acquires a certain predictive
force (what happen will happen, whatever will be will be).33 The will be-
comes, in Mrs. Poyser’s hands, a bond of fate, such that even the snap of
a break is fate. Mrs. Poyser then attributes the cause of the breakage to
the jug itself: “ ‘Did ever anybody see the like?’ she said, with a sudden
lowered tone, after a moment’s bewildered glance round the room. ‘The
jugs are bewitched, I think. It’s them nasty glazed handles—they slip o’er
the finger like a snail.’ . . . ‘It’s all very fine to look on and grin,’ rejoined
Mrs. Poyser; ‘but there’s times when the crockery seems alive an’ flies
out o’ your hand like a bird’ ” (222, emphasis in original). The jugs appear
with a life of their own, flying “out o’ your hand” as if bewitched, as full of
a spirit. The handle of the jug is interpreted as causing the hand to drop

46 Chapter One
the jug, such that the handle becomes willful, what resists being helpful
(“them nasty glazed handles”), as mean rather than a means to a happier
end. When the jug appears willful (in the precise sense of too full of its
own will, as not empty enough to be filled by human will), it not only
causes its own breakage, but breaks the thread of a social connection.
We might note the beginning of another connection, between the girl
and the jug, a willful connection, possibly even a queer kinship, between
those assumed to cause a breakage.
In the previous section I discussed how will is experienced as “on the
way” to actualization. If we think of a hand holding a jug that holds the ale,
then we learn that willing involves a moment of suspension: the hand
has left its resting place; it is carrying something toward something,
but the task has yet to be completed. The hand has not yet reached its
destination.34 Willfulness might strike in a moment of suspension: what
gets in the way of what is on the way. Willfulness: that which is striking.
If we follow some philosophers and assume that happiness is what “the
will” aims for (I have observed the rather remarkable consistency of this
assumption), then to be judged willful is to become a killjoy of the future:
the one who steals the possibility of happiness, the one who stops hap-
piness from becoming actual, the one who gets in the way of a happiness
assumed as on the way. When the judgment of willfulness converts a
potential into a threat, willfulness comes up as the theft of potential.

Willing with Others

If the attribution of willfulness sticks, something becomes a willful thing,
what prevents a will from being completed. There is agency in this be-
coming; there is life. The attribution of willfulness shows us how objects
(and objects can includes those we would ordinarily call subjects, those
who we bequeath with a “who,” a bequeathing that thus far has been
restricted) have lives other than the ones we give to them. And, given
this, willfulness represents a moment of crisis in the system of property:
willful objects are unwilling to provide residence for will.
This is not to say that willing objects are simply those that provide
residence. I explored Silas Marner’s companionship with his pot as a will-
ing companionship. A human response might be to gloss this compan-
ionship as sad: that it is sad that Silas’s affections are given to a mere
pot.  And in a way, the text itself gives us this gloss: eventually Silas’s
broken pot is replaced by a child, a more appropriate being upon whom to

Willing Subjects 47
bestow one’s affections (see chapter 3). But we do not have to respond
humanly to the matter of the jug. We do not have to restrict our sym-
pathy. We do not have to make things matter as if they are only there to
inhabit the place left empty by the vacation of humans.
When we think of the will sphere, we might think of how we inhabit
the world willingly with others. Perhaps we can think of social willing
not then simply as what we accomplish when we will together but how
we become proximate to objects and others in being orientated toward
ends that have been agreed. In the case of Silas and his jug, they share
the project or the task of carrying the water from the well to the house.
Perhaps we could agree that the end of the action is Silas’s: after all, it
is Silas (and not the pot) who will be drinking the water. But even if the
point is to fulfill Silas’s needs, to give sustenance to his body, he cannot
accomplish this point alone. Carrying matters even if the water is carried
in order that Silas can drink it.
We could turn at this point to a body of literature we could call “the
sociology of the will,” which is a rather thin body probably because “the
will” has primarily been understood as a psychological rather than social
phenomenon.35 The key sociologist whose work falls under this rubric
would be Ferdinand Tönnies. He uses the language of will to redescribe
social conventions, which he calls a “simple expression of the general will
of Society” ([1887] 2001, 63). What does it do to our understanding of
conventions to think of them as expressions of will? I will turn to the
concept of the general will in chapter 3. But we might think here of a con-
vention as an activity: after all to convene is to assemble, to meet up (see
Ahmed 2010, 64). Perhaps willing allows us to think of meetings more
explicitly in terms of projects: we might aim to meet up, and in meeting
up, we might aim to reach an agreement. Tönnies uses the term “con-
currence of wills” ([1887] 2001, 58).36 To concur can mean to happen at
the same time. It derives from the Latin verb concurrere, “to run together,
assemble hurriedly; clash, fight.” The word joins “con,” “together,” and cur-
rere, “to run, move quickly.” A concurrence is a shared current or flow.
Social willing could also be thought of in terms of movement: when two
bodies move in the same way, they are willing together.
A social model of willing might rest on the concept of a shared project.
Margaret Gilbert, for example, has described social willing as “will pool-
ing.” Will pooling occurs when subjects are willing to will the same way,
that is, when they are ready to take up the same projects: “Joint readiness
can be described as involving a pool of wills constituted in a specific way

48 Chapter One
in relation to what may happen” (1989, 200). To be ready is to be directed
in the same way, to have a sense of willing together: “Our wills are now
properly regarded by both of us constituting a pool of wills dedicated to
whatever is in question” (222). To introduce willing into our understand-
ing of sociality is to suggest that social experience can operate between
tenses: willing together depends on having reached this point (the already
willed as a horizon of shared experience), and reaching for something that
is not yet (a possibility becomes a shared horizon).
A social experience might be how we are thrown by contingency. The
experience of willing together might depend upon a preexisting open-
ness to others; a capacity to be affected and directed by an encounter. As
Medard Boss describes, drawing on Heidegger, “the prevailing attunement
is at any given time the condition of our openness for perceiving and
dealing with what we encounter; the pitch at which our existence, as a
set of relationships to objects, ourselves and other people, is vibrating”
(1979, 110). A vibration can be the sound of bodies in tune. There is a
rich intellectual tradition for thinking through the mechanisms of attun-
ement or what William H. McNeill (1995) calls “muscular bonding.” As
Lisa Blackman describes, muscular bonding refers to “the somatically felt
dimensions of rhythm and keeping in time which literally make people
feel good and propel them to potentially invest in particular practices”
(2008, 134). McNeill is interested in how muscular bonding is crucial to
human evolution: how the capacity to walk together, to keep in time, to
be coordinated with others, is essential to welfare as well as progress.
At some points this capacity becomes instrumentalized (for example,
in the coordination of human labor and effort deemed necessary to ac-
complish monumental tasks such as the building of monuments—or in
the determination of collective will as or in alignment with the will of a
party or leader in fascism) but we need not let the reduction of capacity
be our reduction. Capacities might exceed the ends to which they have
been directed. Perhaps then we can think of willingness in terms of being
open to being influenced or receiving the will of others. In becoming at-
tuned to others, it is not that we lose our boundaries. Rather we refuse
to secure those boundaries by closing ourselves off from the worlds we
inhabit. In Lisa Blackman’s evocative terms a “somatically felt body” is
one that is alive to the world (2008, 2012).
If this could be described as a relatively happy picture of social will-
ing, it helps to dislodge some of the more sinister accounts of social will
(happy not just in the sense that willing in time can “feel good” but in the

Willing Subjects 49
picture of social will as being the good it feels). Happiness should indeed
be part of the picture. But we can still ask: when happiness is a picture,
what recedes from view? Attunement can be understood as active: as a
process of bringing something into a harmonious or responsive relation-
ship. We could say that Silas was perfectly attuned with his pot (until it
broke). The word itself is thought to have not only derived from “tune”
but also from “atone” suggesting “one” or to “make one.” Attunement is
often used to refer to what has already been understood as separate or
apart coming together to become one. We do not have to assume separa-
tion as the starting point to understand that separation can be part of
a social experience. The meaning of attunement might imply what was
previously experienced as separate is no longer being experienced as such
(“to come into a harmonious and responsive relation”). Separation might
even be experienced as that which is gradually lost in a becoming rela-
tion. And this “becoming relation” suggests “harmony,” a sense of peace,
joining, reconciliation, and oneness. It is noteworthy that the word “har-
mony” implies joining and has an etymological connection with “arms.”
Perhaps social willing is an army experience, being arm in arm.37 If arms
are joiners, then they can be joined by willing the same things. I will be
returning to the arminess of social willing in the conclusion of this book.
Willing together can be an experience of being in time. Things run
smoothly; we might be walking in unison. What happens when we con-
cur but we do not achieve this unison? When we are out of time, we
notice the other’s timing and pace; in noticing the other, the other might
appear as awkward or clumsy, as not willing to be helpful (remember the
point of the pot’s “willing helpfulness”). Or we might turn toward each
other in frustration, as we bump into each other yet again. Clumsiness
can be how a subject experiences itself: as being “in the way” of what is
“on the way,” as being in the way of itself as well as others. A body can
be what trips you up, catches you out. Indeed, the feeling of clumsiness
can be catchy: once you feel clumsy, you can feel even clumsier; you can
even lack the coordination to coordinate yourself with yourself let alone
yourself with others. If we are in motion, clumsiness can be registered
as what stops a movement or flow (the word “clumsy” derives from the
word kluma, to make motionless). And if moving in time feels good, no
wonder a clumsy subject can feel herself a killjoy: your own body can be
what gets in the way of a happiness that is assumed as on its way.38
Perhaps the experience of willing together also involves the experience
of non-attunement: of being in a world with others where we are not

50 Chapter One
in a responsive or harmonious relation. The problem with attunement
is not that it does not happen (it most certainly does)39 but that it can
easily become not just a description of an experience but also an ideal:
as if the aim is harmony, to be willing in time with others. When at-
tunement becomes an aim, those who are not in tune or who are out of
tune become the obstacles; they become the “non” attuned whose clum-
siness registers as the loss of a possibility. This “non” is saturated: those
who are assumed to cause the non-attunement become the non they are
assumed to cause; and if they lag behind, they become this “non” quickly,
so fast that it can be hard to keep up. Perhaps we could create a queer eth-
ics out of clumsiness, an ethics that registers those who are not attuned
as keeping open the possibility of going another way. Or perhaps we can
think of the experience of being out of time as a way of staying attuned
to otherness. Rather than the experience of bumping into each other
being a sign of the failure of a relationship, or even the failure of some-
one in a relationship to be responsive, it can be understood as a form
of relationship in which bodies have not simply adjusted to each other.
When bumping is understood as a form of relationship, it is no longer
experienced as that which must be overcome. The bumpiness of the ride
could be an expression of the degree to which one style of embodiment
has not determined an ethical or social horizon. Corporeal diversity,
how we come to inhabit different kinds of bodies, with differing capacities
and incapacities, rhythms and tendencies, would be understood as a call
to open up a world that has assumed a certain kind of body as a norm.
Rather than equality being about smoothing a relation perhaps equality
is a bumpy ride.
The experience of not willing with others can be understood as part of
social experience. It might be the difficulty of “not willing” that is how we
come to be willing with others: willing together as a way of avoiding dif-
ficulty. It is not necessarily that willing together becomes an injunction,
though it can become so. An injunction can be implicit even in the seem-
ingly innocent word “with.” “With” can be used to imply a relation: an
accompanying. You are with someone, something goes with something.
To be with has a temporal dimension; to happen or occur at the same
time. But “with” can also carry the implication of being “for.” When I say
to you, I am with you; I might mean I support you. When you ask me, are
you with me, you might be asking for my support. An assumption that
we are with can be a demand to be with. Perhaps we are all with all. But
are we? To arrive into the world is to inherit whom we are with, those

Willing Subjects 51
who are deemed, family or relatives and friends, and those who are not
with, non-relatives and strangers. And if we can inherit this distinction,
then “with” can be a demand to reproduce that distinction: be with! Be
with or else you will not be with, you might even be against or against
with, where being not with or against risks not being. Perhaps we must
become “with” willingly.
Withness might be the very place where “the will” becomes work: will
work. Think of very ordinary and everyday situations of willing: when
we might feel we are out of line with others, we might (more or less con-
sciously) make adjustments, what we might call willing adjustments.
Willing adjustments (or being will to adjust) might relate to what Arlie
Hochschild describes as emotional labor, when subjects “close the gap”
between how they do feel and how they should feel. One of Hochschild’s
examples is the bride on her wedding day, the “happiest day of her life,”
a bride who does not feel right, in other words, who does not feel happy
([1983] 2003, 59; see Ahmed 2010, 41). The bride tries to convince her-
self that she is happy although there can be nothing more unconvincing
than the effort to be convinced. Will work is not only the effort to close
a gap, but to find the closure convincing. Perhaps we are convinced when
the effort to be convinced disappears: willing comes to be experienced
“happily” as spontaneous.40 I have already pointed out that self-willing
can be the absence of spontaneity that is often assumed: an experience
of being out of time with oneself. It is interesting to observe here that
the word “spontaneous” which is now often used to refer to something
that is without premeditation or effort, derives from the Latin sponte,
“of one’s own accord, willingly.” Spontaneous is what we can call a “will
word.” I noted in Queer Phenomenology the paradox of how with effort
things can appear effortless (2006, 56). The appearance of willing might
require the disappearance of the laboring effort.
If willing can be an attempt to catch up with oneself, it can also be an
attempt to catch up with others. So it might seem that we just happen
to be willing in the same way, at the same time: willing as spontaneity
becoming willing as synchronicity. Synchronicity obscures another his-
tory of being in time; the time of precedence, when some are required
to make adjustments to be in time with others. I have suggested follow-
ing Schopenhauer that we do not tend to notice what is in agreement
with will. Perhaps when will work “works” we are in harmony or in agree-
ment.41 The already willed can be understood as a history of agreement, a
history that is still, perhaps insofar as it has become “stilled.” When will

52 Chapter One
work does not work, we have a disagreement. Willfulness might come
up as an explanation of this disagreement. Think of that grim arm: if in
coming up, it causes a disturbance, we might not notice the ground being
Even when wills are in agreement, they are not necessarily willing at
the same time. Social willing is willing that is never quite in time, or not
quite the time we are in. Let’s take the example of hospitality. There is
a relation of host to guest. The host not only was already here, or here
before, but the “here” belongs in some way to the host. The host wel-
comes or receives the guest into the home, opens up the home. The guest
can come in insofar as the guest comes after. Or perhaps hospitality can
take the form of a simple address, given without the security of resi-
dence: would you like to come along with us? To accept the invitation you
go along with this coming along. Such an ordinary invitation: one could
accept it or not. But in being welcomed the “you” is positioned as not
part of the “us,” or should we say not yet part. What does it mean, what
does it do, for the participation of some to be dependent on an invitation
made by others?
When participation depends on an invitation, then participation
becomes a condition or comes with conditions. Jacques Derrida (2000)
offers an astute analysis of “conditional hospitality,” when a host wel-
comes the guest only on condition the guest behaves or “is” a certain
way, a restriction of hospitality that is not, Derrida suggests, very hospi-
table. We can think of how conditional hospitality rests on what we can
call conditional will. Take the word “welcome.” This word is often used
as a “friendly greeting,” or to signify a friendly orientation. Welcome is
another “will word.” It derives from the Old English word wilcoma, com-
bining “will” with guest. Welcome originally implied a guest “whose com-
ing is in accord with another’s will.” If guests are those whose coming
is in accordance with another’s will, then guests might have to will in
accordance. If guests are not willing to will in accord, they become willful
guests, those who abuse the hospitality that has been given. In fact, the
figure of the willful guest might be understood as spectre that haunts
hospitality, the menace that threatens the loss of a good relation.
Conditional will is when we make our will conditional on the will of
others, or when we will on condition that others too are willing.42 Guests
would be welcome on condition they are willing to make their will con-
ditional on the will of those who precede them. The speech act “I will if
you will” condenses the conditionality of will into a promise to will if the

Willing Subjects 53
other wills.43 Note how this conditional will, even if it positions the “I”
and the “you” alongside each other, as bound in a willing relation, cannot
make them inhabit the same time: one comes before, one after, an “if.”
This temporal disjunction is a social disjunction. If certain people come
first—such as hosts, but also parents or citizens—then their will comes
first. This being first is not always obvious or explicit. Indeed, the hosts
might say that they will “will” only if guests will, thus appearing to give
guests precedence: “if you will, then I will.” A promise to be willing can
become a demand given this precedence: “you will, so that I can will.” If
the others won’t will, then the ones who will the others to will so they
can will also cannot will “if you won’t then I can’t.” The guests must will
the same way for those who are already in place to receive what they will:
“you must be willing!” When you are willing, this must loses the sound
of force.
This is why some forms of force might not be experiencable as force,
as they involve a sense, nay, a feeling of being willing. We are used to
thinking of force in terms of making people do something “against their
will.” Power too is often understood in these terms. In On Charisma and
Institution Building, Max Weber offers the following definition of power
(Macht): “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will
be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of
the basis on which this probability rests” (1968, 15). Power involves the
capacity to carry out an action despite the will of others. Resistance, in
other words, is not strong enough to stop those with power doing what
they will do. Weber explains that a sociological model of power will be an
explanation of the probability that “a command will be obeyed (16, em-
phasis in original). Perhaps in explaining this probability we are showing
how power goes “with the will” rather than simply “against the will.”44
In other words, power becomes the capacity to carry out will without
(as well as despite) resistance. Or power could be understood in terms of
the expression “willy nilly” (related to the Latin expression nolens volens)
which refers to something that is done with or without the will of the
person concerned.45
With or without will: freedom and force can operate in the same regis-
ter. The restriction of force to what is against the will has effects on what
does and does not come into view, becoming a discursive as well as moral
frame. An example: one headline of a newspaper report into sex traffick-
ing reads: “Inquiry Fails to Find a Single Trafficker Who Forced Anyone
into Prostitution.”46 The report argues that if no one was forced into sex

54 Chapter One
trafficking, then sex trafficking is not a problem. To claim others as being
willing can be to eliminate the signs of a problem.47
A feminist account of gender as a social relation might need to include
analysis of how women willingly agree to situations in which their safety
and well-being are compromised. For understandable reasons, feminist
work on violence against women in dealing with questions of law and
legal redress has focused on consent and on the violence of men hear-
ing no as yes. Susan Brownmiller (1976) entitled her important feminist
account of women, men, and rape Against Our Will for very good reasons.
There is a history whereby men give themselves permission to hear no as
yes, to assume women are willing, whatever women say, a history that is
central to the injustice of the law, which has historically read consent off
women’s own bodies or conduct, as if by dressing this way, or by doing
something that way, she is enacting a yes, even when she herself says no.
We certainly need to hear the violence that converts no into yes. My ad-
ditional suggestion is modest: we also need to hear the cases in which yes
involves force but is not experienced as force, when for instance a women
says yes to something as the consequences of saying no would be too
much (loss of access to children, to resources or benefits, to residence,
etc.). If being willing does not mean the absence of force, then we need
to account for the social and political situations in which yes and no are
Thinking through will is an invitation to think about force differently.
Force can take the following form: the making unbearable of the conse-
quences of not willing what someone wills you to will. A condition of bear-
ability can be to will “freely” what you are willed to will. The force of a
situation can be understood as social as well as political. As Marx and
Engels argue: “Society behaves just as exclusively as the state, only in a
more polite form: it does not throw you out, but it makes it so uncom-
fortable for you that you go out of your own will” ([1845] 1956, 129). You
leave out of your own will, because staying would be uncomfortable. Dis-
comfort becomes a polite strategy or technique of power (the capacity to
carry out will without resistance, or with the will of others). A situation
can be what “forces” someone to be willing (to leave), not necessarily the
will of an individual subject, although the will of certain subjects can be
hard to separate from a situation. Take the example of employment: the
relation of employer to employee. Power can work through incentives:
you might be given an incentive to leave your job (in the form of volun-
tary redundancy) which basically amounts to a choice between leaving

Willing Subjects 55
with an incentive and leaving without one. You might leave voluntarily
or willingly as it would be worse to lose the incentive. Willing is not only
a way of avoiding the consequences of being forced but also of “coming
off less badly” given that force. Even if we can understand the position
of not being able to afford to lose the incentive, we can note that to leave
willingly is to leave the conditions that led to redundancy unopposed.
We can understand another sense in which willfulness becomes striking.

Conclusion: Social Will and Momentum

Once force and will are not assumed as belonging to different registers,
we have to work out and work through how they become entangled. Tan-
gles are messy, and accounts of the social will thus need to be messy in
turn.49 Think of situations in which many bodies co-inhabit a given space.
Let’s say it’s a crowd. It is not simply that an individual submits her will
to the will of a crowd, as Gustave Le Bon’s theory of crowd psychology
is often interpreted (Martin 2011, 137). We do not need to think of will as
what a collective (or an individual) has. If an impression of collective will
is acquired, then this impression can become more impressive in time.
Crowds are not simply going whichever way: they tend to be orientated or
directed (by the geography of a street, by following an established route
or path). Feelings too tend to be directed. To become part of a crowd
might involve being willing to be affected by what is near. Le Bon himself
describes “the rapid turning of the sentiments of a crowd in a definite
direction” ([1895] 2002, 14, see Ahmed 2010, 43).
The social will would thus refer to more than the social experience of
willing or not willing with others. A social will is also a will that has ac-
quired momentum. A momentum usually refers to the force of a moving
body. It can also mean an impetus or cause of an event. The gathering of
momentum is how things come to happen in this way rather than that. A
direction is impressive; a body can be pressed upon. In my previous work
I have noted the “press” in an impression: an impression is not just a
quality of an experience, but the press of one surface against another (see
Ahmed 2004, 6). We might note there is a “press” in oppression as well as
impression. As Marilyn Frye describes “the root of the word ‘oppression’
is the element ‘press.’ The press of the crowd; pressed into military ser-
vice; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are
used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes
to reduce them by squeezing out the gases or liquids in them. Something

56 Chapter One
pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which
are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent
the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce” (1983, 54). To
be pressed is to be shaped by the force you receive. I will explore in the
next chapter how the social will often takes the form of a good will, a
will that speaks the language of “ought to,” or “should,” or even, as I show
in chapter 3, the language of “must.” We could think of will as a pressing
device: bodies are pressed this way or that by the force of a momentum.
The will in having direction becomes directive.
My aim in this chapter has been to develop a social phenomenology of
willing by attending to “not withness” and “antagonism” as part of social
experience. It is important for me to note here that I am not identifying
all willing as coercive, but asking what follows when we do not assume
willing as the absence of coercion. My task in the following chapters is to
develop my account of what is at stake in social willing, how it is that we
come to be willing in time with others. In describing a simple situation of
two bodies walking together we might say that the work of adjustment is
exterior work, work on a will that is given to a subject as its own rhythm
or gait (although I have also implied that “ownness” might be an experi-
ence of the failure of adjustment or a refusal to adjust). But it is not the
only way we can describe the social will. We need to interrogate how will-
ing becomes “my own” through the work of adjustment. To do so we need
to return to the figure I opened this book with: the willful child. We need
to let her create more of an impression.

Willing Subjects 57
Chapter Two


ut if I had not had that murderous will—that moment—if I had
thrown the rope on the instant—perhaps it would have hindered
death?” (Eliot [1876] 1995, 699). I open this chapter with a question
posed by Gwendolyn about whether or not she is guilty for the death of
her husband, a question posed to Daniel Deronda in George Eliot’s novel
Daniel Deronda. The question of guilt is posed as a question of will: even if
Gwendolyn did not murder her husband, even if she did not cause him to
drown, even if her hands did not push him off the boat, she asks whether
her will was still somehow implicated in his death. She had wished for,
even willed, his death before his death. Perhaps we could describe this
death wish as a happiness wish, for his life had compromised her happi-
ness. And faced with the dramatic imminence of his death, she wonders,
retrospectively, whether willing his death made her sluggish in pursu-
ing an action that might otherwise have saved him. If she did not throw
the rope quickly, when throwing the rope was the right thing to do, per-
haps she was doing the wrong thing. The question of guilt is posed not in
terms of what she did, nor even in terms of what she did not do, but in
the time taken to do what she did: a will that hesitates in the pursuit of the
right action might be guilty, might be responsible in the very faltering
nature of how it reaches for a possibility. Deronda’s answer to Gwendo-
lyn’s moral question seems gentle: “That momentary murderous will can-
not, I think, have altered the course of events. Its effect is confined to the
motives in your own breast. Within ourselves our evil will is momentous,
and sooner or later it works its way outside us—it may be in the vitiation
that breeds evil acts, but also it may be in the self-abhorrence that stings
us into better strivings” (699). Deronda’s response detaches Gwendolyn
from guilt by evoking the momentary nature of her murderous will. The
implication of his address is that an evil will, if given time, will come out,
refusing confinement within the human breast. An evil will “will” lead to
evil deeds unless a subject abhors that part of itself: rejecting evil would
become a willing project, to be willing to reject one’s own ill will. Moral
worth requires being willing to strive toward a good will.
Not all moral discourse is a discourse of the will. However, “the will”
comes up time and time again as the primary measure of the moral state
of a person. I began the last chapter with Augustine’s certainty that some-
thing called the will exists. We might describe this certainty as moral cer-
tainty: not only does the will exist, but the existence of the will is required
for a subject to be good, or to live in accordance with God’s will. Augus-
tine notes in his essay On Free Choice of the Will: “It is a will by which
we desire to live upright and honorable lives and to attain the highest
wisdom” (1.12.19). A good will requires that an individual is willing to live
a good life. Perhaps we can understand the specifically moral role of the
will simply in terms of the status already given to the will as a condition
of possibility for human freedom. If this is the case, it is not surprising
that it is in Kantian philosophy that the will achieves its fullest status as
a moral faculty. Kant writes, “A good will is good not because of what it
accomplishes or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some
proposed end, but simply by the virtue of the volition” ([1785] 2005b, 55,
emphasis added). This chapter offers an account of the meaning of this
expression “by virtue of the volition.”
For Kant the virtue of volition must be independent of will’s content,
from what willing wills, or what willing brings about. While the strict for-
malism of Kantian ethics might seem exceptional, the investment in the
will as a moral faculty is not. The will has been understood as essential
to morality in quite different intellectual traditions. I noted in my intro-
duction to this book that George Eliot was involved in the debates about
free will and determinism central to the period in which she was writing.
Many of the sciences of the mind in the nineteenth century did not ques-
tion but retained the pivotal status of the will as a moral faculty even if
the will came to be understood as determined and corporeal.1 For exam-
ple, the British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley in his Physiology and Pathol-
ogy of Mind follows Baruch Spinoza in challenging the idea of free will as
that which causes an action (1867, 149). He then redescribes the will as the
“highest mode of energy of nerve element” that can control “the inferior
modes of energy by operating downwards on their subordinate centres”
(151). This is how Maudsley in Body and Will can rest his arguments about

60 Chapter Two
human progress on the redirecting of the will “to take the path of a higher
and freer development in well-doing” (1884, 8). In the work of George
Henry Lewes, the will is understood as a mechanism for choosing “sub-
ject to causal determination no less rigorously than the movements of the
planets” (1879, 102). Lewes argues further that freedom “falls within the
limits of determination,” and that consciousness of freedom for the “sen-
tient organism” is the “consciousness of deliberation” between conflicting
motives that are experienced as “simultaneous excitations” (108). The will
does not disappear but becomes a way of thinking the sensitive nature of
the history of the organism. Lewes argues that “because the will is thus
an abstract expression of the product of experience, it is educable and
becomes amenable to the Moral law” (109). If the will is a history of the
subject, a translation of experience into a concept, then the will creates
the potential for a future; historicity is amenability in this figuration.
The investment in the will as a moral faculty is thus not dependent on
a metaphysical understanding of “the will.” The will is reworked as some-
thing that needs to be worked upon. Scholars have already identified how
during the Victorian period “weakness of the will” became an explana-
tion of human pathologies of various kinds (see Valverde 1998; R. Smith
1992; J. Smith 1989).2 For example, Mariana Valverde’s history of alcohol-
ism explores how Victorian science makes use of the category of “the will”
as central to human pathology. Valverde refers to the work of the French
psychologist Théodule Ribot whose book, Diseases of the Will, was widely
disseminated and translated, suggesting that while his central category
of “diseases of the will” did “not prosper,” the broader assumption that the
will is essential to human welfare did (1998, 3).
The will emerges in this vast and varied literature as a sphere of
gradation: the will can be stronger and weaker, healthier and unhealth-
ier, better and worse, such that the state of the will becomes the truest
measure of the state of the person. The will in this conceptual horizon
is understood not as something a subject has, or experiences itself as
having, but as what a subject develops, or must develop, to a greater or
lesser extent, over time. If in the previous chapter I explored willing as
an activity that is bound up with a project, with how a subject reaches
for an end that is on the way to actualization, this chapter explores how
the will itself becomes a project. The will must be worked into existence
in order to maximize one’s chances for living a healthy, happy, and good
life. In this chapter I show how the relative strength and weakness of
the will is interpreted through a moral vocabulary (often defined in

The Good Will 61

terms of the distinction between good will and ill will). The history of
the idea of the will shows us the intimate coevolution of morality and
The imperative to improve oneself is often framed in terms of working
upon will, or strengthening the will. If the discourse of will pathology has
created a lasting set of impressions despite losing its diagnostic status
(or perhaps even because of losing its diagnostic status),3 so too has the
related idea of the educable will. We can track the emergence of this idea
of an educable will, which could even be thought of as the creation of a
field of knowledge: for example, Edward John Boyd Barrett in Strength
of Will describes his own project in relation to “the books which already
hold the field” (1915, 8). An influential text was Jules Payot’s The Educa-
tion of the Will, first published in French in 1909, which was dedicated to
the earlier work of Ribot, and which presents in vivid detail “weakness of
the will” as a social pathology (in particular as explaining the malaise of a
generation of young educated men), and the education of the will as a so-
cial, national, as well as moral requirement. While the education of the
will became a distinct field during the late nineteenth century, the idea
of the educable will has a longer history. Educational philosophy from
John Locke’s Some Thoughts concerning Education (first published in 1693)
onward could be described in terms of the development of an education
of the will. This chapter asks how it is that education in virtue took the
form of an education of the will, with specific reference to the formation
of moral character.

Poisonous Pedagogy
Education in taking the will as an object rests on particular ideas of the
child’s nature. In Literature, Education and Romanticism (1994) Alan Richard-
son reflects on the competing conceptions of childhood in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. He refers to Lawrence Stone’s “influential social
history of the English family,” where Stone elaborates on four different
views of the child’s nature: including the “traditional Christian view”
in which the child is inherently sinful, the “environmental” view of the
child as a blank slate, the “utopian view” of the child as innocent, and
the “biological view” of the child’s nature as determined genetically from
conception (Richardson 1994, 10). This section explores the first view
of the child, reflecting on how education became understood as breaking
the child’s will.

62 Chapter Two
The figure of the willful child acquires a particular importance in the
Protestant tradition. Herbert Marcuse offers a powerful analysis of
the writings of Calvin and Luther. Marcuse notes how paternal authority
became central to Protestantism: “A programmatic reorganization of the
family and a notable strengthening of the authority of the pater familias
took place in the context of the bourgeois-Protestant teachings of the
Reformation” (1972, 74). For Marcuse this reinforced paternal author-
ity rests upon the “breaking and humiliation of the child’s will” (76).4
Marcuse quotes Luther: “The commandment gives parents a position of
honour so the self-will of the children can be broken, and they are made
humble and meek” (76). As paternal authority acquired more importance,
displacing the authority of the church, the will of the child acquired more
centrality as a technique for transmitting authority.
The Grimm story can be read as part of a Protestant tradition that
views the child’s will as that which must be broken. The willful child, who
will not do as her mother wishes, must be punished, and her punishment
is necessary for the preservation of the familial as well as social order.5
The shortness of the story is not then an accidental quality: we do not
need to know any other details than that the child does not do what her
mother wishes; we do not need to know what the mother wishes. The
point of the story is precisely the independence of the wrongdoing from
the content of the mother’s wish. Whatever the mother wishes, the child
must be willing to do. Willfulness, in other words, is a symptom that the
child’s will is independent of the parental wish, a wish that is quickly
translated in the Grimm story into God’s command. The story takes the
form of a command: the child must do what her mother wishes; willful-
ness must be eliminated from the child. The story could be “heard” as a
command to the imagined child who reads the story: obey!
The story gives us a portrait of obedience as virtue. We could thus
consider how the project of eliminating willfulness relates to obedience.
Aquinas in his reflection on the virtue of obedience refers to the work of
Gregory who argues that obedience has “more merit” the “less it has of
its own will” (Summa Theologiae, 2a.2ae.104.60). For Gregory obedience
becomes a virtue when persons obey commands that do not go in the
direction of their own will. There is no virtue in obeying a command that
is agreeable to one’s own will: “obedience requires little or no effort when
it has as its own will in agreeable things.” Rather “the effort is greater in
disagreeable or difficult things.” Obedience occurs when one’s “own will
tends to nothing apart from the command” (63). This is how Gregory can

The Good Will 63

conclude that “by obedience we slay our own will” (64). To obey is to go
where your will would not take you. Willfulness might refer to willing
in agreement with one’s own will. Another way of putting this would be
to say that a willful will is one that wills what it wants, and that has yet to
eliminate want from will.6
As I noted in my introduction to this book, the Grimm story can be
considered as part of the educational tradition described by Alice Miller
(1987) as “poisonous pedagogy.” Miller draws on the earlier work of Kath-
arina Rutschky who describes this tradition (problematically) as “Black
pedagogy,” which has as its primary aim “the domination and control
of the child for the child’s own good” (Zornado 2001, 79).7 As Joseph L.
Zornado points out, following both Rutschky and Miller, this pedagogy
rests on willfulness: “Because the child is willful, stained by original sin
and destructive, the adult must enact decisive and punitive measures so
that the child will not grow up ‘full of weeds’ ” (2001, 79). The violence
toward the child is thus presented as being for the child. One of the exam-
ples of poisonous pedagogy quoted at length by Alice Miller is J. Sulzer’s
An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children (1784).8 I will follow
Miller in quoting this essay at length as it gives us a fuller and affec-
tive picture of what is at stake in the history of willfulness. In Sulzer’s
essay willfulness is described as that which must be “driven out” before
children can receive a good education. Willfulness is an obstacle to the
educable will:

As far as willfulness is concerned, this expresses itself as a natural

recourse in tenderest childhood as soon as children are able to make
their desire for something known by means of gestures. They see
something they want but cannot have; they become angry, cry, and
flail about. Or they are given something that does not please them;
they fling it aside and begin to cry. These are dangerous faults that
hinder their entire education and encourage undesirable qualities in
children. If willfulness and wickedness are not driven out, it is impos-
sible to give a child a good education. The moment these flaws appear
in a child, it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become
ingrained through habit and the children do not become thoroughly
depraved. (cited in Miller 1987, 10–11)
Indeed driving out willfulness, Sulzer suggests, should be the “main oc-
cupation” of those concerned with the education of children. He argues
that driving out willfulness must be done “in a methodical manner”; other-

64 Chapter Two
wise children “will finally become the masters of their parents and of
their nursemaids and will have a bad, willful, and unbearable disposition
with which they will trouble and torment their parents ever after as the
well-earned reward for the ‘good’ upbringing they were given” (11). The rod
makes an appearance as the proper instrument for moral correction: “If
parents are fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the very be-
ginning by means of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile,
and good children whom they can later provide with a good education”
(11). The rod and scolding are techniques of parental will that aim to cre-
ate a docile child. Note here that docility appears an end of will, as what
will, transformed into a disciplinary technique, is intended to actualize.
As such the will seeks to eliminate the child’s will, understood as willful
insofar as it is his own: “A child who is used to obeying his parents will
also willingly submit to the laws and rules of reason once he is on his own
and his own master, since he is already accustomed not to act in accor-
dance with his own will. Obedience is so important that all education is
actually nothing other than learning how to obey” (12, emphasis added).
Becoming obedient is learning to act without accordance to one’s own
will. If children are to act without self-accordance, their own will must
be broken:
It is not very easy, however, to implant obedience in children. It is
quite natural for the child’s soul to want to have a will of its own, and
things that are not done correctly in the first two years will be difficult
to rectify thereafter. One of the advantages of these early years is that
then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years, children for-
get everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills
can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that
they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required
will not have any serious consequences. Just as soon as children de-
velop awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to them by word and
deed that they must submit to the will of their parents. Obedience re-
quires children to (1) willingly do as they are told, (2) willingly refrain
from doing what is forbidden, and (3) accept the rules made for their
sake. (13)

To eliminate willfulness is thus to eliminate not only the will defined

as independence from what is willed by others, but to eliminate the very
memory of this will or at least to aim for this elimination. The child’s iden-
tification with parental will would become so complete that identification

The Good Will 65

is experienced as willingness, as not only willingly doing what they are
commanded to do, but as being this doing, as having always been this doing.
Once the child is willing, any memory of having a will that was willing
otherwise is eradicated. Or at least that is the idea.
A subject that is willing to obey is a subject without will: a willing sub-
ject becomes a will-less subject. What is this subject required to do? Kath-
arina Rutschky explores how the genre of poisonous pedagogy provided
the psychic conditions for the emergence of Fascism within Germany in
the twentieth century (creating subjects whose obedience rested on the
acceptance and perpetration of cruelty and punishment). As Alice Miller
shows in For Your Own Good, we can track the emergence of poisonous
pedagogy across Europe and America during the eighteenth century.
Take, for example, the work of John Wesley who was influenced by Ar-
minian doctrines. Wesley writes of children: “Break their wills betimes.
Begin this work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain,
before they can speak at all. Whatever pains it costs, break the will, if you
would not damn the child. Let the child from a year old be taught to fear
the rod; and to cry softly; from that age, make him do as he is bid, if you
whip him ten times running to effect it. If you do spare the rod, you spoil
the child; if you do not conquer you ruin him” (1811, 71). If breaking the
will is painful it is understood as necessary pain. This pain must be prior
even to speech. The child must be conquered to avoid damnation.
Reading these literatures is difficult given how violence against chil-
dren is rationalized and enacted in the works themselves. The works are
implicated in the histories they enact; they are conduits of violence. In
the brutish maxim “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” history is summa-
rized as instruction. When reading about Wesley, I came across another
text by the twentieth-century Baptist evangelical John Rice. He asks
how John Wesley and his brother Christopher as leaders of the Evan-
gelical movement and founders of Methodism were themselves taught.
Rice notes: “Their mother Susannah Wesley taught them to fear the rod
when they were a year old” (1946, 213). Rice himself then follows Wes-
ley in arguing that “when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is
brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many
childhood follies and inadvertencies may be passed by. . . . No willful
transgression should ever be forgiven children. . . . as self-will is the root
of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures
their after-wretchedness and irreligion” (213). After-wretchedness: this
history is indeed a wretched history. To follow the figure of the willful

66 Chapter Two
child is to stay proximate to scenes of violence. And we learn too how
those beaten by the rod become rods that beat. This becoming is not in-
evitable, but it is part of a history we cannot afford to forget. It is a his-
tory still with us.9 Assembling a willfulness archive is a way of attending
to histories that are kept alive by forgetting.
The figure of the willful child appears not only in poisonous pedagogy
but also within more liberal traditions of educational and moral philoso-
phy where the violence of accounting for willfulness is less visible. A key
difference relates to how willfulness is positioned within a narrative: in
poisonous pedagogy, the child is already willful and education must elim-
inate that willfulness; while in other models, the child’s willfulness would
be an effect of being educated wrongly. Willfulness becomes then not
origin but outcome; the willful child is created by spoiling the child. For
example, Immanuel Kant suggests that “parents talk a great deal about
breaking the will of their children, but there is no need to break their will
unless they have already been spoilt. The spoiling begins when a child has
but to cry to get his own way” ([1899] 2003, 48–49). Not to spoil the child
is a way of not breaking their will. Spoiling children is a way that children
get “their own way” (49).10 For Kant to spoil the child is to weaken the will
of the adult to come: “Men should therefore accustom themselves early
to yield to the commands of reason, for if a man be allowed to follow his
own will in his youth, without opposition, a certain lawlessness will cling
to him throughout his life” (4). Such adults would not value what Kant
values: the moral law. Willfulness can thus be understood as “lawless-
ness” given subject form.
Philosophers have written at length about the mortal and moral dan-
ger of spoiling children: no wonder that following the figure of the willful
child gives a different angle on the history of ideas. Consider the work of
James Mill working within the utilitarian tradition. For Mill, the child is
always potentially tyrannical; the child by implication would become a
tyrant without the intervention of the educator. Mill describes the tyran-
nical child in the following way: “There is not one child in fifty who has
not learned to make its cries and wailings an instrument of absolute tyr-
anny. When the evil grows to absolute excess, the vulgar say the child is
spoiled. Not only is the child allowed to exert an influence over the wills
of others, by means of their pains, it finds, that frequently, sometimes
most frequently, its own will is needless and unduly commanded by the
same means, pain, and the fear of pain” ([1823] 1992, 181). The child who
is allowed to influence the wills of others is in turn under the command

The Good Will 67

of the pain and fear of pain that is engendered. Mill approaches moral
training as a training in affect: the child comes to feel happiness in the
happiness of others, and to feel misery in response to the misery of
others (180).11 A good will is one that is “affectively” aligned. This affec-
tive alignment could be redescribed as a will alignment: to will as others
will you to will. The willful child is the one who is improperly aligned. The
aim of education is to bring the will of the child into line not only with
parental will, but the moral law, upon which parental will is assumed
to rest.
The central investment in the moral danger of willfulness within poi-
sonous pedagogy thus also pervades the history of liberal moral and
educational philosophy and can even be detected in the most benevolent
approaches to the nature of children such as those of Rousseau, as I will
discuss in the following section. The remoteness of the tradition is thus
only apparent.12

Will and Character

Eliminating willfulness could be understood as a method of negation: a
way of stopping a certain kind of subject from coming into existence, one
whose insistence on having her or his own way is presented as wayward-
ness, as a perversion of the right path of the will. Education of the will
was also understood as a positive project: as bringing a new kind of sub-
ject into existence. If poisonous pedagogy rests on “breaking the will,”
this more positive tradition could be thought of as “making the will.” I
will show how “making the will” still relies on the figure of the willful
We can understand why the will is invested with promise if we reflect
on how the will is central to modern understandings of character. Théo-
dule Ribot’s Diseases of the Will, discussed in my opening to this chapter,
refers to what he calls, following John Stuart Mill, “ethnology” defined
as “the science of character” (1874, 16). An oft-cited statement from the
late eighteenth-century German romantic philosopher Novalis is “char-
acter is a completely fashioned will” (cited in Mill [1843] 1999, 21).13 For
Novalis the achievement of character is the fashioning of a will, which is
also described in terms of cultivation and application. Novalis suggests
that the more character “is dependent on chance and circumstances”
then “the less I have a determinate, cultivated—applied will. The more it
has these qualities, the more independent it is in those respects” ([1798]

68 Chapter Two
1997, 78, emphasis in original). The will becomes understood here as a
kind of “internal influence,” as what can influence character to be less
influenced. To achieve an independence of character, that is, to be less di-
rected by circumstance and happenstance, would require the application
of will. The will is not only defined against contingency, but becomes a
defense against contingency.
The description of character as a “fashioned will” suggests a particular
idea of character. In his essay on “Freedom of the Will” John Stuart Mill
describes character as “amenable to the will,” which means that we can
“by employing the proper means, improve our character” ([1865] 1979,
46). Indeed, he argues that we are “under the moral obligation to seek the
improvement of our moral character” (46). To improve the character is an
imperative of the will. An improvement would be an effect of willing the
right way (in accordance with what is right), but would also be dependent
on being willing to put one’s energy into improvement. If a character can
be thought of as a will product, as that which is brought into existence by
will, then character might even be the material, or provide the material,
that is given form through will, in the sense of being given an end, shape,
or purpose.
The idea that education can give form to character rests on both en-
vironmental and utopian ideas of the child’s nature. For Locke the child
can be understood as “white paper,” not as stained by original sin, but as
yet to be impressed, as impressionable, as capable of receiving impressions.
As Claudia Castañeda (2002) shows, the child is a malleable figure; and
in some instances the child is figured as malleable. In Locke’s account the
child is also imagined as fluid: “I imagine the minds of children, as easily
turned, this or that way, as water itself” ([1690] 2007, 25). The figure of
the turnable or impressionable child could be understood as a regulative
fantasy, justifying the disciplinary project of education as a moral project
of turning the child around. But this figure is also offered by Locke as
a pedagogy of hope: the child can become virtuous if the child receives
proper instruction: “Every man must some time or other be trusted to
himself, and his own conduct; and he that is a good, a virtuous and able
man, must be made so within. And therefore what he is to receive from
education, what is to sway and influence his life, must be something into
him betimes, habits woven into the very principle of his nature” (34).
If education is to be woven by one’s own influences, then it is also the
chance to influence what a child becomes. The character of the child is
capable of being directed and can take the shape of this direction.

The Good Will 69

We could describe character in terms of plasticity: plastic is a material
that can yield to an influence. The will is what directs matter; or what
gives matter form. The idea of character being achieved by or even as the
“direction of matter” was central to the work of the psychologist Wil-
liam James, particularly in his influential reflections on habit. His argu-
ments rested on a thesis of plasticity as “the possession of a structure
weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all
at once” ([1819] 1950, 105). James describes the formation of character
as the gradual loss of plasticity: over time, a person becomes less yield-
ing. As Gail Weiss describes, for James, “this initial plasticity is lost and
people get more set in their ways” (2008, 81).
Becoming set can be thought of as the gradual loss of the capacity to re-
ceive an influence. James cites the work of an M. Léon Dumont on habit:

Everyone knows how a garment having been worn a certain time

clings better to the shape of the body than when it was new; there has
been a change in the tissue, and the change is a new habit of cohesion.
A lock works better after being used some time; at the outset a certain
force was required to overcome certain roughness in the mechanism.
The overcoming of their resistance is a phenomenon of habituation. It
costs less trouble to fold a paper when it has been folded already. This
saving of trouble is due to the essential nature of habit, which brings
it about that, to reproduce the effect, a less amount of the outward
cause is required. ([1819] 1950, 105)

We can note how James’s descriptions can be understood in terms of

attunement, a concept discussed in the previous chapter. A garment be-
comes attuned to the body that wears it. It is not just that things happen
to fall this way or that: through repetition, things acquire certain tenden-
cies. Things cling better or become clingy in time. If a shape is acquired
through the repetition of an encounter, then repetition becomes direc-
tion. Although William James considers habits as socially conservative
(he famously describes habit as “the enormous fly-wheel of society, its
most precious conservative agent” [121]), he also suggests that habits en-
able the conservation of energy. When more actions become habitual,
subjects are free to attend to other matters, including those matters that
might matter in a morally significant way. For James, even if habits are
socially conservative, they make a dynamic psychic life possible.14 The
idea that habits are “trouble savers” is particularly suggestive for a reflec-
tion on character. The acquisition of character could be understood as a

70 Chapter Two
means of saving trouble: to have a character is a preferred route (there is
a route in routine), which allows subjects to make their way in the world
without having to direct all their energy to thinking about which way. If
to acquire a habit is to become relatively set in your ways, then character
could be redescribed as becoming set. Given that habits are what tend to
stick, the aim of moral education is to direct the subject the right way
before he or she becomes stuck.
If the plastic child became the object of moral education, then the will
of a child provides the technique for molding a child into the right shape.
In other words, pedagogic techniques are different means of making the
child’s will the means. John Locke’s Some Thoughts concerning Education,
suggests that when children are in awe of the parents, then they become
more compliant: “a compliance and suppleness of their wills, being by
a steady hand introduced by parents, before children have memories
to retain the beginnings of it, and will seem natural to them and work
after wards in them, as if it were so, preventing all occasions of struggling
or repining” ([1693] 2007, 34). The rod is replaced here by “the steady
hand.”15 The point of willing compliance is to prevent struggling and re-
pining. We could add that the point of willing compliance is to save the
child trouble (the kind of trouble perhaps described in the Grimm story,
where you might recall the only time the child has rest or is at rest is
when she is beneath the ground).
Although Locke’s pedagogy can primarily be understood as a positive
project, in the sense that it aims to bring a certain kind of subject into
the world (it says yes to what is being brought), the figure of the willful
child still haunts the text: perhaps as a sign of the limits of what can be
done. Locke evokes, for instance, the problem of disobedience: “Where a
wrong bent of the will wants not amendment, there can be no need for
blows . . . a manifest perversion of the will lies at the root of their dis-
obedience” (63). Disobedience is narrated as the “wrong bent” of will. In-
deed, this description of a manifest perversion of will that is at the root
of disobedience corresponds very closely to the definition of willfulness
referred to in the introduction to this book. Even if a disobedient child is
not assumed by Locke, and is a child that cannot be simply amended (a
child that is henceforth not the object of his address to parents), we can
learn from the idea of the “wrong bent.” A willing child is bendy, or bend-
able in the right way; a willful child is the wrong bent.
Perhaps education is a straightening of what is already bent. The “steady
hand” thus becomes an agent not only for eliminating willfulness, but for

The Good Will 71

straightening the child out. We could thus think of education of the will
in relation to orthopedics. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish ([1975] 1997a)
reproduced an image from Nicolas Andry’s “Orthopaedics or the Art of
Preventing and Correcting Deformities of the Body” (1749). Andry in-
vented the word “orthopedics” from two words for “correct” or “straight”
(“orthos”) and “child” (“paidion”). In the image, a tree takes the place of
the child. The straightening rod lines up against the crooked tree; and
we project from the image into the future to imagine a straight trunk.
Let’s think of orthopedics as a will project, a way of straightening out the
body of the child so that the child, in willing right, faces the right way.
When the will is the method of education, it functions like the rope that
attaches the straight rod to the wayward tree. When the tree becomes
straight, it would be the alignment of rod and tree we do not see. When
the child becomes willingly compliant, it would be the alignment of pa-
rental will with the child’s will we do not see.
I suggested earlier that the steady hand of Locke’s parents takes the
place of the rod as a way of straightening the child out. The steady hand
in taking the rod’s place might be how the rod keeps its place. In the
work of Jonathan Edwards, a New England clergyman well known for
his writings on the will (his Freedom of the Will has been described as
a “monument of American philosophy”),16 the steady hand becomes a
continuation of the rod by other means. In Jacqueline Reinier’s impor-
tant history of American childhood, she points out how Edwards was
influenced by “British enlightened child-rearing advice” and how his edu-
cational goals, following Locke, were both to develop the rational capa-
city of children and “to curb early signs of willfulness” (1996, 23). Reinier
quotes from Edwards’s follower, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins who spoke of
Edwards thus: “He took special care to begin his government of them [his
children] in season. When they first discovered any considerable degree
of will and stubbornness, he would attend to them till he had thoroughly
subdued them and brought them to submit. And such prudent thorough
discipline, exercised with the greatest calmness, and commonly without
striking a blow, being repeated once or twice, was generally sufficient for
that child: and effectively established his parental authority and pro-
duced a cheerful obedience ever after” (cited in Reinier 1996, 23). What
is noteworthy here is the role of the positive affect: if the child’s will is
still a problem (consider how will and stubborn are placed alongside each
other, creating a sliding impression), then the problem can be resolved
with calmness, creating an obedience that is cheerful.17 The subjection of

72 Chapter Two
will takes place under the sign of happiness rather than fear. We can hear
in the oft-used expression “willingly and happily” the abbreviation of
this history; better to be “happily willing” than not.
If willing compliance is a trouble saver, then will comes to function
as habit. Locke indeed suggests that the moral aim is to install the right
habits in the child, which is not simply about making the child compli-
ant, but about making the child willing to will the right thing, so that the
willing right becomes habitual. The idea of “habits of will” is counterin-
tuitive given that we tend to associate “the will” with voluntary aspects
of experience. The idea here is not only that it would become a habit to
will but that through habit, the will can be directed in the right way, so
that it does right of its own accord. Virtues have indeed been defined
as “habits of the will” (Calkins 1919, 82).18 The Grimm story can thus be
translated into a more positive pedagogy: the arm must become the rod,
the agent for eliminating its own willfulness, for straightening itself out.
In the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile was crucial
for how it redefined the purpose of education in relation to will. Rous-
seau offered what was described above as the utopian model of the child’s
nature, as well as a view in which nature itself should provide the path of
education. The child is described as a “young plant,” sap, or tree, one that
can be directed, or tended by a human hand, but is nourished and taught
by nature ([1762] 1993, 5–6). As Alan Richardson has observed, if Locke’s
metaphor of the child is one of plasticity, Rousseau’s metaphor is organic
(1994, 13). Both metaphors create an implication: the child’s nature can
be directed by proper care and attention.
Despite the focus on nature as the child’s truest teacher, the will of the
child remains the object of the educator’s will. Unlike many other such
treatises of the time, however, Rousseau emphasized the importance of
not subjugating the child’s will: he argues that the child should “never
act from obedience but from necessity,” suggesting that words such as
“obey,” “command,” “duty,” and “obligation” be excluded from the vocab-
ulary of the educator ([1762] 1993, 62). If for Locke the child’s will must
become compliant through awe, for Rousseau the child must be encour-
aged to develop its own will more freely (although, as we shall see, the
freedom of will involves another form of compliance). As Simon Dentith
argues, Rousseau’s educational philosophy is “more famous for encour-
aging children in their own self-will than discouraging it” (2004, 55). One
crucial aspect of his argument was that the child will not learn by being
compelled by the will of others. Rousseau notes in a footnote: “You may

The Good Will 73

be sure the child will regard as caprice any will which opposes his own or
any will which he does not understand” ([1792] 1993, 65). And yet, at the
same time, the will of the child is presented as a problem that needs to
be resolved; by implication, the will of this child would be misdirected
without proper instruction.
Rousseau is explicit about how the will of the child can be directed
without being compelled. In one rather notorious example, the narra-
tor in Émile describes how he took the charge of a child who “was ac-
customed not only to have his own way, but to make everyone else do as
he pleases” (101). He calls this child “capricious” (this rather charming
word derives from a wild goat, an appropriate animal figure for willful-
ness). The narrator describes how whenever the child wanted to go out,
his tutors would take him out. The child’s will thus determines what hap-
pens; it is the ruler of the house. Rousseau offers a model of how to deal
with a child that has become willful through bad instruction. The narra-
tor, who becomes the child’s temporary instructor, does not use the rod
or the steady hand. We can almost imagine the withdrawal of the hand.
When the child insists on going out, the narrator does not go with him;
and nor does he forbid the child from going. When the child goes out
(exercising his own will), the narrator then arranges for people to op-
press and tease the child (although he also arranges for a stranger to follow
him and ensure the child’s well-being—the implication is that he does
not want to harm the child even if there must be severity in the lesson).
The narrator arranges for the child to experience firsthand the unpleas-
ant consequences of insisting on his own will (experience is treated here
as an alternative to the tutor’s hand, though of course the tutor’s hand
shapes the experience). The child comes to make an association between
following his own will and unhappiness. The aim of education is thus to
teach the association between willfulness and unhappiness. The narra-
tor comments rather triumphantly that he had “succeeded . . . in getting
him to do everything I wanted without bidding him or forbidding him to
do anything” (105).
The child thus comes to will what the narrator wants him to will, with-
out that will being made the subject of a command. Rousseau suggests the
child must come to will freely what the child should will: “There is no subjec-
tion so complete, as that which preserves the forms of freedom: it is thus
that the will itself is taken captive” (100). The child should be obedient
or subject to parental will, but in a way that does feel like obedience, as it
involves a sense of freedom, that sense of being willing. The subjection of

74 Chapter Two
will can thus take place under the sign of freedom. It is quite clear from the
example how freedom of will is preserved as an idea that works to conceal
the work of its creation.
Although we can differentiate poisonous pedagogy that rests on break-
ing the will of the child from models such as Rousseau’s that encourage
self-will, we can also note their shared investments. While poisonous
pedagogy justifies force as necessary for the child’s moral development,
Rousseau’s model shows us that freedom of the will can be force by other
means. I argued in the last chapter that force can shape what is “with the
will.” We can now understand these processes as pedagogic mechanisms.
The child is made to will according to the will of those in authority with-
out ever being conscious of the circumstances of this making. This is how
will becomes central to the formation of not only moral character but
also social harmony: the child becomes willing in a way that agrees with
how the child is willed to will, without becoming conscious of this agree-
ment. Schopenhauer suggested we do not become conscious of what is in
agreement with will. We can now add: we become willing by learning not
to be conscious of an agreement.

Strengthening the Will

It is important to note that the will became central not only to educa-
tional treatises and philosophy, but also within the more popular domain
of self-help. Indeed, Novalis’s own description of character as a “com-
pletely fashioned will” is picked up by John Stuart Mill (to whom it was
falsely attributed by William James) and from Mill, enters into the writ-
ing of Samuel Smiles, the writer of the first self-help book in English in
the nineteenth century, which was also the one of the best-selling nonfic-
tion books of that century. Smiles’s work is a precursor to the self-help
tradition we are familiar with today that exercises the language of “will-
power.” Smiles defines the relationship between character and the will
as follows: “When the elements of character are brought into action by
determinate will, and, influenced by a higher purpose, man enters upon
and creatively perseveres in the path of duty, at whatever cost of worldly
interest, he may be said to approach the summit of his being” ([1871]
2006, 7). Will is how a subject can be elevated above a situation. Will is
treated as an internal resource. It is by attending to one’s own will that one
can help oneself; one can strengthen one’s own resolve; one can set oneself
right.19 The will as a resource can thus justify the unequal distribution of

The Good Will 75

external resources: those who are under-resourced in terms of external
goods must become more resourceful.
The literature on weaknesses of the will gives us a fuller picture of how
the will becomes an internal resource that can be more or less depleted.
In Ribot’s Diseases of the Will, the idea of the free will or metaphysical
will, which he argues rests on the assumption of the will as first cause,
is dismissed or excluded from the science of psychology. A new psychol-
ogy of will is a psychology of action: “The fundamental principle which
dominates the psychology of will under its impulsive form, in the healthy
as well as morbid state, is that every state of consciousness always has
a tendency to express itself, to manifest itself by a movement, or act”
(1874, 3). Ribot also dismisses the idea that ideas can cause movement:
indeed, he describes such an idea of ideas (which you might recall Nietz-
sche attributes to the psychology of the will)20 as having “embarrassed
the old psychology” (5). Ribot concludes: “One does not have to ask one-
self, like Hume and so many others, how an ‘I will’ can make my members
move” (133). Rather willing “is the natural tendency of feelings and im-
ages to express themselves in movement” (134). For Ribot an idea and a
movement are two aspects of the same process: consciousness accompa-
nies (or perhaps is even a “companion” of) the ner vous process.21 Willing
could be described as consciousness of willing: willing might be described
as consciousness of an action as willed. Thus to will is a “conscious act
more or less deliberate, in view of an end simple or complex, near or re-
mote” (9). Ribot presents willing more in relation to “affective states”
than “intellectual activity.” Indeed, he argues the origin of willing is the
biological property that all living matter has of irritability or “reaction to
external forces” (124). Willing is a matter of how we are affected.
Ribot suggests that ideas as impulses are expressed through move-
ment; an idea is something that is carried out by a body. The dilemma is
clear: if ideas are impulsive, or tend to express themselves in action, how
can a person be willing (according to an idea) and yet not act? The con-
cept of “diseases of the will” becomes a resolution of the dilemma. Ribot
differentiates between two primary classes of will weakness (not all of
which are morbid, but may be “frequent” given that people often say they
will do what they do not do) which can be related to the two effects nec-
essary to accomplish something: impulse and coordination (134). In one
class of will weakness, the impulse is “insufficient” and, in the second,
the impulse is “exaggerated” but the organism lacks the coordination
necessary to complete the action (134).

