David L. Eng and Jasbir K. Puar are coeditors of the new Social Text issue “Left of Queer.” In today’s post, they describe the issue’s exploration of the peripheries of queer studies; highlight contributions to the issue by authors including Petrus Liu, Christina Hanhardt, Christina Crosby, and Janet Jakobsen; and imagine how “Left of Queer” might be adopted for use in both graduate and undergraduate courses. Pick up a copy of “Left of Queer” here or explore the table of contents, and don’t miss the virtual launch event Friday, February 12.
What makes “Left of Queer” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
When we first started to conceive “Left of Queer” almost three years ago, we did not think it would be feasible to publish a “state of the field” assessment akin to the special Social Text issue “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?” That earlier issue, published in 2005, became a classic statement of sorts by queer-of-color scholars attempting to assert the centrality of race, empire, and diaspora in queer studies. In the intervening years, the field has expanded and become so multifaceted that much of what we might call queer studies today would not have necessarily been recognized as such in the 1990s, when the field first emerged, or even in the aughts, as it was becoming more institutionalized. Instead of reiterating the centrality of work that already enjoyed broad readership, we decided to explore the peripheries of queer studies: What were the latent issues that could be elaborated in greater depth? Who did we think was underread? Who was writing scholarship that might be considered as part of the broader theoretical and political commitments of queer studies, but rarely taught or read in this manner? In short, we sought to amplify less obvious connections.
For instance, we mark an ongoing, decades-long debate about geopolitical exceptionalism in queer theory. This concern emerged in the 1990s with critical attention to the imperial travels of the term “queer,” for instance in rights discourses and tourism. It sparked a lively interrogation of the ongoing tensions—the convergences and divergences—between queer studies and area studies, and between queer studies and anthropology, but it did not sufficiently recognize the ways in which the field itself was driven by an unmarked politics of location. While the 2005 special issue brought a specific uptake of the global, the transnational, and the real-politik effects of the 9/11 war on terror as well as US occupation, “Left of Queer” explicitly focuses on this geopolitical exceptionalism by provincializing a version of queer studies that tends to function as American area studies. All the essays in this special issue open up problems of area in relation to materiality—whether land, bodies, labor, subjects, or objects.
What is one article that stands out to you from the issue?
We think all the articles are exceptional, but let us talk about two in relation to the interventions described above.
One strong example of the peripheries of queer studies—of scholarship that should be considered as part of the broader theoretical and political commitments of the field and as amplifying geopolitical exceptionalisms in the field—is the fantastic roundtable on safe space and securitization, edited by Christina Hanhardt and Jasbir. Here, the participants, many of whom are not thought of as queer studies scholars per se, connect recent debates about safe space, trigger warnings, campus alert systems, and Title IX that largely focus on sexual and racial traumas on US campuses to broader questions about securitization and militarization globally. Jennifer Doyle’s trenchant Campus Sex, Campus Security inspired in part the questions for the roundtable. Safe space for whom? And how does one’s safety and security potentially threaten the safety and security of others? How do we think of safe space on campus and in the gayborhood in relation to border walls and checkpoints as well as to problems of occupation and trespass more broadly?
Another strong example of how “Left of Queer” provincializes queer studies can be found in Petrus Liu’s brilliant contribution, “Queer Theory and the Specter of Materialism.” Petrus’s essay troubles so much of queer studies “proper” because it situates a genealogy of the field in China rather than embedding it in a western origin narrative. Instead, he conceives both queer studies and Marxism as materialist theories foregrounding the constitutive sociality of the self, and he places them in a Chinese politics and history that does not replay the unresolved schisms of queer studies and Marxism animating the field in the ’90s. In this manner, the essay displaces the problematic developmentalism of homonationalism—what a relief!—giving us an alternate starting point for what queer theory is and, indeed, what queer studies could be.
To this end, our introduction marks out an important shift from interrogating the politics of (neo)liberal inclusion and progress fueling the ongoing march of rights and recognition on the global stage to fighting white supremacy, authoritarianism, fascism, and militarization. It moves from the critique of human rights that animates a shift from “the woman question” to “the homosexual question” today and focuses instead on abolitionist, anti-nationalist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forms of resistance and insurgency.
How do you imagine “Left of Queer” could be used in courses?
In terms of the lower-division classroom, we hope that our two very readable roundtables on safe space and on trans will be both critically useful and easily accessible for undergraduates. These roundtables speak directly to pressing debates and concerns on campus: the movement to abolish the carceral state, the policing of black and brown bodies on campus, the attack on non-binary genders. The volume as a whole, we think, is also perfect for graduate seminars exploring both the history of sexuality and topic matters that are connected to but also complicated sexuality as a focal point: courses on global labor, on political theory and economy, on indigeneity, on areas studies. The broad interdisciplinarity of “Left of Queer,” plus our expansion from subjectless critique (problematizing “proper” queer subjects) to objectless critique (moving away from subject positions altogether and illuminating the biopolitical and necropolitical aspects of disaster capitalism) is an additional heuristic for cutting across our various themes.
We have mentioned several of the contributions already. In light of Christina Crosby’s recent and sudden passing, we wanted to end with a special mention of the incredible article that Christina and her partner Janet Jakobsen contributed, “Disability, Debility, and Caring Queerly.” [This article is freely available through the end of April.] One of the final pieces of published writing from Christina’s acclaimed career as a Victorianist, feminist, queer studies, Marxist, and critical theory scholar, this article delves into the messy materialities of queer care and kinship underpinning networks of disability—chains of labor, care work, racial and economic privilege, and affect that are often managed or concealed under the rubric of “independence” (and sometimes even “interdependence”) but without which the disabled subject of rights discourse would neither cohere nor be recognizable as a political actor. That these complex life-sustaining but also debilitating networks must now be transformed to mourn Christina’s tragic loss is a bittersweet testament to the possibilities of queer worldmaking. Christina was unflinching in her exploration of chronic pain—of a body undone—and what it means to live a disability all the while owning the grief of a life once lived. As her friends, colleagues, students, and readers, we honor Christina’s indelible legacy.