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About this book

This essential introductory guide explores and aggressively expands the provocative new field of sexual identity studies. It explains the history of sexual identity categories, such as 'gay' and 'lesbian', covers the reclamation of 'queer' as a term of radical self-identification, and details recent challenges to sexual identity studies posed by transgender and bisexual theories. Donald E. Hall offers concrete applications of the abstract theories he explores, with imaginative new readings of such works as 'The Yellow Wallpaper', Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Orlando and The Color Purple.

Throughout, Hall urges the reader to grapple with the changing nature of sexual identity in the twenty-first century and asks searching questions about how we might identify ourselves differently given new technologies and new possibilities for sexual experimentation. To students, theorists and activists alike, Queer Theories issues a challenge to continue to disrupt narrow, traditional notions of sexual 'normality' and to resist setting up new and confining categories of 'true' sexual identity.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What “Queer Theories” Can do for You

Introduction: What “Queer Theories” Can do for You

Abstract
The body of abstract theory and applied readings that came to be known as “queer theory” during the 1990s (and that will be pluralized here — more on that in a moment) is dauntingly complex and diverse. In some ways, the task ahead of us — me as writer attempting to provide a complete overview of the topic, and you as a reader working to acquire comprehensive knowledge — is impossible. Perhaps the best that we can both do is simply to relax and lower our expectations. And, in fact, the theories that we will be discussing here demand a recognition of partiality, of tendentiousness, of epistemological limitations. For readers expecting or insisting upon a guide to mastering “queer theory,” this book will inevitably disappoint. For those who are willing to allow — or perhaps even to embrace — diversity, partiality, and the impossibility of comprehensiveness, this book may provide useful information and even a few pleasures.
Donald E. Hall

The Social Construction of Queer Theories

Frontmatter

1. A Brief, Slanted History of “Homosexual” Activity

Abstract
Is a “queer” history even possible? Without a doubt, queers of various sorts have existed throughout history: individuals who have challenged openly or simply lived abrasively toward notions of the sexual and social norm. And as the coming pages will explore, it is clear that there has always been some form of sexual activity between men and between women, though how that activity manifested itself and the ways in which it was socially castigated or tolerated have varied greatly.
Donald E. Hall

2. Who and What is “Queer”?

Abstract
As I suggested at the beginning of my last chapter, the imposition of a neat “timeline” onto the complexity of lesbian- and gay-relevant “histories” through the millennia and across the globe would be reductive indeed. And as we turn now to the last two decades of the twentieth century, we see an unprecedented jumble of both oppressive and progressive activities across Anglo-American society, and a sometimes muted, sometimes deafening cacophony of voices within the community formed by gays, lesbians, and other sexual nonconformists. To a certain extent, the 1980s provide stunning evidence of the ability of an oppressed and internally divided group to come together to work on certain, discretely defined political agenda items, while the next decade (discussed here and in Chapter 3) shows just how difficult — really, impossible — it is to sustain political cohesion when a moment of piqued crisis settles into longterm worry and when short-term, clear-cut goals give way to far differing visions of a less oppressive future or alternative system of sociosexual valuation. In this chapter and the next, I will explore those sometimes smoothed-over fissures and enduring fractures, before moving on to our literary textual applications of “queer theories” in Chapters 4–6.
Donald E. Hall

3. Queering Class, Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

Abstract
What is a body of theory’s responsibility to itself? By this, I mean, when theory theorizes about something, to what extent must it/should it clearly abide by or incorporate its own skepticism and interrogations? I believe that this self-reflexive move — in which theory (and theoreticians) reflect upon and actively work to remake itself (their selves) to embrace, represent, and live out its (their) own rules and critiques — is something that we in Anglo-American cultural and literary theory have yet to grapple with fully. Too often critics still assume a masterful/objective “outside” position vis-à-vis their subject matter, even when one of their most powerful theoretical points is that such a position is impossible or highly suspicious. Indeed, as I suggested in my introduction, any form of queer theory that is definitively presented, and in thoroughly normal/unqueer fashion, seems hypocritical at best. This chapter will work to grapple with some of the internal problems with and potentials inherent in queer theorization to date. It will work to keep “queer” queer.
Donald E. Hall