76 Chapter Two
Cases of weakness of the will in which impulses are insufficient are
typically described as “abulia.” In “abulia” an “I will” is not followed by
action (49). Abulia is often characterized as a paralysis of will. Ribot’s
case descriptions of patients diagnosed with abulia are suggestive.22 In
the case of Mr. P he has the will (or at least seems willing) to sign some
papers that sign over the deeds to a house (33–34). Ribot suggests that
Mr. P has a “healthy judgment.” That is, the action to be completed is
judged by both Mr. P and others to be a justifiable and sensible action.
Mr. P also has the physical ability to carry out the action: the obstacle is
not “in the hand” but rather in “the will,” which is “unable to command
the finger to apply the pen to paper” (34). Mr. P we could say is not will-
ing and able. When a subject becomes the obstacle to the action, then the
problem is deemed one of will: “the will—the power by which the hand
should be set to performing the act conceived and judged necessary by
the intellect—is evidently wanting” (34). A will that is “found wanting” is
a will that does not allow a subject to complete an action whose intention
it is assumed to be behind.
The diagnosis of weakness of will is clearly judgmental: something
is wrong, if the will is wanting. In Mr. P’s case, the judgment that he is
suffering from a weakness of the will is a judgment that the patient
is willing and should be willing to carry out the action of signing over the
deeds to his house (as readers, we can only assume the patient is willing
because we are assured the patient is willing). A will is weak in pursuit of
an end assumed as right. Are we also tracking a history of this assump-
tion? As a pre- as well as non-Freudian psychology of will,23 Ribot’s ac-
count does not consider the possibility of ambivalence: that the patient’s
own desires do not correspond with conscious will or that the resistance
to will might be an expression of another will. Or perhaps what is being
described is consistent with what Freud called in his early work “counter-
will.” In his reflections on impotence, Freud suggested “sometimes he
has the feeling of an obstacle inside him, the sensation of a counter-will
which successfully interferes with his conscious intention” ([1912] 1975,
179).24 If an obstacle can be an internal feeling, then willfulness can also
be an experience a subject has of itself, when one part of itself seems to
“get in the way” of a conscious intention. Recall my description from the
last chapter: willfulness is striking; it is “in the way” of what is “on the
way.” Willfulness can be how a subject experiences itself as in the way of
itself. Even if the account of this psychic life offered by Ribot seems to
be one that excludes ambivalence, by assuming a subject is willing what

The Good Will 77

is willed, the picture offered is more complex: weakness of the will as a
diagnosis might reveal the ambivalence it aims to resolve.
I will return to Mr. P in the conclusion of this book, as I think there is
something rather queer about the case. Note that it is at this point, the
point that the will is found wanting, that the history of will crosses the his-
tory of sexuality. The very term “abulia” is a meeting point. John Smith
(1989, 1995) and Jennifer Terry (1999, 47–49) both explore how sexologi-
cal writings exercise the language of will in general, and the term “abu-
lia” in particular, in reinterpreting homosexuality as a perversion. John
Smith offers us a detailed history of how the concept of the will became
“central to the sexological enterprise” (1995, 9).25 He notes the significance
of the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, who included in the second volume
of The World as Will and Representation a chapter on “The Metaphysics of
Sexual Love,” one of the few philosophical treatments of same-sex love.
According to Smith, what is important is not the specific argument Scho-
penhauer makes,26 but the mode of explanation that renders sexuality a
matter of will (Smith 1995, 9). What is opened up is a new discursive sub-
ject: the sexual subject as a willing subject. Smith refers to the work of
the Hannover jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who published a series of tracts
under the title Investigations into the Enigma of Male-to-Male Love, which
quotes from Schopenhauer and has the following epitaph from the in-
fluential sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing: “Where the exercise of free
determination of will is hindered by abnormal psychical processes, there
the individual is psychically not free” (cited in Smith 1995, 12). The impli-
cation is that it is only under certain conditions that “the will” can be free.
The will is wanting when it fails to meet these conditions.
In these sexological literatures, then, it is not that perversion is a
perversion of will, a willing deviation from the right path, which is the
straight path from one sex toward the “other sex” (see Ahmed 2006, 78).
It is not even the case that the pervert willingly goes the wrong way. The
pervert is not willing: in suffering from a weakness of will perverts are not
free to pursue the right end. Sexual perversion is redescribed through
the language of will in order to make a case not for freedom but unfree-
dom. If this is not what we would expect the introduction of the will to
do, perhaps it is not clear what willing is doing.
Implicit in the diagnosis of weakness of will is an idea or ideal of a
strong will: if a strong will is what is required for a subject to be able
to complete an action that is willed, then a strong will might be neces-
sary for self-completion. It is here that Ribot engages with the work of

78 Chapter Two
William James whose model of will as “the feeling of effort” I referred to
in the previous chapter. For Ribot, following James, “there is effort
when the volition follows the line of greatest resistance” (1874, 50, empha-
sis added). A strong will is thus not required when “natural tendencies”
and the “I will” go “in the same direction,” or when what is “immedi-
ately agreeable” to a subject is the same thing that has been chosen.27 If a
stronger will is not required for those whose tendencies are experienced
in the same direction as the will, then weakness of will as a diagnosis
would reflect the unevenness of the requirement.
We could think of these “natural tendencies” as “natural will” which
could be contrasted with what I called the social will in the previous chap-
ter. This contrast can be experienced as a gap between how one might
will with and without direction from others (the speech act “I will” can be
understood in some contexts as “the social will,” an “I will” can be what is
borrowed from others), which might also be experienced as a gap between
will and desire. Perhaps a weakness of will is what accommodates the
natural tending of those who have unnatural tendencies (if you are weak
of will you can “happily” follow your unnatural tendencies): in other
words, to be weak of the will can be required not to tend in the direction
of the “I will” when given as command.
Strengthening the will is how subjects come to resist their own inclina-
tions or tendencies. We can reflect on how such capacities for resistance
relate to what I called in chapter 1 “the will sphere.” Our tendencies in
shaping what we tend toward also shape what is within reach (although,
as I suggested in Queer Phenomenology [2006], our tendencies can also be
understood as an effect of this “tending toward”). Strengthening the will
can require a willingness to put certain things out of reach. Just think
of our own everyday sense of the risk of proximities.28 I might say, for
instance, don’t put that cake near me, if my tendencies are such that I
would tend to eat the cake. I am concerned that I might find my hand
reaching for the cake, as if my hand has a will of its own, as if my hand is
my mouth; as if my hand is eating. But I can exercise the will to command
someone to take the cake away, or even put it further away, an exercise of
will that is simultaneously an anticipation of the failure of will; if you do
not have the will to resist proximity, you might acquire the will to avoid
Willing can thus be about removing the wrong objects from the
will sphere. Of course we can develop many tactics when we face a gap
between what we want and what we want to want, and what we will and

The Good Will 79

what we should be willing to will (this “should” points to the intimacy
of the moral and the social will, the will of others is often audible in the
form of a commandment whether or not another person explicitly makes
a command). Can a weakening will also be a tactic? Or as Lauren Berlant
suggests, if strengthening the will is a project that can add to the exhaus-
tion of living a life, then perhaps the will can be something you could
interrupt or take “small vacations from” (2007, 779). A “weak will” could
even be imagined as a queer friend: allowing queers to reach for objects
that they want but are not supposed to have (or will). Or if a weak will is
a queer will (one that wavers or is perverted) a queer will might be what
you want to have if you are to have what you are not supposed to want.
We can will ourselves not to want something; but willing not to want
that thing can confirm we want something. Or we can try and persuade
ourselves that we do not want something by converting a happy object
into an unhappy one, by removing that object from our field of prefer-
ences, by associating it with the unhappiness we anticipate it might cause
(the cake is filled with fatness,29 as what would lead to an undesirable
end). We might do this while knowing the very removal of the potential
of happiness from an object can heighten the appeal of something: the
forbidding of the object adds to, rather than subtracts from, our libidi-
nal investment in that object (psychoanalysis has taught us how repres-
sion heightens a libidinal attachment). If we inherit from psychoanalysis
a working knowledge of the intimacy of prohibition and desire, it does
always seem that we can do much with this knowledge: perhaps we want
not to have our cake and eat it too.
Or perhaps we learn to shield ourselves against proximity by encoun-
tering these very proximities as willful impositions. When a desired thing
is near, if it is perceived as the wrong thing, I might attribute that thing
with willfulness (as if the cake was insisting on being eaten, as if the
cake was willing me to eat it). Proximities can be experienced as willful
impositions, as getting in the way of our good intentions. We can also
reflect on how “the will” is bound up with our sense of capacity to survive
the danger of our own desires. Recall Hannah Arendt’s description that
in willing we must withdraw from the “immediacy of desire,” as desire
is what “stretches our hand” toward an object (1978, 76). Willing might be
what is required to stop our hand from stretching. This is how in willing
we do not just have a project but the will itself becomes a project. The will
becomes what is required to resist the things that are around us, which
seduce us in their proximity, so that we aim for something that is not

80 Chapter Two
yet. And what is being aimed for is then imagined as health and happi-
ness, as if we need the will in order to do what is good for us. A weakness
of will is offered as an explanation of how subjects “willingly” compro-
mise their own welfare: in contemporary moral philosophy this is exactly
how weakness of the will is used as a formulation (see, for example, Mele
2012). A judgment of weakness of will is dependent on a prior judgment
of what is good for us, of what is necessary for a body to flourish in a
biological as well as moral sense. Remember my reading of the Grimm
story: willfulness is what is deemed to compromise the health of a body.
A judgment of willfulness might also be how a body is judged as healthy.
The concept of a strong will is bound up with a normative decision
about what directions are forces that should be resisted (and thus require
resistance). Ribot does in building up a psychology of will also offer a
portrait of a strong will. He suggests: “We call that will strong whose
end, whatever be its nature, is fixed” (1874, 91). We can note the ways
in which strong will leads to what we can call moral character: a strong
will describes the acquisition of form; in pursuit of an end, a character
is given form. A weak will is one where the nature of the will gets in the
way of the achievement of form; a lack of purpose leads to disunity and
disintegration. What is especially interesting in these descriptions is the
account of a healthy organism as self-accordance: intellect, emotion, and
the will are all going in the same direction, leading to a resolution of pur-
pose. What I called “will alignment” in the first section of this chapter
can thus be thought of not only in terms of aligning one’s own will with
others but also in terms of aligning oneself with one’s own will. Not only
does self-alignment refer to a will that is in line with feeling and thought,
but the will is also understood as behind that very alignment: a stronger
will is what brings one’s feelings and thoughts into line. A strong will
is what can overcome misalignment such that the distinct faculties of a
subject are “going the same way.”
This idea of the strong will as a way of unifying impulses is widely
articulated from writers working in quite distinct intellectual traditions:
for example, Adorno describes the will as the “centralizing unit of im-
pulses, as the authority that tames them and eventually negates them”
([1966] 1973, 214). Although Nietzsche calls the idea of weakness of will
“misleading,” he describes “weak will” in terms of “the multitude and
disaggregation of impulses and the lack of any systematic order among
them” and a strong will as “their coordination under a single predomi-
nant impulse” ([1901] 1968, 28–29). James Rowland Angell in turn argues

The Good Will 81

that “as consciousness is a systematising, unifying activity, we find that
with increasing maturity our impulses are commonly coordinated with
one another more and more perfectly. We thus come to acquire definite
and reliable habits of action. Our wills become formed. Such fixation of
modes of willing constitute character” ([1904] 1973, 434). The weak of will
are thus not only not impulsive enough, or too impulsive, they are those
whose impulses are not coordinated or unified. The weak of will are thus
out of line with themselves; they lack the integration or consensus of fac-
ulties. Will alignment—the alignment of will with thought, feeling and
desire—is thus a method and measure of strengthening the will.
Ribot offers reflections on how the will can be strengthened, point-
ing out that a strong will is achieved rather than discovered: “An end is
chosen, affirmed, carried out” and “all or most of the elements of the ego
concur in it,” he describes (63). But Ribot also suggests that a will orien-
tated toward an end has to be achieved: “Such is the will in its complete
or typical form; but this is not a natural product. It is the result of art,
of education, of experience. It is an edifice constructed slowly, piece by
piece” (64). In Payot’s The Education of the Will (1914) “this edifice” takes
form as methodology. Payot’s text is addressed to a generation of young
European middle-class men he argues are suffering from weakness of
will, offering a set of practical instructions on how they can strengthen
their wills and become upright citizens of their nation (I will explore the
will as a technology of citizenship in the next chapter). It is again notice-
able how much weight is given to the will: “There is only one cause of
almost all our failings and of nearly all our misfortunes. This is the weak-
ness of our will, which shows itself in our distaste for effort especially for
persistent effort” (3). Payot describes laziness as a key moral weakness:
“Lazy people inflict upon themselves the emptiest lives possible” (7). The
judgment of weakness of the will is certainly one that has a moral force,
implying that human failure is simply because of not trying.
Following Ribot, Payot considers will primarily in relation to affect
rather than intelligence: “The will is not fond of carrying out cold orders
it receives from the intelligence. . . . It wants emotional orders tinged
with passion” (77). The aim of will training is thus not to dampen the
moodiness of the will but to cultivate feelings in the right direction (will
becomes here the director of feeling or might be how feelings are orien-
tated toward objects that are simultaneously ends). We can note how the
intentionality of will described in the previous chapter now appears as a
pedagogical instruction; it is not simply that the will is directed toward

82 Chapter Two
ends that must be within reach, as Husserl shows, but that through will,
we learn to be directed in the right way toward the right things.
Weakness of the will for Payot is defined primarily in terms of a lack of
effort—the weak don’t try hard enough—but also a lack of attention: the
weak willed have a wandering attention; the weak willed are the wander-
ers. He says at one point, an anti-Semitic point, that the weak of will are
scattered and that “like another wandering Jew we are compelled to keep
on the move” (18). A strong will thus settles, thus attends by stopping,
by being held in place or held in one place, directing thought toward that
thing in pursuit of an aim. We might even describe the strong will as a
straight mind: you are able to keep your thoughts on a straight line by not
being distracted by what comes near. Work, Payot argues, simply “means
attention.” The danger of the wanderer appears here in a distinct form;
the “willful wanderer” is the one who is not willing to settle down, who
keeps moving around, scattering thought and feeling like half-glimpsed
objects that keep disappearing, by being turned around. I will return in
the following chapter to the significance of the figure of the willful wan-
derer in my reading of George Eliot’s Romola.
Of course if the will matters as the organ that can direct feeling, then
this begs the question of how the will can be directed in this direction.
This paradox—that acquiring will requires will—is discussed at length
in Edward Boyd Barrett’s Strength of Will (1915). Boyd Barrett notes:
“Strange to say, in order to train the will, will is needed. Will is self-
trained. Will works on itself and perfects itself. For the will is called on
in every step in will-training” (16). The will trains the will; the will works
on the will. I noted in the previous chapter how the will might will itself,
becoming the subject and object of a command. In Strength of Will this
self-commanding is transformed into a disciplinary technique: subjects
“build up will by willing” (138) or “by willing will, the will builds up the
will” (165). Boyd Barrett gives examples of the kind of work that can be
done to strengthen the will, which he describes in terms of “gymnas-
tics of the will.” There are exercises that can teach the subject of will to
“toe the line” including the “tread-mill.” Willing training is thus rendered
comparable to body training. If with body training, you acquire “well
developed muscles and finely shaped limbs,” so with will training, “little
by little the will is built up” (15). The will becomes like a muscle, the muscle
of the voluntary, which is strengthened by being exercised.
It is in the work of William James that we can encounter exactly what
is meant by “will exercises.” In his influential essay “Talks to Teachers”

The Good Will 83

James suggests the following: “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by
means of a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically
heroic every day in little unnecessary points; do every day or two some-
thing for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the cruel hour
of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained
to stand the test” ([1899] 1992, 756). Note here how the faculty of mak-
ing effort is strengthened by being made independent of will’s aim or
content: to learn to attend to what is useful exercises the muscle of the
will, such that “the will” acquires shape in advance of being necessary
for the pursuit of a specific end, or in advance of becoming what Leslie
Farber calls “the utilitarian will” (2000, 78). The will takes the form of a
future ally: in willing what seems useless, what is deemed as having no
value for the subject, the will prepares itself so that it can become useful
in the moment it is required. Utility is here a mode of self-preparation.
William James after all suggests that the task of education is to make
our “ner vous system our ally instead of our enemy” ([1890] 1950, 22): a
strong will might also be a friendly will, one that is ready to help a subject
in the “cool hour of danger.” To strengthen the will can thus be to empty
the will of content: the “strong will” acquires its form in its independence
from an end, without an end being “in sight.” Once formed, such a will
can then pursue the right end.

Willing Right
How does the strong will become the good will? And what is the right
end? The twentieth-century psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli who draws on
the earlier work of Boyd Barrett in developing his approach to will train-
ing suggests that “it is not enough that the will should be merely strong,
such a will is liable to errors and excesses which may lead the individual
astray” (1966, 2). A subject must acquire a strong will in order to pursue
a right end, which requires that strength of will does not become its own
end. In the next chapter I will focus on how the good is associated with
the general (and opposed to the particular). What I want to consider in
this section is how “willing right” is given narrative form. To explore these
questions I offer a reading of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, showing how
willfulness and weak wills, understood as character flaws, participate in
the creation of a moral landscape of the will. In particular, through this
novel we can explore how “spoiling the child” leads to morally weak adults,
those who cannot ward away impulses that are contrary to the moral law.

84 Chapter Two
As I pointed out in my introduction to this book, George Eliot could
be described as a novelist of will: she exercises the very language of will
in her description of character. That character description can proceed as
will description becomes a point of interest. If, as I have argued, charac-
ter is understood as the fashioning of will, then literary characters can
be given form through will (we could consider, after all, that the word
“character” derives from Latin for fingere, “to shape, form, devise, feign,”
originally “to knead, form out of clay”). George Eliot’s portrait of the
character Gwendolyn is a portrait of the willful child. The title of the first
book is “The Spoiled Child.” The book itself thus takes on the attribution
of Gwendolyn as spoiled; this character trait is given as if it is just an-
other feature of an unremarkable social and moral landscape. The attri-
bution of character takes the form of assertion. A character trait appears
as the quality of an object, what is tangible, perceivable by others, given
and thus shared.
If the book gives form to this attribution so too do the other charac-
ters in the book. Gwendolyn is repeatedly characterized with reference
to her will: her mother says to her, “Your will was always too strong for
me—if everything else had been different” (Eliot [1876] 1995, 96). An ex-
cess of will easily stands in for an excess of character: “too strong” as “too
much.” The description of Gwendolyn’s character as “spoiled” evokes a
moral economy of will: even if her will appears as “too strong” in profile,
it is also represented as a form of moral weakness, determined by what
is agreeable: “Gwendolyn was kindly disposed to anyone who could make
life agreeable for her” (45). The kindness of this disposal is a weakness
in disposition. As Felicia Bonaparte notes, in Gwendolyn “we have a dia-
gram of the ‘sick will,’ the will so furiously intent on asserting itself that
it happily concedes self-gratification” (1975, 98). Gwendolyn’s character
could be read in terms of the profile of both the willful child and the
weak-willed adult: as being too impulsive, too oriented toward self, or to
what is agreeable to self.
Willfulness as an attribution refers to subjects who not only insist on
their way, but will only what is agreeable, that is, whose will is in ac-
cordance with their own desire. Spoiling provides an explanation of this
insistence: the willful character is the one who has been allowed to have
her way. The presentation of Gwendolyn’s will is thus key to the presen-
tation of her character: “Gwendolyn’s will had seemed imperious in its
small girlish sway; but it was the will of a creature with a large discourse
of imaginative fears: a shadow would have been enough to relax its hold.

The Good Will 85

And she had found a will like that of a crab or a boa-constrictor which
goes on pinching or crushing without alarm or thunder” (423). The use
of will analogies is a central technique of characterization: if the will of
someone is like x (and “like x” as we can see from this example can take
the form of a dramatic description), then we can decipher or tell what
they are like. In Gwendolyn’s case, her will is represented as swaying and
easily swayed, ruled by passion, as giving way, as easily bent. The nar-
rative bends according to the bends of Gwendolyn’s will. The failure to
become a subject of will rather than subject to will is presented as behind
the plot, in particular behind the disaster of her marriage to Grandcourt.
She marries him even though she knows he has a mistress and children,
even though she has been visited in secret by a mistress whom he keeps
The drama unfolds as a consequence of her swayable will: she lacks
the firmness of resolve required to do the right thing. Indeed, she will-
ingly does wrong and in being accused as such is cursed as such: “You
took him with your eyes open. The willing wrong you have done me will
be your curse” (359). Evoking the pedagogic style of Émile in which the
tutor arranges circumstances so that the student can identify the ap-
parently “natural” consequences of self-will (see Dentith 2004, 41), the
artifice of the novel is to arrange circumstances so that Gwendolyn as
a character is forced to confront the unhappy consequences of her own
will. The weakness of her will, in other words, is what leads her down
an unhappy path, into combat with a husband whose strength of will is
determined as a social strength: “Grandcourt had become a blank un-
certainty to her in everything but this, that he would do just what he
willed, and that she had neither the devices at her command to deter-
mine his will, nor the rational means to escape it” (426). Indeed, Grand-
court embodies the moral and mortal danger of a strong-willed charac-
ter, one who does not will the right thing, whose will is directed toward
its own end.
The moral risk of weak wills in Daniel Deronda is that it leaves the sub-
ject vulnerable to being swayed and influenced by those who will strongly
but wrongly. The moral lesson is given as the impossibility of Gwendo-
lyn’s situation: she cannot will her way out. That her will does not mature,
that it has the fragility of being whim-like or wish-like, is what allows her
to become the object of another’s will: “He had not repented of his mar-
riage; it had really brought more of aim into his life, new objects to exert
his will upon; and he had not repented of his choice” (584–85).

86 Chapter Two
In Daniel Deronda the fragility of the female will is given a case his-
tory.30 So even if Gwendolyn’s will causes her own unhappiness, the
novel explores how the unhappiness of her will is caused. After all, the very
implication of the description of her will as “girlish” is to make her will
expressive of the character of femininity. To become woman is to submit
to a weakening of the will. The novel thus offers a social diagnosis of will
distributions as gendered distributions. In the ending, as I discussed in
my introduction, Gwendolyn’s will acquires the status of a moral event:
in a moment of crisis, she is presented with the possibility to will her
way out of her unhappiness (by killing Grandcourt). Though she does not
follow her will into action, though her hands are not commanded by will
to an act of murder, she experiences guilt that her hesitation in this mo-
ment of crisis allows her wish to be externalized.31
Following Kant, we might give a different answer to Gwendolyn than
Daniel Deronda’s sympathetic one I opened this chapter with: we might
separate the morality of her action from what it accomplishes by agree-
ing with her questioning of her own volition. For Kant, the will is only
a moral faculty if it is emptied of all desire and inclination including the
desire for happiness. Perhaps Gwendolyn’s wavering will expressed her
desire to be freed from the cause of her unhappiness. The weakness of
Gwendolyn’s will could be a sign of its fullness; her will is too full of her
own desire. To act out of duty would be to act quickly, to act without hesi-
tation, to save another human being. The temporality of will is crucial,
not in terms of the impact on the likeliness of accomplishing an end, but
as the truest measure of the virtue of volition.
That would be one reading. One discovery we make by reading through
will is that contrary readings of the same scene become possible. Is fe-
male resistance expressed here in the negativity of an inactive but mur-
derous wish? For some, to have a life might mean that the command
to be good has to be resisted; to hesitate in reaching for the rope might
open up the possibility of life. The very achievement of a good will for
Gwendolyn would be a kind of death sentence: she would “agree” with
the very place assigned to her by a moral as well as a social order. If moral
norms are also gendered norms then to challenge them is to risk being
assigned as wrong rather than right no matter what happens. Political
and sexual liberation might require a willingness to be wrong by being
affected wrongly by the right things.
Eliot does not make a judgment about the wrong of right: Gwendo-
lyn does not follow any such line of flight. The novel does not waver in

The Good Will 87

conviction about the right of right: if this is a rather wandering text, it
could be read as performing the straightening of the will. So by the end
of the novel Gwendolyn gives up her desires, which lead her astray; in
the ending she is depicted as “on the way” to achieving moral character
through effort, the effort to become a good woman, however much that
effort is inspired by her desire not to be forsaken by Daniel Deronda.
Gwendolyn ends her plot with renunciation: “At least, I want to be
good—not like what I have been,” she says to Daniel (767). Giving up
one’s own will by willing what is good according to others becomes a
moral lesson, experiencable as the gradual lessening of agitation: “She
was experiencing some of that peaceful melancholy which comes from
the renunciation of demands for self” (795). Even if wanting to be good
falls short of being good (to want such a will is not to have a will that is
empty of want), the narrative implies that Gwendolyn is moving in the
right direction.
In the previous chapter I described “will work” as being willing to ad-
just your will to the will of others. We can now consider how “will work”
can be experienced as the renunciation of will. To renounce will assumes
one has a will to begin with. I mentioned earlier the paradox that to ac-
quire will requires will. Renunciation can also be understood as a para-
doxical task: it might exercise what is being eliminated. It is the spoiled
child who is called upon to express the paradox of the situation: it is the
child who has had her own way who must give up a way of her own.32
I would suggest that renunciation of will becomes central to George El-
iot’s presentation of femininity.
I have already introduced Maggie Tulliver, a willful heroine from
George Eliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss. I imagine Maggie and Gwendo-
lyn in conversation, a conversation between willful girls. A key moment
in the text is when Maggie reads Thomas à Kempis’s An Imitation of Christ
and has an epiphany.33 The answer to her troubles is to give up her will,
as an act of giving up desire and inclination: “It flashed through her like
the suddenly apprehended solution of a problem, that all the miseries of
her young life had come from fixing her heart on her own pleasure as if
that were the central necessity of the universe” ([1860] 1965, 306). From
the point of view of the parents, their daughter has become good because
she has submitted to their will: “Her mother felt the change in her with
a sort of puzzled wonder that Maggie should be ‘growing up so good’; it
was amazing that this once ‘contrary’ child was becoming so submissive,
so backward to assert her own will” (309). The mother can thus love the

88 Chapter Two
daughter, who can support the family by staying in the background: “The
mother was getting fond of her tall, brown girl, the only bit of furniture
now in which she could bestow her anxiety and pride” (309). When you
treat someone like furniture you put them into the background. To re-
cede into the background requires giving up a will other than the will of
It is widely reported that George Eliot admired the work of Thomas à
Kempis. It is certainly the case that the novel does not present Maggie’s
emptying herself of will as a wrongful submission. If anything, giving
up a will of one’s own is presented as an ethical ideal that Maggie fails
because she is willful, as Sally Shuttleworth has suggested (1984, 104). We
can hear this judgment of willfulness in the very description of Maggie’s
reading of Kempis: “that renunciation means sorry, though a sorrow
born willingly. Maggie was still panting for happiness, and was in ecstasy
because she had found the key for it” ([1860] 1965, 307). Although Maggie
thinks she has found the key in renunciation, her finding is represented
as born out of inclination, and thus contradicts in form the content of
what is found. The narrative gives us a profile of Maggie’s character as
willful from which we conjure a behind: “From what you know of her, you
will not be surprised that she threw some exaggeration and willfulness,
some pride and impetuosity, even into her self-renunciation; her own life
was still a drama for her in which she demanded of herself that her part
should be played with intensity” (308). Of course as readers we can come
to different views of Maggie’s action: if we bring willfulness to the front,
we have a different view of the behind.
In one rather extraordinary scene, Maggie cuts her hair in defiance
of her mother. That her hair is the object of struggle matters. I noted
in my introduction how Maggie’s hair comes to express Maggie’s own
willfulness: her hair is represented as wayward, as if it has a will of its
own.34 When she cuts her hair, Maggie is left looking rather like “a queer
thing,” to use Tom’s description, and bitterly regrets her action: “Mag-
gie felt an unexpected pang. She had thought beforehand chiefly of her
own deliverance from her teasing hair and teasing remarks about it, and
something also of the triumph she should have over her mother and her
aunts by this very decided course of action: she didn’t want her hair to
look pretty— that was out of the question— she only wanted people to
think her a clever little girl and not find fault with her. But now, when
Tom began to laugh at her and say she was like the idiot, the affair had
quite a new aspect” (72).35 The action is presented as impulsive and

The Good Will 89

immature. Maggie suffers, yet again, the consequences of her own weak-
ness of will. Her aunt comments that she looks “more like a gypsy” than
ever (75).36 To become willfully estranged from femininity is to become a
stranger to the family.
If renunciation can be thought of as will work then you have to work
to recede, or work to become part of the background. Recession, we learn
from George Eliot’s plots, is a hard lot. You can be diagnosed as will-
ful even when you try and escape the diagnosis. The gendering of will
thus also implies the gendering of willfulness. It is not that only girls
and women are called willful; gendering is not always about such stark
differences. But it might be that certain actions are permitted for boys
precisely because they are more encouraged to acquire a will of their own.
Similar actions made by differently gendered subjects thus have differ-
ent consequences. The contrast between Maggie’s and her brother Tom’s
experiences is partly achieved through the suggestion that although
they both act in ways that might ordinarily be designated as willful, Tom
escapes the consequences of being judged in these terms: “Tom never
did the same sort of foolish things as Maggie, having a wonderful dis-
tinctive discernment of what would turn to his advantage or disadvan-
tage; and so it happened, that although he was much more willful and
inflexible than Maggie, his mother hardly ever called him naughty” (59).
When willfulness sticks, you become the trouble you cause: “It was Mrs.
Tulliver’s way, if she blamed Tom, to refer his misdemeanour, somehow
or other, to Maggie” (114). Perhaps in becoming the reference point for
other people’s misdemeanors you become not only aware of injustice but
willing to speak out about injustice. And indeed, when Maggie speaks
out about the injustice of her extended family’s lack of compassion in
response to her father’s loss of the mill, she is heard as bold and thank-
less. Speaking out against injustice becomes “yet another” symptom of
willfulness; and being heard as such is dismissed as such.
I would argue that feminist history involves a history of becoming
conscious of how troubling attributions such as willfulness fall, unevenly,
on subjects. It is not simply that you are charged with willfulness; you
become conscious of the violence of the charge. I will return to the rela-
tionship between feminist consciousness and the attribution of willful-
ness in chapter 4. Let’s just note how if femininity becomes a problem of
will, then femininity is to be resolved by will. To abbreviate: femininity
is a willing resolution.37 But to be willing one’s femininity, even to be
willing not to be willful, can be to fail the resolution. Both Gwendolyn

90 Chapter Two
and Maggie are portrayed as too willing not to be willful, as willfully will-
ing: even their efforts to will right, their willingness to adjust, become
symptoms of willfulness, of having or being “too much,” or even having
or being “too too.”38

Conclusion: Moral Law and Social Precedence

The entanglement of social norms with moral norms in Daniel Deronda
could be translated into a critique of moral universality even if the novel
does not offer such a critique. Let’s turn again to Kant. While Kant’s for-
malist ethics might seem rather emptied of character in its bracketing
of motivations other than doing one’s duty from ethics, Kant neverthe-
less wrote on education as central to virtue, as being necessary for the
development of the kind of character who could act in consistency with
moral law. As Thomas E. Hill notes in his reflections on Kant’s concept of
will: “Effort, practice and time are needed to turn what is basically a good
will into a strong and effective will that chooses the right thing even in
the presence of contrary inclinations so intense that they might sway a
weaker person” (2012, 117). Inclination becomes contrariness: given the
content of what disagrees with the moral norm.
It is interesting to note the difference on the status of the moral law
between Kant and Johann Friedrich Herbart, a German philosopher who
wrote on both aesthetics and education and who is often described as
the founder of pedagogy. As the translators of Herbart’s Science of Edu-
cation note: “For Kant, the binding nature of duty was a universal law,
and as such, harmony or disharmony with it, constituted the moral or
immoral will” (H. M. Felkin and E. Felkin 1893, 25). In contrast, Herbart
makes the idea of duty secondary: “If the notion of duty is to be the first
principle of ethics, a direct certainty of the validity of the original com-
mand must exist, but it does not” (25, emphasis in original). In other
words, Herbart suggests that duty cannot be a first principle because
the command “obey” cannot possess originality: “For to command is to
will, and if a command as such be possessed of original certainty, then
one act of volition as such must take the precedence of others, which
are subservient of it. Since no will, as will, is superior to any other no
command as such has an original right to command” (H. M. Felkin and
E. Felkin 1893, 26).39 Kantians might reply that Herbart misreads Kant,
as no person embodies the moral law; the command to obey this law is
beyond a temporal chain of precedence or antecedence (this is why for

The Good Will 91

Kant the temporality of the good will is “spontaneity”), and this is why
practical reason requires a reasoning relation to law rather than blind
submission.40 But what if the abstraction of the moral law comes in the
form of a command given by those with precedence? We have examined
precisely how parental will is assumed to rest on moral law; we have also
noted the entanglement of moral and social norms. Is the moral law how
those with precedence acquire legitimacy?
This is and must remain a difficult question. For history has taught us
how a Kantian model of duty as obedience to the moral law can be used
to justify obedience to the will of a leader. Hannah Arendt in her reflec-
tions on the Eichmann trial notes how the German Nazi leader Adolf
Eichmann fairly successfully evoked Kant to justify his obedience to
Hitler’s commands. Eichmann’s understanding of Kant might have been
limited but he does not simply get Kant wrong. Arendt notes: “He sud-
denly declared with great emphasis that he had lived his life according to
Kant’s moral precepts and especially according to a Kantian definition
of duty” ([1963] 1994, 135). According to Arendt, Eichmann defines the
categorical imperative as “the principle of my will must always be that
it can be general laws” (136), a definition that is then translated as: “Act
in such a way that the Fuhrer, if he knew your action would approve it”
(136). Arendt makes explicit that this translation loses the meaning of
the Kantian imperative: “For the household use, all that is left of Kant’s
spirit is the demand that a man do more than obey the law, that he go
beyond the mere call of obedience, and identify his will with the principle
behind the law, the source from which law springs. In Kant’s philosophy,
that source was practical reason, in Eichmann’s household use of him, it
was the will of the Fuhrer” (132). As Judith Butler describes, Arendt at-
tempts to “reclaim Kant from the Nazi interpretation and to mobilise the
resources of his text against the conceptions of obedience that uncriti-
cally supported a criminal legal code and fascist regime” (2012, 156).41
Arendt does note how Eichmann’s “household” use of Kant is “to the sur-
prise of everybody” an “approximately correct definition of the categori-
cal imperative” ([1963] 1994, 132). Can we think more about the surprise
of this approximation? I would suggest that Arendt’s own description
of Eichmann’s definition of the categorical imperative as approximating
Kant’s definition implies some recognition of a problem with the defini-
tion being approximated.
I am tempted to think of practical reason as a parallel in the domain
of ethics to Locke’s “steady hand” in the domain of pedagogy: a technol-

92 Chapter Two
ogy of will that requires a willing submission, a willingness to be under
the moral law, an act of submission that is explicitly narrated (and justi-
fied) as an act of volition. However, this argument would be too easy to
dismiss as mistranslation (although in writing of my temptation I have
managed to make it). Perhaps we could just question the safety of this
distinction between practical reason and obedience to the will of a leader
or of those who come first. If the universality of the good will remains
open to being mistranslated, then mistranslation is a structural possibil-
ity of the good will.
If willfulness is attributed to some (it is not that they are that, but
they come to be experienced as that), then so too is the good will. The
separation of the good will from those to whom it is attributed can be
understood as a technique of attribution: after all those who are not en-
countered as “swayed by will,” as embodied and impulsive, as capricious,
are those whose attributions already tend to be outside themselves (as
forms of value that have been made independent of personhood). I am
suggesting here that we need a social critique of this moral distinction.
Pierre Bourdieu offered a vulgar critique of Kantian aesthetics by show-
ing how aesthetic ideals correspond to social distinctions ([1979] 1984,
485–500). Perhaps what I am offering is a vulgar critique of Kantian
ethics. Kant differentiates respect as a moral emotion from other emo-
tions that are pathological. Respect is moral as respect for the moral law.
Kant specifies:

Respect applies always to persons only—not to things. The latter may

arouse inclination, and if they are animals (e.g. horses, dogs, &c.),
even love or fear, like the sea, a volcano, a beast of prey; but never re-
spect. . . . Fontenelle says “I bow before a great man, but my mind does
not bow.” I would add, before an humble plain man, in whom I per-
ceive uprightness of character in a higher degree than I am conscious
of in myself, my mind bows whether I choose it or not, and though I
bear my head never so high that he may not forget my superior rank.
Why is this? Because his example exhibits to me a law that humbles
my self-conceit when I compare it with my conduct: a law, the practica-
bility of obedience to which I see proved by fact before my eyes. ([1788]
2004, 81, emphases in original)
Kant shows here how respect as a moral emotion can be directed toward
a man of a lower rank, one who is morally upright. Moral emotion thus
seems separable from social rank: a man of higher rank can be humbled

The Good Will 93

by the humble man. But note the implication the head keeps the height.
Respect for the moral law is thus in accordance with social rank. The
moral subject, the one who gives respect, appears to be of a certain class
even if, or perhaps through, how the respect is given to a person of an-
other or subordinate class (the subaltern). This is why when Kant ends
with a question “why,” he is asking why the mind bows; the question that
remains unasked is why he must bear his head so high. Indeed, Kant de-
scribes respect as a tribute that cannot not be given inwardly but is “out-
wardly with[e]ld” (82).
Now Kant is not arguing for the accordance of moral feeling and so-
cial rank, in fact quite the opposite. But by describing how respect as
moral feeling can be given without compromising rank (as a withhold-
ing of what is inwardly felt) that accordance is affirmed. Consider also
Kant’s writings on education in which he describes the moral costs of
spoiling children. The distinction between the good and ill will does not
simply rest on the question of the child’s education. Kant himself uses
this contrast as the basis of a social distinction between the disciplined
nature of willing Europeans compared to savage nations: “Undisciplined
men are apt to follow every caprice. . . . We see this also among the sav-
age nations, who, though they may discharge functions for some time
like Europeans, yet can never become accustomed to European manners”
([1899] 2003, 4). A caprice is defined as an impulsive change of mind, or
as an inclination to change one’s mind impulsively. Capriciousness is a
close sibling of willfulness: they belong to the same family. Willfulness
becomes a way of characterizing those who are not Europeans, or not like
Europeans: an explanation of how they cannot become accustomed to
European manners. Kant contrasts the class of the upper ranks to those
of lower ranks in similar terms: “the children of the working classes,” he
suggests, are more spoiled than the children of higher ranks “for the work-
ing classes play with their children like monkeys” (51). The spoiled child
comes to figure; she offers a way of making as well as distributing social
and moral value. The civilized and educated subjects remove themselves
from the very signs of willfulness, from the capricious and the impulsive,
as a way of distancing themselves from the lower ranks, from those who
are not European, not bourgeoisie, and not male. The less civilized adults
(working class, racial others, women, and of course some embody more
than one than category of less) are thus figured not only as childlike but
as willful children. The distinction between good will and ill will, between
strong willed and weak willed becomes in very stark terms a social dis-

94 Chapter Two
tinction. Once we recognize this, we have given the good will a genealogy
in Nietzsche’s sense: a history or coming into being of subjects who can
receive values as if they correspond to things in the world. If the aristo-
crats define happiness or the good life as what they have, then those of
a higher social rank can define the good will as what they are. It is “the
others” who are willful and capricious.
Throughout this chapter, I have shown how the acquisition of good
will, as the will in pursuit of the right ends, becomes a way of creating so-
cial harmony: a good will is in agreement with other wills. Willfulness as
ill will is often understood as a will that is in agreement only with itself:
a willing of what is agreeable to the self. This idea of willfulness as self-
agreement can be related to how willful subjects do not will in agreement
with others. I would suggest that the diagnosis of willfulness allows the
good will to appear as if it is a universal will, as a will that has eliminated
signs of itself from moral agreement. To give a genealogy of the good will
is to restore the traces of this elimination. As Emmanuel Levinas asks:
“Does the will contain an incoercible part that cannot be obligated by
the formalism of universality? And we might even wonder whether, Kant
notwithstanding, that incoercible spontaneity, which bears witness to
both the multiplicity of humans and the uniqueness of persons, is not
already pathology, and sensibility and ‘ill will.’ . . . The universality of the
maxim of action according to which the will is assimilated to practical
reason may not correspond to the totality of good will” ([1987] 1993, 122,
emphasis in original). Practical reason is a technique whereby social pre-
cedence is concealed and exercised under the guise of a moral law. The
spontaneity of the good will is not a secure foundation for ethical judg-
ment; even to suggest this is to question the distinction between will as
a moral faculty and desire or inclination. It is to imply an antagonism
within the totality, an ill will right at the heart of the good will.42
In Daniel Deronda, it is Daniel himself who comes to embody the ma-
ture ethical subject: the one who wills in accordance with the moral law,
whose will is “obedient to the laws of justice and love” ([1876] 1995, 749).
He is addressed as such by Mordecai, the Jewish brother of Mirah who
is to become his wife: “It was your loving will that made a chief pathway
and resisted the effect of evil” (749). The path created by Daniel’s lov-
ing will is defined against the paths created by “the erring and unloving
wills” of others (749). If Daniel has wandered, if he was cast out from his
family, his good will has led him along a straight path. It is important to
note here that the novel is also a story of Daniel’s discovery of his own

The Good Will 95

Jewish origins. The significance of good will being embodied by a Jew-
ish man who has lost sight of his own history remains to be thought.
Where do we end up by ending with Daniel’s good will, a will that is in
accordance with duty? Where do we go with this will, or where does this
will allow us to go?
The novel ends with Daniel announcing his own departure, saying to
Gwendolyn: “I have purposes that will take me to the East” (802); “I am
going to the East” (803). We can recall here Edward Said’s definition of
Orientalism as “willed human work” (1978, 140). The East becomes what
is “there” by the repetition of a shared direction. If the will goes that way,
it keeps that way going. And if the East is where Daniel is going, his duty
is defined in terms of Zionism: “The idea that I am possessed with is that
of restoring a political existence to my people, making them a nation
again, giving them a national centre such as the English have, though
they too are scattered over the face of the globe. This is a task which pres-
ents itself to me as a duty: I am resolved to begin it, however feebly. I am
resolved to devote my life to it. At the least I may awaken a movement in
other minds, such as has been awakened in my own” ([1876] 1995, 803).43
How is it possible then, that the moral duty, the virtue of volition, leads
us here, to the idea of a national home? Perhaps the universality of the
good will remains predicated on certain particulars. What is implicit here
is an alternative account of the agreement at stake in the good will, one
that creates a “we” that, even if predicated on the movement of other
minds, still restricts the very form of that movement. A people is “my
people”; a “we” is the unifying of a diaspora into a nation. We cannot
understand this problem—of how the good will becomes a technique for
gathering a disparate population into a coherent body—without refer-
ence to the general will. And it is to the general will that I now turn.

96 Chapter Two
Chapter Three


hoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to
do so by the whole body, which means nothing else than that
he shall be forced to be free” ([1762] 1998, 18). This sentence
from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract is somewhat notori-
ous. Surely to be forced to be free contradicts the meaning and essence
of freedom? My investigation of willing has already shown how force and
freedom can operate in the same register. As I discussed in chapter 2,
through a reading of Rousseau’s Émile, subjects are asked to do more than
obey, they must obey out of their own free will. In this sentence from
The Social Contract, the mechanisms for this “forcing” of freedom are re-
vealed. If not to obey the general will is not to be free, then being forced
to obey the general will is the condition of possibility for freedom. The
general will is that which precedes the will of “whoever” but also is the
condition that makes this will free. We can ask: how does this general
will relate to the will of those who are given precedence? Who or what
embodies the general will?
There is another crucial term in this sentence: “the whole body.” The
general will is the will, we could say, of the whole body. The address to “who-
ever” is an address to someone as part of the whole body. This chapter
explores how the relation between will and willfulness can be reposed as
a relation between the general will and the particular will, or between the
will of the whole body and the will of a body part. Reposing the relation
in these terms allows us to move beyond any assumption that the social-
ity of will simply refers to how individuals, as already constituted or even
emergent beings, exist in a willing relation. The demand for obedience
is not simply a demand that the part obeys the whole but is willing to
become part of a whole. Willfulness would be a diagnosis of unbecoming
parts, and those parts may or may not be recognized as individuals. We
could give a different kind of account of the Grimm story: of how the arm
becomes a willful part.
The general will in Rousseau does not simply refer to the will of all,
or what Rousseau calls “the common will.” The latter would include pri-
vate or particular wills, while the general will would not. An individual can
thus have both a particular and general will: “Every individual may, as a
man, have a particular will contrary to, or divergent from, the general
will which he has as a citizen” (18). It is noteworthy how the particular will
is defined here in terms of contrariness to the general. In the case of the
general will, for Rousseau: “Each of us puts in common his person and
his whole power under the supreme direction of the general will; and in
return we receive every member as an indivisible part of the whole” (15). A
general will is thus how a part relates to the whole. In Patrick Riley’s reading
of Rousseau he describes the particular will as a willful will. Riley notes
that Rousseau’s aim is “to retain the moral attribution of will while doing
away with will’s particularity and selfishness and ‘willfulness’ ” (2001, 131).
For a part to become willing rather than be willful, it must put to one side
its own particulars. Through acts of association “a moral and collective
body” is produced. For Rousseau, the will is either general or it is not: it is
either “the body of the people” or “that of only a portion” (27). However,
at the same time, the general will is not simply about counting each part.
For Rousseau “what generalizes the will” is “not so much the number of
voices as the common interest which unites them” (32–33).
There are two further points worth making here. Firstly, for Rousseau
the general will is “always right” by which he means it “always tends to
the public advantage” (29).1 But there is a but: “the judgment that guides
it is not always enlightened” (39). As I noted in my introduction, there
has been a philosophical tendency to associate will with error, but for
Rousseau, it is understanding or knowledge that would lead us astray.
Will is assumed to be willing in the right way. This is how education
matters to Rousseau’s argument: the public must “be made to see ob-
jects as they are” which means they must be “guarded from the seduc-
tion of private interests” (39). The pedagogic arguments of Émile could
thus be understood as behind The Social Contract: the individual subject
must learn to put aside his or her own particular or willful will and be
willing to will the general will. And secondly, Rousseau asks how the gen-
eral will is to be expressed. He asks, “Has the body politic an organ for
expressing its will?” and describes the “need for a legislator” (39). The

98 Chapter Three
concept of the general will thus introduces the necessity of a mediating
part. The legislator who becomes the organ of this expression has three
wills: in the perfect system he will have a particular will, which must be
rendered “inoperative”; a common or corporate will, which must be “sub-
ordinated”; and a sovereign will, which will be “dominant” (62–63). The
general is “given” expression through a body that is not reducible to the
whole body: one part of the body becomes an organ for its expression,
which requires that this part of the body does not express itself as a part.
In this chapter I ask which parts become “expressions” of the general will,
and which do not.

Willing Parts
We now tend to associate the idea of the general will with the work of
Rousseau. But as Patrick Riley (1988) has shown, the general will has
a long history and is transformed over time from a religious to a secu-
lar idea.2 I want to draw firstly on the work of the seventeenth-century
French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. In Pensées, Pascal
associates the particular will with self-will. The will is a kind of tendency
to tend toward oneself. As he puts it: “All tends to itself. This is contrary
to all order” ([1669] 2003, 132). For Pascal, the particular will is inevita-
bly depraved because, as Helena Rosenblatt notes, it is “bound up . . .
with human corruption and selfishness since the Fall” (1997, 190).3 Pascal
argues that the will should tend toward the general, that is, it should ac-
quire a general tendency, which is not the natural tendency of will. Let’s
consider the “part” in the particular. A particular will is the will of a part.
Pascal attributes danger to the willing part in the following way: “Let us
imagine a body full of thinking members. . . . If the foot and the hands
had a will of their own, they could only be in their order in submitting
their particular will to the primary will which governs the whole body.
Apart from that, they are in disorder and mischief; but in willing only
the good of the body, they accomplish their own good” ([1669] 2003, 132,
emphasis added). If a part is to have a will of its own, then it must will
what the whole of the body wills. The body part that does not submit its
will is the willful part.
One could learn so much from Pascal’s mischievous foot. The willful
part is that which threatens the reproduction of an order. As Pascal fur-
ther describes: “If the foot had always been ignorant that it belonged
to the body, and that there was a body on which it depended, if it had

The General Will 99

only the knowledge and the love of self, and if it came to know that it
belonged to a body on which it depended, what regret, what shame for its
past life, for having been useless to the body which inspired its life . . . !
What prayers for its preservation in it! . . . For every member must be
worthy to perish for the body, for which alone the whole is” (132). To be
a thinking member of a body thus requires you remember you are part of
a body. Willfulness refers to the part that in willing has forgotten it is
just a part. The consequences of such forgetting are shame; the part that
is ignorant of its status as part would compromise the preservation of
the whole.
Implicit in the drama of Pascal’s description is how the will binds
memory and utility: the part in willing only the good of the whole body
must remember that body by becoming useful to that body. Explicit to
his model is the intimacy of general will and what we can call general
happiness. Pascal notes: “To make the members happy, they must have
one will, and submit it to the body” (133). If having one shared will is
deemed necessary for the happiness of each member, then failure to sub-
mit to this will compromises the happiness of the whole body. Unhap-
piness and willfulness are not only traveling companions in this model;
they embody the same sort of threat to the “whole body.” Or to be more
precise: willfulness becomes the cause of the unhappiness caused.
Pascal’s mischievous foot belongs to the same history as the arm
in the Grimm story. A rebellion is a rebellion of a part. The rebel is the
one who compromises the whole, that is, the body of which she is a part.
When we think of this “whole body” we might tend to think of “the or-
ganic body,” but we also think of how the social is imagined as like a body,
as a sum of its parts. The idea of the social body has a long history.4 As
Mary Poovey notes in her book Making a Social Body, this idea is “histori-
cally related” to the classical metaphor of the body politic (1995, 7). She
suggests that “the social body” acquired significance as a more inclusive
metaphor than that of the body politic, as it gave a part to the laboring
poor who had previously been excluded, who were deemed “not part” be-
cause they would compromise the health of the body. Poovey concludes:
“The phrase social body therefore promised full membership in a whole
(and held out the image of that whole) to a part identified as needing
both discipline and care” (8, emphases in original). To be a part is to be
the one who receives a promise: the promise of membership.
If to be a part is to be the recipient of a promise, then to become part
is a demand to be worthy of reception. What is being demanded? We

100 Chapter Three

might think of the part in participation. Take, for instance, Hegel’s argu-
ment that “limbs and organs, for instance, of an organic body are not
merely parts of it; it is only in their unity that they are what they are
and they are unquestionably affected by that unity, as they also in turn
affect it” ([1817] 1975, 191–92). Indeed, for Hegel, organs and limbs “be-
come mere parts, only when they pass under the hands of the anatomist,
whose occupation, be it remembered, is not with the living body but with
the corpse” (192). To become a mere part would participate in a scene of
death. Affect becomes crucial to the scene of participating in life: an af-
fective unity. The parts are in sympathy, or must be in sympathy, for life.
Mary Poovey refers to the work of the medical scientist Robert Whytt
who describes the relation between each specialized part of the body as
sympathetic: “by which he meant communication of the senses among
bodily organs” (1995, 79). Poovey notes the compatibility between Scot-
tish medicine and moral philosophy, between this model of the internal
sympathy between body parts and models of social sympathy that we
find in the work of philosophers such as Adam Smith and David Hume
(81). Bodies are sympathetic to each other as parts of the social body.
Sympathy can be understood as accordance: the verb “accord” derives
from heart.5 A sympathetic part is an agreement with heart.
To become part is to be affected by other parts: to acquire a ner vous
connection. I would suggest that the idea that parts are sympathetic not
only describes how parts relate to each other, but also prescribes what
parts must do both for other parts, and for the body of which they are
part. In Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy, the particular will or the will
of the part is explicitly tied to purpose. Matter is described as the “mere
visibility of the will” ([1818] 1966b, 45, emphasis in original). The parts
of the body are understood as “secondary organs.” So the foot is “the
will-to-walk,” the brain “the will-to-know,” the stomach “the will-to-digest,”
the hand “the will-to-grasp,” the genitals, “the will-to-procreate,” such that
“the will exhibits itself as organized body” (259, emphases in original).
Perhaps lodged in each description of the will of a part is an injunction:
feet walk, brain know, hand grasp, stomach digest, genitals procreate!
A willing part would be for what it is assumed as for. To become part is
to inherit this prescription; it is to acquire a function. The parts must
be willing to do what they are assumed to be for. Sympathetic feet—
feet that are in sympathy with the whole body—must be willing to walk.
Sympathetic arms must be willing to carry. We might note a connection
between the arm and the pot discussed in chapter 1: they must be willing

The General Will 101

to carry. When they are willing to carry, they would be filled with the
content of an agreement.
Feeling becomes tied to function. However much Nietzsche’s own
reflections on the will involve a critique of Schopenhauer’s ethics of
renunciation, his work extends the model of willing as organized through
or in life forms offered by Schopenhauer. Nietzsche relates organization
directly to commandment. Nietzsche’s own model rests on his reading
of an essay by Wilhelm Roux called “The Struggle between Parts of the
Organism.” As Lukas Soderstrom notes, “According to Roux, organic
purposefulness results from an inner struggle between the various parts
(Theile) of the body caused, in both the embryonic and post-embryonic
development, by the continual appearance of small organic variations
that struggle for survival against older, already established parts” (2009,
58). This struggle between parts leads in Roux’s model to “one part domi-
nating another part and ascribing a function to it, which then regulates
the organism, thereby allowing for the emergence of seemingly purpose-
ful behaviour” (58). The capacity for some parts of the body to assign
a purpose to other parts is necessary for a general or organic sense of
purpose. Domination both leads to and takes form as the acquisition of
function. It is worth noting here how social models of will are borrowed
from biological models. As Sarah Franklin shows in Biological Relatives,
Darwin’s approach to higher and lower levels of organization finds its
way into Marx’s Capital, which makes use of On the Origin of Species to
describe industrial organization: “By a low level of organization I mean
a low degree of differentiation of the organs for different particular opera-
tions” (cited in Franklin 2013, 41, emphasis in original).6 In these models,
social as well as biological advancement depend on the specialization of
parts: the more advanced an organization, the more each organ is differ-
entiated according to a particular purpose.
Nietzsche translates Roux’s model of embryonic development into
a model of the body. As Gregory Moore notes in Nietzsche, Biology and
Metaphor, Nietzsche offers an “aristocracy of the body,” in which there
is an “aggregate structure of the will” or a “compound of myriad minor
wills,” such that “the will of the individual” is the “coordinated wills of the
component cells” (Moore 2002, 39). This is how for Nietzsche the will is
an “interlocking chain of underwills” (39).7 In Beyond Good and Evil Nietz-
sche explicitly relates this model of the body to political order, suggesting
“what happens here is what happens in every well constructed and happy
commonwealth namely that the governing class identifies itself with the

102 Chapter Three

success of the commonwealth” ([1886] 1997, 14). The governing class in
identifying with the commonwealth also secures its own happiness. I
have already noted how the general will is a thesis of general happiness.
For Nietzsche in willing there is a “feeling of delight” in the successful
execution of a command, which is the same executing mechanism for the
governing class of a social body, as it is for a person in relation to an in-
dividual body, which too is comprised of under-wills (14). We can thus
connect Nietzsche’s happy commonwealth to his model of the strong will
discussed in the previous chapter in which the underwills are coordinated
under “a single predominant impulse” ([1901] 1968, 28–29).8 One wonders
whether Nietzsche’s model of the strong will would be translated in narra-
tive terms into a will dystopia as well as a happiness dystopia.9
Nietzsche’s aristocratic model of the body may seem far removed from
the political sentiments expressed by or in Rousseau’s general will, which
rests on the principle of formal equality and inclusion. We learn from this
removal: the idea that we are all parts or members of a “whole body” can be
used to describe, as well as express commitment to, a wide range of politi-
cal forms. In some cases the idea of the social body is used to demonstrate
the right of some parts to demand obedience from others. For example,
in Malebranche’s The Search after Truth, to be a member of a body means
that some parts must be willing to obey a command: “Not all the members
of a body can be its head and heart; there must be feet and hands, small as
well as great, people who obey as well as those who command. And if each
says openly that he wants to command and never to obey, as indeed each
of them does, it is obvious that every body politic would be destroyed, and
that disorder and injustice would reign everywhere” ([1674–75] 1997, 333).
The idea that all parts have distinct roles as parts of a body is translated
into a demand for obedience. Not to obey would threaten anarchy. A will-
ful part threatens to break the whole body apart. Parts must be willing to
obey (this is how, to return to my discussion of Rousseau’s Émile in the
previous chapter, free will can come under obedience).
Other scholars have used the part/whole distinction to generate a
very different role for the part. Contrast Malebranche with Saint Paul:

The body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, “Because I
am not the hand, I am not of the body” is it therefore not of the body?
Now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot
say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee”; nor again, the hand to the
feet, “I have no need of you.” There is no schism in the body, but . . .

The General Will 103

the members should have the same care for one another. And whether
one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member
be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (cited in Bray 1999, 21)
A different member of the body is valued as taking part in its own way;
indeed, the whole needs each of these ways equally in order to function.
Each part is valued for what it is with “is” referred directly to “does.” The
relation of part to part is one of mutual dependence rather than subor-
dination. In this dependence, feeling still retains a function. Sympathy is
feeling with: if one part suffers, suffer do all; or at least suffer should all.
A part should be willing to care for other parts, and in turn will receive
what we might think of as a parting care.
Despite their obvious differences these arguments share an assump-
tion that to become a part of a whole is to acquire a duty. Pascal describes
this duty as a death duty (“the part must become worthy of perishing for
the whole body”) but we can also think of this duty as a life duty: the part
must be willing to preserve the life of the whole. If the life of the part is
dependent on the life of the whole, then the part to preserve itself must
preserve the whole. This logic is well articulated by Johann Gottlieb Fichte:
“If each individual part of the tree were endowed with consciousness and
a will, then each part, just as certainly as if it wills its own preservation,
must also will the preservation of the tree, since it can be preserved only
if the tree is preserved” ([1797] 2000, 176). Self-preservation depends on
preserving the whole. These different political uses of the part/whole
distinction might correspond to different techniques: in some cases, a
part must be forced to obey; in others, a part is asked to be sympathetic.
These techniques are different means to the same end: the alignment of
the will of the part with the will of the whole. These techniques could be
described as harder or softer; they might at a more formal level correspond
to the techniques described in the previous chapter that rest on breaking
or making the will of the child. We can now show how the will being made
or broken is the will of a part. As I will explore in due course, this might be
how the child too comes to figure: as part of the body of the family.

