Weekly Response: Halberstam and Sedgwick

Summary:

In “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies” Judith Halberstam argues that the representation of nontraditional lifestyles in prescribed understandings of time and space are conspicuously absent. Halberstam evaluates the already gendered and hetero-normalized notions of time and space. She cites many theorists of postmodernism and queer studies in their attempts to relate nontraditional lifestyles to spatiotemporal normalization while drawing an analogous correlation between the belief in this hetero-normative space/time and the belief in a capitalist system existing between the world and an absolute downfall. In other words, time as it relates to marriage, reproduction, and so-called traditional values is a construct, one with underlying power structures that require attention in the Foucaldian sense.

 

Key Terms:

-normalization

-universalism

-global/local

-temporality

-asymmetrical

 

Asymmetric is a simple term that holds a great deal of importance here. Halberstam writes of the sense of asymmetrical lives led by the LGBT community in the eyes of those who perceive alternative non-heteronormative lifestyles to be a challenge or a threat to traditional heterosexual domesticity. Also, the belief in symmetry of any sort, in any community, is a construct. This sameness needs an Other to measure itself against. The idea of a straight majority and a queer minority harkens back to the signified/signifier basis of post-structuralist theory.

 

Normalization works in much the same manner. Halberstam employs the normalizing process or effect in her argument to posit another construct of society. This one being the movement toward or away from a center normalcy. In her argument, she refutes the categorization of heterosexual families being the norm and other lifestyles that do not fit into these spaces as non-normative.

 

Temporality is used here to categorize time being marked by phenomena such as marriage, the birth of children, and basic accomplishments that equal a normal existence by an arbitrary standard. This is the heterosexual world’s measurement that has no equal in, but not limited to, the LGBT community. The building of these spaces and times by these communities, and the world of arbitrary traditional value’s attempt to stop those intent on building spaces of their own, is Halberstam’s message. Also, she directs the reader’s attention toward the power structures that accompany heteronormative ideas of time and space.

 

Passage:

“Harvey asserts that because we experience time as some form of natural progression, we fail to realize its construction…..Time, Harvey explains, is organized according to the logic of capital accumulation, but those who benefit from capitalism in particular experience this logic as inevitable, and they are therefore able to ignore, repress, or erase the demands made on them and others by an unjust system.”

Halberstam relates the family unit and capitalism, the heteronormative life with the drive to accumulate wealth. Anyone facing the expense of child birth or care. This accumulation of capital has a Foucaldian undertone, of the benefitting of some force from what is purported to be the natural order, the natural sexual orientation of the human animal, while all other lifestyles are relegated to obscurity or categorized as unnatural by this capital-based standard.

 

Question 1: Can a queer temporality, along the lines of the heteronormative idea be conceptualized?

Question 2: Is the idea of a homonornative temporality damaging to the individual identity, or the human rights, of those deemed ‘queer’ by Halberstam’s categorization?

 

Eve Sedgwick “The Beats in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic”

 

In “The Beast in the Closet, Eve Sedgwick examines the homosocial behavior represented in certain literary works. Sedgwick places what shew labels “homosexual panic,” the fear of homosocial contact being perceived as or discovered to be homosexual, into the gender inequality issues of Victorian society as it progresses into the early-twentieth century. Sedgwick argues that writers J.M. Barrie and Henry James attempted to express homosexual desire through their male characters in certain novels, but that this homosocial panic caused them to construct desire-less males and consequently damaged heterosexual realationships.

 

Key Terms:

-homosocial

-proscription

-Gothic hero/bachelor hero

-genital sexuality

-compulsory heterosexuality

 

Compulsory heterosexuality is that required by society in eras of repressive sexual normalcy. In times when the measure of a man is his relationship to the opposite sex and his decision and ability to raise a family, compulsory sexuality is part of this façade employed by non-heterosexual men, as in Sedgwick’s chapter, to fit into this arbitrary role.

 

Genital sexuality is Sedgwick’s term used to delineate acted-upon homosexual desire from homosocial relationships, those that in this context may be conflated with sexual desire and have massive societal ramifications.

 

Proscription is used here as the opposing term to prescription. Meaning to ban or bar some form of behavior. Sedgwick here refers to formal laws and the cultural hegemony of Barrie’s and James’ time concerning anything other than heterosexual desire and traditional familial structures.

 

Passage:

“And the newly specifying role, in the years following the Wilde trials, far from retiring or obsolescing these preteritive names, seems instead to have packed them more firmly and distinctively with homosexual meaning.”

The unspoken, the forbidden has its own place in language, and the Unspoken is still a naming of whatever is not being spoken of. Sedgwick, in evaluating this part of British modern history, underscores the arbitrariness of this logic and the denied prevalence of the very behavior the societal power structure is attempting to conceal.

 

Question 1: Is Sedgwick neglecting the power of Victorian, Christian propriety, famous for its work with proper manners and prescribed behavior?

Question 2: Could both Barrie and James be examining through their work a realistic aspect of the desire-less human, not just the hidden homosexuality?

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