Friday, May 30, 2008

Dispatches from the Queer Future, Part I: Happiness, Killjoys, Sticky Objects, and a Plea for Arrested Development

by EILEEN JOY

[this post has been composed-in-time to synchronize with our ongoing discussions about medieval disability studies and what I would call bodies-in-time, here, here, and here; and don't miss JJC's notice of Nadia Altschul's recent essay on postcolonialism and the Middle Ages here]

What Rough Lolcat, Its Hour Come Round at Last, Slouches Toward Sara Ahmed to be Born?

I have the stardom glow.—Jennifer Lopez, or, J-Lo

Although some of us [well, okay, just me and Michael O’Rourke] involved in the recent intensive seminar devoted to Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology at University College Dublin [21-22 May; organized by Michael and Noreen Giffney as part of their brilliant The(e)ories: Advanced Seminars for Queer Research] were hoping for major theorist diva-tude from Sara Ahmed, we were sorely disappointed. What we wanted was for Sara to arrive with at least fifteen pieces of pink faux-crocodile Vuitton luggage and endless demands for Fiji water, Krug champagne, boiled salamander eggs, Polynesian serving girls, and a hotel room temperature that never went above or below 71.5 degrees fahrenheit. What we got was a lovely, warm, funny, and down-to-earth person who also happens to be so smart it’s almost frightening, and yet would rather talk about Dolly Parton and American Idol and The L Word than critical race theory and Husserl [although, in point of fact, she talked about all of these things].

But we still held out some hope. When we noticed that on the first day of the seminar Sara was wearing what could only be described as an uber-cool jacket [don’t ask me to describe it; suffice to say it was shiny and multi-colored and matched her mini-backpack purse, although she swore the “matching” was unintentional], Michael suggested that she might want to demand an extra hotel room just for the jacket, and I agreed: the jacket needed its own room, its own plasma screen television, its own remote, its own bottled water, its own serving girls. Sara didn’t seem to understand our meaning, and the crushing blow came when she told us the jacket had been purchased in a store in Lawrence, Kansas. Good god no, we shuddered. Anything but that.

But the real low point for me, personally, was when we were riding the bus Thursday evening to dinner at Eden restaurant, and after I indicated my horror at people who like to display pictures of their cats online, and to look at these pictures, Sara immediately chimed in with, “but I like to look at pictures of cats. I really do.” Before I even knew what was happening, everyone was whipping out their cell phones [Michael, Noreen, Sara, and I] to show each other photos of our cats/dogs/girlfriends. Any shred of coolness that I may have had up to that point was instantly stripped away from me, and sadly, it may never return. To add insult to injury, Steven Ambrose [delightful graduate student in women’s/gender studies at Trinity College] told Sara about lolcats and “I Can Has Cheeseburger,” and since I’ve returned home I find myself waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat imagining Sara Ahmed, somewhere in the world, staying up late at night browsing the cat pictures on “I Can Has Cheeseburger” instead of finishing her brilliant new book. Speaking of which,

On(Against) Happiness and (For)Killjoys

Touch . . . involves an economy: a differentiation between those who can and cannot be reached. Touch then opens bodies to some bodies and not others. Queer orientations are those that put within reach bodies that have been unreachable by the lines of conventional genealogy.—Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology

Although the primary purpose of the intensive seminar at UC Dublin was to have an extended, interdisciplinary conversation with Ahmed about her recent book Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, on the first day, Ahmed shared with us a portion of her current project, On Being Directed: Promises, Happiness, Deviations, which is, in some ways, a natural extension [or outgrowth] of the “lines” of her thought in Queer Phenomenology, where she writes,

“For a life to count as a good life, then it must return the debt of its life by taking on the direction promised as a social good, which means imagining one’s futurity in terms of reaching certain points along a life course. A queer life might be one that fails to make such gestures of return.” [Queer Phenomenology, p. 21]

