Saturday, August 01, 2009

Queer Studies marches on

The following paragraphs announce the forthcoming International Queer Studies Conference.

“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?

Then there is a more specific target of heteronormativity, which must be (we are told) queried, contrasted, challenged, and transformed. Whatever happens, don’t let the miscreant get away! Incidentally, the relatively recent term “heteronormativity” encompasses and absorbs the older labels of “sexism” and “homophobia.”

Not included in this enumeration are some of the problems Queer Theory poses. These include the obsession with the writings and ideas of Michel Foucault, whose oracular deliverances are fortified with a sprinkling of borrowings from other French theorists. Similarly, the writers of the proposal do not acknowledge their pervasive addiction to jargon, whereby rather commonplace ideas are endowed with an air of profundity and mystery. This form of self-indulgence is connected with the weakness that must ultimately doom the project: that is, the fact that its weasel wordings are designed to escape any outside scrutiny. They 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. Such evasiveness is ironic, given the way in which Queer Theorists claim to embody querying and challenge. Ever engaged in querying and challenging what they regard as the conventional wisdom, the QTrs seek to immunize themselves from that very process. That is not a sign of a healthy and productive intellectual enterprise.

In the meantime, Queer Studies and Queer Theory are surging on. 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 extending its tentacles across the globe. At least up to a point. In his recent publication “Hererosexual Africa?” Marc Epprecht observes that with regard to Africa, Queer Theory appeals to outside investigators, together with some whites who reside on the continent, particularly in South Africa. However, it constitutes an obstacle to communicating with gay and lesbian people who belong to the black majority. They just find it incomprehensible. So should we all.



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