Wishful Thinking Indeed

Monday, June 3, 2013

Randip Bakshi

Robyn Wiegman's aptly titled lecture "Wishful Thinking: On a Queer Feminist Criticism and the Reparative Turn" was in layman's terms sold out! The room was buzzing with activity an hour before the event was scheduled and the people just kept coming. In many ways the turnout was a sharp reminder that theoretical discourse has indeed become an academic tool. For many of us Wiegman does not need an introduction but that doesn't mean I won't give her one! Robyn Wiegman is currently Professor of Literature and Women's Studies at Duke University having previously taught at various institutions including Syracuse University and the University of California (Irvine). One of the foremost authorities on queer theory her work exists on the intersections of race, gender, and identity, perhaps, best demonstrated by her early work like American Anatomies: Theorizing Race and Gender (1995). This interest seems to be reignited in her forthcoming project Racial Sensations, an analysis of affect and anti-racist aesthetics. Her talk this morning was far removed from her usual preoccupations and centred on the reparative turn in current queer/feminist scholarship.

For the less theoretically inclined she spoke on the current paranoia in academic discourse, especially in a post 9/11 environment, and its affective readings. Wiegman began with a personal anecdote about her mother and the year she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her own reaction to her mother's illness was synonymous with her criticism of the current generation of feminist scholars and their appropriation of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's work, particulalry an article republished in 2003, as a paranoid text. She uses exact quotes from a host of scholars like Sara Ahmed, Heather Love, and Lauren Berlant in repudiating this appropriation of Sedgwick. Wiegman was flawless when she spoke of Sedgwick, and it is clear that she is exceptionally well-informed on the former's scholarship. As I heard her speak I could not but help be reminded of an essay I read in a theory seminar in my undergrad days at the University of Toronto titled: "Eve, At a Distance."

Evoking Sedgwick, in my opinion, is Wiegman's way of suggesting that the reparative mood is an outcome of guilt and an absorbtion of critique in theory. If anything, her talk is a brilliant acknowledgement to Sedgwickian inheritance and at times abuse in current discourse.


Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2013