Sedgwick: “Queer and Now” (Powers)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s article, “Queer and Now,” collected in her book Tendencies (Routledge 1994), challenges the dominant cultural conception of what it means to be queer, i.e., not part of a binaried heteronormative coupling in early 1990s America. Her purpose, moreover, in composing this article is to fight against the homogenizing effects of political correctness upon art and literature, which has threatened to ameliorate and obviate the multivalenced meaning of queerness.

From a historiographical perspective, Sedgwick’s piece is seminal and inspiring. When she presents her listing of what constitutes a “family” (6), she makes the argument that the “bonds of blood, law, of habitation, of privacy, of companionship and succor” should be disengaged “from their lockstep of their uninanity on the system called the ‘family,’”  an idea that logically would benefit anyone regardless of sexual preference. Additionally, when she proceeds to list the elements that supposedly compose one’s sexual identity circa 1991 (7), she deftly points out that this grouping’s attempts at unifying the differences inherent in different people’s sexual identities into a “seamless and univocal whole” (8) is an impossible task, but hope exists in the fact that the idea of “queer” opens up a world of endless possibilities and contradictions for defining and understanding one’s self.

In understanding Sedgwick’s compositional approach to this article, I wonder if she was actually working on three separate works that are coalescing into a free associative whole for her. Again, her argument against attempting to list one’s familial identity and relationships to others is particularly useful. I also am intrigued by her challenging us to articulate our position toward the word queer in relationship to how we apply the term in the first (9) or second or third-person (11).  However, perhaps her discussion of her struggle with breast cancer and how it affects her gender and sexual identity, a necessary and poignant tale in itself, may have been better developed and resonated in a separate memoir-centered piece in Tendencies. For the final part of her article energetically titled “A Crazy Little Thing Called Ressentiment,” she argues against how the intellectual right, via the “hackneyed populist semiotic of ressentiment (18), have attempted to trash and disavow the powerful energies of queerness (20). This part in itself essentially functions for me as a de facto “Queer Manifesto,” one with which I frontload my rereading of the entire piece, so that I immediately feel the polemic force of Sedgwick’s anti-PC-America argument.

Discussion Questions:

1)      What is our reaction to Sedgwick’s lists concerning the family and sexual identity (6-7)?

2)      How does each of us vocalize the word queer in conversations with others?

2 thoughts on “Sedgwick: “Queer and Now” (Powers)

  1. alexislothian

    Queer and Now serves as an introduction to the essay collection Tendencies, in which Butler revisits many of the themes in more detail, which might be why you find its structure a little frustrating –– though that may also just be Sedgwick’s style!

    I am curious to know what you understand the “dominant cultural conception of what it means to be queer” to be. Is it the homo/heterosexual binary that Sedgwick engages in such depth in “Axiomatic”?

  2. Thomas Powers Post author

    Yes, Dr. Lothian, that’s how I’m defining the term as I come to understand it! On page 8 of “Queer and Now,” I appreciate when Sedgwick opens the definition of queer to virtually endless permutations that not only incorporate but also contradict, overlap, and redefine any reductive homo/heterosexual binaries that have been filtered through a heteronormative societal lens.


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