Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Queer: A Graphic History": a philosophy text presented as a graphic novel



Authors: Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele

Title: “Queer: A Graphic History

Publication: 2016: Icon Books, London, ISBN 978-178578-071-4, 176 pages, paper. 
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I saw this book in the campus bookstore at Drexel in Philadelphia, run by Barnes and Noble, and picked it up on impulse.

It’s rather interesting to format a book that amounts to a historical encyclopedia on political and philosophical terms related to gay rights presented as a “graphic novel” with illustrations in black and white  The pictures take about 70% of the space in the book, whereas the rest is rather straightforward Wiki-like text. Then the authors pose characters who talk more about the concepts, as if in an animated documentary film.

The central question is, what is “queer”, which has become a fashionable term today, a reversal of a half-century ago when it was like the F and N words.


But the authors soon get into a presentation of “essentialism” v. “existentialism” (Sartre).  They see essentialism as a roadblock to gay acceptance.  Essentialism is connected to assimilation, which wa the earlier model of gay rights, starting with Mattachine and Frank Kameny back in the 1950s.  The authors continually point out moral ironies.  “The ‘it’s not our fault’ idea easily slips into portraying homosexuality as inferior” and “By focusing on the acceptable face of white, middle-class educated gay and lesbian people, they often maintain the oppression of those do not fit that (the queerer umbrella).” (p. 26).  Soon the authors visit “intersectionality”, which they attribute to Kimberle Crenshaw.

Later they explore “heterosexism” and associated privilege, which can work against you. Then on p, 134, they return to “Strategic essentialism” where an avatar says “Strategic essentialism might involve, for example, remaining quiet about the differences between individuals within the group as they fight for a common goal, despite engaging in those debates privately.” (p. 134).  Then, “a place for identity politics after all?”


  
There is also the point that transgender transitions may be viewed as a way of giving in to conventional gender expectations. There is a reference to Lee Edelman’s book “No Future” (2004) and its tying reproduction to “cruel optimism” (p. 160). There was no reference to Paul Rosenfels's polarity theory, which I would have expected to find. 


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