Queer Theory

 Steven Bruhm

"Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness, we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development."

--Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud’s reluctant affirmation of homosexuality as something other than social and religious crime is an early attempt to theorize what will come to be called lesbian, gay, and bisexual "identity." Queer Theory examines the construction of that identity by both using and resisting psychoanalytic concepts. Primarily an analysis of desire, but desire as it is framed within social definitions and limitations of normalcy, Queer Theory raises questions about epistemology (how we "know" the homosexual, how we know "as" a homosexual) and ontology (how we live out, embody, and represent desires). This course will begin by looking at the discursive production of homosexuality and then analyze its relation to claims of identity and to sexual practices such as cross-dressing, pornography and SM, and writing. Ultimately, the course will interrogate the ways in which the problem of identity can be used to advantage: since most "normal" social practices require that we all pick one identity and be it, queer theory can offer exciting new strategies that resist the imperative to "Be".

And that's not all! . . .

You will learn all kinds of queer trivia which will allow you not only to impress your friends at cocktail parties but will also allow you to read signifiers of queer culture where you thought none existed.  


Required Texts:

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction

Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle and Other Stories

The remainder of the readings will be bound together in a course pack.  There may also be some readings on reserve.

 Course Requirements:

All students will be required to do one class presentation (in conjunction with the electronic conference), to participate in class discussion, and to contribute at least once a week to the e-mail discussions. Consistent attendance is expected.

Also, please note that I take the in-class presentation and discussion very seriously. When you are doing your in-class presentation, you will be expected not only to start the discussion but also to contribute to it steadily and intelligently throughout the remaining class time. Students who start a discussion and then withdraw will not be pleased with the grade they will receive.


Week One:  Introduction: Ins and Outs

Week Two: Building the Beast (I):

Selections from Freud; Levi-Strauss, “The Principles of Kinship”


Week Three:  Building the Beast (II):

Foucault, from History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, 1-49, 100-102


Week Four: Closets

James, The Beast in the Jungle; Sedgwick, “The Beast in the Closet”

Week Five: Identity Politics:

Wittig, “One is Not Born a Woman”; Butler, “Monique Wittig: Bodily Disintegration and Fictive Sex”; Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”


Week Six: Sex and the Public Sphere:

D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity”; Clarke, “Visibility at the Limits of Inclusion”; Berlant and Warner, “Sex in Public”


Week Seven: That Marriage Thing:

Sullivan, “The Conservative Case”; Sullivan, “Three’s A Crowd”; Paglia, “Connubial Personnae”; Warner, “Normal and Normaller”


Week Eight: One Lip or Two? On Writing:

Stein, “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene”; Edelman, “Homographesis”; Irigaray, “This Sex Which Is Not One”

Week Nine: Camping Out:

Sontag, “Notes on Camp”; Meyer, “Introduction: Reclaiming the Discourse of Camp”; Case, “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetic”; Case, “Toward a Butch-Feminist Retro-Future”


Week Ten: TransBorders:

Halberstam, “Transgender Butch”; Elliot and Roen, “Transgenderism and the Question of Embodiment”


Week Eleven: Spanking the Made: SM

Foucault, “Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity”; Califia, “Feminism and Sadomasochism”; Bersani, “The Gay Daddy”


Week Twelve: (Re)Figuring AIDS:

Patton, “Containing African AIDS”; Savoy: “Reading at Risk: The Mortifications of AIDS”; Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?”