publisher colophon
The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-first Century. Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni A. H. McNaron, eds. New York: Feminist, 1996. xix + 295 pp. $17.95
Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction. Andy Medhurst and Sally R. Munt, eds. London: Cassell, 1997. xxvii + 388 pp. $69.95 cloth, $26.95 paper
Straight Studies Modified: Lesbian Interventions in the Academy. Gabriele Griffin and Sonya Andermahr, eds. London: Cassell, 1997. x + 244 pp. $89.95 cloth, $29.95 paper
Coming out of Feminism? Mandy Merck, Naomi Segal, and Elizabeth Wright, eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. viii + 262 pp. $59.95 cloth, $27.95 paper

Either: queer theory is elitist, incomprehensible, narcissistic, tautological, hopeless as a political engine and has wrought, single-handedly, the destruction of thirty years of feminist and lesbian political, economic, and theoretical gains. It represents a betrayal of core feminist principles by an entire generation of historically obtuse, theoretically abstracted, frivolous, lipstick-wearing, bourgeois grrrls whose rush to forsake the claims of an identity-based politics bespeaks ignorance at best and, at worst, the most pernicious implications of normative complacency. Postmodern feminists, alienated from their materialist political project, have fallen [End Page 413] prey to a patriarchal bait and switch, allowing not only their young but their theory to drift dangerously into a white-male-identified epistemological coupling.

Or: queer theory is the logical extension of a rigorous thirty-year feminist interrogation of the limits of language, identity politics, and social control. Its attack is leveled at the most fundamental premises of epistemology itself, and it represents a serious and deeply ethical attempt to theorize sexuality in the context of mutually constitutive terms that include gender, race, and class. Allowing for continuous, shifting multiplicities of social location, it presents an unprecedented chance to achieve a strategically coalitional, even pragmatic progressive politics.

Queer theory, abjectified, scapegoated, abhorred, adored, and canonized, is nothing if not an overdetermined site of multiple, and multiply conflicting, desires. In the four anthologies under consideration, each concerned with the development of queer theory in relation to prior feminist and lesbian models, such overdetermination tells no particularly coherent story about queer theory itself, nor does it offer any particularly coherent framework for queer theory’s various uses, limitations, and propensities, at their most obnoxious or most prodigious.

This overdetermination suggests less about what queer theory is than about what it does. In these four books the ambivalent interloper, making demands of limited resources, has provoked a critical, thoughtful, and highly significant return to constitutive paradigms informing feminist and lesbian studies, a return characterized by the desire to historicize, to clarify, to redefine, and with the effect of shaping these theoretical praxes into far finer tools than they have been in recent years. The four anthologies, individually, collectively, and across a range of disciplinary sites, revisit the issues that have shaped past feminist and lesbian interventions in order to propose agendas for future work. There is at present a tremendous backlash against the academic-theoretical prestige of the queer. But like nothing else, this backlash has propelled activists and academics alike toward the reassertion of their most basic political goals and, ultimately, toward a freshly formulated—and thus newly provocative—statement about the relationship between local methodologies and global change. Contentious and contradictory as such discourses most certainly are, a return to the foundational debates, especially as it is informed by efforts to situate particular theoretical formations in relation to the historical contexts from which they emerged, holds great promise for material as well as theoretical progress.

Each anthology expresses such an investment by articulating its theoretical intervention through a historicizing framework. The editors of The New Lesbian Studies, for example, revisit the concerns of Margaret Cruikshank’s influential [End Page 414] 1982 collection Lesbian Studies across a variety of contexts, illustrating the common ground as well as the radical distinctions between lesbian theories at two very different historical moments, the early 1980s and the late 1990s. In Lesbian and Gay Studies and Straight Studies Modified disciplinary location itself occupies center stage in essays concerned with the history, as well as the future, of lesbian, gay, and queer work in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Finally, in Coming out of Feminism? the editors, calling into question the presumptions of value and authority implicit in a genealogical framework, make a well-realized attempt “to interrogate the prevailing divisions of priority and project in sexual politics and its studies” (3). By underscoring the complex entanglements of a range of gender-theoretical arguments from the past three decades, these books, to use the words of Mandy Merck, Naomi Segal, and Elizabeth Wright, present “an attempt to understand how relations of contiguity and emergence may develop old debts and differences into new contentions and cooperations” (8).

