22 January 2017

Book Review: Queer Phenomenology



Sara Ahmed was until very recently a professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmith College, University of London. She is now an independent scholar

I'll quote Jack Halberstam from the back cover regarding the book: "Sara Ahmed has begun a much needed dialogue between queer studies and phenomenology." But the dialogue didn't go very far. As you know, I am very rarely fully critical of any book dealing with queer theory, LGBT studies, etc.,. This will likely be the most unforgiving critique of a book I've ever written, and I'd like to forewarn the reader.

Ahmed unfortunately doesn't have a dialogue. While she does attempt to provide some background on existential phenomenology in the first part of the book, she constantly digresses into self-navel gazing -- I'm sorry but I really don't care that much about Husserl's table or the paper he wrote on. It appears the connection that this totally unnecessary and long-winded discussion of Husserl's table with social reproduction in the Marxist sense was entirely missed. Much of the first half of the book felt like I was talking to someone that was rolling or on acid, thinking about their dissertation. I didn't find it unsettling or disorienting, I found it annoying.

I was originally drawn to the book by its claims that it would explicate the "orientation" in "sexual orientation" and a theoretical linking of it to Orientalism. And even in these modest marketing aims, it also failed. I was very disappointed to say the least.

She has some good citations and is obviously well read in existential phenomenology, but I don't think there was much dialogue and I thought the overall book was a disappointment. She appears to have failed to make obvious and clear connections in theory and philosophy that would have really moved the discussion into truly disorienting discussions but instead the text was trapped in academic navel gazing.

The version I read was a 223 page paperback published by Duke University Press (December 4, 2006).

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