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The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy. By David L. Eng. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 268 pp. Reviewed by Mark Jerng The main critique in David L. Eng’s The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy is a bold and provocative one. Eng takes aim at the politics of colorblindness, but not just to chide it for its refusal to see race. Rather, he sees this disavowal of race as constitutive of not only our most privileged narratives of freedom and progress from the Enlightenment onward, but also of the logics of historicity and representation that underwrite them. More specifically, the subsuming of race within the private domain—which Eng calls “the racialization of intimacy”—organizes and idealizes specific structures of family and kinship that reproduce dynamics of loss, forgetting, visibility, and invisibility that abet these narratives and logics. This critique is so far-reaching because it demonstrates the inadequacy of political solutions such as liberal inclusion within a regime of rights and recognition for gay and lesbian U. S. citizens, multicultural recognition as the panacea for the inequities of transnational adoption, or reparations as the response to Japanese American internment. These solutions built on the traditions of liberal humanism and the politics of recognition extend the disavowal of race, as Eng elegantly demonstrates in his analysis of what he calls “queer liberalism” through a reading of the landmark legal case, Lawrence v. Texas, in the first chapter. Though scholars such as Michael Warner have critiqued the normalization of queer politics, Eng shows how the rush to rights and legal recognition on the part of gay and lesbian subjects relies on the denial of racial difference and the disarticulation of race from sexuality—indeed, from any intersectional analysis whatsoever. Eng critiques the mechanism of analogy that would link Lawrence v. Texas to Loving v. Virginia (one often claimed by commentators) in the name of freedom and progress, for this analogy relies on forgetting the fact that the plaintiffs were a mixed-race couple and that the police were responding not to a complaint about “consensual sodomy” but about a “weapons disturbance”—specifically the identification of a black man with a gun. Eng writes: “It is this enduring and unresolved history of whiteness, private property, and black racial trespass that Jerng, “Eng’s The Feeling of Kinship” 191 provides the material and ideological background through which the queer liberalism of Lawrence emerges” (35–36). Allowing us to see race beyond these blinders provides a powerful critique for resisting the work of analogy that would posit connections between the struggles for queer progress and racial progress only by erasing the material inequalities. This critique stages a different framework from which to analyze the constitutive linkages among intimacy and race that Eng unpacks and constructs in the rest of the chapters. It is worth noting here that, as Eng explains in the introduction, the project of The Feeling of Kinship begins with his experience of having increasing numbers of students come out to him in his Asian American literature and culture classes “not as gay or lesbian but as transnational adoptees” (1). The convergence of the language of the closet and the particular experiences of transnational adoption lead to a set of generative discussions around the status of the transnational adoptee: “Is the transnational adoptee an immigrant? Is she Asian American? In turn, are her white adoptive parents Asian American?” (2). These questions animate the rest of the book because they mark the limits of describing the subjects of transnational adoption within received identity categories. The experiences and narratives of transnational adoptees exceed not only these categories of legal and social status, but also the structures of kinship and modes of historicity that act in the service of a modern historical consciousness of freedom that relies on the refusal to see racial difference. In this sense, Eng’s two chapters on transnational adoption (one of which is a version of his seminal essay, “Transnational Adoption and Queer Diasporas” [2003] that, to a large extent, launched literary analyses of transnational adoption) provide a powerful starting point for thinking about these new relationships among affect, history...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2574-2523
Print ISSN
1944-4990
Pages
pp. 190-194
Launched on MUSE
2021-02-07
Open Access
No
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