Monday, 27 April 2009

postscript and coming attractions

Also in Getting Medieval (p.196) I found this citation from Foucault, which basically sums up everything I believe in like twenty words. Well done there Michel.

'One "fictions" history on the basis of a political reality that makes it true, one "fictions" a politics not yet in existence on the basis of a historical truth'.

('The History of Sexuality', interview with Lucette Finas, trans. Leo Marshall, in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-2977, ed Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980), pp.183-93, p.193.)

Or, for those of you who think that science fiction writers do theory better than theorists:

I fell in love with realism because it deflates the myths, the unexamined ideas of fantasy. It confronts them with forgotten facts. It uses past truth - history.

I love fantasy because it reminds us how far short our lives fall from their full potential. Fantasy reminds us how wonderful the world is. In fantasy, we can imagine a better life, a better future. In fantasy, we can free ourselves from history and outworn realism.

Oz is, after all, only a place with flowers and birds and rivers and hills. Everything is alive there, as it is here if we care to see it. Tomorrow, we could all decide to live in a place not much different from Oz. We don't. We continue to make the world an ugly, even murderous place, for reasons we do not understand.

Those reasons lie in both fantasy and history. Where we are gripped by history - our own personal history, our country's history. Where we are deluded by fantasy - our own fantasy, our country's fantasy. It is necessary to distinguish between history and fantasy wherever possible.

And then use them against each other.

Geoff Ryman, Was (London: Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks, 2005 [1992]), pp.453-54.

getting medieval

Okay, I just read Carolyn Dinshaw's excellent, excellent book on queer medieval history, Getting Medieval, and now I have to return it to the library because my enthusiastic recommendations to everyone I have talked to recently have resulted in a rain of requests for it. (That'll teach me to be intellectually generous.) But before I do, I just wanted to blog about it quickly.

Towards the end of the book, in a chapter called 'Margery Kempe Answers Back' (which also deals with The Book of Margery Kempe, an account of the life of a fourteenth-century female visionary from Norfolk in the UK, and with the recent novel Margery Kempe by Robert Gluck which reuses Margery's story to talk about queer male experience in the twentieth century), Dinshaw does some intelligent and really exciting close-readings of the ways in which American Republican politicians referred to mediaeval studies in order to discredit arts and humanities research, and ultimately to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities, in political debates in the late 1990s. One of the projects which was repeatedly referred to as an example of the kind of self-evidently irrelevant research which wastes of public money was a conference on Sex and Gender in the Middle Ages - Dinshaw cites Representative Hostettler in the Senate, saying:

Mr Chairman, how, when faced with a $5 trillion national debt that continues to grow, can we continue to spend money on projects like these: Sex and gender in the middle ages, 1150-1450. This course received $135,000. Let me give a free lesson here and save the money - there were men - and there were women. The fact that we are here today lets us assume some of them had conjugal relations.

Dinshaw concludes her close reading of this and other moments in the debate by saying:

Motivating this list [of absurd or wasteful research projects] is a thorough resistance... to the very concept of engagement and relation across time as well as across other divides (of gender, sexuality, religion, race, class, nationality). Because the very basic idea that history lives, that even distant and relatively unexplored times and places are relevant to twentieth-century American lives, suggests sites of cultural relation that are unpredictable, uncontrollable. In the mention here of at least half these funded projects, the possibility that we can forge dynamic relations to the past, even the distant or unfamiliar past, even if at present we cannot know where such relations will lead, is closed off.

Which is some of the most cogent reasoning I've heard for taking Walter Benjamin very seriously when (as I posted about recently) he argues in the 'Theses on the Philosophy of History') that political resistance, revolutionary energy, come from engagement with the past in 'uncontrollable' ways, rather than fantasies about the future.

And isn't that quote from Hostettler revealing, too - that 'sex and gender' must refer only to men, women, and reproductive heterosex, and our relationship to the past must be framed solely in those terms, as biological inheritance via heterosex (this is what I call 'the order of generations', following Derrida in The Post Card, the ordering force of a reproductive, heterosexual understanding of time and history). And here it is in the House of Representatives, in a debate about government funding, as the explicit principle for allowing/denying funding, for legitimating academic enquiry!

It's nice to be reminded sometimes that what I do is important, that it's not just the contemporary and the 'now' that has urgency and political weight.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Amazon update

Amazon have blamed the removal of LGBTQ books on a 'glitch', and denied that LGBTQ books (and, it seems, books on disabled sexuality) were targeted. Here are two very good blog posts explaining why that doesn't make the problem go away: Mary Hodder on, and Keith Kamisugi's response and elaboration on (Thanks to Oyceter for the link.)