Will and the Productive Body

The part/whole distinction becomes a willing distinction: not simply a
distinction between the part and whole, but between parts, between
those who are willing and those who are not. This is why we cannot have

104 Chapter Three

a general logic of the part.10 Willfulness as a diagnosis could be a his-
torical record of moments in which some parts fail in their duty to carry
and support the whole body. Arguably all parts of the whole would be
diagnosed as willful if they are not willing to provide this support. But
we learn that some parts who are willing “the good” of the whole body es-
cape the diagnosis. Remember Pascal: “They accomplish their own good.”
This is how some parts in accomplishing their own good might be diag-
nosed as not only willful but also selfish (as willing away from others),
while others who are also accomplishing their own good might be diag-
nosed not only as not willful or selfish, but even as will-less or self-less
(as willing for others).11 The point of this difference is how the general in
expressing the will of some parts allows the will of those parts to appear
as general rather than particular.
When the will of some parts is accomplished by the general will, those
parts acquire a freedom not to be supportive.12 This is how the distinction be-
tween willing and willful parts—between those whose will is accomplished
by the general and those whose will is not—functions as a moral as well
as a discursive frame. Let’s take two contrasting examples. In the current
landscape of cuts to public spending or austerity a much-repeated speech
act is that we must all “tighten our belts.” Of course the ones who make the
command are probably not themselves tightening their belts. But those
who resist the command, who call into question the right of or in the com-
mand, are deemed as self-willed, or even as selfish, as putting themselves
(or perhaps even their own stomachs) over and above the general interest,
as compromising the very capacity of the nation to survive, or flourish. We
might assume that in the current financial climate, the bankers would be
judged as willful, as putting themselves (and their own stomachs) before
the general interest.13 But even if this judgment is made (by some, certainly
not by all) that judgment is rarely expressed in action: after all, the bankers
have kept their bonuses. Why can ask why even if we know why. Capitalism
is understood as “the whole body,” as what parts must be willing to repro-
duce. And capital is identified as the lifeblood of this body: as what must
be kept in circulation no matter what (or who), as if without capital or blood
being pumped through, the whole body would not flourish. The function of
the banks as willing parts (as accomplishing in their “own good” the good
of the whole body) is what stops any judgment of willfulness from being
followed through. Perhaps the judgment is the follow through.
Understanding the part/whole distinction allows us to recognize not
only how the will becomes duty, but how the duty becomes a particular

The General Will 105

as well as a general duty. Given that the social is imagined as a body with
parts, then some bodies more than others will be thought of as the limbs
of the social body. The New England reformer Samuel Gridley Howe, for
example, describes “the labouring classes” as “the feet of society; they
support and carry the whole social body” (cited in Klages 1999, 44). Howe
argues that we should care for laborers in the same way that we care for
our feet, because without them we would be unable to walk. In return, a
sympathetic laborer is willing to become feet, to support and to carry the
social body. Bodies can be supported in order that they can fulfill their
duty to provide support. Caring for others can thus be a technique for
keeping others under the social body as subordinate parts, to return with
a difference to Mary Poovey’s formulation (1995, 8): from discipline and
care to discipline as care.
If capital is assumed as the lifeblood of the whole social body and labor-
ers provide that body with limbs, then the will of laborers might become
tied to their limbs. George Eliot’s Adam Bede begins with a description of
Adam engaged in manual labor. There are two references to Adam’s will:
“You’ve got an iron will, as well as iron arm” is one ([1895] 1961, 166); “his
strong will and strong arm” is the other (199). The implication of these
descriptions is that strength for the laborer is not only strength of will
and arm but an alliance of will to arm. The arm might even become the
will. Or the laborer “willingly” becomes the arm of the whole social body.
Or think of the worker’s hands or how the workers become hands. Our
starting point might be synecdoche: the workers become “hired hands,”
the part standing in for the whole. Janet Zandy begins her extraordinary
discussion of hands in working-class worlds with synecdoche in order to
move beyond it: “Human beings reduced to working parts, just so many
hands. This book develops out of the synecdoche of the hand as obscured
and undifferentiated stand in for human labour and moves towards cul-
tural retrieval and reclamation” (2004, 1–2, see also Brown 2002, 249).
It is not simply that the worker’s hands stand in for the worker. Rather
workers in being treated as hands are materially shaped or pressed by
this very treatment. The history of workers’ hands is a history of loss and
dismemberment in ser vice to the industrial machine. The worker’s hands
become rough and coarse in time, shaped by work, taking the shape of
work. To give hands a history would be to describe the somatization
of the division of labor. As Zandy shows, to be shaped by work is also to
have a certain kind of know-how, a manual knowledge that is about the

106 Chapter Three

acquisition of capacities. “No book can reattach the human hand severed
on the job,” Zandy notes, “but it can trace the process of dis/memberment
and remembering, and see the hand’s potential for graceful movement,
its delicate rough beauty, and its hidden wisdom” (5).
I love the idea of becoming more attuned to the wisdom of hands. Per-
haps this wisdom is what the hands must work for. But in the history of
hands is a demand for another kind of attunement. It is as if the very parts
of the worker are attuned to this part: that the worker has worker’s hands,
for instance, as if these hands were always in tune with a machine, that
these hands were for work before they even were; as if these hands are
shaped by the purpose the worker has been assigned. In Thomas Hardy’s
The Woodlanders there is a description of the violence of this assumption:
“With so many right hands borne to manual labour, there was nothing
in its fundamental shape to bear out the physiological conventionalism
that gradations of birth show themselves primarily in the form of this
member. Nothing but the cast of a die of destiny had decided that the
girl should handle the tool; and the fingers which clasped the heavy ash
haft might have skilfully guided the pencil or swept the string, had they
only been set to do it in good time” ([1887] 1996, 9–10).14 Even if some
bodies are not “borne to manual labour” those who engage in manual
labor are shaped by that labor. And once shaped, once the member has
been formed like this, a convention is given support: as if this was what
this member was for, as if this was a bond of fate.
A bond can be bondage. Think back to Silas Marner. Silas is a laboring
body and thus has a laborer’s body. He is a weaver; he weaves his fortune:
“His life had reduced itself to the mere function of weaving and hoard-
ing” ([1861] 1994, 17). Just as Silas Marner’s body is bent by what he car-
ries, so too his hands are shaped by what they are asked to do, how in
clasping they become clasps: his “face and figure shrank and bent them-
selves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of his life, so
that he produced the same sort of impression as a handle or a crooked
tube, which has no meaning standing apart” (17, emphasis added). The body
of the laborer can become not only like a tool but a tool. To become a tool
is to lose the possibility of standing apart. Henri Bergson in “Frenzy,
Mechanism and Mysticism” reflects on the relationship between bodily
organs and technology: “If our organs are natural instruments, our in-
struments must be artificial organs: the workman’s tool is a continuation of
his arm, the tool-equipment of humanity is therefore a continuation of

The General Will 107

its body” ([1932] 2002, 339, emphasis added). If the arm is continued by a
tool, the arm is also a working tool. If the tool continues the arm, the tool
is also a living arm. The worker can be diminished by this continuation,
which might explain how the specific story of the workman does not sim-
ply fold back into a general story of the human.15 Or the story of the
workman’s arm might be another way of telling the story of the human.
Arlie Hochschild describes how “the factory boy’s arm functioned like a
piece of machinery used to produce wallpaper. His employer, regarding
that arm as an instrument, claimed control over its speed and motions.
In this situation, what was the relation between the boy’s arm and his
mind? Was his arm in any meaningful sense his own?” ([1983] 2003, 7,
emphasis in original). We need to tell these (unfinished) histories of
lost arms, of how workers lose their arms, as the loss of a relation of own-
ness, when arms become tools in the creation of wealth. The loss of the
worker’s arms in becoming tools is also the acquisition of arms by oth-
ers, such as factory owners. When some bodies provide the “whole so-
cial body” with arms, other bodies are freed from the necessity of this
The body of the worker is shaped by becoming the arm of the social
body. In Queer Phenomenology I explored how what bodies “can do” is
affected by what bodies “do do” (2006, 59). We acquire the shape of ac-
tions when those actions are repeated. Labor shapes not only what bod-
ies do but what bodies are assumed to be for. And then, in acquiring the
arms of the laborer, it is as if this body was created to provide arms for
the social body; it is as if that is what this body was for. This for can be
what is before. If it is assumed before our arrival, that we have a certain
future in front of us, we might be pushed toward that future; a class sys-
tem can be lived as a system of expectation, deciding that some bodies
will become the arms, which bodies will employ others as arms. What
you are assumed to be for can then become what you are good for, even
all that you are good for. The laborer in doing more with an arm has an
arm that can do more, such that the laborer is more reducible to the arm,
the increase in capacity becoming a loss of possibility.
When worker’s become social limbs, their role is to maximize the effi-
ciency of the whole social body. The will duty becomes a productive duty,
one that falls unequally on bodies as parts of the social body. It is not
only bodies that are shaped by what they are asked to do: work spaces are
organized to maximize efficiency, with limbs in mind. Michelle Murphy’s
description of office space as an “elaborate apparatus for extracting time

108 Chapter Three

and labour from the bodies of workers” demonstrates this point very ef-
fectively (2004, 195). As she argues: “The purpose of the office apparatus
was to maximize the efficiency of the worker’s corporeal gestures by ra-
tionalization of the stretch of the worker’s arm, her posture in a chair,
and the duration of each of her motions” (195–96). In the following chap-
ter I will take up the implication of this description: the social spaces in
extending the motility of the body are how the will becomes not only
general but concrete. But note how even the stretch of the arm is mea-
sured by the rod of the apparatus.
I have already observed, following Janet Zandy, how some workers
lose their limbs in ser vice to the industrial machine. Rehabilitation can
aim to restore productivity to the whole body through restoring the ca-
pacity of the worker. As David Serlin notes in his contribution to the
edited collection Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: “Even by the 1950s, the
typical goal for prosthetics was to make the worker as productive or
efficient as possible” (2002, 67). The workers as hands must be handy.
Some hands are already tools as means to a productive end. The artificial
hand was organized by the industrial desire that all workers be handy:
as a demand that they be willing parts, that is, that they be willing as
well as able to take part or participate in the labor process. One history
of prosthetics is thus the history of the restoration of the functional
capacity of the laboring body. This restoration of function is understood
therapeutically. As Edward Slavishak notes “here was a therapeutic nar-
rative of machinery—machinery that attempted to mitigate the damage
it had done. Machinery removed worker’s limbs, but it also provided
them with replacements, which were compact machines themselves”
(2008, 255).
This idea of machines as therapy can be related to the idea of the body
as a machine. Robert McRuer (2006) has offered a model of “compulsory
able-bodiedness” in which “being able” becomes a corporeal and regula-
tive norm. McRuer cites the work of Norah Vincent: “It’s hard to deny
that something called normalcy exists. The human body is a machine,
after all—one that has evolved functional parts: lungs for breathing, legs
for walking, eyes for seeing, ears for hearing, a tongue for speaking, and
most crucially for all academics concerned, a brain for thinking” (2006, 7).
Normalcy can be understood in terms of function: having a part that can
do, and is willing to do, what it is assumed as for (“willing and able”).
Being willing might be required when one is not able (“willing not able”).
Compulsory able-bodiedness could be thought of as a will duty as well

The General Will 109

as a productive duty: a body that is not whole, that has nonfunctioning
parts, must be willing if not able, or willing to be able.
Given how the division of labor is somatized, it is not surprising that
artificial limbs came to express that division. Heather R. Perry in her
article “Re-Arming the Disabled Veteran” describes how “many of these
prosthetic hands physically fastened the disabled man to his work sta-
tion” (2002, 89). A prosthetic limb can become like the rod, keeping the
workers fastened to the machines. Different kinds of arms were devel-
oped for nonmanual workers known in Germany during this period as
Kopfarbeiter (head worker) who were given cosmetic or simple artificial
arms (94). Head workers thus have limbs that are freed: limbs that do not
have to be supportive members.
Willfulness comes up as a charge made against disabled subjects who
are unwilling or unable to return to work. Heather Perry refers to the
work of Dr. Konrad Biesalski who in 1915 wrote “Caring for War Crip-
ples.” Biesalski considered “the biggest obstacle to return to recovery
was not the injury itself, but the veteran’s lack of will to fully recover
and return to work” (Perry 2002, 81). This lack of will would be simulta-
neously described as willfulness, “the willful refusal to return to work”
(81), which Biesalski interpreted as a symptom of “pension psychosis.”
Biesalski suggested that to care for disabled veterans is to expect them
to return to work so they can care for themselves: “The crippled should
earn his bread for himself and his dependents completely on his own,
so that he does not . . . fall into misery and poor relief—for us, the hero
of war is too good for that—instead he should be an upstanding, eco-
nomically independent member of our society, just as before” (81). To be-
come an independent member of society is here to contribute actively to
society: the happiness and health of workers depends on their capacity
to contribute to general happiness and general health. Contribution is
here restricted to specific kinds of work. Biesalski’s work was explicitly
informed by the theory and practices of Arbeitswissenschaft or the sci-
ence of work: “By streamlining the corporeal activity of a worker, Ger-
man scientists of work aimed to eliminate wasted motion and thereby
increase worker productivity. German orthopaedists adhered to similar
principles while developing artificial limbs, analysing the various occu-
pations in minute detail and listing the motions absolutely necessary
to their performance. By reducing each job to a series of movements,
doctors determined which particular functions a worker had ‘lost’ along
with his arm and created a corresponding ‘work arm’ capable of perform-

110 Chapter Three

ing them. In short, form followed function in German prosthetic design”
(Perry 2002, 86). The substitute part is one that “follows the motion” of
the original it replaces. The body must not become a spare part. If what
cannot be spared is time, then what is eliminated are any movements
that are not tied to the efficient accomplishment of its purpose. The re-
duction of form to function in the design of prosthetic limbs reenacts the
reduction of the worker to a fully functioning limb.
Does the arm that is not productive, that willfully does not work, have
any relationship to the striking arm of the willful child? The figure of
the unused arm could be understood as another rather striking mem-
ber as we can see in this quote from Scott and Nellie Marguerite Seeds
Nearing’s account of social progress: “It is true of any animal that disuse
means decay; the arm, held rigid for a year, would prove an indifferent
member; this is equally true of any other faculty. Disuse involves decay,
physical, mental, spiritual. The powers of the will, the positive forces of
the individual which make up character, are no exception to this rule.
Like the unused arm, they degenerate through lack of functioning” (1912,
145). The unused arm seems to be charged with a different sin than the
willful arm of the Grimm story: one is lifeless and rigid; the other full
of life and energetic. But these arms help us to make a connection. The
arm must be willing to work, just as the will must work to be willing.
Willfulness—and other failures of will—becomes that which threatens
the degeneration of the whole body; not to function would cause the
whole body to become dysfunctional. In the threat is a command: if the
arms must become rods as I argued in the previous chapter, by straight-
ening themselves out, then arms must be willing to support the whole
body through proper employment.
The freedom not to be supportive is the freedom not to become the
arms: by employing others to be the arms. Who become the arms? I will
return to this question in the conclusion of the book by trying to listen
to the arms themselves. But we can consider how a wide range of power
relations can be understood in terms of some becoming the limbs to sup-
port others. We can simplify this formulation: some bodies become sup-
porting limbs. Just think of how the servant class became understood as
“hands” that existed to support the bodies of those they were serving.
The female servant is thus a handmaid.16 Bruce Robbins shows how ser-
vants are represented as and through hands in nineteenth-century British
fiction as “parts without a whole” (1993, ix–x).17 Perhaps the hand is
cut off from the worker’s body in order to be given to the body of the

The General Will 111

aristocrat. Robbins cites William Hazlitt’s essay “Footmen” from 1830,
written from the point of view of the gentleman with the aim of satirizing
that viewpoint: “What would be the good of having a will of our own, if
we had not others about us who are deprived of a will of their own, and
wear a badge to say ‘I serve’ ” (17).18 The gentle class, the aristocratic class,
rules through the will: an exercising of will that takes the form of the de-
privation of others of a will of their own, treating others as servers, in the
case of handmaids, as hands, in the case of footmen, as feet. An unwilling
servant would be “impertinent,” a word that now implies “rudely bold”
but derives from the Latin for “unconnected” or “unrelated.” An unwilling
servant would be a part that is not related to a whole, as the one who is
unwilling to subordinate her or his will to the will of the whole.
We could also think of settler colonialism in terms of the generaliza-
tion of will. The colonized provide the bodies of the colonizer with limbs,
not only becoming the arms that sow the ground, but providing the hands
of ser vice, the wombs for reproducing the bodies to supply more laboring
parts. Frantz Fanon in describing the geography of the colonial city noted
the disappearance of the settlers’ feet: “The settlers’ feet that are never
visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to
see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of
his towns are clean and even, no holes or stones” ([1961] 2001, 30). The
settlers’ feet can disappear because colonial occupation releases the feet
from the necessity of carrying the whole body; their feet can be clean as
the natives’ feet are dirty; the settlers’ feet can be protected while native
feet are required to walk on rough streets. A division of labor becomes a
difference in feet. Feet in standing can stand for will. When the will of
some parts is generalized, those parts are freed: they can be free not to
support the whole body when others provide this support, when other
bodies become their feet. Freedom to will translates into freedom from
function. And this uneven distribution not only of will but of freedom to
will shapes the surface of bodies as well as streets.

The Reproductive Will

The general will is a mechanism for differentiating not only between the
whole body and its parts, but between the parts, some of which acquire a
supportive and subordinate function in order to free the time and labor
of others. An attribution of willfulness is made when supportive parts do
not provide support, when a part does not obey a command that would

112 Chapter Three

allow the whole body to do what it wills. With the part/whole distinction
in mind we can return with fresh eyes to the Grimm story. I suggested in
my introduction to this book that the arm that keeps coming up inherits
the willfulness of the child. Perhaps it would be closer to the direction
of  this history to offer a reversal: the willful child inherits willfulness
from the arm in her refusal to become a supportive limb. If the willful
child is the one whose will is not directed in the right way, toward the
preservation of the family, then she would acquire life only from death, as
if her life would amount to the killing of the body of which she is a part.
If I focused in the previous chapter on the relation of parental will to
the child’s will, we can now attend to the family as such: the family be-
comes another fantasy of the “whole social body.” And thinking through
the membership of the family allows us to reflect on how willing relates
to inheritance and reproduction. In chapter 1, I referred to the work of
Ferdinand Tönnies, a sociologist of the will. The social will for Tönnies
is understood in terms of not only concurrence but also inheritance:
“human wills, each one bound in a physical body, are related to one an-
other by descent and kinship; they remain united, or become so out of
necessity” ([1887] 2001, 22, emphasis in original). Descent and kinship
are presented here as forms of will relatedness. To concur in willing you
might share a history (we could think of this as the inheritance of will
or wills as inheritance), or you might come to will the same way, toward
ends that have already been agreed in advance of an arrival.
We can thus understand why willfulness is deposited in the figure
of the child. The child is the one who promises to extend the family line,
which requires the externalization of will as inheritance (to bequeath
one’s property is to write a will). We can think of inheritance as a straight
line: a way of passing assets as well as qualities down a line. Hegel in
Philosophy of Right describes the bequeathing of property by a person to
nonfamily members as “wayward,” such that “this willfulness is opposed
to the substantive right of the family” ([1821] 2005, 93). The family be-
comes given as a straight line. Perhaps a child too in becoming willfully
wayward would get in the way of the straight lines of the family tree.
The child must not only become part of the family, a willing member,
seated at the family table, but as part must become a point, willing to
extend the family line, to assemble a new body. Even when a child is still
a child, the parents can speak to the child about their anticipation of
becoming grandparents, as if it was a fait accompli, an already accom-
plished fact. Becoming part can mean to become another point on a line.

The General Will 113

The family line can become a rod: a technique for straightening the child
out. The death of the willful child is required for the birth of a willing
child, the one who, in being willing to reproduce the family, can receive
its inheritance.19
To be willful is thus to refuse what we might call “the reproductive
duty,” as the duty of a part to reproduce the whole or at least to be willing
to participate in reproduction. To be willful would be to “snap the bond,”
to borrow Lucretius’s expression, understood as snapping the affective
tie of the family as well as the bond of reproduction, understood as fate,
or even fatality. In George Eliot’s novel Romola, about a character of the
same name, we learn what can follow snapping the bond. Alas, poor
Romola. She attempts to flee from a marriage based on deception, a mar-
riage in which she loses both heart and inheritance. In a chapter entitled
“Arresting Voice” Romola is indeed arrested. She is stopped by a monk
who says: “You wish your true name and your true place in life to be
hidden, that you may choose for yourself a new name and a new place,
and have no rule but your own will. And I have a command to call you
back. My daughter you must return to your place” ([1863] 1998, 338). To
leave her place, to leave her place of subordination, is to have no rule but
the will.20 The monk commands Romola to return to this place: “I have a
command from God to stop you. You are not permitted to flee” (338). To
have no rule but will is to bid for freedom without permission.
Romola at first refuses to listen to the monk’s voice or to hear his wish
as a command. “What right have you to speak to me, or to hinder me?”
she asks (338). As the monk defends his right to speak and to hinder (the
rights of being a messenger from God) Romola’s ear still rebels against
the command: “Romola’s mind rose in stronger rebellion with every sen-
tence. She was the more determined not to show any sign of submission,
because the consciousness of being inwardly shaken made her dread lest
she should fall into irresolution. She spoke with more irritation than
before” (338). Even from this description we can hear how the judgment
of willfulness falls. It is implied that Romola does not hear the monk,
because her ears have blocked the content of what he is saying. Her very
refusal to submit to the monk’s counsel becomes a repetition of a prior
wrong, that of leaving her marriage, described by the monk as “willfully
breaking” a bond that she had willingly chosen (340). I will return to how
rebellion is diagnosed as willfulness in the following chapter.
The monk describes Romola as a “willful wanderer, following [her]
own blind choice,” as the one who is “seeking [her] own will” or “seeking

114 Chapter Three

some good other than the law [she is] bound to obey” (341). To wander
is here to be in pursuit of one’s own will. The monk adds: “You are a wife.
You seek to break your ties in self-will and anger, not because the higher
life calls upon you to renounce them” (343). Note the intimacy of self-
will with anger. Anger as a feeling has been understood as antisocial, as
destroying ties of affection (see Ahmed 2004, 174–78). You may be as-
signed willful when you break these ties of affection. Even if these ties
are violent and damaging, to break them is to go astray and become a
stray. The right path is the path of duty but also of kinship, a path of
being related as part. Partness is like a pathway, leading the part back to
the whole body, to a life dedicated to caring for one’s own. The willful part
is the one who leaves the path of becoming part, breaking, or threaten-
ing to break, the tie that holds a community, a family, a nation together.
The monk can thus describe Romola in her bid for freedom as “below
the humblest Florentine woman who stretches forth her hands with her
own people, and craves a blessing for them; and feels a close sisterhood
with the neighbour who kneels beside her and is not of her own blood;
and thinks of the mighty purpose that God has for Florence; and waits
and endures because the promised work is great, and she feels herself
little” (341). The willful wanderer does not lend her hand to her people;
in wandering away from them, she refuses to be part of them. She be-
comes a separate member. Such a refusal is read as a failure to return
the debt of her life by giving her life to others. “Every bond of your life
is a debt,” the monk says, “the right lies in the payment of that debt; it
can lie nowhere else. In vain you will wander over the earth: you will be
wandering forever away from the right” (343). The wanderer wanders in
vain, away from what is right, good, and just. In the monk’s command so
much is said: duty is opposed to will (translated as self-will and willful-
ness) and defined for the woman as the tie of kinship, ties that tie her
not only to the willed choice of this husband, but to the city, to the polis,
to her “own kind.”
The figure of the willful wanderer is opposed to the figure of the wife.
Indeed, the history of marriage could be another way of giving a his-
tory of will.21 Marriage was not historically about two wills but one: the
man as head of household acquired the woman, who became subject to
his will, or who is given a will through him. The will economy is thus a
gendered economy. For example, Fichte (who invests in the right of what
he calls the common will) describes marriage in terms of man’s determi-
nation of will: “The wife’s peace depends on her completely subjecting

The General Will 115

herself to her spouse and having no will but his” ([1797] 2000, 272). This
identification of will depends on a kind of willing to be willed: “In conse-
quence of her own necessary will, the husband is the administrator of all
her rights; she wills her right to be asserted and exercised only insofar as
he wills them to be” (299). For the woman any act of willing other than
what the husband wills would be attributed as willfulness. His will is sup-
posed to become her will, her own.
In the case of Romola, she returns. Even if Romola does not return to
her husband, she returns to her position as wife: no longer understood
as the one who gives support to the husband but as the one who gives
support to the polis or city: Romola becomes the city’s wife, a humble
Florentine woman who “stretches forth her hands with her own people”
([1863] 1998, 341). Her rebellious act of not being willing to return, of ris-
ing up in anger against the right of the monk to say what is right, gives
way to willing obedience. Her anger “melted” and she began “to look with
a vague reverence” (339). The monk in predicting her obedience gives that
obedience its form: “ ‘I know—I know you have been brought up in scorn
of obedience. But it is not the poor monk who claims to interfere with
you: it is the truth that commands you. And you cannot escape it. Either
you must obey it, and it will lead you; or you must disobey it, and it will
hang on you with the weight of a chain which you will drag forever. But
you will obey it, my daughter’ ” (345). She accepts the lot assigned to her:
“Teach me, I will go back” (345). And she becomes “a child of Florence”
(345), a child who is willing to receive an inheritance. Nevertheless, there
is something rather queer about the ending of this novel. The two wives,
Romola and Tessa, one married legitimately, the other not, of Tito end
up in one household with Tessa and Tito’s two children:22 even if Romola
ends up married to the city, she and Tessa could be read as having a rather
queer bond. In appearing to fulfill one’s duty by returning or going back,
wandering away remains possible.
To break free from duty is narrated as willfulness, wandering away
from the right path. To break the bond of marriage and family is not
only to cause unhappiness, but is read as a form of self-regard, as putting
yourself before others. We could note as an aside here how queerness
is often regarded as self-regard, turning away from the straight path as
turning toward oneself. The willful wanderer is indeed a rather queer fig-
ure. Jonathan Dollimore notes that “even the apparently more neutral
notion of ‘wandering’ can be charged with a terrifying negativity” (1991,
104).23 This negative charge is a willfulness charge. Stray women, loiter-

116 Chapter Three

ers, and perverts: those who fall under or in the shadows, wandering as
they do from the course of the straight and the narrow. It is certainly the
case that Eliot’s novels are full of the sorrow of the wanderer: in Adam
Bede, we have a description of “poor wandering Hetty” ([1895] 1961, 371).
In Felix Holt “the right to rebellion” is asserted but defined against “the
right to wander in mere lawlessness” ([1866] 1972, 242). The figure of the
wanderer has an anarchic as well as a willful charge.
Perhaps to wander is to wander away from a body.24 Let’s return to
Pascal’s model of the general body of “thinking members.” Pascal’s mis-
chievous foot might be one that is willing to walk but only by wandering
away from the body:

The separate member, seeing no longer the body to which it belongs,

has only a perishing and dying existence. Yet it believes it is a whole,
and seeing not the body on which it depends, it believes it depends
only on self, and desires to make itself both centre and body. But not
having in itself a principle of life, it only goes astray, and is astonished
in the uncertainty of its being; perceiving in fact that it is not a body
and still not seeing that it is a member of a body. In short when it
comes to know itself, it has returned, as it were to its own home, and
loves itself only for the body. It deplores its past wanderings. ([1669]
2003, 134, emphasis added)
The wandering part does not settle; it sees only itself, and not what it is
part of; it has lost its bearings. The wandering part is homesick. It be-
comes disoriented; unable to find its way home. It is not only that wan-
dering threatens the death of the whole body, but that to leave that body
is cast as being cast out, as death, whether or not leaving was intended.
To become a stray is represented as a miserable becoming. We could re-
flect on how queerness has been understood as the sadness of “becom-
ing apart.” Take, for example, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, a
book that has been described both as the lesbian bible and as one of the
most depressing lesbian novels ever written (can these descriptions be
related? one wonders).25 It is a novel about Stephen Gordon, an invert,
whose inversion is written on the body as a stain or mark: “I am one of
those whom God marked on the forehead. Like Cain, I am marked and
blemished” ([1928] 1982, 303). Queer bodies are historically marked by
their disgrace. The novel offers an image of a queer bar, as presented to us
by one character in the novel, Adolphe Blanc: “In this little room, tonight,
every night, there is so much misery, so much despair, that the walls

The General Will 117

seem almost too narrow to contain it. . . . Yet outside there are happy
people who sleep, the sleep of the so-called just and righteous. When
they wake it will be to persecute those who, through no fault of their
own, have been set apart from the day of their birth, deprived of all sym-
pathy, all understanding. They are thoughtless, these happy people who
sleep” (395). We can hear in this description a queer critique of the very
idea of happiness: happiness redescribed as the thoughtlessness of those
who sleep; happiness as slumber. Happiness becomes a way of dwelling,
a way of not dwelling, a way of keeping to the surface of the skin of the
city, a way of being protected by the skin of virtue. The freedom to be
happy translated as the freedom to turn away from what compromises
one’s happiness, the right to happiness translated as the right to deprive
others of an existence by encountering their existence as deprived. Note
also how apartness becomes a queer setting. Apartness becomes an ori-
entation toward bodies, a way of differentiating between bodies who can
receive sympathy, who become sympathetic, and those who cannot. We
can inherit a lack of sympathy in becoming unsympathetic. Apartness can
also be used as a threat, as a way of announcing the costs of deviation.
To come out as queer can involve being threatened with apartness: “You
are no longer my child”; “You are no longer part of the family.” To follow
queer desire can mean to be perceived as willfully cutting yourself off
from the family, as if that is what your desire is intending. When your
desire causes unhappiness, you can be judged as desiring to cause unhap-
piness. Wandering away from the straight path of happiness can lead to
acts of disowning: not part.
Or we could reflect on how maladies and ailments have been attrib-
uted to wandering parts of an organic body. Think of how hysteria was
understood as a “wandering womb,” a womb that does not stay in place,
that does not reproduce, that in leaving its place allows the woman to
lose her place.26 Wandering is what compromises the whole body, caus-
ing that body to become unreproductive. Plato’s Timaeus describes the
willfulness of the nonreproductive womb: “There exists inside the womb,
for the same purpose, a living being with an appetite for child-making,
and so if it remains unproductive long past puberty, it gets irritated and
fretful. It takes to wandering all around the body, and generating all sorts
of ailments, including fatal problems, if it blocks up the air channels and
makes breathing impossible” (91a.97). The womb is given a life and a will
of its own: we might call this will a reproductive will or, to extend Scho-
penhauer’s framework, the will-to-reproduce. If women exist as wombs,

118 Chapter Three

as child makers, then they inherit the reproductive will, as that which if
thwarted or blocked, causes illness and damage. Nonreproductivity can
thus be treated as a willful object: what gets in the way of what is on the
way, to use my terms from chapter 1. The barren womb not only does
not deliver its own will to reproduce but compromises the health or well-
being of the whole body. A willing womb would be one that lives in expec-
tation of becoming fruitful.
A willful part would not be willing to reproduce the whole body. Re-
turning to Augustine, he opposes the good will to desire by referring to
the disobedience of his “sexual member.” In City of God Augustine identi-
fies the very possibility of virtue with the ability of the mind to command
parts of the body: “It must be firmly established that virtue, the condi-
tion of right living, holds command over the parts of the body from her
throne in the mind” (1.16.26).27 Augustine’s image of virtue prefigures
Nietzsche’s description of the coordination of a strong will. Augustine
describes the evil of lust: “Surely such a man would prefer, if possible, to
beget children without lust of this kind. For them the parts created for
this task would be the servants of his mind, even in their function of pro-
creation, just as the other members are its servants in the various tasks
to which they are assigned. They would begin their activity at the bidding
of the will, instead of being stirred up by the ferment of lust” (14.16.577).
The sexual impulse is described as “an unwanted intruder.” The sexual
part is willful, appearing like a stranger with a life of its own, as the part
that does not obey the command of the will. Augustine contrasts the
sexual part with the other obedient parts of the body:
Yet that does not mean that it should seem incredible that one part
of the body could have been subject to the will, without the familiar
lust, seeing that so many other parts are now in subjection to it. We
move our hands and feet to perform their special functions, when we
so will; this involves no reluctance on their part, and the movements
are performed with all the ease we observe in our own case and in
that of others. And we observe it particularly in craftsmen engaged in
all kinds of physical tasks, where natural powers which lack strength
and speed are developed by active training. Then why should we not
believe that the sexual organs could have been the obedient servants
of mankind, at the bidding of the will, in the same way as the other, if
there has been no lust, which came in as the retribution for the sin of
disobedience? (14.23.585, emphasis added)

The General Will 119

Augustine presents an ideal image of a coordinated body, in which parts
are willing, are not reluctant to carry out their special duties: parts which
can be strengthened in their performance by training. Desire is presented
as the loss of ser viceable parts. And desire is understood here not only as
disobedience to will’s command but as the punishment for disobedience.
Augustine extends: “The retribution for disobedience is simply disobedi-
ence itself. For man’s wretchedness is nothing but his own disobedience
to himself, so that because he would not do what he could, he now wills
to do what he cannot” (14.15.575). The opening of a gap between will and
capacity becomes a punishment: in not willing what they could, humans
are doomed to will what they cannot. The will itself becomes wretched:
not just an unhappiness cause but the cause of its own unhappiness.
For Augustine, procreation should have been or would have been de-
termined by will rather than desire. Desire is a fall from will as well as to
will. The penis that rises up “on its own” is a willful part: it is the wretch-
edness of not being able to do what you will. A subject of virtue would
have full command over all the parts or members of the body. The gen-
eral will is the good will when all parts are subordinated to that will. The
productive body is the reproductive body: all members of the body are
subordinated to the reproductive requirement, which requires the evacu-
ation of desire from will. Even if desire is permitted, even if queerness
is allowed, the sexual body is still valued for its role in reproducing the
membership of the social body. We can play with our organs, but eventu-
ally we must remember what they are for, converting them from objects
of play to what we must work upon, from our own end, to the social end.
No wonder that growing up is imagined as leaving playfulness behind
you: nonreproductive adult bodies can thus appear as willful children,
or perhaps as willfully childlike, as selfish, as spoiled, as refusing the de-
mand to grow up, perhaps by growing sideways, as Kathryn Bond Stock-
ton (2009) has suggested.
Through the lens of Augustine and his disobedient sexual part we
could return to the willful arm of the Grimm child. Is the arm that keeps
coming up the penis? I refuse this reading. The arm does not stand up by
standing in for the penis.28 To read the arm as the penis would not only
be a form of phallocentrism but it would refuse to bear witness to the
agentic potential of arms, and the other limbs supposedly “intended” for
carrying and supporting. I am reminded of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guat-
tari who point out how Freud in seeing the father does not see the horse
in Little Hans’s story ([1980] 1987, 286).29 We need to see the arm by

120 Chapter Three

not looking beyond the arm to what it is assumed to be standing in for.
Other wise we would negate the willfulness of the arm: parts become will-
ful when they pulse with the potential for being something other than a
member of a body, which assumes “for” as “before.” Otherwise we would
not embrace the fleshiness of the arm, a fleshiness that reveals how the
arm is always more than what it is assumed as being for.
One way of describing a queer feminist history of will is as a history of
willful parts, parts that in willing are not willing to reproduce the whole.
Perhaps willfulness is possible given the gap between inheritance and
reproduction. We might even say when we live in this gap, when we
reach for its expansion, when we make it our room, we become willful
parts. Perhaps willful parts queer the whole body. Decadence has been
understood in terms of the pulsation of willful parts. One definition of
decadence offered by the French writer Paul Bourget and drawn on by
Havelock Ellis (as well as Nietzsche)30 is as follows: “If the energy of cells
becomes independent, the lesser organism will likewise cease to subordi-
nate their energy to the total energy and the anarchy which is established
constitutes the decadence of the whole” (cited in Ellis 1932, 52). As Ellis
elaborates, a decadent style would be when “everything is sacrificed to
the development of individual parts” (52, see also Gagnier 2010, 91–92).
A social body becomes queer, becomes decadent, when the parts have
“too much will,” compromising everything: the reproduction of the whole.
Do we notice this “too much” because of what we do not notice? Parts
appear as full of will when they don’t support the reproduction of a whole.
Perhaps queer parts allow us to make the whole body wonky; we can wit-
ness the lines that no longer recede when things line up. I have already
noted how queerness is often regarded as self-regard. Perhaps the self-
regard of heterosexuality is concealed under the sign of the general will,
because this particular will has already been given expression in the gen-
eral will. Giving up a will that does not have a general expression is what
allows you to inhabit the familiar, or to recede into the background. In
chapter 1, I discussed how what is already willed tends to become back-
ground drawing on Schopenhauer’s argument that we do not tend to no-
tice what is in agreement with will. We can redescribe recession in terms
of the general will. When willing “agrees” with what is generally willed,
a part becomes part of a background. When willing does not agree, the will
of the part is too full: willful. Willfulness might “come up” when an act of
willing does not agree with what has receded. A queer phenomenology
teaches us what or who recedes in the generalization of will.

The General Will 121

Willing Strangers
Reflecting on wandering parts allows us to bring together the arguments
in my previous two sections: wandering parts compromise the produc-
tive as well as the reproductive body. Indeed, the creation of a class of
willing workers depended on a history of violence against wandering,
one that also created a new sphere of voluntary criminals (the vagrant
and the vagabond), as Karl Marx demonstrated so powerfully in the first
volume of Capital:
The proletariat created by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal
retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the
soil, this free and rightless proletariat could not possibly be absorbed
by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world.
On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their accus-
tomed mode of life, could not immediately adapt themselves to the
discipline of their new condition. They were turned in massive quan-
tities into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in
most cases under the force of circumstances. Hence at the end of the
fifteenth and during the whole of the sixteenth centuries, a bloody
legislation against vagabondage was enforced throughout Western
Europe. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for
their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legisla-
tion treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it was
entirely within their own powers to go on working under the old con-
ditions which in fact no longer existed. ([1867] 1990, 896)31

The creation of the voluntary criminal, the willing and thus willful wan-
derer, was a necessary part of the creation of the proletariat: the workers
who were forced to be “willing” to become the supporting limbs of the
industrial body. A history of vagabondage teaches us the impossibility of
separating class from race as techniques for disciplining bodies, for trans-
forming bodies into laborers, whose capacities are treated as capital—in
reserve, always waiting to be released and to reach their potential.32 I
have already observed how colonial rule can be understood in terms of
the general will: as the expropriation not only of land but of the bodies
of the natives, those who were to become slaves, who were to become
subalterns, who were made into property by being emptied of will.33
To assemble a willfulness archive is to gather the vagabonds in one
place. There are precedents to this assembling. Take, for example, Henry

122 Chapter Three

Mayhew’s survey London Labour and the London Poor (1851). The book is
described as an encyclopedia of the conditions and earnings of “those
that will work,” “those that cannot work,” and “those that will not work.”
Those that will not work could be described as the willful and criminal
class. Mayhew describes the existence of “two distinct races”: they are
the “wanderers and the settlers—the vagabond and the citizen—the no-
madic and the civilized tribes” (1851, 1). The vagabond appears as a figure
that is both classed (think of those even Marx had trouble giving human-
ity: the Lumpenproletariat) as well as racialized, as opposed by law as well
as nature to that of the settler. Mayhew draws on Dr. Andrew Smith’s
“extensive observations in South Africa” of how respectable castes are
surrounded by “hordes of vagabonds and outcastes from their com-
munity.” Mayhew compares these hordes to London street folk (1). His
point is to show how this distinction between wanderers and settlers can
be applied to explain “certain anomalies in the present state of society
among ourselves” (2). If anything, his argument implies that the differ-
ence that matters “mostly” is a class difference, understood in terms of
the difference between the wanderer and the settler, the vagabond and
the citizen (which become attached to more familiar class markers: as
differences of morality, civility, and respectability), a difference that is
shared between races (races are treated as alike insofar as they differen-
tiate between classes). It is not the case that the equivalence between
native tribes elsewhere and the poor and homeless is simply maintained.
But we can learn from how race and class as markers of the higher and
the lower, as moral markers, can switch places.
How the vagabond travels! The willful arm in the Grimm story could
indeed be the arm of the vagrant or the vagabond. The arm that comes up
and out of the grave, which I have noted is a common motif in fairytales
and folklore, is also related by the authors in their notes to the widely
held superstition concerning trespass on consecrated trees (Grimm and
Grimm 1884, 416). Trespass: to travel without permission. It is the con-
cept of trespass that gives permission to the idea that you can only travel
with permission. No wonder that a willfulness archive is a wandering
archive, an archive without a fixed abode.
To become a member is to be willing to participate in a whole. We
learn more about why willfulness is deposited in the figure of the child.
The child also signifies the not-yet-subject, as well as the subject-to-
come, the one who comes after, such as the guest, the migrant, or the
stranger. In my previous work I suggested that rather than strangers

The General Will 123

being those we do not recognize, some bodies are already recognized as
strangers, as “bodies out of place” (Ahmed 2000). I considered how the
neighborhood watch becomes a technique for recognizing strangers as
those who pose a danger to property and person. The wanderer is also
recognizable as a stranger: as someone who is not from here, whose
arrival is thus not only noticeable but potentially criminal. Strangers
could be redescribed in terms of the distinction between parts and the
whole: bodies that are not part of the whole body become bodies that
endanger that body.
To think through will in relation to strangerness we can return to
George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Silas, you might recall, had a willing com-
panionship with his jug. Does his investment in the jug signify his lack
of human companionship? Silas could be thought of as a stranger in
the community in which he resides. He not only comes from elsewhere,
and is thus outside the bonds of kinship, but he does not work to cre-
ate new bonds in the place of this arrival. He feels himself a stranger
among strangers: “He hated the thought of the past; there was noth-
ing that called out his love and fellowship towards the strangers he had
come amongst” ([1861] 1994, 14). Living in solitude means he accumu-
lates guineas for his weaving but not much else (even his pot breaks, as
we already know). He in turn is treated with suspicion or as suspicious,
a viewing point the reader is encouraged to adopt: “Anyone who had
looked at him as the red light shone upon his pale face, strange straining
eyes, and meagre form, would perhaps have understood the mixture of
contemptuous pity, dread and suspicion with which he was regarded by
his neighbours in Raveloe” (36). Indeed, his status as wretched is referred
to by the neighbors as “his ill-will” (68).
If Silas becomes a stranger he also unbecomes one. The will is cru-
cial within the narrative as a conversion point. One aspect of the novel,
which is central to the twists and turns of the plot even if it is most often
in the background, is that Silas suffers from a will disorder called cata-
lepsy, “a stiffening of the body or more commonly a specific body part,
such as a limb, which can be induced by hypnosis.”34 Two key events
depicted in the novella relate to Silas’s catalepsy. In the first he is exiled
from his community of origin by his friend who “cast[s] suspicion” over
Silas by implying catalepsy is “like a visitation of Satan than a proof of
divine favour” ([1861] 1994, 9). Silas’s story of arrival is thus also a story
of forced departure. Strangers are the ones who have yet to arrive, but
this “yet,” even if it opens upon a future, is a trace of a past, of where

124 Chapter Three

someone has been, but is no longer. We are not yet here because we are
no longer there.
If Silas’s will is bound up with becoming a stranger, it is also bound up
with unbecoming one. The second moment occurs when Silas experiences
a cataleptic fit. He is opening the door to his house. As he “went in again,
and put his right hand on the latch of the door to close it—but he did
not close it: he was arrested, as he had already been since his loss, by the
invisible want of catalepsy, and stood like a graven image, with wide but
sightless eyes, holding open his door, powerless to resist either the good
or evil that might enter there” (95). Silas is under arrest, his body unable
to command itself to close the door. A will disorder is here a social open-
ing. And it is through this door that a young child called Eppie enters. In
many ways the short novel becomes about Eppie and Silas’s relationship.
It might be this fact alone that justifies Lee Edelman’s reading of the
novel in terms of reproductive futurism: “the promise condensed in the
image of the child as a figure of naturalization” (2004, 57, emphasis in
original). The child in becoming an object of Silas’s affection (replacing
other lost objects, such as the pot, as if its role was simply to keep open
an empty place) also transforms Silas from an unbecoming stranger to a
member of the community. It was Eppie who “made him look for images
of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families
of his neighbours” (109). Through the bond of the child, Silas becomes
integrated into the Raveloe community. It is not simply that the family
is secured as a social body, but that the family tie becomes a wider social
tie, resting on the distinction between members and strangers. When a
stranger becomes a member the distinction is preserved.
But perhaps the relationship between Silas and the child has more
queer potential than such a reading would admit. For Eppie, like Silas,
is a stranger: she is not recognized by her father because her mother is
“of the wrong class.” It is the death of this mother that leads Eppie to
accept Silas’s unwilled opening of the door as an invitation to enter his
house. The affection between Eppie and Silas is one of a parent and child
who have happened upon each other, rather than inherited each other, by
the chance opened by the arresting of Silas’s will. This hap tie might be
a happier tie. And if Eppie and Silas stay together, if they form a happy
and willing companionship, they also do not use the usual techniques for
straightening the will. Eppie does not accept her biological father’s offer
to become his willing child, which means she gives up the good fortune
of inheritance; and Silas does not discipline Eppie and convert her from

The General Will 125

a willful to a willing child. By the time Eppie was three years old “she
developed a fine capacity for mischief and for devising ingenious ways
of being troublesome” (110). Silas is instructed by others to punish her,
to straighten her out. On one occasion he “sends her to the coal-hole for
punishment” but she misrecognizes punishment for play. Silas is shaken
from a belief: “This total failure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas’s
belief in the efficacy of punishment” (112). And so: “Eppie was reared
without punishment, the burden of her misdeeds being borne vicariously
by father” (113). Silas vicariously assumes the willfulness of the child,
accepting her misdeeds as his own. So even if having a child makes Silas
a member, he is an unbecoming member in his willingness to assume the
qualities of willfulness that are not his own. A community or family of
strangers might be one in which the wayward arm becomes a social bond,
one that does not eliminate the hap from happiness (see Ahmed 2010).
I will return to this more hopeful model of kinship in the conclusion of
this book. Suffice to say here how the diagnosis of willfulness is a way of
creating strangers, those who are not part, although as we have learned,
those who come “apart” can become parts of a new whole. If the willful
wanderer is a queer figure, then the willful wanderer is also a stranger,
an unbecoming member. Unbecoming can have a range of senses and all
of them matter to create a sensibility: something is unbecoming when it
is not flattering, or when it does not fit. The stranger as a figure can be
dynamic within a life trajectory. It is not just that the stranger moves but
that you can move through this figure: you can pass into a community by
passing out of the figure. The stranger then is not simply one who is not
part of the body: the stranger is not yet part. In the promise of this not
yet is an invitation. If strangers are the ones who are not yet members,
then strangers can become members if they are willing in the right way.
If passing out of the figure of the stranger is a requirement to be will-
ing (the narrative of Silas Marner might be telling: the stranger can only
enter the door if they open the door), then those who do not unbecome
strangers might be diagnosed as willful, as refusing to budge.
Can citizenship be understood as an invitation to will, to pass out of
the figure of the stranger by passing into the community? The national
body is another fantasy of the “whole social body.” If the stranger is
often defined against a member, then what does it mean to become a
member of the national body? National membership is often imagined
as a “community of strangers,” with strangers understood in the conven-
tional sense, as persons who do not know each other. You can be part

126 Chapter Three

of a “whole social body,” without ever meeting. Time is thus crucial to
national membership: you can experience being in the same time with-
out being in the same place. Benedict Anderson in his classic text on the
emergence of the nation as an “imagined community” focuses on the role
of the print media in the creation of “wholly new ideas of simultaneity”
([1983] 2006, 39). Anderson also notes: “The date at the top of the news-
paper, the single most important emblem on it, provides the essential
connection—the steady onward clocking of homogenous empty time”
(33). The nation is experienced as community through time: you become
part of this community by doing the same things “at the same time,” such
as reading a local or national newspaper in the mornings. You direct your
attention to an object, one that circulates, creating pathways in its trail.
And the objects in turn direct your attention: the newspapers might refer
to the nation and to events that happen in terms of their significance for
the nation, as forms of easy and restricted referentiality that Michael
Billig usefully describes as “flagging,” the ways in which the citizenry
is “unmindfully reminded of [its] national identity” (1995, 154). If your
body can be set to a national rhythm, can be “in time,” then you can do
the nation without thinking of what you are doing; the nation can recede
into the background when your membership is assumed.
The social will can become a national will: citizens come to experience
themselves as being in time without being copresent (though immedi-
ately we register the possibility of national estrangement as being out of
time). The injunction to be “with” the nation, to feel happiness and sad-
ness at the right time, is a familiar way the citizenry is asked to perform
solidarity and allegiance. To be with can be understood as to become
part of the national body. Citizenship is becoming part. We might note
here how migrants can become part by becoming citizens only by being
treated first as strangers: not only in the sense of not part of us or not
familiar to us or not familiar like us, but in the sense of coming after. We
can condense the narrative: elsewhere as after. This is why so much anti-
immigration and racist rhetoric can command those bodies recognized
as strangers to “go away” or “go home” by “going back.”35
Citizenship could be understood as a technology of will, a way of decid-
ing whose will comes first.36 The nation offers a form of conditional hos-
pitality that I have described as predicated on conditional will: migrants
as would-be citizens are welcomed on condition they are willing to will
in accordance with the national will. What does this willing requirement
actually require? After all, in multicultural liberal secularism, a diversity

The General Will 127

of individual parts is permitted. A diversity of individual parts is even
encouraged but on condition that each part is willing to participate in
national culture, where participation requires an agreement with a com-
mon end or purpose. We learn the requirements of participation from
those whose particulars fail to meet them. Think of how “the veil” has
acquired a willfulness charge (see also chapter 4). The veil becomes a will-
ful part, a part that refuses to take part in national culture, a stubborn
attachment to an inassimilable difference.37 Perhaps the nation can have
diversity as its skin (a happy skin of many colors) as long as underneath
we beat to the same heart.
The creation of a distinction between willing and willful parts is thus
a crucial mechanism for reproducing the national body. My account here
develops the argument I first offered in Strange Encounters: Embodied
Others in Post-Coloniality, where I suggested that the key differentiation
is not between us and them, but between them, between those differ-
ences that can be assimilated into the national body and those that can-
not (Ahmed 2000, 106). Some differences become indigestible: what the
nation cannot stomach. Willfulness is useful as a technique for making
those who are assumed as inassimilable (whom I described in this book as
“stranger strangers”) responsible for not being assimilated. It is as if they
do not enter a door (imagined as open, an open door functions as a sign of
national good will) because of what they have failed to give up. An attach-
ment becomes willful (as well as melancholic) when it is you who is sup-
posed to give something up.38 Anti-immigration discourse thus exercises
the figure of the unwilling migrant, or more specifically the migrant who
is “unwilling to integrate.” To be unwilling to integrate is to be “too will-
ing” to retain an allegiance to another body.
This figure of the unwilling or willful migrant is thus hard at work
in the making of the national body as a social body. Ghassan Hage re-
flects on “national will” as what requires opposition, what he calls “coun-
ter will” and what I have been calling willfulness: “Where the national will
has achieved an enduring though never final capacity to keep otherness
in check, and feels secure in its capacity to stop the otherness forming a
counter-will, national wills are more easy going with national otherness”
(1998, 110). Hage implies here that otherness cannot be fully eliminated.
In a way, then, the national will requires signs of willfulness or counter-
will to justify the project of eliminating the threat of otherness as a se-
curity project. At the same time, to become citizens, migrants have a will
duty not only in the sense that they must be willing to will in accordance

128 Chapter Three

with the national will but also in the demand they prove they are not
willful. To demonstrate national allegiance requires countering the will-
fulness charge.
The figure of the willful migrant plays a crucial rule in securing the
borders of the national body: those migrants whose proximity is read
as ill will, as not only compromising the health of that body but as aim-
ing to compromise that health. In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, I dis-
cussed the use of rhetoric of “soft touch Britain” as a way of imaging
the national body as vulnerable and easily bruised (2004, 2). More re-
cently David Cameron, the current British prime minister, has called for
a “muscular liberalism,” for a national body that is strengthened by ex-
ercising its muscles in the never-ending project of defending the general
interest. An article in the Guardian reports: “David Cameron will warn
that immigrants unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate have
created a ‘kind of discomfort and disjointedness’ that has disrupted
communities across Britain.”39 Those unwilling to integrate dislocate the
national body, causing discomfort, disjointing its arms. The word “inte-
gration” comes from the Latin “to make whole” and becomes a demand
that new arrivals become part by giving allegiance to the whole. The al-
legiance is presented as a restoration of this whole.
Citizenship comes to be presented as what must be forced upon an un-
willing and thus willful migrant. A much-repeated mantra in the UK is that
“migrants must learn to speak English.”40 This mantra needs to be heard
as such: in fact, many of the English language courses are oversubscribed
(with long waiting lists). The figure of the unwilling migrant participates
in the transformation of citizenship into a requirement, such that the
nation is “forced to force” the migrant to become willing. Can we hear,
then, in this mantra an echo of the quote from Rousseau that I opened
this chapter with? The migrants if they are to become citizens “shall be
forced to be free,” constrained by the whole body such that they “obey the
general will” ([1762] 1998, 17). What we learn is that those deemed to come
after are often “forced to be free,” whether or not they are willing, in order
to generalize the will of those whose precedence is given.

Conclusion: The National Rod

The reproduction of the national body as a social body also depends on
the figure of the willful child. In other words, she might travel from the
domain of the family to that of the nation, often imagined in familial

The General Will 129

terms, as a bond of kin and kind. In these travels, the willful child accrues
even more affective value. It was very noticeable in political and popu-
lar responses to “the riots” that took place in the UK in the summer of
2011 how quickly this figure was conjured up.41 The events were blamed
on wayward and undisciplined children who were described in one espe-
cially violent phrase as “feral inner-city waifs and strays.”42 The public
discourse on the riots focused on feral children, a wandering and wild
tribe, as symptom and cause of the broken nation.43 As Imogen Tyler has
noted, the rioters were described not only as feral but as “scum” and as
“verminous waste” (2013, 180). The feral child might even be described
as the offspring of the vagabond, evidence that if the “wrong bodies” will
reproduce then the national body will not. Perhaps feral children embody
a wayward branch of a family tree that threatens the legitimacy of the
national trunk.
It is worth adding here that the figure of the willful child is super-
mobile and can be used as a frame to interpret different kinds of politi-
cal actions. She became a technique for delegitimating those involved
in protests against the government’s cuts to public spending, including
education, as I will discuss further in the next chapter. Protestors were
swept up by this figure, as if they protested out of selfishness or obsti-
nacy, or even because of an anarchic desire to destroy the whole body.
The figure of the willful child becomes crucial to the national project,
allowing that project to be framed as a matter of life and death: the proj-
ect of straightening the children becomes about saving the nation.
When the willful child comes up, the rod comes quickly after. In dis-
cussions of the riots, the rod was evoked again and again as the proper
instrument for moral correction; commentators regularly referred to the
failure to discipline the children as if the riots were caused by nothing
other than the sparing of the rod. In chapter 2, I referred to the brutish
maxim: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The maxim is translated: “Spare
the rod, spoil the nation.” This was a typical commentary posted during
“the riots”: “Schools are no longer allowed to discipline children by using
any kind of physical force, and parents who slap or use the rod to disci-
pline an errant child face prosecution from their own children.”44 The rod
is exercised by being understood as prohibited. The rod thus keeps its
place in the national imaginary as a melancholic object, an object whose
loss is still mourned, and which is thus retained as a national idea or
ideal. In mourning the rod, it is as if the rod once kept the body of the na-

130 Chapter Three

tion whole (as if there were no riots in the time of the rod); it is as if the
rod would have restored this body, as if the rod could have prevented the
masses from revolting. The rod participates in the fantasy of the nation
as a “whole social body,” a technique for restoration that rehearses the
scene of its destruction.

The General Will 131

Chapter Four


n this final chapter I aim to reflect on how willfulness has been, and
can be actively, we might even say willfully, claimed. To affirm will-
fulness or to find in willfulness “something” affirmative is not the
only way we can respond to the charged histories of willfulness I have
presented thus far in this book. To affirm willfulness does not mean pre-
scribing a set of behaviors, such as those that have been historically diag-
nosed as willful,1 as if they are an appropriate or necessary way of doing
politics. I have questioned the very status of willfulness as a diagnosis,
and I will keep questioning its status even as I mobilize the language of
willfulness for different ends. In my discussion of how willfulness can
become a style of politics, I do not assume we can always recognize this
style. By “style” I refer to a mode or manner of expression. Willfulness
is not only what subjects are assigned with but shapes the bodies who
receive the assignment. Willfulness could be thought of as political art, a
practical craft that is acquired through involvement in political struggle,
whether that struggle is a struggle to exist or to transform an existence.
Willfulness might be thought of as becoming crafty.
Willfulness can become a style of politics through the use of the word
“willful” to describe oneself or one’s own politics. To claim to be willful or
to describe oneself or one’s stance as willful is to claim the very word that
has historically been used as a technique for dismissal. The word “dis-
missal” derives from dis (apart, away) and mittere (to send, let go). To dis-
miss is to make something apart. We can accept this dismissal in refusing
to become part. Not surprisingly our histories are full of self-declared
willful subjects. Take the Heterodoxy Club that operated in Greenwich
Village in the early twentieth century, a club for unorthodox women. The
members described themselves as “this little band of willful women,” as
Judith Schwarz reveals in her wonderful history of this club (1986, 103).
Heterodoxy refers to what is “not in agreement with accepted beliefs.” To
be willful is here to be willing to announce your disagreement, and to put
yourself behind it.
Feminist, queer, and antiracist histories can be thought of as histories
of those who are willing to be willful, who are willing to turn a diagno-
sis into an act of self-description. Let’s go back: let’s listen to what and
to who is behind us. Alice Walker describes a “womanist” in the follow-
ing way: “A black feminist or feminist of color. . . . Usually referring to
outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know
more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one. . . . Respon-
sible. In charge. Serious” (2005, xi, emphases in original). Julia Penelope
describes lesbianism as willfulness: “The lesbian stands against the world
created by the male imagination. What willfulness we possess when we
claim our lives!” (1992, 42, bold in original). Marilyn Frye’s radical femi-
nism uses the adjective willful: “The willful creation of new meaning, new
loci of meaning, and new ways of being, together, in the world, seems to
me in these mortally dangerous times the best hope we have” (1992, 9).
Together these statements can be heard as claims to willfulness: willful-
ness as audacity, willfulness as standing against, willfulness as creativity.2
As we know from assembling a willfulness archive, willfulness is usu-
ally a charge made by someone against someone. I want to explore how
willfulness becomes a charge in Alice Walker’s sense: being “in charge.” If
we are charged with willfulness, we can accept and mobilize this charge.
To accept a charge is not simply to agree with it. Acceptance can mean
being willing to receive. This chapter explores a history of willfulness as a
history of those who have been willing to receive its assignment. In fol-
lowing subjects who are willing to be willful, who might even transform
a judgment into a project, my argument moves across a range of political
situations. There is a risk that in moving across time and space, I move
too far, and too quickly. This is a risk I have been prepared to take. I ac-
knowledge that willfulness is a fragile thread that can be stretched only
if it is not broken.

