My Queer Theory graduate seminar for Spring 2011

Here’s a description of the graduate seminar that I will teach next term, Spring 2011, in the Department of Art, at the University of Toronto. Based upon a major aspect of my current research, it’s an attempt to create pedagogical conditions in which a performative rather than a representational logic becomes the principle operative for advanced and collaborative thinking and writing, in which “queer theory” is a discursive space existing without overly-defined foundation or horizon. The pretense, is that this stands the chance of functioning as a space of invention, at a time when I have never been less certain of the direction (and sense) of queer theory today. The conceit is to allow this very uncertainty to serve as a (blind) guide.

Queer Sexuality, Visuality, & Theory

Focus: “Scenes of Exposure”

The work of this course is neither a cataloging of various mise en scènes (e.g. the body, identity, shame), nor a questioning of fundamental concepts (e.g. trans-), nor even a critique of internecine discussions and debates (e.g. futurity), but a matter of bringing to the fore—through a certain performative thinking and writing—the fore-scene of language, pleasure, and finite existence.

Performative: including but far from being limited to queer theories of performativity (Butler, Phelan); so also the performative—and hence non-representational—staging of a scene of thought (related yet distinct from what goes by the name of “theory”) that might be queer—and hence non-identitarian.

Praxis: the workless work and inoperativity of aesthetics of finitude without end (non-redemptive); which is to stay that we will not only study but also give ourselves over to a form-of-work that is without guiding principle or theoretical concept, and free of the imperative to pursue a project and produce knowledge (as interpretation), or sensation (as poiesis), or mediation (as technocratic utility).

Technique and Ground: of aesthetics of finitude without end, is one of withdrawal, retreat, loss, vulnerability, and death. Forces of exposure (ontological, existential, but perhaps also epistemological yet perhaps not phenomenological), that open and call to be sustained as the political and ethical space of decision and freedom. This is the potential ground of our co-existence.

So not the archival, historicist, and empirical philosophical question of “what remains” of finitude, but the performative, inassimilable, and unavowable philosophical question of “what is happening” in the shared sense of finitude here, now?* We can advance Nancy’s claim that the time of modernity is followed by the time of things, and say that the time of things has now been eclipsed by the time of scenes.

Five “scenes of exposure”

Primal—drives, fore-pleasure, death, & empty beds (Psycho-corporeal)

Things—sharing, exchange, secret offerings, commodity & fetish (Political Economic)

Ground—cruising, desert, islands, cave, camp, intrusion (Bio-geo-political)

Around—performative, envelope, halo, cave (Architectural)

Emptying—kenosis, loss, withdrawal, erasure, winks & steps (A-Theological)

Authors: Sigmund Freud, Tim Dean, Jean-Luc Nancy, William Haver, Guy Hoquenghem, Samuel Delany, Eve Sedgwick, Lauren Berlant, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Roland Barthes, Jean Genet, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Mario Perniola, and, of course, Aristotle.


* For the original formulation of this methodological distinction, see Foucault, “The History of Sexuality: Interview,” (1977) in which he states: “To put it in a form as naïve as a children’s story, I’d say that for a long time the question of philosophy was: ‘In this world where everything dies, what remains? What are we, we who must die, with respect to what remains? It seems to me that since the nineteenth century, philosophy has moved steadily closer to the question: ‘What is happening now, and what are we, we who are perhaps nothing apart from what is happening now?’…That is why philosophy today is entirely political and entirely historical.”

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