This seminar has been designed as an introduction to queer theory, queer studies of visual culture, and queer visual practices. Queer theory--a phrase initiated by Teresa de Lauretis--signals a certain bad attitude. In its critical questioning of assumptions regarding norms of sexual identity and practice and divides between hetero and homo, queer embraces deviance and indeterminacy. In its focus on performance and discourse production, it also attends to the intersectional analysis of sexuality, that is, the imbrication of questions of desire, object choice, and sexual identification with sexed embodiment, gender, class, and race. Queering is an activity of questioning, a critical practice of turning taken-for-granted tropes that makes strange the assumed naturalness of binary sex/gender systems. To queer is to attempt the political activation of speculative theorizing and aesthetics. The work of queer theory also involves a self-critical approach to one's own discourse production.
The study of visual culture has a central place within queer theory and lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender studies. As many of its paradigms have been developed through direct study of or by analogy to film, photo-based media, and performance, queer theory has direct import for visual culture studies. With the political impetus of Stonewall, Gay Liberation, the theoretical and political influence of feminist theory and critique, and the devastating impact of the AIDS crisis, variously located scholars have taken up the issue of sexuality and subjectivity as an urgent one and demonstrated its centrality to the formation of canons of art and their exclusions, to aesthetics and ideas of taste, and to the writing of art history and its silences. At the same time contemporary artists have used their art practices to give visual form to (that is, to imagine) identities and desires which many of us call queer. Exhibitions and film and video festivals have been organized around such (dis)identifications often foregrounding transgender and bisexuality--while discussions and debates were initiated and continue over the politics of theory, negative representation, visibility, whether there is such a thing as a queer aesthetic, relations between feminist, queer, and transgender studies and cultural production, and between the work and aims of queer studies and critical race studies.
Queer artists have a central place within these debates. Much of the work of queer artists may be understood not merely to reflect queer theory but to constitute contributions to the understanding of the construction of sexuality, desire, identity, and identification as well as their interconnection with other differences. By its citations,contestations, and appropriations, the work of queer artists does not merely have a place within (or marginal to) histories of art but constructs its own genealogies as it endeavors to disrupt socio-cultural norms. Throughout this course, we will be examining the intersections and forging links between queer theorization about visual culture, interventions in the archive, and contemporary queer art practices.