restricted access The Sense of Responsibility
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The Sense of Responsibility
On Making Sense: Queer Race Narratives of Intelligibility. Ernesto J. Martínez. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013. xiii + 199 pp.

In his introduction to On Making Sense, Ernesto J. Martínez identifies various versions of the theoretical enterprise known as "queer of color critique." The version with which Martínez finds himself aligned has, as he puts it, "taken on queer theory" by making "a point of addressing (with varying degrees of discomfort and disillusionment) a palpable Eurocentric queer scholarly indifference to the knowledge produced by racial minorities broadly speaking, and by queer people of color specifically" (16). While On Making Sense does indeed add to this body [End Page 201] of scholarship given its matching argumentative ambition, I believe Martínez's unique approach to the politics of identity makes his project markedly refreshing and indispensable in its goal to responsibly make sense of experience in struggles for social justice.

Drawing from the insights of thinkers like Paula Moya and Satya Mohanty who advocate a return to realism, Martínez maintains that realist frameworks importantly grant "epistemic privilege" to subjects too often consigned to marginal or invisible status and uphold an "epistemic decolonization" that flies in the face of queer scholarship wishing to eclipse the social world with discourses of instability and unintelligibility. For Martínez, "Realism offers theoretical justification for the disposition to think from the locus of suppressed knowledges and subaltern subjectivities. Realism understands the complexity of engaging identity-and experience-based knowledge (and theory-mediated knowledge broadly speaking) but does not give up on the ideal of objectivity so central to the evaluative claims of antiracist, antihomophobic feminist projects" (13). Martínez's investment in the realist position becomes clear in the first chapter, which functions as an illustrative and measured critique of Judith Butler's "theoretical misappropriation" (25) of Toni Morrison's Nobel Lecture in Literature. Taking issue with what he understands as a faulty evaluation of the preeminent African American writer's lecture, Martínez insists that the queer philosopher's "misreadings" have much to do with her theoretical presuppositions. In Martínez's logic, these misreadings run the serious risk of minimizing the urgency of language and identities particular to the social contexts with which Morrison is deeply concerned. Martínez continues in the same critical vein in chapter 2, a remarkable reading of James Baldwin's novel Another Country, which Martínez understands as "anticipat[ing] basic realist theoretical principles but also provid[ing] a provocative version of realist ideas" (48). Though at times hastily dismissive of arguments and textual interpretations that fail to accurately approximate the ethical responsibility of a realist position, Martínez consistently offers convincing suppositions that in the final analysis are nearly impossible to refute.

Beyond his appraisal of work by Morrison and Baldwin, the "queer race narratives" that Martínez examines are broad in focus and diverse in articulation. At the end of chapter 1, Martínez understands Morrison as a "theorist of language and race" whose example signals the "continuity in thinking between communities of color and their queer folk." "If there was such a thing as a 'house of Morrison' (to borrow the language of drag families in ballroom culture)," writes Martínez, "this book might belong to it; this book's readings of queer ethnic literature and cultural production would be the house of Morrison's 'up-and-coming' children" [End Page 202] (43). These up-and-coming children would certainly be Manuel Muñoz and Randall Kenan, the two queer of color writers whom Martínez reads in chapter 3, and Margaret Cho, who is the focus of chapter 5. What makes Martínez's critical engagement with these cultural producers fascinating is the way "queer enunciation"—that is, the ability to bear witness to queerness—does not always emerge from one's status as a queer subject per se but from a standpoint that "decenters queer speaking subjects" to uphold a politicized position that "distributes narrative responsibility for queer experience and identity" and "enables a deeper understanding of the intersubjective and social contexts in which queer subjects come into being" (113). In other...