- Enter the Queer Female Diasporic Subject
Gayatri Gopinath's book, a collection of new essays and revised pieces of previously published work, is a welcome consideration of making the impossible possible, particularly those queer desires of same-sex longing and affection that circulate amid diasporic South Asian public cultures but that are rarely made visible as meaningful and engaging. Moreover, Gopinath's project is largely a corrective one, making obvious the hitherto invisible queer South Asian diasporic subject and a queer female diasporic subject in particular. She places this latter marginalized figure at the center of her analysis to reconceptualize diaspora from a queer feminist standpoint. Gopinath's focus is the daughters, mothers, wives, maids, and courtesans who fall outside the male lineages that define diasporic and national public cultural spaces. Even when the queer diasporic subject is addressed in progressive cultural texts, it is the queer diasporic male subject who is given prominence, often at the expense of the queer diasporic female. The range of examples taken up for analysis and critique are wide and eclectic, sampling from popular Hindi films, British Asian music, Urdu literature, and diasporic postcolonial literature and film.
Methodologically, the publication is located at the intersection of queer and feminist scholarship, especially invoking frameworks and debates from seventies and eighties black feminism and postcolonial queer studies. The title and central concept of the book—"impossible desires"—draws on this body of earlier work to argue for and demand the impossible by attempting to make queer strategies of desire and meaning-making possible. Theoretically, then, "queerness . . . references an alternative hermeneutic" (25) that is considered by the author as a way of remaking signs and codes within hegemonic nationalist and diasporic discourses that privilege heteronormativity and androcentrism. This is a project that requires feminist and queer positions to articulate together and dialogue, rather than for them to be understood as opposing camps. [End Page 655]
The wide-ranging textual case studies that Gopinath casts her probing eye over can be thought of as "queer ephemera"—queer cultural practices that are difficult to document, archive, and preserve (58). 1 By focusing on such ephemera, she reads the presence and possibilities of the queer female diasporic subject in representational terms and also draws our attention to alternative queer cultural practices (such as drag and hyperbolic readings of diasporic texts such as Damien O'Donnell's 1999 film East Is East). As Gopinath rightly argues, such practices can often embody alternative visions of culture and community. Ultimately, her queer feminist lens offers a number of readings that suggest the ability of late modern-day queer diasporic South Asians to negotiate tropes of existence that can allow them to be queer, out, and still live at "home" while reworking the space of home in the diaspora itself.
I came away from reading this book with at least one question, as well as a handful of critical observations. First, the author uses numerous UK-based theoretical and textual references to illustrate her arguments—for example, debates from black British cultural studies, Powellism, black British artists and filmmakers, British Bhangra music—yet her overarching framework for locating and making sense of these is the predominantly U.S.-based paradigm of "public culture" (20–21). Does this theory about public culture in the United States apply itself in the same way in the UK, or do we need to recalibrate the modes of operation of how the notion of a public culture is understood intellectually, culturally, and politically in these two different contexts?
Second, it is a shame that Gopinath is able to offer only three lines to register the existence of queer diasporic club spaces (192). These are also important sites of queer ephemera in which Bollywood, South Asian, rnb, and other song and dance aesthetics and performances are used and revised in queer diasporic male and female ways. Unfortunately, Gopinath offers no cultural and social analysis in this respect. Finally, Gopinath misspells throughout her publication the surname...