Queer Tableaux

Daniel J Sander, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University


Let me begin with an attention to my title, Queer Tableaux. I use the word tableau not only to gesture to the specific aesthetic strategy of the tableau vivant that I will discuss later, but also, here, in a more general, introductory sense as a point of entry into my present project. In this sense, I am implying Sara Ahmed’s work in which the table is significant for its status as a preferred object of phenomenological inquiry. Her work, which posits the table as a synecdoche for the house, serves in part to set the tone and orientation for what new directions in queer studies might do, to where they might point. Whether or not one accepts Ahmed’s rejection of the so-called affirmative turn in favour of a politic of unhappiness, I think there is something to be gleaned from the way in which she sets the scene of such a politic:

A revolution of unhappiness might require an unhousing; it would require not legitimizing more relationships, more houses, even more tables but delegitimizing the world that “houses” some bodies and not others. The political energy of unhappy queers might depend on not being in house. [ . . . ] Indeed, reflecting back on The Well of Loneliness, we might note the significance of “the walls” as a motif: the walls create spaces; they mark the edge between what is inside and out. The walls contain things by holding up; they bear the weight of residence. In The Well, the walls contain misery, and the revolution of the ending involves bringing them down. In this film, the walls are container devices, but “what” they contain depends on the passing of time, shaped by the comings and goings of different bodies. Inside the house, we are occupied. Things happen.

I begin with this extended quote not only because the character I pursue later in this paper is literally homeless, but also because it speaks to the work of queer geography, whether of the rural/anti-urban or the suburban, insofar as Scott Herring and Karen Tongson locate queer energy precisely out of the doors of the house, as well as out of the walls of the Roman city.

The Gayborhood

Jumping historical time periods and locals from the Roman city to an Old French designation of class is one way in which to move from the architectures of tables, walls, and houses to the comings and goings of different bodies that Ahmed locates within and outside them. Speaking of the kind of uncritical anti-urbanism he is decidedly not interested in doing, Herring mentions the ‘gentrification of U.S. queer life in general.’ For me, gentrification is a useful way in which to think about the discourse of metronormativity in which and against Herring inserts/asserts his arguments and one extendible to archives both actual and virtual if we think in terms of what Sarah Schulman has referred to as the general ‘gentrification of the mind.’ Gentrification and metronormativity, like what gets contained by Ahmed’s walls, are both stories of movement and how movements both happen in and make happen spatial and temporal configurations. This is to say that to think about the literal position of a queer subject, that is, the place where the subject is materially and in relation to other subjects, is to confront the myriad ways in which that subject will be conditioned depending upon how proximate space is normatively differentiated and vice versa. In the context of urban space, by which I mean less a quantity than a quality of density, the spatial narrative that supports the queer subject is twofold — emigration and speculation. First, queer escapes a repressive and oppressive rural environment to seek amnesty, either in the form of celebrated welcome or anonymity, in an urban one. Subsequently, queer forages into the concrete jungle, creating and in pursuit of circuits of sexual partners and diverse sociabilities.Read Full Text of the Article

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