- Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History by Kadji Amin
Is queer theory haunted by the 1990s? Is Queer Studies a failed endeavor? Kadji Amin has written a provocative, indeed an unsettling book; one which forces the reader to begin a necessary rethinking of the positionalities commonly accepted as underlying Queer Studies and the term queer. Amin argues, among other points, that Queer Studies and queer theory avoid engaging with some forms of queer sexuality and other marginal behaviors because they do not fit neatly into a (neo)liberal vision of progress toward a future utopian, egalitarian society. Disturbing Attachments both critiques Queer Studies, laying bare its blind spots and proposes a methodology to suggest ways of productively expanding its objects of study. Amin at first chose Jean Genet because “he incarnates one understanding of queer as a term that brings together a range of forms of social marginality” (4). Yet despite Genet’s being an almost universally idealized figure within Queer Studies, he could still cause unease. Among other issues, Genet’s many pederastic relationships and sexual attraction to Arabs and black men make him a troublesome figure. Amin asserts that pederasty, “animated by eroticized differential of age, sexuality, and sometimes race . . . is among a series of problematic and outmoded queer attachments” (12). The inherent inegalitarianism of the pederastic relationship falls outside political egalitarianism that animates Queer Studies.
How then to study Genet? Amin situates his work within the context of studies on queer temporalities, queer of color, and Critical Race Theory. [End Page 632] He proposes deidealization, which he characterizes as “the condition of taking deviance, nonnormativity, and minoritarian cultures seriously in scholarship” (10). Such deidealization acknowledges the “messiness” of deviancy and also provides an interdisciplinary linkage to “empirical and area studies scholarship on sexuality” (11). Amin also develops a method he terms attachment genealogy to “historicize and expand queer’s current affective orientations” (14). His method mines the relationship between the queer past and the ideals of the queer present. Amin organizes his study with each chapter exploring “Genet’s failure of contemporary political ideal” (15).
His first chapter, “Attachment Genealogies and Pederastic Modernity,” begins with an examination of modern pederasty and the acknowledgment such relationships perdured into the twentieth century, fueled by the colonial and postcolonial eroticization of Arabs and the production of pederastic “Arab”-themed postcards for European clients. Amin’s concept of modern pederasty, as distinct from the practice in Ancient Greece, encompasses all male same-sex relationships in which there is an “eroticized differential of age or generation” (39). However, he asserts at the same moment in history that same-sex sexuality was shifting from acts to an identity, “pederasty became homosexualized ” (41). Amin complicates this genealogy by insisting upon the centrality of unequal power relationships in modern pederasty, often along racial lines. The slippage in the late twentieth century of pederasty into pedophilia effectively eliminates it from the realm of homosexuality—the pedophile is not a homosexual. Through his analysis Amin deftly exposes the contradiction between pederasty and homosexuality, the latter being “a sexual identity capable of cementing a long-term reciprocal relationship” (41) but maintains that we should consider the “intertwined peril’s and potentials of pederasty’s marginalized erotics of social power” (44).
With the context for modern pederasty established, Chapter 2 examines Genet’s relation to prison pederasty, including his film A Song of Love (Un Chant d’Amour, 1950) and Miracle of the Rose (Miracle de la Rose, 1946), his novel/memoir, a portion of which was written while in prison. Jean, the narrator of Miracle, thinks back to his days in the boy’s penal colony Mettray, which he calls a “paradise.” That carceral system, structurally similar to the patriarchal/homosocial hierarches of the French state, created an environment in which pederasty flourished. Amin points out that Jean’s nostalgia is at odds with the pain and trauma of imprisonment and reading captures Genet’s ambivalence toward that past, a past...