The Nows and Thens of Queer Theory

 Lecturer: Michael O’Rourke (plus guests tba)

Duration: 4 weeks in November 2014 meeting twice per week

Dates: Tuesday 4 November & Thursday 6 November; Tuesday 11 November & Thursday 13 November; Tuesday 18 November & Thursday 20 November; Tuesday 25 November & Thursday 27 November.

Time: 11.00 EST


‘Sappho’ (2014), photograph (c) Kate Antosik-Parsons.

Course Description

If the term ‘queer’ is to be a site of collective contestation, the point of departure for a set of historical reflections and futural imaginings, it will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purpose” –Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’

Queer does not designate a class of already objectified pathologies or perversions … rather, it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance—David Halperin, Saint Foucault

Utopic in its negativity, queer theory curves endlessly towards a realization that its realization remains impossible—Lee Edelman, “Queer Theory: Unstating Desire”

Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer—José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

Every so often we read that QueerTheory is over, that the once vital possibilities it possessed are “now” fully exhausted, that queer theory belongs to a time of the “then”. So, when all is said and done, we are told time and time again, queer theory is dead. But still the field continues to exert a resilience, an adhesive attachment to life, a vivacious capacity to intervene, and still harbours an ineradicable political promise. Refusing sedimentation and domestication queer theory is, as Eve Sedgwick wrote in 1993, “inexhaustible”. Its currentness in geopolitical locations other than the United States is testament to this. Only now is “American” queer theory beginning to make an impact in France where, ironically, most of its critical insights were born. Twenty years after it appeared on the US academic landscape to “exude some rut” (Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner) queer theory is “hot” in the many elsewheres of queer world-making.

This course set out to examine the last two decades, the now(s) and then(s), of queer thinking looking first at “foundational” texts and later on at the recent theoretical and political turns the field has taken (and ruminating on its for now unimaginable future directions, twists and turns). The major point the course wishes to make is that queer theory is a weak theory (a messianicity without messianism) with an insistent ethico-political purpose and can, in keeping with the GCAS ethos, aid us when it comes to attending to and intervening in the most urgent world political events of our time.


Readings will be chosen from the following list:


Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’

Judith Butler, Precarious Life

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Weather in Proust

Michael Warner (ed) Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory

Gayle Rubin, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader

Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “What does Queer Theory Teach Us about X?”

Lee Edelman, Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory

David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vols 1-III

Teresa de Lauretis (ed) “Queer Theory” issue of differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies

Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality

Leo Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave and Other Essays

Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy

Robert McRuer, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness

Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times

Susan Stryker, The Transgender Studies Reader

Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, Sex, or the Unbearable

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism and Desire/Love

Mel Chen, Animacies, Biopolitics, Racial Mattering and Queer Affect

Robyn Wiegman, Object Lessons

Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era

Lynne Huffer, Are the Lips a Grave?A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex

James Penney, After Queer Theory? The Limits of Sexual Politics

Annamarie Jagose, Orgasmology

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

Wayne Koestenbaum, Humiliation

Michael Cobb, Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled

Michael Snediker, Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions

Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking

Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories

Jean-Paul Martinon, The End of Man

J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal

D. Gilson and Will Stockton, Crush

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