Week Twelve: Queer Poco Theory

This week you are to read two of the four (at least) theoretical pieces for our way-too-short-but-we-only-have-4-weeks-to-cover-all-of-poco discussion of queer theory.

And that’s where queer theory comes in. It’s not really fair to write a short guide to queer theory. Queer theory is a diverse field of studies that involves a lot of disparate ideas. It’s a rapidly expanding body of literature that seeks to answer a series of questions about what is normal, how normal comes to exist, and who is excluded or oppressed by those notions of norms. In bed. So queer theory celebrates the figure of the queer, or more specifically, the act of queering. Drag queens, two-spirit peoples, as well as those who don’t quite live up to their gender expectations are disrupting the narratives that build the capitalist state. (from here)

A KU Master’s graduate Sean Weaver is now getting his PhD in postcolonial queer studies at Louisiana State University.  So like a good teacher, I asked him to consult with me on what are the most important voices in the field right now.

Here is what he said:

 

As a queer theorist, it’s difficult to reconcile the differences that come be with addressing postcolonial sexualities through critical queer readings. For one, Western understandings of sexuality and the body tend to be monolithic, placing colonized peoples into restrictive boxes. Side note: Take the Middle East and North African Regions, for example, which have seen a rise in homophobic backlash from neocolonial nationalists pushing back against American/European liberalism. Thus, Western nations in their desire to push an agenda of liberation of freeing the sexually oppressed “homosexuals” in colonized nations have actually created more problems. This is not to say that homosexuality doesn’t exist in the colonized world, it does, it’s just that labels of homosexuality tend to create problems and even greater homophobic backlash. The most important thing to consider when it comes to postcolonial states and queer critiques is understanding how citizenship is bound up with normative understandings of sexuality, religion, and nation.  See beginning of my current essay below:

 

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. With an assault rifle, Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53. One of the deadliest shootings in recent history, the massacre at Pulse was reported as two distinctly different narratives involving the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Initially, it was reported that Mateen, the son of Afghan immigrants, committed this terror attack in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). While the FBI continues to maintain this record of events, following the attack, a gay man came forward claiming that Mateen was his lover who took revenge on the LGBTQ+ community for treating him as an outcast after having repressed his sexuality due to religious homophobia.  Through the lens of a national allegory, each story paints a greater whole, a collective response that challenges the space Mateen holds as a citizen/subject of a nation—be it an pseudo state such as ISIL or the established nation of the United States. However, both narratives work in tandem, creating an “other” unified through the regulation of a national allegory. Therefore, Mateen’s representation as radical Muslim or self-loathing homosexual can be read as a narrative of regulation by opposing nation states that determine who is and who isn’t a citizen based on the premise of sexual and religious normativity. It also indicates that the Western national allegory deliberately includes homosexuality while at the same time excluding Muslims (FBI/U.S.), whereas, the non-Western (ISIL) national allegory uses heterosexuality as a means of regulating who is a citizen. Yet, ultimately, this narrative demonstrates the/limitations that arise when nation-based formulas are used to establish sexual-based citizenships in a globalized world where people are often found between nations, citizenships, sexualities, and religions, as is the case with Mateen (Bell & Binnie 109-110). Through this framework, one must be careful not to nationalize Islam as the only defining factor of Iraqi citizenship through making it a “nonstate actor…of justice” (Dhawan 217). This means postcolonial queer critics must not reduce Islamic violence against gays to an act of justice outside of nationhood.  Instead, it is tied to secular fundamentalisms mutually influenced by religious fundamentalisms that both define Iraqi nationality (Dhawan 208).

He also says we need to know Saleem Haddad’s work.  I have watched these videos.  If you have time, watch them both for this week.  If you do not, watch the shorter of the two.

 

This week is the beginning of an exploration into a new path poco theory is moving.  I am grateful to Sean for sharing his expertise.  I love when the student becomes the teacher.

You are to read two of the four articles I posted on our D2L site.  If you want to read all four, I am not going to stop you.  There’s some great work happening that we need to engage with.  If you want to contact Sean about PhD work, he has generously offered his time and can be reached at sweave9@lsu.edu.

 

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Week 11: Thinking about film

This week we read a filmic text instead of a written text.  If you need some models of how to write about film for an online audience, I humbly submit to you my body of work on bitchflicks, and I suggest you even consider submitting your post to their site when you are finished.  They are great to work with!