Cruikshank has contributed a foreword to The New Lesbian Studies, a follow-up volume to her Lesbian Studies. In a cogent assessment of the development of lesbian studies into a field of academic inquiry, she offers, in rather gentle terms, an all-too-common critique of recent lesbian and gay-theoretical discourses, highlighting a problem that to my mind has serious political consequences for antihomophobic work. This critique focuses on discourses that appeal solely to cognoscenti invested in a prestigious subgenre of academic language, that seem unwilling—or, worse, unable—to translate their ideas into more widely available terms or to take seriously interventions emerging from other vocabularies. Cruikshank writes:

One disadvantage of being out of the academic loop is that I can’t understand some of the work now being published in gay and lesbian studies. It’s natural for the first people in a new territory to feel baffled by newer settlers, and inevitable that the aftercomers set off on new trails. But gay and lesbian work in obscure and needlessly difficult language reminds me of priestcraft. Some scholars seem to be writing only for each other. Their language may be an emblem of power, a sign of initiation. I want lesbian and gay books to be written in language my students can understand. Some scholars have replied defensively to this observation by claiming that complex ideas require difficult language. My retort: read bell hooks, read Gloria Anzaldúa.

(xi–xii) [End Page 415]

Cruikshank makes a serious point: if queer-theoretical scholars are limited to an exclusive, and potentially exclusionary, language in which to communicate their most important ideas, queer theory itself is drastically limited as a political tool. What it fosters is an increasingly intimate, intra-academic conversation and a deepening divide from theoretical models emerging from nonacademic contexts. This use of language represents an elitist power politics and a sad violation of the political spirit that is perhaps the most vital connection among disparate approaches to the questions of gender and sexuality in the late twentieth century.

The New Lesbian Studies answers Cruikshank’s critique through an admirable and fascinating set of practical strategies. Divided into six sections and containing a remarkable forty articles, the collection historicizes by example the relationship between lesbian studies and queer theory, reprinting essays that originally appeared in Lesbian Studies alongside new essays that address recent theoretical developments clearly, precisely, and with equal regard for the old and the new. In their evaluations of the status of lesbian and queer studies in disciplinary locations including anthropology, Chinese and Latina history, religion, film, gerontology, and sociology, and in discussions of pedagogy, institutional status, and the future of theory, contributors present such a wide range of arguments that the field itself is pluralized.

The historical argument of The New Lesbian Studies gains its power from the range and diversity of its contributors’ perspectives, which offer insights not only into the theoretical issues that have shaped this emergent field but also into academic cultures that have provided the context of this process. The reprinted essays use the personal narrative to situate lesbian studies vividly, both in scholarly and in cultural terms, within the history of its tenuous academic legitimacy. In “Dyke in Academe (II),” for example, Paula Bennett describes the effects of her closetedness, maintained in response to the powerful demands of the tenure track, on her scholarship and teaching, while Doris Davenport, in “Black Lesbians in Academia: Visible Invisibility,” describes the humiliations entailed in her hybrid minority status; isolated as a black woman, she is further marginalized by her sexuality and belongs neither in women’s nor in ethnic studies. Following Davenport’s cue in an especially evocative dialogue, “Lesbian Literature: A Third World Feminist Perspective,” Cherríe Moraga and Barbara Smith discuss the pedagogical challenges of consolidating the too-often disparate concerns of race, gender, and sexuality.

This collection is particularly strong on the question of teaching, both in establishing its historical context and in attending to pedagogy as its own political and theoretical statement. In “Queer Collaborations: Feminist Pedagogy,” for [End Page 416] example, Ann Pellegrini and Paul B. Franklin discuss their team-taught course about liberation politics within feminist as well as gay contexts. They suggest that the gender—and generational—dynamics of their collaboration reveal the powerful potential of coalitions that unite lesbians with gay men, often under the sign of the “queer.” Crucially, they also take up Cruikshank’s keynote challenge, emphasizing the need to historicize the terms of queer theory’s emergence without sentimentalizing or oversimplifying its genealogy: “In a ‘postfeminist’ age, we saw this course as an opportunity both to remind students of the living debt we all owe radical feminism and to resurrect something of the challenge and complexity of identity politics” (122).

