Dustin Friedman deposited Do Queer Theory and Victorian Studies Still Have Anything to Learn from Each Other? in the group Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century English Literature on MLA Commons 2 months, 1 week ago
This essay argues that an antiracist, anticolonialist Victorian studies must remain open to universalizing claims of the kind found in early works of queer theory, particularly Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990). Although recent work in queer studies (as well as literary studies generally) finds inspiration in Sedgwick’s late-career turn to the more modest notion of “reparative reading,” strong knowledge claims are necessary to disrupt the colonial matrix of power that systematically renders both racism and heteronormativity invisible. Rereading Epistemology in light of postcolonial theories of comparison, I argue that, although Sedgwick does not address how the late Victorian “crisis of homo/heterosexual definition” takes place within the overall colonial system of power, she nevertheless inhabits a critical position remarkably similar to what Walter Mignolo calls “the border epistemology” of “decolonial thinking.” This entails making universalizing claims that promote the emancipation of disenfranchised groups but also rejecting the imperialist fantasy of critical neutrality in favor of political commitment and historical self-awareness. I end by putting the Sedgwick of Epistemology in dialogue with critical race theorist Sylvia Wynter to suggest how scholars might integrate their respective critical approaches by analyzing the figure of “the human” in Victorian literature and culture.