What have you learned this quarter about queer literature, literary studies, and/or doing comparative work across historical periods, national literatures, or theoretical approaches to queer literature that seems important to you? Pick one or more aspects, ideas, texts, or moments from class discussion (in class or on the blog) that seem particularly important or valuable to you, and insert them right here below. (You can address anything here you already mentioned in our last in-class session on Wednesday, or add something entirely new–it’s up to you!)
It’s been a huge pleasure working with all of you this quarter, and I thank you for a wonderful teaching experience! Please take care and stay in touch!
I think what I will most take away from this class is, as mentioned in class, the change in lens I know have from reading these queer texts, allowing me to read other books I will read differently. Also I was really changed in my view of the gender binary and now realize that there are an infinite number or types of ways people can identify. Putting a label on someone’s identity seems pretty useless because within each “definition” there are many subcategories and some identities that do not even have a set “name”. The class also really opened my eyes to the beauty of graphic novels, which before this class I probably would never have considered reading but I am now very intrigued by!
This class has supported the idea that queerness heavily intersects with so many other identity markers, including race, nationality, and social class. As such, it is always important to understand positionality and how one person’s definition of queerness might be different from another’s based on identity and social position. In addition, the class has also allowed me to think about the meaning of queerness and what actually makes a text, reader, or author queer. In discussing this, I’ve decided that queerness is something that can’t ever be truly defined and it is always historically situated. This is why texts like those of Wilde can be read as queer even though it was not meant to be so originally.
This class was different from any other class I have ever taken here at Stanford. I have studied science my whole life and continued studying science here and I have looked into the science of individuals and what makes an individual a female or male, but science does not tell you the sexuality of the individual. I was very interested in the sexuality of an individual and came across this course. This class has taught me a lot about how queerness is interpreted and how queerness can be defined in many ways. I have learned that there is not one definition to define homosexuality. Every persons definition is different and interpretation is based on their knowledge and social relation. The second thing I learned from this course is how homosexuality has evolved and has changed with time. I have learned what defines a queer text or what makes a text queer from its context or from the author. I really enjoyed how when reading a text you may read it one way, but knowing that the text is queer you can interpret the text completely different and read into the eroticism. All in all, I would say that this class has allowed me to understand that queerness cannot simply be defined and that these texts showed how homosexuality comes in many ways. This has allowed me to step away from science and learned through literature and graphic novels. I have learned that not everything is defined by science.
I think the biggest thing I will take away from this class is learning how to be a queer reader. Understandably, we never resolved the questions posed at the beginning of the quarter like “What makes a text queer?” but I do think we made productive progress. Instead, I feel like I have learned how to be a “queer” reader. What I mean by this is that this class has taught me how to read literature (and theory) that may not be explicitly queer and analyze them with a queer lens. Furthermore, I learned how to read texts that are explicitly queer with a critical queer lens and think about how historical and social factors influence a text as well as how race/class/gender/sexuality/etc are important.
One major theme from this course that seems very important to me is the concept of “The Death of the Author” within the genre of “queer” literature. The intellectual exercise of considering the merits and challenges of “the death of the author”- that is, understanding and interpreting the texts without significant consideration of the author’s own identity or original intention- within queer literature is extremely engaging and complex. On the one hand, I believe that the birth of the reader, especially the queer reader, is an essential component of a text, and something that can create new meanings from past texts that are intriguing and completely valid. I do also believe that there is something valuable from allowing the reader to have the intellectual and creative freedom to understand a text from their own perspective, regardless of the initial goals or context of the book’s author. On the other hand, I believe that completely losing all recognition of the author’s identity and intent can be dangerous, as it can change the authenticity of an author’s voice and/or experience in problematic ways. I am really grateful that this class gave me the opportunity to continue to think and debate about the relative importance of authors and readers in the significance of a text, as this is a relevant issue of great importance.
At the start of this quarter, I was feeling out of my depth in this class because 1) after a summer and a quarter without IHUM or other humanities classes, I had forgotten how to function without problem sets, 2) I considered myself a more science-y person (although being raised by architect parents and being immersed in music, art, and literature has made that a little more complicated), and 3) I had never been exposed to queer literature before. It is true that in high school I read and loved Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and I wrote a research paper on the connection between the modernist theme of transience versus intransience and painting in To the Lighthouse, but queer literature? The word was not in my vocabulary and I regret to say the author was dead to me. However, I decided to throw myself into the deep end and out of my comfort zone upon a suggestion from my PWR1 professor to explore the realm of comparative literature because she thought I would enjoy it as much as the science and bioethics. Turns out she was right. I’ve come away from this class with several new things to ponder, my top two favourites being the idea of “the death of the author” and what makes a text, film, or artwork queer. To me, these concepts are as much an exercise in philosophy as in comparative literature and I learned in this class to investigate and analyze my own opinions on these matters. I also thoroughly enjoyed probing the meaning of identity, the performativity of gender, and realizing that “queer” can encompass so much more than sexuality, i.e. in relation to transgression, style, etc. This class has given me a new perspective with which to view and appreciate literature, art, and the world and this lens is something I will carry with me into the future, even if I won’t be queering problem sets anytime soon.