Without question The New Lesbian Studies will “resurrect something of the challenge and complexity of identity politics,” for its central subject is “lesbian,” and its essays uniformly address the strategies by which that subject has been analyzed. What results is not a turgid essentialism but a complex presentation of the multiple, subtle, and conflicting terminologies used over time to mobilize this identity formation to strategic ends. The anthology’s final section, “Theorizing Our Future,” at once gestures toward and challenges the collectivity implied in the plural pronoun our, suggesting that although the vocabularies have changed, “we” are not far from the constitutive concerns of the articles reprinted from Cruikshank’s 1982 book. Sharon P. Holland’s “(White) Lesbian Studies” dissects the racist implications of binary distinctions between theory and practice, white and black, and argues cogently that lesbian feminism historically uses black lesbian politics as an authorizing narrative but, “blinded by its own narrow view of subjectivity, narrativity, and historicity” (253), erases black lesbian subjects themselves. Harriet Malinowitz’s “Lesbian Studies and Postmodern Queer Theory” is, like Holland’s essay, noteworthy for its clear and provocative argument; it also encourages contemporary theorists to broaden their awareness of their methodological origins. Many lesbian feminists, Malinowitz contends, are “perplexed about why postmodern theorists have posited so schismatic a relation between themselves and proponents of identity politics. Certainly, those women argue, analyzing decentered subjectivity, critiquing the ways hegemonic structures reproduce themselves, and examining the ways that the notion of difference organizes society and epistemology have been some of the most basic concerns that guided their own work” (265). Bonnie Zimmerman, in the collection’s final essay, takes up the question of “cultural amnesia” (269) to utter one last call for a newly rigorous lesbian-feminist-queer theoretical consciousness, not out of a nostalgic return to the utopic energies of liberation politics but out of a renewed commitment to rigorous thought: [End Page 417]

The problem as I see it is that the discourse of lesbianism—specifically, lesbian feminism—has been all but silenced. This leads to the appropriation of our work and ideas (including feminism itself) without any recognition or citation of sources, the vilification of our values and continued existence, and the appalling misrepresentation and ahistorical construction of the past twenty years. To counter this, lesbian feminists need to reinsert ourselves into the debates in a forceful and intellectually impeccable way.

(274)

Zimmerman and McNaron’s arranging and editing of this volume demonstrate an admirably balanced approach to such crucial questions. Neither sentimentalizing earlier traditions of lesbian feminism nor demonizing more recent queer theories, The New Lesbian Studies enacts what Zimmerman describes as the most powerful means of reasserting the lesbian-feminist historical and theoretical perspective: “I believe that lesbian and/or lesbian/gay/queer/sexuality studies will develop best if each constituency maintains some healthy and skeptical distance, engages in open and critical dialogue, and acknowledges both the similarities and the differences, the congruencies and the contradictions, among our multiple points of view” (274).

Andy Medhurst and Sally R. Munt, the editors of Lesbian and Gay Studies, take a similar point of departure. In her introductory essay Munt writes of a concern over the exclusionary politics of both queer theory and the term queer itself:

Whilst Queer Theory seems to have superseded Lesbian and Gay Studies nomenclature in the academy, we are disturbed by the elitism which has come to be associated with it, in spite of its originally inclusive political agenda. . . . ‘Queer,’ from a British perspective, has manifested its own exclusions, and has become a minority discourse institutionalized within academic and performance/art contexts. Queer is unreclaimed by a majority of lesbian and gay men [sic]; as a gesture of inclusion, it has remained persistently suspect.

(xi)

Medhurst and Munt instead embrace the terminology of “lesbian and gay studies” because of its strategic inclusiveness across heterogeneous class, racial, and ethnic, as well as erotic, categories. Endorsing a British paradigm of collaborative politics (as opposed to U.S. identity politics), Munt writes, borrowing a formulation from Kath Weston: “We need to remember our foundation in a political movement, and not lose ‘street theory’ to ‘straight theory.’ Street theory is a sharp, accessible and direct political analysis of what needs to be done; it is intelligent activism. [End Page 418] ‘Straight theory’ erases the lives of lesbians and gay men, not just in content but also in relevance. It rewards us for cutting ourselves off below the neck. We are invited to become talking heads for the bourgeois literati” (xv).

But the essays that follow this ringing argument take a rather odd tack. The book’s first half focuses, as Medhurst explains, on the lesbian and gay reshaping of academic disciplines, and the second on questions important to lesbian and gay studies itself. With the notable exception of the final essay, Simon Watney’s furious indictment, “Lesbian and Gay Studies in the Age of AIDS,” it is by and large an academic book that retains a certain implicit distance from the “street theories” endorsed in its introduction. Lesbian and Gay Studies was conceived not as “a collection of essays that already assumed specialized knowledges, but a set of chapters that [will help] those new to Lesbian and Gay Studies, whether students or the wider public, find their way through the contested, contentious, controversial debates” (xvii). It is an important undertaking, to be sure, even if it ultimately leaves undisturbed the canonical status of academic theories and unexplored the relationship between “street theories” and “straight theories” for which Munt has so energetically argued.

