Queer Theory And Its Discontents

A course on queer theory (which this class presumes to be) engages straightaway a kind of definitional obscurity. From its inception as a field, queer theory has confronted issues in and around 'queerness': queer lives, queer bodies, queer spirits, queer symbols, queer saints, queer things. In essence, it has foregrounded the construction of identities and ethics, and organized strategies for exposing and resisting the passive influence of heteronormativity in this subject-forming process.

But while many have valorized 'queer' as a powerful signifier, its representative meaning remains untenable— and, in fact, some followers of queer theory have striven to keep it this way. Fixed meanings have, after all, been the subject of much consternation in queer study, viewed largely as targets for rigorous deconstruction. One operation within queer theory, for instance, concerns gender and sexuality, revealing these categories as assumed rather than inherent; hence linear meaning-making is discarded in favor of polyvalent signification.

What, then, of 'queerness'? What, as queer theorists themselves have wondered, is queer about queer studies now, or ever? The complex orientations of queer theory are such that they reflect seemingly paradoxical allegiances. Queer theory can be deadly serious and deadly silly; it can be exhausting and energizing; it can be about everything or nothing at all. In this way, it bears a certain non-specific specificity, closely attuned not to one object of study, but to many.

Queer theory encompasses an absurdly broad range of subject-matter: pill poppers, pop divas, drag queens, dragon women, leather daddies, dyke daddies, dykes on bikes, and any other variant on assigned and asserted identities. It draws connections across ideological and physical borders; it is a field wherein the marginal is the central, and coincidence is never just coincidental.

If the potency of queer theory— crystallized in its promiscuous interests— makes queer study exceptionally indiscriminate, it also makes for awkward introduction. A pedagogical form like the 'introduction' (functionally analagous to the 'survey' or 'overview') is ill-suited to the unbounded, unbridled inclinations of a deeply desirous field. Queer theory's utility is not well-limned, in part because it has viewed use as a dangerous subject of speculation. However, this is not to say that the field is irreducibly complex.

Certain concepts within queer theory have emerged as near-canonical, or, at least, popular enough to be regarded as canon: gender performativity is one such frame; others concern the limitations of language and an imagined end to identity. Inasmuch as this course is meant to introduce queer theory, we will engage these ideas with considerable care. However, we will also engage the introductory drive itself, asking if the principles of introduction might run contrary to some of the most pervasive themes in queer theory.

This ironic introduction to queer theory is scripted as a two-part play: first, the examination of key ideas within the putative 'canon' of queer theory; second, the reexamination and subsequent scrutiny of what constitutes the canonically queer. These operations— somewhat reductively framed as constructive and deconstructive— are apropos of each other, in that they are mutually reinforcing and mutually opposed.

The first act begins as such. We stage a performance of 'introduction,' assuming that the conceptual grounds accepted as requisite to the field may offer some foundation in queer theory. This will involve reading key works from the deans of queer theory, among them Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Michael Warner, et al.

The second act turns back on the first, the performance of a reflexive practice that metacritically questions the particular valence of what comprises queer study. It interrogates qualifiers germane to the operation of introduction: 'key,' 'major,' and most controversially, 'essential.'

Having surveyed the field, we may find ourselves challenging any evidence we've gathered, or destroying it altogether. Regardless, this course will conclude by asking what kinds of rituals and responsibilities are amenable to queer theorists, and how these ethical forms might inflect on the future of queer study, its evolution, or its possible demise.

Course times: Meets weekly, Sundays 4-6PM @ Lorem Ipsum Books in Cambridge, MA.

Readings: Course packets to be provided at the outset of the course.

No monetary fee. Tips accepted in the form of miscellaneous ephemera.

Drop-in attendance welcome and encouraged.

Contact moc.liamg|362eelc#moc.liamg|362eelc to be included on the class e-mail chain.

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