Manuel Betancourt

After Sex? or How Writing since Queer Theory is Theorized Queerly Pt 2

October 24, 2007 · in Uncategorized

After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory

SAQ Special Edition
Ed. Janet Halley & Andrew Parker
Blogging about an academic symposium – it seems like an attack on everything I get taught in grad school, but I do feel that the more interesting part of a panel like this are the interactions and the personal reactions from the audience (consider it [retroactive] liveblogging in an academic setting).
Check out part one here.

Jeff Nunokawa

When you begin an address with “Let’s not fight” you have to wonder whether that’s what Jeff wanted to do once it was his turn to talk – mainly because you could sense his (albeit playful and always purely academic) irritation at Lee and Joe’s project and their conception of the big “QT” – queer theory. After parenthetically praising (“J’adore!”) the wikipedia buzzword “disambiguation” Jeff proceeded to disambiguate both ‘history’ and ‘nostalgia’ as they were being discussed. If, as Jeff would have us think there are indeed many histories of Queer Theory, he made it very clear it was the one rooted in the late 80s and early 90s, with the looming fear of AIDS, the solidarity found in ACT UP and seminal academic texts (Gender Trouble, Epistemology of the Closet) the one he wished we would embrace. Campy as his tirade against Bersani (who can be “brilliantly nasty”), Lee and those who try and understand and perpetuate a vision of queer theory ‘up here’ (waving his hands in the air) where issues of (capital letter) Time and (capital letter) History make him think of Heidegger was, Jeff was nonetheless well received (at least by the vocal members of the audience) when he tried to think of Queer Theory as a historical and cultural moment in time even if to do so he had to ‘crave the indulgence of quoting himself.’

Kate Thomas
What a pleasant surprise Kate Thomas was. From the initial “I took the ‘after’ as post – but for me post refers to both postal office and posthumous” I knew it was going to be a good talk (anyone who can say “the promiscuity of the postal bag” in an academic setting is welcome in my books). Though I am a firm believer that everything sounds sexier in a British accent, what I think made Kate’s presentation a perfect way to end the panel presentations was the way in which quite seamlessly she had managed to produce a piece that at once spoke about her interests (queer temporality, postal), her work and her field (I’m looking up Michael Field stuff as I type) but also framed the conversation in relation to the volume’s contributors building up to her inspired image of ‘being prone’ as one which permeated the collection. Prone, as she explained it is to be bent (indeed she had isolated images of people lying down in the volume: sleeping, exhausted, dead) – “leaning forward but looking down.” All in all, Kate’s talk worked perfectly as a wrap-up and made for a nice segway into the Q&A session that followed.

At this point my note-taking skills floundered and so instead of trying to weave a narrative out of them I’ll just isolate some interesting snippets of the conversation:

The first thing to be brought up right after Kate was done was Lee’s suggestion that the framing device of the volume (in particular the choice of putting Sedgwick’s essay at the end, disregarding the alphabetical order the rest of the volume followed) sought to create a narrative drive within the works. Andrew Parker came out and quite politely took a stab at Lee by arguing that the framing of the piece did in no way try and privilege Eve’s piece but that the main reason for placing her essay at the end visually presented the fact that it was the one piece that was not part of the call for submissions of the volume, something Janet echoed leaving Lee to smile and just say he had just offered “one observation” and that he never expected everyone to agree with his opinion, but that one couldn’t help but agree that the placement also suggested an ‘ending’ – a framed and purposefully placed endpoint to an otherwise arbitrary (alphabetical) ordering.

After Lee and Joe left (to catch the train) the conversation veered towards (oddly enough) an attack on the vision of ‘Queer Theory’ that Jeff Nunokawa had already mulled over both in his essay and in his presentation. Aided by supportive comments from the audience this seemed to take on currency among the attendants: Queer Theory as rooted in a particular historical and cultural moment (Jeff had begun his talk with an acknowledgment of his nostalgia and never did he try and hide that during the panel).
One of the more interesting lines of discussion was actually brought up by the controversy over whether Queer Theory could ever be thought of as divorced from progressive politics to which Janet’s anecdotal Law experiences offered a nice counter-argument.
Elin Diamond’s comments and questions, cementing Jeff’s currency in the discussion actually offered a nice compromise between this nostalgia of time long lost and an anxiety in graduate work regarding this past-ness of queer theory: she offered us a way to think about our present situation in light of theory (in times of theoretical upheaval that’s what people do – “you have plenty of crises!” she told us, why not use those to help you theorise in the same way the ACT UP meetings did for those in the hey-day of Queer Theory?)

Also very welcome was this suggestion that one could understand QT as an object-less methodology; a praxis more than an object of study (something that echoed Janet’s earlier idea of this volume being quite ‘writerly’ – it could be indeed style which cut across the essays if one did not want to see a thematic, narrative-like connection between them).

And there you have – mostly nonsensical ramblings of an audience member at this event. I will not try and talk about the dinner that proceeded the event for the conversations were much too fun and interesting to have them be put to public speculation.
Maybe blogging about Rutgers English Events will become a staple of A Blog Next Door – now if only that could have an attentive and responsive audience…