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  • Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History by Kadji Amin
  • Andrew Counter
Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History. By Kadji Amin. (Theory Q.) Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. 255 pp.

In this exciting and challenging book, Kadji Amin sets out to perform what he calls an 'attachment genealogy' of queer studies, an approach that 'excavates earlier and more transnational modes of queer attachment to both historicize and expand queer's current [End Page 628] affective orientations' beyond the set of early twenty-first-century American assumptions and priorities that continue to dominate within it (p. 14). In doing so, he considers the discipline fondly but with clear eyes, bringing to light its blind spots and foibles, from the 'strain of romantic antinomianism' running through it (p. 6) to the kernel of liberalism ever buried at its root; from its insistence on its own protean unfixability, almost to the point of self-effacement, to its persistent utopianism. It is indeed this latter impulse, which Amin associates with queer studies' idealization — invariably, as he points out, ahistorical — of certain marginal communities, cultures, and practices, and thus with the risk of falling into what he brilliantly dubs the 'romance of the alternative' (p. 8), that the book aims most urgently to critique. It does this through scrupulous attention to the contribution made to 'queer' by earlier modes of thought, and perhaps most importantly modes of desiring, that are genealogically part of the queer movement, yet have become politically compromising, and are therefore rigorously excluded from its discourse — and thus, in the main, from its memory. Amin's privileged example of such discredited sexualpolitical forms is 'modern pederasty', that 'impolite and impolitic' hobby horse of a great deal of early, and mid-, and as it turns out rather late-twentieth-century queer thought, now cast out of the city (and not for nothing); and his case study in excavating it is Jean Genet, whom 'we have misread as a gay man rather than a pederast' (p. 28), and whose 'queer exemplarity' functions here as a 'diagnostic of Queer Studies' (p. 4). This does not mean that Genet is in any sense secondary, nor that he is purely instrumental: scholars of Genet's work will want to read this book, which devotes sensitive and insightful chapters to Genet's writings on carceral pederasty, to his eroticization of racial difference, and above all to the famous political engagements (with the Black Panthers and the PLO) of his later years, which, Amin argues, only the wishful thinking of queer-political propriety can (or would want to) separate from the boundary-crossing erotic desire found elsewhere in his œuvre. Still, there is no doubt that this is, first and foremost, a work of and about queer studies, a fearless and scholarly probing of its disciplinary norms, its discursive limits, and its most embarrassing relations. It should be read by all those who care about the discipline's future (although that discipline's persistent and often unconscious preoccupation with futurity is one of the many patterns of thought Amin usefully critiques here), and, most importantly, by those who care about its past.

Andrew Counter
New College, Oxford


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pp. 628-629
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