Sunday, September 24, 2006

The First Contact Zone: Space and Time

Over in the Queers and Theory class we are wrapping up our first "contact zone" this week with the final discussion of these three books: Gender in Real Time: Power and Transience in a Visual Age by Kath Weston, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives by Judith Halberstam, and Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Mae Henderson.

My first inclination in approaching these books is to find the unifying them that holds them together. The magic key, if you will, that tells me the "answers" for what I need to know theoretically about space and time with regard to queers. I realize that is not the way that I should approach things; I realize that such a construct is antithetical to women's studies. In fact, I would reject such a construct if it were presented to me by others, but I realize it is still the basis of my desires in sitting down to read and understand this material. I want to know how it holds together; I want to learn the answers. I want to understand them and write about them in a way to synthesize them on this blog and therefore in my mind as though by doing that I will have that knowledge for my own.

Sigh. I don't know how these three books work together in a singular form. I imagine, of course, that they don't (because the alternative, that they do, but I have been unable to discern it gives me the shivers); rather I suspect that these three books are designed to open up the conversation and thinking about the space/time contact zone. Toward that end, I have the following reflections on each of the three books and their connections to one another.
Weston's project is to explore the moment in which gender becomes undone or is "zeroed." Weston reviews the history of zero and the theoretical underpinnings behind it. Interestingly, she finds the zero moment in a variety of situations that relate to globalization.

While Weston is seeking to identify the gender zero moment as a construct that addresses the gender situation in the contemporary world, Halberstam places the transgender body as the icon that unhinges gender. Halberstam covers the waterfront on the transgender body from representations of transgender people in films (including the interesting movie, By Hook or By Crook, which I haven't seen but now very much want to), in contemporary art, and in contemporary music. There are elements of Halberstam's reading of transgender people in contemporary society that I find very compelling, but I had the persistent feeling that she wasn't addressing the lived experience of transgender people. She pulls her sources from contemporary performative texts, but there is a disjuncture between these performative texts and the lives of transgender people. One of the things that I am consistently interested in are the interconnections between texts and people's lives.

As I said in class, the Weston and Halberstam books in my mind fit together as two parts of a whole--even though there are areas where the two diverge in their thinking. Both have their eye on the project of eludicating queer identity and theorizing the queer body in a contemporary context that is aware of and situated in relationship to time and space.

As an aside, these questions are quite compelling to me as a poet as well. The notion of time is central to any poem - how is time handled within the poem? Does the way that time is handled work in the poem? I always combine this with readings of place, too. What is the particular political moment in which the poem is written? How do space and time come together within a poem? These questions are particularly compelling to me as a narrative poet. (Narrative poetry is often distinguished these days from lyric poetry and language poetry--although like any good poet - or feminist - while I like knowing the nomenclature, I would insist that my work straddles all three areas and defies classification, but if pressed, I'll identify as a narrative poet.) In narrative poetry, getting at the issues of time and space within the poem is essential. The analysis that Weston and Halberstam do to performative texts is fascinating not only from the perspective of how critical work is done in the academy (something that I am interested in doing) but also from the perspective of how texts are generated and how artists generate meaning within their text.

This brings me to Black Queer Studies. These is a text that comes from a conference in 2000, Black Queer Studies At the Millennium. The overarching project of this book is to engage and theorize inclusion of black queers into queer studies. Individually, these essays are incredibly stimulating; I loved reading Jewelle Gomez on the absence of black lesbian fiction. Marlon Ross on the closet fascinated me in light of my recent article about the closet and the feedback that it has inspired. Where I struggled with this book is in caring about the project of institutionalization of queer studies and black queer studies. It is not that I don't care about these two areas for scholarly discourse. I do. Passionately. Investing in the academic dialogues, however, and watching them play out around identity politics is discouraging to me. My primary orientation is always to liberation. How do we expand the space in this time that queer people live? How do we expand queer people's rights? How do we stimulate equality for women and for queers? How do we include an analysis that is anti-racist in the work? How do we center the experiences of queers of color? How does this work, this scholarly work, impact the daily lives of people? Those are the questions for which I want to reserve my passion. Black Queer Studies is an important text for the work it does to answer these questions - particularly to center black queers in the academy. It engages the questions of space and time through individual essays, but as a whole it's engagement of these issues is in regard to the creation of a discipline, queer studies, and the inclusion of black queers. I remain hopeful that the next disciplinary emergence is one that is rooted in a new and liberatory milieu.

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