I've a longer post planned, but for now, I offer this, a key moment (for me) in Getting Medieval, one I marked with "a passage to be quoted again and again."
The queer historian...is decidely not nostalgic for wholeness and unity; but s/he nonetheless desires an affective, even tactile relation to the past such as the relic provides. Queer relics--queer fetishes--do not stand for the whole, do not promise integrity of body; they defy the distinction between truth and falsehood, as do ordinary fetishes, but they offer the possibility of a relation to (not a mirroring or completing of) something or someone that was, or that was thought, or that was specifically prevented from being or even being thought. Wrenched out of its context of hypocrisy and stagnant, nostalgic longing for wholeness, the queer Pardoner's preoccupation with the matter of past lives can reinforce the queer sense of the need for and prompt the creation not of the kinds of books that would please 'historians,' as Foucault sneered, but rather of another kind of 'felaweshipe' across time. (142)
I also offer a few (undeveloped) questions provoked by rereading Getting Medieval with two things in mind: the phenomenological turn in queer theory, and Valerie Allen's On Farting.
- Twice, Dinshaw expresses (what looks to me like) impatience with Barthes' phenomenological turn (see 40 and 51), yet I wonder how GM would have looked had Dinshaw attended more to the passivity phenomenology recognizes in touching. Touching brings together, sure, but it is also causes the toucher to be touched. Skin goes both ways, and even to speak of "both" is a limitation. We need a middle voice, a grammar neither active nor passive. Dinshaw of course speaks strongly of affect, but I also feel--at least for now--that speaking of "connection," of "relationships," by preserving the two (or more) separate things being brought into relation, occludes the great altering intimacy of being touched.
- But we can get still closer. Dinshaw speaks of touching as a contrast to sight. Touching brings us into contact with someone or something, and, so long as it is a caress rather than a grasping, it has none of the pretensions to mastery that sight does. We are contaminated by touch (recall: contaminate from con + tangere), each one of us touched, the passive and the active mingled. I wonder, however, how an attention to smell--midway between sight and touch--a sensing at a distance, in which we are contacted by the thing sensed, a sense that seems particularly bodily because particularly animal, would have altered GM. Consider Valerie Allen:
Like ears, nostrils never shut voluntarily. Permanently open for business, they are how we receive the world. Ears may be stopped for an indefinite period, but without inhalation, we die within minutes. The very act of drawing breath is one with smelling: 'man only smells during inhalation....To perceive no smell without inhaling seems to be peculiar to man.' For as long as we are alive, we sniff the world around us, including ourselves....Through every pore and orifice we wrap ourselves in smell, signing the air. As dogs well know, urine offers the most exact signature, shit and saliva close runners up. To smell the intestinal by-product of another brings one into extimate relation with them; more profound than psychoanalysis, it entails a knowledge of them more intimate than sight or hearing, more detached than touching or licking, a knowledge of the other where their very being participates in yours. (50-51)