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The Nows and Thens of Queer Theory

An on-line and in residence seminar with Michael O'Rourke at UCD Humanities Institute, 9-13 February 2015. The seminar was organized by Global Centre for Advanced Studies (GCAS) in association with UCD Centre for Gender, Culture & Identities and UCD Humanities Institute. Podcasting by Real Smart Media. Also available on iTunes.

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 Queer Theory 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.

More information.