Further, and also in Queer Phenomenology, Ahmed takes on what might be called the spatio-temporality [and spatio-temporal “orientations”] of straight and queer and racialized lives [in ways, I might add, with powerful implications for those of us working in what I now want to call QueerMedievalFutures—you know the roster: Dinshaw, Lochrie, Schultz, Kruger, Cohen, Biddick, Burger, Howie, Klosowska, etc.], and calls attention, thereby, to “the intimacy of bodies and their dwelling places” [p. 8]. Most importantly [and here, I am hoping for some convergence with our current ongoing discussions on medieval disability studies]:

“The ‘here’ of bodily dwelling is . . . what takes the body outside of itself, as it is affected and shaped by its surroundings: the skin that seems to contain the body is also where the atmosphere creates an impression . . . . Bodies may become orientated in this responsiveness to the world around them, given this capacity to be affected. In turn, given the history of such responses, which accumulate as impressions on the skin, bodies do not dwell in spaces that are exterior but rather are shaped by their dwellings and take shape by dwelling.” [p. 9]

“The work of inhabitance involves orientation devices; ways of extending bodies into spaces that create new folds, or new contours of what we could call livable or inhabitable space. If orientation is about making the strange familiar through the extension of bodies into space, then disorientation occurs when that extension fails. Or we could say that some spaces extend certain bodies and simply do not leave room for others. . . . In such moments, when bodies do not extend into space, they might feel ‘out of place’ where they have been given ‘a place.’ Such feelings in turn point to other places, even ones that have yet to be inhabited.” [p. 12]

Certain “lines” [such as “straight” or “white” or “married,” etc.] that we follow in our lives are such “orientation” devices, and while they help us “find our way,” they also “make certain things, and not others, available” [p. 14]. Moreover, we don’t have to “consciously exclude those things that are not ‘on line’,” because the “direction we take excludes things for us, before we even get there” [p. 15]. We are “orientated,” then, “when we are in line. We are ‘in line’ when we face the direction that is already faced by others. . . . We might speak then of collective direction: of ways in which nations and other imagined communities might be ‘going in a certain direction,’ or facing the same way, such that only some things ‘get our attention.’ . . . We follow the line that is followed by others: the repetition of the act of following makes the line disappear from view as the point from which ‘we’ emerge” [p. 15].

In relation to sexuality, heterosexuality, in Ahmed’s view, is a “compulsory orientation” and the heterosexual couple “is ‘instituted’ as the form of sociality through force” [p. 84]. In this scenario, heterosexuality functions “as the most intimate and deadly of parental gifts” [p. 85—think also Judith Halberstam’s “time of inheritance”]. We don’t have to think of the “normative” or “straight” couple in just heterosexual terms, however [in my mind], for, still following Ahmed’s thought, the “affinity of the couple form is socially binding: premised as it is on resemblance and on the ‘naturalness’ of the direction of desire, which produces the couple as an entity, as a ‘social one’ (from two)” [p. 84]. Ultimately, when we “see” couples in a particular field of vision that is heterosexually structured, the form is so familiar that the labor of becoming that couple disappears from our sight, and to “see the couple form in its ‘sensuous certainty’ (Marx and Engels) as an ‘object’ that can be perceived, would be not to see how this form arrives as an effect of intergenerational work” [p. 84—I must add that, for me, all couples, queer and straight—perform this object-function and are essentially oppressive in certain ways, but that's a discussion for another day, and full disclaimer: I've been part of a couple for 16 years now]. Lesbian sexuality also involves “work,” or labor, because one has to “shift” one’s orientation in a certain direction, which also involves following certain lines, and it is not that certain “objects” [other women?] cause desire, “but that in desiring certain objects other things follow, given how the familial and social are already arranged,” and “the object in sexual object choice is sticky: other things ‘stick’ when we orientate ourselves toward objects, especially if such orientations do not follow the family or social line” [p. 101].