Having foregrounded its admittedly antagonistic relationship to queer theory, however, the book falters due to a strategic problem of design. Queer theory remains as central to the chapters themselves as it is to the editors’ introductions. But the refrain of critique and engagement goes unanswered. Concerned to introduce readers to the controversial debates of lesbian and gay studies, and referring continually to queer theory as central both to controversy and to debate in a host of disciplinary locations, Medhurst and Munt present no chapter that introduces the reader to queer theory itself. This peculiar decision, undertaken to avoid reifying queer “in a way that masked its deep, diverse and disputed impact on the whole range of lesbian and gay lives and thinking” (xviii), actually serves the end of reification in a far more insidious way. Withheld from the novice, queer theory remains the privileged knowledge of the contributors, an “us-and-them” dynamic underscored by articles, such as Vincent Quinn’s “Literary Criticism,” that are clearly targeted to other scholars preoccupied with academic politics and job markets. Thus the insider status of queer theory further obscures the complex intellectual genealogies, not to mention the possible use value, of queer interventions—a real liability, since as many of the contributors seem invested in, even identified with, a queer methodology as would dismiss or ridicule it. Ultimately, the editors’ unwillingness to put queer on the spot, although the word itself and its theoretical elaborations are always capitalized—as names, first and last (“Queer,” “Queer Theory”)?—represents a refusal to let the reader engage directly. Thus [End Page 419] the very politics of elitism that Medhurst and Munt so vigorously disavow in their introductory remarks is reinsinuated.

Nonetheless there is much to like about the book. Sarah E. Chinn’s remarkably clear, jargon-free introduction to gender performativity should be indispensable to those who teach performativity theory to introductory-level students. Lisabeth During and Terri Fealy’s introduction to lesbian and gay issues in philosophy is similarly clear without sacrificing argument or complexity, and so too are Vivien Ng’s “Race Matters” and Elspeth Probyn’s analysis of Foucault’s influence on theories of gender and sexuality.

Lesbian and Gay Studies functions more effectively as a series of discrete local interventions than as a survey. It falls far short of its claim to introduce readers to the lesbian and gay reshaping of conventional academic disciplines. It does present interesting introductions to a number of the usual suspects, including history, literary criticism, philosophy, visual culture, film studies, and psychoanalysis, but the impact of lesbian and gay studies on other humanistic fields, as well as on the vast majority of the sciences and social sciences, goes without engagement or even mention. For example, the book’s first essay, Affrica Taylor’s “Queer Geography,” is concerned more with spatial metaphors in queer theory than with the discipline of geography itself (by contrast, see Ali Grant’s “Dyke Geographies: All Over the Place,” in Straight Studies Modified, or Oliva M. Espín’s “Immigrant Experience in Lesbian Studies,” in The New Lesbian Studies). Watney encourages us to “pause to consider both the quality and quantity of the dialogue and interaction between the different sectors of our wider movement. It is vital that we should be able to meaningfully articulate together the various changing aims and strategies of these different sectors, and the many different currents and undercurrents of thought that inform them” (370). This call is commensurate with the best intentions of the editors of Lesbian and Gay Studies, but much work remains to be done to realize this dialogue fully, including work on the power dynamics of the discussion itself.

Straight Studies Modified takes a different approach to a similar set of concerns. Focusing again on the range of disciplinary locations in which lesbian (and feminist, gay, and queer) studies has had an effect, it pays tribute to the visible lesbian presence in the academy. Granting that queer theory has had a transforming effect on lesbian studies, Gabriele Griffin and Sonya Andermahr suggest that “queer has given lesbian interventions in the academy a new critical edge.” The implications are complex, for while “lesbian studies can perhaps cope with the relativizing of gender, it cannot survive its abandonment.” Queer theory “undermines the concept of structural inequality that has animated lesbian research”; lesbian [End Page 420] studies, by contrast, “eschews a politics of difference and keeps hold of the simultaneous focus on sexism and heterosexism, providing a critique of both which has nevertheless been sharpened in the 1990s by anti-essentialism” (6).

