Thursday, November 02, 2006

This week in Queers and Theory we are reading Gopinath’s Impossible Desires. The heart of this book is an analysis of the film Fire by Deepa Mehta. (Mehta’s most recent film, Water, also received a highly contested reception in India when it was released.) Rather than directly addresses this material, however, what captivated me for the past two weeks about this book and Mobile Cultures was the construction of public and private.

This interest of mine in reading these two books comes from an unabashed political position in which I think that the past twenty-five years in the United States have been characterized by a lessening of public space available for people living her and an increasing privatization of space, broadly defined. That is, privatization is affecting more and more of our lives in a variety of facets, e.g. health care, retirement funding, education, libraries, parks. The private sector increasingly takes up the work of what was at one time in a recent past the work of the public sector.

This has profound implications for me as a feminist as well because of the dichotomized private/public division overlaid on woman/man. Moreover, this dichotomy has been mapped in interesting ways onto queer people. I rooted around in my very disorganized library for my copy of Jean Bethke Elstain’s Public Man, Private Woman. Elstain’s book, which was relatively new when I read it in 1988, (the first edition was in 1981), has really been an intellectual foundation for right-wing women to think about public and private and create rhetoric and policies that reinforce a gendered reading of those spaces.

So when I read Gopinath’s definition of home as “a vexed location where queer subjects whose very desires and subjectivities are formed by its logic simultaneously labor to transform it” (15), I’m curious about how our sexual desires and subjectivities are located in the home. Why are they not created in public spaces?

I connect this with Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. Are queer identities built not necessary in the home but in the space outside the home? In the space where we can be queer? Where we can see queer bodies and queer acts? Delany explains a public space that is a sexualized space and also a democratized space. He mourns the loss of it through the redevelopment of Times Square. More than that specific space, however, he writes about the overall loss of public space in our lives.

I wonder, however, if what Mobile Cultures is pointing us to is really the contemporary replacement of the space that Delany mourns. Has the internet, the web, and mobile communications strategies replaced the public theatres? And how is public space conceptualized virtually? We are in a virtual “public commons” but we experience in the “privacy” of our own homes.

Then also it feels to me that this debate between public and private, between what is constructed as the world of home and the world of public is critical to queer sexuality. A part of queer liberation strategy has been to move things from the private world into the public world. Though I think inadequate attention is paid to contesting the notion that queer sexuality generates from the private. Delany would argue that public sexuality is an important component of queer sexuality. If we begin at that point, we are not moving something private into the public realm. We are making something public more visible.

It’s these words and concepts that are interesting me now in regard to home. I think that they are also critical to constructions of taboo. If public and private, home and community are reconstructed and queer sexuality is mapped onto them differently, the formation of taboo changes. I wonder if part of the marketing of the film Fire is about the desire to return in the US to a taboo of lesbian sexuality in such a way that it can again be titillating.

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