Ultimately, for Ahmed, “lesbian desire puts women into closer ‘contact’ with women” and “lesbian contact slides back and forth between forms of social and sexual proximity” [p. 103]. But we should not [and here is where Ahmed’s thought really takes off for me, personally] “think of this ‘contact zone’ of lesbian desire . . . as a fantasy of likeness (of finding others who are ‘like me’), but as opening up lines of connection between bodies that are drawn to each other in the repetition of [the] tendency to deviate from the straight line. . . . Lesbian desires move us sideways: one object might put another in reach, as we come into contact with different bodies and worlds” [p. 105]. And this brings to mind, too, as Ahmed points out, Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner’s idea that the “queer world is a space of entrances and exits, unsystematized lines of acquaintance, projecting horizons, typifying examples, alternate routes, blockages, incommensurate geographies” [“Sex in Public”]. Therefore, in Ahmed’s view, it “is important that we do not idealize queer worlds or simply locate them in an alternative space,” for it is “given that the straight world is already in place and that queer moments, where things come out of line, are fleeting. Our response need not be to search for permanence . . . but to listen to the sound of ‘the what’ that flees” [p. 106].

Now, I see this listening for “the sound of ‘the what’ that flees” to also be intimately bound up with Ahmed’s new project on promises, happiness, and deviations [On Being Directed], in which she helps us to see the ways in which the world and particular objects in the world arrive to us with certain affectivities already built in, as it were, before we encounter them. Objects are “happy” for us when we are “directed” [by our families, for example], to believe they will bring, or “promise,” us happiness. The “promise” of happiness, in something like marriage (or virginity! or the suburbs! or children!), for instance, “grounds” our expectations and provides a supposed assurance that we will be happy, if only we follow (or allow ourselves to be directed) along certain (familial and social) lines. As opposed to John Locke’s idea that “happiness is a direction we take in relation to objects that come close to us” [which gives to happiness a certain intentionality], Ahmed posits the brilliant “twist” [a term I invoke intentionally since it is one of the meanings of “queer”] that we are oriented [directed to be oriented] toward happy objects even before they arrive. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the crushing disappointment that often ensues when the supposedly happy object does finally arrive. Just read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, or D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, and I could go on and on.

In relation to love, we can see the ways in which certain notions of happiness, as Ahmed brilliantly illustrated to us, can be ultimately deforming and destructively oppressive, including the speech acts: “I am happy if you are,” “I will only be happy if you are happy,” “If you are unhappy I will be unhappy,” “You must be happy for me,” and so on, and to love another is to ultimately want their happiness [ouch]. When others have a certain dependence on your happiness being directed in a certain way [toward, perhaps, a certain common good], then many lives [perhaps all, I would argue] are ultimately lived in the gap between directed promises and the possibilities of different lives that have to be lost and mourned in advance. For Ahmed, a queer politics would allow us the freedom to be unhappy [especially when others, including our families, want us to be the “happy queer”—think of the mother who tells you, “it’s okay that you’re gay, as long as you’re happy”], to cause unhappiness by acts of deviation away from communal [straight or gay] happy objects, and to literally “kill joy” by being the killjoy. By holding onto their unhappiness, their discomfort, their anomie and angst and distress, the melancholic migrant, the angry black woman, the unhappy queer, the feminist killjoy--and might I add, in light of our recent discussion here, the pissed-off crip [all “alien affects” within certain communities] function as important “blockage points” to others’ “promissory happiness” and thereby make the future [different futures] possible.

Wow. What can I say? I will just quote Austin Powers: “yeah, baby, yeah.”

