Queerness, fantasy and Marxist materiality

Yesterday I attended a talk on “Queer Studies and the Crisis of Capitalism,” with Jordana Rosenberg, Amy Villarejo, and Meg Wesling.

Even given my propensity to take copious notes, I don’t think I can reconstruct the panelists’ arguments. I’ll read the upcoming issue of GLQ and think about the nuances then (or, more likely, incorporate them into my dissertation). My mind is still turning over the implications of Villarejo’s perspective on queer aspects of affective or immaterial labor and the changing temporalities of TV viewing, and especially Wesling’s call to include the transnational material politics of current events in Haiti, especially the burgeoning trade in “saving” Haitian children, in queer analysis and activism. We can’t, or shouldn’t, have a queer critique of reproduction and familiality that doesn’t take the shape of global labor into account.

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One of the talks in particular sparked off some reflections that relate to my own work, and is most suitable to discussion under the heading of queer geek theory. I knew my drive to distant UCLA had been worth it when Jordana Rosenberg, the first speaker, announced she was going to talk about the fantasy writing of Samuel R. Delany and China Mieville. It may be of less obvious importance than immediate, critical political concerns, but I continue to think that the ways we imagine the world as different than it is affect how we might try to change it.

Rosenberg drew from Jameson and Bloch to unfold a concept of “queer durée” based on the formal properties of fantasy fiction, arguing that its very propensity for anachronism is what makes fantasy interesting and stating that queerness is “the intensification of the historical quality of fantasy via sexuality.” I was excited to hear someone draw on the archive of high-concept genre fiction that shapes my own understanding of the world, but that few queer cultural theorists are familiar with. It gave me some questions about genre, though.

Can a formal theory of “fantasy” be built from Mieville’s New Weird and Delany’s fiction-as-critical-theory? I love both madly and they’re very compatible, built as both are from the authors’ education in Marxism and the cultural politics of race, gender, and sexuality. They’re both great ways in to those ways of thinking, because they are so filled with imagination and magic and weirdness; they both demand we step outside of received perspectives on history, science, sociality.

But fantasy as genre? Part of Rosenberg’s presentation discussed the idea of the “infix,” the modifying morpheme that comes in the middle of a word. “Abso-fucking-lutely” was her example, and queerness is (delightfully) the fucking that happens in the infix. But the example from which Rosenberg took that word was from a Twilight fan board, and I was personally fascinated with this appearance of the most devalued, mocked, and abjectly feminine form of fantasy in the middle of a discussion of highbrow, complex, and coincidentally male-authored texts.

This is not at all to say that highbrow, complex, weird, intellectual fantasy can’t be written by women. Just off the top of my head, check out Laurie K. Marks, Catherynne Valente, Andrea Hairston. But questions about genres, examples, and the ethics of selectivity in the archives from which one theorizes, continually haunt me–whether I am writing about vidding, science fiction, fandom, or anything else. Can we save a genre from its cliches? Should we? In particular, can/should we free fantasy from the realm of, well, fantasy–the unconscious and sometimes unconscionable desires that are as likely to reproduce oppressive hegemonies as challenge them? See also: the racial content of most fantasy’s vision of a supposedly universal past, as exposed in Deepa D’s I Didn’t Dream of Dragons.

I don’t intend this as a criticism of the paper, or even really as a serious engagement with it; I just wanted to articulate some of the thoughts it sparked off in me.

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