In Janet Halley and Andrew Parker’s introduction to After Sex?: On Writing Since Queer Theory, the reader is confronted, not only with a summary of their project, but also with a rather profound elucidation of the competing, disparate voices that claim to speak for and about the movement. I will begin my summary with the editors’ conclusion, where they offer Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as a final example of “after-ness”: Sedgwick becomes their poster child for a theorist who has made a complete departure from a theory she had a hand in birthing. What she brought into the world, she abandons (10). Why? Well, like the string of teasers offered by Halley and Parker for all of the contributors, we will have to read her essay to find out.
The introduction does its rhetorical work very well. The editors entice (even provoke) the reader to ask questions of his or her own, even as they raise their own questions and introduce us to a brief summary of each contributor’s thesis. In brief, and without listing all of the theorists and their responses in this limited space, one element that each response has in common is a concerted effort to delineate and create demarcations between an endless array of binaries—binaries that still exist. In view of our class dialogue today, it seems that the conversation (even here, among queer theorists) must use the language/structure of “the system” even while criticizing it.
Questions elicited by the text:
- Since the days of Queer Nation and ACT UP are over, “what replaces the sense of political purpose of the inaugural moments?” (Sedgwick 8).
- Though most theorists (included here) still believe that “a queer impulse [is] indispensible and directly productive, both of desire and analysis,” what keeps the theory intact when “different kinds of queerness don’t map neatly onto each other”? (8).
- The editors note that Hoad, alone, wonders “whether the transnational and the global have become the “new queer,” effectively supplanting it from a vanguardist position in academic life which it may never regain” (8).
- With Hoad’s “wonderment” in mind, what are some possible connections between queer theory and trauma theory, and if there does exist a direct correlation, what might this reveal about the criticism that suggests that queer theory’s tentacles are too long–that the parameters of the theory are too broad?
- How can a theory that purports to deconstruct boundaries resist the temptation to “take over the world”? ^_^
Finally, what struck me in my first reading of this text is that “queer theory,” though it may have manifested a sense of definite form in the heady days of its youth, over time the lines have been blurred to a point that the very questions posed by the editors of this project imply a criticism of a theory disembodied, still haunting the theoretical landscape but without a recognizable form. As I re-read the opening paragraph, what I hear is the following: “So what exactly is ‘queer theory’ anyway now that its glory days are dissipated, especially since it seems to have claimed feeding rights to everything, everywhere?” The query itself reveals something about the nature of the theory itself and how it has evolved in time. The state of the theory reminds me of Sharon Marcus and Heather Love’s critiques, respectively: “If everyone is queer, then no one is,” and what is queer about a “queer universal?” (7). If queer theory has postured itself as a universal theory “for everything,” then what is the something that actually defines it—post sex?
the problem of historical periodization
the problematic of succession
the politics and affects of singleness
“turn to affect”
political and psychic dsyphoria
I am not sure that Eve Sedgwick’s relationship to queer theory was ever one of abandonment; for one thing, she served as dissertation adviser to many of the scholars who are still valiantly keeping queer studies alive.
I think you’ve very right about the overarching, loaded question that underlies this introduction and its framing of the pieces of writing to follow, though. A question for you and/or for today’s class: do the other two readings for this week, which are deeply committed respectively to “queer” and to “sexuality” as continuing key modes of analysis even after their 90s heyday, offer any useful rejoinders?