Queer hope: Is it possible when we have no future?

no-future-7977791I have started the laborious (yet fun–I am a nerd, remember?) process of figuring out what readings I want to include in my syllabi for the fall. Today I am thinking about my Queering Theory course. Ever since I found out about in the spring of 2008, I have wanted to give some attention to Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. In this polemic, Edelman argues for a queer ethics that is counter to “reproductive futurism” with its emphasis on building better futures for our children. He writes:

Indeed, at the heart of my polemical engagement with the cultural texts lies a simple provocation: that queerness names the side of those not ‘fighting for the children,’ the side outside the consensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism.

So, what does this mean and what are the implications for our ethical and political projects? Some unpacking of terms is needed here. Simply put, reproductive futurism is the belief that our participation in politics–indeed, the political itself–is motivated by a belief in and a desire for creating better futures for our children. We are, in Edelman’s words, always “fighting for our children.” Reproductive futurism suggests two things: a. there is a future that we can make better–that has “unquestioned value and purpose” (4) and b. that future is emblemized by the Child. For Edelman, this reproductive futurism is linked to heteronormativity (heterosexual as the only normal, natural, right way to be) and renders any alternatives (queerings) of communal relations/kinship/visions of resistance as unthinkable–how could you possibly be against fighting for the children?–and outside of politics. Wow, I hope that makes sense. Now, why does Edelman make this radical claim? Because queerness/queering is not possible in a politics of reproductive futurism, he wants to encourage the stepping outside its logic and into the space of refusal and negativity–the space of the death drive (warning: psychoanalysis alert!)–where there is no future.

I have only just (barely) skimmed the introduction and table of contents of this book, so I am having a difficult time explaining all of this in coherent, compelling and intelligible (non-jargony) ways. Clearly, I need to engage in a much closer reading of this text. The more I think about his ideas, the more I think I want to use this in my class. It raises some great questions for my own work and for one way I am thinking of organizing the course: What would it mean to think about political and ethical projects outside of this logic of better futures on behalf of our children (especially for those of us who are parents and/or are heavily invested in children/youth)? What could a radically negative politics looks like? Are negativity and a refusal to engage in political projects aimed at transformation or ethical projects aimed at striving for the good what queer is essentially about? Is the only way in which to imagine a queer ethics negatively and in opposition to any claims, normative or otherwise?

halberstamIn what I have skimmed so far, Edelman seems to be theorizing queer theory in relation to time (queer time = no future, no linear progression) and space (queer space = outside of politics/social) which makes me think of Judith Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place. In this collection of essays, Halberstam explores queer time and queer space in order to shift the perspective on queerness from an identity or set of activities to “a way of life” (1). I am fairly sure that I want to use several chapters out of this book as well. Now I just need to think about how to put them in conversation with Judith Butler, who remains a big focus of the class.

Final thought: It seems appropriate to follow my last post on Michael Jackson and hope (both the loss of it and how we might rethink it) with this one on no future and the death drive. There are some significant connections between my comments about Jackson (and my reference to k-punks posting on him) and any thinking through of Edelman’s idea of no future (which k-punk also writes about here four years earlier!). One connection between No Future/critique of reproductive futurism and Michael Jackson is found in k-punk’s post. K-punk writes:

Certainly, Edelman explicitly identifies the logic of reproductive futurism as ‘poptimism’, whose ‘locus classicus is Whitney Houston’s rendition of the secular hymn, “I believe that children are our future”, a hymn we might as well make our national anthem and be done with it.’ (143) In fact, though, ‘We are the World’ might be the better choice for reproductive futurist anthem: we are the world, we are the children (therefore it is OK for us to bomb other people’s children – because they aren’t the Future.)

Wasn’t “We are the World” a central part of the recent tribute to MJ? Interesting… In case you don’t yet have the song in your head, here it is:

There is another connection with which I want to end this post. The idea of no future, at least at first glance, indicates that we need to function without hope. If there is no future (no better world on the horizon), there is no hope that things will be different. Because isn’t hope a futural term? Edelman seems to be rejecting the possibility for queer hope. But is hope fundamentally counter to queer? Can we imagine these things together? In my last post, I pointed to Cornel West and his tragic hope as one that is counter to the vision of hope as innocent (the Child?) and naive. But is his notion of tragic hope entrenched in a heteronormative (non-queer/anti-queer) vision? After all, he is very invested in defending and revaluing parents. Hmmm…Queer hope. A future article, perhaps?