Of course, it has to be admitted that I, myself, am a pretty happy person and I told Ahmed that her writing and thought “made me happy” [just teasing, somewhat]. But I would also like to rethink what I think happiness is through Ahmed’s thought while still reserving a place for the idea that one can be happy and even be surrounded by sticky happy objects [all entendres intended] and still depart/deviate from whatever lines, while always leaving the future open. For me [and I am still trying to flesh this out more fully], happiness has something to do with always leaving everything open as a possibility, with not expecting or demanding certain promises to be fulfilled [while at the same time believing in the promise of what has not been promised but wished for], with existing within [or “making happen”] various “fields” within which everything is always about “to-come.” Nothing is “gotten” but everything is always coming, and coming undone, at various “points” of arrival. Also, happiness is allowing and undertaking the labor of clearing room for all bodies to arrive in this field, all of whom surprise me by their arrival, and are [hopefully] surprised in turn. I am happy just laboring in this field, or clearing ground within it.

Stuck in the Middle with You, Stuck in the Middle with You: Embrace Your Arrested Development

We have hope because what is behind us is also what allows other ways of gathering in time and space, of making lines that do not reproduce what we follow but instead create wrinkles in the earth.
Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology

He wants to be hungry all the time: he chooses to be starved, to be longing, rather than belonging.—Lauren Berlant, “Starved,” in After Sex: On Writing Since Queer Theory (special issue of SAQ)

By way of conclusion, I want to share what I am thinking of as a strange moment in my reading of Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology. It occurred in Chapter 2, “Sexual Orientation,” where Ahmed undertakes a queer excavation of Freud’s “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman,” in order to delineate the ways in which family love is “elevated as an ideal that can only be ‘returned’ by heterosexual love” [p. 73], and also how Freud’s attempt—albeit a “fumbling” attempt—to construct the “straight” lines of normative sexuality “is what shapes the very tendency to go astray” [p. 79]. While reading Ahmed’s description of Freud’s definition of “deviation” or “perversion” as what happens when “there is an extension in an anatomical sense beyond the regions of the body that are displayed for sexual union” or “there is a lingering over intermediate relations to the sexual object,” which “should normally travel rapidly on the path toward the final sexual aim” [qtd. on p. 78], I found myself wanting to stay with this moment of “perversion” as a “lingering over intermediate relations.” Since so much of Ahmed’s thought in this book is structured along the idea of lines and points along lines and deviations from lines and also about “facing” [and this is the ethico-political imperative, in a sense] those who “flee” or retreat from us along different lines, making themselves “strange” or “oblique” as they depart from us, then what might it mean to also grasp as a site of utopian political [and also ethico-sexual] possibility the lingering over a particular intermediate point [which might also be a certain body] along a line that is not only not followed but also never abandoned, never departed from, never completed, in that lingering? What infinitude of horizons might open up in this lingering, this staying, this pausing over a particular point, a particular body, that never exhausts itself in its intermediacy, its inter-between-ity?* What is the tempo-spatiality of such a point, its constellation of affects and movements, its cartography, and how many lifetimes might I need to chart its territories? Is it possible that choosing to be perverted by not traveling along nor deviating from any line toward anything in order to dwell in a state of suspension at a certain point, with a certain body, or bodies, who are willing to risk with me, in the words of Lauren Berlant, “the collaborative risk of a shared disorganization,” might be the most utopian stance we can take?

And this, too, is a love letter: for Michael and Noreen.

*"Inter-between-ity" cadged from Michael O'Rourke.

19 comments:

Croman said...

Eileen,

What a great post to read this morning. Inter-between-ity is one of the most difficult states to exist with (in). I think of it in terms of my own life (how much I want something to be done, finished, but I am supposed to enjoy the journey) and also how much we want people to be not be "in between"--we want them finished, so if they are having some sort of emotional/physical non-normative state! then we want them to be better (no angry black women, no sad queers). I am doing work right now with medieval hermits and his interbetweenity makes me think of them, as well. Especially, Richard Rolle (who I want to write a book about--I say boldy). Rolle is wearing his sister's clothes to be a hermit, wandering around...thinking about living a life that is all transitions...to permanently purposefully upset stability is both exhilarating and frightening. Thank you for the post.

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

What a fun, thoughtful, and filled to overflowing post -- so full in fact that I am going to botch it as I wrap my small mind around its dilations.