Choose one of the following films to view on your own:

Bandit Queen

The Terrorist

Persepolis (only if you have never seen it)

Battle of Algiers

Tsotsi

Osama

If there is a film you would like to watch that is not on this list, let me know the title and why you would like to work with it!

Blog Post Eleven:  Apply some element of po-co theory to the chosen film. This link might help you think about how to approach the blog post:  http://engl243.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/avatar-and-postcolonial-theory/

This week is a chance for you to spread your wings and start to engage with elements of poco that interest YOU!

If you need a nudge, watch this one.  It is genius.

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Week Nine: Heart of Darkness?

Quick, grab a piece of paper and write the word “Africa” at the top.  Now write down whatever comes to mind.  Take two minutes.  I’ll wait.

Before my undergraduate students begin to discuss Heart of Darkness, I ask them to think about “Africa” and make a list of all of the things that come to mind.  A few weeks ago the board looked like it always does:

Then I ask students to look for themes.  They are quick to note that most of the items on the list are negative:  disease, poverty, war, etc.  The positives are often animal related (The Lion King comes up within the first ten items every time).  What I notice most is the list demonstrates lack, as if Africa were the lacuna of the planet.  It gives us the chance to talk about the danger of thinking of the continent of Africa as a monolith, as a country instead of a continent.  I even brought in one of Ev’s books that has a page called “African animals.” As you can guess, we don’t  use that title.  Instead we call the page “animals you might see on safari.”  I remind students that Egypt and South Africa are two different places with different problems, languages, government systems, arts, literatures, etc.  But it is so easy to think of Africa in such a way, with only one story.  From Sally Struthers to KONY, the messages about the monolithic Africa have become the only story we know of the giant land mass.  To do the work of finding out anything about this place beyond the story of lack is exhausting.  I get it.  However, as scholars and teachers, we are obligated to think of our own ideas about “Africa” and examine them.  Sometime what we see isn’t pretty.

Think about this image when you read Things Fall Apart.  The first third can be tiring, but I would argue that the didactic nature of that section is working to undo the beliefs that the English-speaking world has about Africa, and by showing very clearly that one tribe in Nigeria has its own systems in place, Achebe attempts to rewrite the story of “Africa.”  For your blog post, write a response to the terms and the novel.  How do you see those ideas working in the text?  What happened when you wrote your list?  I imagine there will be some strong material coming out of this week’s posts.

Here’s Chris Abani‘s TED talk about the stories of Africa.  I think this will give you a great place to start thinking about your own attitudes about the “dark continent” and the literatures coming out of it.

And here’s Adichie on the same topic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/517227/

Week Eight: Colonized Bodies

Week 8:  Begins March 20

This week’s readings will ask you to push the idea of the body as a site for the colonial project and consider the role of gender in colonization and the effects on “gender” in the post-colonial era.

I have had students sit in my office and say that Nawal El Saadawi’s  Woman At Point Zero is the most depressing book they have read.  In many ways I agree with them, but I also see a strain of resistance in the face of oppression that has me leave the book every time I read it with a sense of optimism, though sad optimism.  What does this novel say about the forms of resistance available to women when their existence is enough to make them targets of oppression–both psychic and physical?

I think this anxiety over women’s agency came to a head with the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year old girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she advocated for the right for girls to go to school.  Girls are dangerous, right?  Think about it:  if the idea of female empowerment didn’t matter, didn’t work toward dismantling patriarchal hegemonies, no one would pay attention.  But hegemonic forces DO pay attention.  And they do walk onto buses and shoot 14-year old girls who dare to say girls should have access to an education.  The idea that a girl might want to think is the most terrifying idea to many power structures.  I am critical of this trope, though, being used for the purpose of just reifying western power, as you can read here in my discussion of the film Girl Rising.

So keep all of this in mind as you read this week’s theory, novel, and definitions.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the depiction of agency, power, and resistance especially on/by/against the “colonized body.”

Lest you think this kind of reading and inquiry are not one of the keys to helping us work toward a world where women can go to school (for one thing), here’s a great reminder from Elif Shafak about why reading matters.

Final Assignment Information

I have had some questions about the final assignments for the class, so here is what I am looking for:

Most importantly, I would like you to leave the class with something useful to you in your life beyond May.  

For the teachers in the group, I imagine a well-thought out unit plan that would last several weeks and use one or more of the course texts will probably be of use and serve as a final project.  For the academics, a final paper that could serve as a conference paper or the beginnings of an article will be useful  (I’m thinking 10-15 pages).  I am also open to hearing other ideas for a final project.

