The dissertation analyses, on the one hand, the notion of queer critique as it emerges from the queer theoretical canon, and on the other hand, some key debates voicing a discontent with critique in general and queer critique in particular. Queer theory was born at the turn of the 1990s in the U.S. as a way to take distance from mainstream theories and politics of sexuality. This distance is marked by the rejection of the binary distinction between homo- and heterosexuality, the refusal to take sexual and gender identities to be natural, and an emphasis on the differences within sexual minorities. Therefore, it is not surprising that queer theory is, by definition, critical. This dissertation, however, aims to delve deeper into that critical practice that queer theory often takes for granted. The first chapter focuses on the notion of critique in the work of Michel Foucault, who is possibly the main inspiration for the queer critics to come. In the two texts scrutinised – ‘What is Critique?’ (1978) and the first lecture of the course The Government of Self and Others (1983) – Foucault reflects on critique by way of Kant’s notion of the Enlightenment. From these texts, critique emerges as a practice that operates on at least three terrains: historical-philosophical analysis (critique as genealogy), ethics (critique as a parrhesiastic lifestyle or ethos), and politics (critique as the art of not being governed like that [comme ça] as well as, later on, critique as what emerges from the enthusiasm for the spectacle of the revolution). Queer theory in its multiple ramifications reflects, although not without tensions, each of these definitions. The second chapter centres on two figures whose trajectories have been highly influential to the field: Judith Butler and Eve K. Sedgwick. Its focus is set on the notion of theory as well as on the different critical practices deployed by Butler and Sedgwick. The two authors perform, respectively, a philosophical critique (Butler) and a literary criticism (Sedgwick). The chapter shows that these two critical practices are not as different as they seem, especially considering the interdisciplinary character of queer theory. Regarding the notion of theory, the chapter analyses how, in Butler’s and Sedgwick’s early works, Foucault’s open-ended critique crystallises into a theory. In 2 their later works, instead, both Butler and Sedgwick partly break with this same theory that, paradoxically, they had contributed to build. The chapter pays special attention to Sedgwick’s notions of ‘paranoid reading’ and ‘reparative reading’, through which she signals her discontent with reading practices that follow the mandates of theory and, in so doing, produce routinised modes of critical analysis. The third chapter aims to explore recent dissatisfactions with critique following in Sedgwick’s footsteps. On the one hand, it analyses Rita Felski’s project of a postcritique, which aims at overcoming the limits of critique and reinstating contingency and affect at the core of literary analysis. While agreeing with some of the arguments put forward by those who criticise Felski’s proposal and defend critique, especially when formulated from a queer perspective, the chapter argues that postcritique’s most crucial interventions concern, first, the denunciation of the ossification of critique, and second, the indication of alternative reading practices. On the other hand, the chapter discusses Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson’s project of a queer theory without antinormativity. Just like Felski, Wiegman and Wilson aim to counter the imperative of the critique of normativity, which they see as an unreflective automatism of the queer theoretical field. However, the solution they put forward – a rethinking of normativity itself in less rigid terms – is not fully convincing. Thus, the thesis closes with a possible way out of the routines of queer critique by means of José E. Muñoz’s proposal for a utopian and hopeful critique.

Queer Critique and its Discontents

Adriano Jose Habed
2022-01-01

Abstract

The dissertation analyses, on the one hand, the notion of queer critique as it emerges from the queer theoretical canon, and on the other hand, some key debates voicing a discontent with critique in general and queer critique in particular. Queer theory was born at the turn of the 1990s in the U.S. as a way to take distance from mainstream theories and politics of sexuality. This distance is marked by the rejection of the binary distinction between homo- and heterosexuality, the refusal to take sexual and gender identities to be natural, and an emphasis on the differences within sexual minorities. Therefore, it is not surprising that queer theory is, by definition, critical. This dissertation, however, aims to delve deeper into that critical practice that queer theory often takes for granted. The first chapter focuses on the notion of critique in the work of Michel Foucault, who is possibly the main inspiration for the queer critics to come. In the two texts scrutinised – ‘What is Critique?’ (1978) and the first lecture of the course The Government of Self and Others (1983) – Foucault reflects on critique by way of Kant’s notion of the Enlightenment. From these texts, critique emerges as a practice that operates on at least three terrains: historical-philosophical analysis (critique as genealogy), ethics (critique as a parrhesiastic lifestyle or ethos), and politics (critique as the art of not being governed like that [comme ça] as well as, later on, critique as what emerges from the enthusiasm for the spectacle of the revolution). Queer theory in its multiple ramifications reflects, although not without tensions, each of these definitions. The second chapter centres on two figures whose trajectories have been highly influential to the field: Judith Butler and Eve K. Sedgwick. Its focus is set on the notion of theory as well as on the different critical practices deployed by Butler and Sedgwick. The two authors perform, respectively, a philosophical critique (Butler) and a literary criticism (Sedgwick). The chapter shows that these two critical practices are not as different as they seem, especially considering the interdisciplinary character of queer theory. Regarding the notion of theory, the chapter analyses how, in Butler’s and Sedgwick’s early works, Foucault’s open-ended critique crystallises into a theory. In 2 their later works, instead, both Butler and Sedgwick partly break with this same theory that, paradoxically, they had contributed to build. The chapter pays special attention to Sedgwick’s notions of ‘paranoid reading’ and ‘reparative reading’, through which she signals her discontent with reading practices that follow the mandates of theory and, in so doing, produce routinised modes of critical analysis. The third chapter aims to explore recent dissatisfactions with critique following in Sedgwick’s footsteps. On the one hand, it analyses Rita Felski’s project of a postcritique, which aims at overcoming the limits of critique and reinstating contingency and affect at the core of literary analysis. While agreeing with some of the arguments put forward by those who criticise Felski’s proposal and defend critique, especially when formulated from a queer perspective, the chapter argues that postcritique’s most crucial interventions concern, first, the denunciation of the ossification of critique, and second, the indication of alternative reading practices. On the other hand, the chapter discusses Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson’s project of a queer theory without antinormativity. Just like Felski, Wiegman and Wilson aim to counter the imperative of the critique of normativity, which they see as an unreflective automatism of the queer theoretical field. However, the solution they put forward – a rethinking of normativity itself in less rigid terms – is not fully convincing. Thus, the thesis closes with a possible way out of the routines of queer critique by means of José E. Muñoz’s proposal for a utopian and hopeful critique.
Critique Queer Postcritique Antinormativity Felski Foucault Sedgwick Butler Wiegman
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11562/1066223
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