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Queer Literary Criticism

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Elan Pavlinich

on 30 August 2017

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Transcript of Queer Literary Criticism


• Moral Criticism (~360 BC-present)
• Formalism, New Criticism, (1930s-present)
• Psychoanalytic Criticism(1930s-present)
• Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
• Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
• Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
• Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
• New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
• Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
• Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
• Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
Timeline of Literary Criticism
Feminists' challenges to essentialism and the subsequent investigations of the social construction of sex acts and identities inspired Queer Theory.

As gay and lesbian studies focused on categories of
, queer theory considers categories of

A queer reading invites audiences to acknowledge the normative structures upon which texts are predicated, and to recognize that such normativity, like literary and social conventions, are culturally constructed. They are not essential, natural truths.

Gender does not reveal, nor does it conceal, an interior self. Gender is
, in that it constructs the social fiction of a psychological interior. Gender is a corporeal style that bears no relation to essential truths about one’s body; rather, it is grounded in ideology with a history that extends beyond the individual.
Judith Butler
“[Q]ueer identity need not be grounded in any positive truth or stable reality. [Queer] acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. […] It is an identity without an essence. 'Queer,' then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative—a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of her or his sexual practices…”
David Halperin
“Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.”

The History of Sexuality

Volume I:, 43.
Michel Foucault
“Performative Acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”
Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography
, 62.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire
Sedgwick identifies homosocial and homoerotic relationships as existing along a continuum.

In nineteenth century Britain, masculine relationships were triangulated through a woman to assuage fears about homoeroticism.

Later, in
Epistemology of the Closet
, she explains that homosexuality informs most identity politics, because even heterosexual men identify in opposition to, thus in terms of, the gay Other.
Judith Halberstam
“‘[Q]ueer’ refers to nonnormative logics and organizations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity in space and time. “Queer time” is a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance. “Queer space” refers to the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage and it also describes the new understandings of space enabled by the production of queer counterpublics.”
In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives
, 6.
“Queer as a term has thus tried to resist nominalization, functioning more often as an adjective, adverb, even a verb, stressing epistemology rather than ontology. […] Queer theory is therefore intent on exploring the structuration and instantiation of sexuality (and homophobia/antihomophobia) rather than discovering some prior and stable 'self' that will 'explain' sexual activity.”
Glenn Burger
Chaucer’s Queer Nation
, xi.
A queer reading might...
...suss out a deviant sexuality from silences in a text that is situated within the romance genre, like Chaucer’s
Troilus and Criseyde
See Tison Pugh, “Queer Pandarus? Silence and Sexual Ambiguity in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde,”Philological Quarterly 80 (2001): 17-35.
A queer reading might...
...explicate connections in
Romeo and Juliet
sexual desire,
"open Rs,"
and the grave
as signifiers of sodomy.
See Jonathan Goldberg, “
Romeo and Juliet
’s Open Rs,” 218-235.
A queer reading might...
...tease out homoeroticism that destabilizes homosocial bonds in
Beowulf, Arthurian Legend, Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes
"Well I left home just a week before
And I'd never ever kissed a woman before
But Lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said dear boy I'm gonna make you a man.
Well I'm not the world's most masculine man
But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola."
How does the text compose (hetero)normativity?
How is (hetero)normativity undermined?
Brizee, Allen, and J. Case Tompkins, Purdue OWL, “Literary Theory and Schools of
Criticism,” last modified May 14, 2012, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/01/.
Burger, Glenn. Chaucer’s Queer Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003),
Burne-Jones, Edward. “The Briar Wood,” 1870.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and
Feminist Theory,” Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. Sue
Ellen Case (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality – Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley
(New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 43.
Goldberg, Jonathan. “Romeo and Juliet’s Open Rs,” Queering the Renaissance (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1993), 218-235.
Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New
York: New York University Press, 2005), 6.
Halperin, David. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995), 62.
Kinks, The. “Lola,” Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. 1970.
Pugh, Tison. “Queer Pandarus? Silence and Sexual Ambiguity in Chaucer’s Troilus and
Criseyde,”Philological Quarterly 80 (2001): 17-35, Accessed October 14, 2014.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
--, Epistemology of the Closet (Oakland: University of California Press, 2008).
Waters, John. Female Trouble, 1974.

Queer ≠ Gay

Don’t queer something just to queer it.
Like any theory, queer theory too easily becomes the focus of literary criticism, in place of the literary text.
Elan Justice Pavlinich,

Purdue OWL, "Literary Criticism,"
Step 1
Read a text.
Does the text complicate or invite further consideration of identity categories?

Step 2
Identify the normative structure whence queerness emerges.

Step 3
So what? Address what this rupture in the text means:
within the story world, or diegesis
within the culture in which the text was written
within the culture in which the text was read
How to conduct a queer hermeneutic:
Perform a queer hermeneutic on this excerpt from "Lola" by The Kinks:
Full transcript