Willfulness and Disobedience

A willfulness archive is full of acts of disobedience: the willful child is
the one whose actions are not only punishable by law, but can be treated
as justifications of punishment and thus justifications of the law. It is

134 Chapter Four

perhaps not surprising, then, that the histories of willfulness available
to us (examples in which someone has set herself or himself the explicit
task of writing “a history of willfulness”) are histories that explore how
willfulness became a legal term. For example, Michael Louis Minns offers
a “history of willfulness” with the aim of demonstrating that “willfulness
is an important legal standard” in criminal tax law (2007, 396). “Willful”
comes to mean intentional in two related but distinct senses: an act car-
ried out not in ignorance of the law but in knowledge of the law, and an
act carried out “with bad purpose” (403). “Willful” insofar as it qualifies
the nature of an action with reference to knowledge and intent remains
obscure and difficult as a legal term. As Andrew M. Stengel notes, in an
article that draws on the earlier work of Minns, “In American criminal
law generally, willful is the legal lizard of mens rea, a chameleon-like term
that defies a single, constant definition in New York or any other jurisdic-
tion, and is thus a ‘wild’ term” (2011, 781).3
Wild indeed! Both Minns and Stengel give one case of the use of “will-
ful” in law the status of an originary case: the case of John Cooke, the
first solicitor general of the English Commonwealth who led the prosecu-
tion of Charles I. John Cooke was accused of “willfully and knowingly”
engaging in conduct that led to the death of Charles I and was executed
in 1660. I include John Cooke as part of a willfulness archive, one that
can be assembled out of biography among other threads, in part because
of how his story has been forgotten. John Cooke was an individual will-
ing to stand against injustice. Minns has the following note: “John Cooke
was the first recorded person to claim that poverty was ‘a major cause
of crime’; to suggest that national healthcare would be appropriate; to
suggest that lawyers should do ten percent of their work pro bono; to
suggest an end to debtor’s prison; to suggest the abolition of Latin in
courts so that common people could understand the proceedings; and
to suggest the abolition of portions of the death penalty” (2007, 396).
We need this case to leave a trace: it helps to show not simply how will-
fulness is criminalized (to disobey willfully a law) but how willfulness
can be an orientation toward crime (to expose willfully the injustice of
the law).
Assembling a willfulness archive is another way of addressing one of
the oldest political questions: that of sovereignty. The sovereign is the
one whose will is given as a command. This is the argument of Hobbes’s
Leviathan, written during the turmoil of the English Civil War. As Ross
Harrison describes, for Hobbes, the command “is obeyed just on the basis

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 135

of the will of the sovereign” (2003, 82).4 A command is “where a man,
Doe this, or Doe not this, without expecting other reason than the Will
of him that sayes it” (Hobbes [1651] 1968, 303). The will of the sovereign
must be obeyed whatever the sovereign wills. Those who kill a king are ac-
cused of regicide: possibly the act designated as the most willful of willful
actions in human history. Is this not the specter of the Grimm story: that
the insolence of the subordinate threatens the very life of the sovereign
to whom our obedience must be unconditional to qualify as obedience?
Not all killings of a king are named regicide (or not all regicides hold on
to that name). It is possible to give the act of killing the same king an-
other name: tyrannicide, the killing of a tyrant. This is indeed the title of
Geoffrey Robertson’s biography of John Cooke, Tyrannicide (2005). The
question of whether the sovereign is a tyrant is a question of whether
the sovereign will can be a willful will (of whether the rod, as the agent
for eliminating willfulness, can be the willful agent). For the death of
a sovereign to be judged as tyrannicide is for the sovereign to become a
tyrant. For the death of the tyrant to be judged as regicide is for the tyrant
to become a sovereign.
The question becomes one not only of will but of judgment. Aquinas
argued that subjects do not have a duty to obey a tyrant, by which he
meant a sovereign who in “despising the common good, seeks his own
private good” (The Treatise, 4.13). For Aquinas sovereign will can be a will-
ful will, in which case the sovereign should or would be judged as a tyrant
whom we have a duty not to obey. However, if the tyrant is the judge, he
would judge that the judge is not a tyrant. Two key aspects, then, of the
legitimating of the will are the rendering of sovereign will as non-willful
will and the rendering of those who do not obey the will of the sovereign
as willful will. One way of thinking of sovereign will is the right to deter-
mine whose wills are the willful wills. At the same time, a rebellion against
tyranny might involve those named as willful renaming the sovereign
will as willful will, the sovereign as tyrant.
The Grimm story could be reread in terms of sovereign will: the sov-
ereign would be embodied by the rod as the legitimate heir of God’s will
(the rod as ruler). The story is not only of the rod, but told from the
rod’s point of view. It is the story of how the rod legitimates its violence.
In my reading I suggested that the rod is not only an embodiment of
will (what we can now call the sovereign will) but also a technology for
eliminating willfulness from others. A key aspect of disobedience, then,
is the judgment of the rod as an illegitimate ruler. To declare the rod an

136 Chapter Four

illegitimate ruler might include the strategy of reassigning the rod as the
willful subject.5
One definition of disobedience is the “trait of being unwilling to obey.”
A willfulness archive might be full of accounts of how some bodies come
to acquire this trait. Just take Antigone: she is unwilling to disobey the
command of the sovereign Creon not to bury her brother. She is willing
to die before she is willing to obey not because disobedience is her aim
(the judgment of willfulness often creates this impression), but because
disobedience is required to achieve her aim to bury her brother. To be
unwilling to obey what is commanded by the sovereign is to be heard as
willful. In Sophocles’s play Antigone is compared to the “hardest iron”
(473) by Creon, this girl who “already had learned the art of insolence”
(480, 17). The gendering of insolence is clear: the threat of female disobe-
dience is to male authority as well to the sovereign. Creon’s judgment of
Antigone’s willfulness is shared by the city: thus sings this chorus that
“none that holds authority, Can brook disobedience, O my child, Your
self-willed pride has been your ruin” (875, 30). We can understand how
and why it is that those who are not willing to obey become “self-willed.”
If we focus on why she disobeys, not on that she disobeys (in other words,
if we read this story as a story about kinship or different kinds of law—
such readings are legitimate but we also need to read in ways that are not
legitimate),6 we might miss the significance of the charge of willfulness.7
To be unwilling to obey the will of the sovereign is to accept the charge
of willfulness. An acceptance can be a ruin. The history of disobedience
is a history of those who are willing to be ruined by standing against
what is instituted as right by law. The verb “to obey” derives from the
Latin word for hearing: to give ear. To obey is to give your ear to the law.
A history of disobedience could be thought of as a history of willful ears,
of ears that block the message of the justice of the law, of ears that hear
a right as wrong. To hear a wrong is to hear wrongly; it is to be willing to
be heard as in the wrong.
I began an exploration of the relationship between will and obedience in
chapter 2. It might seem that there is little to add in taking up the theme of
willful disobedience, that we are simply seeing the other side of the same
picture: the one who does not obey is diagnosed as willful. Obedience,
whether or not one’s will is in agreement, can thus be a way of avoiding
the costs of this diagnosis. The picture, however, is more oblique when
seen from this viewing point. An oft-cited sentence from Michel Foucault
is: “If there was no resistance, there would be no power relations.” A less

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 137

cited but equally important sentence follows: “Because it would be just a
matter of obedience” (1997b, 167).8 For Foucault, there is power because
there is disobedience. Our Grimm story is a lens through which we can
show the intelligibility of the argument: if it was “just a matter of obedi-
ence” the story would not be necessary. I have already suggested how the
story can be heard as a command: “obey!” In order for a command to be
given, it is not necessary that this or that person has disobeyed. A part
is commanded given the possibility of disobedience; and this possibility
rests on will. Obedience is required when a will has not been completed.
Another way of responding to willing obedience is thus with sur-
prise: why do some obey the sovereign will if that will requires their
will in order to be completed and if that will would also complete their
subordination? Consider the concept of “voluntary servitude” devel-
oped by Étienne de La Boétie in the sixteenth century, a concept that
has had a profound influence in the history of anarchist thought (see
Newman 2010). Boétie begins with his own surprise about the consis-
tency of obedience to a tyrant: “For the present I should like merely
to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so
many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant
who has no power other than the power they give him; who is able to
harm them only to the extent to which they have willingness to bear with
him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to
put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situa-
tion!” ([1576] 2008, 40, emphasis added). Willingness to bear involves
not only that subjects agree with the tyrant—or agree to his rule—but
that they be willing to carry out or complete his will, to become his
subordinate parts. Obedience thus entails being willing to provide the
limbs of the tyrant, to refer back to my discussion in the previous chap-
ter, as Boétie himself notes:

He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands,
only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among
the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing
more than the power to confer upon him to destroy you. Where has
he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them
yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he
does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your
cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he
have any power over you except through you? (46)

138 Chapter Four

To become subject to the will of the tyrant is thus to provide him with
the very organs of this power: you become his feet, his arms, and his
eyes. Becoming the limbs of the tyrant means becoming the agent of your
own harm: when you provide the tyrant with arms, you are beating your-
self. This is another way of considering how the willful arm becomes the
straightening rod.
We can interrogate further the idea that power “over you” can only take
place “through you.” This “through you” is explicitly tied to will: the ty-
rant exists “only to the extent to which they have willingness to bear with
him.” Such a model implies, of course, that power depends on subjects
being willing to be subjected. The problem with this model is how it can
imply yes as origin (and thus will as culpability). Power can be precisely
what makes yes seem necessary for survival. In the first chapter of this
book, I reflected on the intimacy of will and force. A usual formulation
is that if subjects are willing they are not forced; but I suggested that a
subject can be willing in order to avoid being forced. Avoiding the conse-
quences of being forced can be a consequence of force. Becoming willing
to bear might be to avoid the costs of not being willing to bear. Subjects
might become willing if not being willing is made unbearable.
And yet, as we know, there have been those who have been unwilling
to bear: more unbearability has been risked in the project of creating a
less unbearable world. The project of becoming unwilling to bear can be
thought through the lens of willfulness: you have to will “too much,” you
have to will “wrongly,” in order not to be willing to bear. It is important
to note that for some, any act of will would be designated as willfulness:
any will is too much will when you are not supposed to have a will of your
own. When we use the word “own” we are most likely to hear ownership:
what is my own as what belongs to me and not to others. But think
back to the Grimm story: the wrong of the arm is how it ends up willing
on its own. My arguments thus far have shown how only some “owns”
become wrongs. As Max Stirner notes: “The own will of Me is the State’s
destroyer; it is therefore branded by the State as self-will” ([1845] 1993,
196).9 In the case of rebellious action, “ownness” can thus be a diagnosis:
not only as a way of implying rebels act out of self-will as I discussed in
chapter 3, but as a way of denying the extent of support for rebellion, as
if the rebels are the ones who are out on a limb. One way the judgment
of willfulness works is to create this impression: that disobedience of
the law is unsupported. This impression is how the judgment of law is

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 139

The creating of an impression can be a technique of power. Maybe we
have to “strike” to dislodge an impression. If obedience is a striking situ-
ation, then so too is disobedience. In the introduction to this book I con-
sidered one history of will as the history of the elimination of willfulness
from will. I have also shown how this history can become embodied in a
person through the adoption of techniques for instruction. For example,
in chapter 2, I reflected on how, in the case of poisonous pedagogy, the
aim is not only to eliminate the child’s willfulness but to erase the child’s
memory of having a will other than the will of the parents. In chapter 3,
I showed how to become a subordinate part of a whole can require giving
up a will other than the will of the whole. When parts become willing
to obey, they exercise what they are supposed to give up. If obedience is
not the starting point, obedience would require forgetting. To become
unwilling to obey (or willing not to obey) what is given as a command
could be understood as a memory project: to discover a will of one’s
own is to recover a will that has not been fully eliminated. Willfulness
might be required to recover from the very attempt at its elimination.
A self-recovery is a recovery of a collective. Willfulness becomes a vital
and shared inheritance: bodies can remember what has not been fully
erased from themselves and from other bodies that have become parts of
a social body. Willfulness can be a trace left behind, a reopening of what
might have been closed down, a modification of what seems reachable,
and a revitalization of the question of what it is to be for. Reaching for
something, reaching for will, is thus an opening up of the body to what
came before, reaching as going back in time. Willful action can create the
possibility of not being willing by not giving will up or giving up on will.
Thinking of willfulness as an embodied and shared vitality might help
us to think of how willfulness is not always expressed as no. As I sug-
gested in chapter 2, it is often more than obedience that is required by
obedience (subjects must obey out of their own free will). It is thus possi-
ble that disobedience can take the form of an unwilling obedience: subjects
might obey a command but do so grudgingly or reluctantly and enact
with or through the compartment of their body a withdrawal from the
right of the command even as they complete it. The word “reluctance”
has a willful history of its own. Though it now tends to be used to refer to
being unwilling or disinclined to do something, it derives from the Latin
word reluctari, which means to struggle against, to resist, or to oppose. An
unwillingness to do something that one nevertheless does can express an
opposition to that thing. And, to return to the example of Gwendolyn’s

140 Chapter Four

feeling of guilt in Daniel Deronda, a subject might obey a moral command
but hesitate, such that the hesitation leads to the failure to complete the
command successfully. Or a subject might obey a command in front of
an officer so that willfulness can be expressed behind the back: willfulness
as plotting.
It is possible, in other words, to obey willfully. Perhaps when obedience
is performed willfully, disobedience becomes the end: what obedience
aims to bring about. Willfulness can be understood as the labor required
to reach that no,10 which might even require saying yes along the way. The
effort to acquire a will to disobey is the effort not only to say no but to say
it publicly, to say it loudly, or to perform it through one’s own bodily ac-
tion or inaction. I will return to the intimacy of body and will in the final
section of this chapter. We have behind us the agentic potential of these
noes which might even be historically audible in the form of a shout or a
scream: the collective sound of those who have not being willing to obey
the will of the sovereign or the body that takes his place. If a willfulness
archive is an archive of incompletion, no wonder it is noisy: it includes
the sound of voices raised in protest against the injustice of commands.
Voices can be arms, raised in the hope of disturbing the ground.
We can understand why many philosophers of decolonization have
stressed the importance of political will. Frantz Fanon describes how rev-
olution becomes possible when colonized subjects “violate” the “direc-
tives of the commanding bodies” (1967, 23). What Fanon calls for is a kind
of willing willfulness: a will to create a new world by opposing the old
directives.11 In The Wretched of the Earth Fanon suggests: “The extraordi-
nary importance of this change is that it is willed, called for, demanded”
([1961] 2001, 35). To will this change is at the same time not to be willing
to bear or reproduce the present; the project of willing thus begins with,
but exceeds, negation: to oppose the old directives is to will what follows.
Aimé Césaire too offers an account of the will in decolonization. Giving a
genealogy of the term “negritude” he notes: “That’s when we adopted the
term Negri, as a term of defiance. It was a defiant name” ([1955] 2000,
89). To adopt a term of defiance requires a will to defy: “There was in us
a defiant will and, we found a violent affirmation in the words Negri and
negritude” (89). A defiance of the will can be affirmed by the words you
send out. A defiance of will might involve being willing to provide evidence
of insubordination.
Willfulness might be required to act when you do not have the right
to act. Think of black radicalism including the Black Power movement

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 141

(so often charged with willfulness; we can hear what is at stake in the
charge) as a movement made up of those who were willing to disobey
the command of unjust laws, whatever the penalty. Martin Luther King
Jr. in his letter from Birmingham City Jail wrote of unjust laws, drawing
on philosophers such as Aquinas and Martin Buber, as laws that “end up
relegating persons to things” ([1963] 1969, 78). To break an unjust law,
he writes, one must “do it openly, lovingly” and “with a willingness to
accept the penalty” (78); indeed, he repeats this phrase a second time
on the same page: “willingness to accept the penalty.”12 The penalty for
breaking the unjust law is a way of bringing attention to the injustice of
the law in the name of a future justice. King reminds us of the price of
obedience to unjust laws (such as in the case of the obedience to the will
of the führer in National Socialism) as a price we should never have been
willing to pay (79). One could recall here the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“Civil disobedience is a necessary part of non-cooperation. You assist an
administration most effectively by obeying its orders or decrees” ([1939]
2008, 368).13 Political willfulness could be thought of as becoming unwill-
ing to give assistance to those who administer unjust laws. An unwilling-
ness to assist can be performed by what bodies do not do: disobedience
enacted as inaction. To disobey here is not only about not obeying this or
that order or decree but also not giving any assistance to the regime that
gives those orders and decrees.
Political labor can be the effort not to be moved. Take Rosa Parks’s
refusal to obey the bus driver’s command to leave her seat at the front
of the bus on December 1, 1955. Her action led to the black community
in Montgomery boycotting the city bus system: individual act, collective
action. Rosa Parks had not planned to protest on that day but said af-
terward “she had been pushed as far as she could” (cited in Theoharis
2009, 123). Of course the action was not an accident; it did not just hap-
pen. Rosa Parks had a long history of activism. A willful action is not al-
ways planned but it is always in some sense willed: it is what a body gets
behind. Willfulness here involves being unwilling to move: not to budge,
to refuse to give up a seat, or to take up an assigned seat. This is how an
assignment of willfulness can get in the way of an assignment. As many
have pointed out, including Rosa Parks herself,14 she was not the first
black person to be willing to disobey this command. As Jeanne Theoharis
argues, if Rosa Parks’s stance that day was “an independent and personal
choice” what “made it the catalyst for a movement was certainly not a
singular act but years of organizing by Parks and others in Montgomery

142 Chapter Four

that made people ready for collective action” (2009, 123). Collective ac-
tion might be necessary to make people ready for collective action. Even
if Rosa Parks’s will to disobey on that day was not the starting point, her
willingness to symbolize possibility by actualizing possibility did matter:
she was “willing to take up the role of the mother of the civil rights move-
ment” (Theoharis 2009, 132).15
Rosa Parks could be understood as affirming a willful inheritance in
her willingness to disobey an unjust law, an inheritance of actions that
have not been recorded by official histories but are nevertheless part of
history. It is the willingness of a community that allows an act to ac-
quire the status of willful for others, to be available for recall as politi-
cal memory, such that a name can become charged with hope. Indeed,
thinking of the history that allows Rosa Parks as a black woman radical
to become a symbol of the civil rights movement allows us to explore
the complexity of the relation between individual and collective willful-
ness.16 A community is willing for an individual actor to receive the will-
fulness assignment before an individual can receive this assignment. At
the same time, a collective will can only be realized through individuals
who are willing to push back in order not to be pushed into obedience.
We learn from the way in which the priority of individual or collective
willfulness is reversible; willfulness becomes what travels, as a relation
to others, those who come before, those who come after. Disobedience
involves a chain of action that needs to be unbroken. A political action
can be what is performed to stop a chain from breaking. The individual
capacity not only to say no but to repeat the no in what bodies do not do
could be described as a willful gift: a no is what can be given to others. A
willful gift is also a willing passing, a passing of will from one to another,
will not as a thing, but as the possibility of not being reduced to thing, of
not being compelled by an external force, including the wills of others,
enshrined in or as law.

Diversity Work as Willful Work

When political actors aim not to complete a will given as command, or to
get in the way of that completion, they might have to push harder: the
very effort required for such actions is necessary for them to be possible.
Willfulness might be required given that the will is unevenly distributed.
An action might be judged as willful not only when it gets in the way of
the completion of an action that has been given support but as an action

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 143

being completed without support. However, it is not always self-evident
what or who is being supported: a command can be given without being
supported as I will show in this section. To think through the question
of will in relation to support, I will distinguish between willfulness as a
character diagnosis (what is assumed as behind an action) and willfulness
as the effect of a diagnosis (what is required to complete an action). Some-
times you can only stand up by standing firm. Sometimes you can only
hold on by becoming stubborn.
I suggested in the first chapter of this book that social will can be expe-
rienced as the momentum of the crowd. You feel that momentum when
you are going the wrong way. No one person has to push or shove for you
to feel the crowd as pushing and shoving. For you to keep going you have
to push harder than any of those who are going the right way. For some
bodies mere persistence, “to continue steadfastly,” requires great effort,
an effort that might appear to others as stubbornness or obstinacy, as an
insistence on going against the flow. You have to become insistent to go
against the flow and you are judged to be going against the flow because
you are insistent. I think of this as a life paradox: you have to become what
you are judged as being.
How do know which way things are flowing? Usually by not going that
way. Let’s think of institutions. They are crowds; and they have orienta-
tion devices that direct the flow of human traffic in particular ways. I
want to draw from some examples I collected as part of my research on
“diversity work” within institutions (see Ahmed 2012).17 I am using diver-
sity work in two senses: firstly, diversity work can refer to work that has
the explicit aim of transforming an institution; and secondly, diversity
work can be what is required when you do not “quite” inhabit the norms
of an institution. These two senses can meet in a body: those who do not
“quite” inhabit the norms of an institution are often given the task of
transforming those norms.
It is important to note that diversity is a mobile word. Institutions
speak the language of diversity consistently and with fluency; claiming
they have it, even that they are it. It might appear that diversity is part
of an institutional flow. Diversity is the way things are going. And yet a
common experience of diversity practitioners, those appointed by insti-
tutions to institutionalize their commitments to diversity, is that of the
institution as a brick wall. One practitioner says: “So much of the time it
is a banging your head against the brick wall job” (Ahmed 2012, 27). A job
description becomes a wall description. Diversity work is an experience of

144 Chapter Four

coming against something that does not, and seemingly, will not move.
I want to take an example of an encounter with an institutional wall:

When I was first here there was a policy that you had to have three
people on every panel who had been diversity trained. But then there
was a decision early on when I was here, that it should be everybody,
all panel members, at least internal people. They took that decision at
the equality and diversity committee which several members of smt
were present at. But then the director of Human Resources found out
about it and decided we didn’t have the resources to support it, and
it went to council with that taken out and council were told that they
were happy to have just three members, only a person on council who
was an external member of the diversity committee went ballistic—
and I am not kidding went ballistic—and said the minutes didn’t
reflect what had happened in the meeting because the minutes said
the decision was different to what actually happened (and I didn’t
take the minutes by the way). And so they had to take it through and
reverse it. And the Council decision was that all people should be
trained. And despite that I have then sat in meetings where they have
just continued saying that it has to be just 3 people on the panel. And I
said but no Council changed their view and I can give you the minutes
and they just look at me as if I am saying something really stupid, this
went on for ages, even though the Council minutes definitely said all
panel members should be trained. And to be honest sometimes you
just give up. (Ahmed 2012, 124–25)
It seems as if there is an institutional decision. Individuals within the
institution must act as if the decision has been made for it to be made. If
they do not, it has not. A decision made in the present about the future
(under the promissory sign “we will”) can be overridden by the momen-
tum of the past. The past becomes like that crowd: what directs action
not only does not have to be given as a command but can even resist
a command. An institutional will can be a will that is in the process of
being completed because it has energy and momentum behind it. A de-
cision does not need to be made for the action to be completed and a
decision cannot easily intervene in its completion. In this case, the head
of personnel did not need to take the decision out of the minutes for the
decision not to bring something into effect. Perhaps an institution can
say yes when there is not enough behind that yes for something to be
brought about. The institutional wall is when a will, a yes, does not bring

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 145

something about, a yes that conceals this “not bringing” under the sign
of “having brought.” It is only the practical labor of coming up against the
institution that allows this wall to become apparent. To those who do not
come against it, the wall does not appear: the institution is experienced
as yes, as open, committed, and diverse.
We might assume institutional will as that which is necessary to bring
something about. When used in this way institutional will operates in the
future tense: what an institution is willing to do when willing requires an
additional exertion of energy or effort. When used in this way, institu-
tional will would be required to break an institutional habit. I want to sug-
gest an institutional habit could be understood as a continuation of will.
Hegel suggests that human beings “stand upright” as an act of will that
has been converted into habit: “That a human being stands upright has
become a habit through his own will” ([1827–28] 2007, 156–57). A habit is
thus a “continuation” of willing: “It is a continuous will that I stand but I
no longer need to will standing as such” (157). A habit is a continuation of
willing what no longer needs to be willed. This is an important way of re-
framing what we denote by habit as well as by will: a habit is not empty of
intent or purpose; a will does not require an individual act of volition.18
An institutional will is what is continued precisely because it does not
need to be willed. The wall is an institutional no that does not need to
become the subject of an utterance; indeed, you come up against the wall
when a yes does not bring something about. Using Hegel’s terms, a wall
could be described as an “institutional standing.” There is “a continuous
will that [it] stand but [it] no longer need[s] to will standing as such.”
Perhaps this wall is how history becomes concrete. When we think of
concrete we might think of the cement used to build walls. But concrete
has an older sense: deriving from Latin concretus, “condensed, hardened,
thick, hard, stiff, curdled, congealed, clotted,” figuratively “thick; dim,”
literally “grown together.” To think about the wall as will in concrete form
is to suggest that what has been willed can become hard or condensed,
becoming part of the materiality of an institution.
It is not then simply or only that the will of some comes first. The will
of those whose precedence is assumed becomes embedded in the materi-
ality of worlds; this will is worlding. The will of those who come first does
not need to be expressed as will. In the first chapter of this book I sug-
gested that for those who come after, the will becomes work: you have to
be willing to adjust to the will of those who precede you. Diversity work
can be thought of as will work: you have to become willing to adjust to

146 Chapter Four

a world that does not accommodate you. An accommodation is both a
house or dwelling and a process of fitting or making fit. Diversity work
is accommodation; some have to adjust in order to be housed. Perhaps
diversity work becomes willful work when we are less accommodating.
It is not only the bodies of those deemed to come after who have
to make willing adjustments. Think also of how adjustments have to
be made to spaces insofar as those spaces assume certain bodies; the
pavement might have to be adjusted to support the passing through of
those in wheelchairs; a podium might have to be adjusted to support
those who are not the right height; a timetable might have to be adjusted to
support those with child care responsibilities, and so on. I noted in the
first chapter how bodies can be experienced as “willful things,” if they
get in the way of an action being completed. Bodies can be experienced
in this way, as getting in the way, when spaces are not made “accessi-
ble” to those bodies. Willfulness can be a bodily experience of not being
accommodated by a space: how a space is organized can become what
“gets in the way” of a forward progression. Access, as Tanya Titchkosky
(2011) has observed, should not be understood simply as a bureaucratic
procedure, but is about how spaces are experienced and lived as orien-
tated toward bodies, with their differing capacities and incapacities.19
That we notice these modifications of spaces to make them more acces-
sible reveals how spaces are already shaped around certain bodies. As
Nirmal Puwar (2004) describes, some bodies are perceived as “space in-
vaders.” The modifications required for spaces to be opened to other bod-
ies are often registered as willful impositions on those spaces. We learn
from this: when wills become worldly, we do not recognize how the world
has already adjusted to those wills.
If institutional and public spaces assume certain bodies, then history
becomes concrete by enabling those bodies to flow through spaces. In
my discussion of habit and attunement in chapter 2, I drew on William
James who quotes from the work of M. Léon Dumont to describe how
over time a garment begins to cling more and more to the body that wears
it. Maybe an institution is like an old garment: it acquires the shape of
those who tend to wear it, such that it becomes easier to wear if you
have that shape. Privilege could be thought of in these terms: that which
is wearing. Another of Dumont’s examples is the reduction over time
of the force required to work a locking mechanism. The more you use a
mechanism, the less effort is required; repetition smoothes the passage
of the key through the hole. James describes this reduction of force or

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 147

effort as essential to the phenomenon of habituation. I would claim the
lessening of effort as essential to the phenomenon of privilege. If less
effort is required to unlock the door for the key that fits the lock, so too
less effort is required to pass through an institution for bodies that fit.
Social privilege is like an energy-saving device: less effort is required to
pass through. No wonder that not to inherit privilege can be so “trying.”
Not to fit, or to fail to inhabit a norm, can often mean being charged
with willfulness, whatever you say or do. In chapter 3, I noted how be-
coming a citizen can require “countering the willfulness charge.” This
countering can involve self-modification. We might note firstly that di-
versity is offered as a form of citizenship: as an invitation made to people
of color to become part, to add color to the body of the institution. Diver-
sity can take the form of a welcome. People of color in being welcomed
are treated as guests, as temporary residents in someone else’s home.
People of color are welcomed on condition they integrate into organiza-
tional culture. In order to meet these conditions, you have to counter
the willfulness charge: “I think with a person of colour there’s always a
question of what’s this woman going to turn out like . . . they’re ner vous
about appointing people of colour into senior positions. . . . Because if I
went in my Sari and wanted prayer time off and started rocking the boat
and being a bit different and asserting my kind of culture I’m sure they’d
take it differently” (Ahmed 2012, 158). Some forms of difference are heard
as assertive, as “rocking the boat.” Some forms of difference become leg-
ible as willfulness, as if you are only different because you are insistent
(on being different). You have to counter that charge by modifying your
appearance, by softening your demands, by not asserting any differences
because those differences are already registered as assertive. You have to
become sympathetic. I have already noted how when parts are sympa-
thetic, they are agreeable: they are not noticeable; they become part of a
whole. An unsympathetic part fails to recede: “I have to pretend that I am
not here because I don’t want to stick out too much because everybody
knows I am the only black person here” (Ahmed 2012, 41). You don’t want
to stick out too much because you do stick out. Think of the expression
“sticking out like a sore thumb.” To be a willful part is to be a sore part.
Yes, the sore thumb has come up again.
When we fail to inhabit a norm (when we are questioned or question
ourselves whether we are “it,” or pass as or into “it”) then it becomes
more apparent, rather like the institutional wall: a sign of immobility,
what blocks a forward progression. An institutional norm is also a social

148 Chapter Four

category. A category can be a house, that which gives residence. Some
have to “insist” on belonging to the categories that give residence to
others. Take the category of professor. An example: we are at a depart-
mental meeting with incoming students. We are all talking about our
own courses, one after the other, each coming up to the podium. Some-
one is chairing, introducing each of us in turn. She says, this is Professor
so-and-so. This is Professor such-and-such. On this particular occasion, I
happen to be the only female professor, and the only professor of color
in the room (the latter was not surprising as I am the only professor of
color in the department). When it is my turn to come up, the chair says:
“This is Sara.” I am the only professor introduced without using the title
professor. What do you do? What to do? Diversity work is how we fill
this gap or hesitation. If you point this out, or if you ask to be referred
to by the proper name, you are having to insist on what is simply given
to others; not only that, you are heard as insistent, or even for that mat-
ter as self-promotional (as insisting on your dues). Not only do you have
to become insistent in order to receive what was automatically given to
the others; but your insistence confirms the improper nature of your
residence. We do not tend to notice the assistance given to those whose
residence is assumed.
Insistence is a form of political labor, given that it is unevenly distrib-
uted as a requirement. Insistence can thus be understood as a political
grammar. For example, to be transgendered can be to experience the
labor of having to insist on what is automatically given to the others:
having to insist on being “he” or “she” or “not he” or “not she” when you
are assigned the wrong pronoun; having to keep insisting, where the ne-
cessity of repetition gets in the way of the hope of things just receding.
Sometimes you might have to insist on not being gendered by pronouns
at all: willfulness can be the refusal to be housed by gender. And to be in a
same-sex relationship is to experience the gendered pronoun as a sign of
struggle, one that is both personal as well as political: when your partner
is assumed to be “he” or “she” you have to correct the assumption, and the
very act of correction can be heard as a willful imposition on others.20 It
is exhausting, this labor, which is required because certain norms are still
at work in how people are assumed to be and to gather; even if we have
rights and recognition, the ongoing and everyday nature of these strug-
gles with signs are signs of a struggle. A desire for a more normal life does
not necessary mean identification with norms, but can be simply this: a
desire to escape the exhaustion of having to insist just to exist.

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 149

Things appear fluid if you are going the ways things are going. If you are
not going that way you might need to become willful to keep going. A flow
is also an effect of bodies that are going the same way. To go is to gather.
A flow can be an effect of gatherings of all kinds: gatherings of tables,
for instance, as kinship objects that support human gatherings. We can
pause here and note the willful part can also be a limb, a table, a jug: any
bits of matter can be attributed as willful if they do allow the comple-
tion of an action for which they are assumed to be intended. The queer
table would certainly show us the promise of willfulness, of how objects
can be reassembled by not supporting an action that has been agreed (see
Ahmed 2006). A queer experience: you are left waiting at a table when
a straight couple walks into the room and is attended to straightaway.
We might also think of this as a female experience: as if without a man
present at the table, you do not appear: you do not “knock at the door
of consciousness” to borrow again a description from Husserl ([1952]
1989, 105).21 For some, you have to become insistent to be the recipi-
ent of a social action; you might have to announce your presence, wave
your arm, saying: “Here I am!” For others, it is enough just to turn up
because you have already been given a place at the table before you take
up your place. Willfulness describes the uneven consequences of this
In response to my description, someone said she thought it reduced
queer and feminist politics to self-assertion, the “I am” as what or who is
“here.” But who is heard as assertive? Which acts of will are attributed as
self-willed? We can learn to become cautious about how self-will is used
to dismiss the claims of others. You do not need to become self-willed if your
will is already accomplished by the general will.
We tend to notice categories when we come up against them: when
they do not allow you to flow through space.22 Willfulness might be an
experience of coming up against. It is important, however, that we not
reduce willfulness to againstness. It is this reduction, after all, that allows
the willful subject to be dismissed, as if she is only going “the other way”
because she is for being against. There is a family of words around willful-
ness (stubborn, obstinate, defiant, rude, reckless) that creates a struc-
ture of resemblance (we feel we know what she is like).23 This familalism
is how an arresting can happen. This familalism also explains how easily
willfulness is confused with, and reduced to, individualism.24 In the pre-
vious chapter I referred to what we could call loosely “the veil debates”
by considering how the veil has become a willful part. The looseness of

150 Chapter Four

the debates can be referred back to the looseness of the “veil” as a sign.
The veil is a catchy word because of its looseness.25 I am going to keep
using the word “veil” because of its catchiness: we need to account for
how some can be caught.
If we describe the Muslim woman who covers as willful it might seem
that we are reading her action in terms of a Western idea of individual
freedom and dissent. Alternatively we might challenge the Western idea of
the Muslim woman as submissive, as always and only receding to the will
of others.26 But to recognize the action of veiling as individualism would
be to misrecognize the act (to conflate what is necessary to complete an
action with what is behind an action). Willfulness can be required in order to
persist not only as an individual but in one’s very loyalty to a culture whose
existence is deemed as a threat. This is how an act that in one situation is
ordinary (an act that might not feel like an act, as what you do, but rather
as an expression or an unfolding of who you are) can in another situation
require conscious willed effort: you have to work to keep something going
as otherwise it would recede from a horizon of possibility. Willfulness can
be required to sustain an attachment, one that might have previously been
experienced as habit, as a “second skin.”27 When it is assumed you are hold-
ing on because you are stubborn you might have to become stubborn to
hold on.28
Of course, we must recognize the diversity of ways in which we might
gather around what has acquired the status of a willful sign. For some
Muslim women, if wearing the veil was a habit, then to keep wearing
the veil once it has been officially prohibited or made into the object of
general suspicion might require becoming willful. In this becoming, what
had previously receded becomes part of the foreground in ways that can
be experienced as estranging (this is how you can pass into the figure of
the stranger in retaining a familiar). Or for other Muslim women, once
the veil has become a willful part, then it might become something to
be willed: you might wear the veil in a conscious and deliberate act of
loyalty, which is at once an expression of disloyalty to the nation as a
“whole social body,” a disagreement with those who assume the right to
determine what Muslim women can and cannot do. In following willful-
ness we can track the complexity of how we gather over, through, with,
and around its signs.29
One of the risks of assembling a willfulness archive is that we might
gather too much material under this sign. After all: willfulness has already
gathered too much. And because the willful subject is so impressive, we

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 151

might in following her, assume the impression as her own; we might take
it for granted that to be willful is to act in a certain kind of way, an act
that stands out because it stands apart from the ordinary. In this risk is
an opportunity. It is because willful actions are often assumed to stand
out, to be striking, that it becomes possible to act willfully, to oppose
your will to what is already or generally willed, by not standing out. We
can pass as willing in order to be willful. Somewhat ironically then, it is
given that the willful subject is so impressive, because she has already
gathered up too much, that we acquire even more possibilities for willful
action, by appearing in ways that are not consistent with this impression.
I am reminded of a diversity officer who talked about being willing to use
the happy languages of diversity precisely because she thought of herself
as a counter-hegemonic worker (Ahmed 2012, 75): she was willing to ap-
pear with so she could work against. There are risks in such a strategy: as
I will argue with more detail in the final section of this chapter, the self-
perception of being willful can be a way of not registering how one’s will
is accomplished through agreement. You can also “become with” in the
strategy to “appear with” by losing yourself in the appearance.

Feminist Killjoys (and Other Willful Subjects)

Once you are charged with willfulness, you are not with. An attribution
of willfulness also involves the attribution of negative affect: you become
charged with “not” in being not with. To be not with is to get in the way,
to “go against the flow” in the way you go. Conversations are also flows;
they are saturated. We hear this saturation as atmosphere. The willful
subject shares an affective horizon with the feminist killjoy as the ones
who “ruin the atmosphere.” Understanding how willfulness is an affective
judgment has given me a new handle on the figure of the feminist killjoy.
I previously wrote about my experiences of being a feminist daughter at
the family table (Ahmed 2010). Those experiences involve rolling eyes
(the rolling eyes might be how some body parts in their expression reg-
ister the willfulness of others). You are at the table and someone says
something you find problematic. Do you say anything or do you say noth-
ing? When a decision is required because of how you hear what you hear,
the situation can be experienced as hesitation, even as crisis.
It is so familiar that scene. And it can be empowering to find that
scene elsewhere, in other words, not only to have your own memories
handy but to be reached by the hands of others. I have been collecting

152 Chapter Four

“feminist killjoy” scenes. I consider this part of the work of becoming a
killjoy: collection. One scene in Rachel Cusk’s novel Arlington Park (2006)
touches my feminist killjoy heart.30 There is a dinner. And if there is a
dinner, there is a table, around which friends gather. One character,
Matthew, is speaking. He “talked on and on. He talked about politics and
taxes and the people who got in his way” (2006, 15). He complains about
women who take maternity leave. He relates a story of a woman he is
going to sack unless she comes straight back to work after having a baby.
One woman, Juliet, is silent at first. But eventually she can’t stand it
anymore; she cannot let her silence imply she is in agreement. She says,
“That’s illegal.” She says, “She could take you to court” (16). Illegal: how a
word can cut through an atmosphere like a knife. It is Juliet who is heard
as sharp. Matthew responds: “You want to be careful.” And then, you come
up against it, that wall of perception: “She saw how close she was to his
hatred: it was like a nerve she was within a millimeter of touching. ‘You
want to take care. You can sound strident at your age’ ” (17). Feminist kill-
joys: living in proximity to a nerve.
Note also how to become a feminist killjoy can be an aging assign-
ment (“at your age”). The woman who speaks out becomes an old hag, a
woman who does not take care or does not care, who willingly removes
herself from the sphere of male interest. I am reminded of Mary Daly’s
treatment of the haggard in Gynecology: “an intractable person, espe-
cially: a woman reluctant to yield to wooing” (1978, 15). Daly points out
that “willful” is one of the “obsolete” meanings of haggard. Indeed, Daly’s
radical feminist reclaiming of the haggard (which she calls hagiography)
could be considered an important predecessor to my attempts to reclaim
the figure of the feminist killjoy, along with other willful subjects. Daly
describes “haggard writing” as writing “by and for women” who are “in-
tractable, willful, wanton and unchaste, and especially those who are reluc-
tant to yield to wooing” (15–16).31 Willfulness is often used to diagnose
“reluctance to yield” as a problem of female character. This description
reminds us heterosexuality can work as an affective economy, a system
of charges and being charged: women who do not yield to men’s advances
become unyielding.
We can hear what is at stake in how women who speak out are heard.
To sound strident is to be heard as loud, harsh, or grating. Some styles
of presentation, some points of view, are heard as excessively and un-
pleasantly forceful. You know from what you are called. You know that other
voices can be saying the same thing over and over again, even saying those

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 153

things loudly, and not be heard as strident. They can be saying wrong
things, mean things, unjust things, and not be heard as strident. But you
become a problem if you even dare to say that what they say is a problem.
Oh the frustration of being found frustrating! Oh the difficulty of being
assumed to be difficult! You might even begin to sound like what they
hear you as being like: you talk louder and faster as you can tell you are
not getting through. The more they think you say, the more you have to
say. You have to repeat yourself when you keep coming up against the
same thing. You become mouthy. Perhaps we are called mouthy when
we say what others do not want to hear; to become mouthy is to become
mouth, reduced to the speaking part as being reduced to the wrong part.
The figure of the feminist killjoy recalls those broken pots and jugs
discussed in chapter 1. The feminist killjoy too might fly off the handle,
an expression used to indicate the suddenness of anger. Rather like the
jug she is viewed as too full of her own will, as not empty enough to be
filled by the will of others. She is assumed not only to cause her own
breakage but to break the thread of a social connection (a history enacted
as judgment: feminism as self-breakage).32 A willfulness archive does in-
clude broken threads; it is full of scenes of breakage. Feminists can be
filled with the content of their disagreement: when we are no longer will-
ingly helpful we are judged as willfully unhelpful. Perhaps being no lon-
ger willingly helpful simply refers to the condition of not being willing.
Feminists are often judged as willful women because we are unwilling to
participate in sexist culture; more than that, we are willing to critique the
very requirement that women be willing.33 To be unwilling to participate
is to have too much will. In other words, we are judged as willful when
we are not willing. To transform this judgment into a project requires we
make another willful translation. We are willing not to be willing: not will-
ing translated into willing not.
And then: it is as if she disagrees because she is disagreeable; it is as
if she opposes something because she is being oppositional. To be filled
“with will” is to be emptied “of thought” as if speaking about injustice,
about power, about inequality, is just another way of getting your way.
Those who “get in the way” are often judged as “getting their own way.”
Feminism: a history of disagreeable women!34 If we hear this sentence
as an exclamation it can sound empowering. And yet, when you are filled
with the content of disagreement, others do not hear the content of your
disagreement. There is a “not hearing” at stake in the figure of the femi-
nist killjoy, without question. And there is no doubt that some of these

154 Chapter Four

experiences are wearing, even when we convert that figure into a source
of energy and potential. And no wonder in the repetition of what we
come up against, we might snap. To snap might be to “snap the bond of
fate,” to draw again on Lucretius’s formulation. A bond of fate can be
fatal. Think of a situation in which a bond has become violent. What can
make living with violence hard is how hard it is even to imagine or think
the possibility of its overcoming; you might be isolated; you might be
materially dependent; you might be down, made to think and feel you
are beneath that person; you might be attached to that person, or believe
it when that person says he or she will change; you might have become
part of that person, have your life so interwoven with that person that
it is hard to imagine what would be left of you if you left. But in spite of
all of that, there can be a point, a breaking point, when it is “too much”
and what did not seem possible becomes necessary. She fights back; she
speaks out. She has places to go because other women have been there.
No wonder that leaving a situation of violence can feel like a snap: a bond
of fate has indeed been broken. Perhaps the slow time of endurance can
only be ended by a sudden movement. Or perhaps the movement might
only seem sudden because we cannot “see” the slower times of bearing,
what Lauren Berlant (2007) has called compellingly “slow death.”
I think one of the reasons the feminist film A Question of Silence (1982,
dir. Marleen Gorris) remains so powerful is because it shows what we can
call feminist snap. The film follows three different women: each of them
has her own story, but they share what they are asked to endure: patriar-
chal culture. The film works by juxtaposing scenes of being worn down,
worn out; sexism becomes a worn thread of connection. I saw this film
most recently at the London Feminist Film Festival in 2012. One scene
in particular had the audience of (mostly) women groaning in recogni-
tion. It is another table scene: there is one woman seated at a table of
men; she is the secretary. And she makes a suggestion. No one hears her:
the question of silence is in this moment not a question of not speaking
but of not being heard. A man then makes the exact same suggestion she
has already made: and the other men turn to him, congratulating him for
being constructive. She says nothing. It is at that moment she sits there
in silence, a silence that is filled or saturated with memories of being
silenced: her memories, ours. Femininity can be lived as the accumula-
tion of experiences of being silenced; of having to overlook how you are
looked over. Sometimes we become accommodating because our views
are not accommodated, a not that happens, over and over again.

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 155

If in the film the women are shown as worn down, it does not just
depict this wearing. There is an event. Three women happen upon each
other because they happen to be in the same dress boutique at the same
time. It might be a coincidence that they arrive at the same time, but that
they are here is no surprise; they are doing what many women do, shop-
ping for clothes as part of the ordinary routines of femininity. But while
doing ordinary things they commit what appears to be an extraordinary
act. One of the women is stopped by a male shopkeeper as she attempts
to steal an item of clothing; to take what she has not bought, what is not
rightfully hers. Maybe she is stealing as an enactment of what has been
taken from her. Maybe she experiences this event of being stopped as the
injustice of not having recognized what has been taken from her. She is
used to this injustice; she has come to expect it; but this time she snaps.
They snap. These three women each have a hand in murdering the man
with the tools that usually extend the female body: shopping trolleys,
coat hangers, the high heel of a shoe. If it is an act of rage and revenge,
it is directed not only against this man, but this world. It is a seemingly
random act of violence, a confirmation of female madness to the eyes of
the law, but the film is told from the women’s point of view: and patriar-
chy becomes the reason.
When they are on trial, in the courtroom the women start laughing
at the patriarchal reasoning of the Law. The laughter might be heard as
hysterical, when you have a worldview that prevents you recognizing
this reason. Maybe women are heard as reactive, as rash, as unreason-
able, because the world we respond to, the injustices that keep coming
up, again and again, do not come into view. I have already noted how
feminists might become mouthy; you might even shout in frustration
at the difficulty of getting through; shout because you are already heard
as shouting, realizing an expectation in response to an expectation. We
learn from this film how laughter can be another kind of willful and re-
bellious noise.35 When one woman begins laughing at the law, her laugh-
ter spreads. More and more women are caught up by it. To laugh com-
pulsively, even violently, at the reasoning of Law, to gender as reason, is
to expose its violence. It is also to risk being heard as the origin of the
violence exposed. However the women’s laughter is heard, it becomes
contagious for those women in the courtroom who “get it.” Their laugh-
ter becomes a feminist lead. They leave the courtroom. Even if they are
asked to leave, they walk out willingly, laughing with and to each other.

156 Chapter Four

Feminist snap: to break the bond of femininity can be to make room for
life by leaving the room.
Perhaps it is willfulness that allows us to leave the room. Even if will-
fulness can be containing, even if willfulness can make us feel cramped,
we can by accepting this assignment create room. I have already noted
how the English word “willful” in the story is a translation of the German
word eigensinnig which is also sometimes translated as “stubborn.”36 It
is worth noting here that this word is crucial to the work of the German
social historian Alf Lüdtke in his investigation of the tactics for survival
and resistance employed by German workers in the early twentieth cen-
tury. He notes “they occupied space and time for themselves, and demon-
strated their willfulness” (1995, 227, emphasis added).37 Eigensinnig or
“self-willed distance” is a way of creating a space of one’s own, of coming
apart, or becoming apart from a structured and oppressive environment.
Here “ownness” is what allows a survival of “belowness.” Willfulness or
eigensinnig can be a way of withdrawing from the pressures of an op-
pressive world and can even become part of a world-making project.38
Willfulness as a diagnosis can thus be willingly inhabited, as a way of
creating a room of one’s own.
Willfulness thus becomes an assignment in another sense: a project
or task that we can take up in our everyday negotiations with the world.
Willfulness is pedagogy: if I was given this assignment, I have learned
so much from it. I have learned how whatever you say can be swept up
and swept away by the charge of willfulness. The sweeping seems to be-
come more vigorous when what you are saying is about the politics of
saying. Becoming aware of how willfulness is an unjust assignment can
be a lesson in the grammars of injustice. I am not only referring here to
a sense that we might have that willfulness is false as a charge, an unfair
dismissal, though this sense can be acute: we can feel this false. The ex-
perience of being attributed as willful can also heighten your conscious-
ness of the work required to keep social surfaces shiny, the “will work”
required to keep up the signs of getting along. When we don’t keep up,
so much can surface. The experience of being assigned as willful can be a
mobilizing experience.
When we are not willing to adjust, we are maladjusted. Perhaps will-
fulness turns the diagnosis into a call: don’t adjust to an unjust world! As
with other political acts of reclaiming negative terms, reclaiming willful-
ness is not necessarily premised on an affective conversion, that is, on

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 157

converting a negative into a positive term. On the contrary, to claim will-
fulness might involve not only hearing the negativity of the charge but
insisting on retaining that negativity: the charge after all is what keeps
us proximate to scenes of violence. Consider Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s
powerful reflections on the term “queer.” She writes: “If queer is a po-
litically potent term, which it is, that’s because far from being capable
of being detached from the childhood scene of shame, it cleaves to that
scene as a near-inexhaustible source of transformational energy” (1993,
4). Willfulness might be a style of politics because it too cleaves to that
scene. The experience of being that willful child can be a crucial part of
political mobilization. The scene is not only a childhood one: there are
many scenes of being seated at a table with others, in which willfulness
becomes a charge that is taken up or taken on by those charged. Do you
remember being charged? Do you remember how it felt? I remember.39 I
write with this memory, from this memory. Willfulness becomes an ar-
chival project when we share these memories.
Activism also involves tables, ways of being seated in order to take
up a task. And a table can be a house, assembled as dwelling space. Let’s
think about the conference table. In the Sexual Nationalism conference
that took place in Amsterdam in January 2011, to which I was invited but
was unable to attend (I say this, as the invitation came to matter), there
was what we might call “race trouble.”40 The conference organizers in a
statement written after the event give us a history of this trouble en-
titled “After Amsterdam.”41 They reflect back to their initial calls for pa-
pers and list of invited speakers. They admit this call “hardly reflected the
diversity of scholars working in this field.” I want to comment here on
how the use of the word “diversity” contains the trouble that is named:
rather than the statement explicitly naming the problem of whiteness
(the speakers listed were all white but one, which is often a typical list in
my experience, perhaps this “but one” is possible because the “but one”
can stand for all who are not white). They then state the “resulting
impression contradicted our explicit intention.” If whiteness is an im-
pression, then it is assumed to be a false one. The organizers note that
they invited more people (to counter, perhaps, the false impression: is
diversity a way of creating a happier impression?). The statement pro-
ceeds: “We made a concerted effort to address this concern—which in-
cluded finding extra funding for guests. Some of the people we contacted
(in particular Sara Ahmed and Gloria Wekker) were not available these

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dates, but we were pleased that others accepted our invitation to come
as fully-funded guests.” Let’s think about this invitation: offered here as
an extension. Even those who did not participate (such as Gloria and I)
are included as a sign of the potential reach of an embrace. Note also the
repeated emphasis on funding; to be a guest is to be positioned as indebted,
as relying on the good will of the hosts. No wonder that those who
were invited “later” used the event of their participation to talk about
the politics of invitation. No wonder that in the final panel two queer-
of-color academics, Fatima El-Tayeb and Jin Haritaworn, refused to take
part; they refused to become part.
The statement uses a “we” as a feeling statement at this point, the
point of their refusal: “We still want to express regret with this deci-
sion by two of our guests. While we acknowledge that the list we first
published in July manifested real political shortcomings, we believed
that the final list of invited scholars, as well as the overall conference
programme, did not eventually justify such a perception of marginaliza-
tion.” Did not eventually justify? Here the very emphasis on the effort of
the organizers to extend the invitation to other others, that is, to other
queers of color, is used to establish that the queer-of-color critique of
the event is not justifiable: it is used to counter the critique, to treat that
critique as a false perception. Those who perceive whiteness as a problem
become the problem. The organizers then express a further regret that
Gert Hekma, who had already articulated racist views about Islam on an
e-mail sent out to all speakers in advance of the event, would use his par-
ticipation on the final panel to articulate racist views about Islam. What
were they expecting, one wonders. But note how when diversity becomes
a table, one assembled in good faith, then racism is put on the table,
as just another item to be tabled. This regret about how Hekma uses
his participation is expressed alongside the regret about the nonpartici-
pation of Fatima El-Tayeb and Jin Haritaworn, creating a sympathetic
alliance between racist speech and the critique of racism, between his
presence and their absence, as if they are both “intrusions” into the hap-
piness of the queer table. As Jin Haritaworn noted later, “Blame for the
bad diversity work was put instead on the few people who had worked to
challenge the racism at the conference” (2012, 78). Racism becomes pro-
jected onto a stranger allowing us not to see the very ordinary and mun-
dane racism exercised as or in the history of the invitation. And queers of
color become willful parts: those who do not participate in the conversation.

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 159

Think of the expression “stuck in the mud,” which can be used to refer to
a person who is “unwilling to participate.” This expression is related to
the figure of the killjoy: to be unwilling to participate is not only assumed
to kill the joy of participation but it is read as motivated by the desire to
kill joy.
We might need to intrude on a world in which we figure as intrusion.
Oh, how many of our histories are histories of willful words! Let’s think
about the word “assertive.” How often minority subjects are called asser-
tive!42 In being called assertive we have to become assertive to meet the
challenge of this call. We might have to assert our existence in order to
exist. Audre Lorde has taught me this: how caring for one self can be “an
act of political warfare” as a form of self-preservation not self-indulgence
(1988, 131).43 There are “those of us,” she reminds us, who were “never
meant to survive” (1978, 32). Just being is willful work for those whose
being is not only not supported by the general body, but deemed a threat
to that body.
If some have to be assertive just to be, others are given freedom from
the necessity of self-assertion. What are we asserting when we become
assertive? In asserting ourselves, we are asserting more than ourselves.
If we do not submit our will to the will of the “whole body,” if we do not
aim for its restoration, we do not simply leave that body behind us. After
all we are exposing the violence that supports that body. Those lodged
as particular can dislodge the general. Assembling a willfulness archive
gives us another way to challenge the formalist universalism of philoso-
phers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, which rests on more and less
muted critiques of “particularism” and “identity politics.”44 The latter, for
example, argues in relation to Saint Paul that “his universe is no longer
that of the multitude of groups that want to ‘find their voice,’ and assert
their particular identity, their ‘way of life,’ but that of a fighting collective
grounded in the reference to an unconditional universalism” (2003, 10).
Žižek is not necessarily making an argument in his own terms here; but
the use of quote marks works to create a caricature of identity politics
that is familiar both from his own writing and more general consensus.45
We need to challenge this consensus. Perhaps some have “ways of life”
because others have lives: some have to find voices because others are
given voices; some have to assert their particulars because others have
their particulars given a general expression. For some, willfulness might
be necessary for an existence to be possible. When willfulness is neces-
sary another world becomes possible.

160 Chapter Four

Striking Bodies
In the first chapter of this book, I discussed how willfulness becomes
striking: what gets in the way of what is on the way. Willfulness as a style of
politics might involve not only being willing not to go with the flow, but
being willing to cause its obstruction. If willfulness can become striking
in how a body appears (if what appears is what tends to cause obstruc-
tion), then willfulness can be also be willingly performed (to go on strike
is to aim for obstruction). Willfulness: to stop working; to stop a body
from working. Political histories of striking are indeed histories of those
willing to put their bodies in the way, to turn their bodies into blockage
points that stop the flow of human traffic, as well as the wider flow of an
economy. We could think of the hunger strike as the purest form of will-
fulness: a body whose agency is expressed by being reduced to obstruc-
tion, the obstruction of the passage into the body.
A history of willfulness is a history of those who are willing to put
their bodies in the way, or to bend their bodies in the way of the will.
There is something queer about this will. You bend: you become bent. It
is worth considering here Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s description of queer
politics as “voluntary stigma,” as the “then almost inconceivable willed
assumption of stigma” (2003, 30). Her argument could be related to that
of Dan Brouwer who explores the use of tattoos in hiv/aids activism:
“the conscious and willful marking of oneself as ‘tainted’ as a particular
communicative and performative strategy grounded in visibility politics
and practiced in the context of aids activism” (1998, 115). To mark the
body becomes a willed and willful act.
Not all stigmas are voluntary; and this is partly the point. You will
stigma given the history of unwilled stigma, which might include your
own embodied history. Sedgwick contrasts the voluntary stigma of the
picket lines with “the nondiscretionary” nature of skin color (2003, 30).
Color can be experienced as a willful intrusion on the unmarked and
unremarkable body of whiteness. Some forms of sexual stigma too can
be thought of as unwilled not because the stigma is simply on the body,
but because if a certain idea of the right body is in place, then some
bodies will and do appear as the wrong bodies.46 If your body is already
stigmatized, you might have to be willing (at least) to double that in-
heritance, to be stigmatized all over again. There is something deeply
evocative about Sedgwick’s own account of her involvement in political

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 161

This was a fight about blackness, queerness and implicitly aids: pro-
perties of bodies, some of them our bodies, of bodies that it seemed
important to say most people are very willing, and some people are
murderously eager, to see not exist. I got there late and hugged and
kissed the students and friends I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and Brian
gave me his sign to carry. I can’t remember—I hardly noticed—what
was on it—even though when I was a kid I remember that most of the
symbolic power of the picket lines used to seem to inhere in the vol-
untary self-violation, the then almost inconceivable willed assump-
tion of stigma, that seemed to me to be involved in any attempt to
go public as a written-upon body—an ambulatory placard—a figure,
I as a child, could associate only with the disciplining of children. I
wonder now how I related that voluntary stigma to the nondiscre-
tionary stigma of skin color—that is, of skin color other than white—
considering how fully, when I was growing up in the 1950s and early
1960s—“protest” itself implied black civil rights protest. (2003, 29)

The willed and voluntary assumption of stigma can be understood as

political art: a way of performing the body, a way of reinhabiting the
streets. Those who gather are those whose deaths are willed, who gather
with those who love and support those whose deaths are willed, who
gather in protest against a world that can and will “will deaths” onto
others. “Brian gave me his sign to carry.” How I love these kind, gentle
words. To be involved in a protest can mean not only to assume the sign
of willfulness but to be willing to carry the sign for others. To be willing
to carry a sign is what makes it possible to pass a sign onto others. We
can make a queer trail by passing these signs, another kind of desire line
created by not following the official paths. What is at stake in this queer
passing is not so much the content of the sign, or of the sign as having
a denotative function. The placard which, like the rod, is intended for
straightening the child provides instead the means to wander: perhaps
the rod can become the arm, refusing the demand to be straightened out.
We could reflect further on demonstrations as willfulness transformed
into political art. The word “demonstrate” shares its root with “monster”
(from the Latin monstrum “monster, monstrosity, omen, portent, sign”).
To demonstrate is to be involved in the creation of ominous signs. To-
gether bodies can become monstrous. Bodies in alliance can generate,
as Judith Butler (2011) has suggested, a new public, one that is not sup-
ported by existing institutions or law, one whose very persistence might

162 Chapter Four

be necessary to achieve a supporting ground. Action can aim to create a
ground for action. Perhaps the streets we occupy can be shaped by feet
that tread. We might even imagine an alternative army of the wayward:
hearing in the Shakespearean expression “hydra headed willfulness”the
promise of monstrosity, the promise that like the monster Hydra, who
acquires two heads from the loss of any one, the blows we receive will
create more disobedient parts.47
The many heads of the monster Hydra are an appropriate sign of the
promise of willfulness. Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker have shown
in their history of rebellion “from below,” how the hydra myth “becomes
a means of exploring multiplicity, movement, and connection” (2000, 6).
J. Jack Halberstam has explored the queer potential of this history from
below: this hydra history that swells from under the social belly (2011,
18–19). A history can come alive as a willful presence on the streets. In
demonstrating, we assume the form of monster, becoming an obstacle,
a physical fleshy thing. We can think of demonstration as counter-will:
more bodies must gather if we are to acquire enough momentum to resist
what has acquired momentum.
Not all demonstrations are ones we would agree with: the content of
the disagreement does matter. But the act of assembling does more than
disagree: the bodies that gather also reclaim time and space. An assem-
bling on the streets can be a protest against how and by whom the streets
have been owned. This could not be better expressed than by the Reclaim
the Night marches that are still going on (violence against women is on-
going). Reclaim the Night marches are willed and willful acts of populat-
ing the streets by and for women, a claiming back of a time as well as a
space that the reality of sexual violence has taken from us. To reclaim the
streets as a reclaiming of night is to enact what we will: a world in which
those who travel under the sign of women can travel safely, in numbers:
feminist feet as angry feet.
The Occupy movements could also be understood as willful monstros-
ity: when bodies occupy streets of commerce they can transform streets
into bodies. It is interesting to note how Occupy Wall Street evoked the
character of Bartleby, the “scrivener” from Herman Melville’s novella
(see Gerson 2011; Greenberg 2012). Bartleby who stops performing his
job as a copier in an office on Wall Street, who stops everything except
for occupying the office where he is supposed to work. The narrator says to
Bartleby: “Are you aware that you are the cause of great tribulation to me,
by persisting in occupying the entry after being dismissed from the office?”

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 163

([1853] 2010, 55). Occupation becomes persistence: working by not work-
ing, the part becomes idle, slow, refusing what I called in the previous
chapter “the will duty” as a productive duty, refusing to be handy, to lend
a hand to the administration of business. Bartleby’s famous explanation
for his inaction is “I prefer not to,” an explaining which refuses to explain
beyond the repetition of these exact terms. Bartleby could certainly be
included in a willfulness archive: although he is described by the narrator
as not intending insolence or mischief, he is also characterized as having
a “strange willfulness,” not only in what he does not do, but in his refusal
to express his opposition in any terms other than the terms he uses (22).
The very use of this expression “I prefer not to” becomes a reenactment
of his refusal to budge. He even refuses to say: “I will not.” The narrator
tries to lead him to say, “I will not,” to which Bartleby replies, “I prefer
not” (25, emphasis in original). His not is expressed by “prefer,” a word
described in the novella as a “queer word” (38). In not saying “I will not,”
Bartleby does not say “I will.”48
We can understand why the Occupy movement made a willful hero out
of Bartleby.49 Movements need rallying points. Of course, this is not to
say we occupy “Occupy” in the same way: bodies, offices, as well as streets
are filled with memories that affect how we do the work of inhabitance. A
willful inhabitance of space never empties a space even as it aims to stop
the flow of traffic. Spaces remain saturated by the bodies that come and
go, leaving traces behind.50 The slogan “99 percent” could be heard as a
wayward army; it reaches for a solidarity by extending the reach of “the
not” to those who are not in the one percent. Of course some have pro-
tested against the very overreach of this “not,” how it gathers together
too many, including in the same group those who benefit from exploita-
tion with those who are exploited by this benefit.51 And for others the
word “occupy” is too tainted with histories of violence in the context of
settler colonialism to organize under that name: the settlers are already
occupiers; the land is already occupied.
The politics of demonstrating are indeed messy: but when things
become messy we do not lose the point. If anything, becoming ner vous
shows how we are getting closer to a nerve, to what matters. To bother
is to be bothered. And we might feel charged up by what we are charged
with. Those who demonstrate against the state are often charged with
willfulness. Or perhaps willfulness is used as a charge to differentiate
some protesters from others. When demonstrations get “out of con-
trol” (translation: not controlled by the police as the enforcers of state

164 Chapter Four

will) it is often blamed on the willfulness of a minority. It is the figure
of the anarchist who mostly receives this willfulness charge: as if anar-
chists have taken over the protest, transforming it from peaceful and
law-abiding into violent and criminal. The violence of or in protesting
is often called “mindless.” We learn from this description: perhaps actions
are called  “mindless” when we don’t like the content of other people’s
minds, when we don’t want to hear what it is they are saying. Not only
does this diagnosis of a willful minority overtaking the protest work
to pacify protest as such (as if the “real” protesters were not themselves
angry, as if they walk the streets with happy feet), but it removes atten-
tion from the violence perpetrated by the police themselves. To be in-
volved in demonstrating can mean to come up against this violence more
directly: you might become more aware of the injustice that led you to
demonstrate in the first place. This is how even if political rage brings us
to demonstrate, demonstrations can be politicizing. There is promiscuity
in rebellion: witnessing the blows we receive can create more disobedient
parts. The very physical force of the blow, its appearance as the visible
sign of the rod (the police did not appear in the Grimm story, but they
are most certainly there, the police are rods), can make more parts will-
ing to take part, willing not to bear the unbearable; willing to lose their
place in an order in the hope of creating a new order. The rod too can be
a rallying point, if we rally around what we are against. If to be willful is
to keep coming up, despite or even because of what you encounter, then
willfulness can be understood as a method of proliferation. No wonder
willfulness has offered me a queer method.
In promising the monstrous, willfulness does not create a simple har-
mony of parts, even in the headiness of those moments of anticipation.
Willfulness could be understood as a necessary horizon for politics, as
what cannot be overcome by the participation in politics. The experience
of protest can be the unifying sound of a shared “no,” but that does not
mean all parts participate in that “no” in the same way. An example: in
2011 a demonstration against the English Defence League, a far-right
group with an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam stance, took place in Tower
Hamlets, East London. Prior to the march, the lgbt activist and human
rights campaigner Peter Tatchell announced his willingness to demon-
strate as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. He wrote the following in-
vitation or request to the queer community: “I urge everyone to support
the Saturday’s protest against the far right English Defence League (edl),
as it attempts to threaten and intimidate the Muslim community.” He also

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 165

indicates his own will to be present under, we might say, the queer sign:
“I will be there with a placard reading: Gays and Muslims unite! Stop
the edl.”52
The sign might seem to promise solidarity between willful parts: gays
and Muslims, those whose particular will is not expressed by the na-
tional will (although we can note this “and” assumes the parts as apart:
the gay Muslim disappears in this “and”). In a follow-up article, Tatchell
refers again to his placard. This time he makes clear that the sign has
two sides.53 On the other side is the following: “Stop edl and far-right
Islamists. No to all hate.” Let’s think about the two sides of the sign:
one says yes to solidarity between gays and Muslims, the other says no
to “the edl” and “far-right Islamists.” On the other side of the sign, is
a no that creates what we can call a problematic proximity between the
edl and Islamism. On the other side “Islam” appears only as “far-right
We realize the significance of these different sides of the placard if we
read the narrative. Tatchell uses the occasion of recalling the experience
of the march against the edl (an organization that has an anti-Islam but
“gay-friendly” stance) to speak out not against the edl, which recedes or
becomes background, but against what he calls Islamic fundamentalism.
In fact, Tatchell uses the occasion to argue that Islamist goals are “much
more dangerous” than that of the edl. One has to note that Tatchell is
adopting here the very language of the edl. It is easy to identify the prob-
lems with this identification of Islam as the “bigger threat” in the context
of a protest against those who perceive Islam as the “bigger threat.”
But how does one read the insistence on the right to be visible as a
gay man in a protest, to carry a queer sign? One could say surely he is
right; surely queers have a right to gather whenever and wherever? But
traveling under the queer sign can become part of the management of
the racial space of the nation. As Jin Haritaworn (2010) has noted in a
sharp critique of gay imperialism, the use of kiss-ins near mosques by
mainstream lgbt groups in Berlin shows how what appears as an asser-
tion of a sexual minority can function as the assertion of a racial major-
ity. Traveling under the queer sign becomes a way of occupying political
space and of claiming territory as one’s own residence or home. This is
how the content of this sign does come to matter: the queer sign is not
empty in the sense that it cannot be filled by anybody. The queer sign be-
comes aligned with the state apparatus, a happy sign, depending on the
unhappiness of the Muslim other; it can achieve its status as voluntary

166 Chapter Four

stigma by willing the very signs of an involuntary Islamic homophobia.
The Muslim others become unwilling citizens: unwilling to integrate, un-
willing to love the love that is willingly (although conditionally) endorsed
by the nation.
We learn that if insistence is a political grammar, it is not always leg-
ible. It might appear that organizing under the queer sign requires willful-
ness. And yes, sometimes, maybe even often, it does. But sometimes it
does not: you might feel like an arm but act like a rod. This is a complicating
point: one that complicates my own argument thus far in this chapter. The
very assumption of willfulness can protect some from realizing how their
goals are already accomplished by the general will. It can be whiteness
that allows some queers to accomplish their goals; it can be the unseeing
of whiteness that also allows some queers not to see how they appear to
others when, for instance, they carry a sign that makes Islam proximate
to the edl; it can be unseeing whiteness that allow some queers not to
see how that very proximity can be a threat. What is assumed as a will-
ful queerness can be a willing whiteness. Jasbir Puar’s (2007) important
critique of homonationalism could be read as an account of how wayward
queers can and do become the straightening parts. This kind of queer
politics aims to become part of the nation where partness is achieved by
or through the very projection of willfulness onto others.
It is important to describe the racism of this projection. But to
describe the projection of willfulness as racism is to be heard as willful.
When queers of color talk about racism in queer politics, we become kill-
joys, as if this very talk is what prevents us from just taking up our seats
at the table. Audre Lorde explores powerfully the figure of the angry per-
son of color: the one who is always getting in the way of a social bond. As
she describes: “When women of Color speak out of the anger that laces
so many of our contacts with white women, we are often told that we
are ‘creating a mood of helplessness,’ ‘preventing white women from get-
ting past guilt,’ or ‘standing in the way of trusting communication and
action’ ” (1984, 131, see also hooks 2000).54 To speak out of anger about
racism is to be heard as the ones who are stopping or blocking the flow of
communication, who are preventing the forward progression sometimes
described as reconciliation.
When we talk about racism we become the cause of the problem we
reveal. Racism is treated as a foreign(er) word: as imposing our will on
what would otherwise be a happy situation. The happiness of a situation
is protected by treating anything inconsistent with happiness as foreign

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 167

to the situation. No wonder the foreign is such an anxious site. Racism
becomes a willful word: going the wrong way, getting in the way. I am
speaking of racism in a seminar. Someone comes up to me afterward and
puts her arm next to mine. We are almost the same color, she says. No
difference, no difference. You wouldn’t really know you were any differ-
ent to me, she says. The very talk about racism becomes a fantasy that
invents difference. She smiles, as if the proximity of our arms was evi-
dence that the racism of which I was speaking was an invention, as if our
arms told another story. She smiles, as if our arms were in sympathy. I
say nothing. My arm speaks by withdrawing.
When racism recedes from social consciousness, it appears as if the
ones who “bring it up” are bringing it into existence. To recede is to
go back or withdraw. To concede is to give way or yield. People of color
are often asked to concede to the recession of racism: we are asked to
“give way” by letting racism “go back.” Not only that: more than that. We
are asked to embody a commitment to diversity. We are asked to smile
in their brochures. We are asked to put racism behind us as if racism is
behind us. The narrative often exercised is not that we “invent racism,”
but that we preserve its power to govern social life by not getting over
it. I have an alternative. I call it my willfulness maxim: Don’t get over it, if
you are not over it.

