Will we be queering queer?

Via What a Maroon I read a review by Jacob Brogan of a novel about lesbians which (as WaM noted) doesn’t use the word “lesbian” once. The word “queer” on the other hand appears nine times. I get that the word “queer” has been, according to some people, reclaimed or repurposed or seized or whatever you want to call it. There’s a parallel, I think, to the way the word “Negro” went out of favor to be replaced by its English language equivalent, “Black.” It was a move from the weirdly euphemistic to the blunt, because what the hell was there to be euphemistic about anyway? “Negro” came to seem tellingly squeamish. There’s also of course a parallel to the reclaiming (or claiming) of “dyke,” helped along by Alison Bechdel.

But…not all “queer” people endorse the reclaiming of “queer.” Many of them in fact hate it. I don’t really know what to think about it, myself.

Selby Wynn Schwartz’s first novel follows a meandering course through the late 19th century into the early 20th, focusing on the lives and overlapping connections of an array of real women. Many of them are boldface names from the queer and feminist cultural past — Virginia Woolf, Sarah Bernhardt and Colette, to name just a few — while others are less famous. 

For generations of queer writers, including many of the women who appear in “After Sappho,” deliberately composing in fragmentary styles — breaking their work into discrete, discontinuous chunks through grammatical, visual or narrative eccentricities — became a way to build new, more welcoming forms of community…

Sappho is an apt avatar for Schwartz’s project: The totalizing excess of queer art can overwhelm you with laughter or longing, blotting out the painful experiences it sometimes describes. But queer thought has most often thrived in fragments, its practitioners taking the world to pieces, the better to re-center those who’ve been pushed to the margins.

I wonder why the Washington Post decided to get a man to review this book. Maybe we could start queering that kind of thing a little?

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