Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations,” April 15, 2008

This is the forty-fourth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the sixth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

15 April 2008

Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations”

Freeman argues that “waves” or “generations” overlap, borrow, and are potentially incomplete when their supposed time has “passed.”  Instead of gaps between, there are interconnections between the present and past as evidenced by what she calls “temporal drag.”  Her opening example about her student illustrates a temporary crossing (think diachronic) that she calls “temporal drag,” which is a pull exerted by “lesbian” on “queer” that brings it back to a bodily politics.  Drawing on Judith Butler’s work, she points out the progressive repetition with difference in lesbianism along with the Derridean citation precedents.  Freeman argues that drag presents a valuable challenge to progress, and she holds onto the generational approach to political work and identities for the time being.  The Shulie (1997) remake illustrates how it, along with Shulamith Firestone, are part of a “feminist genealogy” that is more paradigmatic than linear (730).  It problematically remixes a visual present with a 2WF/1960s audio past.  Additionally, the video can be considered drag, in the sense of camp, not because of the obvious inverting nature of camp, but because it “[resuscitates]…obsolete cultural text” (732).  The short film connects to the shift in Butler’s work from reiteration to “allegorization,” because the film resurrects “past failures” that figure into a future narrative (732).  Allegory, like ritual, carries meaning through signs over time.  Furthermore, normative gender identities are “symbolic” of “temporal moments” and “experiences of gendered selfhood” (733).  These identities are transportable through time, but carry specific meanings and importance that may be anachronistic.  Queer performativity, as allegory, relies on “collective melancholia,” or a personally held, but collectively shared set of queer experiences, which Freeman calls an “embodied temporal map, a political archive for a contingent form of personhood” (734).  The 1997 Shulie is an interpretation of Firestone in 1967 that reflects on the supposed failure of 2WF politics while offering hope through her Riot Grrrl resemblance.  The anachronistic mise-en-scénes in Shulie (1997) disconnect it from documentary and authority, yet supports an archival past.  Also, it draws connections between her and feminist artists that followed her.  The 1997 film, unlike the original, reveals that gender doesn’t overcome the generation gap, yet evokes a sense of political cohesion between Subrin and Shulie.  Subrin does not fetishize that which came before.  She remembers, challenges, and inverts then and now.  Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970) builds a relationship between feminism and history through Marxism.  Also, she encourages people to think in terms of radical and conservative versions of the politics that travel under the sign of feminism, “rather than in terms of the cyclical history of feminist generational gaps” (740).  Firestone, like Subrin, connects the radical past to her present in order to reveal the threats to radical feminism during 2WF.  The multiplicity of Firestone in the film and in reality points to the temporal fluidity or interconnectedness Freeman is arguing.  One part of that multiplicity is the signifier of the young girl, which appears in queer/feminist cultural works.  The girl sign points to the past as well as to potential in the future.  Also, it reflects Firestone’s project in The Dialectic of Sex that “radical feminism [is] incomplete unless it includes the political and sexual liberation” (741-742).  However, Subrin’s younger Shulie character is “not a child” or “a sexual icon” (742).  Her unidentified status is the vector Subrin employs for illustrating the present feminist/queer movement without the “post” modifier.  Shulie’s responses point to a future based on “experiences that discourse has not yet caught up with, rather than…a legacy passed on between generations” (742).  It’s important for evolutionary or transformative movements to recognize the temporal pull of that which precedes it.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.