I realize that while I've told you plenty about Jewish Berlin, travel through the city, and my own talk, I've not blogged about the conference itself. With 250 registrants and I don't know how many actual attendees, the event was a fantastic success, and the organizers are to be thanked heartily for having done such an excellent job with it.
A few observations:
- Queer at this conference meant a serious engagement with trans. My impression is that queer theory in the US does not as frequently and as deeply take trans into account.
- Sometimes trans meant transgender; sometimes transsex; once trans-species. But it always seemed to do more work without some modification, just trans.
- Susan Stryker, in fact, spoke about how the queer and the trans might be differentiated. Her formulation: queer (active passivity) is to punk as trans (active receptivity) is to alternative country.
- Not surprisingly, much of the conference was on contemporary phenomena and recent lived experience. That made my medieval paper the odd one out, and not (I hope) the cranky old guy who tells everyone how it used to be.
- But that isn't to say that history didn't figure. Jack Halberstam gave a compelling piece that traced the roots of much queer theory praising relations between men as antisocial to fascism and the cult of masculinism. The most deviant desires, Jack argued, can come with the most normative and conservative, right wing politics: intolerance of foreigners, Jews, and Muslims doesn't mean one can't be expressive of one's homosexuality -- and often leads to the argument that homosexuality exists outside of politics. That sounds inflammatory but the paper wasn't that at all, or wasn't intended to be. Halberstam also never condemned the cited sources (especially Leo Bersani, and to a degree Lee Edelman), instead arguing that the the historical pedigree of their work needs to acknowledged (very different from arguing that the work should be rejected, which seems to be what some angry audience members thought).
- José Muñoz invoked Jean-Luc Nancy and spoke compellingly of the sense of the incalculable that is within the queer, the impossibility of reducing something so excessive into a politics. He spoke of the erotics of racial humiliation in Gary Fisher's work, a bit, but mostly focused upon the collaboration of Fisher and Eve Sedgwick, and what was incalculable between them: art, love, friendship, emotion, knowledge, freedom.
- Roderick Ferguson delivered a fascinating, disturbing talk on the Academy as an archivizing institution which was essential to managing the challenge posed by the student protests of the 1960s and 70s. The admission of such groups into the university without any significant change to how the academy's business is undertaken established a powerful script for other institutions to follow, an absorption of difference that offers recognition as its own pleasure, as its own mere reward.
- A few other standouts: Heike Raab on disability sex; Rachel White on the Chubsters, who embrace negativity as a form of queer activism; Anthony Clair wagner on the double challenge of being trans sex and trans species; Dora Danylevich on Lady Gaga, who is big in Berlin; Dominique Grisard on painting prison cells pink and the infantilization and feminization, as well as the pleasures this humiliation yields to those who undertake it (the talk alos included a cultural history of the color pink, and waded deep into a controversy that erupted repeatedly about the supposed Nazi origins of the pink triangle and the (mis)stakes of identifying with Jews and Roma in concentration camps)