ENGL 537B -- Autumn Quarter 2005

Sexuality & National Belonging Cummings TTh 11:30-1:20

This seminar rests on three premises: first, the reproduction of the nation-state is inextricably bound up with the production and regulation of sexualities; second, historic changes wrought by capitalism extend to and depend upon transformations of sexualities in whose construction the human sciences, law, literature, film and other disciplines participate; third, sexuality is embodied through articulation with race, gender, class, age, and other social specificities. These three understandings will orient an interdisciplinary investigation of both hegemonic U.S. narratives which predicate national belonging on not being (identified as) a “sexual pervert” or “degenerate” and on counter-narratives, which affirm queer desires, imagine queer alliances and work to identify the linkages between normative sexual regimes and regulatory apparatuses of capitialism, imperialism, racism and masculinism in which sexuality is enmeshed.

Three historical moments structure our examination of sexuality and national belonging. The first spans the late-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The nation-state is reconstructed at the expense of African Americans; restrictive immigration laws target Asians and Southeastern Europeans; the U.S. becomes an imperial power; capitalism transforms social relations and the landscape; America is “remasculinized”; the homosexual emerges as a pathological being and the heterosexual as his healthy/normal opposite; experts and their populist purveyors warn that the survival of “our race” depends on reproducing a vigorous, native-born Anglo-American stock through scientific selection, on the one hand, and on the other hand eliminating, sterilizing or segregating African Americans, recent immigrants, whites who cannot or will not be integrated into the circuits of capitalism, and homosexuals/inverts, all of whom join the growing body of “perverts”; critical histories of sexuality, race and nation supplement modern literary works in queering this nationalist narrative. The second historical moment stretches from the cold war into the civil rights era. Baldwin’s Another Country and shorter texts are in dialogue with liberal narratives which (re)identify sexual and political dissent with each other and both with unAmericanism, which locate the source of homosexuality and communism outside the West and masculinity in the Orient and domestic “momism,” which fetishize the African American man and Asian woman, and which offer various solutions to “the Negro problem.” The seminar ends with an analysis of how sexuality and U.S. citizenship are currently being articulated by queers and non queers responding to transnational migrations and sexual minority movements. Linmark’s Rolling the R’s is one of the required texts.

A background in critical theory is strongly recommended; prior reading of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. I and Butler’s Gender Trouble is mandatory. All students should be prepared to discuss Foucault on the first day, and in September I will email the class a set of questions to guide our conversation about his genealogy.

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