Nostalgia: Queering (& Privileging) the Good Old Days

I find Elizabeth Freeman’s use of chrononormativity quite compelling. When she intersects this with Butler’s idea of performativity, we get the critique of the time of queer performativity. This analysis of the function of time in relation to queerness is the most prescient example we have read in class this semester, in my opinion at least. Her use of the artist-activist Sharon Hayes was an inspired way to look at the performance of time. I found this idea of the performativity, and perhaps the potential misremembering of time as a compelling thought exercise. I find this misremembering of time a dominant narrative within our contemporary political landscape. If we were to couple this chronoperformativity with Edelman’s work in “No Future”, we have the GOP’s platform written for us already.

Trump asks us to Make America Great Again. This asks us for two things implicitly. It asks us to acknowledge that America is not currently great, and it also asks us to remember a time in which America was great. I am remembered of the popular internet meme “just girly things” that often cites historical moments of chivalry that are rooted in misogyny and racism, harkening back to a time when chivalry was the norm. Often this image in superimposed upon a black and white image of a 1950’s style soda shop. This is the image that is often cited as the good old days, perhaps the very days that Trump and the GOP are compelling us to remember as when America was great.

What is inseparable from this time, is the blatant and visible racism at the time. This generation of a historical image, asks of us too much. It asks us to misremember history and to neglect our commitments to equity in the name of a misremembered past. This misremembered past asks us also to not only harken back to a time of unquestioned white supremacy but is always rooted (as we see in not only the GOP platform, but aforementioned just girl things meme) in heteronormativity, and in reproductive futurism. On page 37 of “The History of Sexuality”, Foucault asks us to remember that this “gratuitous attention” is ultimately motivated to “ensure population, to reproduce labor capacity, to perpetuate the forms of social relations: in short, to constitute a sexuality that is economically useful and politically conservative” (Foucault, 1990, pg. 37). This understanding of sexuality rooted firmly in a biopolitics is rooted in the conservative rhetoric of the GOP, and of the popular, and often lampooned, just girly things meme.

These messages, geared to two distinct populations, ask us to interrupt the habitus of life, to reify a historically normative way of understanding the modes of production. By harkening back to a time when America was great again, is to harken back to a conservative (certainly by contemporary standards) chronology, when people of color, when women, when queers, when those in the intersections of those identities knew their place. An understanding of chrononormativity is an understanding of the way the state governs bodies “toward maximum productivity” (Freeman, 201, pg. 3). This maximum productivity in both cases discussed above relate to the production of labor, but also of the child, who represents future labor.

I alluded to the ways in which the just girls things have been lampooned and satirized, likewise, the narrative of Make America Great Again has been the victim of this satire. Foucault says that “discourses are not once and for all subservient to power or raised up against it, any more than silences are” and that “discourse can be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy” (Foucault, 1990, pg. 101). These points of resistance, of which power is never exterior to, are spaces when resistance can seep through. Much like the very popular riff on Make America Great Again by John Oliver (Make Donald Drumpf Again), the discourse can often be co-opted, circumvented, and disrupted; making for a moment of resistance. It is through these tactics that we can understand that power can be challenged, as power is never without resistance.

 

References

Edelman, L. (2004). No future: Queer theory and the death drive. Durham: Duke University Press.

Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality: An introduction volume 1. London: Penguin.

Freeman, E. (2010). Time binds: Queer temporalities, queer histories. Durham: Duke University Press.

 

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