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Homo on the Range: Mobile and Global Sexualities
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Social Text 20.4 (2002) 65-89

Precisely because culture in our postmodern era of what Frederic Jameson has called "late" capitalism has been especially burdened with managing the contradictions of the nation-state, it is often on the terrain of culture that discrepancies between the individual and the state, politics and economics, and the material and the imaginary are resolved or, alternately, exposed.

—David Eng

Exposing many discrepancies, Deepa Mehta's film Fire provoked conflict in India in 1998 as Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena members not only attacked and closed theaters but also repeatedly condemned and attempted to communalize the film for its "deviancy." These events surrounding the film are part of the postcolonial nation-state's complex histories and power relations. I suggest that Fire illuminates how contemporary postcolonial and transnational cultural discourses articulate racialized, classed, sexualized, religious, and gendered forms of social regulation and normalization. This essay interrogates the various transnational, diasporic, and national discourses surrounding Deepa Mehta's Fire, with specific attention to how normativities and identities are mobilized with the circulation of the film. I begin with its Western reception and trace through the Shiv Sena attacks, Deepa Mehta's defenses, and finally, lesbian and diasporic responses. The conclusion locates Fire within diasporic film production and also addresses how these responses and the distribution of the film raise questions regarding the context and the reception of such "diasporic" films within globalization. Overall, I argue that the resultant discourses of normativity, like the film itself, expose negotiations not only between the subject and the nation-state but also between the politics and economics of globalization and postcoloniality.

In this essay, I use queer theory and analysis to provide a significant understanding of the production, regulation, and normalization of non-Eurocentric sexualities and heteronormativity as well as other social normativities. Elaborating on the scholarship of Michael Warner and David Eng, I employ queer studies not as identical to gay and lesbian studies but as a useful framework and methodology for interrogating the heteronormativity of cultural citizenship in the postcolonial nation-state. Like these scholars, I seek to question and queer-y the ways in which sexual and other normativities operate within contemporary national and transnational cultural terrain. My understanding of sexuality and citizenship is based on the work of queer theorists such as Warner, Eng, Jacqui Alexander, and Lauren Berlant, who ask that we attend to the ways in which sexual deviance and normalization are produced in and articulated through other differences (including race, nation, gender, class, and religion). In particular, the essay attends to the ways in which social normativities are embedded and embodied in citizenship and nationalism, circulated through capitalism, and mobilized in the discourses of postcoloniality. It further probes how a political economy of queerness might take into consideration and attempt to undermine the norms related to issues of the subject and identity, the nation-state and diaspora (citizenship, state policies, deterritorialization, national identities, and so on), globalization (transnational circulation of people, commodities, culture, and the like), and postcolonial modernities.

I focus on how the nation-state constitutes and regulates gendered and sexualized citizens here not through science, family planning, and development discourses (as in Foucauldian understandings of the state's deployment of sexuality as a mode of biopower), but through cultural discourses on national belonging and the institution of the family. Thus, if we are to believe Nancy Cott and Mary E. John that marriage is the central domain of the nation for examining issues of sexuality, race, class, religion, and caste, then Fire is particularly significant because the film is preoccupied with the ways in which the institutions of marriage, family, and heteronormativity, rather than state policies, constitute and impact women's subjectivities at a variety of scales and locations. Within this postcolonial Foucauldian analysis of sexuality, I am concerned with the production, regulation, and mobilization of sexualities (reproductive, heterosexual, homosexual, other, and so on) in communalism and postcolonial nationalisms engendered by the project of modernity and the current moment of globalization.

I briefly want to outline what I mean by reading the context and events of the film. I am combining contemporary critical and cultural studies to explore how distinct...

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