The lines I fixated upon are these:
In relation to love, we can see the ways in which certain notions of happiness, as Ahmed brilliantly illustrated to us, can be ultimately deforming and destructively oppressive

If you substituted "future" for "happiness," isn't this Lee Edelman's argument in a different form? certain notions of anything -- futurity, happiness, sanity, ablebodiedness, purity -- can exert their tyranny when they become enforced goals.

Also, happiness is a lot more complicated than it is given credit for. I've mentioned Daniel Gilbert's work here before. And happiness changes meaning over time: hap in Middle English is luck, not an entitlement; and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" meant something closer to freedom to assume an identity that wasn't historically predetermined than to be in a state of bliss, I think.

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

Rereading that comment makes me seem cranky -- which I am not! I truly admire Ahmed's work, which has lately become essential for me in thinking about the relations between architectures and identities. I guess what I'm looking for is affirmation that she isn't making a transhistorical pronouncement about the coerciveness of happiness, because from what I glean from her use of the word it seems to me that happiness is used in a very contemporary American sense (and contra another important strand within US literature: that of being unhappy, of being nomadic, of hitting the road and wandering away from historically or familially predetermined identities: is Ahmed the lesbian Kerouac?)

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: thanks for noting the affinity between Ahmed's recent work on happiness and "being directed" and Edelman's critique of reproductive futurity; it's an affinity that Ahmed herself recognizes, but I know you have also read "Queer Phenomenology," where she directly cites Edelman in her conclusion [which conclusion, I might add, takes a marvelous historical turn that has such important significance for those working in QueerMedievalFutures, I think] and says that, unlike Edelman, she would not argue

"that queer has no future . . . through I understand and appreciate the impulse to 'give' the future to those who demand to inherit the earth, rather than aim for a share in this inheritance. Instead,a queer politics would have hope, not even by having hope in the future (under the sentimental sign of 'not yet'), but because the lines that accumulate through the repetition of gestures, the lines that gather on skin, already take surprising forms." [pp. 178-79]

And I would be willing to admit that, for myself, my current thinking about the possibilities inherent in lingering in spaces of in-between-ity and in cultivating intermediate relations that don't necessarily "go" anywhere [or, let's say, have a specifically delineated "(re)production" or "union" as their final aim], brings me into closer sympathy with Edelman's thought than I would previously allow, while at the same time, I see these zones of intermediacy as possessing their own temporalities and horizons that are not necessarily static and that do allow different, more hopeful futures to unfold.

Eileen Joy said...

Croman: I forgot to say in my last comment, "thanks for your comments!" I, too, often struggle in my own life with always tying my supposed happiness to "how things *will* or *might* turn out" and to the completion of projects, getting it "over with," "being done," etc. It's always struck me, though, that living in these lines of thought almost always produce unhappiness. I've discovered this is also true with relationships, in which I no longer *expect* anything specific to happen [seriously], and I'm much happier as a result. I would love to read that book on Rolle you are daring yourself to write.

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: I didn't think you were being too cranky at all. You know, Ahmed *may* be making a transhistorical statement about the coerciveness of happiness, although I wish we could ask *her* that and see what she might say in response, but there's definitely an attempt in the new project [from what little I know of it/heard about it from her] to "depart," let's say from the ways in which happiness has been inscribed/coerced along genealogical lines [familial, social, communal, national, etc.], and to also make room for the killjoy who calls our happiness into questions and refuses to be "quieted" on the subject, let's say. Her textual-literary references ranged from Virginia Woolf to Rousseau to "The L Word" to Rita Mae Brown to Ama Ata Aidoo to Audre Lorde to bell hooks and beyond.

Anonymous said...

Hello Eileen, thanks for your generous remarks about the seminar which also gave a sense of the flavour of the relaxed atmosphere--the seminar was intense but not tense and everyone tried not to take themselves too seriously. It was fantastic to have you there and to meet you in person and informally at lunch. I'm going to send Sara the url now so that she can see what you have written. Noreen

Eileen Joy said...

