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Home » literature » non-fiction » Testojunkie (Beatriz Preciado) — Book Review

Testojunkie (Beatriz Preciado) — Book Review

I bought Testojunkie (the English translation from Feminist Press) a few months ago, having stumbled across it in a bookshop in Boston. I wasn’t familiar with Preciado, but thought that I probably ought to be. There is also an interesting interview with Preciado over at The Paris Review, where s/he discusses working with Derrida, his/her new work building on Testojunkie, and continuing to take testosterone.

Testojunkie was initially published in 2008, although the English translation wasn’t published until 2013. The book is a combination of autobiographical story-telling and political theorising, mainly juxtaposed as alternating chapters, so might be thought of as “low theory”. It tells the story of Preciado’s auto-experimentation (around 2005) with Testogel, which coincides with the traumatic death of friend Guillaume Dustan and a new relationship with Virginie Despentes, at the same time as elaborating Preciado’s theory of the pharmacopornography.

I was initially drawn to the book by this biographical element charting Preciado’s auto-experimentation, although this is ultimately the ‘minor’ part of the book, at least in terms of word count. Significant chunks of the book are also taken up with historical accounts of the pharmaceutical industry’s development of hormone pills and other various methods and medications, parts of which were new to me, particularly the testing of the contraceptive pill in Puerto Rico (an interesting Planned Parenthood blogpost series explores this in more detail). These historical and biographical elements are drawn together in a conceptual framework that seeks to elucidate the relationship between capitalism, gender and sexuality.

Preciado discusses post-Fordist society and the ‘new’ capitalism that has transformed sex, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual pleasure into “objects of the political management of living” carried out via “advanced technocapitalism, global media, and biotechnologies”; a “hot, psychotropic, punk capitalism” “imposing an ensemble of new microprosthetic mechanisms of control of subjectivity by means of biomolecular and multimedia technical protocols”; an “excite and control” society that moves beyond Foucault’s disciplinary regime.

The term “pharmacopornographic” reflects this two-pronged control, implicating both the medical and media establishments. Preciado challenges the reader to think about what labour in this context means — bringing to mind the trite aphorisms that “sex sells” or “everything is about sex, except sex” — arguing that production no longer results in objects, but “mobile ideas, living organs, symbols, desires, chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul”, with the “raw materials” being “excitation, erection, ejaculation, and pleasure and feelings of self-satisfaction, omnipotent control, and total destruction”. Preciado suggests that “pharmacopornographic capitalism is ushering in a new era in which the most interesting kind of commerce is the production of the species as species, the production of its mind and its body, its desires and its affects”.

Preciado’s analysis is thought-provoking, raising a range of questions about medicine, media (particularly social media), mass consumerism, and more! That every aspect of our lives can now be described with the suffix “porn” (food-porn, bookshelf-porn, etc.), and the ways in which more and more of us are using social media, smartphones, tablets, and apps to blur the various aspects of our lives (family, social, work, dating, etc.) suggests that a critical analysis like Preciado’s is increasingly necessary in order to better understand the submerged “control” elements of “excite and control”.

I don’t want to repeat too much of Preciado’s own analysis, but I would like to reflect on just one topic that kept coming to mind as I was reading Testojunkie, even though it’s not addressed directly: the Quantified Self movement, and the idea of acquiring self-knowledge through the use of gadgets, numbers and self-surveillance. For the most part, QS projects are not inherently sexual, but their underlying logic does involve labouring with the purpose of producing “mobile ideas, living organs [in the form of healthier bodies], chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul”, drawing on feelings of “omnipotent control” and also “self-satisfaction”, I think (not strictly meant as a criticism). QS-ing does seem to be involved, if not in producing the species as species, then certainly a mechanism for the production of the individual as individual.

The autobiographical sections of the book are a form of QS narrative: Preciado discusses the effects of testosterone (in terms of his/her writerly life, it seems almost a performance-enhancing drug like caffeine), as well as dosage, and this is something that clearly played on Preciado’s mind throughout the experience. Preciado critiques early on the rigidity of the instruction booklet enclosed with the testogel, calling it a “manual for microfascism”. There is a tension between QS projects as methods of resistance — particularly against ‘standard’ medicine and healthcare — but also as mechanisms for control, for example, whereby individuals’ data can be commodified. I continue to have mixed feelings about QS-ing, which I’ll write about elsewhere, but Preciado’s analysis certainly felt relevant to my thinking about it. 

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