Conclusion: Feel Like an Arm, Act Like a Rod

There is a joy in translating an experience into a maxim: a sense of being
in charge of what you are charged with. And the charge itself can be a
connection: a way of relating to others similarly charged. Perhaps the
language can be our lead: perhaps willfulness can be an electric current,
passing through each of us, switching us on.55 Willfulness can be a spark.
We can be lit up by it. It is an electric thought. It is important not to get
too carried away by this thought. Even when we are charged up, even
when we translate that charge into personal and political maxims, we
cannot assume that in a given situation we are the willful subjects. Will-
fulness is not a side: one that we can simply be on or stay on.
In this chapter I have been trying to describe a difficulty or an expe-
rience of difficulty. I use “trying” deliberately: description becomes dif-
ficult when it is a difficulty you are describing. I pointed out earlier that
willfulness can be a form of hearing that dismisses (to dismiss is to make
apart). Willfulness is often dismissed as a (bad) habit, as a way some are

168 Chapter Four

just stuck (in a rut), as being unwilling to become willing subjects. One
of my aims has been to hear these techniques of dismissal. What does
it do to hear one’s own dismissal? If you are used to having to struggle
to exist, if you become used to having others oppose your existence, if
you are used even to being thought of as oppositional, then those expe-
riences are wearing and directive. You can enact an expectation in the
struggle not to fulfill it. You can even become somewhat oddly invested
in the continuation of what you are up against. This is not to say you
“really” want what opposes you (although there is wanting at stake here:
you want to oppose what you don’t want). It is to say that if you spend
time and energy in opposing something, an opposition can become part
of you. It is not to say that the investment is what keeps something going
at the level of the event or situation. It is to say that willfulness in be-
coming part of you can become a habit, even if the concept of a habitual
willfulness is how willful subjects are dismissed.
We have to be cautious and careful in describing these dynamics: we
have to learn not to repeat the dismissal. I think we need to describe
these dynamics because of the risk of repetition. I have experienced my-
self a sense of how possibilities can be closed down if I assume in advance
a willfulness stance. You can get so used to struggling against something
that you expect anything that comes up will be something to be against.
It can be tiring being against whatever comes up, even if hearing a wrong
ends up being right. And it is possible, of course, in expecting to hear
wrongs not to hear them, because if you do hear them, they fulfill an ex-
pectation, becoming a confirmation of what you already know. We stop
hearing when we are too knowing. I suspect we all do this: hear with ex-
pectation, listen for confirmation, whether or not we think of ourselves
as willful subjects; this is ordinary stuff.
Willfulness is ordinary stuff. It can be a daily grind. This is also how
an experience of willfulness is world creating: willful subjects can recog-
nize each other, can find each other, and create spaces of relief, spaces
that might be breathing spaces, spaces in which we can be inventive. If in
most spaces we have to be assertive just to be, we can create spaces which
give us freedom from that necessity.56 There can be joy in creating worlds
out of the broken pieces of our dwelling spaces: we can not only share our
willfulness stories, but pick up some of the pieces too. And we can hear
each other in each other: can be moved by each other with each other; we
can even just tell each other to let it go, at the moments when holding on
demands too much. We can say this, as we have been there, in that place,

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 169

that shadowy place, willful subjects tend to find themselves; a place that
can feel lonely can be how we reach others.
Even if we have received the assignment of willfulness, we are more
than this assignment. And then, of course, given that we do not tend
to notice agreements, or given that agreements tend not to be quite so
impressive, we might in assuming willfulness be protecting ourselves.
We might not notice our own agreements, if they are histories that are
still. This is why the figure of the killjoy is not a figure we can assume we
always somehow are: even if we recognize ourselves in that figure, even
when she is so compelling, even when we are energized by her. We might,
in assuming we are the killjoys, not notice how others become killjoys
to us, getting in the way of our own happiness, becoming obstacles to a
future we are reaching for. Activism might need us to lose confidence in
ourselves, letting ourselves recognize how we too can be the problem.
And that is hard if we have a lifetime of being the problem. But the lessons
of willfulness are that we can loosen our hold on willfulness, even if, or
maybe because, willfulness is used by others to hold us in place.
Perhaps this is what it means to transform willfulness into pedagogy:
you have to work out how to travel on unstable grounds. The history
of sexism and racism within left activist spaces teaches us about these
grounds. We have to enact the world we are aiming for: nothing less will
do. Behind us are long histories of failed enactments, histories in which
the critiques of how power is exercised within political movements have
been dismissed under the sign of willfulness: heard as distractions from
the shared project of transformation, as causing the divisions they re-
veal, as being in the way of what is on the way. Part of the difficulty is not
only who is judged as the obstacle, but who takes charge, who defines
what is to be done, who leads the way. Can seeing ahead be how some
appoint themselves as heads?
Just think of the Leninist idea of the “vanguard party.” My account
of the sociality of will, of precedence as another history of being in time,
could be read as a phenomenology of the vanguard. The word “vanguard”
derives from “avant” meaning “front” but also “before.” The vanguard is
an avant-garde: a front party, a part that fronts. This idea might have
legs as it makes others into legs: those who are behind are assumed to
need those in front to front. If those who are in front “front” our political
movements, what happens? If those who come first are “first” in our po-
litical movements, what happens? To challenge precedence by exercising
precedence is to negate the challenge. And what do we find when we work

170 Chapter Four

this way? Some become the arms that carry, the helping hands, the ones
that make tea, who do the legwork: to free up the time for the heads. If
the will of those who come first determines the political horizon, then
nothing much different happens. Same old, same old: the exhaustion of
reproduction as well as repetition, when working against reproduces the
world we are working against. Given this political horizon it is not sur-
prising that “identity politics” has acquired a negative willful charge: to
rally around our particulars is to refuse to be led by those whose will has
already been given general expression.57
Can we work differently? Can those who come after work differently,
working as willful strangers, by not putting the will of those who come
first “first”? Perhaps we need to work back to front.58 We have to work
from behind to challenge the front. We have to work the behind. We can
hear the queerness of this hindsight. We can also hear decolonial conno-
tations. Those deemed behind, as lagging behind in the history of becom-
ing modern, can rewrite that history from this view. Ramón Grosfoguel’s
critique of the universalisms of Western modernity offers such a view, a
rear view. It is not simply that we can generate an oblique angle on his-
tory from behind. We can aim to transform the angle into a different style
of politics, rear-guard not avant-garde. Grosfoguel refers to the Zapatis-
tas in southern Mexico. He notes: “The Zapatistas set out from ‘walking
while asking questions,’ and from there propose a ‘rear-guard movement’
which contributes to linking together a broad movement on the basis
of the ‘wretched of the earth’ of all Mexico” (2012, 12).59 Such a style of
walking is contrasted with the avant-garde: “walking while preaching”
(12). We have to walk differently: it is not that those behind come to the
front, but that staying back gives you the time to question, to ask rather
than tell. A politics of the rear is still a movement. When the wretched
are walking, the feet are talking. To keep walking, to keep going, to keep
coming up, is a certain kind of talking, talking to not talking at; talking
without a message that can be passed simply from one to another, like a
baton that we aim to get to the front so we can be in front. Sometimes
to keep questioning requires a willful behind. There are behinds to the
behind: to talk with your feet does not mean you walk at the same pace.
But you might hesitate, look back; not hurry ahead to head.
When those in front assume willfulness, willfulness becomes a front.
Avant-garde life worlds are populated by subjects who think of them-
selves as willful, as disobedient, as opposing norms, as giving up conven-
tions that hold others in place. But the self-perception of freedom from

Willfulness as a Style of Politics 171

norms can quickly translate into a freedom to exploit others, to engage
in behaviors that are almost exact approximations of the norms that sub-
jects think of themselves as opposing. The thought of willful opposition
can enable a willing approximation in action. The film Ginger and Rosa
(2012, dir. Sally Potter) explores the psychic structure of avant-gardism
very well. Ginger’s father, who, we learn from the diagesis of the film,
wrote a book entitled The Idea of Freedom, Ginger’s father who speaks
of “autonomous thought,” who opposes marriage and convention, who
thinks love should be free, ends up sexually exploiting young women: his
students and Ginger’s own best friend, Rosa. He fulfills a sexual and so-
cial norm under or as the guise of transgression. In the end, when his be-
havior is exposed as harming others, including his daughter and his wife,
he retains his willful self-identification. He recalls his own history of dis-
obedience, how he went to prison as a conscientious objector. “Someone
has to say no,” he says. He says this no as if in the present tense, as if that
no can explain, even condone, his behavior. We learn how no can be a
way of participating in norms and conventions while benefiting from the
feeling of being free from them: a no can be how a yes is enacted without
being said. To think of oneself as a willful subject, as being the no that is
said, can be how a will stays in agreement. The appearance of being will-
ful, of being an arm, can be the continuation of the rod by other means.60
However we respond to this becoming means we can learn to appreci-
ate the risks of assuming willfulness, of assuming we have found our-
selves in the arms. I am sure many feminists would recognize the portrait
of left male chauvinism offered in Ginger and Rosa. And we might in this
recognition be tempted to think: we are the arms that have experienced
how some arms are really the rods; we are all the armier for this experi-
ence. But we can be more shaken if we do not assume the rod’s exteriority.
To give up this assumption would be to let go of the arms. To hear the
arms we cannot hear as the arms. Perhaps it is time to listen to the arms
themselves. They might have something to tell us.

172 Chapter Four



n this book I have both explored the charge of willfulness and
reflected upon how we can take up that charge. I am not in thinking
of this “taking up” as something that has been done, can be done,
prescribing willfulness. My aim is to fall short of prescription. After all,
willfulness remains a charge that can be brought against subjects in ways
that are diminishing. And, as I suggested in the conclusion of the previ-
ous chapter, when willfulness becomes an assumption, it can participate
in concealing how a will is in agreement with what is already willed or
how a particular will is aligned with a general will. To be wronged is not to
acquire a right to be right. How is it possible to take up this charge with-
out making willfulness into a right? In this conclusion I will address this
question somewhat obliquely, from a different angle, by moving away
from willful subjects (those for whom willfulness is an experience of an
attribution) and rethinking the part of other parts: including parts of a
body such as hands, tongues, ears, arms, but also parts of a shared world
of matter, a world that matters, such as stones. To return to a hopeful
sentiment: when willfulness has priority, we can and do wander away from
the subject of will, and by wandering away, we take her with us.
Before moving on: is hopefulness more than a returning sentiment? I
have without question approached the materials I have assembled with
a sense of hope, a sense that there is a point to assembling them. Have
I in this process become more hopeful about will, or even more optimis-
tic? One of the key “will phrases” exercised in cultural studies, usually
attributed to Antonio Gramsci, who himself was drawing on a formu-
lation offered by Romain Rolland, is “optimism of the will, pessimism
of the intelligence.”1 I think it would be easy to give this phrase a mislead-
ing translation: as implying optimism in will. Any such optimism might
be a “cruel optimism” as formulated by Lauren Berlant (2011), an attach-
ment to an object that might diminish us: if we assume the will is how
we get out, the will might become how we stay in. Gramsci, however, is
not calling for optimism in the will as if the will could lead us out of the
present, without effort or work. If anything he articulated a skeptical
attitude to what we might call “optimism in optimism,” as well as “opti-
mism in will,” as what might lead to the will to do nothing:
It should be noted that very often optimism is nothing more than a
defense of one’s laziness, one’s irresponsibility, the will to do nothing.
It is also a form of fatalism and mechanicism. One relies on factors
extraneous to one’s will and activity, exalts them, and appears to burn
with sacred enthusiasm. And enthusiasm is nothing more than the
external adoration of fetishes. A reaction [is] necessary which must
have the intelligence for its point of departure. The only justifiable
enthusiasm is that which accompanies the intelligent will, intelligent
activity, the inventive richness of concrete initiatives which change
existing reality. ([1975] 1992, 12)2

In other words, Gramsci is calling for us to be willing something actively

and with intelligence or thought, asking us to orientate ourselves toward
the future we hope to bring about, to work with others toward an actual-
ization of a possibility, on concrete initiatives. If Gramsci warns against
retreating into wishful thinking, then willful thinking might be what is
being called for. I would hesitate to describe this call as optimism in the
willful; but perhaps willfulness is an optimistic relation, a way of holding
on, of not giving up.

Parting Gifts
As I pointed out in the previous chapter, willfulness has a specific his-
tory within law, and although it has been described by legal scholars as a
“chameleon-like term” it is used to describe the nature of a criminal act.
Willfulness is used in law primarily as an adverb (a word that qualifies
the meaning of a verb, that is, a word that denotes a kind of action). A
willful action is one that is intentional, one that is done “with bad pur-
pose” and in full knowledge of the law. I think we can understand imme-
diately then the risks of affirming willfulness, even if we take the word
away from the scene of a crime. Willfulness tends to imply a particular
kind of subject, one that has intentions and knows her intentions. Rosi

174 Conclusion
Braidotti evokes this risk of making the willful subject into the subject
of feminist politics: “I am very resistant to a position of willful denial of
something feminists know perfectly well: that identity is not just voli-
tion: that the unconscious structures our sense of identity through a se-
ries of vital (even when they are lethal they are vital) identifications that
affect one’s situation in reality. Feminists must know better than to con-
fuse, to merrily mix up willful choice—political volition—with uncon-
scious desire” ([1994] 2011, 163). There is some irony in evoking perfectly
knowing feminists when arguing for the limitations of what we can know
about ourselves. Nevertheless, Braidotti exposes how focusing on politi-
cal volition or willful choice can be problematic given the assumption of
a knowing subject: of a subject who knows how she feels, what she wants,
and even who she is. One of my aims in assembling a willfulness archive
has been to give willfulness a different and perhaps more affective politi-
cal history. Although I have not evoked the unconscious as structuring in
quite the way Braidotti describes,3 I have shown how will and willfulness
are bound up with struggle and resistance between different parts of a
subject, as well as between subjects. Furthermore, assembling a willful-
ness archive has allowed me to show how some forms of political volition
are understood as willful because they pulse with desire, a desire that is
not directed in the right way; a willful will would have failed to acquire
the right form, failed to have coordinated and unified disparate impulses
into a coherent intent. Somewhat ironically, then, following willfulness
around is one way we can move toward a more impulsive, less intentional
model of subjectivity.
We know from our shared collective histories of struggle that many
acts of resistance are not intentional acts: to think these histories through
willfulness risks making an intentional subject into the subject that mat-
ters. Even though willfulness is evocative of intentionality, or is even a
form of hyper-intentionality, willfulness can bypass intentionality. I have
noted throughout this book how willful subjects are not necessarily indi-
vidual persons: anything can be attributed as willful if it gets in the way of
the completion of an action that has been agreed; and when an agreement
is shared, willfulness too becomes a shared assumption. In chapter 3, I
introduced the idea of the “willful part,” the part that does submit its will
to the will of the whole, or even the part that refuses to become part of a
whole. A willful part “comes apart.” Here I want to think of this coming
apart of the willful part as a “parting gift”; willfulness can be a gift given,
a gift relayed between parts, a gift that allows noncompliant or resistant

A Call to Arms 175

action to be carried out without intent. Recall Mr. P whom I introduced in
chapter 2 in my discussion of Ribot’s Diseases of the Will. Mr. P: whose will
is found wanting. Mr. P cannot command his hands to sign over the deeds
to his house. Perhaps a “wanting will” gives its “want” to other parts. Per-
haps it is Mr. P’s hand that is willful, that is reluctant, a hand that refuses
to be handy, that does not support an action Mr. P may consciously intend
but not want. Is disobedience possible as a gifting of want from part to
part? Does the hand resist by obeying another command that the subject
is unable or not ready to make?
Parts of a body in becoming willful might allow bodies not to do what
they are supposed to do. Take the example of how female protest is rep-
resented in Jane Eyre. Jane appears to readers in the first instance as a
fearful and submissive child, but one who is still judged as willful by her
extended family, as a way of justifying the instruments of fear. Eventu-
ally Jane protests against the cruelty of her family, and her protestation
is used as yet more evidence of her willful character, of how she causes
the violence directed against her. We have witnessed this again and again:
willfulness becomes a character diagnosis for those who do not adjust to
the situation in which they find themselves, a diagnosis that endangers
the child. Jane in the opening scenes of the novel, in the grim scenes
of her childhood, struggles to speak back to her tyrannical aunt. Even-
tually Jane snaps. But she only speaks when her tongue seems to ac-
quire a will of its own: “I say scarcely voluntary for it seemed as if my
tongue pronounced words without my will consenting to their utter-
ance” ([1847] 1999, 21). A rebellious action does not always feel inten-
tional. If our tongues can acquire will by speaking without consent, then
we can be willful without being intentional. Our tongues can disobey
for us, as a way of being impulsive, a way of summoning an impulse, a
summoning which then, perhaps only retrospectively, is given the form
of intent. When we are thinking about the part of willful parts, then,
we are thinking of the ways in which willing against what has acquired
momentum might require “party” support. A willful part might give its
will to other parts in the very refusal to obey: a willful gift as a feminist
gift, as a queer gift.
Those deemed the limbs of the social body might depend on being given
agency by their own limbs. Remember Gwendolyn from Daniel Deronda
who hesitates rather than throws the rope quickly to Grandcourt? I im-
plied in chapter 2 that her hands were involved in this hesitation. We do
not as readers have an account of the event of Grandcourt’s drowning

176 Conclusion
other than when Gwendolyn narrates the event to Daniel Deronda. As
she narrates, her hands become communicative: “Her hands which had
been so tightly clenched some minutes before were now helplessly relaxed
and trembling on the arm of her chair” ([1876] 1995, 690). Perhaps it is her
hands that are telling the story: the hands becoming mouth, the organ of
a speech, a willful becoming. And if the hands tell the story, the hands are
in the story; they are the ones who do not throw the rope, even if throw-
ing the rope is the right thing to do: “I think I did not move. I kept my
hands tight” (696). Gwendolyn’s hands are not the organ of rebellious ac-
tion in quite the way that Jane Eyre’s tongue appears to be. Gwendolyn is
the one who seems willing: if she keeps her hands tight, they are not tight
of their own accord. But her hands participate: they allow her not to carry
out the action. If they stay tight, she does not move. Gwendolyn’s hands
could thus be understood as willful parts: her tight hands are obeying an-
other command, a counter-will, a willful will, a will that is not willing to
obey the social command that tells her that to save his life, his life as a life,
as any life, is the right thing to do.
Of course it is not simply or only that willful parts are on the side
of resistance, or on the side of those who are resisting or even that re-
sistance is always right even when or if we judge a right as a wrong.4 It
is fascinating to note how the body part “comes up” as a sinister figure
precisely insofar as it has “a will of its own.” Something is sinister when
it is prompted by ill will or malice. The word derives from the Latin for
“on the left,” implying the slower or weaker hand.5 In chapter 3, I noted,
following others, how one history of prosthetics is the history of the res-
toration of the functional capacity of the worker’s body, a means through
which the disabled worker can remain a willing part. A whole body is a
more useful part of the social body. A will to become whole is a will to
become part of a whole. Political rebellion might require becoming un-
willing to be able, or perhaps becoming an “indifferent member.”6
The history of prosthetics is also full of more wayward stories: artificial
arms that do not do what they are told. Who cannot but think of the film
Dr. Strangelove (1964, dir. Stanley Kubrick) in which Dr. Strangelove’s arm
keeps willfully coming up into an unintended Nazi salute? He has to fight
to keep the arm down; the arm betrays him. Narratives of transplanted
limbs that retain the will of the body from which they have parted are cen-
tral in the history of cinema. The short silent film The Thieving Hand (1908,
dir. J. Stuart Blackton) is about a beggar who is given the arm of a thief,
an arm that has a hand that keeps thieving despite the good intentions of

A Call to Arms 177

the beggar, only in the end to reattach itself to the one-armed criminal.
This arm would be experienced by the beggar as having a “will of its own”
insofar as it retains the will of the former body (the arm even if detached
from the body is attached by will). Alison Landsberg usefully describes
this arm as prosthetic memory, noting how even if the arm implies that
memories can be transported, the arm by its own accord, returns to its
“rightful owner” (2004, 239). This story of willful body parts (willful in
part because they retain the will of the body from which they have parted
company) is also central to the horror film Body Parts (1991, dir. Eric Red)
in which three people who have lost limbs in car accidents are given the
limbs of a dead serial killer. One, a criminal psychologist, in acquiring the
serial killer’s arm now has an arm that wants to kill him. The arm willfully
carries the intent of the dead serial killer, literalizing the threat of willful-
ness as the intending of harm to the body.
Thinking of these horrifying narratives of murderous body parts could
return us to the affective quality of our most grim Grimm story. The image
of the arm coming out of the grave has been much repeated in the horror
genre: who could not be reminded of the ending of the film Carrie (1976,
dir. Brian de Palma), based on the novel by Stephen King. Harold Schech-
ter makes a direct comparison between the portrait of willfulness in the
film and the Grimm fable, pointing to the similarities in their endings: “As
for the image of the arm protruding from the ground, the image which
accompanies the tale in the Pantheon edition of Grimm’s—a line drawing
of a grave with the dead girls hand jutting out of it—might almost be a
storyboard sketch for the climatic sequence of Carrie” (1984, 69). Perhaps
this comparison helps us to be affected by the terror and horror of the
Grimm story, if we needed help (though we probably do not).
We should not assume willful parts are friendly or somehow on our
side. In some cases, such as Carrie’s arm or the arm in the grim Grimm
story, the part seems to express the willfulness of a body, by keeping the
threat of willfulness alive after death. The arm thus takes the place of a
body. In other cases, when a part has a will of its own, it parts company
from the body of which it is a part, and turns against that body. Willful
parts are in these cases far from a companion species (Haraway 2003).
But this capacity to part company from, and even to turn against, a
whole, is what willful parts can give to the whole, like Jane Eyre’s tongue,
by summoning up what cannot be given form as intent.
To explore parting gifts as willful gifts I turn to Sara Maitland’s magi-
cal queer feminist novel, Home Truths, a novel which explores questions

178 Conclusion
of female will and desire by taking up the part of the part.7 The story:
Clare is in a relationship with a man David who offers her (or seems to
offer her) security in exchange for freedom. She does not want to be
with him: but she is with him. Up on a mountain in South Africa, some-
thing happens (something that Clare cannot remember even by the end
of the novel) and she loses two things: David and her right hand. Much of
the narrative involves her effort to remember what happens and the diffi-
culty of her relationship to her new prosthetic hand. She joins her family
on holiday, and the prosthetic hand becomes an object of shared atten-
tion, especially for her niece Lucy, who is deaf and involved in a battle
with her parents over another prosthetic: a hearing aid.
We begin with a parting hand: “They cut off her right hand and it was
left behind when she left Africa” (1994, 5). But Clare in returning home
is given a new hand, an electronic one, by her mother Hester who is busy
coping with her daughter’s trauma by trying to be handy: “Almost be-
fore Clare had realized that she had lost her hand, Hester had completed
her researches into amputations and artificial limbs and arranged the
best possible treatment for Clare. Clare was now the lucky possessor of a
state-of-the-art myeloelectric prosthesis” (7). Right from the beginning
Clare encounters this new hand with suspicion, as a stranger. She places
this hand within a genealogy of monsters: “Physiotherapy, learning to
use her new hand, forced her to recognise what had happened to her and
at the same time made it difficult to distinguish what was real and what
was imagination. The real owner of her electronic prosthesis, her new
hand, was a bright young computer wizard. She tried not to think of him
as Dr. Frankenstein, and of The Hand itself as Frankenstein’s monster,
yearning, angry and malevolent” (9). The hand is experienced as an alien
thing, not only as not part of the body, but as harming that body. In her
reflections on prosthetics in Carnal Thoughts, Vivian Sobchack discusses
how they are meant to recede, becoming incorporated into the body:
“The prosthetic becomes an object only when there is a mechanical or so-
cial problem that pushes it obtrusively into the foreground of one’s con-
sciousness” (2004, 211).8 When a prosthetic does not recede, it becomes
a willful part, what intrudes into consciousness. Clare begins to address
the hand as The Hand, as a willful part that refuses to become part of her
body. The sinister nature of the artificial hand is associated in the novel
with it being self-willed, or having a life and a will of its own: “Involun-
tarily her right hand which was not hers but belonged to the hospital
or worse still to itself, clenched and flexed” (20). When her hand has a

A Call to Arms 179

will of its own, Clare’s own movements become involuntary. Clare has to
exercise her will to stop her hand from moving: “With an act of will Clare
stopped the instinctive withdrawal of her right arm into hiding under
the table” (68). The Hand will not submit to her will. It is not experienced
as a companionable or friendly part. Even when The Hand accomplishes
something, it makes Clare feel uncomfortable:
She looked at The Hand. There was no reason, no reason why it
shouldn’t shoot; in fact there was a good reason why it should, steady
and unfaltering. . . . The Hand did not pull in the old sense. Its mecha-
nisms gave her a stronger pincer in place of a thumb and an index
finger. Years ago, in this very field, she had been taught, “Don’t pull,
squeeze,” which had always seemed impossible. Now at last she could
obey the instruction. With her will, rather than her sense of touch she
pulled the trigger. The Hand was better at this than her own hand had
been. Now she could shoot smoothly. (94)

Even in this case, when The Hand obeys her will, when it accomplishes a
task, it does not “feel” like it is being helpful: “The Hand loved the rifle,
wanted to shoot, wanted to blast, destroy” (95). The Hand’s capacities be-
come harmful desires. What do we learn from the very sinister mode of
the Hand’s appearance? In one instance, Clare likens what her relation-
ship with The Hand is supposed to be like to what her own relationship
was like with David: “She had been his puppet. The Hand was supposed
to be her puppet, but it wasn’t” (215). The Hand refuses to become what
Clare was: a willing part, a part that submits its will to the will of another.
Indeed, the language of will is exercised to describe the relationship
between Clare and David: “She had tried to resist him, but his will was
stronger than she was” (167). Note that his will is not described as stron-
ger than her will but as stronger than she is. Evoking Daniel Deronda,
masculinity is understood not only as a mode of power but in terms of
“brute” strength of will. For Clare we learn also that David was himself a
substitute: a way of not falling in love with a woman, of not being carried
away from the safety of convention by her own desire.
It is important to remember here that The Hand is a substitute for a
missing part. What can we say about that missing part? Not only is her
hand missing; so too is David. Clare admits right from the beginning that
she wanted David to be missing. Again: we have an echo of the narrative
of Daniel Deronda; a female character wondering whether to want the
death of another is to be responsible for that death: “she had wanted him

180 Conclusion
dead and he was dead” (5). It is worth noting that Home Truths refers to
Daniel Deronda. It is the book that Clare’s father happens to be reading,
a secondhand copy, a worn copy that reveals the trace of past readings
on the material of its spine: “Her father was reading Daniel Deronda. His
copy was a paperback, not new, the orange spine shot through with deli-
cate white traceries from previous readings” (224).
Daniel Deronda: a book that changed hands.9 A copy of a book can be
secondhand: touched by the hands that have turned its pages, as the
hands of history. Returning to Gwendolyn’s hands that tighten rather
than move, hands that clench, we might say these hands in not throwing
Grandcourt a line give Gwendolyn a lifeline: freeing her from the death
sentence of her marriage. Does Home Truths say what was unsayable in
Daniel Deronda not only because of the limits of genre, and what it was
possible to articulate in the time of its time, but because of Eliot’s own
commitment to a moral order? Women might need to change hands to
liberate themselves from the scripts of gender. When hands change,
women can stop being helpful hands: women can become willful, parting
company. If Clare loses both her partner and her hand on the mountain,
it is not then that they are positioned in a relation of equivalence; it is
not that as missing members they are the same members. On the con-
trary, the implication is that her lost hand might itself have had a hand
in David’s disappearance. The right hand, most often evoked as the hand
that allows a person to be helpful (a good secretary is like a right hand),
might be the willful hand. It is not clear if the hand is guilty, whether
David’s death was caused by the hand. But if his death was not an ac-
cident, if Clare was involved, perhaps the hand rather than Clare did it.
Clare thinks: “If she had killed David she had done it with the hand that
was no longer there” (289). But then a second thought: “The me that is
here didn’t kill David—but that hand may well have done” (290). If the
hand did it, the hand committed a misdeed.
The Hand is, at the same time, a willing replacement of a willful part.
And yet Clare experiences The Hand as willful: she wears it against her
will and it appears to act against her will. But does she, does it? She takes
the hand off: “If it hurt, the nerves of her arm would instruct The Hand
to clench or twist. Trying to remove an inanimate object which flexes
and shifts was bizarre and humiliating. Tonight Clare was convinced The
Hand had set its own will against hers. She hated it. She decided that she
would never wear it again, and then she remembered the shame” (153). If
the hand is experienced as a willful part, we learn why Clare was willing

A Call to Arms 181

to wear it. The Hand is how she avoids shame, the shame of an impedi-
ment, of disability, of having lost a limb. The Hand is a way of appearing
whole, of not seeming broken. The Hand in this sense is a willing rather
than willful part: it promises to make Clare into a whole body, to be a
useful and able member of the social body.
It is Alice, Clare’s niece who is deaf, who falls in love with The Hand.
For Alice, the hearing aid, which she is forced to wear by her parents, is
what is sinister. Her mother wants Alice to talk; the aid is intended to
make Alice part of the family, able to participate in family discourse. So
while Clare thinks the aid and The Hand are alike, Alice experiences them
as very different: “Clare had also said that The Hand and the hearing aid
were alike, but Clare was wrong. The hearing aid was horrible; through
it came a distracting noise, summons from another world; huge in her
head, but without meaning, disruptive. The Hand was lovely. They could
play together. She wanted it. It wanted her, it told her so” (217). Alice
wants to swap the hearing aid for The Hand. The aid tries to make her
part of a hearing family; The Hand speaks to her by letting her be deaf:
Alice loved The Hand. She had dreamed it in the night although she
did not know or use the vocabulary of dreams. She loved The Hand and
the Hand loved her. . . . Now she picked up The Hand, the wonderful
toy which used the same language as she did, and engaged in her first
imaginary conversation talking to it in Sign and receiving its responses.
The Hand, it told her, spoke only in Hand, Hand was its name for her
language, the language of Sign. Hand was for The Hand not a transla-
tion of another language but its very own. It was like her. (216)
The Hand is not an ear; it does not try and make Alice be like people who
can hear. The Hand signs: it communicates with signs.10 The Hand for
Alice is a willful part; letting Alice not be all ears, because it is willing to
lend a hand to her signing. A willful part can give a part a will of its own
by allowing that part not to submit to the will of the whole.
The hearing aid for Alice and The Hand for Clare are willing parts
insofar as they promise to make Alice and Clare into more functional
parts of the social body, giving them back what they are assumed to
have lost. One of the most poignant aspects of the novel is the affinity it
shows developing between Alice and Clare:
The affinity she felt for Alice was deep, though untested. Even so, could
it be right to assist Alice, to assist a five-year-old in hiding something

182 Conclusion
that her mother was convinced was good for her? It was too risky; she
did not know enough. Felicity was angry with her already. Unwillingly
she picked it up. It was clumsier than The Hand and equally artificial.
The box, the canvas body strap, the ear moulds; and the unmistakable
marks of deafness. Yet it joined Alice to the hearing world as precisely
as The Hand joined her to the world of limbedness. (240)
Alice and Clare acquire an affinity in not missing a working member: in
not wanting to be joined to the worlds they are cut off from. Perhaps
you have to become willful not to aim to be rejoined. Willfulness then
becomes a cutoff point: given expression as the freedom to part. Clare
recognizes that she needs to lend her Hand to Alice, nay, give her that
Hand, assisting Alice in a project of becoming free from the unwanted
assistance of a hearing aid. And this is the parting gift of the novel. Clare
gives The Hand to Alice: a willful gift that not only gives Alice permis-
sion not to hear but the freedom to sign. And in giving away The Hand,
Clare willingly accepts the absence of her own hand: she lets go of her
hand (perhaps has to let the hand go, before it can be gone); she lets her
member be missing. A willful gift to another can be replayed as a willful
gift to oneself. In this relaying of will between parts we learn how we can
become willful with and through others.
Not to aim to restore a missing part can still involve missing that part.
Or if you feel its absence, if you recognize the body you had as not being
the body you have, it does not follow that you long for the hand to return.
Ann Oakley in her reflections on her experience of fracturing her arm
emphasizes how it feels not to be able to feel through her limbs. So while
the doctors focus on the “the bent fingers, the crooked arm, and the state
of [her] scar,” what is important to her is that “a significant part of my
right hand remains almost completely without sensation” (2007, 20).11
She has to learn to treat the arm “like a dependent child” (20). To fracture
a body is to become more conscious of the body in a different way or as
a different way. Ann Oakley’s memoir reads not only as a personal story
of how it feels to inhabit a body that is broken but as an ode to hands.
In the chapter “The Right Hand,” she notes: “Hands perform around a
thousand different functions every day. It is with arms and hands that
we feel, dress, perform skills, explore our body, and contact persons and
things about us” (46). She shows us how an appreciation of a limb’s ca-
pacities when those capacities are lost does not necessarily aim to restore
what has been lost. Even if Oakley admits that she still minds the loss

A Call to Arms 183

of the hand she “had before,” her writing enacts a process of coming to
terms with a different body. To recognize what a body is missing can be
to adjust the image you have of your own body and thus your perception
of the bodies of others: “Not many people get to middle-age without vari-
ous bits missing,” she notes (25). Given that bodily integrity is often “a
moral as well as physical quality” (25), to accept a body with parts that are
missing is to reorientate our relation to bodies.
There is a promise in reorientation. Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals
is another memoir that describes how it feels to inhabit a broken body.
Lorde describes with acute detail how it feels to wake up after a mastec-
tomy, to the gradual realization through the fog of tranquilizers that her
“right breast is gone,” and of the increasing pain in her chest wall: “My
breast which was no longer there would hurt as if it were being squeezed
in a vise. That was perhaps the worst pain of all, because it would come
with a full compliment that I was to be forever reminded of my loss by
suffering in a part of me which was no longer there” ([1980] 2007, 37–38).
It is not only that we can suffer an absence but what is absent can suf-
fer. The Cancer Journals also offers an account of the willfulness required
not to wear a prosthesis in the place of a missing breast.12 Once when
she goes to the surgery the nurse comments, “You’re not wearing a pros-
thesis,” to which Lorde replies, “It really doesn’t feel right.” The nurse
responds: “You will feel so much better with it on,” and then, “It’s bad for
the morale of the office” (60). Not to wear a prosthesis, not to cover over
an absence, is deemed to compromise the happiness of others. Audre
Lorde’s response to this demand is not only anger but a call for action:
“What would happen if an army of one-breasted women descended on
Congress and demanded that the use of carcinogenic, fat-stored hor-
mones in beef-feed be outlawed?” she asks (14–15). I will return to this
imagining of a rather queer army.
A willful politics might involve a refusal to cover over what is missing,
a refusal to aspire to be whole. A will duty often takes the form of an aspi-
ration: even for bodies that are not able to be whole, they must be willing
to aspire to be whole. There can be nothing more willful than the refusal
to be aspirational, or at least, to refuse to aspire for the right things in
the right way, a refusal to miss what you deemed to be missing. Carrie
Sandahl, drawing on the work of Robert McRuer, among others, teases
out the “affinities and tensions” between crip and queer (1993, 26).13 Per-
haps a queer crip affinity might be possible when you share what you
are not missing. A queer crip politics might allow the body deemed not

184 Conclusion
whole to be revealed, a revelation that might be registered as a willful
obtrusion into social consciousness (“bad for morale”). Or a queer crip
politics might allow a prosthetic to become willful, not to recede by cov-
ering over something that is missing, or by becoming a functional part,
but standing out, standing apart. Disability activism has indeed made
prosthetics into aesthetics, as we can witness in the “alternative limb”
project, in which limbs exceed function, becoming art.14 One alternative
limb that caught my attention was a “snake arm,” a prosthetic arm that
coils like a snake, a coil that might even return us to the willful affinity
between woman and animal, as those behind the fall from grace, as those
whose wills were found wanting. An arm can become a willful gift.

Stones Matter
Thinking of politics through parting gifts provides a way of moving
beyond the assumption of an intentional subject of will, as well as a way
of considering how willfulness can travel between parts that are not
whole or that refuse to become whole. It has been one of my commit-
ments in writing this book not to assume a subject as behind the will.
We might call this subject “human.” And yet many of my examples, even
if they have found agency in parts that wander away from wholes, parts
that leave holes in the whole, or parts that are themselves holey, do seem
in some way or another to relate to humans (although they may also
imply a cripping and queering of the human, how some become other
than human by not approximating the right or whole form). In chapter
1, I did consider how objects become willful when they refuse to provide
residence for human will, using examples of pots and jugs that break.
But even these objects are objects shaped for or by human intention, as
shaped by what they are assumed as for (even if they, willfully, come before
this for).
What about other matters?15 I want to return now to the example of
stones, mentioned in my discussion of Augustine’s account of will in the
introduction to this book. Can stones be willful objects? I chose stones
for a reason. The history of will is full of stones. Even if the stones appear
quite differently when they appear, the constancy of their appearance
does create quite an impression: a stony impression.
If we follow the stones, we can travel differently along the path of
will. Take Augustine. For Augustine the stone matters insofar as it does
not have a will of its own: the “movement of the will” is similar to “the

A Call to Arms 185

downward movement of the stone” but “the stone has no power to check
its downward movement, but the soul is not moved to abandon higher
things and love inferior things unless it wills to do so” (On the Free Choice
of Will, 3.1.72). The stones here are the other of will; they become not-
will insofar as they have no checking power. Will is the power not to be
compelled by an external force, or by gravity. Will is the power to stop.
A stone if flung will fall, and cannot, according to Augustine, stop itself
from falling; this incapacity to check a downward movement shows that
the stone has no will of its own.
Why stone? Why stones and not another kind of object? Perhaps the
stone already figures within human culture: to be stone-like is to be hard
and immovable as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen describes in his moving “Stories
of Stone” (2010). Or perhaps stones become the objects asked to do this
work because our landscape is littered with stones: stones are available;
they are around; they surround. Stones are assumed to be stationary,
such that if they move, it is assumed they are moved by something other
than themselves. I might pick you up and throw you. If you fall there,
it is because of how you are thrown. Stones are hapless or maybe they
are hapfull: things happen to them; but they don’t make things happen.
We might imagine it would be sad to be a stone: always thrown, never
throwing. Stones, we might assume, are shaped by forces of nature, and
even take the shape of those forces. A stone on the beach, perhaps even a
pebble (Ahmed 2006, 187), glistens from the water. It receives the waves
that pound against it, creating and re-creating a surface. You can feel its
smoothness as a trace of where it has been.
Perhaps stones come to embody what is passive, what is capable of
receiving an impression. To receive an impression can be to make an im-
pression. The stones leave an impression upon our hands when we touch
them. Perhaps touching is assumed too quickly as our gift. Perhaps we
forget how our hands can be shaped by stones. Perhaps stones become
useful characters in the play of human will because it is assumed they
require human hands to become more significant than being just stones,
requiring hands to become tools, to be given a purposeful shape, as the
shape of human intention. We should remember, for instance, that the
word “hammer” derives from stone. It is as if stones are just there, wait-
ing for humans, to be given an end or purpose, to be given an assign-
ment, something to do. In imagining this waiting around, we might be
thinking of ourselves as purposeful, as given something to the stones: an
occupation, no less. Stones are, in the house of philosophy, the philoso-

186 Conclusion
pher’s hammer. Acquiring the meaning of matter, they become “not will,”
what requires the will of another for completion. It is not that stones
are these things. They are after all moving around quite a lot in being as-
sumed to be stationary. They contradict the assignment in fulfilling the
assignment. They are certainly hard at work in Augustine, giving him the
shape of what we are not. If the not holds its place, it does so by moving
Stones too often become the strangers, whose task is to reveal not
only what we are not but what we are not like. They become examples
of willessness (a word we almost have to invent to signify the absence of
will). But the placeholder is not held in quite the same place. Take Spi-
noza, a philosopher who contrasts with Augustine as one who does not
argue for free will. A contrasting set of beliefs, but the stone still appears.
Spinoza’s stone is a rather queer stone. For in thinking of the stone, Spi-
noza gives us a story of a thinking stone. “Now this stone since it is con-
scious only of its endeavour [conatus] and is not at all indifferent, will
surely think that it is completely free, and that it continues in motion for
no other reason than it so wishes” (cited in Sharpe 2011, 65).16 Say the
stone is falling. If a stone could think, Spinoza suggests, it would think
of itself as a willing stone, as the origin of its movement, as able to stop
and start at will. Oh how the wrong the stone would be! How wishful and
willful but how wrong! That is not, however, Spinoza’s point: to expose
the error of a thinking stone. He intends this stone to expose human
error: if there is humiliation in the story it belongs to the humans not
the stones. Spinoza aims in throwing a stone into a letter to expose the
error of human will (an error that Nietzsche would later tie to the general
error of causality). Spinoza: “This, then, is that human freedom which all
men boast of possessing, and which consist solely in this, that men are
conscious of their desire and unaware of the causes by which they are
determined” (cited in Sharpe 2011, 65). The thinking stone is certainly
used to exemplify what I am calling willessness, but in order to create a
new kinship: a kinship premised on the absence of will, on the common
state of being determined from without. Freedom here requires con-
sciousness of being determined, perhaps a kind of stony consciousness,
a consciousness that movement comes from what we are not is how we
acquire self-knowledge.
If we can think the queerness of a thinking stone, we might not need
to travel far to reach the queerness of a willing stone. Willing would matter
not as the causing of an action but as the feeling of being the cause, or even

A Call to Arms 187

the feeling that accompanies what Spinoza called conatus, perseverance in
being. This is exactly Schopenhauer’s angle on Spinoza’s thinking stone.
He writes: “Spinoza says that if a stone projected through the air had
consciousness, it would imagine it was flying of its own free will. I add
merely that the stone would be right” ([1818] 1966a, 126). Schopenhauer
is not in suggesting the stone is right (rather than humans are wrong)
positing a model of the free will as self-originating movement. Rather
the will becomes something everything has: another kind of kinship, a
stony kinship. Schopenhauer explains: “The will proclaims itself just as
directly in the fall of a stone as in the action of a man. The difference is
only that its particular manifestation is brought about in the one case by
a motive, in the other by a mechanically acting cause” ([1819] 1966b, 299).
Schopenhauer’s will is far removed from what we would recognize as will
in an everyday sense. As Deleuze describes, Schopenhauer, in making
the will into the very “essence of things” (2006, 77), perverts the course
of will by taking an old philosophy to a new extreme (though of course
there are other older philosophies of will such as offered by Lucretius
discussed in my introduction that anticipate Schopenhauer’s perversion
of will).
So why does Schopenhauer describe the fall of the stone as will if it
is brought about not by motive but by a “mechanically acting cause”?
He is suggesting that motivation can be thought of as determination.
Will is a sphere of internal determination. Schopenhauer relates this dis-
tinction between motivation and mechanical causation to gradations of
being: humans and stones are not different in being but are “higher” and
“lower” grades of being ([1819] 1966a, 149). He is implying that mechani-
cal causation is more complex than simple determination from without
(recall that writers such as Ribot, discussed in chapter 2, relate will to
irritability, understood as reaction, as the capacity to be affected from
without). For Schopenhauer even a stone has impulses: an “impulse for
it” is what “the motive is for me” (126). An impulse is what “in the case of
the stone appears as cohesion, gravitation, rigidity” (126). For Schopen-
hauer the stone has something to do with what happens to the stone: the
“quality” of a stone is what we would call “character” in a person (126).
The stones, in other words, have tendencies. How they fall is determined
as much by their tendencies as by the arm that throws them. We might
pick up stones to do certain things because of what stones are like: they
have qualities of their own, on their own (ownness here registers what
makes something be the thing that it is in this or that moment of a tra-

188 Conclusion
jectory), such that we turn to them for this but not for that. I might not
sleep on you because you are too hard; I might throw you because you are
not too soft. The “too-ness” of course refers to the qualities of something
only in relation to actions that I might or might not perform. But we
learn that actions involve judgments about the qualities of things in the
world. Actions are successful if we judge rightly, a judgment that reaches
things, touches things, and shows how we are touched by things. To act
requires being in touch with the world.
Stones might be willing, or not. At one level, stones appear as willful,
insofar as willfulness is often related to being obstinate and unyielding.
But of course its hardness, its tendencies, allows us to do certain things.
We might assume the stone as a willing participant if we use the stone as
a hammer: our hammering might depend on the stone; our will might be
distributed across a field of action that includes the stone. But we should
not find agency only in agreement. That is an-all-too human tendency
that I have been grappling with throughout this book: to assume yes as a
sign of being willing, a sign that is taken up as the giving of permission
to proceed. This is one way we tend to go wrong. It is not that from the
point of view of the hammer, everything is nail, but that the hammer is
already a human point of view. The hammer is stone given the form of
human intention. Perhaps stones are willing inasmuch as what they do
not let us do; in how they resist our intentions. They can be checking
powers, reminders that the world is not waiting to receive our shape.
Perhaps then, they grab our attention. We might need to lose the ham-
mer to find the stone.17
And we too can become stone. Think of the “stone butch” in lesbian
queer history: a history of those who become unyielding as a way of
surviving, a history of those who might have to protect themselves by
becoming stone. Here the stone becomes a willful gift, a quality we can
assume. And if we think of ourselves as stony we are not simply bringing
the stones back to ourselves. We are showing how human bodies cannot
be made exceptional without losing something: how we matter by being
made of matter; flesh, bone, skin, stone, tangled up, tangled in. The en-
tanglement of stone and skin matters: skin too, skin like stone, is capable
of receiving impressions. Damage can be understood as a form of recep-
tion. Audre Lorde once wrote: “In order to withstand the weather, we had
to become stone, and now we bruise ourselves upon the other who is clos-
est” (1984, 160). It would be hard to overestimate the power of Lorde’s
description. Social forms of oppression, racism, the hatred that creates

A Call to Arms 189

some bodies as strangers, can be experienced as weather. They press and
pound against the surface of a body; a body can surface or survive by
hardening. For some bodies to stand is to withstand. Or, as I described
in chapter 4, sometimes you can only stand up by standing firm. Willful-
ness helps us to describe the unequal distribution of material as well as
social standing. But a stone too can be more and less hard. Hardening
does not eliminate what made hardening seem necessary: that sense of
being too soft, too receptive, too willing to receive an impression. Hard-
ness is a relative condition even when we try and relate differently to a
condition. What we become to withstand can become something that
hardens us from others, those who might be closest, who might too have
to survive the weather. We can damage each other in how we survive
being damaged.
Stone and skin: softer and harder histories, material histories of bod-
ies and worlds. Is a stone a willful inheritance? I began this book with
a story of a willful child. We could relate her story to the story of will-
ful stones. This story is a Christian parable, equally grim as our Grimm
story. In the parable the stones, really, are us. But I am going to dehu-
manize the story and let the stones be stones. The story:
The kingdom of God is like a house which a certain man began to
build. He had very good blueprints of an excellent plan. He poured a
foundation and started placing choice stones on the foundation where
his plan called for them to be. As the house started to take shape,
some of the stones became dissatisfied with the positions in which the
master builder had placed them. They began to shift themselves into
new positions, according to their own ideas of how the house should
be built. Many of them dragged other stones with them into their
new positions. Soon, instead of one perfect house, there were many
smaller, unevenly spaced houses which more closely resembled mere
piles of rocks. Some of the new piles were not even on the founda-
tion at all; instead they called to the others to be more open minded
about their positioning. The other piles adamantly insisted that each
of them was more closely aligned with the master builder’s original
plan, and that all who were not joined with them were not part of
the same building. When the man saw these stones had aligned them-
selves differently, he took hold of them and pulled on them to move
them back in line with his blueprints. Each stone he touched stead-
fastly refused to be moved. Though he pushed and pulled and worked

190 Conclusion
very hard, those stones were convinced that they had come up with
a much better design. At last, he grasped a rod of iron which he kept
nearby and smashed the recalcitrant stones into powder. The powder
was then cleared away and mixed with the cement which was to fill
in the cracks between the newer stones which the builder brought to
replace them.18

Willful stones do not stay in the right place, the place assumed as divine
or, in my reading, as human. They move around. That their movement
begins with dissatisfaction tells us something. The point of stones we
might assume is to be satisfied by the place we have assigned them. They
participate in creating a dwelling for us. We might even say they are will-
ing. If we build a house, we might assume we have their agreement. But
when the stones do not stay in place, they bring our walls down. Willful
stones would be those that bring the walls down. They get in the way of
our purpose; they get in the way of our capacity to create the conditions
we assume necessary for survival or flourishing. Their unhappiness with
their lot causes our loss of the warmth of shelter. Oh how selfish are they
not to play their part! Houses become piles of rocks, wrong bundles. The
human appears with a rod: he punishes the willful stones, turning them
into dust, as if to lessen the particle is to lessen the capacity to resist. The
human rod straightens things out, forcing the wandering stones back
into their place. The rod as a technology of will assumes might as right;
it might punish the wayward stones for the stones themselves, to give
them a chance of a more meaningful life.
There is a moral to the story: we as humans must be satisfied with
the place we have been given within the divine order. But we can willfully
transform the human moral into a stone pedagogy. We would as dwell-
ers assume the qualities of willfulness. We would relate differently to the
capacity of all things to deviate from the places given as assignments.
Dissatisfaction can be an opening up of things, a gift from things. We
would imagine crooked houses, wonky bundles, assembled from unwill-
ing parts, assembled out of the agency of things that have not agreed
with our own design or purpose. We would be for those who might refuse
our own desire to be with, our desire for company, who might as parts
come apart. A stone pedagogy is another way of describing what willful-
ness has taught me. In treating willfulness as a lesson, I am also making a
commitment to will. The problem with will remains how it can allow us not
to register how things are determined. But the will is also the name we give

A Call to Arms 191

to possibility: the shared condition of not being fully determined from
without, whatever that without; the will as wiggle room, as the room
to deviate, a room kept open by will’s incompletion, a room most often
in human history designated as ruin. To inhabit this ruin is to inhabit
the room of willfulness. We might in the work of this willful inhabitance
create a stony kinship, a kinship of strangers, to return to my reading of
George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Such a kinship would be between those who
have willfully refused to be straightened out, to become points on the
straight line of inheritance. Such a kinship not only embraces the swerve,
as described by Lucretius, and those who follow him most queerly, but
takes up these points of deviation as points of attachment. Willful stones
might even offer us a new beginning, one without blueprint, one in which
the capacity not to be compelled by others is made into the promise of
a queer thing.
The promise of a queer thing: is this not an earthly promise, a way
of accepting a shared inhabitancy of an earth? Is there a willful ecology
being implied here? I think so; I hope so. We could relate a willful ecol-
ogy to the Gaia hypothesis of the earth as a single organism. Let’s think
back to Pascal’s mischievous foot. One way of telling the story of the will-
ful foot might be as a story of the humans who have selfishly forgotten
they are part of the earth, and who in this forgetting have compromised
the health of the whole body. If we affirmed the willful foot, we might
also give permission for humans to be selfish. Whatever my argument
is, it is not about giving any such permission (though I have questioned
how selfishness or self-will can be used as a technique to differentiate
the moral worth of humans). I would translate Pascal’s account of the
mischievous foot into an ecological fable quite differently. It is not that
humans are the foot but that they have treated the earth as the foot, as
the part that must be willing to submit. To make the earth into a foot
is not only to assume that it will become part of the human body, as an
extension or limb, but that the earth must be productive, must support
or carry the whole social body, the body of the occupier. A more ethi-
cal ecological relation would recognize instead the willfulness of nature.
After all, we know from assembling a willfulness archive that willfulness
is an attribution that humans tend to make to whatever gets in the way
of an intent. Nature as the mischievous foot gets in the way: she does not
agree to the human demand for submission; she does not even cope with
this demand. Such an argument is implicit to Isabelle Stengers’s rede-
scription of Gaia not as a healthy organism but “as one who intrudes.” In-

192 Conclusion
deed, Stengers suggests she chose the name Gaia as she “wanted a name
for who we may associate with the notion of intrusion” (2008, 7).19 Intru-
sion: a willful description for what comes back to the body.
An ecological concern would be an invitation to think not only of
humans as parts of a shared world but what follows this thought. The
invitation might be one we can address to parts. Some partnerships are
not a matter of will: they come before a willing subject, as a question of
how we arrive into a world. Partness could be linked to what Hannah
Arendt describes as “natality,” the shared condition of being “newcomers
who are born into the world as strangers” (1958, 9), a condition which for
Arendt is also the promise of a new beginning, of creativity. If to be born
is to become part of a world that has already taken shape, then being
born is also a parting of company: the newborn emerges not only to a
world but from a woman’s body. Partness is here an interval or traveling
between bodies that matter, bodies that are not simply one or singular
wholes. If dwelling within is temporary, then a body, this maternal body,
includes parts that will cease to be part, parts for whom unbecoming a
member is birth not death. In being cut off from a body, in becoming
part of a world with others, we do not just leave what we leave behind
us: bodies too carry traces of where they have been. To become part of a
world can be to restore the promise of this behind as a maternal as well as
a material promise. And of course, not all things emerge in the same way:
a mammalian beginning is one kind of beginning. But if to emerge is to
emerge from, then it is by going back to from, that we can offer a new way
of beginning: perhaps even a new way to begin the thought of beginning.
To begin again: we would need to tell different origin stories of the
human. Perhaps we would not begin with Eve coming from a part of
Adam, but with the wayward parts themselves. Take the story told by
the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles: “Here sprang up many faces
without necks, arms wandered without shoulders, unattached, and eyes
strayed alone, in need of foreheads” (cited in Kirk, Raven, and Schofield
[1957] 1983, 303). We do not need to reattach the strays by assuming parts
as needy. Strays can lead us astray. Wandering parts can wander toward
other parts, creating new fantastic combinations, affinities of matter
that matter. Queer parts are parts of many, parts that in wandering away
create something. We could throw stones too into this most queer mix,
or stones could throw themselves, or we could be thrown by the stones.
If we are to queer the mix, humans would not be assumed as the medi-
ating part: the part to which all other parts must relate. A willful ecology

A Call to Arms 193

would be one that does not require we follow the path of the will to the
same place, one in which hap as well as snap can create room, room for
things to be the things they are with or without other things. A queer rela-
tion offers the freedom of not having a relation, the freedom not to par-
ticipate, not to be connected or stay connected.20 If this is a queer story
of inter-connections, we would find in the hyphen an alternative line, a
way out as well as a way in. To create room means we still have to fight for
preservation; we have to fight for life; we might have to become willful
to keep going; we have to keep coming up, to get in the way of an all-too-
human occupation. And we have to be willing to hear the intrusion of
Gaia, which means being willing to attend to the costs of the generaliza-
tion of human will. Perhaps we can listen to the sound of nature’s feet
when we do not ask nature to be handy.

