"Oh, the fun we'll have": Remembering the Prospects for Sexuality Studies


"Oh, the fun we'll have": Remembering the Prospects for Sexuality Studies



Duke University Press

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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 10.2 (2004) 258-261 , Perhaps the most insidious aspect of academic life is the constant pressure to be interesting. Seen a movie you like? Why not write an article about it? Read something exciting in the paper? Maybe you could post it on the class Web site. Alongside the track of idle musings that has played in my head forever, a hideous second track now demands, "Couldn't you use that somehow?" The deliciously dull thoughts that used to hang around the back lots of my mind now spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, tricking themselves up as "points." Once they all emerge fully into the light of day, I think I will be boring in earnest., The need to transform musing into "material" threatens to drain all the pleasure from life. However, the fact that we find ourselves in this situation cannot simply be blamed on the forces of professionalization. Rather, we let ourselves in for trouble by our marked preference for the life of the mind, notorious for its stranglehold on the life of the body. The tendency to displace upward is particularly loaded for those of us in queer studies. It is bad enough when people say, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." For those of us "working on sexuality," it can be downright embarrassing. What, we can't even have fun doing that?, Unfortunately, I know this trouble more intimately than I would like. In thinking over my own sexual history, for example, I have to admit that I remember the moment of discovering "sexuality" as an object of knowledge more vividly and with more enthusiasm than I remember the moment of discovering "my sexuality." At that time, I had sex, but I did not yet have sexuality—that is, sexuality was not available to me as an axis of intellectual inquiry. What I did have was gender. Feminism went a certain way toward helping me understand lesbianism as a cultural phenomenon and as a mode of desire, but I kept running up against questions I could not answer, problems I could not explain. I had languished in my failure to make sense of these questions for several years when sexuality came into my life. Early work in gay, lesbian, and queer studies showed me, and many others, that it was not just women's literature I was interested in; this work gave me license to pursue my specific interest in desire between women and in the history of lesbian representation without apology., What made this moment especially thrilling was that this early work was so fun to read. I had glimpsed the potential of critical writing about sex in the work of people like Roland Barthes, Cherríe Moraga, and Jane Gallop, but the birth of queer studies as a discipline in its own right promised an infinite expansion of [End Page 258] pleasure and knowledge. I remember picking up Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet for the first time and thinking, "This is going to be great.", In drawing attention to the "potential for rearrangement, ambiguity, and representational doubleness" of sexuality, Sedgwick glamorized a new object of knowledge for a generation of scholars. Like many others, she argued for the necessity of seeing sexuality as distinct from gender, but she did so by insisting on the weird specificity of sexuality, its charming distance from the "coarser stigmata of gender difference."1 Sedgwick made sexuality nearly irresistible as a topic. Fueled by the rampant energies of desire, Sedgwick's expansive and unpredictable prose reflected the unpredictability of her object. Many of us were drawn to the spectacle of sex shifting blushingly under this new critical gaze., Nowadays people often say that queer theory is going downhill. They say that the surprise has worn off, that the bold early insights and stylistic innovations have...

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Katie Arthur

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Love, Heather

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