I am an art historian and queer theorist, whose interdisciplinary research and writing draws connections between late-twentieth-century and contemporary art and architecture, continental philosophy, and issues of gender and sexuality, bodies and pleasures, pornography and eroticism. As a young scholar in the early-1990s, I contributed to the formation of three newly emerging fields of study: Gay and Lesbian Art History; Visual Culture, and Queer Theory. I was a contributor to the first anthology of essays in gay and lesbian art history (edited by Whitney Davis, 1994). While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, I was Research and Teaching Assistant to my thesis Supervisor W.J.T. Mitchell, who at the time was outlining what were to become some of the founding methods of visual studies. And with my dissertation, Fag-o-sites: geopolitics of queer everyday life (1998), I was one of the first to bring questions of space, geography and architecture to the discourses of queer theory and AIDS.
With my first book, The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago Press, 2003)—the first monograph published in queer art history—I combine a close reading of Maurice Blanchot’s philosophy of the outside, with discussions of contemporary queer art and the anonymity, imperceptibility, itinerancy and illicitness of cruising, in order to articulate an ethics and aesthetics of social-sexual promiscuity.
Based upon my engagement with the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, my second published monograph, The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes (University of Chicago Press, 2014), offers an extended theoretical mediation on the space of separation that is intimately shared and sustained in aesthetic and ethical social relations to everyday places and things. With my current book project, The Outside Not Beyond, I am completing the third in what I conceive as a trilogy on “the intimacy of the outside.” That is, from the outside of attraction that draws one out toward that which lies beyond oneself (Lure), to the space of decision as a socially shared sustaining in the outside that is argued to lie just between us (Decision), to the outside as the instant and point of departure and abandon, not transcendentally “beyond,” but here now, as that which conditions and exceeds the body (Outside). It is argued that this spacing of exteriority is the source and sense of the experience of freedom as always thoroughly corporeal. This current book project is part of a larger research program on “The Risks and Pleasures of Bodily Abandonment and Freedom,” for which I was awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant for 2015-19. This program includes a Research Working Group that I have convened in Toronto, on “Sex, Ethics and Publics.”
In addition to these monographs, I have edited issues of Parallax (on the conceptual theme of “unbecoming”) and Journal of Visual Culture (co-edited with Louis Kaplan, on the work of Jean-Luc Nancy). I have served as the Chair of the Editorial Board of Art Journal, and have most recently contributed essays to edited anthologies such as Porn Archives, edited by Tim Dean (Duke University Press, 2014) and Nancy and the Political, edited by Sanja Dejanovic (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
I am Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, Media Theory, and Culture in the Department of Visual Studies, and Graduate Professor in the Centre for Comparative Literature, at the University of Toronto, where I have taught since 2006. From 2006-2012, I was Director of the undergraduate specialist program in Visual Culture and Communication in the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. I previously taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cornell University, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Texas Tech University. At the latter, I was the recipient of a university-wide Outstanding Faculty Award.
What I’m Working On:
I am currently working on three research projects. One is my third monograph, The Outside Not Beyond. It is a project that seeks to advance an understanding of the ontological exteriority and essential anonymity of social attraction, encounter and departure as the non-securable ground of freedom. It thus critically addresses representations of the stranger, foreigner, and anonymous passerby in politics today. From bodies as ontologically open, to the ethics and politics of an open society, my project is fundamentally interested in the excess of bodies as non-securitized zones of freedom.
My second project is on “The Collective Afterlife of Things” which is also the focus of research as a Faculty Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute in 2015-16. Based upon the conjecture of the “collective afterlife” recently put forth by the philosopher Samuel Scheffler, in which he argues that our ability to lead value-laden lives is more dependent upon our confidence in the long-term survival or afterlife of humanity, than our concern with our own survival of death or that of our friends and loved ones, my project asks: what do things tell us about societies and the social dimension of valuing things as mattering, not only based upon their histories, but upon their futures? In other words, their collective afterlives. Based upon this “futurity thesis” of ethical decision, action and responsibility, my project is further motivated by the following question: in what ways are aesthetic forms and experiences, including art as a thing that matters, both in terms of artistic practice and as artistic object/work/thing dependent upon a shared confidence in the future survival of humanity? I explore these questions, by extending and developing upon work that I have recently published on forms of inoperative aesthetic praxis that consist in collectively partaking in the decision to participate in the withdrawal, retreat, and disappearance of the work of art, including in the work’s material manifestation and configuration of things. Out of this I have developed the notion of the already-unmade, as the deconstruction of Duchamp’s readymade work of art. With this current project, I want to identify and examine a number of artistic, literary, and filmic examples, beyond those that I focused on in my recently published work.
A third project that I am pursuing in collaboration with Kris Cohen (Reed College) is on “Idiorrhythmy and the Small Group Form.” Inspired by Roland Barthes’ late lectures, How to Live Together, and his thoughts on living alone together or idiorrhythmically, this nascent collaboration explores the aesthetics and politics of the small group form. It extends out of Kris’s work on group form in the context of networked life, and my own interests in ethical and aesthetic scenes of togetherness. We hope the collaboration will eventuate, in the near term, in a one or two-day colloquium at Reed College, followed by a co-authored text, and perhaps in the more long-term, a collection of essays by various authors on the topic.