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For the Love of Women and History

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 07:00

This post brings to a close my doubled schedule of posts covering The Lesbian Premodern. Next week we go back to one post per week and publications that address people and events more directly, rather than examining the theoretical work of "doing history". I hope that this digression into theoretical concerns has added to my readers' understanding of the complex dynamics that lie behind "just the facts, ma'am." I've certainly enjoyed this tour through the landscape of historiography.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Wiegman, Robyn. 2011. “Afterword: The Lesbian Premodern Meets the Lesbian Postmodern” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 


A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Wiegman, Robyn. 2011. “Afterword: The Lesbian Premodern Meets the Lesbian Postmodern”

Wiegman connects this volume to its thematic predecessor The Lesbian Postmodern and considers how theoretical approaches can provide the very responses they warn and react against. Resistance to a concept is a sign of attachment to it. Both the premodern and postmodern volumes show a desire to reanimate and reorient critical studies of “the lesbian.” The current book is filled with reactions against the postmodern reactions against identitarianism. Those postmodern reactions center the concept of the lesbian even when applying the tools of queer theory. If modern queer theory considers the lesbian an anachronism, she asks, “When was the lesbian not considered an anachronism--something always out of place in its own time?”

These papers, instead of seeking legibility and legitimacy, demand an entirely different approach--one not bound by the structures of periodicity and historicism. At the same time, other papers promote the importance of that other historiographic anachronism: material studies--the importance of identifying and interpreting things, not just playing with ideas.

Wiegman returns to the central question: why does “the lesbian” need a history and what does it benefit historians to work to provide it? What continues to unite scholars who seek “knowing” and those who consider knowing impossible? The answer, she concludes, is love--the theme of love between women is a through-line in the articles. There is a resonance underlying all the critical incompabilities that leads scholars to continue to forge alliances and connections across the divides. (The essay continues on this theme at some length, but I think that covers the essence.)