“Everything seemed to be piling up,
or floating away
But maybe those young gunners could hold it down”
The above epigraph accompanies the cover image, seen to the right, of David Eng’s The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy. This book’s cover art and its description speak to Eng’s overarching interest in the feelings of kinship; that moments of affinity often exist within moments of violence. “But maybe those young gunners could hold it down” – By confronting affect and language not as dissonant concepts but rather as frames of thought in chorus, we may bring forth new possibilities and understandings of race, sexuality, gender, nation, and belonging in our colorblind age.
This point is seen in Eng’s sharp reading of Lawrence v. Texas. Discourses on the Lawrence case worked to not only relate racial and sexual justice as analogous and disparate affairs, but to also emit racial justice as a legal success of the past and view sexual justice as the issue of the present. With the progressive legal successes of Loving v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education, the US nation-state was absolved of its notorious racist past. Demanding a more robust politics of intersectionality in the face of neoliberalism, Eng calls for a renewed frame of study addressing the complex interconnections whereby neoliberal political economy operates in and through the racial, gendered, and sexual hierarchies of the nation-state.
Eng’s fields of inquiry include critical race studies, queer studies, diaspora studies, transnational feminism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, cultural studies, and anthropology. Through readings of Lawrence v. Texas, literature about queer Asian migrant laborers, transnational adoption, racial reparation, and affect as a political project, Eng draws our attention to three key concepts: queer liberalism, the racialization of intimacy, and queer diaspora. Queer liberalism refers to a historical mode of framing the political, economic, and cultural inclusions of certain gay and lesbian U.S. citizens. These inclusions manifest in an attainment of legal rights and a surging queer consumerism. These political and economic inclusions work to fold in gay and lesbian citizens into the nation so long as they practice normativity and remain law-abiding citizens. “A constitutive violence of forgetting” is at the heart of queer liberalism. These modes of racial forgetting are further explored in the racialization of intimacy. As racialized subjects are folded into a discourse of colorblindness, the racialization of intimacy points towards the repressed legacies of race and colonialism within the realms of family and kinship. These supposed private realms are in actuality intimately linked to the public. Just as the Lawrence case fabricates notions of racial progress through a contemporary neglect of race, the racialization of intimacy directs our attention to the hauntings and ghostly traces of modern racial forgetting.
In order to confront this history of racial forgetting, Eng employs queer diaspora as a methodological approach:
“Refusing to subsume sexuality within overarching narratives of national identity and racial belonging, or to incorporate these latter categories within a Western developmental narrative of capitalism and gay identity, the methodology of queer diasporas becomes a theoretical approach for telling a different story about the contemporary politics of nation-building and race under globalization, along with its accompanying material and psychic processes of social belonging and exclusion”. (14)
Focusing specifically on the migrations of queer Asian bodies in the global system, Eng’s conceptualization of queer diaspora works to fill in the silences of history. He tracks historical silences through an attention to affect and what he names “affective correspondences”. Affective correspondences allow language and affect to merge in a way poststructuralist and psychoanalytic thought disable. By intentionally beholding the lingering and affective legacies of race and colonialism, Eng calls for a revitalized queer studies open to engaging affect not solely as a critique of historicism but as an alternative way of doing history itself.
“How might affect help in worlding those forgetten creatures and things leveled by historicism’s endless march of progress? If the rhetoric of colorblindness refuses to recognize the ways in which race and racism continue to constitute and divide our national and social order, how might affect provide one way of moving beyond the binds of liberalism and its politics of representation? Indeed, how might affect help us to recalibrate the intellectual afterlife of post-identity politics?”. (191-2)
The Feeling of Kinship continues the line of work in my directed reading that demands an examination of societal formations through a complex and intersectional lens attuned to the ways in which identities are inextricably bonded to the multiple interwoven systems of empire. Following Nyong’o’s The Amalgamation Waltz, The Feeling of Kinship also brings up exciting discussions on affect, especially the affective labor particular bodies perform for/with/against the nation.
The Feeling of Kinship directly addresses my concerns with neoliberal multiculturalism and its function as a key to a post-racial world. What's become rather surprising is a change in my perspective. Entering this directed reading I was invested in exploring how certain bodies are folded into the state. At this point, however, I’m more concerned with how certain bodies perform an affective labor. I’m thinking about this change of mindset as a shift from a framework of citizenship to one of affect. While the nation still plays a prominent role in my developing thoughts, I'm much more captivated by the ways in which bodies are deployed to work for the state rather than wonder how they are folded into the nation. How do queer and mixed-API bodies function for the state? What affective labor is employed here? How does the very existence and visual representation of these bodies factor into narratives of colorblindness, sexual freedom, and American exceptionalism. But, because I can't think without resistance in mind, I'm also wondering: How do queer and mixed-API bodies labor against and in opposition to the state? How do they disidentify?
As I look ahead to Chandan Reddy’s Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State, the next text in this directed reading, I’ll keep in mind sequences of thought that have been rousing my interest. Psychoanalysis’ confrontation with language, affect, and the visible/invisible forces that govern daily life as well as postcolonial studies’ attention to legacies of empire and diasporic embodiment remain lines of inquiry I hope to read more fully.
"Gather your thoughts because we broke it to rearrange us" - Michele Carlson