Skip to Content

Queer Contemporaneities: Anachronism and Gender (ICLA Gender Studies Research Committee Seminar)

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Jordana Greenblatt

Co-Organizer: Pierre Zoberman

Contact the Seminar Organizers

We seek to explore anachronism broadly as non-coincidence between an object and interpretive categories/narratives used to study it, specifically concerning gender and sexuality. Sexuality as a discourse and component of identity dates to the mid-19th century. Gender studies is a recent discipline, often still questioned as legitimate; gender as an analytic category appeared in the past few decades (Joan Scott 1986). So, they seem to be framed within our contemporary world, which could also be said of ethnic or postcolonial studies. In contrast, objects of comparative studies are, by definition, spread over time, places, media, etc. Traditional doxa rejects applying to historical contexts cultural notions that were unknown in them, a view that has endured even among Foucault-influenced scholars like Halperin (One Hundred Years of Homosexuality 1990). Asserting that there was no homosexuality, let alone homosexual identity in ancient Greece, for example, seems self-evident. Nicole Loraux’s 1993 reminder (“the historian is generally very careful not to import notions that the period of reference is supposed not to have known, and… not to draw comparisons . . . between historical contexts separated by centuries”) smacks of common sense. Yet, this attitude may seem paradoxical to current scholars: it would imply that “the past” can better diagnose and analyze itself than later researchers (particularly our contemporary world), aided as they are by analytical tools/categories that were not available then, but whose utility warrants exploration. Projecting contemporary categories onto the past can at times merely validate our own identities through a self-serving urge to perpetuate them, but we are curious about the contexts in which such categories’ careful deployment enriches historical analysis, where shrinking from categories such as gender/sexuality obscures important elements. For Loraux, “controlled” anachronism is a liberating and fruitful practice”. E.g., early modern French writers did not speak of gender. But some of their works hint at an ability to denaturalize gender, and what appears today as hegemonic masculinity did not hold the same sway.
Loraux proposed to “go toward the past to ask present-day questions … to return to the present, weighted with what we have understood of the past.” How does anachronism inflect, inform, (de)construct sexual and gender identities, helping revise our visions of queer? If we take anachronism as a decentering mechanism—a queering of chronology—what connections can we draw with postcolonialism, among others? Can the past write back, and, differently, can the present write back? If, as Eve Sedgwick posits in her axiomatic, older paradigms continue to be silently active after newer ones emerge, how do temporal epistemological slippages shape our readings and lived experiences? What conjunctions between texts/theories can the exploration of anachronism bring to light in comparative gender studies

«Back To Seminars