- The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy
David Eng’s The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy is a bold and ambitious book that attends to the ways in which queerness and the global flows of capital and labor reconfigure kinship structures and their psychoanalytic architectures. Building on the work of Christopher Lane and Anne Anlin Cheng at the intersection of psychoanalysis and race and expounding on his earlier book Racial Castration, Eng attempts to open the tight grip of historicism on ethnic studies and Asian American literary studies. He maps the affective life of race, paying special attention to the queer modalities through which race is imagined and psychically felt. Simultaneously, the book’s intersectional approach sketches the ways in which racial specters haunt the liberalism of the contemporary gay and lesbian movement. His subtitle draws attention to the twin forces that Eng sees as powerfully foreclosing the imagined life worlds of queer diasporas—queer liberalism and the colorblindness of what he terms “the racialization of intimacy.”
Eng defines queer liberalism as “a contemporary confluence of the political and economic spheres that forms the basis for the liberal inclusion of particular gay and lesbian U.S. citizen-subjects petitioning for rights and recognition before the law” (3). Following scholars such as Michael Warner, George Chauncey, Lisa Duggan, and Jasbir Puar, Eng reveals that this confluence has meant that “prior historical efforts to defy state oppression and provide a radical critique of family and kinship have given way to a desire for state legitimacy and for the recognition of same-sex marriage, adoption, custody, inheritance, and service in the military” (3). The Feeling of Kinship extends the reach of this earlier scholarship by contending that queer liberalism abets rather than resists “the forgetting of race [End Page 352] and the denial of racial difference” (4). Queer liberalism disseminates its vision of abstract equality by privatizing race (limiting it to what Lauren Berlant calls, “the intimate public sphere”) in order to keep it from “the public realm of work, civil society, and the state” (43). Thus, Eng argues that liberalism stands in sharp opposition to intersectionality. The Feeling of Kinship strives to revivify a politics of intersectionality by transforming what have often been considered private and individual psychic structures into collective ones—the affective charges that give the book its title: The Feeling of Kinship.
The book’s preface and opening chapter elaborate queer liberation’s anti-intersectionality through readings of Barack Obama’s 2008 election and the simultaneous passage of California’s Proposition 8 and a striking reading of Lawrence v. Texas in relation to the specter of miscegenation. While the decision was heralded as a victory of liberal inconclusiveness, Eng—like many others in the queer community—expresses a profound ambivalence. In particular, he draws attention to the irony that the plaintiffs in a case that so crucially underwrites queer liberalism were not a loving couple but a black and white pair who were “part of a vexed one-night love triangle” (35). The racial configuration of the love triangle is particularly important since it was the comment of the jilted third in the triangle, Robert Eubanks, to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department that “[t]here’s a nigger going crazy with a gun” that provided probable cause. This racial trespass suggests both the failure to end “the stigmatization of cross-racial intimacies” (41) and the continued failure of the law to recognize that “sexuality and race function intersectionally” (40).
Building on the theorizations of Gayatri Gopinath, Cindy Patton, and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, Eng’s work reconstructs alternative histories of queer diasporas through film and literature. Chapter 2’s reading of the figuration of waiting in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt enables Eng to open a counterfactual space for considering “the what-could-have-been in the what-can-be-known of historicism” (65). Where the literary text in ethnic studies has often...