Oh man, I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but in relation to Jeffrey's pointing to the multi-valent ways of defining happiness, Ahmed actually *began* her talk with the medieval definition of "hap"/luck/chance as something that has been "lost" in our contemporary understanding of happiness, so I think you would have liked that, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

Excellent! Seems she's restoring the power to travel to the word, which is really great to hear. Happ is Old Norse for fortune or good luck, isn't it?

hd said...

Thanks for this rad summary, Eileen. i love that you started with JLo's glow[ing perfume!] Smells, jlo's perfumes included, don't follow such spatial and temporal lines, which is partly why I'm drawn to thinking and writing about smell.

Perhaps Ahmed's new work on the directionality of happiness can intersect with our previous discussion of mental disability, particularly Holly's point about students' desire to diagnose, and then empathize, with MK. That seems like a reading practice that reinforces such directional norms.

It also made me think more about Greg's archive on deaf murderer's trials. Were they jury trials, Greg? i can't recall when jury trials emerged. But the notion that the court couldn't empathize or understand the defendants, and thus had to acquit them, is striking, in that it reveals those affective "lines" of understanding that must have extended to other bodies and actions in other trials. For the last ten minutes, i've been obsessed with the notion of "common" sense, which, according to the OED, describes a thread of perception that links all the senses, first thought to be a sixth sense, the "center" of the senses, and then, later, applied to cultural norms, i.e. whether another would react in a similar, or "sensible" way. Could this idea of a common sensibility, rooted in the senses, tie into the coerciveness of being "happy" for someone? What if some material environments occlude or heighten such directional lines? (here i'm thinking not only about Ahmed's argument in QP, but also about the work done on the electronic "drone" of appliances, that tune our modern bodies to minor (or sad) keys, or even of JLo's stardom smell.)

Eileen Joy said...

Noreen: it was wonderful to finally meet you as well, and I'm glad you think my remarks captured something of the seminar's atmosphere.

hd: I love the fact that you write that you have been obsessing for "the last ten minutes" on notions of common sense--are you still obsessing about that or have you moved on to something else? In any case, I'm glad you brought up "common sense" as I do think certain notions of "common sense" definitely have something to do with what Ahmed was detailing regarding the coerciveness of happiness, which is often rooted in communal/common norms and expectations. Families, or communities, as Ahmed put it, share certain horizons, or occupy a shared horizon, that orient its members a certain way even before so-called [pre-determined] "happy objects" arrive over those horizons. Ahmed also raised the provocative point that pleasure, in the context of such a family, can be idiosyncratic as a function of that family's "shared horizon."

I *do* think [and hope] that Ahmed's work on "being directed" and happiness [as well as her work on how bodies dwell and extend, or don't extend, in certain spaces] can and should productively intersect with the conversations that have been unfolding her in relation to medieval disability studies and to Margery Kempe and her "booke." It raises the interesting question, too, of the ways in which Kempe functioned as a killjoy within her communal context, and also, quite obviously, as a figure of excessive "noise," as Jeffrey has written about in his book "Medieval Identity Machines."

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Beautiful post Eileen. No time for a real comment, too "to comes" at this point. This stands out to me:

For me [and I am still trying to flesh this out more fully], happiness has something to do with always leaving everything open as a possibility, with not expecting or demanding certain promises to be fulfilled [while at the same time believing in the promise of what has not been promised but wished for], with existing within [or “making happen”] various “fields” within which everything is always about “to-come.” Nothing is “gotten” but everything is always coming, and coming undone, at various “points” of arrival.

and reminds me of:

I never make plans, never change plans. It is all one endless plan of making people know that there is no plan. -- Meher Baba

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Side question here: What function do the parentheses serve in "The(e)ories?" Am I missing an obvious pun?