The disciplinary focus of Straight Studies Modified extends from education to biology and includes cultural studies, the law, theater, film, geography, literature, politics, psychology, history, philosophy, computing, health studies, and linguistics. This book ranges much more widely than Lesbian and Gay Studies, and the virtues of doing so abound. It also focuses on a number of fields in which lesbian studies has not had a noteworthy impact; interestingly, these contributions are among the most compelling. Yvon Appleby’s analysis of education addresses the field’s covertly heterosexist assumptions. Lynda Birke argues for an insidious heteronormativity in biology that lesbian or queer interventions might problematize and also insists on the importance of the material implications of cultural criticism, an argument echoed in Tamsin Wilton’s analysis of lesbian health care. Finally, Margrit Shildrick’s “Queering the Master Discourse: Lesbians and Philosophy” is concerned with the politics of appropriation in conventional philosophical discourses and, even more polemically, with similar tendencies to valorize high-theoretical “master discourses” in feminist and queer studies alike. Read collectively, these articles suggest strategies by which lesbian (and perhaps also queer) scholars might produce change in conventional disciplines, if not in the conventions of disciplinarity.

Its focus on the inherent potential for change in lesbian efforts is also, however, the weak spot of Straight Studies Modified. While neither the editors nor the contributors essentialize the concept of lesbian identity—indeed, they take up the symbolic meaning of lesbian at the beginning to keep it in play throughout—the centrality of the term produces a much more stabilized effect than they may have intended. This effect is only compounded by the editors’ express desire to find and celebrate not only lesbian interventions but lesbians themselves at work in discrete fields. Thus each author, implicitly or explicitly, self-identifies twice, first as a lesbian and second as a member of an academic field. Perhaps because the book does not treat the question of inter- or transdisciplinarity but instead reifies disciplinarity in its organizing structure, it subtly consolidates “lesbian,” too, as a known and knowable category, a gesture unreconciled with the editors’ embrace of lesbian erotic, political, and subjective pluralism (6). “Is she or isn’t she?” they ask (1). As the answer appears in all cases to be “She is,” the rhetorical nature of the question suggests the book’s lingering confidence in stable categories of distinction.

The most conventionally academic of the four collections, Coming out of [End Page 421] Feminism? targets a scholarly rather than a general or introductory audience. But Merck, Segal, and Wright share the general concern over the complex interrelationships between feminist (or lesbian) studies and queer theory, citing and calling into question the genealogy that constructs the feminist as mother, either benevolent or devouring, to the queer: “Informed by a characteristically queer scepticism about all such originary claims, this collection is intended to interrogate the prevailing divisions of priority and project in sexual politics and its studies” (3). Situating the emergence of the queer in the overlapping histories of women’s and gay liberation, the editors retain a concern with the politics of collaboration as well as with institutional legitimization: “In the 1990s ‘queer’ emerges from the closet of insult, but also from the egg of ‘lesbian and gay’ as well as the womb of feminism. It replaces passing with crossing, and goes its own unpredictable way. So far it is still in the first stages of animation; but has that urge to name as you proclaim already started the process of solidification, and will the twin impulses to solidarity and intellection inevitably stop its free flight along the borderlines?” (4).

Coming out of Feminism? opens with a powerful intervention that will be familiar to those working in queer as well as in feminist studies but that is sufficiently significant to merit reconsideration in the context of the editors’ informing questions. Biddy Martin’s “Sexualities without Genders and Other Queer Utopias,” which has appeared both in diacritics and in her 1996 book, Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian, argues that “feminism” has been constructed as the fixed ground against which queer theories cavort and construct their own cultural capital. Such a reductive approach to feminism, Martin contends, institutes a veiled misogyny of its own, in which “the female body appears to become its own trap, and the operations of misogyny disappear from view” (12).

Martin lays a powerful claim to the complex significations of the feminine. “Femininity, played straight,” she writes, does not “constitute a capitulation, a swamp, something maternal, ensnared, and ensnaring. Too often, antideterminist accounts that challenge feminist norms depend on the visible difference represented by cross-gender identifications to represent the mobility and differentiation that ‘the feminine’ and ‘the femme’ supposedly cannot” (13). Emily Apter, in “Reflections on Gynophobia,” is similarly concerned with a fear of “the femme” and interrogates the odd logic by which the cross-gender identifications of camp, drag, and queer effeminacy have become the central contexts in which feminists might articulate even an abjectified gynophilia. Suggesting that “gay, lesbian, and queer studies may well have upstaged feminist theory in rewriting the history of sexuality, institution, and the law,” Apter urges a form of feminist catharsis, for [End Page 422] “by admitting issues such as gynophobia—a nexus of symptoms common to feminism and queer studies alike— . . . we might avoid a tendency toward reactive, separatist triage in the determination of gender/sex identities” (114).