In the meantime, now that you're all into the signing of petitions, please, please, please go here and sign the petition written by Christopher Bollas and Darian Leader on behalf of the Coalition against the Over-Regulation of Psychotherapy. The link will explain the background, but here's a brief quote from their home page:

The new proposals have shown a serious and bizarre misunderstanding of the nature of talking therapy. They see it as a definable technique to be applied with predictable outcomes. Yet the key to talking therapies is the nature of the relationship between the parties rather than the performance of any particular procedure. Analytic work involves an open-ended relationship, where results may emerge that were never predicted or even thought of beforehand. The proposed regulation leaves no room for the unknown, as if the solution to each person's problems were known in advance: therapist and patient will be expected to adhere to a clear predetermined agenda. Government intervention thus threatens the very foundation of analytic work, compromising both its creativity and authenticity.

The new regulations proposed for the talking therapies - which include 451 rules for the analytic session - would effectively make it impossible to practice psychoanalysis and many other forms of therapy in the way they have been practiced for the last hundred years.

I can't even begin to tell you how important I think it is that talking therapies be available to people, and that CBT not become the only government-funded (or legally practicable) form of therapy. This article by Darian Leader goes some way to explaining why.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Homophobic Amazon

You've probably all already heard about's decision to remove hundreds of books with gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or trans content from its sales ranking and search engines on the basis that they have adult content.

Books targeted include YA fiction, non-explicit LGBT classics like The Well of Loneliness and Giovanni's Room, and Kate Bornstein's Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. Conspicuously not included are books containing explicit heterosexual sex or naked women (including Playboy: The Complete Centrefolds) and the two books which now come top of the search results when you put 'homosexuality' into Amazon's search engine: Can Homosexuality be Healed? and A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.

Yes, that's right: Amazon is promoting the 'prevention of homosexuality' and removing the link to 'alternatives to suicide'.

Please write to Amazon, boycott the site, sign the petition here, and do whatever else you like to make your displeasure known.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


I am reading Eric, or Little by Little, which is brilliant, and making plans to write something on the terms 'boyish' and 'manly' in Farrar's school stories - it seems to be the case that good manliness is the same as boyishness, while manliness which is opposed to or differentiated from boyishness is bad, and the cause of downfall.

preview of coming attractions

I just read Carolyn Dimshaw's Getting Medieval, which is excellent, and I'm starting to think Benjamin is actually right about the past being more important than the future for political resistance. So I expect that will be my next substantial theorypost.

Monday, 6 April 2009

brief books update

This Jane Green novel (Jemima J) is the most fatphobic book I have ever read in my life, to the extent that the fatphobia is preventing the plot and the characterization from making any sense.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Books update

So I have now also read, from the Tower O Books:

Lesley Arfin, Dear Diary
which I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would. The premise was that it was edited highlights from her diary, aged like 12-25, with annotations and 'updates' from her currently-28-year-old self (including conversations with people from the diary, etc), so I was kind of thinking of it like Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man's Land and Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but it wasn't, really. It was like a weird mix of self-condemnation and self-normalization, like half the time it was going God, I was so stupid, teenage girls are so stupid and rubbish and half the time it was going This happens to everyone it is the HUMAN CONDITION. Both of which strike me as the two most boring ways to deal with experience, especially in combination. Like, there's nothing unique or likeable about me! Buy my book!

It also did that thing of going on about how once the cool girls had rejected her she couldn't possibly have been friends with Chloe So-and-so because that would have been failure, social death, etc, which just baffles me, because I spent my school years being friends with people that I liked and really, if there were cool kids at my school I wouldn't have noticed or understood why their judgements on me were supposed to carry more weight than mine on them. (J says she thinks this might be an American thing, because coolness/social capital seems to be institutionalized in American high schools through things like football teams, cheerleaders, prom king and queen etc. We have done extensive research ie watched Buffy and Carrie and read the Class of '89 series.)

Perry Moore, Hero
which was excellent: a YA novel about the teenage son of a disgraced costume hero, trying to figure out how to tell his dad (a) that he's gay and (b) that he has superpowers, like the bad heroes who disgraced and abandoned his dad. The end was very fast-and-furious and I wasn't sure that the action-adventure plot quite dovetailed with the emotional journey of the characters in the way it was promising to do, but along the way it was tons of fun: like Watchmen meets What They Did To Princess Paragon. Lots of great political/world-building detail.

P E Ryan, Saints of Augustine
which was also good, but not hugely world-shattering for me: the two main characters are likeable, and they do stuff, and the plot is satisfying and the writing is good, but it hasn't left me with a great deal of new ideas and I don't think Sam and Charlie are going to take up residence in my head. It's the one about the two ex-best friends, one gay, one straight, who learn and grow in the course of a summer. I guess the thing that makes it a post-90s gay teen novel is that the gay/straight thing isn't really the core of the book (though it does tell the gay protagonist's coming-out story): both of them have other/bigger things going on in their lives (bereavement, drug debt, divorcing parents).

I'm sick at the moment (this cold I brought back from London is doing me in), which means I'm reading a lot, but nothing very taxing. Probably I will go back to the chicklit next - I have a Jane Green novel I got in the three-books-for-two-pounds box at Cancer Research on Whiteladies Road the other week...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

fan fiction conference

Back from London, where I caught a cold: catching up on email and found a link to this conference on fan fiction and sexualities, in Sweden, February 2010. The emphasis on close reading/textual analysis rather than ethnography sounds promising.