INTIMATE SUBVERSIONS: GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND QUEERNESS
IN MEMORIAM ZOE PAUL SALEM KIRKLAND EAMES
EDITED BY SARAH FRANCES SUMMERS
In this year’s E3W Review of Books, the editors asked reviewers and readers to “challenge the disciplinarity that mirrors the ways we as colonized subjects are consistently, thoroughly, and intimately disciplined.” Sociopolitical and religio-cultural forces colonize the individual subject by means of internalized gendered and sexualized expectations to the extent that subjects police themselves to operate within the margins of the acceptable. These internalized boundaries are one location to begin the work of subversion. Gender, sexuality, and queerness are realms of internal identity, external expression, and lived ideology which can facilitate community and belonging and further inspire subversive coalitions amid the violence of oppression and suppression.
The contributors to this section recognize the intimacy of this resistance. Their reviews highlight the interventions made by these texts and the means by which the authors envision liberatory frameworks. From emphasizing artistic expression as a method of sharing knowledge and working toward the goal of liberation to reframing theoretical approaches of queer in order to encompass the haptic sociability of bodies united in their movements through time and space, these texts offer hopeful perspectives for expanding our understanding of and thus capacity for resistance. The reviewers selected works of eloquent scholarship and sensual ethnography which blur the lines between art and research and accentuate the freedom to be found in artistic and sexual expression. Pushing the conversation out of the Eurocentric biases of language and geographical interpretation, this section covers the lived experiences of peoples in South Asia, the Greater Middle East, South Africa, the United States, and Turkey. These texts share a queer methodology and a commitment to exploring the haptic, multisensorial realities of bodies in different places and times; music, art, and movement emerge as themes of connection in support of intimate relationality.
Ronak Kapadia, in Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War, draws attention to decades of relentless transnational violence and the way quantitative data glosses over the affective experiences of bodies in war. Molly Roy’s review underscores Kapadia’s queer, feminist, decolonial analysis with its own eloquent descriptions of Kapadia’s initiative, methodology, and discussion of diasporic artists. Roy also touches on Kapadia’s potent critique of an ethnocentric queer theory that falls short in its universalizing claims and the nuanced discussion of privilege amongst artists who work in developed urban spaces. However, the text’s chief intervention, as Roy explains, is the call for an aesthetic approach to expand knowledge beyond that which can be visually perceived, utilizing “warm data” to communicate sensorial and embodied knowledge.
This theme of sensorial embodiment is picked up in Debjyoti Ghosh’s review of Kwaito Bodies: Remastering Space and Subjectivity in Post-Apartheid South Africa by Xavier Livermon. In this text, Livermon explores the role of artists and fans of the Kwaito music genre, performed and consumed in South Africa. Ghosh describes how Kwaito is the baseline from which Livermon organizes his examinations of post-apartheid expressions of gender, sexuality, and politics through the moving, dancing bodies of youth who are seeking both sensuality and freedom, or arguably freedom through their sensuality. Livermon, Ghosh suggests, succeeds in his efforts to codify the relationship between the musical and political frameworks of South Africa—including the sanitization efforts of the state exemplified through the adoption of its national anthem—and the embodied resistance that continues to desire both belonging and freedom.
Desire is central in the third review, by Isabel Ibáñez de la Calle, who takes us into the 90s United States and through the turn of the century in Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir. In this memoir, Jones describes the many expectations and limitations he grappled with growing up and also his ample desires: independence, eroticism, and poetic expression. Ibáñez de la Calle shows us that this work is ultimately an expression of human vulnerability, full of splendid contradictions—death, freedom, and the beauty of it all.
Debjyoti Ghosh offers another look at vulnerability in Evren Savci’s queer ethnography, Queer in Translation: Sexual Politics under Neoliberal Islam, in which Savci seeks to elucidate the complexity of activist movements in Turkey under the current government, from those seeking freedom of religious expression to calls for LGBT rights and recognition. Savci deploys translation itself as a methodology to explore terms related to the LBGT movement and suggests a “politics of cruelty,” which, as Ghosh explains it, would unite coalitions more effectively through opposition to all forms of cruelty rather than the binaries of secular/religious or moral/immoral.
Elizabeth Freeman’s approach to unifying collectives and uplifting queer relationality is through the “biopolitics of time.” Sarah Schuster unpacks Freeman’s work Beside You in Time: Sense Methods and Queer Sociabilities in the American Nineteenth Century, in which Freeman argues that time itself is a means of investigating modern bodies. Among the many intriguing elements of the text which Schuster highlights are Freeman’s exploration of race and racialization as sense-methods and the relationship of bodies to temporal structures and to other bodies. For example, Freeman conceptualizes a model of queer “hypersociality” to honor the multisensorial, haptic, and temporal subjects that situate themselves in affective relation to one another. Schuster suggests that Freeman’s theorization of time, even though constructed in a historical piece of scholarship, is a valuable tool for analyses of our present moment as we take note of the inconsistent sensations of time and its continued effects on the social subject.
The texts in this section offer queer lenses through which we can examine our world, not just to move beyond it and envision a new one, but also to perceive the disciplinarities that shape our subjecthoods and understand more about the subversive movements already at play. They dig into the nitty-gritty textures of modern life: the sensual and sensorial desires; the bodies which desire; and the social, historical contexts which shape it all.