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More Paranoid Repairs

In a way that speaks to Georgina Born’s assertion that an “analytics of mediation…encompasses and addresses conceptually the kinds of difference and antagonism that routinely inform musical experience” (Born 2010: 88), J.Jack Halberstam working directly within the queer feminist archive, articulates a nuanced politics of negativity and radical passivity through a particularly queer feminist and dyke-political temporality (Halberstam 1998, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011). Halberstam’s queer feminist re-working of the ‘archive’ is one in which, “the archive is not simply a repository; it is also a theory of cultural relevance, a construction of collective memory, and a complex record of queer activity” (Halberstam 2005: 169-70). Halberstam’s dyke-political archival intervention is articulated as a, “snarling rejection of the tradition” of the archive produced through the “powerful negativity of punk politics” (Halberstam 2008: 152). This is an (anti-)archive that not only insists upon “rage, rudeness, anger, spite, impatience, intensity, mania, sincerity, earnestness, over-investment, incivility, brutal honesty” as valid and important forms of knowing, but simultaneously utilises these political affects as a means of survival and collective repair in sites of the historical erasure of lesbian musical sub-cultures (Halberstam 2008: 152).  These political affects, as Halberstam writes “are the bleak and angry territories of the anti-social turn; these are the jagged zones within which not only self-shattering (the opposite of narcissism in a way) but other-shattering occurs” (Halberstam 2008: 147). This ‘self-other-shattering’ occurs in the queer feminist dyke-political archive, for example, through alternative forms of performative and historical enquiry, such as the queered temporalities that emerge through Elizabeth Freeman’s process of temporal drag (Freeman 2000, 2010, 2011). Freeman’s concept of temporal drag, as one that builds upon Butler’s gender performativity as everyday drag but combined with an historical and temporal theatricality, is one that emphasises the affective relations between past and present, between generations, through a politics of negative affect addressed, lovingly, towards the ‘failures’ of history. Such a stance is inspired in particular by queer theory’s critique of the normal invested in the productivity of failure as a modality of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial queer struggle. Failure becomes, paradoxically, productive through a negative refusal of legibility, as an art of unbecoming – specifically as a narrative without progress (Halberstam 2011; Grant 2011; Cvetkovich 2012).

Anne Cvetkovich’s  uncanonical “archive of feelings” is a decidedly queer feminist archive in which “an exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions…are encoded not only in the content of the texts themselves but in the practices that surround their production and reception” (Cvetkovich 2003: 7). This archive of feelings, of rage, rudeness and refusal acknowledges that ‘feeling is political’ and that such politicised affects more often than not elude documentation in any traditional sense (Cvetkovich 2003: 9). Because of the ephemerality of both the affective knowledges and the cultures in which these knowledges circulate, Cvetkovich maintains that a more radical notion of the archive is necessary, exactly as an archive that can account for how it feels to be marginalised, negated and erased as well as how it feels to love and be loved. These affects of everyday sexualised/racialised traumas, recognised within specific cultures  as valid forms of knowing, are then made available to be reworked and reorganised collectively in ways that intend to forge collective memory in the space of its erasure.  Affect and temporality throughout these approaches have been re-organised through the Lacanian concept of the future-anterior, but one that is worked through a specifically lesbian aesthetic for the collective production of a “past that will have been” rather than a present prescribed by traumas of the past that resurface from a lack of resolution (Hart 1998: 181). An archive that emerges in the space of its own erasure, such as both the Her Noise and Devotional archives, is intended as a disrupter of communication and the linear temporal progress narratives that would seek to materialise normalised subjects through such narratives, to make audible hidden and denied histories, as a political project for the present.

The return to a dialogue of intimacy and love, the bleeding heart of the reparative turn, is further critiqued by Lauren Berlant as an often uncritical return that historically has represented normative ideas of class, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexuality specifically for women and as such, again, exhibits a propensity for reification, a return to separate sphere ideology and an erasure of Western feminism’s own, often unflattering past (Berlant 1991, 1997, 2008, 2011).  This ‘sentiment’ is echoed by Mimi Nguyen in her critique of riot grrrl histories as those she claims seek “to contain and subsume the disruptions of race” through an insistence upon intimacy and “girl-love” in which, in her opinion, “the personal and the political” have been uncritically “collapsed into a world of public intimacy” (Nguyen 2012: 173-4).

Through her own critical scholarship on citizenship and belonging, Berlant sets out a less optimistic yet nonetheless reparative thesis for attaching and detaching from “politics” as such, whilst also performatively working in the queer feminist archive through the slowed temporality that a hesitation in the space of the impasse provides (Berlant 2011). The impasse that Berlant writes of, “where living is repetitious, not heroic”  (Wiegman 2014: 5) is a necessarily juxtapolitical space in which an ongoing “desire for the political” can be reorganised in ways that can account for what she calls the “crisis ordinary” of the historical present (Berlant 2011: 263). Pausing within the suspended animation of the impasse, enables one to affectively listen out for

…what is halting, stuttering and aching about being in the middle of detaching from a waning fantasy of the good life and to produce some better ways of mediating the sense of a historical moment that is affectively felt but undefined in the social world that is supposed to provide some comforts of belonging (Berlant 2011: 263).

The (re)emergence of these ideas and practices that re-work affect, time and space through a refusal of progression, but that are yet still combined with a renewal of politicisation focused upon the musical, literary or cinematographic object reconnected with the social history from which it emerged, for example, are part of the paradigm shift toward object-oriented reparative criticism. This shift has largely typified queer feminist theory since Eve Sedgwick’s, now famous, own paranoid reading of Judith Butler’s ‘original’ paranoia. Yet Robyn Wiegman points out the brevity of a practice that would seek to sequentially replace Butlerian critique with Sedgwick’s advocation for repair. Wiegman – in (re)turn – thus seeks to disrupt the progressive logic that she reads as implicitly emerging within queer feminist critical theory predicated upon a wholesale uptake of the reparative turn and rejection of what has become known as Butlerian paranoia, as queer feminism’s own unacknowledged ‘progress narrative’. This is a temporal narrative that would implicitly place Sedgwick’s theory of repair as sequentially following and thus eclipsing and replacing Butler’s ‘paranoid’ interpretation of gender as a ‘newer’, ‘better’ and more relevant paradigm for queer theory. For, as Wiegman explains, Sedgwick’s ‘reparative critique’ was similarly written in the 1990s, first appearing in print in, albeit in a shorter form, in 1996 (Wiegman 2014: 8). This would seem to be an important distinction as it highlights the need for both forms of critique to function together, rather than understandings that would seek to replace Butler’s ‘paranoia’ with Sedgwick’s ‘repair’.

Wiegman’s temporal disruption and disorganisation of Sedgwick and Butler as proffering concurrent rather than sequential modes of critique “alerts us to the coexistence of paranoid and reparative critical practices as part of the queer theoretical project from the outset, making it important to address not only how these distinctions are currently cast, but the poverty of any intellectual history of the field that writes them either as antithetical or as sequential” (Wiegman 2014: 12). For ultimately, as Wiegman, through her reading of Sedgwick’s own work has demonstrated, practice cannot work without process;

Sedgwick repeatedly acknowledged that her dissection of the critical tactics of paranoid reading was not possible without the very tools she critiqued, and there is still no way to read Butler without sensing how, for her, paranoid forms of revelation help nurture subjects for whom survival is always a matter of interpretative intervention (Wiegman 2014: 12).

Published inChapter 1 | Hierarchies of DifferencePracticing Balancing Acts