Since its publication in 2004, Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive has sparked some of the most heated debates in literary and cultural studies. Yet most engagements with Edelman’s text—whether positive, negative, or neutral—tend to resort to paraphrasing and summarizing the book’s ideas rather than analyzing its language. Countering this tendency, this essay reexamines No Future and the debates surrounding it in two ways: first, it resituates Edelman’s contributions to queer theory in relation to deconstructive theories of rhetoric, irony, and linguistic materiality, unpacking the de Manian strands of No Future that critics have tended to ignore; second, it uses the deconstructive dimensions of Edelman’s work to engage in a closer reading of No Future’s rhetoric, focusing on the text’s ironic use of rhetorical questions. By attending to these overlooked features of No Future, the article demonstrates how Edelman’s assertions are insistently tempered by forms of ambiguity, ambivalence, nuance, and irony that challenge critics’ dominant conception of the book as intractable and totalizing.
Reading to the Letter: No Future and the Question of Rhetoric
Corey McEleney is associate professor of English at Fordham University. He is the author of Futile Pleasures: Early Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility (2017). His essays on early modern literature and queer theory have appeared in venues including ELH, GLQ, and differences. He is currently at work on a new book project tentatively titled “The Art of Overanalyzing: Reading, Deviance, and Madness.”
Corey McEleney; Reading to the Letter: No Future and the Question of Rhetoric. GLQ 1 June 2019; 25 (3): 431–455. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-7551126
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