- A Politics Not Yet Known: Imagining Relationality within Solidarity
Recalling ASA’s momentous support for the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, Lisa Duggan queerly articulates this moment with the sudden loss of our colleague José Esteban Muñoz. In so doing she centers the furious fun that Muñoz read within queer creative and utopian practices when she addresses the arrival of queer studies in American studies. Duggan argues that, like many interventions before it, queer studies has become “integral rather than marginal” to American studies because its “refusal of identitarian logics” offers a “deep critical challenge . . . [to] conventional presumptions about who needs to know what, who should read whom, and where a given critical lens is relevant.” Duggan here frames queer studies as a crucial diagnostic of power as such, as well as of the specific forms of power addressed in American studies. In other words, having disturbed identitarianism, queer studies puts in question any presumption that “queer” refers first, or only, to sexuality or gender, which then forces us to ask, what is the power that queer studies calls us to confront?
Perhaps a queer way to address this question would be to leave it entirely open—a point to which I return below. But first I want to think about José Muñoz in relation to a movement of scholars, artists, and activists who exhorted queer studies to interrogate racialized sexuality and the violences of colonial modernity. In 1997 Muñoz wrote, with Philip Brian Harper, Anne McClintock, and Trish Rosen, that “‘queer critique,’ conceived as a means of traversing and creatively transforming conceptual boundaries . . . illuminates how various dimensions of social experience—race, sexuality, ethnicity, diaspora, gender—can cut across or transect one another.”1 And in 2005 he joined David Eng and Judith Halberstam in calling for “a renewed queer studies ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional, not extraneous to other modes of difference, and calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political metaphor with no fixed referent.”2 Today, our thickly stacked bookshelves of queer of color, queer diaspora, and queer Indigenous critiques model the interrogation of modernity and its coloniality as conditions of queer possibility. Both the [End Page 309] power we perceive as queer and our queer interrogations of it arise not externally to racial and colonial violence but in intimate articulation with them. Cathy Cohen in 1997 explained the whiteness of queer politics by highlighting the underlying queering of blackness by white supremacy: a sexualized antiblackness through and against which black queer life and challenges to violence emanate.3 Today, emergent Indigenous feminist and queer works collected by Joanne Barker are recentering Indigenous theories of colonialism and empire to illuminate our responsibilities (to land, all beings, and one another) as well as the relationships among decolonial struggles.
With such works in mind, I want to sustain Duggan’s invocation of queer studies’ arrival by asking how the meaning of “queer” in American studies might hinge on questions of coloniality and decoloniality: questions made all the more imperative by calls for solidarity with Palestine. In this moment of engaging solidarity, thinking queerly can highlight how our acts articulate many forms of coloniality—those named, and those left unnamed—even as questioning identitarianism can return our critical attention to the relationships across differences that solidarity demands. The politics of Palestine within the ASA thus compels me to seek deeply connective theories of power and methods that can ground such theories within praxes of ethical interrelationship.
When I look for queer accounts of relational lives that deepen my knowledge of and commitment to struggle, I am provoked by queer ethnographers who interrogate the violences of modernity from within deeply reflexive accounts of interrelationship. In her rendering of gendered and racialized national culture in Venezuela, Marcia Ochoa presents “queer diasporic ethnography” as a method that can address how “the process of modernity extinguishes humanity but creates other possibilities for existence.”4 For Ochoa, “queer diasporic ethnography is not necessarily about queer diasporic subjects” because it “questions the boundedness of the ‘native informant’ as a point of entry.”5 Writing from her own...