Jill Ehnenn responds to Richard Kaye

In his response, Richard Kaye takes issue with the ways that Before Queer Theory “accentuate[s] the potentiality of an aesthetic fortress of the self,” and “tends to downplay the pernicious effects of Victorian homophobia.” The first concern, it seems to me, arises from Kaye and Friedman’s very different theoretical orientations vis-à-vis queer theory, with Kaye inclined to defend the Lacanian-influenced trajectory of queer thinking that Friedman finds limiting and (given the aesthetes in his project) historically incomplete. I think it would be interesting to consider at greater length how these two schools of thought overlap, rather than diverge. As for Kaye’s second claim, perhaps he overstates his characterization of Friedman’s work as “cultural positivism” that minimizes the very real power of nineteenth-century homophobia. I found that particular assertion rather curious because, when I was reading Before Queer Theory, it was never unclear to me that the persons, texts, and aesthetic processes Friedman analyzes were anything other than objects of inquiry firmly situated in the historical context of a heteronormativity and heterosexism with often painful consequences. I would be eager to learn if other readers find Before Queer Theory, as Kaye does, to be overly celebratory in its revisionist stance; or, if in its recentering our attention on aesthetics and the phenomenological, affective implications of encountering the art object, Friedman’s project ironically demonstrates that for Wilde and other queer aesthetes, all art is not quite useless.

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