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

03 May 2011

More on the Family and Other Ideas from EKS

I have been studiously reading Tendencies and learning a lot about how to approach my own dissertation simply from Sedgwick's approach to theorizing and the ways that she braids her literary study – even close reading – with her big theoretical ideas. And I wanted to share some more really cool thoughts from her essays that cohere around the idea of "family" and "parentage" but also "friendship" (I put it in scare quotes because the word often seems inadequate to what it signifies) and other relationalities. Her ideas resonate with me so much not only because I am queer, but also because (and perhaps this has to do with queerness, as well) I am spending so much time these days in non-familial and yet, perhaps, in parafamilial relationship with many of my students.

The following is from her essay "Tales of the Avunculate: Queer Tutelage in The Importance of Being Earnest." It's a little long for a blog, but the payoff is considerable, I think:

You will have noted a certain impatience, in this reading of Earnest, with the concept of the Name of the Father. That is partly because I see what may have been the precapitalist or early-capitalist functions of the Name of the Father as having been substantially superseded, in a process accelerating over the last century and a half, very specifically by what might be termed the Name of the Family—that is, the name Family. (Within this family, the position of any father is by no means a given; there are important purposes, including feminist ones, for which the term "familialism" may now usefully be substituted for "patriarchy.") Now, the potency of any signifier is proven and increased, over and over, by how visibly and spectacularly it fails to be adequated by the various signifieds over which it is nonetheless seen to hold sway. So the gaping fit between on the one hand the Name of the Family, and on the other the quite varied groupings gathered in that name, can only add to the numinous prestige of a term whose origins, histories, and uses may have little in common with our own recognizable needs. Redeeming the family isn't, finally, an option but a compulsion; the question would be how to stop redeeming the family. How, as well, to stop being complicit in a process by which the name Family occludes the actual extant relations—for many people, horrifyingly impoverished ones; for everyone, radically changed and unaccounted-for, indeed highly phantasmatic ones—that mediate exchanges between the order of the individual and the order of capital, "information," and the state.

And this is from her essay "Is the Rectum Straight? Identification and Identity in The Wings of the Dove." I love her idea of thinking about how queerness refashions the world:

I have focused on queer "parents" rather than queer "children" because I see an urgency in understanding queer people as not only what the world makes but what makes the world; it is time for genetic narratives like psychoanalysis (and, of course, all narratives are genetic narratives) to stop representing the idiot perseveration of the assaultive and sinister question, Where do homosexuals come from. The complications I have been trying to introduce here are a way of saying, "Get used to it."

Lastly – and this is short, so I don't mind including it – in her "Memorial for Craig Owens" EKS refers to "this strange, utterly discontinuous, projective space of desire euphemistically named friendship, love at a distance..."

I love thinking about my relationships as undefinable and even indefinite. There is a way in which the name "friendship" can only ever be a euphemism for something else. And I don't mean sexual desire, obviously; I mean something else, something more or less than the term "friendship" can manage to cover. Those who are my friends know that what I feel for them is something greater, something that we are "supposed" to feel only for those who answer to the Name of the Family.