Sunday, February 22, 2009

8. "Queer Theory and Social Change" by Max H. Kirsch

Kirsch, Max H. Queer Theory and Social Change. London: Routledge, 2000.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Queer Theory and Social Change was one of those life-changing books for me. I tend to be a pragmatic and practical person. I get more satisfaction from actively doing things and I enjoy being productive. This book gave me a new outlet for my work—a way to both think and do.

Kirsch is highly critical of queer theory but makes a clear distinction between queer theory and queer politics. He defines queer politics as a positive social movement. Queer politics allows for recognition of queer identity and the use of queer as a sort of umbrella under which LGBTI individuals can unite and form solidarity. Queer politics are active and productive. Kirsch defines queer theory as a theory of non-identity. He makes a parallel between queer theory and capitalism because of queer theory’s individualistic and apathetic nature. He claims that queer theory only reaffirms capitalist goals rather than dismantling capitalism like it claims to. Capitalism is reaffirmed because of the way queer theory doesn’t allow for community.

Kirsch is highly critical of Judith Butler and I must say he makes a few excellent points. He breaks down her work even to the particulars of her writing style. He argues that queer theory, Butler’s work in particular, needs to find a way to reconcile the individual vs. the community otherwise it is doing more damage to the queer movement than good. He writes about queer theory being the new “novelty” in academia when really, capitalism has already told the same stories.

This book is written in an easy-to-read prose. He uses solid evidence and whenever he presents a dense quote, he unpacks it so that readers are sure to understand. This is part of why I love this book. Hopefully, when I further my career in academia and am writing about densely theoretical work, I can do as a good a job as Kirsch does in making my work clear and easily understood. His logic is sound and he not only picks apart some of the problems of queer theory but offers some solutions as well. This book is certainly worth the read for anyone frustrated with queer theory but still wishing to embrace queer politics.

5 darts out of 5

Sunday, February 15, 2009

7. "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name" by Audre Lorde

Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Freedom: The Crossing Press, 1982.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is described as a “biomythography.” It traces the pain and also the joy that Audre Lorde experienced growing up in New York, working in Connecticut and studying in Mexico. It also traces the joys and sorrows accompanied with coming out and living as an “out” lesbian in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. This book closely resembles work of other queer writers such as Leslie Feinberg. The struggles the women went through are similar and are documented in a similar way. Lorde is an advocate for community building, especially building communities of lesbians and other identified queer women. By structuring her book in the way she has, Lorde has joined the current community of queer literature and writers meeting her goal of community building in a very tangible way. In the course of the novel as well, she pays tribute to the many and varied women who have shaped her life.

“Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay-girls together was not enough. We were different. Being Black together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dykes together was not enough. We were different” (Lorde 226). Here Lorde ruminates on the different oppressions she, as a Black lesbian was faced with throughout her life. The book clearly and elegantly articulates the intricacies of this particular kind of oppression during the time of her youth.

Zami is a must for anyone interested in queer or multicultural literature. Lorde mixes her prose with her poetry and even uses meta-commentary at times. She takes a few lines to write about one character’s reaction when they learn that Audre is writing Zami. This creates a profound sense of awareness. Readers understand that Audre Lorde doesn’t mince words; each has its place just as, “The important message seemed to be that you had to have a place. Whether or not it did justice to whatever you felt you were about, there had to be some place to refuel and check your flaps” (Lorde 225). For Lorde, the place to refuel was found in the love she shared with the women in her life.

4.5 darts out of 5

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

6. "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

Pausch, Randy and Jeffrey Zaslow. The last Lecture. New York: Hyperion, 2008.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

This is a quick little book with pragmatic advice. Written by the late Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture reads fast but is, and I hate to say this, unoriginal. This book was written because the author, Randy Pausch was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to document his life for his children. He tells stories of how he met his wife, what his childhood was like, and how he was so successful at work. He offers advice but never gets too deep. It feels insensitive of me to say that I didn’t like this book but it honestly didn’t impress me. The story is written in boring prose and the advice isn’t anything I haven’t heard before.

This is a great thing for Pausch to pass on to his children, but not worth marketing to a larger audience. To me, it seemed like a way to make a lot of money fast. Now don’t get me wrong, Pausch seems like a decent fella and I’m sorry he had to suffer through cancer but, in the realm of literature, this book is a flop.

1.5 darts out of 5

Monday, February 2, 2009

5. "Epistemology of the Closet" by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. 1990. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is one of the most notable writers in her field. In my first try at reviewing a piece of literary criticism I’ve found myself staring at a blank computer screen for a long while now. Sedgwick’s writing is a dizzying maze of nominalizations. It took me several tries to unpack this sentence: “Instead, I am trying to make the strongest possible introductory case for a hypothesis about the centrality of this nominally marginal, conceptually intractable set of definitional issues to the important knowledges and understandings of twentieth-century Western culture as a whole” (Sedgwick 2). Eventually, I became accustomed to her prose and, with a decently thick dictionary by my side, I was able to enter Epistemology of the Closet and come out alive.

Sedgwick focuses on the idea of the “closet” and the function that the “closet” performs in literature. The “closet,” if I have translated Sedgwick’s work accurately, is a sort of axis of power in homosexual identification and rhetoric. You can be “in the closet;” what Sedgwick describes as “the viewpoint of the closet,” or you can be aware of someone who is “closeted;” the “spectacle of the closet”. The “closet” functions as an open-secret of sorts.

The primary texts that Sedgwick works to explicate are themselves, dense and theory-heavy. She covers writers such as Oscar Wilde, Proust, Nietzsche and Melville. Her analysis of each text is interesting and thought-provoking, although, at points, overwhelming. This work would be much better appreciated if one has already read work by Wilde, Proust, Nietzsche and Melville. I’ve got three of the four writers under my belt and found that fourth section more challenging than the rest simply due to my own lack of knowledge of that specific writer. Sedgwick has assumed that her audience is already familiar with these writers so if you plan on digging into this text, come to the table prepared.

Epistemology of the Closet is a very challenging read and it is one of those texts that, no matter how many times one reads it, one can pull out something new from it or understand a part more clearly. That is part of the beauty of this book. It gets better each time you read it. (Trust me, I’ve had to read it on more than one occasion). Her work, I must admit, is daunting and not exactly the most accessible piece of writing I’ve come across. She writes in an obviously academic style which isn’t inherently a bad thing but could certainly be discouraging (and annoying) for those looking for a quick read.

3 darts out of 5.