- Neither Paranoid Nor ReparativeBad Reading and Literary Succor
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. v + 268 pp.
Looming over Queer Experimental Literature by Tyler Bradway is a brief moment in Eve Sedgwick's "Queer and Now." She writes, "I think for many of us in childhood the ability to attach intently to a few cultural objects, objects of high or popular culture or both, objects whose meaning seemed mysterious, excessive, or oblique in relation to the codes most readily available to us, became a prime resource for survival. We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn't line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and love. This can't help coloring the adult relation to cultural texts and objects; in fact, it's almost impossible for me to imagine another way of coming to care enough about literature to give a lifetime to it" (Sedgwick 1993: 3). Bradway takes Sedgwick's invocation of the potential saving grace a text can impart and extends this to a meditation on thinking about how experimental literature, by testing certain forms of representational and epistemological boundaries, both invites and forces a reader into relation with a text. The entire book is a meditation on how we read, how texts get into us and we get into them. Even more important, Bradway takes seriously the ways that reading can disarticulate the reader. A central gambit of the text is that at some point we have all had to put a book down because it was too beautiful, too unsettling, too affectively full in one way or another to continue. The negotiation of the multiple reactions between reader and text is where Bradway situates bad reading, which is more than just an interest in transgressive or experimental [End Page 197] literature—it is equally a capacious desire to search for texts that might give us succor in a world that is often damaging and disarticulating.
Experimental queer literature for Bradway is less particular stylistic modes than a "heuristic to construct a genealogy of writers that share a common conception of form—namely, that deformations of narrative prose can expose reading as a social construction and an affective discipline" (xliv). He asks, in part, what forms of literature have the capacity to adhere to the political contingencies of queer communal formations. He argues that "the conceit that aesthetic politics must lie within conventional representational forms is deeply flawed for writers seeking to contest the terms under which queer collectivities are capable of being represented as political" (117). For Bradway, experimental literature mediates between the "viscerally immediate intimations of queer relationality and the inability for these relations to become collectively materialized in the text's temporality of reception" (vii). In other words, the groping, tentative, unsettling, and surprising aesthetics of queer experimental fiction are figurations of forms of sociality from where the texts emerge.
Bradway insists that queer experimental literature "catalyzes forces of social imagination that cannot be understood through the idioms of paranoid or reparative reading alone" (237). For him, there is the hope that we read a text on its own terms, fully open to the affective relations a text might produce. With queer experimental literature in particular there is an invitation to not privilege the critic's "epistemic and affective agency" (237). This is an incredibly important point given the crystallization of Sedgwick's terms through the consistent misreading of the paranoid and reparative positions as a kind of dichotomy where different modes of reading align to one side or the other in a forced and degraded exercise in flag-waving. For this corrective move alone, Bradway's Queer Experimental Literature should be a must-read for anyone interested in queer theory or the recent turn to various forms of postcritique. It is fair to say, however, that the text offers quite a lot more. Along with the critical acumen Bradway brings to the table, his writing is delicate and enchanting. Each chapter brims with exciting and detailed close readings. When he writes that Sedgwick's Dialogue on Love "extends...