Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

01 May 2011

Coming Back to Eve

This afternoon I finished Jacques Rancière's The Names of History, which took me quite a while to navigate, but which I found useful and corrective. (I need to be careful, as always, of thinking I write about culture. What, after all, is "culture"?

But after that I picked up Eve Sedgwick's Tendencies. Sedgwick holds an important place in my heart, and I've read many of her books, but I guess that I sometimes forget that when I read her it is like being literally nourished.

I have spent the better part of a year reading outside of my chosen (favorite) disciplines of queer theory and gay and lesbian studies – not totally, of course, but for the most part – and returning to these modes of thinking and methodologies of analysis via one of Sedgwick's books is, I think, just what I need right now. As I embark on the thinking and writing of my dissertation, the ethical reminders and technologies of care that permeate her work feel to me as though we were written with my own little brain in mind.

Consider, for example, this small passage from her introduction to Tendencies:

I see it's been a ruling intuition for me that the most productive strategy (intellectually, emotionally) might be, whenever possible, to disarticulate [the various elements of family identity] from one another, to disengage them—the bonds of blood, of law, of habitation, of privacy, of companionship and succor—from the lockstep of their unanimity in the system called "family."
Or this from a few pages later:

A word so fraught as "queer" is—fraught with so many social and personal histories of exclusion, violence, defiance, excitement—never can only denote; nor even can it only connote; a part of its experimental force as a speech act is the way in which it dramatizes locutionary position itself. Anyone's use of "queer" about themselves means differently from their use of it about someone else.
And note the ethic of radical deindividualization and identity that the following entails:

"Why me?" is the cri de coeur that is popularly supposed to represent Everywoman's deepest response to a breast cancer diagnosis. ... Yet "Why me?" was not something it could have occurred to me to ask in a world where so many companions of my own age were already dealing with fear, debilitation, and death. I wonder, too, whether it characterizes the responses of the urban women of color forced by violence, by drugs, by state indifference or hostility, by AIDS and other illnesses, into familiarity with the rhythms of early death.
This woman is extraordinary. Few writers, it seems to me, manage to be as challenging and nurturing at the same time.