the impetus for queer theory

I just finished reading a very interesting essay called “Is There a Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Reading Straight” by Deborah P. Britzman. Modern Critical Theory has never been so good…

the three sexes
the three sexes

The concept of disavowing is traditionally viewed as an internalized, yet conscious denial of responsibility or weighing the value of an idea or concept. Indeed, the essence of disavowal lies within the paradoxical idea that although certain thoughts and situations are widely accepted as “being wrong” in political, social or moral senses, the act of disavowal itself is a silent confirmation of the socially constructed axioms.

For Deborah Britzman, the concept of disavowal in Queer Pedagogy is an extremely complicated issue due to its social, historical, and philosophic integrity. In her essay, Briztman fleshes out the discontinuity of pedagogy in relation to the “crucial cultural and historical changes that concern the constitution of bodies of knowledge and knowledge of bodies.”1 According to her argument, Queer Theory acts against the altruistic human inclination to disavow certain kinds of knowledge simply because they defy the social and cultural conventions, which are perpetually changing. 

Namely, the act of disavowal attempts to deconstruct the definitive binaries which social institutions gravitate towards. As listed in the essay, “categories like masculinity, femininity, sexuality”2 form the basis of education and the pedagogical canon which become accepted due to varying sociopolitical and cultural variables. Furthermore, the pedagogical account of knowledge fails to unify, and instead becomes divisive in its assertions of normalcy and the articulation of what the majority of society believes is “heterosexual.” Although Queer Theory is not an exploration in deviant sexuality, the example of the binaries established by defining sexuality are extremely significant in the analysis of disavowal, since these binaries are essentially universally accepted on an ontological basis. 

Going beyond the theoretical significance of disavowal, the object of Queer Theory becomes self-refuting immediately after it has been put into motion. In order for the disavowal of present binaries and cultural misconceptions, the object of defying such socially relevant issues becomes a living paradox when taken to absurd lengths. For example, to break the cycle of disavowing or becoming complacent with present social mores, Queer Theory demands a constant, perpetual turning over of new ideals. In this sense, the goal of Queer Theory reduces itself to a theoretical absurdity: it requires the constant shifting of new values within the pedagogical system, yet where exactly does the significance lie in creating new perspectives? 

Thus the goal of Queer Theory is an ironic one – it merely preserves the Nietzschean “reversal of perspectives” to the point where it becomes a foil to nihilism. As Queer Theory rejects preexisting binaries, it invents another one by defining itself on the fringes of what is culturally accepted – thus being inherently paradoxical.


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