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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions


To speculate on the future of queer theory, it's fruitful to begin by examining its ancestry. Like New Historicism and feminist inquiry, queer theory was born of a desire to "do justice to difference (individual, historical, cross-cultural), to contingency, to performative force, and to the possibility of change" (Sedgwick, Touching 93). In the late 1970s, scholars began to "puncture" the grands récits of criticism and history. They wanted to get real and to do so they invoked particularly personal kinds of truth-claims, examining both the textured events of real lives and their own political position as critics, narrators, and historians. Dismantling and exposing cultural assumptions, their project became a critique of subjectivity itself. Their tool of inquiry was theory, which Jonathan Culler defines with elegant simplicity as "writing with effects beyond its original field." Culler's definition reveals the inherent attraction to an other in the function of the form. Interdisciplinarity is itself a form of desire.
It's a particular irony that despite queer theory's focus on real bodies and material culture, it cut itself off from some of its richest evidence. From my liminal position as biographer and reader of queer theory I've found little dialogue between queer theory and gay social history, though both have been rich resources in my work. Having written a biography of E. M. Forster, a gay man who is sometimes deemed to have been insufficiently queer, I'm convinced that lifewriting could be the best ground to explore queer subjectivity. In this chapter I'll explore how we got here, and suggest a way forward. My narrative case for queer biography addresses both the story of disciplinary tensions and the particular promise of narrative theory in returning the queer to the promise of "the possibility of change."


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