Becoming Army
Willful parts: hands which are not handy. This book has been full of such
parts, wayward parts: parts that will not budge, that refuse to partici-
pate, parts that keep coming up, when they are not even supposed to be.
I have taken the arm in the Grimm story as a starting point, as a willful
subject, one who has priority, who has helped me to follow a different
path in the history of will.
To hear a phrase as a “call to arms” is to be mobilized by that phrase.
Can we hear the arms in this call? There are two noun versions of the
word “arm.” The first derives from the Old English word for upper limb
(earm), and from the Latin for shoulder (armus): the second derives from
the Old French word “for weapons of a warrior” (armes) and from the
Latin for tools of war (arma). These two senses meet in the idea of a
meeting, as words for that which is fitted together. The arm is a join; to
arm is to join. A call to arms is most often articulated as a call to action;
it is a call to take up one’s arms as tools of war. Can we think of arms as
fleshy limbs as being called?21 Can we put these arms back into the call?
I want to end this book by thinking through and with the fleshiness of
arms (as well as the hands that can become fists as part of this part).
Arms can be willful agents; they create by reaching.22
Political struggle has transformed the arm into a sign for that strug-
gle. The raised arm and the clenched fist are protest signs. Lincoln Cush-
ing (2006) has written a “brief history” of the image of the clenched fist.23
He notes how fist images have been used in numerous political graphic

194 Conclusion
genres including in the French and Soviet Revolutions, by the Black Pan-
ther Party and the United States Communist Party. What can we learn
from its appearance? Cushing notes that initially in these images “the
fist was always part of something—holding a tool or other symbol, part
of an arm or human figure, or shown in action (smashing etc.)” (n.p.).
Cushing suggests that graphic artists from the New Left transformed
this treatment of the fist as part of something: “This ‘new’ fist stood out
with its stark complicity, coupled with a popularly understood meaning
of rebellion and militancy” (n.p.). The fist is not part, not even part of an
arm. It is important to remember the hand of the fist: a fist is typically
defined as a hand closed tightly with the fingers bent against the palm.
The fist is the unhandy hand; when the fingers clench, the hand cannot
grasp, or hold, or be compelled to do something. Even if the arm in previ-
ous images had been a willful part (if acting, the arm was smashing), we
know from our willfulness archive how arms have been called upon to
be supportive parts. An armless fist willfully inherits from a smashing
arm (an arm that might be smashing a stone and a stone that might be
smashing as well as smashed). The radicalism of the fist is also expressed
in how it is cut off, no longer willing to be part, no longer willing to accept
the subordination of its will to the will of the whole.
We could also think of the use of the clenched fist within the women’s
liberation movement, with this image reproduced by the anthology Sis-
terhood Is Powerful. Here the singular fist is contained within the sign of
woman. The clenched fist might be protest against the sign “woman” (by
being in the sign “woman”) as well as re-signifying the hands of feminism
as protesting hands. Feminist hands are not “helping hands” in the sense
they do not help women help. Feminist hands, though, might be helpful in
another way: helping women to protest against being helpers. Of course
as soon as we say that we have to say this: any feminism that can live up
to the promise of that name will not free some women from being help-
ing hands by employing other women to take their place. Feminism—as
with other forms of dissenting politics—needs to refuse this division of
labor, this “freeing up” of the time and energy of some by employing the
limbs of others. If willfulness is a politics that aims for no, then it is a
politics that is not only about the refusal to be supporting limbs but the
refusal of a social body that treats others as supporting limbs.
The clenched fist can speak; it can say no, by refusing to uncurl the
fingers. The fist can snap the bonds of fate. This is not to say we can
or should hear the fist as a no. Raymond Williams suggests that “whilst

A Call to Arms 195

the clenched fist is a necessary symbol the clenching ought never to be
such that the hand cannot open, and the fingers extend, to discover and
give a shape to the newly formed reality” (1983, 335). Before we can cre-
ate, before the fingers can extend, however, the hand must clench, must
stop being a tool for those who treat other beings as tools. Can we offer
a history of revolting hands? In his introduction to A Dying Colonialism,
Adolfo Gilly describes Frantz Fanon’s decolonizing project: “Liberation
does not come as a gift from anybody; it is seized by the masses with their
own hands. And by seizing it they themselves are transformed” (1967, 2,
emphasis added). Revolutionary hands are willful; in not carrying out
commands, they remake the bodies of which they are part. Or think of
Richard Wright’s extraordinary poem “I have seen black hands” ([1934]
1997, 143). Wright does not speak as a hand but to the hands: he speaks
as a black person who has seen black hands. The poem is a testimony to
hands or treats hands as testimony:
I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them
They were tired and awkward and calloused and grimy and covered
with hangnails
And they were caught in the fast-moving belts of machines and snagged
and smashed and crushed. (143)

The black hands are covered in skin that bear the marks of this violence;
they are shaped by violence; they feel this violence. Hands can be tired
out by the demand they give themselves to the owners of the machines.
Hands can be crushed by the machines. The last stanza of the poem is an
image of black hands raised in revolt:
I am black and I have seen black hands
Raised in fists of revolt, side by side with the white fists of white
And some day—and it is only this which sustains me—
Some day there shall be millions and millions of them,
On some red day in a burst of fists on a new horizon! (143)
This image of protest is of the hands of the workers united, white hands
and black hands raised in revolt. Hands in becoming a “burst of fists”
offer a new horizon, one glimpsed in the affective work of the imagina-
tion, as that which can sustain bodies that bear the weight of history.
This image is of many hands, “millions and millions” of hands. If these
hands are joined, they join in protesting the violence against the hands

196 Conclusion
of black and white workers, the violence of profit extracted from labor. If
these hands are raised together, they are reaching for rather than assum-
ing solidarity. They are reaching for the possibility of not being bound,
and they reach for this together.
A fist can become an army. There have been important political mo-
ments when bodies have raised their arms in protest, when bodies have
become arms in protest. Think of John Carlos and Tommie Smith who
both raised an arm in protest, a black power salute, at the Moscow Olym-
pics in 1968, an act that was to have serious consequences for both of
them.24 In raising an arm they become willful arms, suspended for their
“willful disregard for Olympic principles.” One article describes their ac-
tion as “an act of petulance” and as replacing the Olympic motto of “Faster,
Higher, Stronger” with “Angrier, nastier, uglier.”25 We can learn so much
from this replacement: how willfulness can be required not to go along
with what has already been willed, the happiness of the Olympics as the
synchronicity of global time. And we can note again the utility of the
judgment of willfulness as a way of not hearing protest: as if what is be-
hind the action is simply the will to oppose what has been generally willed.
But arms will rise; and we will rise as arms. Of course, the raised arm
and the clenched fist are not only or inherently progressive signs (and
we might want to be cautious of the “progress” in “progressive”). Think
of the Nazi salute. Here the raised arms become like rods, coming up in
line, coming up as line. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone describes how the Nazi
salute makes use of the arms as follows: “A particularly striking example
is the Nazi salute: a dangly arm is briskly and promptly transformed into
a solid mass as it comes up to a diagonal ending position. Not only this,
but there is no hesitation in the upward movement; however flaccid the
arm is to begin with, it is ever ready to rise to the occasion” (1994, 332).
Arms can be a means of creating an alignment when rising is compul-
sory: arms when required to come up in unison can become rods, coming
up as straightening out.
If arms can be brought into line; they can also smash the line. They
can come up at the wrong time, stay down at the wrong time. Arms can
disobey; they can wander away. The wayward arm could be heard as a call
to arms. Perhaps the call sounds differently if the arms are heard as sub-
jects of the call: the call to arms as the call of arms. A call can mean a la-
ment, an accusation; a naming, as well as a visitation (in the sense of a
calling upon). Can we tell queer history as a history of arms? Can we put
the “arms” back into the “miserable army” of the inverted described in

A Call to Arms 197

Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness? Can we hear in the sorrow of their
lament a call? Perhaps to hear this sorrow as a call is to be called into ac-
tion. Queer arms might then participate in bringing the walls down, the
walls that almost contain misery in certain places.
Arms can also matter as the “matter out of place,” to borrow an ex-
pression from the anthropologist Mary Douglas, the sign of an improper
residence ([1966] 2002, 44). If you have the “wrong arms,” it means you
are assumed to be in the wrong place. An example: a butch lesbian enters
the female toilets. The attendant becomes flustered and says, “You are not
supposed to be here.” The butch lesbian is used to this: how many of her
stories are toilet stories; to pass as male becomes a question mark of your
right to pass into female space. “I am a woman,” she says. We might have
to assign ourselves with gender if we trouble the existing assignments.
With a reassignment, she can go to the toilet. When she comes out, the
attendant is embarrassed; the attendant points to her arm, saying, “So
strong.” The butch lesbian allows the moment to pass by joking, giving
the attendant a “show of her arms.”
If with arms we come out, with arms we come in. These moments do
not always pass so easily. Many of these histories of passing or of not
passing are traumatic.26 Arms don’t always help us get through. When
arms are wayward, they can be beaten. If we told queer history as a his-
tory of arms, we would show the material consequences of being way-
ward. Arms after all can be gendering assignments. J. Jack Halberstam
in Female Masculinity notes with some surprise how Havelock Ellis uses
the arm as a gender test in the case of Miss M: “Miss M. he thinks, tries to
cover over her masculinity but gives herself away to Ellis when he uses a
rather idiosyncratic test of gender identification: ‘with arms, palmed up,
extended in front of her with inner sides touching, she cannot bring the
inner sides of the forearms together as nearly every woman can, showing
that the feminine angle of the arm is lost’ ” (1998, 80). If the arminess of
the queer female arm is detected by a straightening rod, the arm is not
straightened. The arm can be the fleshy site of a disagreement.
Feminist and queer archives are full of images of strong arms and
large hands; arms and hands become signs of bodies that are not fit-
ting. In Mrs. Dalloway it is Mrs. Kilman’s “large hand” that “opened and
shut on the table” ([1925] 1996, 96). As Jane Garrity has noted, this hand
is predatory and sinister, in its attempts to possess Elizabeth: “Miss
Kilman’s cannibalistic desire is synecdochially displaced into her me-
chanical grasping hand” (2003, 138). To assemble a willfulness archive is

198 Conclusion
to be willing to transform something sinister into a promise: a queer arm
exceeds the very expectation of what an arm can do or can be. To exceed
an expectation is to lend a hand to the creation of form.
Creative arms: they call as well as carry. Can we assemble a queer army?
A queer army would not be a functional army: perhaps it would be may-
hem, a state of disorder or riotous confusion. As Susan Stryker and Nikki
Sullivan have pointed out, the word “mayhem” derives from English com-
mon law, referring to a crime that deprives a person of the limbs required
for fighting, including hands, arms, or legs. Stryker and Sullivan show
how mayhem is thus a “crime against sovereignty,” to deprive a body of
the use of a member is to deprive the king of the use of a body (2009, 58,
see also Sullivan 2005). Indeed, mayhem becomes a willful act that, in
compromising “a particular body’s ability to be integrated” (57), is also
a crime against the body politic, or what I called in chapter 3, following
Mary Poovey, “the whole social body.”27 A queer army would be an army
that is not willing to reproduce the whole, an army of unser viceable parts.
You can be assembled by what support you refuse to give. A queer army
might be a crip army of parts without bodies, as well as bodies without
parts, to evoke Audre Lorde’s call for an army of one-breasted women.
To call for such an army is to hear the call of the arms. A call of arms
can be a recall. Just recall Sojourner Truth speaking to the suffragettes,
having to insist on being a woman activist as a black woman and former
slave, having to insist that abolitionism and suffrage can and should be
spoken by the same tongue: “Ain’t I a woman,” she says. “Look at me,”
she says, “look at my arm.” And in brackets, in the brackets of history, it
is said that Sojourner Truth at this moment “bared her right arm to the
shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power” (cited in Zackodnik
2011, 99).28 The muscularity of her arm is an inheritance of history, the
history of slavery shown in the strength of the arm,29 the arm required
to plough, to sow the field. The arms of the slave belonged to the master,
as did the slave, as the ones who were not supposed to have a will of their
own. No wonder we must look to the arm, if we are to understand the his-
tory of those who rise up against oppression.
A history of rising up, of not being reduced to dust, shows us the
affinity between those various and varied beings that have been deemed
property, as objects in which the will of others resides. I have called this
affinity a “stony kinship.” Willfulness is not then just a crisis in the regime
of property, as I argued in chapter 1. It is a crisis, yes, but a crisis created
by those who resist the regime. As Fred Moten argues, “The history of

A Call to Arms 199

blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist” (2003,
1). Even if willfulness is used to contain resistance, it can be how some
resist that containment. The history of blackness might not only testify
to the resistance of objects but might even depend upon that resistance.
Those who resist being made into objects can recognize the resistance of
objects. One might speculate here that subjects who have experienced
being made into objects by virtue of their membership of a group are the
ones who give objects the “best chance” of life because they are less likely
to experience their own being as occupation.
A history of willfulness would thus include a history of objects that
are not empty enough to be filled by human will, objects that refuse to
provide containers. Colonialism and slavery are object relations as well
as embodied relations: bodies become objects, become arms, what is as-
sumed to carry and to carry out the master’s will, becoming where the
will of the master resides. In Phenomenology of Mind Hegel offers a phil-
osophical fable of the master/slave dialectic.30 I am now ready to offer
my final hand: a rereading of Hegel’s fable as a companion fable to the
Grimm fable. In Philosophy of Right Hegel makes an explicit comparison
between the will of the child and the will of the slave, as wills fatally tied
to the object domain, thus creating the ground for my own reading, I
have no doubt some would say my willful misreading, of Hegel.31
Hegel does not appear to exercise the language of will within the fable
itself. However, if we read this fable alongside Philosophy of Right, which
describes “phases of will” in the passage toward freedom ([1820] 2005,
xxxii), we learn how to read the fable as a fable of will. As referred to in
chapter 1, Hegel defines property in Philosophy of Right in terms of the
will: “a person putting his will into an object” ([1820] 2005, 10). The slave
is a person treated as property: the one who provides residence for the
master’s will. On the grounds that slavery contradicts the idea of free-
dom, Hegel notes, one would or should “condemn slavery” (14). How-
ever, Hegel then seems to qualify his argument with reference to will: “It
depends on the person’s own will whether he should be a slave or not,
just as it depends on the will of a people whether or not it is to be in sub-
jection” (14). This concept of willing subjection compares directly with
that of voluntary servitude discussed in chapter 4. Hegel suggests that
slavery and subjection are wrong: “not simply on the part of those who
enslave or subjugate, but of the slaves and subjects themselves” (14–15).
Moreover for Hegel, even if slavery is wrong, it is a passage “from the
natural condition of man to his true social and moral condition” (15). If

200 Conclusion
slavery is found when a wrong is right, then “the wrong has its value and
finds its necessary place” (15). In this model, the subjection of the slave is
a necessary part of a passage toward freedom.
If the slave belongs to the master, and if the slave must be ready to
receive the master’s will, then what does it mean for slavery to be made
dependent on “the person’s own will”? The slave is both person and prop-
erty; a property of will that has will. Saidiya V. Hartman has observed this
paradox with reference to the captive female: she must be both “will less
and always willing” (1997, 81).32 Hartman describes the “negation of the
captor’s will” as “willful submission to the master” (81, emphasis in origi-
nal). A willful submission is one in which the slaves are willing to extend
the will of the master: “The purportedly binding passions of master-slave
relations were predicated on the inability of the slave to exercise her will,
in any ways other than serving her master” (84).
Hartman’s analysis asks us to think of the embodied situation of the
black female slave. As bell hooks observes: “The black female was ex-
ploited as a laborer in the fields, a worker in the domestic household, a
breeder, and as an object of white male sexual assault” (1981, 22). She be-
came the arms, the hands, the genitals, and the womb: parts cut off from
a body in what Hortense Spillers describes powerfully as the “atomizing
of the captive body” (1987, 67). Spillers shows us that not only are body
parts cut off from bodies, but slaves too are cut off from their own kin,
becoming unrelated or “orphaned” in order to become part of the slave
owner’s family (68). Will becomes a technique for enforcing this becom-
ing: a “severing of the body from its motive will” (67). A severing is a sen-
tencing, as we can hear in this sentence from Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents
in the Life of a Slave Girl: “Pity me and pardon me oh virtuous reader. You
never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or
custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, en-
tirely subject to the will of another” ([1861] 2008, 57).33 In her work, bell
hooks draws on autobiographies by female slaves such as Harriet Jacobs
to discuss how violence works through will: “If she would not willingly
submit, he would use force” (1981, 25).
The slaves exercise the will they are not supposed to have in sub-
mitting to the will of the master: a willing submission is thus a willful
submission. How can we relate willfulness to the necessity of labor? We
can now return to Hegel’s own fable, which I will not read as a universal
journey of consciousness but as the master’s fable of his own journey.34
For Hegel the slave is the one who labors for the master. Labor can be

A Call to Arms 201

thought in terms of becoming willing to be the master’s limbs (the mas-
ter is freed from the necessity of supporting his own body). The slave is
for. And in laboring the slave makes things: the slave “fashions the thing”
([1807] 2003, 111). Objects acquire independence; they are sent forth. In
Hegel’s fable, even if this fashioning is frightening (the creation of an
“alien, external reality” [111]), in being confronted with the product of
her own labor, the slave attains consciousness that would not be attained
in relation to the master: “that he himself exists in its own right” as hav-
ing “a mind of its own” (111). Or we could say: the slave discovers a “will
of her own.” As Robert R. Williams describes, for Hegel the slave is the
one who has yet to recognize “a will of its own [ein willenloser Wille]” and
is thus “a will without a will of its own” (1997, 126).
Even if the slave in laboring is on the way to freedom (more so than the
master) that freedom is described as limited. And (we are ready for this,
we expected this) willfulness then becomes the slave’s assignment: “Since the
entire content of its natural consciousness has not tottered and shaken, it
is still inherently a determinate mode of being; having a ‘mind of its own’
(der eigene Sinn) is simply stubbornness (Eigensinn), a type of freedom
which does not get beyond the attitude of bondage” ([1807] 2003, 112).
Having assembled a willfulness archive, we can hear what is at stake in the
Hegelian judgment: the ones who resist the will of the master in acquiring
a will of their own (the acquisition is the resistance) are judged as self-
willed or willful. The judgment is an expression of the threat of the slave’s
independence to the master’s own freedom, which is and which remains:
freedom from the necessity of toil.35
We can create a new fable if we deviate at certain points. The slave
recognizes that she has a will of her own, a will that belongs to herself
and not to the master. She recognizes will through her laboring body. The
master in treating the slaves as arms ceases to use his own arms. They
become flaccid organs. This is the scandal of the colonial relation. The
arms confront the master who henceforth cannot mention them. It is the
arms that are taken up in the rebellion of the slaves, arms that are not
only involved in the creation of objects, but are shaped by the labor of
that creation. This is Truth’s truth: this is how a demand to “look at
my arm” speaks back to the master. But Hegel cannot look: he can
only describe the slave’s consciousness of independence as a form of
bondage. Hegel’s fable is a master’s fable precisely because he cannot
recognize the arms, let alone their agency; he can think of the slave’s
bid for freedom only in relation to objects, a freedom that can thus be

202 Conclusion
diagnosed as fatality in its tie to the objective domain, as not snapping
the bond.
We have another ending to Hegel’s story, another way of telling the
Hegelian story. Stubbornness or Eigensinn, which we can translate as
willfulness if we follow a grim convention, is only judged as bondage by
those requiring the arms of others to complete the end of their own free-
dom.36 If arms do not appear in the fable (we know why, now we know
why) we can still liberate the arms: to liberate the arms from the Hege-
lian dialectic would be to liberate them from an absence. The arms can
smash the Hegelian dialectic. This would be one way of describing Frantz
Fanon’s decolonizing humanist project.37 Fanon recognized in Jean-Paul
Sartre’s exercising of the Hegelian dialectic how blackness can be dis-
solved as the “objective” phase passed through on the way to universal
freedom. Perhaps being on the way is an alternative to being in the way. Or
perhaps not: whether on or in the way, some become what is (or must be)
overcome by going that way. Fanon remarks, “My effort was only a term
in the dialectic,” an effort that becomes the loss of a hand, “every hand
was a losing hand for me” ([1967] 2008, 101).38
We cannot let Fanon keep losing his hand. This history of lost hands is
one we must keep in front of us. The arms that built the master’s house
are the arms that will bring it down. Audre Lorde entitled an essay with
a proclamation: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s
house” (1984, 110–13). In that unflinching “will never” is a call to arms:
do not become the master’s tool! When the arms come up, they come
up against walls, what keeps the master’s residence standing. No won-
der willful arms offer their own form of wisdom. No wonder arms have
a kinship with stones: building the walls, bringing them down. Bring-
ing the walls down is not easy; history has become concrete. Arms in
the labor and effort of what they come up against show us what is not
over, what we do not get over. It can take willfulness to insist on this not
over because the masters will not admit this world as their residence. To
recognize the walls would get in the way of their residence, their stand-
ing. This is why willfulness requires a collective struggle: becoming army.
Effort is shared. Effort is unbecoming. What a history: becoming army as
unbecoming the arms of the social body.
What a history. A history is condensed in the charge of willfulness.
We can not only accept this charge but keep it alive. The arm that keeps
coming out of the grave can signify persistence and protest, or perhaps
even more importantly, persistence as protest. We need to give the arm

A Call to Arms 203

something to reach for. Or perhaps we are the ones being reached by the
arms. After all, we know some of us are only here now on these grounds
because arms in history have extended our reach. Oh this some can we
change the sum: can we gather, those gathered as nots, as not human? Oh
this some can we change the sum: is this what it means for willfulness to
become an inheritance, a way of recognizing what made possible the very
grounds of our existence?
But we will need, we still need, we shall need to proceed with cau-
tion. Willfulness is not a ground upon which we tread. When willfulness
becomes a ground, translating a wrong into a right or even into righ-
teousness (to be righteous is to be morally upright), then arms can be-
come rods, coming up only to straighten things out. After all, when arms
come up, they disturb the ground. Can we learn not to eliminate the
signs of disturbance? Disturbance can be creative: not as what we aim
for, not as what grounds our action, but as the effect of action: distur-
bance as what is created by the very effort of reaching, of reaching up, of
reaching out, of reaching for something that is not present, something
that appears only as a shimmer, a horizon of possibility. When the arms
refuse to support and carry, they reach. We do not know what the arms
can reach.

204 Conclusion

Introduction. A Willfulness Archive

1. This translation uses the English spelling “wilful.” I have in this book used the
American spelling as it allows us to see the “will” in “willful.” I should note also that in the
German story the child is not given a gender. In this English translation of the German
story, the child is “she” but in some other translations the child is “he.” I will address the
willful child in this book as “she” because I would argue willfulness tends to be registered
as a feminine attribute. However, I hope to show how the gendering of will as well as
willfulness is complicated (see chapter 2). Boys and men can be called willful, although
that call might sound differently and have different effects.
2. I explore the relation between property and the will in the final section of chapter
1 with specific reference to Hegel and Marx.
3. Classical and early modern texts cited are referred to using book number, chapter
number (where relevant) and page number.
4. From Oxford English Dictionary Online (2008). All dictionary definitions used in
this book are from this edition.
5. Probably the only text I have come across that foregrounds “willfulness” in offer-
ing a history of the will is Richard E. Flathman’s Willful Liberalism. However his book
does not involve a discussion of willfulness as an attribution: it is rather a defense of
a style of liberalism, a refashioned liberalism that is in the “free spirit” of Nietzsche,
focusing on the creativity and self-making of individuals (1992, 208). Flathman does
offer some important readings of voluntarism, including theological voluntarism, and
this book provides a useful contrast to Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind (1978). His
approach to the “semiotic of the will” could also be related to my emphasis on will and
willfulness as a grammar (1992, 158), although he uses this method primarily to avoid
thinking of the will as a “single entity and force” (159), while my interest is in developing
a model of how the will is socially, affectively, and unevenly distributed between per-
sons and things. My argument also attempts to disentangle willfulness from individu-
alism. For a useful edited collection debating Flathman’s willful liberalism, see Honig
6. In this section and the book that follows, my argument rests on teasing out the
relationship between two words/concepts “will” and “willfulness.” I should note that
in other languages the words that are roughly equivalent to willfulness are not “will
words.” I would suggest that this does not mean the argument can only be made in En-
glish, although it can certainly be made more easily and more neatly. Take for example
the German word eigensinnig, which is the word used in the Grimm story. This word
means “own-self” (or a sense of one’s self) rather than self-will. However, it is this sense
of “own-ness” that is conveyed by the word “willful” (see chapter 4). The German edu-
cational literatures on breaking the will of the child (see chapter 2) thus refer to the
problem of eigensinnig as that which must be eliminated from the child. In Germany
there has been some interesting work on eigensinnig that offers a reclaiming of that term
in a way I am suggesting we can reclaim willfulness. For example, see the book edited
by the German social historian Alf Lüdtke, The History of Everyday Life, which includes
the following on eigensinnig in the glossary of terms: “Key term in Lüdtke’s analysis
of workers’ everyday life, denoting willfulness, spontaneous self-will, a kind of self-
affirmation, an act of reappropriating alienated social relations on and off the shop
floor by self-assertive prankishness, demarcating a space of one’s own. There is a dis-
junction between formalized politics and the prankish, stylised, misanthropic distanc-
ing from all constraints or incentive present in the everyday politics of Eigen-Sinn. In
standard parlance, the word has pejorative overtones, referring to ‘obstreperous, obsti-
nate’ behaviour, usually of children. The ‘discompounding’ of writing it as Eigen-Sinn
stresses its root signification of ‘one’s own sense, own meaning’ ” ([1989] 1995, 314).
The reclaiming of terms for “problem subjects” will depend on linguistic and cultural
histories (that can be treated as resources). Note also in the German case, a word that is
a more direct translation for willfulness would be eigenwillig (self-will). There is a fairy
tale in English by Francis Edward Paget about a spoiled child called Prince Eigenwillig:
a boy who inherits the German name for willfulness, in whom we can meet this name
in person. And oh: what a sorry tale! In the end Prince Eigenwillig says to his mother, “I
won’t do anything you tell me. If you had not spoilt me I shouldn’t be in all this trouble
now” (1846, 117). His fate is typical for willful children: punishment by death. He is
turned into a ball by the fairy’s wand. My point in referring to this story is to suggest
that fairy tales and folklore may provide an interesting site of cultural translation and
could be explored as a transcultural willfulness archive.
7. Ryle’s aim is to refuse the concept of “a faculty” of “the will.” He writes: “I hope
to refute the doctrine that there exists a Faculty, immaterial Organ, or Ministry, cor-
responding to the theory’s description of the ‘Will’ and, accordingly, that there occur
processes, or operations, corresponding to what it describes as volitions” ([1949] 2009,
50). As I will point out, however, there is a long history of reflection on the will that does
not treat will as a faculty of the subject.
8. For example, many recent publications on the will address the question of
whether the neurosciences can accommodate a concept of free will, or whether they
demonstrate the truth of determinism, or become another occasion for supporting com-
patibilism. Some typical and telling titles include The Volitional Brain (Libet, Freeman,
and Sutherland 1999); Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (Gazzaniga
2012); Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? (Murphy and Brown 2009); My Brain Made Me Do
It (Sternberg 2010). See Rose (2007) for a discussion of these literatures from a Foucauld-
ian perspective. Because my primary interest is not whether or not something called free
will exists, but how the will comes into existence as an idea in relation to willfulness, I will

206 Notes for Introduction

not be engaging with these literatures on the free-will-versus-determinism controversy
directly. However, I do engage with the histories abbreviated in the shorthand “free will”
(the histories, in others words, that mean freedom and will have tended to be thought
together), while also recognizing that there have been other ways that will and freedom
can be thought (given that some approaches to the will explicitly reject the concept of
freedom, while some approaches to freedom attempt to detach freedom from the will).
9. Another example would be Vernon J. Bourke’s (1964) Will in Western Thought: An
Historic-Critical Survey. Although this offers a “long view” of the will in philosophy, it
does not really offer a history of will as an idea, but rather groups together different
approaches to the will (the will as rational appetite, will and intellectual preference, and
so on). It is a useful reference point but not comparable to Hannah Arendt’s offering,
which raises the question of what it means to think “the will” historically. More recently,
Giorgio Agamben has offered in spoken lectures an “archaeology of will,” proposing that
modernity is the transformation from “I can” (the Greek focus on potentiality) to “I
will” (understood as a modular verb) engaging with early works in Christianity (such
as Augustine and St. Paul) and the relation of will and commandant. He challenges
the usual reading that the Greeks could not think the concept of will by relating the
emergence of will to the resolution of the problem of potentiality (and impotentiality).
While I think this argument is thought provoking, my own approach will suggest that
the will has a more complicated career than can be expressed by a simple transition. See
also chapter 1, note 16, for further reflection on the relation of “I will” to “I can.” And
finally also relevant here would be Regenia Gagnier’s cultural history of individualism
focusing on the late nineteenth century. Gagnier offers an “anatomy of the will” (2010,
1) and is one of the few writers I have come across to consider the biological, social, and
individual will (see especially 87–115).
10. For Arendt a history of the will is a history of the faculty of will. She argues, as
do many others, that the faculty of the will was not known in Greek antiquity, though
she does include Aristotle in her account insofar as his “notion of proairesis” is a “kind
of forerunner of the Will” and “can serve as a paradigmatic example of how certain
problems of the soul were raised and answered before the discovery of the Will” (1978,
6). I would include those who have approached the will in terms other than as a faculty
of the subject within my understanding of the history of the will (such as Lucretius,
Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche in his later work).
11. It is surprising that Foucault does not focus on the will given the centrality of the
confessional mode to History of Sexuality, volume 1. An obvious reference point would
have been Augustine’s Confessions. J. G. Merquior has also noted how Foucault might
have made the will into an explicit aspect of his argument about the rise of the “con-
fessional subject” (1985, 139). Foucault does reflect on Augustine’s City of God in his
contribution to “Sexuality and Solitude,” focusing on the image of the erection and the
association of sexuality and disobedience in Augustine (Foucault and Sennett 1981). I
will be taking up the question of sexuality and the will in relation to this same passage
from Augustine in chapter 3.
12. Nietzsche’s “genealogy of man” is described as a “genealogy of the will” by
Werner Hamacher. He notes: “The central problem, with which the genealogy confronts
its historiographers, consists in constructing the passage of the will from its eccentric
position, where it is not yet will, into the centre of itself” (1990, 33).

Notes for Introduction 207

13. Nietzsche singles out Schopenhauer at this point as the philosopher who “has
given us to understand that the will alone is really known to us” ([1886] 1997, 12).
Indeed, Schopenhauer develops the argument that the Kantian thing-in-itself should
be understood as the will. This argument could be understood as so extreme that “the
will” becomes far from straightforward. As Gilles Deleuze argues, Schopenhauer “in
drawing out the extreme consequences of the old philosophy” is “not content with an
essence of the will” but makes “the will the essence of things” (2006, 77–78). Arguably
then Schopenhauer in making the will the one and only thing we can and do know
also makes the will into the strangest thing. For further discussion of the strangeness
of Schopenhauer’s will, see the section “Stones Matter” in my conclusion to this book.
14. The project of following the queer associations between will and error can be
connected to J. Jack Halberstam’s (2011) important reflections on “the queer art of
failure.” There is a queer potential in not reaching the right points.
15. This is actually the title of her section on Augustine: “Augustine, the First Phi-
losopher of the Will.”
16. This wonderful description “teeth of time” is how Robert Hooke in Micrographia
(1655) describes bookworms (cited in Greenblatt 2011, 83). The material significance of
parchment to the history and other histories should not be underestimated. That so
much depended upon the capacity of parchment to survive the “teeth of time” becomes
another way of offering an account of the intermingling of sheep, goats, and humans
in history (as well as worms, since the “teeth of time” do destroy some parchment), as
elegantly and sheepishly explored by Sarah Franklin in Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of
Genealogy (2007).
17. There has been a turn to Lucretius in the humanities: in addition to Stephen
Greenblatt’s account of the history of the book, a history in which the human hand
plays a part (a hand that in reaching out finds something assumed to have been lost), we
also have Michel Serres’s The Birth of Physics ([1977] 2000) influenced by Gilles Deleuze’s
The Logic of Sense ([1969] 2001), which offers a philosophical interpretation of the prior-
ity of ancient materialism. Both of these texts make the history of thought “swerve” by
acknowledging the matter of the swerve. In the area of scholarship often named as “the
new materialism” Lucretius has been given a place as a writer who shows us how matter
is the site of agentic potential as we can witness in Jane Bennett’s The Enchantment of
Modern Life (2001) as well as Vibrant Matter (2009). And in queer theory too, for example,
in Jonathan Goldberg’s The Seeds of Things (2009), we can find Lucretius, written about
in this case through the lens of Serres and Bennett, as a way of rereading the matter of
sexuality and gender in Renaissance texts.
18. I will return to the matter of stones (and why stones matter in the history of will)
in the conclusion of the book.
19. Augustine makes this comparison in relation to human sin: better to sin freely
then not to sin unfreely.
20. For educational treatises, I would include both core texts in educational philoso-
phy (in chapter 2, I discuss the work of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel
Kant, and James Mill) as well as more popular educational manuals written for parents
as well as children. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of these
manuals focused on the problem of willful children: examples include Alice Price, A
Willful Young Woman ([1887] 2009); Helen Sherman Griffith’s Her Willful Way: A Story

208 Notes for Introduction

for Girls ([1902] 2009), and Henry Marcus Cottinger’s Rosa, The Educating Mother ([1887]
2009). All of these books are now available to contemporary readers as they can be ac-
cessed via Google Books and have been reprinted using optical character recognition
software. They have been valuable in giving me a sense of how far the figure of the
willful child (in particular the willful girl) traveled. I have not been able to decipher the
extent to which the texts were distributed and read during this period and have thus
not developed my argument through readings of them. It is important to my argu-
ment about how willfulness came to matter to engage with materials that reached wide
21. Observant readers might note that I do not work with George Eliot’s most cel-
ebrated novel, Middlemarch, even though it tells the story of another willful heroine,
Dorothea Brooke, who ends up (pun probably intended) marrying a character Will.
With thanks to one of my anonymous reviewers for being such an observant reader! I
have worked with the texts that captured my interest; and Daniel Deronda’s willful hero-
ine, Gwendolyn Harleth, I found much more compelling as a character, and one who
seemed to have more to say to Maggie Tulliver in my imaginary conversation between
willful girls.
22. I would agree with John Smith that the relative absence of the will as a theme
within feminism can be related to the kind of subject “the will” has been assumed to
belong to. At the same time, feminists in reflecting on the gendering of will have offered
another way of conceiving of willing as a social activity. See chapter 2 for discussions of
the gendering of will. I am indebted to John Smith’s detailed historical work on sexual-
ity and the will in chapter 3 of this book.
23. Theodor Adorno was thus able to associate the triumphalism of Nazism directly
to the concept of the will: “A will, detached from reason and proclaimed as an end-in-
itself, like the will whose triumph the Nazis certified in the official title of the party’s
congresses, such a will, like all ideals, that rebel against reason, stands ready for every
misdeed” ([1966] 1973, 272). No one who has seen the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of
the Will (1935, directed by Leni Riefenstahl) could fail to note the sharpness of Adorno’s
critique. A well-known and astute reading of Riefenstahl’s “fascinating fascism” is of-
fered by Susan Sontag (1974).
24. It is noteworthy that some of the strongest critics of the will (as metaphysics
of the subject in the case of Nietzsche, or as the reduction of freedom to sovereignty
in the case of Arendt) have ended up retaining rather than giving up a concept of will. In
Arendt’s case, this can be seen in her commitment to will as a discovery; in Nietzsche’s
case, through how he employs the will to understand the motors of history: the will to
25. For other stories that used this motif see “The Hand from the Grave,” a collection
compiled by D. L. Ashliman (1999/2000)
Accessed January 29, 2014.
26. With thanks to Izzy Isgate whose response to a Facebook post on poisonous
pedagogy helped me come up with this sentence.
27. The concept of “sweaty concepts” is inspired by the work of Audre Lorde. In the
corpus of her work, Lorde creates concepts in or through a description of how it feels
to inhabit this body, in this world, to “withstand” that world (see my conclusion for a
discussion of “withstanding” in relation to skin and stone). I have been so energized

Notes for Introduction 209

by her example, and in following Audre Lorde, I also want concepts to show the bodily
work of their creation: concepts can be made to sweat when we bring them back to the
bodies. Indeed, when a concept comes back to the body it might transform how we
inhabit bodies. Sweaty concepts might also be understood as concepts that are difficult,
that demand we work hard to work with them.
28. With thanks to Flavia Dzodan for her question after I gave a lecture on willful-
ness in Amsterdam on January 20, 2012, which led to this formulation.
29. My appreciation to AnaLouise Keating who posted this quote in response to
a Facebook status update, and whose encouragement to reread Borderlands led me
further along a willfulness trail, just as I was beginning to feel the trail had become
30. I first worked with this idea of “desire lines” in Queer Phenomenology (2006, 19).
My own writing has been a desire line, a wandering away from the official paths laid
out by disciplines. Not inhabiting a discipline can be an invitation: it can give us the
freedom to roam.

Chapter One. Willing Subjects

1. I should note that another passage from Augustine is more typically compared
to Descartes’s method insofar as it is offered as a refutation of skepticism: “They think
that by not acknowledging they are alive they avoid error, when even their very error
proves they are alive, since one who is not alive cannot err” (The Enchiridion on Faith,
Hope, and Love, 20.27). If the will becomes certain, it is perhaps because doubting will
becomes evidence of having a will to doubt. And perhaps becoming certain of will is also
about becoming alive to error.
2. Heidegger’s critique of will as metaphysics is in fact a critique of Nietzsche’s
concept of “the will to power” and offers the most explicit reading of the history of
metaphysics as a history of will. As Bret W. Davis describes, for Heidegger, “the history
of metaphysics not only completes itself in the modern metaphysics of will, from the
beginning the project of metaphysics was in this sense a project of will” (2007, 13).
The use of the will in Nazism provides the historical context for Heidegger’s critique of
the will. In Heidegger’s “Conversation on the Country Path about Thinking,” the Scholar
says to the Teacher he wants “non-willing,” which means being “willing to renounce
willing” ([1959] 1969, 59). Heidegger offers more than a critique of the metaphysics of
will: he tries to get beyond the very bind of will. Although Jacques Derrida did not tend
to write explicitly on the will, his deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence in Of
Grammatology ([1967] 1997) could be read in these terms. Derrida also offers a way of
rereading Nietzsche as not participating in the metaphysics of the will, as Ernst Behler
(1991) has suggested. Doing the research for this book has also made me aware that
many of the writers working in the mid- to late nineteenth century who contributed to
what we might call “a psychology of the will,” some of whom I consider in the following
chapter, also offered strong critiques of the metaphysical will. Henry Maudsley begins
Body and Will by arguing against the model of will as “essentially a self-procreating, self-
sustaining spiritual entity, which owns no natural cause, obeys no law, and has no sort
of infinity with matter” (1884, 1). He then adds: “What the metaphysician has done is
plain enough.” He “has converted into an entity the general term which embraces the

210 Notes for Introduction

multitude of particular volitions, themselves varying infinitely in power and quality,
and referred them all to its cause” (17).
3. For a recent work on the psychology of will that describes conscious will as “the
feeling of doing” see Wegner (2002). Wegner distinguishes between the phenomenal
will and the empirical will or “the actual relationship between mind and action” (2002,
15). In this chapter, I will not be making this distinction. I will be investigating willing
purely at the level of phenomena. I should add here that I read The Illusion of Conscious
Will fairly late in the research process and had one of those “uncanny” moments: for in
this text Wegner uses the examples of (anarchic or willful) hands and (séance) tables,
which have also been central to my own project, and which I had originally thought of
as rather idiosyncratic examples. There are reasons why hands and tables appear in the
history of will: this book gives you some of them.
4. My use of a genealogical approach to objects is why I do not situate my argument
in terms of what we could call “the object turn” or object-oriented ontology (ooo) in
recent theoretical literatures despite how some of my arguments on the willfulness of
objects could be placed within that turn (although they are also continuous with my
own focus on objects such as tables from Queer Phenomenology onward). In Graham
Harman’s contribution to the volume The Speculative Turn he argues: “For the so-called
genealogical approach to reality objects have no discernible identity apart from the his-
tory of which they emerged, which must be reconstructed to know what the thing really
is. Here the object is to be taken as nothing more than its history” (2011, 23, emphasis
in original). This argument misrepresents genealogy as the reduction of an object to
its history (to offer a history of an object is not to say that the object is this history)
and permits the object to become that which is autonomous, or apart from its history
(I would call this “object fetishism”). I find feminist theory a better guide in the project
of making objects matter. The feminist critique of the subject is a critique of the concept
of autonomy: of how the male subject is separated from the world (including the moth-
er’s body) in order to represent itself as giving birth to itself. Just consider Donna Har-
away’s description of “the self-birthing dream of man” (1997, 121). To critique the subject
by making the object autonomous is to replicate the problem of a subject-centered his-
tory (objects become like the subjects they were intended to replace, as that which can
stand up insofar as they stand apart). My approach is to think of subjects and objects
as parts of worlds in which we are entangled; these “tangles” make worlds too messy to
start with things assumed as apart from other things (though the tangle of willfulness
shows how things can come apart). This is one way I have used the concept of “stickiness”
(Ahmed 2004): when objects are sticky they “pick up” traces of where they have been. For
an important discussion of the object turn in critical theory, see Felski (2007).
5. Brian Leiter also describes Nietzsche’s argument in Beyond Good and Evil as “a
phenomenology of will,” one that does not “track an actual or causal relationship”
(2009, 111). My argument is in sympathy with his: I show how phenomenology can help
us to track how relationships come to be felt or experienced as causal relationships, whether
or not they are.
6. One might note the similarity between Nietzsche’s descriptions of willing as a
plurality of sensations to David Hume’s arguments in A Treatise of Human Nature: “By
the will, I mean nothing but the internal impression we feel and are conscious of when we
knowingly give rise to any new motion of our body or new perception of our mind” (1985, 447,

Notes for Chapter 1 211

emphasis in original). Willing might even be described as what we feel when we think we
are willing. For Hume, famously, external causality is a kind of habit or inference of the
mind; we do not “see” causality but rather the “uniform and regular conjunction” of two
bodies (such as two billiard balls). Likewise, in the case of will understood as internal
causality we infer it: “The union betwixt motives and actions has the same constancy”
(452). Willing for Hume is a kind of habit of association preserved as or in feeling.
7. I will indeed be offering an account of bodily limbs as both willing and willful, an
account in which limbs are allowed to wander from the body: in having a will of their
own, limbs are not simply or only transmitters of the will.
8. We can thus understand why Henning Peucker expresses surprise as to why there
are not more phenomenological studies of the will: “One wonders why there are not
more studies about the volitional consciousness especially in phenomenology. Because
of its descriptive and reflective-analytic approach phenomenology seems to be more
suitable than any other philosophical method to investigate acts of willing and their
structure” (2008, 1). Scholars have also noted with surprise that Husserl did not write
more systematically on will. Dermot Moran suggests that “somewhat surprisingly”
Husserl “does not analyse willing in detail” except in his lectures on ethics (2005, 131). I
should note that Husserl does refer to willing and volition in his key works (especially in
Logical Investigations, the second book of Ideas, and Analyses concerning Passive and Active
Synthesis) although not in a sustained or systematic way. I should also note that some
of Husserl’s most important contributions on will have not been translated, including
around twenty papers such as “Valuing and Values,” and “Tendencies” from his archives.
As a non-German speaker I am thus dependent on the work of Henning Peucker (2008),
as well as Ullrich Melle (2002, 2005) and James Hart (1992), who have all written directly
on Husserl’s phenomenology of the will with reference to these untranslated papers. I
should also note that other key phenomenologists have reflected more systematically on
will, most notably Husserl’s contemporary, Alexander Pfänder in his Phenomenology of
Willing and Motivation and Other Phaenomenologica ([1967] 1900).
9. In starting this section with Augustine I am also accepting that the history of will
is inseparable from the history of Christian thought. It is beyond the scope of this book
to address the specifically theological significance of Augustine’s account of the will, or
to reflect on the changing fortunes of the will within Christianity. In Augustine’s City
of God we are reminded that Christianity originates with the will becoming origin: the
fall from grace is a fall from God’s will, a willing fall: “The first act of will, since it pre-
ceded all evil deeds in man, was rather a falling away from the work of God to its own
works, rather than any substantive act. And the consequent deeds were evil because
they followed the will’s own line, and not God’s” (14, 11:568). Simon Harrison offers a
useful discussion of how the Augustinian concept of “the will” relates to Christian the-
ology. As Harrison notes, if today “the chief threat to the freedom of the will is physical
determinism” for Augustine’s contemporary, Pelagius, “the threat was God’s overpow-
ering grace, and certainty of predestination” (2006, 12). Augustine’s task was to rescue
free will from Pelagianism, that is, from arguments against predestination. See also
Lenka Karfíková’s clear and detailed account of Augustine, which relates his ideas of
will to that of grace, and explains continuities as well as discontinuities between his ear-
lier and later writings, showing how the thesis “will as a relevant human ‘merit’ decides
the eternal destiny of human beings” transformed into a thesis that “a will enslaved

212 Notes for Chapter 1

by both inherited and individual sins, . . . can be turned toward the good only through
the ‘sweetness’ of affective grace, and, as such, cannot have any ‘merits’ of its own”
(2012, 2). I will be returning to the early Augustinian position in chapter 2 on the good
will. Many of the most significant theologians in Christian history wrote on “the will,”
including Aquinas (for whom “the will” was understood as rationale appetite), Erasmus,
and Calvin. Both Arendt (1978) and Albrecht Dihle (1982) in their histories of will refer
to changing fortunes of the idea of will in early Christianity. In turn, Herbert Marcuse
(1983) relates the increasing focus on the will of the child within the patriarchal family
to the spread of Calvinism, as I will discuss further in chapter 2.
10. We could describe this internal struggle between wills as a struggle between the
good and ill will, between will and willfulness and between a particular and general will.
As I will show in the next chapter, a willful will is often represented as a will that is too
full of want (as well as a will that is too full of will) and as an un-free or less-free will, a
will that has become like a bad habit.
11. However, as I will discuss in chapter 3, in City of God Augustine reflects at length
on the penis as a bodily organ that does not obey the command of the will. Sexuality
ruins the distinction between mind and body.
12. I am offering a much more hopeful reading of Augustine’s description of warring
wills than Hannah Arendt in her essay, “The Idea of Freedom.” She writes: “Christian
will-power was discovered as an organ of self-liberation and immediately found want-
ing. It is as though the I-will immediately paralyzed the I-can, as though the moment
willed freedom, they lost the capacity to be free” ([1954] 2006, 160, emphasis in origi-
nal). I am not treating Christian will-power as a discovery; nor am I treating the will as
an organ. What I am suggesting is that willing is what we do when a command has yet
to be completed. This does not make willing essential for freedom but a condition for
the possibility of freedom (we can withdraw from a completion). Willing is how some
don’t do what they must do and can do. I will suggest in this book that “can” is often
translated into demand that bodies be more capable, which as a demand might be how
freedom is given up for duty.
13. The Old English word wille has many relatives that also derive from the Indo-
European root, wel. These include Dutch willen, German wollen, Old Nordic vilja, Goth
wilja. Many words in English have a “wel” and thus “will” root (for example, as I will
explore in the last section of this chapter, the word “welcome”). It thus becomes inter-
esting to explore certain words as “will words” when the “will” derivation has become
forgotten. Wel is akin to the Latin velle: to wish. This Latin derivation is also evident in
English “will words” (including obvious ones such as volunteer and volition but also less
obvious ones such as benevolent and malevolent).
14. As with most words “will” has a complex history that I cannot fully present here.
Jeremy John Smith in his history of function and form in English notes: “In Present-Day
English the one-time lexical verb wille is an auxiliary signalling future tense, grammati-
cally bound within the verb-phrase, and the semantic component volition is no longer sa-
lient. In other words, the verb has been grammaticalized” (1996, 142, emphasis added).
Smith suggests that “want” can now replace “will” to imply volition. For a discussion of
the history of the word “will” in relation to “shall” as future auxiliaries see Head (1858).
For a good explanation of “the linguistic biography of the word will” as a “tumultuous path”
see Murphy and Throop (2010, 5–6).

Notes for Chapter 1 213

15. Henning Peucker claims that this model of volition as presented in Logical Inves-
tigations, Ideas 1 and the Gottingen lecture course on ethics from 1908 to 1914 is actually
maintained by Husserl throughout his writings, even though he appears to offer a dif-
ferent approach in his later work on genetic phenomenology. As Peucker summarizes,
in this original approach Husserl “distinguishes the theoretical, the affective and the
volitional consciousness, and claims that the last one necessarily presupposes the other
two for the following reason: The constitution of an act of willing depends on a theoreti-
cal act which provides us with a willed object, i.e. that what the volitional act strives to
realise. Moreover, there can be no act of volition without a positive evaluation of what
is previously presented as that which is willed, since every willing is directed toward
something that we regard as valuable or positive” (2008, 2).
16. In Husserlian and post-Husserlian phenomenology the focus has thus been more
on “I can” than “I will.” By suggesting willing depends on possibility there is also an impli-
cation that “I will” and “I can” go together insofar as you tend to will what you can (though
not all “cans” are willed: perhaps willing is involved in the conversion of some “cans”
from possible to actual). Edith Stein makes this point explicitly: she writes “in every
free, indubitable ‘I will’ lies an ‘I can’ ” ([1916] 1989, 107). In a recent lecture, Agamben
(2011) argues that “I will” replaces “I can” in the advent of modernity (see introduction,
note 9). He states that today when people use the slogan “you can” they really mean
“you will.” But I would argue that the history of the educable will is precisely about the
intimacy of will and can. In The Man without Content, Agamben refers to the philoso-
pher Novalis whom I also draw upon in my reflections on will and character in chap-
ter 2. Novalis argues: “The body is the tool to shape and modify the world—we must
therefore seek to make our bodies capable of everything” ([1798] 1997, 78). This passage
cited by Agamben (1999, 78), is preceded by the following sentence: “The art of becom-
ing omnipotent—the art of realizing our will totally” ([1798] 1997, 78). From this one
example we can see how potentiality (or perhaps more precisely capability) becomes a
will project: to will is to work on can. In my own phenomenological work I have followed
both Iris Marion Young (1990) and Frantz Fanon ([1967] 2008) by focusing on the “I
cannot” suggesting that gender and race become bodily distributions of capacities. Fol-
lowing the willful subject has helped me think more about the relation of the “can” to
the “will not.” Consider how when subjects say they will not do something, it implies
they can: indeed to say “I will not” can thus be to say “I could if I would” as opposed
to the usual expression, “I would if I could,” and can thus be a way of affirming “can.”
This is how the “will not” is often treated as a sign of willfulness: when the obstacle is
her will, it is assumed she could. The one who is willful thus can do something but will
not be compelled to do that thing. Another word for this refusal to be compelled into
action would be stubborn.
17. The distinction between their arguments is slighter than it might at first appear.
Schopenhauer, in his essay on freedom of will, also describes the object as a motive. He
thus translates the claim that volition “is directed toward this object” to “it intends to
change the object in some way and reacts to it” ([1839] 2005, 14). For Schopenhauer,
to will an object would be to make the object the project.
18. Alfred Schutz’s The Phenomenology of the Social World, which draws loyally
on Husserl as well as Bergson to develop Max Weber’s model of social action, takes up
this idea of projection. Schutz refers to Heidegger’s use of the term, but suggests in

214 Notes for Chapter 1

a footnote that he is not committed “to the explicit meaning” Heidegger “gives to it”
(1967, 79).
19. I will question this assumption through the course of the book by reflecting on
will and ambivalence, as well as on how we can will ourselves to will what others will us
to will (so we can as it were not want what we will).
20. Another “way in” to the phenomena of the will would be to foreground the rela-
tionship of will to fatigue. See also Sartre for another phenomenological discussion of
fatigue ([1943] 1969, 454–57). Sartre offers a description of the phenomena of fatigue to
demonstrate his thesis on will: “The will, far from being the unique or at least privileged
manifestation of freedom . . . must presuppose the foundation of an original freedom
in order to constitute itself as will. The will in fact is posited as a reflective decision in
relation to certain ends” (443).
21. We can note Husserl’s own debt to William James’s work on will and fiat in The
Principles of Psychology, which is especially evident in the second book of Ideas. James
has described the fiat in the following way: “to attend to a difficult object and hold
it fast before the mind. The so-doing is the fiat” ([1890] 1950, 561). I think William
James’s model of the will is more complex than some of the phenomenologists writ-
ing on the will give him credit for (see, for example, Melle 2005, 65). As Gail Weiss
compares James’s work on habits with phenomenological literatures in her Refiguring
the Ordinary (2008), we can compare James’s work on fiat with the phenomenologi-
cal literature. I would argue for thinking the relationship between some of the models
of volition offered in nineteenth-century descriptive psychology and early twentieth-
century phenomenology as a productive one.
22. We could consider the relationship of this structure of will to the Foucauldian
model of self-discipline as a kind of internalization, where the subject takes on or takes
in the routine gaze of the other, by disciplining itself. Here the model would be flipped:
as a kind of externalization, the other is asked to take on the routine gaze of the self
by willing the self. Paradoxically it is through externalization that the phantom of the
will’s internality might come into being (a phantom that Nietzsche rightly calls into
question), such that willing is bound up with the very creation of a boundary between
internal and external.
23. This description is very suggestive, if we think of the relation to the past tense
and the assignment of willfulness. In my account of “melancholic migrants” I suggested
that some bodies come to be understood as lodged in the past, as backward, as insisting
on staying hurt by an injury, as refusing to move forward and embrace the happiness of
futurity (see Ahmed 2010, 120–59). I think willful subjects are often given the past tense:
being willful as a way of being lodged in the past, unmoved by the willing embrace of
the future.
24. In Queer Phenomenology, I became obsessed with tables in part because of the
terms in which the table makes an appearance in Ideas. The table is the first object that
Husserl describes when he is describing the world from “the thesis of the natural stand-
point” ([1913] 1969, 101): “I can let my attention wander from the writing-table I have
just seen and observed” (101). The table is what is within view, or within reach of the
philosopher. (It is of course unsurprising that philosophy is “full” of tables, if the phi-
losopher is seated, he or she needs something to write on. I suggested this “fullness” re-
veals the orientation of philosophy, not only by showing what is proximate to the body

Notes for Chapter 1 215

of the philosopher, but also because tables often enter the philosophical text in order
to make a point, which suggests not only that the point of the table points elsewhere,
but also that the table recedes into the background. Phenomenology has taught me how
orientations are revealed by what becomes background.) Once I saw the table in Husserl,
I began following them around (a pursuit that is ongoing!). In Queer Phenomenology, I
offered a critique of the phenomenological method of bracketing in part because I was
following the table: when Husserl brackets the writing table, its reappearance for me,
as an object of perception that is singled out, meant we were further from, rather than
closer to, the table’s significance or even its being (both of which are precisely about its
location, and the actions it supports), which is not a separate question from the ques-
tion of our being. I was offering a reading of the text itself, and was thus not treating
the reduction purely as philosophical method, but as a method or frame that generates
different kinds of description. I was thus attempting to offer a different angle on the text
by rereading what was at stake in these two descriptions. There was still so much to say
about his first description of the table as seen from “the natural attitude,” which Hus-
serl did not make explicit in this description but which is certainly implicit, including
questions of foreground and background, or front and back, as well as near and far, that
are central phenomenological questions (in addition I asked admittedly supplementary
questions of labor as I thought these were also at stake in the determination of which
way a subject is facing). Just note how in the first description he starts with the table
in front of him, and then refers to what is “behind my back.” What I was trying to show
was that Husserl was revealing more about tables—and about the worlds they support
and enable, including his own life world as a philosopher who is doing certain kinds of
work—when he describes them from his involvement rather than when he suspends
his involvement. This critique was not intended as a negative critique but rather as a
reorientation of the question of orientation that was already implicit in the “thesis of
the natural standpoint.” There are other ways of thinking about bracketing especially
if we consider bracketing as a temporary way of suspending our presumption of the
existence of the world in order to generate a more reflexive knowledge. And in fact
the redescription of bracketing as a “reorientation” in the Vienna Lecture is consistent
with my reading: “The theoretical attitude, in its newness, refers back to the previous
attitude, one which was earlier the norm; [with reference to this] it is characterized as a
reorientation” (Husserl [1936–54] 1970, 280).
25. It is interesting to note that in a footnote Marx makes a passing reference to
women as commodities. He writes: “In the twelfth century, so renowned for its piety, very
delicate things often appear as commodities. Thus a French poet of the period enumer-
ates among the commodities to be found in the fair of Lendit, alongside clothing, shoes,
leather, implements of cultivation, etc. also ‘femmes folles de leur corps’ ” (178), translated
for us as “wanton women.” Wanton derives from wan-towen suggesting resistant to con-
trol; willful. That willful women can end up being included as commodities points to how
gender may operate through the requirement to be willing as I will explore in the final
section of this chapter.
26. We can understand the significance of the term “objectification”: it is not that
in becoming an object a subject is without a will; rather a subject becomes an object
through the imposition of the will of another; objects are thus emptied of will, or

216 Notes for Chapter 1

treated as if they have no will of their own. Unsurprisingly, then, those subjects who
have historic experience of being made into objects (in advance of their arrival, that is
by virtue of their membership of a subjugated group) have written most powerfully of
the agency of objects. As Fred Moten argues: “The history of Blackness is testament to
the fact that objects can and do resist” (2003, 1). Moten engages fruitfully with Marx
“to explore the commodity’s scream” (12). With thanks to Dhanveer Singh Brar for his
thoughtful engagement with Moten’s work. See also my conclusion of this book for a
development of the argument about the kinship between objects made by humans and
humans made into objects.
27. One could relate this discussion of objects that resist being means to Bruno
Latour’s suggestion that “nothing and no one is willing any longer to agree to serve as
a simple means to the exercise of any will whatsoever taken as an ultimate end. The tiniest
maggot, the smallest rodent, the scantiest river, the farthest star, the most humble au-
tomatic machines—each demands to be taken also as an end, by the same right as the
beggar Lazarus at the door of the selfish rich man” (2004, 216).
28. I am implying in my phrasing that “ready-to-hand” can be interpreted as “handy”
(which is the term used by the newer English translation of Being and Time). I think
“ready-to-hand” is a useful term when contrasted to “present-to-hand,” but that in other
contexts “handiness” is a more helpful formulation, as it picks up on a more everyday
and ordinary meaning.
29. Work in feminist, queer, and critical disability studies on the entanglement of
bodies and technology (“somatechics”) could be considered to proceed from this ques-
tion (what happens when the body becomes that which is perceived as “not working”?)
as a question that can be asked but does not only need to be asked through Heidegger.
See Murray and Sullivan (2009) as well as Cadwallader (2010).
30. I will return to the implications of Silas’s mechanical relation to objects in my
discussion of the somatization of the division of labor in chapter 3. The gloss on this
relation becomes less glossy in this context.
31. I am suggesting here that readiness is not only experienced as the recession
of thingliness as implied by Heidegger’s distinction between the ready-to-hand and
present-to-hand: that we can appreciate something, even be hyperaware of something
as a particular thing, because of what it allows us to do. This is not to say that when we
become absorbed in a task we do not lose sight of things.
32. I will show in the next chapter how this mechanism can also explain self-
perception: when you cannot carry out a will, you can turn to yourself as the site of
resistance: one’s own will can be experienced as willfulness, as getting in the way of an
action intended.
33. One might note here how the language of will can be exercised when gender
becomes fatalism. Take the expression: “boys will be boys.” Here the language of “will”
or “will be” is used to describe a necessary and inevitable course of nature that happens
independently of human volition. I would suggest that gender becomes in this use of
will not only fate but fatality: a sentencing to death. See also my note on Mrs. Dalloway
in The Promise of Happiness, which considers the relation of consciousness of gender to
consciousness of death (2010, 246), of how becoming gendered can be experienced as
the cessation of possibility.

Notes for Chapter 1 217

34. In this description we can hear the echo of Jacques Derrida who, in The Postcard
([1980] 1987a), described how it is always possible for a letter not to reach its destina-
tion. Working with will has allowed me to reframe this possibility in more corporeal
terms: that bodies might not reach what they are aiming for.
35. There are some examples of writers who have developed the idea of “the social
will,” but in each case their writings have not been significantly taken up such that this
idea has almost “dropped out” of theoretical discourse. Examples include Ward (1892),
Lloyd (1902), and Hayden (1909). The latter is the only book-length manuscript. Rege-
nia Gagnier in her reflection on individualism in relation to late nineteenth-century
thought offers a brief but useful analysis of the “social will” (2010, 110–15). An inter-
esting project would be to track “the will” as an idea within the history of sociological
thought. For an edited collection offering an anthropological reflection on “the will,”
see Murphy and Throop (2010b). A number of the essays in this collection draw on
phenomenology as an intellectual resource and explore how concepts of will and willing
vary across culture and context.
36. The term “concurrence of wills” has a specific meaning within jurisprudence.
Oliver Black explains: “A concurrence of wills might relate to the making or performance
of, or to the compliance with, agreement” (2012, 267). Black suggests this term has be-
come canonical in eu jurisprudence (266).
37. In the conclusion to Queer Phenomenology I offered an image of bodies in unison,
arm in arm, as a different politics of the side: being beside does not demand one to take
sides (2006, 169). I suggested here that “beside” involves work: “you have to keep up.”
My argument here develops my understanding of what it means to “keep up,” showing
how keeping up can involve an asymmetrical requirement. My own language implied
this even if I did not make this point explicit: even when we are arm in arm, some bodies
come to be ahead of others. This coming ahead (which in chapter 4 I retheorize as be-
coming heads) is not inevitable. But we need to recognize how and when that happens
by not assuming arm in arm as evidence of corporeal equality.
38. The implication of the description in this paragraph is that we need a model of
the social that is not about harmony or agreement, or even about “withness,” although
it would include all of these. When the social is defined in these terms, then the one
who is not in agreement becomes antisocial. The aim of my work has been to offer a
model of the social that includes antagonism and disagreement as well as that which
does not pass between, or is shared among, bodies. See also note 29 from chapter 1 of
The Promise of Happiness for an explanation of how we need a different model of the
social to explain how affect does not simply travel between bodies, without conversion,
perversion, and deviation (2010, 239).
39. One of the texts cited in studies of attunement is Daniel Stern’s The Interpersonal
World of the Infant, which as a study of developmental psychology focuses on the “affec-
tive attunement” between mother and child ([1985] 2000, 138–69). As a model of inter-
affectivity, Stern’s work is enormously valuable and compelling: he focuses on how
inter-affectivity is not the repetition of gestures, or imitation, but the “performance
of behaviours that express the quality of feeling of a shared affective state without imi-
tating the exact behavioural expression of the inner state” (142). I think some curious
consequences follow for us if we reflect on how this affective description can become

218 Notes for Chapter 1

prescription. Social experience (being with others) would be referred back to an idea of
the mother/infant relation as “first relation” to the extent that this relation is defined
in positive terms. Stern is not arguing of course that attunement is everything (if his
work is angled in this way it is partly due to how he is attempting to shift attention from
the focus on separation within developmental psychology). But we can still reflect on
what follows attunement becoming an ideal as well as an idea of social affect. It would
be worth exploring further the relation between expression and feeling. Stern writes
that attunement is an expression of “the quality of feeling of a shared affective state.”
Perhaps affective training is training in expression: by expressing the quality of shared
feeling, we share a feeling of quality. Shared feeling might be what we create when we
“express” things in the right way. For a recent study of political mood that draws on
Stern’s concept of affective attunement, see Flatley (2012).
40. Henri Lefebvre notes that rhythm tends to be thought of as “natural, spontane-
ous with no law other than its unfurling” but that as rhythm always implies measure, it
can be understood as “a project” (2004, 8).
41. Ferdinand Tönnies’s reflections on the sociality of will focus on agreement: “We
can say that anything which is in agreement with the inner character of a community
relationship constitutes its law, and will be respected as the true, essential ‘will’ of the
people” ([1887] 2001, 33). Translation: the social will is the will of those in agreement.
42. In The Promise of Happiness, I offer an approach to “conditional happiness” draw-
ing on a reading of Rousseau’s Émile, which has also been a key text in my analysis of
will (see chapter 2). I would now propose that conditional happiness rests on conditional
will (to make your happiness conditional on others depends on willing the same way).
In this respect Willful Subjects could be read as a prequel to The Promise of Happiness.
Because willing is associated with “bringing something about,” willing becomes direc-
tive: your feelings would become conditional on others if you shared a direction toward
an object that is being “brought about.” I should note as well that the concept of “con-
ditional will” has a long history. In Risto Saarinen’s very helpful analysis of conditional
will in medieval thought, he refers to Alexander of Hales (1185–1245), who wrote that a
conditional will [voluntas conditionalis] is when “we do not will a thing as such but will it
only under particular conditions” (cited in Saarinen 2004, 78). I am interested in when
the conditions in which we are willing to will x include the condition that others too
are willing x.
43. I am aware that this speech act can be used in quite different contexts and can
have quite different force, as well as effects. For example, imagine two children ready
to jump, but cautious. The caution registers ambivalence about an action they might
consciously intend. When one child says to another, “I will if you will,” this speech act
could function as a form of encouragement or an “egging on.” There can be kindness in
encouragement especially if the action being intended is one that a subject is commit-
ted to, and when the caution is about anxiety, fear, or a lack of confidence. But what if
the caution is wisdom: what if the action is one that might compromise the child? How
we judge conditional will probably depends on the judgment of will: on whether or how
we judge the merits of an action.
44. Even though Foucault does not generally use the language of will, his more
“positive” model of power developed through the corpus of his work, which focuses on

Notes for Chapter 1 219

yes rather than no, on creating something rather than prohibiting something, could
be understood in these terms: power as going “with the will.” Also relevant would be
Bruno Latour’s description of power: “Power is always the illusion people get when they
are obeyed. . . . [They] discover what their power was really made up of when they start
to lose it. . . . It was made of the wills of all the others. . . . Power is a consequence and
not a cause of collection action” (1986, 268–69). I don’t disagree with his argument that
power can be an illusion but would add that power is not illusory precisely because it
is made up and out of the wills of others. This making up is how momentum occurs. I
would thus also add that a consequence can become a cause: in other words, once people
have accumulated power through obedience they can “in effect” cause obedience. See
the first section of chapter 2 for further reflections on power and obedience and the first
section of chapter 4 for a consideration of willfulness and disobedience.
45. In early English “nill” was the opposite of “will” (as a contraction of ne will). I
should add here that “willy nilly” is now more typically used to mean something that
happens in an unplanned or haphazard fashion. This hap-pier-meaning does derive
from the former one even if they have quite different connotations. The idea of with or
without will contains a sense of oscillation, of going this way or that way.
46. Nick Davies, “Enquiry Fails to Find Single Trafficker Who Forced Anyone into
Prostitution,” Guardian, October 20, 2009,
/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails. Last accessed January 30, 2014. I recognize that
sex trafficking and sex work are complicated political issues. To respond to the problem
of this reduction of force to what is “against the will” by assuming that sex workers
are forced to be willing could also amount to a wrong (insofar as it would involve not
hearing some of the testimonies of sex workers themselves). I thus have sympathy with
Laura María Agustín’s (2007) critique of the assumption that “migrants who sell sex”
are passive victims who need rescuing. I do think, however, to be critical of the pro-
duction of “willing subjects” of sex work might require a substantive feminist critique
of sex work as a social system that regulates the bodies it recruits (just as we need a
feminist critique of other forms of labor relations, including marriage, as techniques for
regulating the subjects it “willingly” recruits into a social system).
47. Appeals to “willing subjects” can thus function in similar ways as appeals to
“happy subjects” (such as in the specific and well-known formulations of the happy
slave and the happy housewife): as ways of demonstrating nothing is wrong. What is
not admitted are the wrongs that secure the apparent states of being willing and happy,
and the extent to which the will and happiness of others are far from transparent or
even available. The fact that “happiness claims” can be used to justify situations of ex-
treme violence and subjection might tell us something about what “will claims” can do.
48. We might also need to address the social and legal conventions that make hear-
ings of speech into judgments of the subjects speaking: some women might be assumed
to be willing in advance of what they say, and thus in advance of whether they say yes or
no, others not. Muslim women in Western secular contexts, for example, are often as-
sumed to be forced rather than willing. Politics does not begin with yes and no: there are
histories in which these two words become “given” as qualities of persons and groups
(as if this body is a yes, that body is no).
49. For a discussion of the methodological and affective implications of tangles for
feminist media research, see King (2012).

