In 1995, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick proposed the concept of “reparative reading,” a critique of what she called “paranoid reading,” a certain hermeneutic of aggravated suspicion and negative affects. In recent years, psychoanalytic theorists of queerness have taken a quite different turn toward reconsideration of the death drive, not just how it is projected on gay men or directed at them but also how it is uniquely embodied and celebrated by them. The title of Lee Edelman's book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive about sums it up, but Leo Bersani's work in Intimacies and Tim Dean's book Unlimited Intimacy are also exemplary of the trend. At the same time, the rise of disability studies and queer crip theory has taken the opposite tack, exploring the possibilities for a sustainable life, indeed a future, even in the face of disability and unjust discrimination. Sedgwick's deployment of the “reparative” implicitly theorizes an integration of these positions—and never more so than in her elegiac tributes to various queer men she has known and lost. The future of queer theory after No Future may indeed be a re-exploration of Sedgwick after Sedgwick. She proposed a less aggressive, less thesis-driven, less angst-ridden style of critique that would seek to repair the damage of homophobia and other forms of prejudice and violence rather than simply revealing allegedly new and ever more insidious forms of abuse in rather unlikely places. One instance where she might prove newly illuminating in that space of collision between No Future and crip theory is her selection and discussion of the journals and poetry of Gary Fisher, who would certainly have made a fine object of inquiry for all the books named above. He was a gay African American man who was one of her students and who died quite young of an AIDS-related illness. His riveting writings on race and sexual submission—not to mention the critical response to Sedgwick's publication of them—provide an easy occasion for a certain kind of paranoid social-constructionist reading not only of the queerness of the death drive or the queerness of crip identity but also of s/m as racist pathology or false consciousness; however, Sedgwick herself takes the discussion in a very different direction. She invited, but never quite wrote, a reparative reading that urges us to question the incapacity of paranoid readings to account for the very queer pleasures they ostensibly seek to enable. All the published criticism to date relies on Sedgwick's selection of Fisher's work, but I also quote from the extensive archive of his unpublished journals.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.