Wednesday, March 21, 2012

the evasion, the embrace, the ambivalence

i was recently lucky to see my friend and ex-roommate ariel goldberg read, at the berkeley art museum, excerpts from a long-form essay they wrote titled 'the estrangement principle.' the reading was exciting for a few reasons: one, it was incredibly engaging, which readings often are not. two, the subject of the essay- very simplified, queer identity politics, outness in the literary world, and an ambivalence about the sectioning off of othered artists- was one which i haven't heard broached in the quite the way ariel has done it. ariel gave us handouts with a few paragraphs pulled from the text, which i'll share with you below:

"what happens when wall texts, press releases, and artist statements are littered with the word queer is i start to grow suspicious of what the word is trying to say, as if temporarily i was fooled into it actually being a measuring tool. the balance feels tipped in one extreme direction or the other. the reality of queerness, in a life, i find difficult to track or represent. just as the irreducibility of lived experience plagues any artist...

we are arriving at a time, in the united states, perhaps in the big cities, when it is not possible to decide not to address publicly your identity- if in fact your identity is partially tied up in making people less invisible. i am hopeful the fear outness will overtake or discredit your work is subsiding...

of course out lives are mundane in their living so how can we know what mythologies will be? of course out lives are completely urgent and bewildering so how can we know what the mythologies will be? what is crucial is the evasion, the embrace, the ambivalence, and whatever shakes out inbetween." (emphasis mine)

the essay brings up so many questions that are important to me, particularly in running a DIY press that identifies itself as feminist and, i hope, is also explicitly queer. to call for work produced by women and queers. to be explicit, in one's bio, about your identity, whether it's your sexuality or class or race. what do these actions mean, how do they encourage or discourage. to label/out oneself, if you have the option to even choose it, because some don't. levels of in/visibility.

what i especially love about ariel's essay is its determination to ask questions and provoke thought. the way ariel works through these questions, with examples and quotes from many different queer artists with varying levels of funding/recognition, is exciting and new. it addresses the issue of identity politics in this country right now, where there is so much false visibility. hearing ariel read from it, i felt i was sitting at the beginning of a new discourse. i hope i'm right.


  1. What do you think of the notion of "queering" heterosexuality? I find it frustrating, personally; my vote is for documenting just how insanely normative heterosexuality is, how crazily hegemonic it is, how freakishly legible it is. For me, to "queer" this normativity feels like a denial of culpability. And some of me thinks eek to my thoughts: I am ultimately not always against appropriation! And I certainly don't think queers have the inherent power to address queerness with maximal verve. And if strayts want to wrtite themselves into Queer-land--not hetrosexualize it, but write themselves as it, go deliciously "drag," well I say hurray! I'd love to read a strayt dude write a work in which a figure longs to kiss another male! Or hetero gal kiss--or long to kiss--another gal and it's not one of those moments which is buzzed and to be forgotten the next morning. Ugh, I feel like hugs and kisses and hand-holding are so not exhausted as a subject for Queers.

  2. good question adam. i'm certainly not against people who identify as straight queering their the same time it's a thin line between that and co-opting. ariel had some really interesting points on this in their work and i wish i had it all in front of me so i could quote. i know some really queer straight folks and some really queer straight's all really fuzzy right now, to me, what with so many markers of queer-ness being adapted into american culture in really weird/silencing kind of ways. it is a strange time for sexuality in general. i agree w/you about the denial of culpability, which is rampant. this subject should be a panel somewhere, or an entire conference, if it's not already- so many histories/ideas to sort through!

  3. Sort of unrelated, sort of not: I'm fascinated by the notion of gay rural culture, or queer smalltown culture, and feel like the country is ten years away from actually having these cultures be legible; tho of course by then rural culture will be gone anways! For me, queering the "heartland," the Americana, is essential: how deliciously threatening! Queers with mason jars full of whisky and Carhart on their backs seems to me to possibly F-with/disrupt/resignify mainstream culture in a way that skinny pants and a studded silver belt and Converses just may not be able to. I guess I like the idea of the circumference being the center, and this could be odious centrism on my behalf but I'd like to imagine that what I'm talking about wld mutate the center in lovely ways.