220 Notes for Chapter 1

Chapter Two. The Good Will
1. I am not suggesting here that models of the will as corporeal and determined only
emerged in the nineteenth century. There is a long history of associating will with pas-
sivity as much as activity, and with the body as much as the mind. A medieval example
would be Aquinas, who describes will in “The Ladder of Being” (1993) as a “passive abil-
ity” and “the activity of willing a being affected’ (17.172), suggesting that “will doesn’t
move itself but needs to be moved” (17.174). I am suggesting that the developments in
the sciences of the mind in the nineteenth century did not dislodge the moral status
already afforded to willing (its status, that is, as “higher”). I should add that I do recog-
nize that these literatures are not necessarily a critique of Kant (whose argument rests
on a distinction between the moral will and a sensible will that would be subject to laws
of determination). I would argue there is a case for reading George Eliot in relation to
Kantian ethics, in particular, the strong opposition she implies between duty and incli-
nation as I discussed in The Promise of Happiness (2010, 64, 245). For a reading of Eliot’s
The Mill on the Floss in relation to Kantian ethics see Newton (2011). For a discussion of
the idea of the will in the Victorian period see Reed (1989).
2. I would suggest that the concept of “weakness of the will” acquires a particu-
lar hold in the nineteenth century; it could be argued to be a much “older concept.”
Some scholars understand this concept as having a classical root in discussions of akrasi
(acting against one’s better judgment), which is often translated into “incontinence.”
Socrates famously argued that “no one goes willingly goes toward bad things” in Plato’s
Protagoras (for a good discussion, see Sevkic 2009). The question of whether “weakness
of the will” is a meaningful concept has been debated considerably in moral philoso-
phy. An influential text that argues for the efficacy of the concept is Donald Davidson’s
essay “How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?” which was first published in 1969 and is
reprinted in Davidson (1980). For a recent summary and discussion of this literature,
see Mele (2012). For a useful discussion of “weakness of the will” in Renaissance and
Reformation thought, as well as medieval thought, see Saarinen (2011, 2004).
3. By this I mean “weakness of the will” might no longer operate as a specific medical
diagnosis because it has become part of normative (and thus background) language for
understanding ourselves and others.
4. It is interesting to note that the psychologist Silvan S. Tomkins in his influential
work on negative affects uses the example of the child-rearing literatures that rested
on Calvinism and “breaking the will” of the child ([1962–63] 2008, 206). This would be
another way of showing how the history of willfulness is inseparable from a history of
affect. And we could also recognize how affects are not only “learned” (to learn from
association is to learn negation) but might become embodied at the scene of learning.
5. If the Grimm story reflects the increasing emphasis on paternal authority within
Calvinism, and thus the centrality of the child’s will as a way of transmitting the author-
ity, it begs the question of why the agent in the story is the mother and not the father.
Elisabeth Weber has addressed this paradox, noting how in the early nineteenth cen-
tury when the story was first published by the Grimms, it offers an “archaic remnant”
in treating the mother as cruel rather than loving. Weber suggests the Grimm brothers
were aware that the motif of the hand coming out of the grave in folklore also related to
trespass and patricide (1999, 181). It might be then that the crime of willfulness relates

Notes for Chapter 2 221

to the death of the father: the mother can become the rod by taking up the empty place.
It might also be that if the threat of willfulness relates to independence, as Weber sug-
gests, then the child’s relative proximity to the body of the mother is how willfulness
becomes criminal: a part that refuses to be part of her body. I take up the part of willful
parts in chapter 3.
6. Note the significance of this argument given that the words “will,” “want,” and
“wish” derive from the same root, as I pointed out in the previous chapter. We could
think of a history of the will as a history of the evacuation of wanting from willing, but
also a history of how will triumphs over want as the proper and higher mode of social
7. Miller gives an account of coming across Katharina Rutschky’s Schwarze Pädo-
gogic (Black Pedagogy) first published in 1977 in her book (1987, 9). Unfortunately, this
book is not translated into English. I have thus drawn on Alice Miller’s development of
Rutschky’s argument.
8. I only realized in the later stages of writing this book that “J. Sulzer” as he is
referred to by Alice Miller is in fact the Swiss philosopher Johann Georg Sulzer whom
Immanuel Kant refers to favorably in a note in Groundwork (Kant [1785] 2005b, 71). One
should not assume too much here about the relationship between Kant’s and Sulzer’s
writings on education. However, reading this note renewed my sense that “poisonous
pedagogy” should not be assumed as radically discontinuous from other philosophies
of education of the period. See Phillip Olsen who also notes this apparent “correspon-
dence” between Kant and Sulzer but clearly differentiates their pedagogies, given Kant’s
emphasis on example over inducement and his respect for human freedom (1993, 197).
I am not so sure the difference is as stark as Olsen hopes for here, perhaps because I
am less sure of the distinction between freedom and force. However see note 10 of this
chapter which shows how Kant differentiates his own methods of avoiding willfulness
from those that focus on punishing children.
9. It might seem that poisonous pedagogy is “far away” from current educational
practices in Europe and the United States. Of course we do know there are a range of
practices, and I would suggest that poisonous pedagogy remains one of them. In the
United States the book To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl could be described
alongside the works discussed by both Miller and Rutschky. Take the following descrip-
tion of how they disciplined their four-month-daughter: “She was too unknowing to
be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to
climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of ‘No’ with little spats on the bare
legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow
tree” (1994, 9). For her own good: in evoking the title of Alice Miller’s book, I was left
thinking how much we need to keep reading that book and reflecting on institutional-
ized violence against children. To Train Up a Child has certainly generated controversy,
but it remains available for publication even if some of the punishments of children
advocated are in direct contradiction with the law. It is certainly not a solitary publica-
tion. Furthermore, there are some educational manuals that still focus on the problem
of willfulness or the “strong-willed” child. Even if these methods are different from the
texts we would describe as “poisonous pedagogy” (historically or in contemporary con-
texts) the will of the child remains the problem. Take, for example, Carl E. Pickhardt’s
The Everything Parent’s Guide to the Strong-Willed Child (2005). There is no doubt that in

222 Notes for Chapter 2

this book willfulness is made more ordinary: “Every child has willful moments” (xiii)
and the problem of willfulness is not attributed to the intrinsic nature of children. The
narrative constructs a difference between strong-willed children and “other children” as
a difference of degree rather than kind: “They differ only in the degree to which need for
self-determination rules their lives” (xiii). I was struck by how the narrative begins by an
evocation of poison: willfulness becomes like poison, “a tiny amount of arsenic in your
drinking water will do you no harm, but a significant amount will be lethal. The same is
true for willfulness” (xiii). Maybe the difference between these materials and poisonous
pedagogy is also a difference of degree rather than kind. I should add here as well that the
problem of the willful child is still evoked more generally in public culture. In chapter 3, I
discuss how social problems are often attributed to the failure to discipline the children
and how quickly the rod is mourned as a lost object (and thus retained as a good idea).
One last thing: I pointed out in my introduction that this book is written in light of my
own experience of being called a willful child. More than a calling is at stake. My own
father was violent (and his father reportedly was violent toward him), and parts of my
childhood did involve living in fear of this violence. This is a common and shared history.
There was one particularly bad experience when I was beaten with my own ruler. The ruler
had holes in it: intended as different shapes you could trace onto paper. Those shapes
became shapes left on my own skin. I remember that feeling of being marked by violence.
This history when with us, we carry with us. For me, going over the materials of poisonous
pedagogy has been to stay close to the skin. There is an ethics to this proximity.
10. For Kant the task is to avoid the necessity of breaking the will: he thus differenti-
ates discipline from punishments given in anger and also challenges the idea, common
at the time, that the child must kiss the hand of the parent who punishes him ([1899]
2003, 89): “For the child surely does not look upon the rod with any special favour” (40).
The task of education is not to break the will of children but to bend it such that it can
yield to natural obstacles (54). It would be worthwhile to think of poisonous pedagogy
not only in terms of the use of the rod as a way of not spoiling the child (contrasting
with the Kantian model which is not to spoil the child in order to avoid dependence on
the rod) but as demanding the child love the rod that beats her.
11. One could reflect further here on the relation between will and affect. Rather
than thinking of affect as simply passing from one to another (see Ahmed 2010 for dis-
cussion of the concept of contagion) the implication here is that one can be willing or
unwilling to be affected by another (this is not to say that being unwilling to be affected
is successful, that it means being unaffected). In other words, education (in the general
sense of being orientated or cultivated) involves acquiring the will to be affected in
the right way. Ferdinand Tönnies, whose work I discussed in chapter 1, describes the
sociality of will in affective terms: “Mutual understanding rests upon intimate knowl-
edge of the other, reflecting the direct interest of one being in the life of the other and
willingness to share in his or her sorrows” ([1887] 2001, 33). If we acquire the will not
to be affected, then the will might play a crucial part in the creation of strangers (for
example, we might become unwilling to feel sad in response to the sadness of those
whom we recognize as strangers). It is perhaps a good thing that “the will” can fail as a
defense mechanism.
12. I am insistent on this point (that poisonous pedagogy is not remote) as some
of the responses to my use of the Grimm story have been that the story itself is an

Notes for Chapter 2 223

anachronism. One person said the rod was “very eighteenth century” as if the story
of the rod (and thus also of the child beaten by the rod) is simply behind us. It is not.
Sometimes we have to insist on points in order to make them.
13. This quote from Novalis has not only been widely cited, it has also been misat-
tributed: William James, for example, attributes the quote to John Stuart Mill in The
Principles of Psychology ([1890] 1950, 125). Novalis’s descriptions of character circulate
widely in our scholarly and literary archives. Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss draws on an-
other character quote from Novalis: “The tragedy of our lives is not created entirely
from within. ‘Character’ says Novalis in one of his questionable aphorisms—‘Character
is destiny.’ But not the whole of destiny. . . . Maggie’s destiny, then, is at present hid-
den, and we must wait for it to reveal itself like the course of an unmapped river; we
only know that the river is full and rapid, and that for all rivers there is the same final
home” ([1860] 1965, 420). There has been a revival of interest in the work of Novalis
in part, I suspect, because of the recognition of the affinities between early German
romanticism and poststructuralism. See Kennedy (2008).
14. For a very clear account of the history behind this idea of habit in William James,
see T. Bennett (2009). One important area of research will be how these distinctions
(between, for example, habit and will or between instinct and habit) became the basis
for techniques of liberal governance.
15. Prior to this image of “the steady hand,” Locke uses “the strict hand” a number
of times. Perhaps both these hands are affective as well as temporal forms: they are
perhaps cooler and more moderated techniques than the rod, though they still aim at
disciplining the child.
16. This description is from the cover of the book and is attributed to Christian
History magazine.
17. In a minor but suggestive text, we have a very good example of the cheery moods
of obedience. “Jane was a willful girl. She did not submit cheerfully to those whom it
was her duty to obey, but was always contriving to how she could have her own way, as
much and as often as possible” (Trowbridge 1855, 16). This story of the willful girl bor-
rows from old lexicons. What happens? Jane along with other girls from the school are
told not to go to the orchard. The teacher makes this command because the apples in the
orchard are ripe and she knows the girls will be tempted to eat them. In this tale about
forbidden fruit, the story of Jane becomes a thread in the weave of the stories of willful
women, returning us to Genesis, to the story of a beginning, to Eve’s willful wantonness
as behind the fall from grace. The willfulness of women relates here not only to disobe-
dience but to desire: the strength of her desire becoming a weakness of her will. And in
the narration of the story we get another sense of the kind of girls who are diagnosed as
willful. For it is when Jane is “determined” to go to the orchard and eat the apples that
she declares her intent by using the language of injustice: “She declared that it was very
unjust in their teacher not to permit them to play there” (17). It is as if the very tendency
to use the language of injustice is explained as a symptom of willfulness. Is there a critical
tendency to diagnosis the very tendency to use the language of injustice as willfulness,
as if we say it because we are that, as if this saying was always a cover, covering over our
own will by masking it as a social conscience? I will return to this question in chapter
4. In the end, Jane’s friend Lucy tries to dissuade Jane from her course of action, but
her “obstinate will” carries her in this direction, as if her will has acquired its own will,

224 Notes for Chapter 2

even if she becomes reluctant to follow the course. She is carried by her will to the wrong
place. When the teacher realizes this disobedience, what does she do? She addresses not
the guilty party but the class of children as if they are all guilty parties. She gives them
a lesson on the right of some to govern: “Whose will should govern in this classroom?”
And then, “I see from the looks on your faces that you do not wish to be governed by
the will of any one of the pupils who attend it” (19). Only then does the teacher speak of
the willful disobedience of one of the children. The children identify with the teacher by
making Jane’s willfulness into an obstacle to their collective will. And the moral lesson
is assumed by Jane as a willingness to become willing: “She also resolved that she will
try never to be willful again” (20). Jane assumes in the firmness of a resolution a will to
eliminate willfulness from her own character.
18. Virtue as moral character is, of course, central to Aristotelian ethics. For Aris-
totle in The Nicomachean Ethics, “the virtue of man also will be the state of character
which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well” (2.6.39). For a
good introduction to character from an Aristotelian perspective see Sherman (1989).
19. Jeffrey Sklansky offers a useful reading of the work of William James, John
Dewey, and G. Stanley Hall in terms of the development of a “new psychology” in the
United States. He suggests: “In an age of titanic organizations and impersonal forces
apparently beyond individuals’ control, James, Dewey, and Hall championed free will.
But they redirected willpower away from controlling labor and property, toward con-
trolling belief and habit instead” (2002, 8).
20. Gregory Moore in his book on Nietzsche suggests in a footnote, following Hans
Erich Lampl, that Nietzsche was familiar with Ribot’s work and “incorporated elements
of it into his own text” (2002, 128).
21. Another comparable approach (that draws on Ribot’s work) would be offered by
the philosopher Henri Bergson in Time and Free Will. Bergson also challenges the idea
that bodily movements are caused by will (for Bergson the will needs to be thought
in terms of duration and not antecedence). Bergson notes that the movements that
accompany attention “are neither the cause or result of the phenomena; they are part of
it; they express it in terms of space, as Ribot has remarkably proved” ([1889] 1910, 27).
The idea of body movements as the spatial expression of phenomena could be related
directly to the concept of will as testimony. See also note 27 of this chapter.
22. These cases are not Ribot’s own but are derived from the case notes of other
23. It is unclear as to whether Freud read Diseases of the Will, though reportedly
this book was found in a collection understood to be part of his library (see Macmillan
2002, 274). But if Ribot’s idea of “diseases of the will” did not prosper (Valverde 1998,
3) the Freudian model of the subject certainly did. At one level the Freudian turn can
be understood as a turn away from a psychology of will toward a psychology of the
drives. However this description might underestimate the extent to which the language
of will is exercised within the psychoanalytic enterprise. Leslie Farber notes how will
and resistance were interwoven in Freud’s work on hysteria. Farber suggests that Freud
turns toward “the will” when Dora turns away from him, and “recognised one of the
limits of psychotherapeutic influence to be the patient’s own will and understanding”
(2000, 88). Farber points out: “There is a force in her [Dora] that says ‘no’ to this mutual
creation. To this force he gave the name allocated to it by history, namely will” (115).

Notes for Chapter 2 225

See also Tauber (2010) for a discussion of Freud in relation to philosophers of the will
including Schopenhauer and Kant.
24. Counter-will is also used by Freud to describe hysterical symptoms: when the
patients produce precisely the thing they do not want. Scholars have noted how this
term disappears from Freud’s work, and explain this disappearance at least in part as
a result of the “depersonalisation” of the unconscious. By implying some relation of
counter-will to willfulness, I might also be suggesting how the counter-will can be a
social will, and thus depersonalizing as well as personalizing. For discussion see Thomp-
son (1995, 10–11).
25. In Diseases of the Will, Ribot does not refer to sexuality or sexual perversion.
However, we could speculate on how his differentiation of two primary classes of will
pathology (insufficient and exaggerated impulses) would relate to the problem of
homosexuality. Homosexuals could be described as weak willed in both cases: not only
as having insufficient impulses toward the right sexual objects, but as having exagger-
ated impulses toward the wrong objects (and lacking the coordination required to in-
hibit these impulses).
26. John Smith summarizes the argument: “Schopenhauer argues that less evo-
lutionary endowed men turn to young boys as . . . the lesser of two evils compared to
the depravation and degeneration of the species that would occur if they were to mate”
(1995, 9). This is how a “will to life” (or the will to reproduce life) can turn “to a pleasure
that denies propagation” (9). I will pick on the relationship between willing and reproduc-
tion in chapter 3.
27. We can note the similarity between the portrait of the strong will offered here
and the portrait of obedience discussed in the previous chapter. This similarity is tell-
ing. It is important to add here that Ribot is not treating the “I will” as the cause of
action (his whole psychology is a disputation of the concept of will as internal causal-
ity). Ribot suggests the “I will” “testifies to a condition but does not produce it” (1874,
133). The conditions Ribot is referring to are the “psycho-physiological” labor of delib-
eration that engenders consciousness and movements or inhibitions. I find this con-
cept of will as testimony very suggestive. Perhaps Willful Subjects offers another way of
hearing that testimony. I should add that “testimony” is also what I have been calling a
“will word”: deriving from Latin, testamentum, “a will, publication of a will.” The “I will”
makes a will public.
28. I am focusing here on proximities. But one could also say that things have quali-
ties that make them appear attractive or repulsive, even if we are attracted and repelled
by different things (see Ahmed 2010, 22–23, for discussion in relation to Locke and the
pleasures of taste). William Miller observes in The Anatomy of Disgust: “The greasy and
sweet continue to allure with their taste. They have the capacity to make us eat more of
them than we wish: they are will-weakening or will-deviating” (1997, 122). Of course this
wish (or not wish) can be part of the allure. Perhaps an allure of something is not only
how we are affected by things, but the tension between how we are affected and how we
wish or will to be affected.
29. I am not suggesting here that “fatness” is inherently negative: rather we live in a
fat-phobic culture whereby fatness is given a negative affective value, as an end that is to
be avoided. For important feminist critiques of anti-fat attitudes see Murray (1998) and
Tischner (2013). Fatness is often pathologized as the consequence of a weakness of will.

226 Notes for Chapter 2

30. For a good discussion of Gwendolyn’s will in relation to ner vous disorders, affect,
and imagination, see Wood (2001, 141–62).
31. I will return to the role of Gwendolyn’s hands in the conclusion of this book.
32. I explore the status of this “own” in chapter 4.
33. Kempis could certainly be read as key to the Christian genealogy of will. In this
book he suggests that the category of the will, in referring to the self, is already willful.
Will is represented as a kind of self-referentiality: insofar as the human being wills,
then the human being tends to will what is in agreement with his or her own desire:
“True it is that every man willingly followeth his own bent and is the more inclined
to those who agree with him” ([ca. 1418–27] 2006, 221). To will is to follow your own
bent (again: no wonder there is something queer about will). For Kempis willfulness
and pride are the same mark: “To refuse to hearken to others when reason or occasion
requireth it is a mark of pride or wilfulness” (14). The moral task is to give up the will by
obedience to God’s will: to will, in other words, whatever God wills.
34. It is worth noting how Maggie’s renunciation of will is expressed through her
hair: “Maggie in spite of her own ascetic wish to have no personal adornment was
obliged to give her way to her mother about her hair, and submit to have the abundant
black locks plaited into a coronet on the summit of her head, after the pitiable fashion
of those antiquated times” (309). If Maggie cuts her hair in a rebellion against a com-
mand, then her submission of will becomes a submission to femininity and the cruelty
of its fashion. There is a much longer story to be told about hair and willfulness. For a
useful discussion of hair in the Victorian novel, see Ofek (2009).
35. The desire to be thought of as clever might be treated as self-willed (as want-
ing an agreeable idea of oneself reflected back to oneself) but self-willed in a distinctly
feminist way (an attribute of cleverness for girls might be an agreeable feminist idea
that is disagreeable to others). There are many points within the novel of sympathetic
identification with Maggie’s cleverness.
36. For a good discussion of the significance of the gypsy narrative, see Myer (1996).
37. One of the most interesting discussions of the gendering of the will that attends
to this tension between will and willfulness is offered by Kathryn Schwarz in her reading
of representations of femininity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts. Schwarz
notes: “Will is not simply the mechanism for a single choice between submission and
rebellion, or for a sustained refusal to engage at all. The friction between willing and
willful animates feminine social subjectivity, and if isolated masculine privilege risks
stasis, this vitality offers a hazardous cure” (2011, 9). I should add here that work on the
Renaissance period generally, and on Shakespeare in particular, explores the queerness
of the will. Scholars have focused on sexuality and the will in Shakespeare’s sonnets
with its will puns. See Freinkel (2002) for discussion.
38. I thank my Facebook friends for discussions on my wall that led to the idea of
“too too” (if you can be too much or too little, then the much and the little might not be
the point of too, the too might be the point of too).
39. This translators’ introduction is excellent and refers to other work by Herbart,
not all of which is translated into English. The Science of Education would be a very useful
text to engage with as part of the education of will literature. Despite this challenge to
the Kantian concept of duty, Herbart’s pedagogy rests at least in the first instance on
the right of the parents to use force. Herbart’s starting point is that the child “enters

Notes for Chapter 2 227

the world without a will of its own” such that “parents can make themselves master of it
as of a chattel” (1893, 95). He argues that “subjection should be brought about by force”
(95). Only later does education become about the development of a “many sided” moral
character. I should add here that Herbart’s educational psychology was extremely influ-
ential and Husserl’s phenomenology could be read as following many of his insights.
Thanks to Bettina Bergo for making me aware of this history. For brief discussion of
Herbart in relation to phenomenology, see Gurwitsch (1966, 59–61).
40. See my discussion of spontaneity and will in the previous chapter, and how
spontaneity as subjective time relates to synchronicity as social time.
41. Judith Butler points out that Arendt in reclaiming Kant from Eichmann does
not then stress the categorical imperative, but aesthetic judgment and, in particular,
reflective judgment (2012, 156). It is worth noting here that in Kant’s Critique of Judg-
ment, a reflective judgment, even if it is under the law, has to be made in advance of the
law: it “is therefore in fact only a principle of reflection upon objects, for which we are
objectively quite in want of a law” ([1892] 2005a, 173, emphasis added). Perhaps Arendt
is implying a conditional commitment to Kant: to privilege a form of judgment that is
in want of the law might imply to want something other than the moral law as the basis
for ethics. Arendt was writing the third section of The Life of the Mind on judgment at
the time of her death. See Arendt ([1982] 1997) for a discussion of Kant’s political phi-
losophy in relation to Critique of Judgment.
42. See also William Connolly on Kant and evil. Connolly suggests that if subjects
have a “propensity” to evil the question that must follow for Kant is: “Could the erup-
tion of violence sometimes be an effect within the organization of will itself of childhood
terrors and abuses undergone when the will was being formed and shaped?” (1999, 120,
emphasis in original). In Willful Subjects I give a history of these terrors and abuses as
intrinsic to the history of will. Connolly is suggesting here that Kant almost admits the
possibility that “the will” cannot be separated from these histories, an admission that
would render impossible any final distinction between pathological and moral will: “To
accept that dangerous thesis might be to admit, worldly, sensuous elements into the very
structure of will” (120, emphasis in original).
43. See Dekel (2010) for a reading of Daniel Deronda’s Zionism. Mikhal Dekel also
notes in a reading of early Zionism how diasporic Jews were defined outside the Kan-
tian categorical imperative (2010, 11), which supports my own suggestion of how Kan-
tian ethics can become a technique for “rebinding” a national body.

Chapter Three. The General Will

1. Peter Hallward has argued for a return to the language of the general will, which
involves at least in part a direct restatement of Rousseau’s confidence that the gen-
eral will tends to be right. Hallward argues that “to say that the general will is strong
does mean that it stifles dissent or imposes uniformity. It means that in the process of
negotiating differences between particular wills, the will of the general interest eventu-
ally finds a way to prevail” (2009, 22). Note here the problems of associating the general
will with strength (defined here in evolutionary terms of “what will prevail”), but also
how Hallward attributes agency to the general will, as if it has a life of its own that
is independent from its parts. I would describe this as an attribution of agency to a

228 Notes for Chapter 2

concept. The problems of this attribution became clear when Hallward on January 31,
2011, published an article in the Guardian with the title “In Egypt and Tunisia: The Will
of the People Is Not a Hollow Cliché.” In the article Hallward suggests that the upris-
ings in the Middle East can be understood as concrete examples of “the general will.”
Self-conscious about the ease of this description, he notes: “Routine reference to ‘the
will of the people’ has long been one of the most formulaic turns of phrase in the mod-
ern political lexicon.” Hallward differentiates the will of the people as a turn of phrase
from the “actual mobilization of that will.” Such a mobilization, he argues, moves us
beyond any formal definition of democracy: the general will’s generality depends on
“popular participation and empowerment before it is a matter of representation, sanc-
tioned authority or stability.” When the will of the people is asserted, when a will allows
a people to persist through resisting the authority of a governing body, then, Hallward
claims, we move from will to way: “The cliché remains hollow until adopted in practice:
‘Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ ” Hallward uses here some of the exact phrasing in
this response to the Arab spring that he had used in an article written before the Arab
spring. When the concept of the general will is mobilized, historic events that we might
expect would exceed our analytic frames are read not only within those frames but are
used to establish their truth value. Political action, including action that is to come, be-
comes narratable in terms of the concretization or “filling” of what would otherwise be
an empty phrase. What does it mean for a political movement to be “filling” an expres-
sion whose history could be argued to mobilize a referent that resides elsewhere, which
as an elsewhere might be where “we are” as the ones who exercise that vocabulary and
even write under its name?
2. Patrick Riley, in The General Will before Rousseau: The Transformation of the Divine
into the Civic, states his project as follows: “a study of the transformation of a theologi-
cal idea, the general will of God to save all men, into a political one, the general will of
the citizen to place the common good of the city above his particular ill as a private
self, and thereby to save the ‘polity’ ” (1988, ix). He finds antecedents to Rousseau in
Pascal, Malebranche, and Bayle, among others (iv). Riley shows how Pascal’s descrip-
tions that I drew upon in this chapter relate not only to “bodies in general” as well
as “natural bodies” (19), thus prefiguring Rousseau in important ways. Indeed, Riley
notes the continuities between Pascal and Rousseau specifically on the question of hap-
piness, of how the general will (or even “one will”) is what makes the members of the
body happy (22).
3. This association of the particular will (or willful will) with sin and error clearly
extends the Augustinian framework discussed in the introduction to this book. I am
interested in how this distinction between particular will and the general will became
a primary moral distinction between bad and good within Christian thought, and how
that distinction is then carried into a secular framework.
4. The history of the idea of the social body might be difficult to separate from the
history of the body in parts. For a useful collection of essays on body parts in the liter-
ary and cultural texts of the early modern period in Europe, see Hillman and Mazzio
5. We can note that the demand that the guest wills in accordance is discussed in
chapter 1 is a demand not only that the guest is willing to be in agreement but that this
agreement is “affective.”

Notes for Chapter 3 229

6. The implication of this “traffic of ideas” is that biology and sociology have histori-
cally been entangled in ways that might not always be obvious. For a useful collection
discussing the traffic of ideas between biology and sociology, see Maasen, Weingart,
and Mendelsohn (1995). It is worth noting that Marx understood his model of social
history as a paralleling Darwin’s model of natural history as a history of organs. Marx
argued: “Darwin has directed attention to the history of the technology of nature, that
is, to the formation of organs of plants as instruments for the production of the life
of plants and animals. Does not the history of the formation of the productive organs
of social man, the material basis of all social organization, deserve equal attention?”
([1867] 1990, 493). I will be reflecting more on the relation between the will and “produc-
tive organs” in the following section. I will also be developing the argument about the
history of productive organs in my next research project on use and disuse.
7. Gregory Moore points out that Nietzsche is also influenced by the work of the
physiologist Michael Foster whose Text Book of Physiology (1877) describes automatism
and irritability as characteristic of living matter, such that even an amoeba is described
as “having a will of its own” (2002, 39). In more complex organism, volition has a com-
pound structure. We might also note the connection between Nietzsche’s model of will
and that of Théodule Ribot discussed in chapter 2. For a discussion of this connection
see Cowan (2008, 10).
8. Another model of the commonwealth in relation to the will is offered by Fichte
who proposes that “as a will, that which we seek must have itself for its own object, and
its own perfection as its ultimate object. The commonwealth is the very harmony of all.
Thus the commonwealth is the will we seek and as will wills itself which is the harmony
of all” (cited in Bourke 1964, 160).
9. For a discussion of happiness dystopias see the final chapter of The Promise of Hap-
piness (2010). We could also think of National Socialism as a dystopia of the strong will.
I am not suggesting that Nietzsche is endorsing or calling for a society of the strong
willed although it is hard not to notice the enthusiastic intonation in his description of
the strong will relative to the weak will. If we read Nietzsche’s model of the aristocratic
body as a genealogy of the general will, then we do not need to assume he is calling for
this body but accounting for how such a body has been called into existence. As such,
Nietzsche could help with a critique of models of equality that do not recognize how
inequalities become given in the materialization of bodies. Both ways of reading Nietz-
sche are possible. I personally, however, find the concept of “will to power” no more
convincing than Schopenhauer’s concept of “will to life.”
10. My argument locates a wrong in the very requirement to become part and con-
trasts with, but in my view does not contradict, Jacques Rancière’s model of wrong as
“the part of those who have no part” (2004, 38). I would suggest Rancière’s argument
implies a gap between two ways of being part: those who are parts of a social body but
have no part in a political body. We can draw here on Mary Poovey’s Making a Social
Body where she discusses the emergence in the nineteenth century of a distinction be-
tween the social body “and the political domain, to which the concept of a body politic
properly belongs” (1995, 8). My focus on wrongs concerns membership in the social
body: being counted as parts of this body is how some parts are given a supporting and
thus subordinate role in the preservation of the life and happiness of a whole. I relate
the wrong of becoming part directly to the naturalization of the division of labor. This

230 Notes for Chapter 3

argument of the wrong of becoming part builds directly upon my discussion in chap-
ter 1 of how antagonism and disagreement at the level of the social are concealed by
attunement: the requirement to become part (as a willing requirement) is often what
disappears from view as an effect of labor, thus creating the impression of the social as
harmony and synchronicity.
11. We could, for example, follow the word “selfish” around, reflecting on who it
gets attached to. See, for example, Imogen Tyler’s (2007) reflections on the figure of
the “selfish feminist.” Those who do not follow conventional scripts of marriage and
family, or who challenge those scripts, are often accused as putting themselves first. I
also explore how queers are diagnosed as selfish or narcissistic: as living for ourselves
as opposed to living for others.
12. We could return to my discussion of the gendering of will and willfulness in the
previous chapter. Perhaps the argument could be remade in these terms: to become
a boy is to be given permission to acquire a will of your own as the freedom not to be
13. If we think of these examples through the contrasting of “stomachs” we might
evoke one of Aesop’s fables, “The Belly and Its Members,” an early use of the classical
metaphor of the body politic. Depending on the version, either the feet or the hands
complain because the stomach is receiving all the nourishment. The fable has been
interpreted and used in different ways throughout history: as pointing to the willful-
ness of the stomach as that which compromises the well-being of all, or to the ways in
which the stomach is wrongly judged as willful because the stomach in being nourished
nourishes all. My own use of stomachs suggests that willfulness falls as a judgment
only on some, and that we learn from how willfulness falls: the stomach of the bank-
ers becomes swollen precisely because the bankers’ stomachs are viewed as nourishing
not themselves but all, while the assumption that public sector workers have (or would
have) swollen stomachs because they are feeding themselves (or aiming to feed them-
selves) is what prevents the nourishment of all. Some parts become, in other words,
“all,” while other parts become “not all.” With thanks to Robin Celikates for referring
me to this fable.
14. With thanks to Sarah Franklin for this reference.
15. I am suggesting here that how the workman’s tool extends his arm can be related
to the fact that the worker has become the arm of the social body. Other bodies are
freed from this task, as freedom from the necessity of being extended this way. Rather
than reflecting only a general relation of humanity, the example thus shows us the so-
matization of a class relation. However, I do think Bergson’s method of challenging
the organic/technological distinction is extremely useful. We could think of the arm/
rod distinction through his model: how arms become natural instruments and rods be-
come artificial organs to avoid the assumption that arms are not part of the history of
technology, or that rods are not part of the history of biology. For an important set of
reflections on the relationship between biology and technology, with specific reference
to how biology has become understood as technology, see Franklin (2013).
16. In religious history the handmaid not only becomes the hands of the master
but also is the one who gives her womb to others (the Virgin Mary was described as
“handmaid of the Lord”). The concept of woman as handmaid was craftily satirized in
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian feminist novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

Notes for Chapter 3 231

17. The first season (hereafter series) of Downton Abbey would be interesting to ana-
lyze in terms of the will and the social body. I was struck how the story of the trans-
formation of a middle-class man, Matthew Crawley, into an appropriate heir for an
aristocratic family is narrated through his relation to servants and their hands (his
transformation is from being unwilling to willing to bear the relation). In the first place,
Matthew Crawley is uncomfortable with ser vice and wants to dress himself, to use his
own hands. But he is encouraged by the lord to see his discomfort as harming the ser-
vant, as leaving the servant with nothing to do. His acceptance of the servant is treated
by the servants and the aristocrats as necessary for general happiness (the maintenance
of the household) as well as the happiness of the servants (as the subordinate parts of
the household). It is very noticeable in this first series, how many characters express a
desire to be useful, a desire that creates an affective bond between the (under-worked)
aristocratic women with the (overworked) servant class. The desire to be a useful mem-
ber, to contribute to the social body, is what keeps that body going by ensuring that
some are willing to be feet as well as hands.
18. He adds: “How can we show that we are the lords of creation but by reducing oth-
ers to the condition of machines, who never move but at the beck of our caprices” (Rob-
bins 1993, 17). I was reminded reading this quote of Immanuel Kant’s discussion of the
working classes as capricious that I referred to in the conclusion of chapter 2. The irony
of this discussion is that Kant had a servant to bend to his own will; to free up his hand
for writing (Kant’s servant was named Martin Lampe). Another way of responding to
this history would be to reassign the upper and middle classes as those who exercise
willful will (see chapter 4, note 5, for an explanation of why I did not make this reassign-
ment). The moral power to judge is not only the power to decide whose will is willful but
the power to command others to will one’s will. Perhaps what we might call “bourgeois
will” becomes moral will, a will that eliminates its own desires and inclinations, because
others exist to carry out those desires and inclinations.
19. I think this might be why some of the most positive representations we have of
willful children are also of children who happen to be orphans, and thus have a certain
freedom from the family (including from the requirement to reproduce the family line).
I am not saying all representations of orphans are positive: far from it. In many literary
depictions, orphans receive a negative charge in wandering away from a line of descent,
which is often but not always sympathetically rendered as the sadness, loneliness, and
misery of desertion. Laura Peters in her excellent book, Orphan Texts, cites one defini-
tion of orphan from the oed: “one who was ‘bereft of protection, advantages, benefits,
or happiness, previously enjoyed’ ” (2000, 1). I would suggest that given the sadness the
figure of the orphan is charged with, the attribution of willfulness might work differ-
ently: willfulness can convert what is ordinarily deemed a negative into a positive state
(making wandering away into something to be embraced). Pippi Longstocking would be
a case in point. She is described in the afterword as “gloriously, wonderfully naughty”
(Lindgren [1949] 1996, 117, emphasis in original), which is itself a rather glorious and
wonderful description (these two words are not often attached to naughty). Right from
the beginning of the story, Pippi’s adventures are directly related to the absence of par-
ents: “She had neither mother nor father, which was really very nice for in this way
there was no one to tell her to go to bed just when she was having most fun, and no one
to make her take cod-liver oil when she felt like eating peppermints” (1). Pippi rather

232 Notes for Chapter 3

hap-pily (Ahmed 2010) can follow her own whims. There is a colonial context to this
story—Pippi’s father is represented as traveling to faraway islands: Pippi imagines that
he has “come ashore on a desert island, one which has lots and lots of cannibals” (2). If
this image of the land faraway is a colonial fantasy, it shows how the father in becom-
ing stranger can allow Pippi to make her own family, one that could be described as a
queer family: a mouse and a horse are her companions. Queer family making is not here
separable from colonial world making. I wonder whether Pippi is popular with children
because she is the willful child’s own fantasy rather than a fantasy of a willful child. And
as fantasy she might also offer us an alternative set of values in which curiosity, play,
and caring for the diversity of living forms can and do matter. Thanks to Ulrika Dahl
for sharing with me her reflections on Pippi. My apologies to Pippi for only giving you
a note, but please feel free to run out of here with your own two feet! Go anywhere and
everywhere my willful friend!
20. How does this positioning of will in opposition to duty relate to my argument
about a will duty? I have been exploring how parts must be willing to do the right thing.
The will can thus become a duty in being defined against willfulness and inclination.
The monk here is using will to indicate willfulness and inclination. This switch of places
can still leave things in place. My arguments in Willful Subjects develop my thesis in The
Promise to Happiness (2010), which explored how happiness, which is often defined as
an inclination, can become a duty (or a switching point between duty and inclination).
Perhaps what is being turned on by happiness is the will.
21. A primary way we would understand marriage in relation to will is through the
idea of contract. Hegel described a contrast in will terms in Philosophy of Right: “The
means by which I hold property, not by virtue of the relation of an object to my subjec-
tive will, but by virtue of another will, and share in a common will, is contract” ([1821]
2005, 23). Feminist political theorists such as Carole Pateman have offered analyses
of the institution of marriage in terms of “the sexual contract,” one that challenges
the idea that free wills are the origin of contract as a fiction. Pateman cites Pufendorf:
“Whatever right a man has over a woman, inasmuch as she is his equal, will have to be
secured by her consent, or by a just war. Yet since it is the most natural thing for mar-
riages to come about through good will, the first method is more suited to the securing
of wives, the second to that of handmaids” (1988, 51). We can hear a history of will here:
if not willing then forced, if not consent then war.
22. On her turn to Florence, Romola seeks out Tessa and her children, and when
she finds them she says: “But be comforted my Tessa . . . I am come to take care of you
always” ([1863] 1998, 534). Here Romola effectively takes the place of Tito as the head
of the household but a head who offers care and protection: a feminine head. In the
epilogue we are offered a rather queer picture: Tessa sitting alongside Romola talking to
Lillo, Tessa and Tito’s son, about the possibility of his future, of what he could become.
For a discussion of how the ending of Romola offers an “all female household” that falls
short of describing this household as queer, see Sheets (1997).
23. Not all travel will be cast as wandering: travel with a purpose might be deemed
necessary for an ethical life, for maturity. Or perhaps wandering is permitted or permis-
sible when it is temporary: the European bourgeois male subject might wander, might
even “sow his seeds,” as long as returns home and settles down. How odd that you grow
up by settling down. Wanderers become willful when they refuse to make plans to settle

Notes for Chapter 3 233

down, to project their future as settled (as a willingness to settle). Wandering as a re-
fusal to settle gets “in the way” of settlement. We learn that the very activity of settling
is a way of directing or being directed. In return for the promise of membership, parts
must be willing to return.
24. I am focusing here on the willful wanderer as body or body part. The willful
wanderer can also be a mind. Recall in the previous chapter how the educated will is
defined against the weakness of a wandering attention: to wander is to lack discipline,
to lack the very capacity to attend to an object that is already in danger of receding from
view (your attention is what endangers the object). Indeed, in Payot’s The Education
of the Will wandering is associated not only with the figure of the vagabond but also
with manual work: “With the majority of manual work, the thoughts are free to wander
like vagabonds wherever they will” (1914, 378). This description of manual labor is self-
evidently written by someone not engaged or required to engage in manual labor! For
Payot the laboring parts are parts that can wander, and that suffer from weakness of
the will. A wandering mind is too full of hap, too affected by what happens, too easily
influenced or seduced by the proximate, too willing to receive. To acquire a good will is
to acquire a will toward the general: the will not to wander away from the path that is or
should be followed. To pursue your own end is not to pursue the right end.
25. For a closer reading of The Well of Loneliness please see the chapter “Unhappy
Queers,” in The Promise of Happiness (2010).
26. Even if this idea of hysteria (or the very idea of hysteria) is “obsolete” in medi-
cal terms, the diagnostic history of hysteria is still with us. The danger of wandering
from femininity (as wandering away from what is anticipated to cause happiness) is
ever present as a social diagnostics. Telling feminist stories about hysteria remains a
crucial aspect of a willful feminist inheritance. As Elaine Showalter suggests, “Above all
the hysteric is someone who has a story, a histoire, and whose story is told by science.
Hysteria is no longer a question of a wandering womb, but of a wandering story, and
of whether that story belongs to the hysteric, the historian, the doctor, or the critic”
(1993, 336). Another way of writing a history of willful women would be as a history of
the hysteric. See also chapter 2, note 24, for a discussion of Freud’s use of the language
of will to describe the resistance of hysterical patients to psychoanalytic treatment.
27. Augustine also makes the analogy between the individual body and the political
body in terms of a command structure. He draws on Cicero’s On the Commonwealth,
which suggests, in Augustine’s terms, “that the members of the body are governed like
children, because of their ready obedience, while the perverted elements of the soul are
coerced like slaves under the harsher regime” (City of God, 14.23.586). The differentia-
tion between willing children and willful slaves is used to justify different techniques of
governance for an individual as well as for a political body. See also the last section of
my conclusion to this book for a discussion of the relation between the will of the child
and the will of the slave.
28. I am not saying here that the penis cannot be a willful part; this material from
City of God shows us precisely how the penis can stand up, on its own, as it were. We
could also return to Freud’s use of counter-will referred to in chapter 2 to describe
impotence. The penis can in not standing up also become a willful part, one that might
matter by thwarting not only a sexual will, but the reproductive will. William James’s
own description of weaknesses of the will evokes the problem of impotence: “the hope-

234 Notes for Chapter 3

less failures, the sentimental, the drunkards, the schemers, the ‘dead-beats’ whose life
is one long contradiction between knowledge and action, and who, with full command
of theory, never got to holding their limp characters erect” ([1890] 1950, 110). The
penis might become a willful part when it becomes a limp member. But we should not
make this member the standing member: what other members can only stand in for.
29. I very much admire Judith Butler’s essay “The Lesbian Phallus” for how it shows
both the plasticity of the phallus and its detachment from the penis. Butler includes the
arm in a chain of phallic symbols: “Consider that ‘having’ the phallus can be symbolised
by an arm, a tongue, a hand (or two), a knee, a pelvic bone” (in Butler 1993, 88). One
might note that the arm comes first in this fleshy chain of body parts. But even if the
arm comes first, I wonder if the arm can matter differently. I wonder if lesbian arms
have their own dissenting history. If we think of arms as symbols for what we have, we
could miss what we have: we could be missing lesbian arms in all their fleshy potential.
See my conclusion for further discussion.
30. As Walter Kaufman notes, Nietzsche in The Case of Wagner paraphrases Bour-
get’s definition of decadence (which becomes rather fetchingly redescribed as “an anar-
chy of atoms”) but does not acknowledge him although he does praise Bourget’s work
elsewhere ([1950] 1974, 73).
31. The legislation Marx is referring to here was consolidated in the Vagrancy Act
of 1824. This act stated: “Every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or out-
house, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or
in any cart or wagon, . . . and not giving a good account of himself or herself . . . shall be
deemed a rogue and vagabond, and may be imprisoned for up to three months on con-
viction by a magistrate.” Not surprisingly the wording of the act makes frequent use of
“willfully” as an adjective attached to persons and things: see Vagrancy Act 1824, http:// Accessed February 2,
32. In describing class as well as race as a disciplinary technique, I am suggesting
class can be understood not only as a relation to the means of production but as a
system for justifying the social division of labor as an expression of a natural division.
When the bodies of the working classes are treated as intended for certain kinds of
labor, then the capacities of these bodies become resources for the extraction of wealth.
I am thus cautious about the currency of what I would call a loosely Spinozian frame-
work in which the focus is on “increasing capacity.” I indicate loosely as I think the
ethical implications of Spinoza would be better understood through Stoicism with the
strong commitment to the rational pursuit of moral perfection (see DeBrabander 2007),
which as an ethics is much more demanding than increasing capacity. I would also argue
that “increasing capacity,” as a moral directive, is a problem in its proximity to other
social directives: the laboring body has always been directed by this requirement, as a re-
quirement that bodies become more capable. We might even need to think of increasing
incapacities for the work that reproduces the system in order to revolt against the sys-
tem. In The Promise of Happiness (2010) I challenged this model primarily through how it
assumes a distinction between joy (increasing capacity for action) and sadness (decreas-
ing the capacity for action). But I now think the problem begins not with the affective
distinction but the economic distinction of “increase” and “decrease.” This binary logic
is partly a problem given that organisms are complicated bundles of cells: a decrease

Notes for Chapter 3 235

in a capacity for one thing can be understood as (almost simultaneously) an increase
in a capacity for something else. After all, to have qualities can mean being capable of
doing some things because you are incapable of doing others (for example, if a material
is incapable of conducting heat then it can be used to build airplanes). In Michael Hardt
and Antonio Negri’s Empire there is a productive emphasis on incapacity: “The will to be
against really needs a body that is completely incapable of submitting to a command.
It needs a body that is incapable of adapting to family life, to factory discipline, to the
regulations of a traditional sex life, and so forth” (2000, 216). However, in Hardt and
Negri’s later text Multitude, the emphasis is on living labor as creative capacities. Even
if the latter more explicitly addresses how “labour can be corralled by capital” (2004,
146), the former approach has more to teach us about the colonization of the life world
by capital (as well as other social forces that demand bodies do things). To unlearn
these histories we might need bodies that are creatively incapable. A wider aim of my
work has been to question the tendency to affirm capacity as positive action or as the
potential for positive action.
33. For a discussion of slavery in relation to the will, see the final section of my
34. Definition is from The Free Dictionary, http://medical-dictionary.thefreediction- Accessed February 2, 2014.
35. This slogan “go home” was recently deployed in an advertising campaign on vans
by the British government. The slogan is charged, carrying with it a racist history, and
needs to be heard as such. It was noticeable how the explanation or justification of
that campaign exercised the language of will: that illegal immigrants (and even this
combining of words carries a history) are encouraged to “go home” voluntarily, which
as an injunction, evokes the force that it seems to suspend: go home voluntarily or
we will be “forced to be forced” to eject you (the slogan printed on the side of the bus
was “go home or face arrest”). This campaign has since been judged by the Advertising
Standards Agency (the UK’s independent regulator for advertising across social media)
as “misleading.” But the agency also neutralized the damage by saying that “it was un-
likely to cause serious or widespread distress or offence.” Racism becomes reduced to
the causing of offense by being posited as not likely to cause offense.
36. The implication here is that citizenship becomes not only a requirement to will
but a requirement to will in the right way: citizenship presents itself as a moral as well
as a civic requirement. We can thus consider how my argument in the previous chapter
that gave a genealogy to the good will could also be extended to think through what we
can call simply “the national will.” Consider this description of Kantian ethics from the
editor’s introduction to Max Scheler’s The Nature of Sympathy: “Man had to be tamed if
he was to be transformed into a citizen; the moral law has to be imposed onto his way-
ward will” (Stark [1953] 2008, x). The wayward will of the child/would-be citizen became
that which must be straightened out (citizenship as poisonous pedagogy).
37. There is a paradox here: the veil is often seen as a willful part, one that refuses
to become part of secular culture, because it is taken as a sign that the Muslim woman
is not allowed a will of her own. In other words, the veil becomes a willful sign of wil-
lessness. Perhaps the Muslim woman herself becomes both will-full and will-less. No
wonder her body has become monstrous in the secular imaginary. I will return to the
question of the veil in chapter 4.

236 Notes for Chapter 3

38. I would suggest willfulness could be judged as melancholic: a subject refuses to
give up on a loved object that has been pronounced dead by others. See also the chap-
ter “Melancholic Migrants” from The Promise of Happiness (2010). I noted here how the
unconventional daughter of the migrant family becomes a conventional form of social
hope. Willfulness gives us another lens to understand this claim: migrants who refuse
to give up allegiance, to what gets coded as tradition, become the willful children of the
national family.
39. See Nicholas Watt and Hélène Mulholland, “Immigrants who fail to integrate
have created ‘discomfort,’ says Cameron,” Guardian,
/2011/apr/14/immigrants-fail-integrate-discomfort-cameron. Accessed February 2,
40. See also chapter 1, note 48, for a related discussion of some individuals and
groups come to be seen as willing, others as forced, whatever they do, or say.
41. I put “riots” in quote marks here because when these events are described as
such, the description becomes a way of containing the social and political significance
of the unrest. It is important to remember that the civil unrest was triggered by the
police shooting of a black man named Mark Duggan on August 4, 2011. The framing of
the disturbances as riots is also a way of obscuring the political significance of protest.
42. This comment was made by the British tabloid journalist Richard Littlejohn
and was widely repeated across the media. See Richard Littlejohn, “The Politics of
Envy Bound to End up in Flames,” Mail Online, see
/article-2025021/UK-riots-2011-The-politics-envy -bound-end-flames.html. Accessed
February 2, 2014.
43. Thanks to Sarah Trimble for her thoughtful provocations on how responses to
“the riots” fixated on feral youth.
44. Mihir Bose, “Riots are Elsewhere, so Thought Britain Till the Hoods Came out
in London and Beyond,” see
-so-thought-britain-till-the-hoods-came-out-in-london-and-beyond/. Accessed Febru-
rary 2, 2014.

Chapter Four. Willfulness as a Style of Politics

1. Even this formulation is not quite accurate: the point of the diagnosis of willful-
ness is that the same actions can be judged as willful in some and not in others. Will-
fulness, I have been suggesting, is as much a judgment of “the who” that acts as it is a
judgment of an action.
2. It might also be in feminist and queer fairy tales that willfulness is embraced
or claimed: the very attribute that was punished in our grim histories becoming sites
for creativity and resistance. See, for example, Carter (1990), which includes a section
entitled “Brave, Bold and Willful,” and Bender (2005), in which willful conveys a rather
magical sense of the creation of new and entangled forms.
3. Another interesting way of tracking the legal and political history of willfulness
would be through vandalism. Vandalism is typically defined as the willful destruction of
what is beautiful and venerable. It is from Vandals, a name of the Germanic tribe that
sacked Rome in 455 under Genseric, from Latin vandals, from the tribe’s name for itself
(Old English: wendlas, from wandal or “wanderer”).

Notes for Chapter 4 237

4. I do recognize that Hobbes’s arguments on obedience in relation to the sovereign
will are more complex than I present here. As Susanne Sreedhar has noted, although
many have viewed his work as “a prescription for virtually unconditional obedience to
the Will of the great Leviathan,” Hobbes’s account of the right to self-defense (the right
to disobey the command to kill or harm oneself) extends to the other rights (2010, 1).
Sreedhar makes a case that Hobbes offers a “theory of resistance rights” (2).
5. My own strategy has not been to reassign the rod as willful will in part as I want us
to lose confidence in our capacity to designate actions as willful. I have shown how will-
fulness as a judgment tends to fall upon the fallen. Rather than arguing that the sover-
eign will is willful, I affirm the negated term “willful” as mattering to those it falls upon.
6. I have learned a great deal from the feminist readings of Antigone, especially
the work of Judith Butler (2000a) and Bonnie Honig (2013) on the vexed questions of
kinship and mourning. I cannot do justice to the complexity of their arguments here. I
am nevertheless interested in the relation between will and grief implied by Sophocles’s
play. We learn from Antigone’s sister Iseme that Antigone has strength of will because
she is willing to will against what the city wills. Iseme says: “I do them no dishonour, but
to act against the city’s will I am too weak” (78–79, 5). The Chorus of course gives Creon
the right to will as he does, as sovereign: “Such is your will, my lord; so you requite
Our city’s champion and our city’s foe. You being sovereign make what laws you will,
Both for the dead and for those of us who live” (211–14, 9). There are at least three wills
named in this story: Antigone’s will (described as insolence), Creon’s will (as sovereign
will), and the will of the city. It is of course the nature of sovereignty that the will of
the sovereign is identified as the will of the city (“make what laws you will”). But the
play shows the gradual separation of these two wills in the mourning for Antigone, as
articulated by Creon’s son Haemon:

But it falls to me,

Being your son, to note what others say,
Or do, or censure in you, for your glance
Intimidates the common citizen;
He will not say, before your face, what might Displease you; I can listen freely,
how The city mourns this girl. “No other women,”
So they are saying, “so undeservedly
Has been condemned for such a glorious deed.
When her own brother has been slain in battle
She would not let his body lie unburied To be devoured by dogs or birds of
prey. Is this not worthy of a crown of Gold?”

The son alone can say what others do not say, the “common citizens” (687–93, 24–25).
The son can say: “the city mourns this girl” (693, 25). “This girl” has already disobeyed the
sovereign will by publicly mourning her brother. This intimacy between willfulness and
mourning shows how mourning, to borrow from Douglas Crimp’s (2004) words, can
be “militancy.” In mourning the wrong body you disagree with the commanding will. A
willful gift is here a mourning gift. The will of the city is identified with the will of An-
tigone in mourning Antigone. As Arthur Schopenhauer has suggested, identification
often takes place by feeling another’s woe: “I feel his woe just as I ordinarily feel my
own” ([1840] 1995, 143). To mourn Antigone is to identify with her grief. To inherit this

238 Notes for Chapter 4

play willfully would be to mourn the death of the willful subject, to mourn the wrong body
as the wronged body.
7. It is crucial to note how the charge of willfulness is not the only significant charge.
An act of disobedience can still agree with wider social norms. For example, Tina
Chanter has usefully explored how Antigone’s disobedience of Creon’s command relates
to her desire to distinguish her brother from the slaves (2011, x). What orientates a
disagreement can thus even be an orientation toward other norms that might matter
insofar as they do not seem to be operative (but are operative in this not seeming).
8. I noted in my introduction how Foucault admits he has not dealt with the ques-
tion of will and that he should have done so in reflecting on power. It is thus worth
acknowledging that in another essay, Foucault does speak of power in relation to will:
“At the very heart of the power relationship and constantly provoking it, are the recal-
citrance of will and the intransigence of freedom” (1983, 219). Recalcitrance suggests a
stubborn resistance to authority. Intransigence refers to those not coming into agree-
ment. We can decipher a lot from this description: if for Foucault the will would be at
the heart of power, then the will would be related to disobedience and disagreement.
I think Foucault’s will, however unarticulated, is a willful will.
9. Max Stirner is one of the few writers who not only tracks the rebelliousness of
“own” but also shows how “self-will” can be used as a technique for dismissing others. For
example, he reflects on the moral of Romeo and Juliet: “The family casts of its bosom
those willful ones that grant more of a hearing to their passion than their piety” ([1845]
1993, 221). Stirner is a key figure in the history of anarchism (Bargu 2011). To tell this
history would provide another way of assembling a willfulness archive. I have not cho-
sen this way as I am interested in how willfulness becomes a style of politics for those
who are assumed to embody that quality whatever they say or do. My project thus
works through the assertion of particulars—female, of color, queer—in feminist, anti-
racist, and queer politics (all of which have anarchic as well as socialist dimensions) with
the aim of showing how those lodged as particular dislodge the general. Nevertheless,
anarchism would offer another route on a willful journey. For a companion project on
anarchist archives, see Elena Loizidou (2011). See also Landstreicher (2009) for a discus-
sion of anarchism in terms of willful disobedience.
10. A no might be what we have to achieve: the capacity not to be compelled by
others. The opening lines of Albert Camus’s The Rebel remain very powerful: “What is
a rebel? A man who says no: but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation” ([1951]
2000, 19). Camus reminds us how the no (for example, the slave “who cannot obey some
new command”) is both an achievement and an affirmative act in its self-orientation:
“He stubbornly insists there are things in him which ‘are worthwhile’ and which must
be taken into consideration” (19). In the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, dir.
Rupert Wyatt) the audible sign of the beginning of the revolutionary movement of the
apes was Caesar saying no: the signing, the first word, logos, as the signing of the ape
taking over the planet of the human, which is simultaneously the sign of not being
willing to bear the tyranny of the human. In this case, the tyrants do not think their
subjects even have the will (to bear or not to bear): their right is assumed as the neces-
sity of force, a force that does not reveal itself as force.
11. I agree with Peter Hallward’s (2011a) description of Fanon as a philosopher of
the will. However, I also wonder if “willfulness” probably better captures the dissenting

Notes for Chapter 4 239

logic of Fanon’s own political sensibility as well as his arguments. My feeling would be
that Fanon would have diagnosed how quickly the general will can be an instrument of
rule, even though he exercises the vocabulary of popular will. After Fanon, a number
of philosophers of decolonization have taken up the will as both a primary category
of thought, and as key to political action. A recent example would be Enrique Dussel’s
Twenty Theses on Politics, which focuses on the “will-to-live” and how the strength of the
will of individuals can be joined together (2006, 14).
12. See Arendt (1972, 53–57) for a discussion of civil disobedience in terms of willing-
ness to pay the penalty within the context of U.S. law.
13. Henry David Thoreau in his classic essay on civil disobedience describes the prob-
lem of an “undue respect” for the law: “You may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain,
corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admiral order over hill and
dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences”
([1849–1862] 1993, 2). Being respectful of the law might lead us to follow paths that our
own will would not take us on. Disobedience might require giving up respect for the law,
including the moral law, as I discussed in the conclusion to chapter 2.
14. I am indebted again to Jeanne Theoharis for the following quote from Rosa
Parks: “Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for start-
ing the bus boycott. . . . I was just one of many who fought for freedom” (2005, 125).
15. The way in which Rosa Parks became a symbol has been related to her respect-
ability by Jeanne Theoharis among many others. What is at stake, perhaps, is the
gendering and class nature of militancy: Rosa Parks was certainly militant, but did not
look like what militants were assumed to look like (angry, aggressive, etc.) which made
her able as well as willing to become a symbol for civil rights. See also my discussion in
the next section about how willfulness conjures up an image of a certain kind of person
that often means willful actions are more easily performed by those who do not fulfill
this expectation.
16. For a discussion of black women radicals in the period before 1960, see Gore
(2012). For a relevant discussion of Rosa Parks’s action see Butler (1997a) and Lovell
(2003). Judith Butler affirms Rosa’s act of civil disobedience: “When Rosa Parks sat in
the front of the bus, she had no prior right to do so guaranteed by any of the segrega-
tionist conventions of the South. And yet, in laying claim to the right for which she
had no prior authorization, she endowed a certain authority on the act, and began the
insurrectionary process of overthrowing those established codes of legitimacy” (1997a,
147, emphasis in original). Butler has been challenged by some critics for the implica-
tion that Rosa Parks’s acts have a volitional quality. Terry Lovell, for example, argues:
“Butler appears to be attributing it to some quality inherent in Parks’ performance. She
uses the active voice (‘she endowed,’ not ‘the act was endowed’) but we are left to specu-
late on whether that endowment resided in the words exchanged, the bodily stance, or
in some social quality of the performance of the act, or whether anyone who refused
to give up their seat could likewise be said to be acting with authority” (2003, 7). In
contrast, Lovell aims to put Parks’s act into a historical lineage: “The authority of Rosa
Parks’s act was retrospective, the outcome of the process of group formation that was
social and collective. It was the willingness of the black community in Montgomery to
accept Parks as a suitable ‘standard bearer’ for their cause—a willingness that was evi-
dent after the action in which she refuses to give up her seat that contributed critically

240 Notes for Chapter 4

to the authority Butler ascribes to the act” (11). I am offering a combination of these
arguments: Rosa Parks’s action did help to create the possibility it was reaching for; it
did in this sense have a volitional quality, which is what made the action available to be
“picked up” by the black community.
17. A note on timing: I began this project on willfulness after I completed my research
into diversity in institutions, but before I finished the book On Being Included (2012)
that derived from that research. My project on will and willfulness gave me tools to
interpret the data I gathered for this earlier book, in which I introduced the concept of
“institutional will” to explain how things get stuck even when institutions seem willing
to change. In turn, this earlier research on diversity provided an important background
for rethinking willfulness as political work. Although I only draw on the data in this
section, the research into diversity informs many of my arguments in Willful Subjects,
in particular my approach to how will is unevenly distributed, which we can character-
ize as a support system: how for some, less effort and energy is required to complete
an action as their being is more supported; while for others, more energy and effort
is required to complete an action as their being is less supported. For all quotes drawn
from my interviews with practitioners I am giving the relevant page numbers for On
Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) as this research is more
systematically presented here.
18. This suggestion that habit is “still willing” refers us back to Husserl’s argument
on acquisition as how a subject is still willing discussed in chapter 1: the past is not
simply being recorded as memory, but is being actively reaffirmed.
19. Tanya Titchkosky (2011) offers an understanding of the politics of disability in
relation to embodiment and space by drawing on phenomenology. For other important
phenomenological considerations of disability see also Diedrich (2001), Price and Shil-
drick (2001), and Sandahl (2002).
20. I first described this labor of insistence in The Cultural Politics of Emotion:

It is no accident that compulsory heterosexuality works powerfully in the most

casual modes of conversation. One asks: “Do you have a boyfriend?” to a girl or
one asks, “Do you have a girlfriend?” (to a boy). Queer subjects feel the tired-
ness of making corrections and departures; the pressure of this insistence,
this presumption, this demand that asks either for a passing over (a moment
of passing that is not always available) or for indirect or direct forms of self-
revelation (“but actually, he’s a she,” or “she’s a he,” or just saying “he” instead
of “she” or “she” instead of “he” at the obvious moment). No matter how “out”
you may feel or how (un)comfortably queer you may feel, those moments of in-
terpellation get repeated over time, and can be experienced as a bodily injury;
moments which position queer subjects as failed in their failure to lived up to
the “hey you too” of heterosexual self-narration. (Ahmed 2004, 147)

Following willful subjects has allowed me to develop the thesis: that the uneven distri-
bution of the pressure of insistence is how norms become “affective” as well as effective.
21. There might seem a contradiction here with my argument in chapter 3 that
queerness is what fails to recede in the generalization of will. A queer phenomenol-
ogy can explore how things move in and out of the background in a dynamic way. So
while the gaze passes over heterosexuality, and while this becoming background is what

Notes for Chapter 4 241

can ground mobilities and motilities (the “can do” as the comfort and ease of moving
through a space that has already assumed one’s shape), the gaze can also bring hetero-
sexuality to the front, as what “knocks on the door” of consciousness. To be the recipi-
ent of an action (in this example, to be waited upon) is to receive an attention that has
already been given. Those whom the gaze passes over in such instances might have to
be willful just to be on the receiving end.
22. Please note I am not saying here that we necessarily notice categories when we
come up against them (an experience of coming up against can sometimes be survived
by not noticing what we are coming up against) or that this is the only way we notice
them (we can be aware of categories in play and subversion). For further discussion, see
the conclusion of On Being Included (2012).
23. I am not assuming the equivalence of these words: they can slide into each other
but they are also distinct from each other. The word “willful” and the word “stubborn”
can often refer to similar kinds of behavior (when people are too attached to their own
will such that their will stops them from being willing to do something for another).
However, as words they do have different affective as well as temporal qualities. We can
explore the differences between them through animal associations. The notion of willful-
ness is often conveyed through the image of a goat: not only an animal that is imagined
by humans as individualistic (I pointed out in chapter 2 that the word “capricious” de-
rives from goat) but also one who moves fast, is mischievous, who gets everywhere. The
notion of stubbornness is typically conveyed through the image of a mule: as an animal
that won’t budge, that sticks its hooves into the ground when a human attempts to pull
it forward. Willful wills might have that impulsive and light temporality, and stubborn
wills a slow and heavy temporality. But both wills are wills that won’t be compelled by
24. I acknowledge here that “individualism” is also a complicated political idea and
is often reduced in order to be dismissed (rather like willfulness in that respect). There
can be radical and conservative individualisms (indeed, there have been) just as there
can be radical and conservative models of community. For a discussion of the contested
political history of individualism, see Lukes (1973).
25. This is a familiar technique of racialization. See a related discussion in the con-
clusion of On Being Included about race as a technique of viewing as a blunt instrument
(2012, 181). The others are seen as the other (for example, as could-be Muslims, could-be
Middle Easterners, or could-be terrorists) as the others are only seen as a blur. Racial
instruments: you catch by loosening, you sharpen by blurring.
26. It might be a Western idea to think of the individual as a Western idea (one that
is given to “the others” when they become individuals). This is another way that empire
becomes narratable as gift (see Nguyen 2012, for an excellent discussion of empire as
the “gift of freedom”). When the individual becomes an imperial gift, then it is as if
before empire we were an undifferentiated mass who needed the West to sort ourselves
out, acquiring lines and edges that allowed us to differentiate ourselves from and to
each other. I would thus propose that it is a Western idea that Muslim women are not
individuals such that if Muslim women act “like individuals” it is a sign they have be-
come Western (the “like” of course tells the story, as if some can only be individuals
by being like). I am super-aware of the implications of these dynamics coming from a
mixed background: when I talk of myself as part of a family of feminists, a family of

242 Notes for Chapter 4

willful women, or even a family of strong female individuals, it is often assumed I am
referring to the English not Pakistani side of my family. But I am not: it is my Pakistani
aunties, Muslim women, whom I think of as my most willful foremothers. They might
be loyal and devout to Islam (as we know loyalty and devotion can mean very different
things in different hands) but they certainly taught me how to stand up to men and to
name patriarchy whatever the consequences. They taught me that my mind is my own.
I mentioned in the acknowledgments of my first book that my eldest auntie, Gulzar
Bano, was the first woman who spoke to me about feminism. Feminism can become a
willful familial inheritance.
27. Heidi Mirza (2013) has recently shown how Muslim women think of the veil as a
second skin. For a discussion of Muslim women’s ethical practice as a form of habit or
habituation, see also Mahmood (2004 [2012]). It might seem that my suggestion that
Muslim women become willful is at odds with Mahmood’s own critique of the use of
“autonomous will” to frame questions of freedom (11–12). However, I think our argu-
ments are in sympathy. I am suggesting that once the veil has become a willful sign,
what was previously experienced as habit becomes a matter of will. This can be a pro-
foundly alienating experience for Muslim women living in Western secular contexts.
See also Bilge (2010) for a good discussion of how the French headscarf debates are often
framed in terms of subordination versus agency (defined in terms of free will) and re-
sistance. I also thank Loubna Bijdiguen for her important doctoral research on repre-
sentations of the veil in Morocco and France from which I have learned a great deal. She
shows how the veil becomes a history of associations. She picks up on, for example, how
in the French context the veil becomes an “ostentatious” (ostentatoire) religious symbol,
which then travels into the Moroccan press. Ostentatious as a word implies a dressy
form of willfulness. Loubna Bijdiguen is one of a new generation of Islamic feminists
who will teach us not only about the materiality of the veil but how the veil as sign or
symbol is made out of materials.
28. Indeed, in the UK in the midst of another controversy about the veil, one com-
mentator from the Muslim Women’s Network Shaista Gohir on Women’s Hour bbc
Radio 4, on September 16, 2013, described the Muslim women who insist on wearing
the niqab as “stubborn about being stubborn.” What is implied is that some minorities
are experienced as being willful not only for the general body but also for other minori-
ties whose aim is to become part of that body.
29. An action can be encountered as willful that is for the actor not willful but simply
ordinary: to designate such an action as willful in this case would be to make a diagnosis
both of what is behind the action and of the nature of the action. For instance, when I
was younger someone said to me that in not shaving my legs I was “making a feminist
statement.” My unshaved legs, you could say, were encountered as willful impositions
on the world of willing legs. I hadn’t actually thought I was making a feminist point,
though perhaps I was, in not assuming female legs had to be shaved legs. But in a way
the ordinariness of unshaven legs is what is rendered impossible by the charge of will-
fulness: if not to shave is to be willful, then your legs cannot become part of the back-
ground. They assume the role of making a point. It can be tiresome: to be the point or to
be perceived as making a point! I remember at the time the pressure of femininity: how
any acts that were not “expressing” my compliance would appear as imposing my will on
what is otherwise assumed as a neutral and even happy occasion.

