- Queer Prolepsis and the Sexual Commons:An Introduction
The story of the commons has been told elsewhere, a fascinating tale of old customs outliving social change.(Denman 1)
In a still more embryonic state is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure.(Hardin 1248)
QUEER QUESTIONS FOR AFRICAN LITERARY STUDIES
“Queer Valences in African Literatures and Film,” this special issue of Research in African Literatures, began with panels at the Modern Language Association conference in 2012 and the 2013 convention of the African Studies Association. Following those sessions, we asked scholars of African literatures and cultural studies to respond to the recent prominence of the queer in the African political and cultural landscape. That figure—incarnated as lesbian, gay, intersexed, transgendered, or indeterminate—has gained a new visibility in the political discourse of African democracies, in circulating ideas of Africa, and in the claims of new transnational networks criticizing the legal and social predicaments faced by African sexual minorities. Valence seems an appropriate rubric for our title. It evokes the uses of the word in chemistry when it describes the capacity of elements for bond formation by attracting or repelling other elements. Valence evokes also its use in describing affective states. Objects, people, situations, are habitually said to be charged with positive or negative valences; and, at other times, they register ambi-valence. What, we ask, are the valences ascribed to queers in emerging representations?
The collected essays contend with co-implicated arenas of representation: representation in the political sphere of law, civil society, and deliberative democracy; and representation as aesthetic re-presentation. Such co-implication is hardly novel. Historically, African writing has often been interpreted within contexts of cultural assertion and contestation. Yet, having said as much, the frictions around the production and circulation of African queer representations emerge from multiple arenas of debate and necessitate a series of discursive interventions that [End Page VII] respond to the differently situated definitions and contestations of the relationships between politics and representation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s warning against the conflation of different meanings of representation, darstellen (to depict) and vertreten (to speak for), has become shorthand for one set of deliberations on the politics of representation. African queer representations operate within such negotiations of political and artistic representations just as much as they revivify or intersect with other historical debates that are more overtly entangled with cultural politics about Africa, Africans, and (self) representation. This is the first special issue of RAL to focus on this compendium of texts, issues, and experiences; this essay provides an overview of the tensions that frame the collected essays.
Even though Africans’ queer representations predate the recent wave of repressive legislation, and although the latter do not cover the whole continent, emergent representations have lately been framed as interventions in cultural politics or expressions of dissent due to the politicization of queer intimacies. As Neville Hoad and Chris Dunton observe, the “current trend toward increasing criminalization will create new challenges for African writers wishing to make same-sex identities, practices, desires, and relationships the subjects of aesthetic representation” (477).1 Still, the political dimension of African queer representations surpasses censorship or the pursuit of political advances in legislative arenas. Emerging representations in African literature and film engage in a restorative project. Their politics reimagine an African sexual commons I define as the presumed normativities and exclusions that underpin accounts of what constitutes proper sexuality in civic and private life and that have been posited as foundational in various acts of collective African self-writing.2 Although the notion of the commons is not traditionally invoked in relation to sex, it is now time to speak of a sexual commons composed of the corporeal practices, affects, emotions, propensities, and key symbols of social imaginaries that together constitute the diverse fields of sexuality across Africa. The stipulated arrangement of the commons determines our respective individual performances in that field. This notion of a sexual commons provides a useful rubric for this issue on African queer representations because it positions the putatively normative and nonnormative together and emphasizes their co-implications. Emerging queer representations renovate our senses of...