English 203

Graduate Readings: The Queer and the Oriental

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2019 Leong, Andrew Way
Tues. 12:30-3:30 305 Wheeler

Book List

Kingston, Maxine: China Men; Kipling, Rudyard: Kim; Melville, Herman: Billy Budd; Rossetti, Christina: Goblin Market; Toomer, Jean: Cane; Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Other Readings and Media

Course reader of shorter works and criticism.


The queer and the oriental are two figures on the wrong sides of Western philosophies of world history. Imagined as perverted deviations from, or inverted reflections of, a progress from despotic ancestral pasts to free reproductive futures, the queer and oriental are two species of wrong that resist being raised up or sublated into higher generalities of rightness or whiteness. Too wrong for history, these two wrongs also cannot be rectified or reduced into each other—but not for lack of trying. Over the course of the long twentieth century, a seemingly endless pile-up of cultural productions has positioned Orientals as queers or featured queers Orientalizing themselves and others. The mind-gagging accumulation of such productions illustrates how thoroughly such maneuvers never really work; or rather, how they work, like desires often do, by never being fulfilled.

The seminar opens with the ongoing tension between two different departures from Hegel’s philosophy of world history—economic materialist approaches exemplified by Marx and genealogical approaches exemplified by Nietzsche. We will explore how ongoing tensions between these approaches—variously described through binaries such as “materialist/idealist,” “total/fragmentary,” and “restricted/general”—have been a recurrent feature of work in queer theory, postcolonial theory, and critical race studies. In a twist on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s statement that “any understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate an analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition,” the aim of this seminar is to pursue the corollaries to the putative axiomaticity of “modern Western culture.” Our mantra will be: any understanding of virtually any aspect of homo/hetero definition must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate an analysis of non/modern non/Western division.

We will combine our theoretical explorations with the pragmatic task of coverage. Accordingly, we will read a selection of canonical works by such authors as Christina Rosetti, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, Jean Toomer, Yoné Noguchi, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

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