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Make Queer Theory Dangerous Again


At Public Seminar, Aaron Neber reviews the book Queer Apocalypses: Elements of Antisocial Theory by Lorenzo Bernini, a professor of philosophy at the University of Verona. In the book, Bernini challenges the US-centric nature of academic queer theory, arguing that while queer theory may be fully institutionalized in English-speaking scholarship, it remains untamed and rich with potential elsewhere, such as in Bernini’s native Italy. Bernini also critiques the “anti-social” current of queer theory represented by thinkers such as Leo Bersani and Lee Edelman. Read an excerpt from the review below, or the full text here.

Tracing the developments of the so-called “antisocial” theorists, Bernini provides an elegant summary and critique of the dominant voices in queer theory, crafting an accessible introduction to queer theory newcomers. For those already acquainted with the terms of the debate, it is Bernini’s position as an insider on the outside that illuminates the first half of Queer Apocalypses. He is a professor steeped in the literature of American queer theory who recognizes the colonial logic that pervades the discipline’s exportation; he has held positions in philosophy programs where the critique of sexual norms is considered “of little relevance’”; even when teaching the “foundation of the classic philosophy of modernity” he is publicly accused of professing “militant faggotism.” This particular positionality allows Bernini to highlight facets of the production of queer theory that may otherwise remain concealed.

Perhaps most revelatory, Bernini speaks of Duke University’s shuttering of Series Q. The series is responsible for giving a home to some of the most renowned queer theorists of the past 30 years, including Edelman and Guy Hocquenghem. But in 2011, the editors, “noting that queer studies was flourishing in universities across the United States, determined that the goals of the book series had been reached.” Meanwhile, in the “marginal observatory that is the Italian university … queer is only now beginning to spread.” The “end of queer theory” was declared before many non-Americans had even had a chance to contribute. The American academy and its publishing wing asserted its right to create, disseminate, and determine the shelf life of its concepts. Bernini’s insider/outsider status orients the work, enabling him to observe and respond to over(t)ly American notions of queerness: “Italy does not need the United States to feel queer.”

Image via Public Seminar.