Notes for Chapter 4 243

30. I found this novel because reviews compared it to Mrs. Dalloway, a novel I wrote
about in The Promise of Happiness (2010, 70–75). As with Mrs. Dalloway, we have a whole
life depicted in a single day; in this book too, unhappiness seems to seep into the tasks
of that day. I should add that the scene in this book that I am describing as a feminist
killjoy scene is quite unlike any in Mrs. Dalloway, perhaps because Mrs. Dalloway as a
character is too busy caring for the happiness of others: so careful that she does not
speak of the causes of her grief or speak in a way that might cause others grief.
31. It is significant that doing research on willfulness led me back to the radical femi-
nist tradition (and in particular the radical lesbian feminist tradition). The figure of the
“radical lesbian feminist” is very often charged with willfulness. And the charge might
in some way relate to an unwillingness to yield. This is not to say there are not problems
with or in this tradition of work: I cannot read Mary Daly without forgetting Audre
Lorde’s letter to her about racism (1984, 66–71), though I would also note Lorde at the
end of this letter addressed herself as “a sister hag” (71). But not to read that tradition
because of these criticisms (which could also be directed to other less radical feminist
work as well as non-radical and nonfeminist work) is to give up a willfulness inheritance
too quickly.
32. See also Sue Campbell’s discussion of the attribution of bitterness. She writes:
“The bitter are accused of blocking the good will that would be exercised toward them
if they were not bitter” (1997, 170). It is not only that some bodies become blockage
points, but that those bodies are viewed as causing their own blockage, and thus depriv-
ing themselves of the good will of others.
33. I would argue that sexist culture is reproduced through techniques of differentiat-
ing between women who are unwilling and willing to participate in sexist culture. These
techniques for differentiation are techniques of power. As I argued in chapter 1, some be-
come willing in order to avoid the costs of not being willing. And, to use my terms from
chapter 3, a feminist will might be called a non-reproductive will: you become willful
when you are not willing to reproduce a culture that is given through being reproduced.
34. If this history of willfulness as a history of disagreeable women seems rather far
from the history of sovereign will discussed in section 1, just remember the figure of
Antigone. Disagreeable women are right at the heart of the ruler’s history.
35. Thanks to Elena Loizidou for teaching me to hear the significance of this laughter.
36. I am aware of one writer working in Germany who uses the word eigensinn to
describe postcolonial agency: Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, whose work has not been
translated into English. Johnston-Arthur’s work is referred to by Jin Haritaworn as fol-
lows: “My ‘identity’ concept therefore resembles more closely Johnston-Arthur’s (2007)
use of the Austrian-German term ‘Eigen-Sinn’. Literally translated as ‘sense of self’, its
composite means ‘stubbornness’ or ‘unruliness’. This evokes what is at stake in invent-
ing ourselves from the ashes of multiple, and repeated, onslaughts of pathologisation”
(2008, n.p.). With thanks to Jin Haritaworn for this reference.
37. A related book would be Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge’s Geschichte und Eigensinn
(1981) which also explores eigensinn in relation to the German worker’s movement. This
text is not as yet translated into English. With thanks to Robin Celikates for the reference.
38. I think the relation between withdrawal and willfulness is very interesting:
through willfulness one could “withdraw” mentally from the situation. One could also
think about willfulness as involving physical acts of leaving or exiting a situation you do

244 Notes for Chapter 4

not want to support. For example, Paolo Virno argues that civil disobedience functions
as exit or defection: “In short, exit consists of unrestrained invention which alters the
rules of the game” (2004, 70, emphasis in original).
39. My memories of being called willful relate to experiences at school as well as at
home. In one instance, I recall “contradicting” the teacher (on a point about grammar).
I learned that the teacher has a right to be right and the first right meant that if the sec-
ond right was wrong the teacher was still right. I was sent to the headmistress’s office
for my disrespectful attitude to the teacher’s authority. I often ended up in that office:
the fate of many willful children one suspects. I find it curious that the sore point was
grammar. These experiences were perhaps a lesson in the grammar of the will. I dedicate
this note to Jason Edwards in and with willful affection.
40. The discussion here is a fleshing out of what is at stake in how some bodies be-
come guests, those who come after, that was first discussed in chapter 1 in relation to
conditional hospitality and conditional will. Note here how conditional hospitality also
differentiates between guests, some of whom but not all of whom are treated as strang-
ers. Racialization explains how some guests become strangers, and not others. My aim
in using this example is not to make it stand out as exceptional but to treat it as exem-
plary. I also think it shows us how “not participating” can be a willful political stance.
41. The conference website no longer exists, and the statement is thus not available.
However, the statement is usefully parodied on the following website, which includes
some of the original quotes I am using here (2011), “Sexual Nationalisms,” http://seck Accessed Febru-
ary 7, 2014. I have benefited from reading some very insightful blogs on this event includ-
ing comments by Mikki Stelder (2011). See also Haritaworn (2012, 78) for a description of
these events.
42. The word “uppity” is probably the most explicitly racialized of willful words, par-
ticularly in the context of U.S. politics. As Adia Harvey Wingfield and Joe Feagin note,
in describing how President Barack Obama is read through a white racial frame, “the
word ‘uppity’ has long been used by racist whites to describe African Americans who
‘don’t know their place’ ” ([2010] 2013, 88). The word “uppity” has a very specific political
genealogy, but can be related to other willful words that imply a racial and social hier-
archy: just being is judged as being above oneself, such that to know one’s place requires
adjustment and submission. Such judgments are often expressed in action.
43. Audre Lorde is talking specifically here about living with cancer. She makes in
her work a direct comparison between living with cancer and living with antiblack rac-
ism. The comparison is effective, showing us how racism can be an attack on the cells
of the body, an attack on the body’s immune system. Her attitude to death has taught
me so much about what a willful stance can mean: a way of not turning away from what
compromises one’s existence, a way of refusing to be compromised.
44. Elena Loizidou offers an excellent account of how Judith Butler offers a critique
of “formal universalism” (2007, 121–23). Indeed, it is Judith Butler’s critique of Hegel
that can allow us to link more explicitly the relation between universalism and the gen-
eral will. As Butler describes with characteristic precision:

Hegel is clearly exposing what happens when a faction sets itself up as the uni-
versal and claims to represent the general will, where the general will supersedes

Notes for Chapter 4 245

the individual wills of which it is composed and, in fact, exists at their expense.
The “will” that is officially represented by the government is thus haunted by a
“will” that is excluded from the representative function. Thus the government
is established on the basis of a paranoid economy in which it must repeatedly
establish its one claim to universality by erasing all remnants of those wills it
excludes from the domain of representation. (2000b, 22)

The universal is haunted by the will whose exclusion it both demands and conceals.
Perhaps Willful Subjects has given this ghost a history.
45. I could extend this critique to Badiou’s formal universalism resting on set theory.
If this book was read as a willful subject returning Badiou’s address, it might say: “Hey,
I am not part of your set!” We can use our particulars to challenge the very form of uni-
versality, which is only empty insofar as it extends from some particulars and not oth-
ers while “emptying” the set from the very signs of this extension (the universal is an
emptiness that cannot receive other particulars—just like the emptiness of the French
secular nation based on laïcité cannot accommodate the particularity of the veil). My
argument extends over a century of feminist challenges to universalism. We have to
keep up the challenge as the critiques of universalism do not seem to get through: I
would describe universalism as a theoretical brick wall, which is to say, a wall that exists
in the actual world of theory. I realized what is at stake in Badiou’s and Žižek’s work
for those of us who want to dislodge the universal, which I have in this book primarily
addressed in terms of the general will, when I read John D. Caputo’s introduction to
an edited collection on Saint Paul and the philosophers in which he lavishes praise on
both. Caputo writes: “Each segment of identity politics creates a new market of spe-
cialty magazines, books, bars, websites, dvds, radio stations, a lecture circuit for its
most marketable propaganderizes, and so on” (2009, 6). He later describes “those who
practice identity politics” as “expressing their own will to power” (7). I do not need to
make explicit what is at stake in how identity politics—and Caputo mentions “women’s
rights, gay rights, the rights of the disabled” before moving on to anti-defamation or-
ganizations (6)—is reduced to expressions of self-will or the will of the market: Willful
Subjects demonstrates these stakes. Note simply this: Žižek and Badiou do not need to
create a “segment of identity politics” to guarantee their lecture tours. The universal is
handy. See also note 57.
46. For a good discussion of sexual stigma in relation to Erving Goffman’s theories
as well as The Well of Loneliness, see Love (2007, 102–5).
47. The expression “hydra headed willfulness” is used in Shakespeare’s Henry V, al-
though it no longer appears in contemporary editions of the play.
48. To say “I will not” is still to exercise the vocabulary “I will.” Branka Arsić offers a
useful reflection on the relation between the said “I would prefer not to” and the unsaid
“I will not.” As she points out, the narrator responds to the enigma of Bartleby’s speech
by reading both Edwards’s treatise Freedom of the Will and Joseph Priestly on necessity
(2007, 14). She points out that Edwards is offering a challenge to John Locke given his
full identification of will and preference. From this perspective, “ ‘I would prefer not to’
is the formula of the power of the will, the performance of its ‘pure’ act” (2007, 15). In
effect Arsić is arguing that Bartleby in effect says “I will not” by saying “I would prefer
not to.” I am tempted to let Bartleby not say what he does not say. After all, in becoming

246 Notes for Chapter 4

a vagrant, Bartleby has a wretched ending: perhaps what we can give back to Bartleby
is a faithful reproduction of his own preferences. In other words, we would address him
as a preferring (not to) subject rather than a willing (not to) subject.
49. Like all fictional figures, Bartleby can do different things in different hands. One
colleague said to me that senior men in her department evoke Bartleby when they are
asked to do any administration, the mundane work that is least valued by public institu-
tions such as universities: they say “I prefer not to.” Such speech act is also saying yes to
the social order that means that some more than others will do the housework. In these
hands, which have been freed by preference, the speech act becomes a strategy that
maintains rather than challenges the somatic division of labor discussed in chapter 3.
50. For a discussion of questions of racism in how spaces were experienced within
the Occupy movement in the United States, see Todd (2011). It is worth including Slavoj
Žižek’s (2012) response to the Occupy movement: “In a kind of Hegelian triad, the west-
ern left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called ‘class struggle essential-
ism’ for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, ‘capitalism’ is now clearly
re-emerging as the name of the problem.” My arguments in this book could be read as
providing a critical response to Žižek’s claims.
51. For example see the following website:
/04/24/for-people-who-have-considered-occupation-but-found-it-is-not-enuf/. Accessed
February 3, 2014.
52. See Peter Tatchell (2011), “Protest against the edl on Saturday,” http://www
.petertatchell .net /politics /protest-against-the -edl -defend -the -muslim -community
.htm. Accessed February 3, 2014.
53. Peter Tatchell (2011), “Tatchell Gets Muslim Hostility and Support,” http://www
.htm. Accessed February 3, 2014.
54. You might hear a resonance with Heidegger’s description of obtrusiveness drawn
on in chapter 1: something becomes obtrusive when it “stands in the way” of our con-
cern. There is a politics to what and who is deemed to stand in the way.
55. The idea of social connection as electrical was crucial to Durkheim’s work on
religious life. He describes “how the heat or electricity any object has received from an
external source can be transmitted to the surrounding setting” ([1912] 2001, 24). The
transmission depends on assembly: “Once the individuals are assembled their prox-
imity generates a kind of electricity” (162). Perhaps once we have been assembled by
willfulness, we can generate more of a charge.
56. For this formulation, thanks to my Facebook friends.
57. For further discussion of how identity politics have become a negative charge,
see my book, On Being Included (2012), in particular the conclusion. There are many
ways we can account for the charge. I have had many experiences of this charge in my
participation in discussions on Facebook from which I have learned a great deal. To
bring up the question of racism or sexism—even just to put words like that on the
table—is often described as a form of identity politics. This is interesting: pointing to
structure is treated as relying on identity. Perhaps we are witnessing the effacement
of structure under identity not so much by those who are involved in what is called
“identity politics” but by those who use “identity politics” to describe the scene of an

Notes for Chapter 4 247

58. With thanks to Jonathan Keane for this formulation. For a unique approach to
the “recalcitrant” and “rearguard” as queer temporalities, see Freeman (2010, xvi).
59. With thanks to Sirma Bilge both for this reference and for her many thoughtful
60. We could return as well to my discussion of the good will in relation to Zionism
in Daniel Deronda. I noted in chapter 2 how Daniel’s moral voice, a voice that speaks
with confidence about duty, is one that calls for the creation of Israel, a gathering of a
diasporic population into a singular body. Could Israel be an example of a national body
that asserts its right to exist by assuming its own willfulness? Is Israel an example of
how a national body can “feel like an arm, but act like a rod”? Of course, if we were to
make this case, then we would have in front of us a range of more or less sympathetic
responses. We could imagine sympathetically a history of persecution, of how it feels
to have to persist just to exist, as a way of understanding how the task of policing the
nation is imagined as self-defense, even if we do not agree with that policing, or even
agree with the assumption of the moral right (of any nation) to exist. Or we might be
less sympathetic and think of this claim to arminess as allowing the purposeful and
intentional oppression of Palestinians, of how a rod can present itself as an arm in order
to keep beating the others. I am less sympathetic.

Conclusion. A Call to Arms

1. This phrase, for example, was picked up by Stuart Hall in his influential essay on
cultural studies and its theoretical legacies (1992). David Harvey has questioned how this
phrase became “a law of human nature” asking “why we might willingly draw a metaphor
from incarceration” and calls for an optimism of the intellect, in others words, calls for
us to think of alternatives (2000, 17). Personally I can understand why some of our rich-
est metaphors come from incarceration. However, I doubt whether any faculty can be
the faculty of optimism or pessimism. What pessimism and optimism do depends on the
objects they invest in (see Ahmed 2010, 172–80).
2. For a good discussion of Gramsci’s optimism and pessimism that relates his
arguments to the specific intellectual and political context in which he was writing, see
Manders (2006). He describes the Gramscian spirit: “Doubt everything and concede
nothing” (2006, li).
3. This book could be read as showing the intimacy of willfulness and the uncon-
scious. I find Shoshana Felman’s description of the unconscious very helpful: “the
inherent irreducible difference between consciousness and itself” (1987, 57). Willfulness
might be the charge of this difference. Willfulness exposes the failure of the conscious
subject to be fully present to itself. Furthermore, the depositing of willfulness in certain
places could be one way of thinking of a social unconscious: what cannot be admitted by
consciousness is put in that deadly place, as if she can be made to “go away.” Willful-
ness becomes then the return of the repressed: when parts acquire will they become
4. Accounts of willful hands and arms are not only in fiction. The term “anarchic
hand” is sometimes used to describe a medical condition: “The willful hand is described
as ‘anarchic.’ The anarchic hand grasps doorknobs or picks up a pencil and starts to
scribble with it. People with this syndrome are upset by the actions of the hand: ‘It will

248 Notes for Chapter 4

not do what I want it to do’ ” (Frith 2007, 75). One could certainly imagine the alarm of
one’s hand acquiring a will of its own.
5. For a discussion of the demonizing of the left side, and the implications of this for
bodily as well as social symmetry, see Ahmed (2006, 13–14). I would speculate: willful
subjects are subjects of the left.
6. I borrow these terms from Nearing and Nearing’s use of the striking figure of
the “unused arm” that I referred to in chapter 3. I am suggesting what is diagnosed as
degeneracy can be understood in more positive political terms: as not being useful to
the body that reduces bodies to use.
7. Finding this novel was one of the joys of the research: what I think of as “hap
joy.” I happened to find it in a charity shop, and happened to take the book on holiday.
Research is full of hap: and if we pick up materials that have an uncanny resonance
with our arguments, then it can be important to allow them into the world of our work.
8. See also Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on how the blind man’s stick becomes incor-
porated into the body, extending the reach of the arm: “The position of things is imme-
diately given through the extent of the reach which carries him to it, which comprises
beside the arm’s own reach the stick’s range of action” ([1945] 2002, 166). For a discus-
sion of Merleau-Ponty on habit and embodiment, see Ahmed (2006, 132–34).
9. There are many ways in which we can think of feminism as a politics of changing
hands. One of my favorite reading groups was called feminist classics and what I loved
about it was how our discussions were as much about the books themselves (the copies,
worn down, different editions, stains and impressions) as they were about the content
of the arguments. We not only had the books to reflect with as material objects, but our
stories of how we had acquired them. In doing feminism we not only pass these books
around but can be shaped by this passing. My thanks to all the feminists who shared
this space at Lancaster University: I have no doubt this experience changed my hands.
10. We can hear the echo of Heidegger here. In What Is Called Thinking, Heidegger
wrote: “the hand is a peculiar thing. In the common view, the hand is part of our bodily
organism. But the hand’s essence can never be determined, or explained by being
an organ which can grasp” ([1954] 1976, 16). The hand is more than part. Beyond the
grasp, the hand for Heidegger “reaches and extends, receives and welcomes,” “carries,”
“designs and signs” (16). The hand when no longer reduced to instrument becomes free
to express itself. I think of this signing hand as an unhandy hand: one that is not re-
quired to support the body. Heidegger’s re-orientation to the crafty nature of the hand
(handiwork) rests on a problematic distinction between human and animal as Derrida
(1987b) carefully analyzed, as if what makes humans human is the freedom of the hand
as freedom of thought (as opposed to the prehensile organ of the animal). For a discus-
sion of the significance of Derrida’s critique of Heidegger’s handy opposition between
human and animal see Lawlor (2007). For a helpful philosophical investigation of the
hand see also Tallis (2003). Also with Home Truths, we could think of the freedom of
the hand in relation to the question of disability. It is the reduction of body part to func-
tion (the functional body) that makes the disabled body dysfunctional as well as incom-
plete. Freedom from hand for Clare is freedom not to be completed by having a hand;
while for Alice, freedom to hand is freedom not to be completed by a hearing ear. The hand
becomes liberating when we are liberated from the requirement to become fully function-
ing beings. Different body parts can be thus be the seat of this freedom from function.

Notes for Conclusion 249

11. With thanks to Patricia Spallone and David White for pointing me to Ann Oak-
ley’s wonderful book and for their kind and gentle encouragement.
12. Audre Lorde is strongly critical of what she calls the “tyranny of prosthesis,” but
she remains sympathetic to the women who choose to wear them, recognizing that
“each of us struggles daily with the pressures of conformity and the loneliness of differ-
ence from which those choices seem to offer escape” ([1980] 1997, 8).
13. This affinity might be carried by the words themselves, by how the words “crip”
and “queer” become sites of potential insofar as they retain a negative charge. I noted in
chapter 4 how Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes the potency of queer in terms of how it
“cleaves” to the scene of childhood shame. The potency of queer is how it keeps bringing
up a difficult history. Alison Kafer explores how the word “crip” is a charged word. Draw-
ing on Nancy Mairs’s essay on wanting people to wince at the word, she suggests “this
desire to make people wince suggests an urge to shake things up, to jolt people out of
their everyday understandings of bodies and minds, of normalcy and deviance” (2013,
15). Queer and crip could both be understood as willful words that work by holding on
to a charged history.
14. The website of this project is available here: http://www.thealternativelimb Accessed February 4, 2014.
15. It would be possible to read this section as part of a “new materialism” or a
new “material feminism.” However, I would argue that there is nothing new about the
materialism I am offering here: I consider my own work as indebted to decades of femi-
nist scholarship on how bodies and worlds materialize. I wholeheartedly reject the ar-
gument that “matter” did not matter to earlier work in feminist studies. Perhaps matter
mattered right from the beginning, given how matter was intertwined with woman and
the maternal. Who could forget Adrienne Rich’s instruction to “begin with the mate-
rial,” from her “Notes toward a Politics of Location,” first published in 1984: “Begin, we
said, with the material, with matter, mma, madre, mutter, moeder, modder” (1986, 213).
For further discussion and explanation of what I consider to be the problematic geneal-
ogy implied by claiming a “new materialism,” see Ahmed (2008). As I hope is made clear
in the final section of this conclusion, I consider Black studies a key materialist history,
one that tends to be erased from new materialist literatures.
16. Hasana Sharpe is careful to note that the analogy bequeaths wisdom to humans
rather than implying they are “dumb as rocks” (2011, 67). A she points out: “All beings
include a power of thinking that corresponds exactly to the power of their bodies to be
disposed in different ways” (66). There is thus “a power of thinking that belongs to the
stone” (67). Schopenhauer and Spinoza are probably closer than it might seem from a
first reading of Schopenhauer on Spinoza.
17. We could go even further: we might even have to lose the stone to make room for
other findings. It might be important to recognize that even designating something as
a stone is an all-too-human designation. Tim Ingold describes: “Suppose that I find a
stone, and wonder whether I might use it as a missile, for hammering, or perhaps as a
pendulum bob or paperweight. For none of these purposes need the stone be modified.
But the tiny insect hiding behind the stone never perceived its ‘stoniness’: it simply
perceived concealment, and responded accordingly” (1986, 3). In this book, Ingold re-
mains relatively committed to the difference between humans and other animals as
a difference of consciousness and intentionality. But what I find so evocative about

250 Notes for Conclusion

this description is both the reminder that “objectness” is an orientation toward what
we encounter rather than what we encounter, as well as the implication that activities
are also perceptions for subjects of all kinds: we might perceive something as a dwell-
ing insofar as we are aiming to dwell, a concealing insofar as we aim to conceal, and
so on. Whatever we think of and call a stone might have its own projects or leanings.
A less human occupation might be one that takes occupation more seriously as a life
activity or praxis. I use “less” and “more” advisedly: the most human occupations in my
view are often the ones that proceed from the thought that humans can escape human
18. The parable was posted on the “Hearts on Fire: A Spirituality blog” in 2012
Accessed February 4, 2014.
19. This is why for Isabelle Stengers ecology is not a “science of functions.” As she
explains: “The populations whose modes of entangled coexistence it describes are not
fully defined by the respective roles they play in human entanglement.” As a result,
Stengers explicitly rejects the whole/part relation to describe ecology: “Interdependent
populations do not make a system in the sense that they can be defined as parts of a
large whole” (2010, 34). For another ecological argument that focuses on heterogeneity,
see Guattari ([1989] 2000).
20. If there has been an ecological turn in queer theory, it is not necessarily best
described as a turn of thought, or as the beginning of a new relation, but as the bringing
out of the ecological implications of queer sensibilities. For an example, see the collec-
tion by Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson (2010). See also Gandy (2012).
21. In retrospect, it took me some time to notice the arms in the phrase “call to
arms.” The first time I presented any of the material from this research (which included
the Grimm story) at the Lesbian Lives conference in Dublin in February 2010 someone
said to me afterward that she thought my conclusion (about becoming willful subjects,
feminist killjoys) was “a call to arms.” The paper was affirming a militant style of radi-
cal lesbian feminism so this description made sense to me. But I did not even hear the
arms in the description at that point! But once I did hear the arms, this phrase acquired
a whole new meaning and resonance.
22. Henri Bergson, in offering a model of “creative evolution,” makes use of the
image of the arm: “Let us think rather of the action like that of raising the arm; then let
us suppose that the arm, left to itself, falls back, and yet that there subsists in it, striv-
ing to raise it up again, something of the will than animates it” ([1911] 1920, 261). I also
want us to think of the arm in creative terms, although I am explaining this creativity in
different (although sympathetic) terms. See Fujita and Lapidus (2007) for an excellent
discussion of how Bergson makes use of hands and arms in developing a nonorganic
vitalism in the corpus of his work.
23. Lincoln Cushing, “A Brief History of the Clenched Fist Image,” Accessed February 4, 2014.
24. It was the forty-fifth anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest
on October 16, 2013, just as I was doing the final edits on this book, and I have learned
considerably from the discussions in the media about the context and consequences of
their protest. See, for example, Zirin (2013). See also Hartmann (2004) for a good dis-
cussion of the significance of this protest in the context of U.S. race politics.

Notes for Conclusion 251

25. “The Olympics: Black Complaint,” Time,
/article/0,9171,900397,00.html#ixzz2764WeqrK. Accessed February 4, 2014.
26. For discussions of bathrooms as places of gender policing, see Cavanagh (2010)
and Halberstam (1998, 20–29).
27. With thank to Nikki Sullivan and Susan Stryker for this essay that demonstrates
how the body politic requires the integration of functional parts. The word “mayhem”
would offer another lens with which to consider the history of willfulness. As the legal
historian William Winthrop described, “mayhem” is an “inflicting upon any part of
the man’s body, of such an injury as to render him less able to fight or defend himself
against his adversary.” Thus while “to cut off or disable a hand, an arm and a leg or to
strike out or blind an eye” was considered mayhem, “to deprive a person of his ear
or nose was held not to be, since such an injury would disfigure only and would not
incapacitate for war-service” ([1896] 2000, 676). However horrifying these histories of
bodily injury, we also learn from them how resistance might involve incapacitation.
28. Teresa Zackodnik is citing here from Frances Dana Gage’s Reminiscences in which
Gage, a leading feminist, reformer, and abolitionist, gives us this account of Truth’s
speech as well as “bodily testimony” that has been crucial to how it has been remem-
bered. It is important to note the status of this description as citation: our access to So-
journer Truth’s address is through the testimony of others, in particular, the testimony
of white women. Zackodnik notes that other accounts of this event did not include
references to Truth baring her arm (2011, 99). We learn from this to be cautious about
our capacity to bear witness to the labor and speech of arms in history: we might only
be able to read (of) the arms through the mediation of other limbs.
29. Readers might note the connection between the muscular arm of the black
woman slave (who has to insist on being woman) and the strong arm of the butch les-
bian (who in this anecdotal example is a white woman and who has to insist on being a
woman). As I pointed out in chapter 4, some have to insist on belonging to the catego-
ries that give residence to others. To hear the echo in these accounts of insistence is not
to assume an analogy. But it is to make a connection: if gender norms operate to create
a very narrow white feminine body ideal (including an idea of the female arm) then
differently embodied others will fail that ideal, although how they fail the ideal, and
the consequences of that failure, will depend on multiple histories. Arms not only have
a history; they are shaped by history, such that arms make history flesh. It is the arms
that can help us make the connection between histories that otherwise do not seem to
meet. Intersectionality does not need to be assumed to refer to identity; when an arm
is a meeting point, intersectionality becomes army.
30. It is widely argued that “lord and bondsman” is a more accurate translation into
English of Hegel’s terms and these are the terms used in my own edition. I would argue
that “master and slave” are important words to retain given the political histories they
translate. Please note I am only reading the section “Independence and Dependence of
Self-Consciousness” in my willful version of Hegel’s fable ([1807] 2003, 104–12).
31. In Philosophy of Right, Hegel argues: “We may call the will objective, when it is
wholly submerged in its object, as. e.g. the child’s will, which is confiding and without
subjective freedom, and the slave’s will, which does not know itself to be free, and is
thus a will-less will” ([1820] 2005, xlv). Both the child and the slave have wills that lack
will. My reading thus shows the importance of the parent/child relation to the slave

252 Notes for Conclusion

and colonial relation: the slave becomes the child of the master/parent, the one whose
willfulness is assumed as the moral justification of violence.
32. For another important discussion of slavery in relation to the category of the
will, see Edlie L. Wong’s book Neither Fugitive nor Free which has as its archive the free-
dom suits, that is, the lawsuits “involving the valets, nurses and maids who accompa-
nied slaveholders into free soil” (2009, 2). Wong follows Saidiya Hartman in reflecting
on the peculiar and double status of the slave in Southern law: treated as persons in
criminal cases, but as property in all others (3–4), creating a set of contradictions that
was “built into the freedom suit’s procedural form” (4). Slaves were treated as having a
will of their own (in the case of crime) and as not having a will of their own (in all other
cases). In the conclusion of this book, Wong discusses the introduction of passports as
“political documentation of citizenship” to the free black Americans, and how they were
used to distinguish between willing and willful blacks: the “State department withheld
its protection from free blacks who acted on their own will to travel abroad but granted
it to those who travelled as subordinates to white masters” (250). As such the depart-
ment “distinguished between legitimate (will-less) and illegitimate (willful) forms of
free black travel abroad and it sought to delimit citizenship and enforce the racial sub-
ordination found in slave law” (250, emphasis in original). See also Stephen M. Best who
discusses the figure of the fugitive slave as the one assigned as a willful subject and who
thus exposes the fiction of willessness: “It projects a willful subject when the will-less
is in suspension, fabulates a subject not owned when the owned escapes” (2004, 81).
Not surprisingly then the figure of the “willful slave” does haunt the archives: slaves
would be willful if they showed signs of having a will. A history of slave resistance could
thus also be told in terms of willfulness. As James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton
note in discussing the work of Frederick Douglass: “Slave men found many ways to as-
sert themselves; even the threat of self-assertion could be effective. One man reported
that he avoided being sold at auction by meeting the gaze of suspecting buyers directly
as they inspected him, an obvious sign of a willful slave” (1993, 137). Returning to my
discussion of civil rights and disobedience in chapter 4, we can understand how black
resistance involved a will to receive the willfulness assignment.
33. Indeed, Jacobs shows how a willfulness charge is brought against her by Dr. Flint:
“If I have been harsh with you at times, your willfulness drove me to it. You know I exact
obedience from my own children and I consider you as yet a child” ([1861] 2008, 81).
34. Reading Hegel in this way is a way of framing the account as a fable. If anything,
there has been a retreat from reading Hegel’s philosophy in terms of masters and slaves,
even understood as philosophical figures, which we can partly understand as a retreat
from the influence of Alexandre Kojève’s ([1947] 1969) framing of Hegel in these terms.
For example, Robert R. Williams argued that Kojève’s reading of Hegel was a “distortion
of recognition” by reducing recognition and its dialectics to the master and slave (1997,
10). I would suggest that we need to re-recognize the status of Hegel’s fable as fable by
restoring the referent. I thus share Paul Gilroy’s commitment to reading the master/slave
dialectic as pointing us back to the history of slavery, as a history which is in front of us,
which we still have to front up to. In The Black Atlantic, Gilroy shows how Hegel’s fable
demonstrates the “intimate association between modernity and slavery” (1993, 54), or
between the very idea of freedom (often rendered freedom of will) and the enslave-
ment and subjection of others. Other writers such as Paget Henry and Lewis Gordon have

Notes for Conclusion 253

argued that the master/slave dialectic cannot refer to African slaves given that for Hegel
the “Negro is without self-consciousness” (Henry 2004, 201, see also Gordon 2008, 197).
I have learned from these important readings. Whether or not Hegel could refer to the
slave/bondsman as African given his own system, I think we can make this reference on
his behalf (to restore the referent is thus a creative act). My reading suggests that we
learn about the dialectic as the master’s dialectic given how the slave’s consciousness
of freedom is understood as restricted.
35. See Hannah Arendt’s reflections on the distinction between work and labor: “Be-
cause men were dominated by the necessities of life, they could win their freedom only
by the domination of those they subjected to necessity by force” (1958, 58). Arendt is
describing the institution of slavery in antiquity. I would suggest that the international
division of labor could also be described in these terms: some become free by requir-
ing that others are subjected to necessity through labor. However, I am unconvinced
by Arendt’s distinction between the working hand (which creates useful and durable
objects) and the laboring body (which creates only natural things that “swing in change-
less, deathless repetition” [96]). After all, the laborer is handy or even gives a hand to
the social body as I discussed in chapter 3. The difference in our arguments might partly
be that by “necessity” I would include not only biological requirements (for the repro-
duction of life) but also social requirements (for the reproduction of existence): the
durable objects generated by what Arendt calls work can thus be tools for reproducing
a social body (work not only creates objects, but shapes the bodies of those who work).
36. I recognize that I am not reading Hegel properly here. For Hegel the master is not
free and requires the recognition by the slave; any freedom that involves bondage is
not freedom which, as Cynthia Willett notes for Hegel, is “realized only in the symme-
try of mutual recognition” (1995, 123). Willett reads Hegel alongside Frederick Douglass
asking the question: “I wonder whether Hegel comprehends the slave from the perspec-
tive of the slave or, on the contrary, reduces the position of the non-European slave to
a function in a master European discourse” (119). This question recognizes the function-
ality of the figure of the slave for the philosophical fable. My reading is an answer to
Willett’s question: the discourse of the master/slave dialectic is the master’s discourse.
I would go further by rebutting specific points: the master does not require recognition
from the slave (the master gets that from the other masters). If anything recognition
is the master’s fantasy of what he wants from the slave (that allows him to survive his
role in the dehumanization of the slave). After all, the master’s idea of freedom (and the
time that has been “freed” to reflect on freedom is in my view intrinsic to the master’s
idea of freedom) depends upon the capacity to exploit the labor of others for his own
ends. Take Hegel’s own definition of freedom: “The Will is free only when it does not will
anything alien, extrinsic, foreign to itself (for as long as it does so, it is dependent), but
wills itself alone—wills the Will” ([1837] 1861, 461). The fantasy of a free will would be
supported by the “anything alien,” including the arms of the slave, as forms of material
support that cannot be recognized as it would contradict the fantasy. This concept of
freedom is dependent on what I described in chapter 3 as the somatization of the divi-
sion of labor. My arguments throughout this book have shown how the will cannot and
does not exclude what is alien (to summarize this alien is to evoke the alien as figure).
Any will has a history that always depends on alien wills that might or might not be
recognized. As Angela Davis (1971) shows in her important lectures, the slave’s libera-

254 Notes for Conclusion

tion requires the rejection of the master’s idea of freedom. The slaves in rejecting the
master’s idea of freedom do not want recognition from the master: bodies that become
unwilling to be the arms of masters are willing much more than recognition. When we
hear willfulness as a claim to freedom, we give a different version of the fable.
37. I describe Frantz Fanon’s project as humanist quite deliberately. N. Katherine
Hayles in her work on post-humanism cites C. B. Macpherson’s work on possessive in-
dividualism: “The human essence is freedom from the wills of others” (1999, 3). Thus
for Hayles “the post-human is post not because it is necessarily unfree but because
there is no a priori way to identify a self-will that can be clearly distinguished from an
other-will” (1999, 4). I agree with this “no a priori way” though I would also want to
think of how “others” have challenged the “self-will” of human freedom in claiming a
will of their own. This willful claim to will is not about demarcating one’s own will from
other wills but rather refusing to be the other or alien will that gives support to human
freedom. It might even be that willfulness as a claim is not about the “post-human” as it
derives from the struggle of those who have been designated as other than human to be
recognized as human. A willful humanism might suggest we are not in the horizon of a
post if some are still struggling to be human. A post might be postable from the vantage
point of having been human. The struggles of the “not human humans” (which cannot
be reduced to the struggle to be humans but does involve the struggle for a will of one’s
own, a struggle not to be a property of humans including possibly humans who think
of themselves as post-human humans) might simultaneously be transforming what it
means to be human in a planet shared with many others.
38. It is worth asking here how my reading of Hegel relates to Frantz Fanon’s own
reading in Black Skin, White Masks. In a footnote Fanon argues that Hegel’s master/
slave dialectic does not correspond to the situation for the black man. He suggests that the
master does not want recognition from the slave but work. But he also suggests that the
black man is “less independent” than the Hegelian slave as “he wants to be like the master”
such that rather than “turning toward the master and turning away from the object” he
“turns toward the master and abandons the object” ([1967] 2008, 172). I have read Hegel’s
fable as containing the slave’s independence by framing that independence as holding on
to the object. The trajectory of Fanon’s work and life is how the becoming of freedom is
about turning away from the master. Fanon in other words enacted the independence
that Hegel could not register as anything but bondage. For a good discussion of Fanon
on the master/slave dialectic, see Bulhan (1985).

Notes for Conclusion 255


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276 References

abulia, 77–78 Antigone (character), 137, 238–39nn6–7,

Adam Bede (Eliot), 43, 45–47, 106, 117 244n34
Adolphe Blanc (character), 117–18 anti-immigration rhetoric, 127–29,
Adorno, Theodor, 81, 209n23 236n35; conditional hospitality of,
Aesop, 231n13 127–28, 236n36; gay imperialism and,
affective realm, 31, 175; alignment with 166–68; on Islam, 165–68; on the
good will of, 68, 223n11; of feminist unwilling migrant/otherness, 128–29,
killjoys, 2–3, 152–60; of particular 236–37nn37–38; veil debates in, 121,
will, 101–2, 104, 229n5; of usefulness, 150–52, 236n37, 242–43nn25–28
232n17; of the willful subject, 18, Anzaldúa, Gloria, 21
82–83, 152; of words for willfulness, Aquinas, 212n9; on obedience, 63–64; on
150–51, 242nn23–24 passivity of will, 221n1; on sovereign
“After Amsterdam” statement, 158–60 will, 136, 142
Against Our Will (Brownmiller), 55 Arab spring, 228n1
Agamben, Giorgio, 207n9, 214n16 Arbeitswissenschaft, 110–11
Agustín, Laura María, 220n46 archaeology of will, 207n9
Ahmed, Sara, 159. See also specific titles archive of willfulness, 13–21; bodies as
Alexander of Hales, 219n42 part of, 18–19; broken threads in, 155;
ambivalence, 37–38, 77–78, 215n19 as challenge to formalist universal-
Analyses concerning Passive and Active ism, 160, 245–46nn44–45; desire lines
Synthesis (Husserl), 36, 212n8 of, 21, 210n30; on education, 14, 20,
anarchic hand syndrome, 248n4 205n6; Eliot’s works in, 14–15, 209n21;
anarchist will, 239n9 Hegel’s master-slave dialectic in, 15,
The Anatomy of Disgust (W. Miller), 226n28 200–204, 252nn30–31, 253n34, 254n36,
anatomy of the will, 207n9 255n38; partiality of, 18; philosophy
Anderson, Benedict, 127 and not philosophy in, 14–16; on power
Andry, Nicolas, 72 relations, 16; as praxis, 16, 20; sweaty
Angell, James Rowland, 81–82 concepts of, 18–19, 209n27; transcul-
anger, 115 tural sites of, 205n6; “The Willful Child”
angle of the arm, 198 (Grimm and Grimm) in, 1–2, 13–15,
the angry person of color, 167 17–18; the willful subject in, 17–18, 21
Arendt, Hannah, 205n5; on anxious Badiou, Alain, 160, 246n45
willingness, 37–38; on Augustine, 9, Bartleby: The Scrivener (Melville), 163–64,
29, 208n15; on contingency of “here,” 246–47nn48–49
39–47; on duty and obedience to moral Bayle, Pierre, 229n2
law, 92, 228n41; history of will of, 5–6, Beauvoir, Simone de, 3
207nn9–10, 209n24, 212n9, 213n12; on Behler, Ernst, 210n2
immediacy of desire, 80; on natality, Being and Time (Heidegger): on projec-
193; on will as intention, 36, 214n17; on tion, 36–37, 214n18; on the willful ham-
work and labor, 254n35 mer, 42–43, 217n28, 217n31, 247n54
Aristotle, 207n10, 225n18 “The Belly and Its Members” (Aesop),
Arlington Park (Cusk), 153, 244n30 231n13
arm (as term), 194 Bender, Aimee, 237n2
arms and hands, 172, 194–204, 211n3, Bennett, Jane, 10, 12, 208n17
248n60; in anarchic hand syndrome, Bergson, Henri, 107–8, 225n21, 231n15,
248n4; call to arms of, 194–204, 251n22
251n21; capitalist labor of, 106–12, Berlant, Lauren, 7, 80, 155, 174
231n15, 234n24, 235n32; as clenched Bernasconi, Robert, 27
fists, 194–97, 251n24; disuse of, 111; Best, Stephen M., 252n32
in gender assumptions, 198–99, Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche), 7, 26,
252nn28–29; loss and disability of, 102–3, 211n6
109–11, 175–85, 249n6; as phallic Biesalski, Konrad, 110–11
symbols, 120–21, 235n29; reaching Bijdiguen, Loubna, 243n27
of, 200–204; of servants and hand- Bilge, Sirma, 243n27
maids, 111–12, 231–32nn16–18; in Biological Relatives (Franklin), 102
“The Willful Child,” 1–2, 13, 18, 53, The Birth of Physics (Serres), 208n17
98, 100–101, 111, 120–21, 123, 178, Black, Oliver, 218n36
203–4; willful parting gifts of, 176–85. The Black Atlantic (Gilroy), 253n34
See also political will/willfulness; Blackman, Lisa, 49
the rod blackness. See race/racism
Arsić, Branka, 246n48 Black pedagogy, 64, 222n7
Artifical Parts, Practical Lives (Serlin), Black Power movement, 141–42, 194, 197,
109 251n24
Ashliman, D. L., 209n26 Black Skin, White Masks (Fanon), 255n38
Assagioli, Roberto, 84 bodies and body parts, 18–19, 217n29,
attunement/harmony, 49–54, 95, 147 243n29; Augustine on, 9, 28–29, 119–20,
Atwood, Margaret, 231n16 208n15, 213nn11–12, 234nn27–28;
Augustine, 32, 207n11; calling upon capitalist manual labor of, 106–10, 122,
will by, 26–30, 212n9; on desire, 9, 231n15, 234n24, 235n32; disabilities
28–29, 119–20, 208n15, 213nn11–12, of, 109–11, 147–48, 177–84, 241n19,
234nn27–28; on existence of the will, 249n6, 250n13; diversity work of, 144;
60; on happiness, 4; on political bod- impulsive tongues of, 176–77; injury to,
ies, 119–21, 234n27; on the possibility 189–90; as models of general will, 101–4,
of evil, 11–12, 185–86, 208nn18–19; on 117, 230n7; as political bodies, 119–21,
possibility of virtue, 119–20; on the 234n27; in political protest, 161–68,
subject in will, 23, 210n1; on will and 194–204; prosthetics for, 109–10, 177–84;
error, 8–9, 229n3 reproductive duty of, 112–21, 193; of

rioting children, 130–31, 237nn41–42; The Cancer Journals (Lorde), 184
as servants and handmaids, 111–12, Capital (Marx), 122
231n15; spatial adjustments for, 147–48, capitalism, 105–12; bodily labor of,
241n19; stigmatization of, 161–62; 106–10, 122, 231n15, 234n24, 235n32;
stomachs and belt tightening of, 105, division of labor in, 230n10; fat cats’
231n13; unbecoming traces of, 126, 193, belt-tightening in, 105, 231n13; loss
203; as vagabonds of capitalism, 122–30, and disability in, 109–11; willful
235nn31–32; willful parting gifts of, migrants of, 122–30, 235nn31–32
176–85, 248n4; as willful wanderers, Caputo, John D., 246n45
116–17, 233–34nn23–24. See also arms “Caring for War Cripples” (Biesalski),
and hands; the social body 110–11
Body and Will (Maudsley), 60–61, 210n2 Carlos, John, 197, 251n24
Body Parts (dir. Red), 178 Carnal Thoughts (Sobchack), 179
Boétie, Étienne de La, 138–39 Carrie (dir. de Palma), 178
Bonaparte, Felicia, 85 Carter, Angela, 237n2
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza Cartisian Mediataions (Husserl), 27
(Anzaldúa), 21 The Case of Wagner (Nietzsche), 235n30
Boss, Medard, 49 Castañeda, Claudia, 69
Bourdieu, Pierre, 93–94 Césaire, Aimé, 141
Bourget, Paul, 121, 235n30 Chanter, Tina, 239n7
Bourke, Vernon J., 207n8 character building, 68–75, 91–96; plastic-
Boyd Barrett, Edward John, 62, 83–84 ity of children and, 69–73; Rousseau on
Braidotti, Rosi, 174–75 self-will and, 73–75; self-help in, 75–84,
breaking the will, 63–68, 221n4 225n19, 226n27; the steady hand in,
Brimstone, Lyndie, 3 71–73, 92–93, 224n15, 224n17
broken pots, 43–48, 50, 154 the charge of willfulness, 134, 137, 168,
Brouwer, Dan, 161 173
Brownmiller, Susan, 55 Charles I, King of England, 135–36
Buber, Martin, 142 children: character building in, 69–73;
Butler, Judith: on Antigone, 238n6; on as feral rioters, 130–31, 237nn41–42;
Arendt’s discussion of duty, 92, 228n41; inherited willfulness of, 113–21, 130;
on formal universalism, 245n44; on as subject-to-come, 123–24; as willful
Nietzsche, 31; on the phallus, 235n29; orphans, 232n19. See also education of
on protesting bodies, 162–63; on Rosa the will
Parks, 240n16 Christian thought, 212n9
Cicero, 234n27
call to arms, 194–204, 251n21; the citizenship, 126–29; as community of
clenched fist of, 194–97, 251n24; laboring strangers, 126–27; conditional will
will of, 201–4, 252n33, 254–55nn35–38; and assimilation in, 127–29, 148–52,
mayhem and, 199, 252n27; wayward 236–37nn36–38; diversity and, 148–49
queer arms of, 197–200 City of God (Augustine), 119–20, 207n11,
Calvin, John, 63, 212n9 212n9, 213n11
Calvinism. See Protestantism civil disobedience, 141–43, 240n13,
Cameron, David, 129 244n38
Campbell, Sue, 244n32 Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Tho-
Camus, Albert, 239n10 reau), 240n13

civil rights movement, 142–43, depersonalized willfulness. See objects
240nn14–16 of will
Clare (character), 178–84, 249n10 Derrida, Jacques, 13, 218n34; on condi-
class, 232n18, 235n32 tional hospitality, 53; on humans and
clenched fists, 194–97, 251n24 animals, 249n10; on metaphysics of
the clinamen, 10 presence, 210n2
clumsiness, 45, 50–51 Descartes, René, 8, 210n1
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, 186 desire lines, 21, 210n30
collective will, 56. See also social will determinist models, 5, 60–61, 206n7,
command. See obedience 221n1
concurrence of wills, 48, 218n36 Dewey, John, 225n19
conditional will, 53–54, 127–29, Dihle, Albrecht, 212n9
219nn42–43, 236–37nn36–38 disability, 109–11, 175–85, 241n19; politi-
Confessions (Augustine), 26–30, 207n11, cal activism on, 185, 250n13; prosthetic
212n9 body parts for, 109–10, 177–85, 249n8;
Connolly, William, 228n42 spatial accommodations for, 147–48,
continuity of will, 29–31 241n19
“Conversation on the Country Path about Discipline and Punish (Foucault), 72
Thinking” (Heidegger), 210n2 Diseases of the Will (Ribot), 61–62, 68,
Cooke, John, 135–36 230n7; on affective state of willing, 76;
corporeal will, 60, 221n1. See also bodies on strong will, 81–82; on two classes of
and body parts will pathology, 226n25; on weaknesses
Cottinger, Henry Marcus, 208n20 of will, 76–79, 176, 225nn20, 225nn22–
Crimp, Douglas, 238n6 23; on will as testimony, 226n27
Critique of Judgment (Kant), 228n41 dismissal, 133–34, 168–69
The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Ahmed), disobedience, 134–43, 237n3; accepting
129, 241n20 the charge of willfulness in, 134, 137,
Cushing, Lincoln, 194–95 168, 173; in acting for change, 141–43,
Cusk, Rachel, 153 239nn10–11; as reluctance, 140–41;
sovereignty vs. tyranny in, 135–39,
Daly, Mary, 153, 244n31 238n4, 238–39nn6–8, 244n34, 248n60;
Daniel Deronda (Eliot), 84–91, 209n21; wayward queer arms and, 197–204. See
Daniel as ethical subject of, 95–96; also political will/willfulness
Gwendolyn’s guilt in, 59–60, 85–88, diversity work, 143–52, 158–60, 241n21;
140–41, 176–77, 180–81, 209n21; insistent labor of, 149–50, 241n20;
Gwendolyn’s renunciation of desire in, institutional will and habit in, 145–48,
88–91; Zionism in, 96, 228n43, 248n60 241nn17–18; integration and, 148–52;
Darwin, Charles, 102, 230n6 spatial adjustments and, 147–48,
Davidson, Donald, 61 241n19; two meanings of, 144; walls
Davis, Angela, 254n36 encountered in, 144–46
Davis, Bret W., 210n2 Dollimore, Jonathan, 9, 116–17
Davis, Michael, 14 Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy
Dekel, Mikhal, 228n43 (Franklin), 208n16
Deleuze, Gilles, 120, 188, 208n13, 208n17 Dorothea Brooke (character), 209n21
demonstrating bodies, 47, 56, 161–68 Douglas, Mary, 198
Dentith, Simon, 73 Douglass, Frederick, 252n32, 254n36

Downton Abbey, 232n17 Émile (Rousseau), 73–75, 86, 97–98, 103,
Dr. Strangelove (dir. Kubrick), 177 219n42
Duggan, Mark, 237n41 Empedocles, 193
Dumont, M. Léon, 70, 147 Empire (Hardt and Negri), 235n32
Durkheim, Émile, 247n55 The Enchantment of Modern Life (Ben-
duty, 91–93 nett), 208n17
A Dying Colonialism (Gilly), 196 Engels, Friedrich, 55–56
English Defence League (edl), 165–66
ecological considerations, 192–94, Epicurean atomism, 10
251nn19–20 Erasmus, 212n9
Edelman, Lee, 125 error of will, 4, 6–9, 98, 229n3; Nietz-
The Educating Mother (Cottinger), 208n20 sche’s critique of, 6–7, 25–26; spatial
education of the will, 14, 20, 208n20; and temporal aspects of, 8–9
affective alignment with good will An Essay on the Education and Instruction
in, 59–62, 68, 91–93, 223n11, 228n42; of Children (Sulzer), 64–66
as character-building project, 68–75, ethics, 32, 91, 95–96
91–96; German literature on, 205n6; everyday will, 19–20. See also the willing
methodology for, 82–84; obedience subject
and violence in, 62–67, 91–92, 103, The Everything Parent’s Guide to the
130–31, 221n4, 223n10, 226n27, 227n39; Strong-Willed Child (Pickhardt), 222n9
plasticity of children and, 69–73; evil and ill will, 11–12, 95, 228n42
poisonous pedagogy in, 2, 64–68, 140, Experience and Judgment (Husserl), 31
222nn7–9, 222n12; Rousseau’s utopian experience of will, 24
model of, 73–75; self-help in, 75–84,
225n19, 226n27; sinfulness of the child family and kinship, 113–21, 192, 232n19;
and, 62–63; the steady hand in, 71–73, belonging in, 125–26; marriage
92–93, 224n15, 224n17 and female subjection in, 115–16,
The Education of the Will (Payot), 62, 82–83, 233nn20–22; mourning in, 238n6;
234n24 queer willfulness and, 117–18, 121,
Edwards, Jason, 245n39 232n19
Edwards, Jonathan, 72, 246n48 Fanon, Frantz, 214n16, 239n11; on
Eichmann, Adolf, 92, 228n41 colonial labor, 112, 203, 255nn37–38; on
eigensinnig, 157, 202, 203, 205n6, 244n36, political will, 141, 196
244n38 Farber, Leslie, 84, 225n23
Eliot, George, 3, 14–15, 85–91, 209n21; fatigue, 38, 215n20
on feminine renunciation, 88–91, fatness, 226n29
227n34; on free will and determinism, Feagin, Joe, 245n42
60, 221n1; gendering of willfulness by, Felix Holt (Eliot), 117
87–88, 90–91, 227n37; on manual labor, Felman, Shoshana, 248n3
106; on reproductive duty, 114–16; Female Masculinity (Halberstam), 198–99
on solitude and belonging, 124–26; feminism, 249n9; attributions of willful-
sorrowing wanderers of, 117; on willful ness in, 90–91, 121, 134, 155; clenched
broken objects, 43–47. See also Daniel fist of protest in, 195; new material-
Deronda ism of, 185–95, 250n15; radical lesbian
Ellis, Havelock, 121, 198 tradition of, 244n31, 251n21; will and
El-Tayeb, Fatima, 159 willfulness in, 175, 227n37

the feminist killjoy, 2–3, 152–60, 170; full will, 29–31
acts of self-preservation of, 160, 169; futurity of willing, 31–39
collected examples of, 152–53; political
acts of, 157–60, 245nn39–41; the snap of, Gage, Frances Dana, 252n28
155–57; willful words used for, 153–55, Gagnier, Regenia, 207n9, 218n35
157, 160, 244n33, 244n36, 244n38 Gaia, 192–94
feminist snap, 155–57 Gandhi, Mahatma, 142
feminist theory, 21; on bodies and tech- Garrity, Jane, 198–99
nology, 217n29; on identity politics, Gatens, Moira, 14
160, 171, 175, 247n57; on making gay imperialism, 166–68
objects matter, 211n5; on power rela- gender: feminist accounts of, 16, 54–56,
tions and gender, 16, 54–56, 220n48, 220n48, 233n21; in labor of transgen-
233n21; reclaiming of the haggard in, dered individuals, 149; muscular arms
153, 244n31; willfulness of, 134 and, 198–99
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, 104, 115–16, gendering of will/willfulness, 20, 205n1,
230n8 209n22, 231n12; in Eliot’s characters,
fists, 194–97, 251n24 87–91, 227n37; female renunciation
Flathman, Richard E., 205n5 and, 88–91, 227n34; in hysteria, 118–19,
“Footmen” (Hazlitt), 112 234n26; language of will in, 217n33;
force. See power relations marriage and female subjection in,
formal universalism, 160, 171, 114–17, 233nn20–22; of reluctance to
245–46nn44–45 yield, 153; of veiled Muslim women,
For Your Own Good (A. Miller), 2, 66 121, 150–52, 236n37, 242–43nn25–28
Foster, Michael, 230n7 genealogical approach to objects, 25–26,
Foucault, Michel: on genealogy of the 211n4
subject, 6, 207n11; on orthopedics, 72; The Genealogy of Morals (Nietzsche), 6
on power relations, 137–38, 219n44, general will, 20, 47, 97–131; attribution of
239n8; on self-discipline, 215n22 agency to, 228n1; the body as model of,
Franklin, Sarah, 102, 208n16 101–4; capitalist message of, 105–12;
Freadman, Richard, 26–30 citizenship and nation in, 126–31,
“Freedom of the Will” (Mill), 68–69 236–37nn35–38; forcing of freedom
free will/freedom: accountability implied by, 97, 103, 105, 129; happiness and,
in, 6–7; as cause of sin, 27–31; debates 100, 103; mediating parts of, 98–99;
on determinism vs., 5, 60–61, 206n7, obligation of the part to the whole in,
221n1; forcing by general will of, 97, 20, 97–104; political form of, 103; re-
103, 105; happiness and, 118; power production and inheritance in, 112–21,
relations of, 16, 54–56; Rousseau’s 143, 193; transformation from religious
model of, 73–75 to secular realm of, 99–104, 229n2;
“Frenzy, Mechanism and Mysticism” willful parts of, 97–98, 104–12, 117,
(Bergson), 107–8 175–76, 230–31nn10–11, 234n28
Freud, Sigmund: on counter-will and The General Will before Rousseau (Riley),
impotence, 77, 226n24, 234n28; on 229n2
hysteria, 234n26; language of will of, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Psy-
225–26nn23–24; Little Hans story of, chology (Eliot), 14
120 German Fascism, 66
Frye, Marilyn, 56–57, 134 Gilbert, Margaret, 47–48

Gilly, Adolfo, 196 hands. See arms and hands
Gilroy, Paul, 253n34 hap joy, 249n7
Ginger and Rosa (dir. Potter), 172 happiness, 3–4; vs. apartness, 117–18; as
giving up, 38 duty, 114, 233n20; general will and, 100,
Gohir, Shaista, 243n28 103; racism and, 167–68; will and, 8–9
Goldberg, Jonathan, 208n17 happiness dystopias, 230n9
good will, 57, 60–62, 84–96, 248n60; Haraway, Donna, 17, 44, 211n5
attribution of, 93–94; duty and obedi- Hardt, Michael, 235n32
ence in, 91–93; vs. ill will, 94–95; social Hardy, Thomas, 107
harmony and, 95–96; spontaneity of, Haritaworn, Jin, 159, 166–67, 244n36
91–92, 95. See also education of the will Harman, Graham, 211n4
Gordon, Lewis, 253n34 Harrison, Ross, 135–36
Gordon, Peter E., 5 Harrison, Simon, 23, 212n9
Gorris, Marleen, 155 Hart, James, 212n8
Gramsci, Antonio, 173–74, 248n2 Hartman, Saidiya V., 201, 252n32
Grandcourt (character), 86–87, 176–77 Harvey, Davidk, 248n1
Greenblatt, Stephen, 9–10, 208n17 Hayles, N. Katherine, 255n37
Gregory, 63–64 Hazlitt, William, 112
Griffith, Helen Sherman, 208n20 Hegel, G. W. F., 23; on bodily unity,
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, 1–2, 13–15, 101; Butler’s critique of, 245n44; on
17–18. See also “The Willful Child” contract will, 233n21; on habit, 146;
Grosfoguel, Ramón, 171 master-slave dialectic of, 15, 200–204,
Guattari, Félix, 120 252nn30–31, 253n34, 254n36, 255n38;
Gwendolyn Harleth (character): guilt of, on property, 41, 200; on wayward
59–60, 85–88, 140–41, 176–77, 180–81, inheritance, 113
209n21; renunciation of desire by, Heidegger, Martin, 49; on the hand,
88–91; weak-willed nature of, 85–86 249n10; on metaphysical will, 24,
Gynecology (Daly), 153 210n2; on projection, 36–38, 214n18;
on the willful hammer, 42–43, 217n28,
habit, 147, 224n14; vs. assimilation, 151; 217n31, 247n54; on willing backwards,
character-building and, 70–71; Husserl 39–40, 215n23
on, 26; institutional will as, 146–48, Hekma, Gert, 159
241nn17–18; virtue as, 73, 225n18; Henry, Paget, 253n34
willfulness as, 169–70 Herbart, Johann Friedrich, 91–92, 227n39
habituation, 148 Her Willful Way: A Story for Girls
Hage, Ghassan, 128–29 (Griffith), 208n20
the haggard, 153, 244n31 Heterodoxy Club, 133–34
Halberstam, J. Jack, 163, 198–99, 208n14 heterosexuality, 150, 241n21
Hall, G. Stanley, 225n19 Hill, Thomas E., 91
Hall, Radclyffe, 117–18, 198 The History of Everyday Life (Lüdtke),
Hall, Stuart, 248n1 205n6
Hallward, Peter, 16, 228n1, 239n11 History of Sexuality (Foucault), 207n11
Hamacher, Werner, 207n12 Hobbes, Thomas, 135–36, 238n4
“The Hand from the Grave” (Ashliman), Hochschild, Arlie, 52, 108
209n26 Home Truths (Maitland), 178–85, 249n7,
The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood), 231n16 249n10