Finding more a more modest “so what”

“Many works in queer studies end with a bang by imagining and describing the new social forms that supposedly emerge from gay male orgies or cruising escapades or gender-queer erotics or sodomitic sadism or at any rate queer jouissance of some form or another.”

– Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (2011: Duke)

Coming across this passage made me laugh out loud because I’ve also been reviewing my comps annotations this week and so many them end with something like, “[author name] concludes by describing how [insert their theory] offers new [horizons for, forms of, ways of imagining] [the social, relationality, history].

Rationing My Book Darts

I have these really beautiful bronze book darts that Dylan and Bridget gave me for Christmas. Later my friend Brendan gave me a package when he came back from a trip to Montreal and I added those to my collection. They are from this stationary shop in Montreal but I think you can also get them elsewhere. There is nothing about them that I don’t love.

Maybe some people use these as their main book annotating device but I feel like they are very precious and so I use them sparingly, according to the instructions printed on the back of the package: “An exact linemarker for any line worth finding.” I try to limit myself to one, sometimes two per book. I like the idea of coming back to a book when I’ve mostly forgotten the details to see which single annotation I put above all the others by marking it with a metal dart instead of just a pen.

This one is from a few weeks ago (comps reading):

The dogged, defensive narrative stiffness of a paranoid temporality, after all, in which yesterday can’t be allowed to have differed from today and tomorrow must be even more so, takes its shape from a generational narrative that’s characterized by a distinctly Oedipal regularity and repetitiveness: it happened to my father’s father, it happened to my father, it is happening to me, it will happen to my son, and it will happen to my son’s son. But isn’t it a feature of queer possibility–only a contingent feature, but a real one, and one that in turn strengthens the force of contingency itself–that our generational relations don’t always proceed in this lockstep?”

– Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading, Reparative Reading,” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003)

Comprehensive Exam Reading Lists

Always be annotating

I’ve finally posted my comprehensive exam readings lists. I’m putting these up because I’ve found other people’s lists enormously helpful in forming my own and I hope this will provide a resource for other students in the Communication and Culture program, and for other students putting together readings lists on cultural studies, communication studies, feminism, queer theory or online media. Assembling a list is a collaborative process, one with other students in your field, in your program, with your committee, and with the authors of the texts you’re reading who have followed citations of their own. In my program we write our formal questions toward the end of the reading process, so I’ll update with those once I’m finished with them.

In addition to my own lists, here are a couple of links to other lists that I’ve found helpful. If you have others, please add links in the comments.

Pamela Ingleton, PhD candidate at McMaster:
Cultural studies, social media, public sphere, the everyday, authorship

Fenwick McKelvey, PhD candidate at Ryerson:
Communication studies, code politics, digital research methods, political economy of information

Simon Fraser University Graduate Program in Women’s Studies:
Very comprehensive on feminist theory and cultural studies.

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?