Remembering Eve Sedgwick: The beginnings, present and future of queer theory

A half-day symposium featuring Melissa Hardie, Anna Gibbs, Elizabeth Stephens, Elizabeth McMahon
Chair: Melissa Gregg

Friday, 28 August 2009
2-5pm, New Law School Seminar Room 442, University of Sydney

Cultural theories of identity and subjectivity in the Humanities have been significantly influenced by critiques of binaristic thought, including those pioneered in Eve Sedgwick’s writing. This legacy provides the foundation for the work of a number of feminist and queer scholars featured in this workshop, which aims to reflect on Sedgwick’s intellectual contribution in the wake of her death in April 2009.

Despite the amount of cultural research now exploring issues of identity relating to gender, sexuality and the body—and the institutional contexts of women’s and gender studies departments in the academy today—young researchers are somewhat historically distant from the material and political conditions informing these theoretical interventions of previous decades. Additionally, young scholars pursuing these topics beyond major capital cities generally miss out on discussions with a critical mass of scholars with expertise and international interdisciplinary experience in the area. This seminar offers a valuable opportunity for an extended discussion of queer identity and scholarship for researchers in a range of fields.

For more information see the ‘more’ hyperlinked word or the website: http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/gcs/research/sedgewick.shtml

Abstracts & Bios:

Melissa Hardie
‘Extinction of the Closet: Inside Lindsay Lohan’

For Eve Sedgwick, the work of Epistemology of the Closet was “inviting (as well as imperative) but resolutely non-algorithmic.” This paper suggests that the conditioning influence of the closet has fundamentally shifted, and frames that shift as a form of extinction. I will suggest that closet epistemologies, though still resonant, ramify less and their citation exposes purposeful redundancy. I canvas the ways in which technological and cultural shifts effected that change over the two decades that followed publication of Sedgwick’s book, focusing on the case of Lindsay Lohan. Is what we now know about and through the closet that the closet is obsolete?

Melissa Hardie teaches in the English Department, University of Sydney, and is completing a book called Shame Became Famous: Evolution of the Closet 1989-2009.

Anna Gibbs
‘At the Time of Writing’

My paper will focus on the possibilities for writing (and the distinction between critical and creative writing) that open up in the face of Sedgwick’s exposure of exposure itself as a method – that is, of the paranoid approach to thought which attempts to anticipate surprise and forestall its own imagined future. The paper explores what happens to the relationship between writing and politics if we break the nexus between political engagement and the negative affects that drive paranoid critique, and in the process assesses what Sedgwick makes possible by an affect theory drawn from Tomkins rather than Deleuze.

Anna Gibbs is Associate Professor in the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. She has published numerous papers on affect theory, most recently in Cultural Studies Review and Emotion Space and Society.

Elizabeth Stephens
‘The Masturbating Girl: Public Confession and/as Sexual Practice’

This paper aims to interrogate the critical reception of Sedgwick’s A Dialogue on Love as a confessional text, a revealing and intimate account of Sedgwick’s own sexuality and sexual practice.  Drawing on the argument that subtends Epistemology of the Closet – that the idea of sexuality as a private aspect of subjectivity is a product of the new public spaces emergent in the nineteenth-century – this paper will read A Dialogue on Love as a critical interrogation of the idea that the practices of confession and sex are “private”: “I know I want to talk about sex,” Sedgwick acknowledges near the beginning of this text, “it’s what I do for a living and I’m good at that.  But my own sexuality – do I even have one?”  Like Derrida’s earlier Circumfession, I argue, A Dialogue on Love invokes readerly assumptions about privacy and disclosure primarily in order to examine and to problematise them.

Elizabeth Stephens is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland.  She is author of Queer Writing: Homoeroticism in Jean Genet’s Fiction (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Anatomy as Spectacle: Public Exhibitions of the Body from 1750 to the Present (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, forthcoming).

Elizabeth McMahon
‘The Proximate Pleasure of Eve Sedgwick’

In her introduction to Novel Gazing Sedgwick writes that “pleasure, grief, excitement, boredom, satisfaction are the substance of politics rather than their antithesis”. Further, she advises that we attend “intimately to literary texts” because their “transformative energies” are “the stuff of ordinary being” (1). This paper speculates on the ways Sedgwick remapped the relationship between affect, intimacy and politics as a queer critical practice. The paper will consider the the dynamism of this relationship in terms of the new spatialities of reading it enables, focusing on the pleasures of juxtaposition and proximity that her writing enacts.

Elizabeth McMahon teaches in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts at UNSW, where she previously co-convened the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. She edited, with Brigitta Olubas, Women Making Time: Contemporary Feminist Critique and Cultural Analysis (Perth, UWA Press, 2006) and is co-editor of Australia’s oldest literary journal Southerly. In 2009 she received an ARC Discovery grant for her project titled Our Island Home: The Shifting Map of Australian Literature, an examination of Australia’s colonial geographical imaginary.

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