Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories
Historiography and corporeality have challenged queer theorists, or perhaps more accurately, have been fiercely challenged by queer theorists. From deconstructive viewpoints that question physicality as such, to radical disavowals of any belonging to historical legacies, the transcendental tendencies of queer thought have not come without their casualties.
In her most recent addition to the burgeoning queer theory bookshelves, Elizabeth Freeman tackles both historiography and corporeality head on. With her feet firmly rooted in historical instances, Freeman delves into queer familial structures, temporal gender performativity and (perhaps most provocatively) racial legacies of sadomasochism. Freeman eloquently challenges heteronormative teleologies, but not through deconstrunctionism or transcendence alone; instead, she lays claim to the possibilities of queer temporalities and histories.
Coining terms like erotohistoriography, temporal drag, and chrononormativity Freeman’s queer resistance is embodied in the new temporalities and chronologies that she lays out. Her refashioning of historiography is not only deeply experiential, but it is embodied as well—two strands of thought that has troubled feminist and queer thought alike for decades. More than this, in the same way Audre Lorde theorized about the potentialities of erotics, Freeman re-envisions the political potential of the historical as experienced through eroticism. She moves beyond shame and loss as traditionally explored in queer theory: Freeman’s history is one of carnal enjoyment, enjoyment that does not foreclose racial histories of pain.
Her insistence on addressing both corporeality and experientiality is most stimulating in her chapter on sadomasochism. In this chapter she criticizes queer theory’s inability to adequately unpack the racial baggage of S&M practiced and theorized in the queer community. In this chapter she outlines new ways of theorizing Marquis de Sade through Isaac Julien’s film The Attendant. The film features interracial S&M encounters between two men who engage in deeply historical play that replicates chattel slavery, and occurs in a deeply historical space, the art museum.
Yet another move that Freeman masters as an historian herself is her ability to renegotiate the value placed on historical texts. She gracefully moves between more canonized works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (both literary works), to Cecilia Dougherty’s Coal Miner’s Daughter and Elizabeth Subrin’s Shulie (both video pieces). In this chapter she uses Isaac Julien’s film to access Marquis de Sade, not the other way around. In doing so she successfully restructures which texts shape her historiographies: minor visual works by lesser known authors occupy the foreground of Freeman’s discussion.
This is queer theory at its best: imaginative and troubling while remaining entrenched in lived (a)historical experiences. In Time Binds, Elizabeth Freeman finds herself among the ranks of queer theorists like José Esteban Muñoz, David L. Eng and Jasbir K. Puar. Without cleansing their hands of the complicatedness of history’s racial legacies, these theorists explore the messiness of queerness. This theory is centered on queer time and queer history’s exciting and, at times, (corporeally) violent moments.
As she herself explains when closing her remarks on S&M’s deeply racial historical potentialities, “These are not, to be sure, reparations for past damages (as if the perfect redress were possible), or the means of transcending all limitations. They are, however, ways of knowing history to which queers might make fierce claim.” Fierce, indeed.