Queer Embodiments: fluidity, materiality, stickiness

I am pleased to announce a recent publication of mine:

Queer Embodiments: fluidity, materiality, stickiness in Queer Crossings. Theories, Bodies, Texts. ed. Silvia Antosa (Mimesis, 2012)

Queer crossings


My contribution to this volume reflects on how we might describe, theorise and experience queer embodiment, a term that appears with increasing frequency in the critical literature, but which is often used as though it were self-explanatory, as though we all instinctively know, by now, what this means. On one level, it remains a necessarily unresolvable term; that is, in the spirit of ‘queer’, rigid, calcifying definitions are to be avoided. However this does not mean that it is not necessary to reflect critically on what it entails for different subjects and in different circumstances. I identify how different vocabularies of queer embodiment complement and enrich one another in a productive dialogue; I also argue that at times these vocabularies speak past one another. I focus in particular on the differences between more poststructuralist approaches to the queer body, which have sometimes been accused of marginalising the body, and the approach taken by Sara Ahmed in her Queer Phenomenology[1], which draws in significant and productively irreverent ways on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Edmund Husserl.

My aim in drawing together these paradigms is not to construct an opposition but to argue for the importance of continuing to think about materiality and the individual subject whilst taking sex, gender and sexuality to be discursively constructed; even when adopting a poststructuralist/queer point of view. This is, of course, not a new argument; however, the theoretical tools that enable us to think through these issues are still being forged. I emphasise the importance of lived experience to queer embodiment, and address the risk of immaterial non-presence that some have seen as implicit in the discursively constructed (queer) body by arguing for an increased interweaving of theoretical perspectives. In my view, it is only by insisting on the phenomenology of the discursively constructed body that we can do justice to the queer embodied subject.

I begin by sketching some key debates about embodiment, exploring more ‘fluid’ and ‘material’ approaches to embodimen. I then consider Ahmed’s recent work on emotions and queer phenomenology, in particular her term ‘stickiness’ and her approach to the orientation of the queer body. Finally, I suggest some ways in which, in my view, different paradigms for understanding and vocabularies for articulating queer bodies might and arguably should come together to enable a richer interpretative framework for thinking and feeling the queer body. Working ‘backwards’ and ‘forwards’ from Ahmed’s suggestive queering of phenomenology, I draw back into the conversation previous debates and articulations of queer bodies that seem to have slipped from the terms of reference—such as Monique Wittig’s violent hymn to the lesbian body[2]—and point to some ways in which discussion might evolve, allowing us to think in newly combined ways about spatiality, bodies, movement, the individual subject, touch, the interior and exterior of ourselves, and how to further queer the normative lines of alignment that Ahmed begins to interrogate in her work.

[1] S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology. Orientations, Objects, Others, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2006.

[2] M. Wittig, The Lesbian Body, trans D. Le Vay,  Beacon Press, Boston, 1986.

About Charlotte Ross

I'm a lecturer and researcher at the University of Birmingham, UK. My main interests are contemporary Italian culture, and gender and sexuality. My current project explores the representation of lesbian identities and desire between women in Italian novels and media, from 1870 to the present day.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Posts in English, Queer and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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