Queer Readings

Frontmatter

4. The Queerness of “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

Abstract
As we move into this section of brief, provocative applications of the theories discussed in earlier chapters, the first issue that we confront is the fundamental question of what texts or sorts of texts lend themselves to queer analysis. Are some poems, short stories, novels, etc. appropriate and others inappropriate for this particular avenue of interpretation and theoretical investigation? As with many of the questions that queer theories generate, there is no simple answer to that query. Of course, texts often lend themselves in rather obvious ways to certain methodologies. For instance, a novel such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which concerns the plight of a woman struggling to find satisfying employment and companionship in a patriarchal society, seems tailor-made for feminist analysis. But for the student interested in writing about such a text, the fact that many previous critics have already written about the novel from such a standpoint certainly makes the process of finding one’s own perspective and adding uniquely to the conversation about the novel a particularly daunting task. And beyond considering that practical aspect of reviewing and adding to previous scholarship, it is vital to see that other concerns and relationships in the novel, embedded in and adjacent to gender relationships, can be just as important to consider in understanding the text and its context. A skillful and imaginative critic can generate a detailed exploration of the class, colonial, and/or sexual ideologies that exist at or just below the surface of the narrative. A thematically rich and complex text such as Jane Eyre can support many different avenues of inquiry and interpretation well beyond the one that is most obvious.
Donald E. Hall

5. Queering the Self: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Abstract
I concluded my last chapter with the statement that “a Barthean acknowledgement of the ‘multidimensionality’ of the text could be considered the sine qua non of queer analysis.” That is true is several ways. Certainly the multidimensionality of the text as it appears on the page (in the case of a literary text) would involve its relationship to both a social context and one of previous literary and nonliterary articulations. That multidimensionality would also include its complicated usage by readers, who may use it as a basis of identification, reaction, or some other response that becomes “textual” in and of itself. Indeed, by opening up dramatically what we mean by “text” the queer insistence on “multidimensionality” takes us immediately to the multifaceted, textually complicated, and contextually involved nature of “selfhood” itself. And that is the textual terrain that the present chapter will examine: how “queer” notions of selfhood might elude definitive representation and yet proliferate nevertheless, and how the tenuous, easily attenuated self is always contextually engaged and yet also possibly resistant.
Donald E. Hall

6. Reading for Excess: The Queer Texts of Orlando, Giovanni’s Room, and The Color Purple

Abstract
In this last chapter of readings, I want to suggest an analytical category that may be of use to students interested in deploying the “queer theories” discussed earlier. In raising the possibility of the rubric of the “queer text” I want to remind (and, of course, remember) that it is just as vital to discuss always the limitations of such a rubric (and, indeed, the project of rubric-building), as it is to discuss its parameters and utilities. Even so, delimitations, thoughtfully explored and (self-)critically assumed allow for discrete interventions and powerful, because carefully circumscribed, arguments and interpretations. As I have suggested throughout this book, “queer” is not chaos; it is always implicated within and impacted by surrounding definitions, norms, and rules of engagement. Yet it — we — can certainly question and abrade those definitions, norms, and rules forthrightly and with overt (and covert) political intent.
Donald E. Hall

Post Queer?

Frontmatter

Afterword: W(h)ither Identity?

Abstract
The theories and readings that have been covered in the preceding pages raise numerous questions and certainly provide few simple or comforting answers. And perhaps the most intriguing question of them all is the one that is clearly most unanswerable: “What does the future hold?” It is a question that will be answered, of course, in ways that some of us will witness firsthand (in the short run, at least) but that will obviously elude all of this book’s readers as years give way to decades and centuries. After all, no one in the Renaissance could have predicted cyber-sex; who knows what new technologies and social possibilities will arise? Yet clearly, one way to motivate ourselves to continue working for change is to imagine an ideal moment or utopian state that we hope to achieve and to which our efforts contribute importantly. Indeed, this delimitation of a clear and powerful telos has helped propel the work of many social progressives and radicals — lesbigay, Marxist, feminist, etc. — as vigorously as it has that of social conservatives and reactionaries — fundamentalists, fascists, white supremacists, etc. The parameters of a group’s utopian state will be far different depending upon its politics, of course, but the methods and motivational tactics used to work toward that state are often remarkably similar.
Donald E. Hall
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