Cvetkovich, Ann. “Public Feelings”

Cvetkovich, Ann. “Public Feelings.” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 106, no. 3, 2007, pp. 459-68.

To remember:

  • The goal is to depathologize negative affects so that they can be seen as a possible resource for political action rather than as its antithesis. This is not, however, to suggest that depression is thereby converted into a positive experience; it retains its associations with inertia and despair, if not apathy and indifference, but these affects become sites of publicity and community formation (460).

  • I would not want to suggest that work on “affect” comes after queer theory or is separate from sexuality … affect and sexuality are not merely analogous categories but coextensive ones with shared histories, raising questions, for example, about how affective categories ranging from desire to shame and loss get sexualized. Work on affect bears a particularly close relation to work on sexuality and queer theory because affect has benefitted from the same historicization that is central to Foucauldian and other social constructionist approaches to sexuality; Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis applies as much to affect as sexuality, warranting a skeptical approach to claims for interiority or emotional expression as the truth of the self (462).

  • As scholarship on affect flourishes, I no longer think of it as a minor spin-off from work on sexuality; instead, it extends the reach of studies of sexuality and enhances its status as a broadly intersectional category. Consider, for example, how Judith Butler takes up the categories of loss and melancholy first developed in the context of her work on gender in her recent writings on … topics of broad general interest. Eve Sedgwick makes an explicit turn to affect in her investigations of shame, and the tellingly titled Touching Feeling is simultaneously continuous with her earlier writing and marked by her call for queer scholarship that moves beyond a critique of the repressive hypothesis. Sedgwick favors the rich nuances and idiosyncrasies of what she calls reparative reading over programmatic or ideological readings that seek to line up cultural texts as progressive or reactionary. Reparative reading is affectively driven, motivated by pleasure and curiosity, and directed toward the textures and tastes, the sensuous feel, of one’s objects of study (462).

  • Not only does this suggestion seem especially important for work on affect that must necessarily attend to specificity; it also explains why queer theory might appear to lose some of its polemical focus in favor of a proliferation of projects. While critique may remain necessary, it is no longer sufficient … Recognizing affect and desire as the motive for intellectual projects has of course long been central to queer studies—evident in the legitimation of camp as a form of queer culture and the value frequently given to the unexpected object, including the popular or the disdained (463).

  • The embrace of affect within queer studies has also enabled new forms of personal voice in academic work, including criticism based in memoir, public intellectual work that seeks a general audience, or overt declarations of love and other investments in our intellectual projects (463).

  • The term public feelings has helped me to move beyond my earlier work … to situate that field more broadly (464).

  • The distinction between everyday and catastrophic trauma is also tied to the distinction between public and private, since often what counts as national or public trauma is that which is more visible and catastrophic, that which is newsworthy and sensational, as opposed to the small dramas that interest me because they draw attention to how structural forms of violence are so frequently lived, how their invisibility or normalization is another part of their oppressiveness. Situating trauma within the larger context of public feelings offers a more flexible approach to the unpredictable linkages among violence, affective experience, and social and political change … a Public Feelings project (464).

  • The goal is something more than statues and monuments, something that involves ways of living, structures of feeling. The Public Feelings project carves out space for strategies beyond those that have been critiqued on affective grounds as sentimental. It aims to critique liberal forms of affect and, moreover, to think about liberalism and neoliberalism in affective terms—to take on the vocabularies of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism as connected to certain affects or structures of feeling that are inadequate to, or that too conveniently pack- age and manage, the messy legacies of history (465).

  • One finds also a range of both experimental and popular media and forms that suggest models for an alternative affective public sphere. Among these, the many modes of autobiography—memoir, zines, punk rock, solo performance, autodocumentary in film and video—are very prominent as mechanisms for bring- ing into public view individual experiences that should be understood as collective, however idiosyncratic and queer (466).

  • My interest in utopian feelings finds company in the projects of Judith Halberstam on subcultures and queer temporalities, of José Muñoz on ethnicity as affect, and of Jill Dolan on performative utopias … Their sensibility overlaps with that of Avery Gordon, who, guided by the writings of Toni Cade Bambara, articulates a utopia that exists in the here and now rather than the fantastic visions of science fiction and new worlds, a utopia that includes hardship and violence and that offers strategies for survival (467).

  • Thus, if I began with depression and close on utopia, I have not necessarily shifted topics or even affective registers—the point would be to offer a vision of hope and possibility that doesn’t foreclose despair and exhaustion. It’s a profoundly queer sensibility and one that I hope can enable us to tackle the work that needs to be done and to create the pleasures that will sustain us (467).

To consume:

Check this out:

Lauren Berlant, “Critical Inquiry, Affirmative Culture,” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 445–51

Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003).

Alexandra Juhasz, “Video Remains: Nostalgia, Technology, and Queer Archive Activ- ism,” GLQ 12.2 (2006): 319–28; and Lucas Hilderbrand, “Retroactivism,” GLQ 12.2 (2006): 303–17.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004).

Holly Hughes and David Roman, O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance (New York: Grove Press, 1998).

Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

Anne Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)

David L. Eng and Shinhee Han, “A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia,” in Loss: The Politics of Mourning, ed. David L. Eng and David Kazanjian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 343–71

José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005)

José Esteban Muñoz, Feeling Brown (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming)

Jill Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).

Avery F. Gordon, “Something More Powerful Than Skepticism,” in Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power, and People (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), 187–205.


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