PhD Student, Media Arts and Practice
University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts
Michael Warner’s recent article “Queer and Then?” in The Chronicle of Higher Education considers the end of queer theory alongside the termination of Duke University’s Series Q. While the article assumes a direct link between the end of queer theory and the body of work published in the series, the journal simultaneously gestured to another future for queer theory. In the same issue, a review entitled “Queer 2.0” applauded Jack Halberstam’s 2011 The Queer Art of Failure for representing “a second generation of queer theory”  and for its use of “low” theory and unusual archives. In the earliest academic writing on queer theory, Teresa de Lauretis described the field as a “discursive horizon”  and Annamarie Jagose described it as an “a non-identity–or even anti-identity—politics”.  Yet their essays included little consideration of the transgender, the transnational or the transistor.
The moniker “Queer 2.0” is useful not only because the authors in this issue are invested in alternative methodologies that, like Halberstam, move beyond high theory, but also because the phrase highlights and emphasizes the technological, and its inseparability from queerness. Today, to think queerness requires that the human and nonhuman be thought together, and that the human be de-centered as the primary locus of/for queerness. Queerness must be engaged in all its distributed materialities, human and beyond. This queerness constructs an alternative genealogy that extends to cyberfeminism, media theory, hacktivism, computer science, animal studies, and neuroscience. This turn also extends beyond Western narratives of technological progress, success, and development, and looks to a resistive repurposing of the failed objects and techniques that circulate in a global context. New horizons for queer theory extend beyond its original United States centric framing, emerging out of transnational considerations and experiences of queer immigrants, including second generation immigrants.
Importantly, new directions in queer theory and art invest in forms of politics beyond the linguistic performativity of queer theory’s origins. The authors here incorporate matter, technology, and the nonhuman into their politics, generating a political schema that stresses illegibility, failure and the strangest of pleasures. These practices can come together under the framing term of “queer new media.”
All of the articles in this issue propose queer approaches to their various fields, where queer is described as an excess beyond male and female, the unintelligible in the form of the uncomfortable, the illegible in the form of a masked face, and the decolonial logic of networks outside of the digital. Jacob Gaboury combines contemporary queer theory with the history of computing to find queerness always already in the technics of computing. Pinar Yoldas engages with biology to propose new possibilities for life by making them visual and tangible. Zach Blas looks to masked protest to inspire methods of concretely subverting biometric recognition that perform a queer illegibility. Allison Reed explores the intersections of racialization and queer theory through science fiction narratives, where queerness reaches beyond the human. I bring together Queer of Color critique and decolonial thought to propose forms of communication networks which precede and follow contemporary digital technology.
Together these essays open the breadth of a field that can work through many different strategies, from historical and critical to aesthetic and performative. They also show the value of using queer forms of analysis to understand, critique and respond to contemporary technology. Lastly, they all reveal the rich possibility unleashed through critical approaches to materiality, be they Turing machines or fabricated masks.
What is missing: critiques of queer theory, global south voices and indigenous voices. How are queerness, gay desire, binary gender and transgender, transformed and reconfigured by new media? These essays focus largely on that which exceeds and goes beyond identity and legibility, but how can new media deepen and reconfigure the terms of identity as they play out in our everyday lives? Also, the question of the usefulness of the term queer theory remains in question as queer new media takes it up and transforms it. As Viviane Namaste states in Invisible Lives, “queer theory… [has] shown very little concern for the individuals who live, work, and identify themselves as drag queens, transsexuals, or transgenderists. [sic]”  Considering queer theory’s problematic history in the eyes of some critics, how can artists working in new media dialog with queer theory in order to question it, highlight its limitations and extend it? Or does the combination of queerness, computation and the non-human warrant new terms? Part of what queer new media inherits is the rage and irony of the cyberfeminists, responding with emotion to a new media art world primarily dominated by straight, white men and primarily technical concerns. Additionally, queer new media has the potential to go beyond queer theory or new media, incorporating critiques of these fields that raise the bar for our expectations for liberation while opening possibilities for new fields and configurations that can account for the issues so relevant today: the persistence of racism, sexism, cissexism and trans-misogyny in a moment some still describe as post-racial and post-feminist; increasing biometric and medical surveillance that reinforces ableism and normative conceptions of bodies; and the violence of neocolonialism in a moment some describe as digitally interconnected. Perhaps what queer new media can most importantly offer are material experiments that reveal the complexities of theoretical claims about gender and sexuality, as these claims operate across lines of race, ability, nationality and humanity in a moment of rapidly multiplying and overlapping fields of mediation.
1. “Queer 2.0”, Jeffrey J. Williams, The Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/article/Queer-20/130156/
2. de Lauretis, Teresa (1991) ‘Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities’, differences: a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3, 2, pp.ii
3. “Queer Theory”, Annamarie Jagose, Australian Humanities Review, http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-Dec-1996/jagose.html
4. Namaste, Viviane K., Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People, 2000, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, p. 9