Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Directions In Queer Studies: Conference Keynote by Heather Love

Today, I'll be participating in what is surely to be a wonderful experience: a one-day conference on "new directions in queer studies." See here for the complete schedule, including an abstract of the keynote address. It is the direct result of a Prof. Ann Cvetkovich's graduate course of the same name, from which all of its presenters also come. So I'm excited to hear papers by my fellow graduate students not only from the English Department but across the university, too. The entire conference, as I understand it, was also planned and carried out by the students, and this in lieu of the more traditional end of semester seminar papers. Prof. Lisa Moore, another queer studies scholar at UT Austin and a specialist in sapphic genres of the eighteenth century, has also enabled such alternative pedagogical practices.

Although I do have some reservations about a few particulars in these formats (and here's not the occasion for such diatribe), I think such alternative pedagogies are vitally important, not least in their professionalizing capacities and recognition that the traditional seminar paper is probably least useful for most of today's graduate students in contrast to other potential areas for developing analyses and arguments (e.g., construction of syllabi, conference papers, book reviews, etc.)

The day will end with a much anticipated keynote by Prof. Heather Love (see here for her personal webpage), who will speak on the "queer routes of upward mobility." Love is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard, 2007), an elegant and powerful study -- part literary analysis, part exquisite meditation -- on what Michael Snediker called in his GLQ "Books in Brief" review the "non-transparency of negativity." The book has justly received many accolades (see here for a sampling of its many endorsements). Back in July, The Feminist Review had this to say about Love's book. Late last week, I offered a brief Facebook status update, saying that the most arresting aspect of any literary critic's work is the degree to which she compels her readers to re/turn to the texts under consideration. I'm now enthralled with the texts Love reads by Walter Pater and Willa Cather in ways that I have never been before. With grace and tenderness, Love contests what she most recently terms the "compulsory happiness" operative within queer existence, which, by means of its "climate of emotional conformism," obdurates other forms of queer living, not least in the post-Stonewall gay and lesbian movement's failure to attend to the persistent complexity of pyschic shame. Any effort to recalibrate the categories by which queer existence today might be made more livable must turn backward to a negative archive of "shyness, ambivalence, failure, melancholia, loneliness, regression, victimhood, heart-break, antimodernity, immaturity, self-hatred, despair, shame" (Feeling Backward, p. 146 and passim).

I'm hoping to provide some post-conference thoughts and pictures. I especially want to entice the willing to blog their papers/abstracts, and so increase the possible range of their feedback. Fingers crossed!

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