Gender & Women's Studies

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"Queer Theory for Dark Times: Entanglements of the Performative"

Event Type
IPRH and Gender and Women's Studies
Levis Faculty Center, third floor lecture hall (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
Feb 24, 2017   4:00 pm  
Tavia Nyong'o

In the performance video “Quartered,” the artist Geo Wyeth channels a history of sexual and racial violence into “a shard of light” that moves through locations in the contemporary US South. Employing Henri Bergson’s concept of the “cone of memory” to reckon with this transformation of the dead subject of queer black feminist memorializing into a sharp, cutting shard of light, this talk explores how a virtual past continues to inhabit the queer and trans present. Drawing on a family history of complicity with gynecological violence against enslaved black female victims, a history that takes perverse pride in legacies of Southern white patriarchy, Wyeth’s “Quartered” performs race and transgender history through a mode of engagement I will call “angular sociality.” Angular sociality is a way of being in the world that makes space and time for haunting of a virtual past by insisting on the perverse animatedness of the dead. It is not anti-relational but is entangled with the present and the past in ways that defy easy identitarian reconciliation. If fabulation is a process by which new myths are generated through the shock of an encounter with an impersonal force so powerful it seems lifelike, then we witness this trans and black fabulation in Wyeth’s performances of cinematic, televisual, and family-historical myth-making. Alongside scholars like C. Riley Snorton, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, and Keguro Macharia, this talk seeks to contribute towards a genealogy of queer and trans theory in which the scandalous afterlives of slavery is central. In 2017, at a moment where homonationalists left and right are seeking to absorb queerness even more definitively into the ongoing white settler colonial project, in the process abandoning historical and tactical alliances made with feminist struggles for reproductive autonomy and black movements for liberation from state violence, “Quartered” is an especially timely work to consider.

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