Julia Fuller responds to Shannon Draucker

I too was impressed by Abigail Joseph’s ability to intertwine theoretical frameworks in her book, and appreciate that Shannon Draucker illuminates why two of the queer theory strands—antinormativity and queer negativity—are particularly challenging to negotiate, and the payoffs of taking on this challenge. The abiding critical concern is that if we’re not actively exposing and subverting the very real violence of social norms, we risk perpetuating it. A notable sensitivity of Joseph’s book is its attention to how the normative is at once receptive to queer pleasure and a source of queer pain—in Draucker’s words, showing that the field’s reading practices “need not always center on the refusal of norms or the erasure of negativity.”

From Joseph’s method, Draucker draws out what queer theory still has to offer Victorian studies; I would add that the reverse is likewise true, in that the book models something Victorian studies still has to offer queer theory. The work of making space for the “vicissitudes not only of feeling but of its representation,” is also the sort of task taken up by scholars who study care communities in the Victorian period, which similarly concerns the negotiation of complex forms of relationality and degrees of negative feeling (211). [1] Exquisite Materials concludes with a recognition that “Things are fragile; so are queer histories, presents, and futures” and an impulse to “preserve the connection between them as a kind of museum for the conservation of objects and of feelings” (245). Joseph’s call for an ethics of care in these final pages is trained on objects with inherent vice, the idea that “Everything that is made… contains the seeds of its own dissolution” (244). What’s striking is that inherent vice doesn’t simply align with failure—it doesn’t lead us to “no future” queer theory—but instead aligns with possibility: the ephemerality, fragmentation, and multiplicity of José Esteban Muñoz’s queer futurity. This suggests how looking to Victorian studies investments in the dynamics and ethics of care alongside queer theory frameworks can assist us in formulating alternate ways of reading against the violence of social norms.

[1] For instance, I am thinking here of Rachel Ablow’s Victorian Pain (2017) and Talia Schaffer’s forthcoming Communities of Care: The Social Ethics of Victorian Fiction (2021).

Back to Forum

Back to Shannon Draucker’s reflection

Kate Thomas responds

%d bloggers like this: