The rolling obituary for queer humanities

I came across a CFP this morning that begins with the statement, “Queer & Humanism are two categories that have shown their limits in recent critical discussions.” It goes on, “It [the symposium] provides a forum to debate the connection between posthumanism and growing dissatisfaction with “queer” as a critical concept.” Two different people in the last year have told me, apologetically, that they just aren’t that interesting in queer or feminism because they’re “posthuman.” I wanted to warn them about the inevitable anxieties they’ll face when posthumanism dies, if it hasn’t already (has it?), but they’ll come to that in their own time.

As Annamarie Jagose has pointed out (PDF, subscription required), Teresa de Lauretis killed queer theory in 1994, just three years after she “invented” it. Jagose writes, “Yet while there is no shortage of people claiming that queer theory is finished, washed-up and over, it is less commonly noted that a sense of queer theory’s finitude has animated from the start attempts to specify quite what queer theory is or does.”

I find that queer death proclamations often come along with one of the following things:

  • a naive association between queer studies and identity politics: Writes Judith Halberstam, “Too often in academia ‘identity politics;’ will be used as an accusation of ‘interestedness,’ and the accuser will seek to return discussion to a more detached project with supposedly greater validity and broader applications.”
  • a commitment to the the Brennan/Massumi/Deleuze strand of affect theory and a preoccupation with sealing oneself off from the queer, cultural studies, “structure of feeling” kind of affect: “No, I’m not doing that thing.”
  • an uneasy relationship to feminism (feminism gets killed even more than queer theory does).

As unnerving as it is to hear that two of the only things I’m good at have reached their limits, especially given the job market, I find these death-claims fascinating for what they say about our affective investments in critical theory more generally; we axe theoretical strands like obsolete employees or technologies using a business model of productive innovation. A planned obsolescence.

Tom Rachman - The Imperfectionists

I’m reading The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, which is mostly about a newspaper but partly about said paper’s obituaries editor, who spends most of his time on “preparedness,” or writing obituaries for people who are old but haven’t died yet. Everyone is really creeped out by this aspect of the obit guy’s job, except for this well-known, almost dead Australian feminist he’s sent to interview, who’s thrilled to get the chance to influence her own obit. If queer theory is always-already dead, as Jagose argues, what pleasures do we take in preparedness, in always writing and re-writing its obituary?