Having read literature treating queer themes and attempted to “queer” readings of more traditional texts in academic settings that were skeptical, to say the least, of this kind of interpretation, it was a breath of queer air to be actively encouraged to make this kind of analysis. Although the word “queer” still meets resistance, I think it is a useful term for the sake of its multiplicity: it can address sexually non-normative subjectivities, ideas that challenge assumptions often taken for granted, modes of representation that engage or take on unconventional questions—and, in terms of literature, both styles of writing and hermeneutic gestures that go beyond the beaten path. Rather than designating an umbrella term meant to encapsulate something like the ubiquitous LGBT signifier of the rainbow—an image that is multicolored and arced, but linear—“queer” can touch an array of themes and inspire modes of thought that are twisted and complex, and is all the more gratifying for it. The multiplicities in this class have helped expand my notion of the queer. We have looked across genres and media of artistic expression, engaged geographic, racial, class, and other intersections of diversity and marginality, and taken on a range of theoretical lenses—from Barthes’ death of the author to Butler’s performativity to Dean’s transgression. Each of these approaches, I think, has made our interactions with these literatures both more complex and more rewarding. Not only has this class been an inspiration to “queer” our styles of reading; it has also opened up new ways of viewing and interacting with questions in our everyday lives.
I feel as though the thing I most enjoyed from this class, and what was most valuable to me personally, was the ability to be exposed to a multitude of different opinions and insights from my peers. I feel as though the texts we read, and the way we utilized discussion, really gave precedence to the ability to people to speak their minds. Additionally, the blog was a great resource to gain further insight into what people found most interesting about the texts. This aspect to queer literature was what stood out to me. It seemed as though, to a certain extent, queer literature creates a liminal space in which people are much more receptive to personally identifying with than some other types of literature; and being able to hear the ways in which people identified with stories, and what aspects to what were most poignant to them as individuals, is what I will take from this class personally. There are a multitude of ways to read and experience every story, and this should never be forgotten or devalued.
Of the many things I will take from this class, two things stand out to me in particular. The first, like I mentioned in class, is that I will be more careful of how I use the LGBTQI (the list goes on) terms and will be cognizant of how the terms are used around me. I found myself having to redefine the terms I had previously used to liberally, especially in relation to the texts we read. Often times I would want to simply classify someone as gay when really the term queer or bisexual was more fitting. As an English major, I’ve always been a particularly “careful” reader but always skeptical as well, not wanting to go too far with the literary allusions I thought I found. Sometimes, the walls are just blue and they don’t stand as a metaphor for sadness. This class, however, has taught me to take nothing lightly and to trust what I had previously considered my over-analysis of a work of literature, particularly when it is a well-done piece. For example, I thought I had detected a deeper meaning to the colors in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, but wrote it off as my overactive imagination. Upon further research, however, I discovered that there was in fact implications of racial identity that are attributed to colors in the novel, and I had to go back and reread the novel to pick up every reference I had dismissed.
As a reader and I natural observer of the world, I’ve always wanted to classify things in categories and binaries—it was the easy thing to do. But from this class I’ve realized that you miss all the nuances and details that really enliven the world (be it the one that I’m reading or in which I exist). It is the nuances that define, if I even should use that word at all now, a thing, a being, and they cannot be ignored. We read books in this class through a “queer” lens, which would assume a single dimensionality in its reading. However, I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. From the first day of class when we discussed “what makes something queer?” and failed to come up with a solitary answer (and that is completely for the better), I would read each text with the intent of trying to figure out a new dimension to “queer.” How is queer being interpreted in each text? How does it act? The disparity in answer from week to week allowed be to settle upon the fact that it’s okay that I have no idea what completely constitutes a queer thing by the end of this process. The human experience of being “queer” should not fall subject to compartmentalization in neatly bundled packages within one’s identity; the messiness allows you to figure out who you truly are. —BPS
While I wrote on the blog mostly about uniting threads of queer literature like burdens, transgression, loneliness, and other “negative” or difficult factors, what I would like to take from this course also is the celebration of and within queer literature: our course on queer literature is treated with such importance and respect, integrated into an academic department and held at the same standards as other fields, but also given room to be “queer” in its own ways, in that we seemed to sympathize more with students and readers than, at least as far as I have perceived, many traditional humanities courses do. This approach dignifies queer literature but also allows it its unique traits and listens to the corrections it would like to make to everyday life, including in the academic realm. The texts we read also seemed to bring this together, demanding that attention and respect be paid to queerness by publishing books about it but also queering texts and genres. I quite like this balance and would like to add it to my previous interpretations of queer literature’s unifying features, which I had viewed as quite difficult. Queer literature is self-referential, self-celebratory, self-correcting: it’s nervous, in a way, to get it all right. I will take this nervousness with me for my own projects, creative and academic both, and use it to queer my literature and my life. -EE
I absolutely loved this class! As someone who hasn’t taken a literature class since freshman-year IHUM I was very ambivalent about the thought of diving into the field again thinking I would have trouble understanding the deeper meaning of texts and contributing to the class. However, all the readings were engaging, refreshing, and really built on top of one another to form a truly outstanding synthesis course. As a proud member of the queer community it was deeply moving to better understand how our modern-day existence and cultures have been shaped by the likes of Wilde, Hall, and many others. As Rachel Maddow mentioned in her speech on campus this past Saturday, many heroic individuals who wrote openly and brought attention to queer issues in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century “paid it forward” to newer generations by being open about these kinds of issues. I cannot fathom the courage it took for Oscar Wilde to artfully craft such a homoerotic novel amidst the horribly oppressive laws of 19th century Great Britain. The writings of Chu T’ien-Wen and Chu T’ien-Hsin shattered the glass ceiling when it came to queer texts and lives in Taiwan. These and many other of the pieces we read serve as fragments of activism and as arguments for acceptance for the minority queer culture. By using traditional storytelling in some instances and scholarly theoretical work in other instances, these readings made the once-taboo topic of queerness more accessible to others. I will cherish this experience forever and I can honestly say it’s inspired me to pick up a book or two to further understand the genre better in the future.
– Martina Navratilova