I guess it’s time to start working on my syllabi…

It is July 13. Classes start on September 9. I still have some time, but if I don’t want to be freaking out all next month, I better start thinking seriously about my syllabi for Queering Theory and Feminist Pedagogies. Maybe this blog can help me. I have taught both classes before (see here and here) and am keeping a huge portion of the syllabus the same for each class. But, because I always like to mix it up (and to trouble my own teaching practices), I want to add in some new texts. What to choose?

I also need to think about how to set up my blogs for these classes. As I mentioned early on in this blog, I am working on using blogs more in the classroom. One major purpose for writing in this blog this summer was to practice my own blogging and experiment with how I might be able to use blogs in my fall classes. Perhaps the first thing I need to do is figure out movable type 4.0. The University of Minnesota just upgraded the blog system and the interface is much different. I also need to review some of the research on teaching, blogging and feminism that is out there. A good place to start is S&F Online/Blogging Feminism: (Web)sites of Resistance. This is a great resource that I used last spring in my Contemporary Feminist Debates course as a way to get students thinking about the political and critical possibilities for feminist blogging.

51RH2KFC7FL._SS500_But before I get to my blog research, I want to think about possible texts for Feminist Pedagogies. One text that I am considering adding is: Troubling Speech, Disturbing Silence, edited by Megan Boler. In the introduction, Boler describes a tension concerning hate speech that motivates much of her work: “How can freedom of speech be claimed as a functioning law of society when people are in fact individually and systematically silenced as a result of their identity and/or views” (vii)?

She also discusses her theory of “affirmative action pedagogy” which grounds the book:

I conceptualized and argued for an “affirmative action pedagogy” to illustrate how social hierarchies confer unequal weight and legitimacy to different voices, making dialogue a difficult ideal to acheive in our classrooms. Just as affirmative action seeks to redress historically embedded inequities, so do I suggest that there are times when countering dominant cultural beliefs (especially within the abbreviated time space of a classrom( may require privileging traditionally silenced voices (vii).

The tension between protecting free speech and ensuring democracy, empowering students to speak and regulating students who speak too much are important issues within the feminist classroom. Also important are the ideas of silence (when should we encourage students to speak, when do we respect their silence, what can we learn from silence) and voice (whose voice is heard, what language is used, when is speaking empowering and when is it too dangerous). I like the wide range of topics addressed in this collection and the format: each writer directly responds to the others. I also like the emphasis on racism, democracy and critical pedagogy here. So, I think that I will use this book. The question becomes: should I use the entire collection or just pick a few important essays? One of my strengths as a teacher is how I bring to together a wide range of readings (some of which wouldn’t, upon first glance, seem to connect) under a theme. I have had less success in using whole books. Discussions about entire books seem to take a lot more effort to get going and aren’t always as productive. Hmmm….perhaps I should skim the whole collection again and figure out what to do. Has anyone else out there used this book? Can anyone else relate to my dilemma (a whole text or merely fragments)?

41iTdc0U+AL._SS500_Another edited collection that I was thinking of using is Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. I was initially very excited for it to come out this summer–especially since there seem to be so few new books on feminist pedagogy these days (so much is from the past). But now that I actually have it (as opposed to just glancing at the table of contents online), I am not sure if I want to use it. First, it seems dated. Most of the sources that the two extensive bibliographies at the end of the book cite are from the late ’90s and earlier. I also don’t like the organization, particularly the separating out of race (towards the end of the book and including only 2 essays) from the other topics. Shouldn’t race matters–which is what the race section is called–be infused within much of feminist theories on pedagogy and practice? The question of how we address race and its relationship to class, gender, sexuality, ablebodiedness, global positioning is an important one that feminist teachers have developed many different strategies for dealing with–reading selections, course organiation, class assignments. Maybe including this entire collection could allow us (students and teacher) to critically explore this question of inclusivity, complexity and diversity in terms of categories and experiences of difference?