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard, Michael O'Rourke and I have received so many queries about this that we wrote an article about it! It's 'The "E(ve)" in The(e)ories: Dreamreading Sedgwick in Retrospective Time', Irish Feminist Review, 3 (2007), 6-18. Let me know if you'd like a copy and I'll send it to you as a pdf file via email: noreen.giffney@gmail.com
Noreen

Eileen Joy said...

Nicola: I love that quotation from Baba.

Scott: I've always intuited the (e) in The(e)ories as a clever way of queering (ee) theory. But I can answer your question more directly [or indirectly and enigmatically], by way of Noreen Giffney and Michael O'Rourke, in an article they co-authored, "The 'E(ve)' in The(e)ories: Dreamreading Sedgwick in Retropsective Time" [published in "The Irish Feminist Review" 3 (2007): 6-21], where Noreen writes that "The(e)ories" is a

"neographism because it is a silent interruption and one which cannot be spoken or heard, rather it can be ascertained only through writing and reading.

. . .

While Derrida speaks of the 'a'--the letter he substitutes for the second 'e' in 'difference'--I will attend here to the insertion of an additional 'e' in 'The(e)ories.' Unlike the 'a' in 'differance,' which could be mistaken for a typographical error, the 'e' in 'The(e)ories' is encased within brackets to marks its appearance as a deliberate act. When we speak of differance, we gesture towards excess--that which cannot be categorised, reduced, known or made possible--an interventionist exorbitance which manifests materially in The(e)ories. The '(e)' of which I speak is an assemblage rather than a letter . . . ."

. . .

I am reminded . . . of what Derrida says of the 'a' in differance: 'it remains silent, secret, and discreet, like a tomb.' And so the '(e)' stands in here for a question mark and is designed to provoke thinking about the contexts within which questions, like 'What does the "(e)" in The(e)ories mean?' arise.

. . .

. . . the '(e)' clearly has some connection--at least in our minds, to 'queer.' . . . Queer loosely describes a diverse, often conflicting set of interdisciplinary approaches to desire, subjectivity, identity, relationality, ethics, and norms.

. . .

To return again to the '(e)' in The(e)ories, we might say that it exhibits the multiple genealogies and theories of queer that have led commentators such as Donald E. Hall to comment, 'there is no 'queer' theory in the singular, only many different voices and sometimes overlapping, sometimes divergent perspectives that can loosely be called 'queer theories.' . . . Then again, the '(e)' may signal a queering of theory or the queerness of theory; 'a theoretical, rather than a sexual orientation.' [from a different work by Noreen and Myra J. Hird: "does queer theory entail the queering of theory?"]

. . .

There is a sense in which we have smuggled the '(e)' into a word, 'theories,' overburdened as it is at times with expectations of gravitas, just as we have ferreted away as renegades working on the edges of the university in a field, 'queer studies,' which remains unrecognised in Ireland and within a discourse, 'queer theory,' which provokes suspicion and derision in equal measure."

A word, too, from me [Eileen--lots of "e"s] about this point about Michael and Noreen working as "renegades" on the "edges of the university" in a country that not only does not recognize queer studies as a "proper" object of university study but is outright hostile to the idea: neither Michael nor Noreen have permanent posts within any university [indeed, Michael is a postal worker! Noreen has a teaching post at University College Dublin but it is not a secure or permanent one], and yet, since 2005, when they founded The(e)ories: Advanced Seminars for Queer Research, they have organized interdisciplinary seminars that have brought speakers such as Judith Butler, Eve Kofosky Sedgwick, Lee Edelman, Judith Halberstam, David M. Halperin, Nicholas Royle, Nikki Sullivan, Tim Dean, most recently Sara Ahmed, and a host of other luminary queer theorists into engaged "conversations" with faculty and students from a wide variety of colleges and universities in Ireland, Europe, Australia, Canada, and the States. In addition, they have published so many books between the two of them it boggles the mind. And all this without regular institutional support! [Although, it must be noted that University College Dublin has lent some support to the seminars.] Their collaborative work can only be called heroic, and I would say, too, important. To say that they have "ferreted" away queer studies, not just in Ireland, but I would argue, in a sense, from everywhere, is to also say, following Edmund in "King Lear,"

"Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Jumping in a day (or three) late, and possibly short at least a dollar, if not a dollar and change! -- This is a fascinating post, Eileen, not least of all because of the in-process-ness (I love Michael's "inter-between-ity"!!). Thus far I've only read Ahmed in the quotes I've seen from her here (but with a summer of phenomenology ahead of me, I think it's safe to say she's on my list!), but I'm very interested in what I see unfolding in the comments here about horizons, change, and language.

Jeffrey, you bring up the meaning of "hap" in Middle English, and "happ" in Old Norse, as an example of Ahmed "restoring the power to travel" to the word happy. That seems, to me, to intersect beautifully with some of Eileen's last words in the post proper, where she asks

What infinitude of horizons might open up in this lingering, this staying, this pausing over a particular point, a particular body, that never exhausts itself in its intermediacy, its inter-between-ity?* What is the tempo-spatiality of such a point, its constellation of affects and movements, its cartography, and how many lifetimes might I need to chart its territories?

It's strange to me to see these two thoughts in such proximity, because Eileen's evocation of the idea of a horizon seems so perfect for a non-static idea of meaning that inheres in language. Of course, this diverges from the idea of bodies-in-time, per se, but I wonder. If the accretion of meaning in words, the gradual growing by which they become unstable, unspecific, and potentially disruptive (as the idea of "fortune" when mixed with "happy" becomes disruptive to a static notion of happiness as even possible, given that it's always simply luck that's behind it all), is taken seriously, and as a distinct possibility (does the spiritual, ghostly meaning still inhabit the root of the term "ghastly"?), then what do words do? They communicate, with all the notions of gathering and bringing together than the latin root of the words demands -- but do they also do something more? Something that disrupts the idea of a horizon, because it comes to us from beyond our own temporal horizons?

Or am I mystifying language too much here, as I think aloud?

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

The happ of what have you of reading MKH's comment followed immediately by this is almost too much to bear. How can love poems like:

— “It was Monday, January 29. We got on at Bibliothèque. I was reading a book. We looked at each other twice. That's not a lot but it was intense and pleasant. It made me want to see you again”

— “I was eating a baguette and you a nectarine. We smiled at each other. When you got off at Ledru-Rollin station, you turned to smile at me one last time”


not be part of the conversation Eileen has initiated?

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

For the first sentence of my previous comment, read "The happ (Old Norse word I have sworn to deploy at least once per day from now on) of reading MKH's comment followed immediately by...."

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: thanks so much to that link about the love notes exchanged by people riding the London tube; that was great. It also gave me a great idea for a short story that would be composed entirely of such notes, and I need a short story idea, actually [since my last published story was two years ago], so thanks again!

Mary Kate: I love your question, following my [and others'] thought, "what do words do?" Then you write,

"They communicate, with all the notions of gathering and bringing together that the latin root of the words demands -- but do they also do something more? Something that disrupts the idea of a horizon, because it comes to us from beyond our own temporal horizons?"

You wonder if you are "mystifying" things too much, but I don't think so. Words are themselves horizons of a sort [if we believe that such a thing as an etymology can be traced with some definitiveness], but if horizons, they are always horizons on the move, and at the same time that we look in their direction [latching onto a word, let's say] to *say* something that might capture not just one, but several historical meanings, we are also adding to those meanings and thereby moving that horizon, ever slightly, in another direction [or maybe, broadening it]. And not all uses of all words is ever as intentional or as precise as we sometimes like to imagine, and so "hap" is always there, somehow, in the ways in which words are deployed and maybe, also, reimagined, re-ported, carried, into other contexts and places. Words are always interstitial that way, always *there* and somewhere else at the same time.