In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

145 4. QUEER THEORY IS BURNING Sexual Revolution and Traumatic Unremembering Trauma/Theory The history of AIDS in the United States and the history of queer theory in the academy overlap almost exactly. Beginning with the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men in 1985, the academic purchase of queer theory grew in tandem with the mounting horror caused by the spread of AIDS. Most important for our purposes here, the advent of AIDS and the first wave of queer theory (spanning roughly the decade between 1985 and 1995) both seemed to mark a clear division between the past and its own present.1 Just as gay life after AIDS became sharply severed from life before the epidemic, queer theory came to seem conceptually discontinuous with critical work inspired by the gay liberation movement (it is difficult to imagine, for example, a seminar in queer theory that prioritized the work of members of the pioneering Gay Academic Union, such as Karla Jay, Jonathan Ned Katz, and Barbara Gittings). The first wave of queer theory, of course, included sophisticated AIDS activists who never forgot the cultures AIDS eclipsed, Douglas Crimp, Cindy Patton, Simon Watney, and Paula Treichler among them.2 For the most part, however, early queer theorists took little account of AIDS or of 146 Queer Theory Is Burning previous generations of critics. Accusing those who kept company with the past of naïve essentialism, queer theorists turned a blind eye to the historical conditions of queer theory’s own meteoric rise within the academy and the trauma that the unremembering necessary to that rise produced as queer critical methodology. One might speculate that the habits of unremembering that proliferated in the first decade of the epidemic played a role in queer theory’s rapid growth within the academy. Just as newly “respectable” gays and lesbians who repudiated the immature self-indulgences of the past became more acceptable within mainstream politics, so the first generation of queer theorists, translating the exuberant challenges to institutions (including universities) put forward by activist groups like the Gay Academic Union (GAU) into abstract forces of subversion (melancholy, selfshattering jouissance, the death drive), found themselves enthusiastically welcomed at the curricular table of prestigious universities. As we have suggested, however, the apparent break with the past invoked in calls for unremembering in this era was illusory: not a clean break but an anxious self-policing of (the desire for) memory, making unremembering into a traumatic discipline. Although the first wave of queer theory, we argue in what follows, only seemed to sever its ties with the past, its propensity for unremembering provoked the critical preoccupations of the second generation . Much second-wave queer theory is preoccupied by what Michael Snediker, as quoted in our Introduction, calls the “tropaic gravitation toward negative affect” (Queer Optimism, 4), such as rage, shame, and loss; by temporal disorientation and “queer time”; and by the present melancholy that also becomes queerness’s disruptive future. These, we argue, are signs of a post-traumatic response to the first wave’s own traumatized forgetting not only of AIDS but of the critical work of gays and lesbians living before AIDS. In what follows, our interest lies primarily with those second-wave queer theorists whose first significant work in that field was published after 1995 and who have the most to gain from engaging and reversing their predecessors’ unremembering. To assign post-traumatic symptoms to a critical movement might seem far-fetched, but striking points of comparison link the symptoms of post-traumatic disorder and recent trends in queer theory. Unremembering is typically cited as an effect of trauma for survivors, but forgetting might just as plausibly cause, as well as result from, trauma. In this Queer Theory Is Burning 147 logic, unremembering produces a post-traumatic disorder readable both through the occlusion of the past (the forgetting of prior acts of traumatic unremembering) and through four secondary symptoms frequently seen in those suffering post-traumatically. First, a history of abuse that is unremembered (here the forgotten unremembering) becomes ritual selfabuse , often manifest in feelings of inner absence or lack. This translation of historically specific abuse into internalized lack requires a high degree of abstraction (in that “lack” requires neither specific causes nor effects). Second, the positive aspects of a traumatized past (what can be half-remembered around the edges of lack) are recast as futural aspirations (what one wants when one “works through” trauma). This might lead to either a romanticizing of...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.