If you are going to do a unit plan, I would like there to be two-page rationale that explains why teaching postcolonial texts is important.  Imagine that you have to make a pitch to your principal or school board to make the case for a new unit (you don’t even need to know what your unit would look like yet).  Explain to them what postcolonial texts are and give a theoretical framework for this kind of study in a secondary classroom.

If you are thinking about writing an academic paper for your final project, in your intro, pick several theoretical pieces to tangle with.  Summarize them.  Pull out their claims.  Respond to them.  Explain why you see them as useful.  What questions do they make you raise?

If you have questions, let me know.  You are welcome to schedule time with me during my office hours after break.  But you can also contact me over email.

I would love to know what you are thinking of doing.  Maybe you could leave me a paragraph comment to give me a sense of your direction?

Week Seven: Gender

Well, piggybacking on what I said last week, if there is a second essay that has most informed my writing, it would be Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Can The Subaltern Speak?” (Here is the full text that you will need for this week.)  Spoiler alert:  the answer is no.  But I am guessing you could have guessed that.

Caveats:  It is hard to talk about gender without falling into the trap of thinking about sexuality.  I come from the school that believes gender is constructed (so for example, I don’t believe that women are naturally less violent, but that societal constructions force women into such a mold, to be simplistic.   When I teach a gender theory course, we will spend weeks just thinking about gender in general).  Gender is not sexuality, and the two should not be conflated, though the theories certainly inform each other (see anything by Judith Butler, but make sure you give yourself enough time to work through her convoluted sentences).

Now that you know a little about my own scholarship, you will see how important the work of Leila Ahmed is to the study of women in the Islamic world.  I have asked you to read some of her writing, but I would suggest you listen to the interview with her first to give you some foundation.  You can listen to it from your computer or download it here.  Throw on your iPod and take a walk and give it a listen.  We all need to admire the budding daffodils, and why not do something for yourself while you are doing your homework.  Your dogs will thank you for it.  Mine are Calvin and Theo. I call them “the mangiacs” (Theo had mange when we adopted him).  They are lounging in the office with me while I write this post.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s seminal piece “Under Western Eyes” forced Western feminists to consider their own subject position and their own role in reifying the hegemony of the “West.”  She offers a critical lens for reading “world” texts about women.

The Gyasi short story link on the syllabus works.

As for this week’s blog post, I ask that you respond to the theoretical pieces and the stories.

Go outside.  Take a walk.  Take care of yourself.  Enjoy the green.  Take a breath.

Someday read this book:

homegoing-yaa-gyasi

 

Week Six: Said, Orientalism, and the sadness of their relevance

First, I want to reiterate how much I appreciate the attention and time you are giving your own blogs and your peers’.  You are really setting the bar high for each other.  That is what graduate school is for–to push your brain’s function well past its previous abilities.  I enjoy reading your different interpretations.  They are the highlight of my week often.

If there is one theory that has informed my scholarship over any other, it is Edward Said‘s concept of orientalism.  I wish it weren’t so relevant today.  But as you can see from my presentation that I want you to watch (link below), I argue that it is more relevant today than ever.  It is difficult for me to read anything without this lens, and I almost feel like I am cursing you and your ability to watch the news or have a conversation with a stranger again (as in the conversation I recently had where someone made the comment, “She may as well have had a towel on her head for as much as I could understand her” in reference to the woman she asked for directions.  Sigh.)  In my mind, there is nothing as dangerous as essentializing a people.  Hence why I remind my Democrat friends that Republicans, too, love their families, etc.  Essentializing is seductive in its ease.  But it is also the first step in dehumanizing.

I imagine many of you will be able to share powerful narratives about being othered (some of you already have).  Those personal connections are a strong tool when defining one’s subject position.

For your blog post this week, discuss the definitions and the Said reading and if you would like to apply it anything you are witnessing, feel free to do so.

I REALLY HOPE some of you will join me to see Vandana Shiva at WCU.  We don’t get to see a critical poco, ecofeminist scholar often, and even though we are all busy, we should consider taking a step off of our hamster wheels to make time for critical thought. I will buy dinner before the event for all of us.  Let me know if you can attend ASAP!

So for this week’s required viewing, I humbly offer you a talk I have given in various forms at West Chester University, Lehigh University, and at our own KU–and then was invited to give at Shepherd University as part of a yearlong investigation of Malala. I am happy that so many people are willing to listen to what I have to say.  And this idea that I present runs through much of my scholarship.  Some see Said’s works as outdated; I wish it were.

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