- Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer Historyby Kadji Amin
T heM ay 2015 issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studiesquestioned queer theory's allegiance to antinormativity. Aptly titled "Queer Theory without Antinormativity," scholars in the journal wondered why antinormative figures or texts proved to be axiomatic for queer critique. The articles therein pursued a queer theory unburdened from this political or theoretical commitment to antinormativity, carving a space for scholarship that highlights and addresses the sticky web of complicities queer peoples share with the state, with the law, and yes, with normativity.
Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer Historymay be one of the earliest books in the field to take the critical intervention of the differencesjournal as its theoretical touchstone. Kadji Amin regards French writer Jean Genet as the paradigmatic "queerer-than-thou" historical figure animating critical thought and art today; however, by deploying an analytic Amin calls "deidealization," Genet's pederastic relationships, his racial fetishisms, and his earlier praise of France's carceral-pedagogical institutions expose the anti-egalitarian and decidedly not antinormative strains in Genet's writing and political activism. Rather than simply condemn Genet as untenable for [End Page 111]queer scholarship or even queer activism, Amin argues that the "unspeakable" aspects of the renowned pederast reveal a longstanding yet under-analyzed liberal-egalitarian tradition within the precincts of avowedly antinormative queer studies. Why is modern pederasty, in contradistinction to the work of David Halperin, which has focused on pederasty in ancient Greece, an all-but-ignored form of queer relationality within the field, despite its conceptual links to both criminality and deviant sexual behavior (two categories that otherwise enjoy widespread discussion in gender and sexuality studies)? In other words, what does the repression of pederasty in queer studies say about the field's difficulty in "envisioning alternatives to egalitarianism" (35)? Pederasty, Amin observes in concert with Halperin, describes a relation that eroticizes disparities in power, class, and/or age. Is it simply too disturbing of an attachment to study? And how do we account for the transmutation of the pederast into the pathologized figure of the pedophile sometime in the late twentieth century?
Amin proposes a genealogical critique of queer studies' disavowed attachments to show how histories of gay liberation inform, in opaque ways, the casting of pederasty as "backward" and regressive in contradistinction to egalitarian or idealized forms of queer kinship. He calls this methodological practice "attachment genealogy," which builds upon genealogical critique to include affective orientations in the queer past that trouble the field's propulsions toward utopian thinking or utopian futurities. In this manner, Amin invokes the work of Heather Love to encounter historical objects that are not so readily redeemable into liberal notions of progressiveness or equality, Genet being chief among them. The structure of the book homologizes this argument, where each chapter's main themes—prison pederasty, racial fetishism, pederastic kinship, and queer terrorism—disappoint or even disturb our contemporary notions of queerness by locating complicity with bad objects as a particular quality of Genet's.
By attending to the exclusion of pederastic relationships from gay liberation and the gay rights movement, Amin develops the analytic of "pederastic modernity" to theorize pederasty at the heart of European modernity. He does so by drawing on a number of Genet texts, noting how the youth penal colony of Mettray eroticized hierarchical differences between inmates in a pederastic fashion as a "training ground" for properly nationalist French masculinities: "European modernity is built on mass same-sex institutions—armies, prisons, and schools—that solicit and implant affective attachments to masculine hierarchies" (56). Pederasty, then, is no longer simply a pathologized form of homosexuality nor a diagnostic for degenerate behavior, for it comes to structure the subjectivization of citizens of empire. Therefore, Genet's texts could be said to expose the pederasty at the heart of the relationship between France and its incarcerated boys, its military, and the countries these soldiers occupy. [End Page 112]
One of Amin's most convincing arguments troubles...