"Becoming Rather Than Being": Queer’s Double-Edged Discourse as Deconstructive Practice

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    • 00:11

      JOHN IKE SEWELL: A double-edged discourseis an oppositional discourse occurring within a greateroppositional discourse.The queer discourse of the 1990s to the presentis a double-edged discourse.I call it a double-edged discoursebecause it has the capacity, on one hand,

    • 00:32

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: to unite, and on the other hand, to divide.The LGBTQ community is still divided over the term queer.The term queer functioned as an empty signifierfor the LGBTQ movement.This essay uses Ernesto Laclau's logic of equivalence

    • 00:54

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: to examine queer's function as an empty signifier,further using Badiou's concept of the event, and lastly,using Derrida's concept of differanceto examine queer discourse as a deconstructive practice.[The Empty Signifier and the Logic of Equivalence]

    • 01:16

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: The empty signifier is discursive construct,an identifying word or phrase that reduces particularismsto one universality.The empty signifier operates as an umbrella term to coalesceonce disparate parties.Now, let's don't be misled here.

    • 01:37

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: To say that an empty signifier is emptydoes not mean that the empty signifieris of no significance.The empty signifier's emptiness is actuallythe source of its discursive flexibility and thus,the source of its power.[AIDS and The Event]

    • 01:59

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: Alain Badiou defined the event as an unprecedented momentof rupture.This is a moment of rupture for which there are no words.There is no vocabulary for the event.It is something that is unprecedented,that comes from a void.And in this way, the event is outside of discourse,

    • 02:23

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: similar to the Lacanian real.The AIDS crisis can be understood as an event.There's no predicting the event.There are no words to describe the event.Queer identity discourse emerged in the wake of AIDSbecause the prior discourse, gay assimilationist discourse,

    • 02:47

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: just didn't work anymore.They needed a new vocabulary to deal with the crisis.["Queers Read This"]"Queers Read This" is the manifestoof Queer Nation, an LGBT splinter group.It was first circulated at a pride parade

    • 03:10

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: in New York City in 1990."Queers Read This" signaled a paradigm shift awayfrom the prior gay assimilationist discourse."Queers Read This" was an anger-driven backlashto queer bashing and to indifferencefrom the medical establishment and the government to AIDS.

    • 03:32

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: "Queers Read This" employed us against themlanguage and a life or death scenario.From the brochure, queer is a sly and ironic weaponthat we can take from the hands of the homophobeand use against him.Within weeks of the circulation of "Queers ReadThis," there were several chapters

    • 03:53

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: of Queer Nation emerging in major citiesaround the country.Interestingly though, the Queer Nation onlylasted for about two years.It kind of collapsed.As Susan Striker put it, "it collapsed under the weightof its own contradictions."This collapse of the Queer Nation kind ofillustrates how queer as double-edged works

    • 04:15

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: both to unite and to divide.[Going Beyond]Constructs like homosexuality and heterosexualityare both socially constructed and discursively produced.In Western thought, homosexualityand heterosexuality have kind of been positioned

    • 04:36

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: against one another as opposites or as dialectic,much in the same way that male and female arepositioned dialectically.Discourses of the naturalness of heterosexualityserve patriarchial power structuresand are thus most oppressive to women and the non-normative.

    • 04:59

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: But as an identity designation, queer is purposelyamorphous and defies binarisms.Still, queer's equivalential chaincontinues to expand and take on new meanings.Using Laclau's scheme, this expansioneventually weakens the link.So the further that an equivalent chain

    • 05:22

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: is stretched, the weaker the links.[Pondering the Meanings of "Queer"]Queer is everything and nothing.It's a thing that cannot be.The LGBT community appropriated the term queer from homophobesand use it as an ironic weapon against them.

    • 05:43

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: And in some ways, the term gains its strengthbecause at one point, it had statusas something unutterable.In a nutshell, queer is taken to mean the non-normative.The postmodern understanding of queeris oftentimes expanded beyond gender and sexuality

    • 06:04

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: to include asexuality, disfigured bodies,or misaligned subjectivities.To queer as a verb is to skew, to destabilize meaning,subjectivity, everything.And identifying as queer can be a risky and transgressive move.[Difference and Differance]

    • 06:26

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: The term queer conjures a multiplicityof meanings that are oftentimes contradictory.But queer is more than just a designation.Queer's an adjective, an adverb, and a verb.To queer is to deconstruct.To deconstruct is to interrogate interplaysamong fields of meaning.

    • 06:46

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: Derrida's concept, differance, is different than difference,and perhaps there's humor intended there.The term juxtaposes to differ and to defer.Differ explains how the process of naming necessarilyimpels separation and dielectric.

    • 07:07

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: If one identifies as being one thing,they are also saying that they are not something else.Thus, the dialectic.To defer explains slippages among fields of meaning,where meaning is forever pending, but nevermaterializes.

    • 07:27

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: Queer functions as differance because its various meaningsnever coalesce to form a static meaning as such.Queer can only be defined within the contextof a specific provisional set of meanings,not as a static identity designation.[Biesecker's Reassessment of Differance.]

    • 07:51

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: Laclau asserted that his logical equivalence was deconstructive,and it is, for the most part.What puzzles me, though, is that Laclau's scheme is predicatedon a kind of temporal fixity.This is to say that any identifying discourse isconnected to a certain time at its point of inception.

    • 08:16

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: So this brought me back to my early questionsabout why queer discourse has notbeen subject to the dissipations that areexplained in Laclau's scheme.Biesecker's reassessment of differanceprovides us the tools through which Derrida's conceptsmight be used to do the heavy lifting to answer

    • 08:39

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: such questions.So Biesecker suggested that differancebe understood not only as slippages among fieldsof meaning, but also as an unmooring from subjectand context.By unmooring the subject from context, temporal location,or some [INAUDIBLE] point, we are

    • 09:01

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: allowed to conceptualize identity as transitionalrather than fixed.In this way, rhetoric can be understoodas radical possibility, rather thanas a prefigured set of context that determine outcome.[Summing Up]

    • 09:24

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: Subjugated populations have alwaysbeen adept at coming up with the postmodern coping strategies,even if these populations aren't concerned with postmodernitypost-structuralism per se.Queer's paradox is its strength.Queers retains its function as a signifying discourse because

    • 09:47

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: of its double edge, not despite it.Queer acknowledges that it is a thing they cannot be.Queer is always coming into being, but never materializes.In this way, queer identity discourse has no endpoint.The anonymous writers of "Queers Read This"seemed to have delivered a deconstructive identifying

    • 10:10

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: discourse by design.Using the thematic of differance,we are able to understand queer discourse as slippagesamong fields of meaning.This understanding enables an ever-shifting politicsof conciliation and reconciliation.Thus, queer discourse is a discourse of refreshing

    • 10:31

      JOHN IKE SEWELL [continued]: idealism and possibility.

"Becoming Rather Than Being": Queer’s Double-Edged Discourse as Deconstructive Practice

View Segments Segment :


Professor John Ike Sewell discusses the changing definition and uses of the word "queer" after it was appropriated by the LGBT community in the mid-twentieth century.

"Becoming Rather Than Being": Queer’s Double-Edged Discourse as Deconstructive Practice

Professor John Ike Sewell discusses the changing definition and uses of the word "queer" after it was appropriated by the LGBT community in the mid-twentieth century.

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