Queer Studies marches on
“Queering Paradigms II
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. April 7-9, 2010
“Following the success of the First International Queer Studies Conference, which was held in February 2009 at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, The Faculty of Law, QUT, is proud to announce the 2010 conference, Queering Paradigms II. The aim of this conference is to examine the current state and future challenges in Queer Studies from a broad, trans-disciplinary and polythetic perspective.
“Participants will present papers and panels from the whole spectrum of academia. We invite speakers from disciplines as diverse as (and not confined to) Law, Linguistics, Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology, Cultural Studies and Creative Industries to embark on an exploration of Queer Issues and Themes. We adopt a holistic definition of ‘Queer’ along the lines of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's explanation in her essay “Queer and Now.”
“That's one of the things that 'queer' can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically.
“'Queerness' is therefore conceptualised as querying, contrasting, challenging, and transforming heteronormativity.”
The above statement succinctly characterizes two features of the Queer Studies project. The first is the Derridian idea of slippage (“gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses”). This emphasis on indeterminacy resonates throughout postmodernism. Note the scare word “monolithic.” “Holistic” is good, though. What’s the difference? (What, however, is "polythetic"? A new spelling of prosthetic? or merely pathetic?)
Then there is the more specific demon of heteronormativity, which must be (we are told) queried, contrasted, challenged, and transformed. Whatever happens, don’t let this evil critter get away! Incidentally, the relatively recent term “heteronormativity” encompasses and absorbs the older labels of “sexism” and “homophobia.”
Omitted from this enumeration are some of the problems Queer Theory poses. These include the obsession with the writings and ideas of Michel Foucault, whose sententious deliverances are fortified with a sprinkling of borrowings from other French theorists. The excessive reliance on Foucault and his epigones recalls the recent vogue of Freud and Marx. Younger people, it seems, have a recurrent need to worship at the shrine of some Universal Guru, whose writings purportedly contain the answers to all out problems.
At its best, the French tradition cultivated the virtue of "clear and distinct ideas." (Descartes). Beginning with Sartrean existentialism, a repackaging of the oracular work of Martin Heidegger (who is hardly ever clear), the leading French intellectuals jettisoned the venerable ideal of their civilization. Now their folly has penetrated the Anglo-Saxon world. I speak as a disappointed Francophile--one who still reveres the French classics, which still offer an incomparable refuge from Foucault and his misguided followers.
The writers of the proposal do not acknowledge their colleagues' pervasive addiction to jargon, whereby rather commonplace ideas are endowed with an air of profundity and mystery. A few pages of the appalling Judith Butler will suffice to demonstrate the truth of this observation.
This linguistic self-indulgence bonds with the weakness that must ultimately doom the project: that is, that its typically weasel wordings are designed to elude any outside scrutiny. Typically, the Queerist statements flout the criterion of refutability. What if this or that pronouncement of a particular Queer Theorist were simply not so? There is no allowance for that possibility; it is simply excluded on principle, for "anything goes."
Such insouciance is ironic, given the way in which Queer Theorists claim to embrace querying and challenge. Standing over against what they regard as the conventional wisdom, the QTrs seek to immunize themselves from that necessary process of Popperian scrutiny. In their own eyes, of course, they are the very essence of transgressiveness. Nothing is sacred--except of course for the that mountebank Michel Foucault. This evasiveness (dare one call it slippage?) is not a sign of a healthy and productive intellectual enterprise.
In the meantime, Queer Studies and Queer Theory are surging on. (Is it, as a friend remarked, worse than HIV/AIDS? Well, not really--it just seems that way sometimes.)
It is interesting that the first international congress was held in Britain, while the second is to be staged in Australia. Having begun in the US, Queer Theory is now spreading its tentacles across the globe. At least up to a point. In his excellent recent book “Hererosexual Africa?,” Marc Epprecht observes that with respect to Africa, Queer Theory mainly appeals to outside investigators, together with some whites who reside on the continent, particularly in South Africa. However, its obscurities hinder communicating with the gay and lesbian people who belong to the black majority. They just find it incomprehensible. So should we all.
Labels: Queer Studies sophistry