Queer Form: Aesthetics, Race, and the Violences of the Social
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Queer Form:
Aesthetics, Race, and the Violences of the Social

This special issue wagers that a focus on aesthetic form need not be a turn away from the politicized concern with race and social and geopolitical inequities so critical within contemporary queer studies. In making this claim, we simultaneously reach back to early queer literary scholarship engaged with structuralism and aesthetics and reach through and around contemporary queer theory into current conversations on racialization, materiality, and sensation.

In doing so, we seek to make two principal contributions to scholarship on aesthetics and social critique. The first is to assert that aesthetic form is crucial to the work of queer artists, artists of color, and, more broadly, artists concerned with the structural conditions of social violences. Many contributors to this issue make this fundamental point in response to an interpretative violence too often visited upon artists of colors and indigenous artists in particular. These artists are often assigned the role of testifying to the sociological conditions of their own disempowerment. They are the "native informants" of the art world, tasked with producing art that transmits information rather than pushing aesthetic boundaries. Such a colonial tasking undermines or even silences analysis of their aesthetic aims. Aesthetic innovation and formal manipulation are, however, the very substance of many of these artists' engagement with legacies of social violence. Aesthetic form offers resources of resistance to the violences of interpretation that prematurely fix the meaning of minority artistic production within prefabricated narratives.

Secondly, we seek to nudge the long history of scholarship on form and aesthetics into the terrain of new scholarly and artistic work on affect, sensation, and [End Page 227] materiality. Envisioning form expansively, as the sum total of formal structure, artistic technique, and plasticity of medium, opens the way to an engagement with artworks in their multifaceted materiality, as a sensuous mode of relation to their audiences. Approaching the sensuous materiality of artworks expansively displaces the primacy of the visual—the regime within which queer bodies and bodies of color have been most violently subjected to the demands of cultural legibility. The essays in this issue meditate on the ways in which form often operates beneath the surface of the visual, trafficking in affective and sensuous modes of meaning-making.

Each essay here attends to the way form is made useful to queer expression and social critique. Engaging movement and oral storytelling as resistance against the "poselock" of colonial anthropology (Brewer Ball), the kinetic handling of a film camera as a means of inhabiting the city (Montez), queer sequencing in comics (Fawaz), the body as a site of excess labor and opaque expression (León), the use of adaptation to toggle between historical periods and hint at disavowed embodiments (Row), and the depressive aesthetic posture as a potential ethics of listening (Ramos), these essays highlight conscious, queer activations of form.

This special issue pairs the words "queer" and "form" as a provocation to think the ways in which form is not (or not only) something to resist and transgress in the quest for a greater queer freedom. We strive to think the queer as enmeshed within—and indeed, activated and enabled by—the structures of aesthetic form, social inequality, and conceptual categorization within which the work of engaged artists takes shape. Form informs queerness, and queerness is best understood as a series of relations to form, relations not limited to binary and adversarial models of resistance and opposition.

QUEER ACTIVITY

Roland Barthes describes the interpretation of form as summoning, as soothsaying, and as a "mantic activity."1 But as an interpretive activity, aesthetic [End Page 228] criticism is never a simple or neutral process of divining structure, but of making forms do things: forms can be interpreted to fray the apparent self-evidence of social patterns, rupture historical procession, or bring ruination and possibility into view for planning our next move. In his expression of hope in the performative promise of cultural interpretation, Barthes's proposition that "structuralism, too, is a certain form of the world, which will change with the world" diverges from the determinist, universalist notions of structure...


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