Oh Queer Science prelims list: I’m so excited by you, and yet, you can be so damning. This is definitely going to be the list that gives me the most headache in terms of its actual construction. I’m beginning to realize that it’s not simply a list of “queer theory” and “science studies”—no, not that at all. I definitely have an angle but it’s time that I start figuring out exactly what this angle is. How broad should this list be and what in the hell do I mean by science studies or queer theory? How do I trace a genealogy of ideas? Where do I begin?
Well, I clearly don’t have answers to all of these questions right now, but here is what is generally floating around in my brain at the moment:
My Queer Science list will pivot around historicizing the science of desire. In order to do this, how far do I need to go back? Scholarship on Eros? Saphho? Biblical times? I mean, I don’t know, this is all possible. More specifically, I’m really fascinated by the ways in which the science of attraction (oftentimes, magnetic attraction) is graphed onto oppositely sexed bodies in the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries (and of course beyond). Benjamin Franklin’s work on electricity’s polarities will be really useful for this (Laura Rigal has a great piece on the science of electric flow). Nineteenth-century magnetisms become a useful ways of imaginaing heternormative coupling, but this isn’t where it ends. In nineteenth-century literature, we see evidence of magnetic attraction happens between same-sexed bodies (we see this all over Melville, Hawthorne) and between humans and objects (Dreiser), but most intriguingly to me at the moment is the queer desire exhibited towards GOLD. I really wonder if magnetism is at all imbedded in this desire, even if it’s not mentioned outright in the texts. It might be interesting to read up on nineteenth-century understandings of gold’s material make-up. What is it about it that is so enticing? I guess here I’m really thinking about gold’s vitality and its position as a vibrant, active form of matter, rather than imagining it as a passive element.
I’ve got gold on my mind because I’ve re-read McTeague recently long while and, wow, I completely overlooked all the queerness going on between ethnic bodies and money in its most material form when I read it as an undergrad. The Jewish character can’t get enough of even hearing about gold. So I’m realizing that in order to pursue that line of inquiry, I’m going to need to really read up on queer objects and generally on theorizations of the object. This might be a phenomenological inquiry, it will also be a psychoanalytic inquiry. I can’t not talk about Freud and the love-object.
So I’m not sure yet what I mean by “the object,” but I think my interest in animal magnetism and desire really hinges on the idea of the object and how objects communicate attraction to one another (this is where the phenomenological part comes in). My writing sample for Duke thought about how the electrical sciences were useful to think through the body or skin barrier in generating sympathetic exchange. Individual bodies could overcome this barrier by magnetic charges that networked them together. At that point in my studies, I hadn’t really thought about the component of desire and attraction. My aim was really to think about how an abolitionist movement might ignite the “spark” of compassion and sympathy for the slave in the American people. I’m still very much invested in this sort of work and think desire and attraction might be an interesting way of thinking about these attractions as well.
And on a final note: I need to be reading more network theory. It’s absoluely related to the construction of desire between objects. More to the list then!