Feminism’s gynophobia no doubt predates queer theory, and the complexities of this historical ambivalence merit detailed consideration. Indeed, Apter’s concern over this sort of “triage” refers to a critical nexus addressed in the volume, specifically in Gayle Rubin’s argument on behalf of, and later on behalf of the strategic separation of, sex and gender as a cooperative system. Judith Butler’s interview with Rubin, “Sexual Traffic,” reprinted from differences, addresses this significant (some might argue field-making) distinction. The interview is a tour de force not only of historical reconsideration but of theory making in its own right; it is lively, engaging, and eminently teachable as well. In it Butler critically reappraises Rubin’s two influential essays “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex” (1975) and “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” (1984). Butler suggests that in “The Traffic in Women” Rubin “set the methodology for feminist theory” through her argument, based on the work of Lévi-Strauss, Marx, and Lacan, for a “sex/gender system,” while in “Thinking Sex” she set, through the strategic detachment of sex from gender, the methodology for lesbian and gay studies (36). The implication is that through this sequential development lesbian and gay studies emerged as a corrective to feminism and that the subtraction of the earlier Rubin essay from the later makes manifest the difference between the two.

Rubin does not capitulate to this equation. Instead she argues cogently for the different historical and theoretical concerns informing each essay. She insists, for example, on the centrality of Marxism to “The Traffic in Women” and, in “Thinking Sex,” on her shift away from Lacan and structuralism and toward Foucault, a shift motivated at least in part by the implications of the sex wars and especially by the work of Catharine MacKinnon, who “wanted to make feminism the privileged site for analyzing sexuality and to subordinate sexual politics not only to feminism, but to a particular type of feminism. On the grand chessboard of life, I wanted to block this move” (45). Continually emphasizing the need to counterbalance theoretical abstraction with the kind of descriptive, empirical analysis of material culture stigmatized in recent years as “positivist,” Rubin concludes that “there needs to be a discussion of what exactly is meant, these days, by ‘theory,’ and what counts as ‘theory’” (64).

Assessing the costs of the distinction between gender and sex, William J. Spurlin, in “Sissies and Sisters: Gender, Sexuality, and the Possibilities of Coalition,” returns to Martin’s inaugural emphasis to suggest that only a dialogic engagement [End Page 423] between feminism and lesbian and gay studies can circumvent the reinscription of exclusionary, hierarchical assumptions and the erasure of entire categories of subjectivity. In essays on Gide, Radclyffe Hall, the “savagery” of eroticism, and the crucial interrelationship of the symbolic and the real, Coming out of Feminism? explores such a potential for dialogic, even for coalitional, work, and does so most powerfully when it addresses the question directly. Carole-Anne Tyler suggests that a certain double bind characterizes queer theory’s method, as well as its relation to its feminist others, and argues that in this sublimely self-conscious theoretical mode it is ironic but true that “queer theory and identity represent a resistance to queering theory and identity, a refusal of what is beyond the calculations of any totalized, closed, and self-regulating system or apparatus, whether theory, identity, or community” (170). “The trouble with any theory,” Tyler points out, “is that it is never quite queer enough; it inevitably leaves something out, unspecified, which is evidently too queer for it” (156).

In its title this volume poses a question that it deliberately does not answer, in a send-up of the embodied politics of childbirth and generation and in an embrace of the exhilarating project of cleaning out feminist closets. To the reader concerned with making use of the impassioned, ambivalent, competitive relations among those volatile terms feminist, lesbian, and queer, all four anthologies feature a provocatively constitutive resistance that raises theoretical questions of its own: Through what terms might queer theory encounter its inner radical lesbian? How might feminist theories redress the queer excess of the queer itself? After the curtain falls and the applause fades, in what closet will the queen hang her gown?

Carolyn Dever

Carolyn Dever is assistant professor of English at New York University. She is author of Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins (1998). Her current book project, Feminism, in Theory: The Practice of Abstraction, considers the politics of theory production in a range of feminist activist and academic contexts.

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ISSN
1527-9375
Print ISSN
1064-2684
Launched on MUSE
1999-09-01
Open Access
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