Monday, June 27, 2005

Things queer and not so

Hi,

Sorry for disappearing - I was finishing a text (on the intellectually challenging case of the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich on eBay), and it seems my poor head can only take one thing at the time.

Great questions, Radhika!

Thinking of how to respond (and Kris's questions as for the blog format), I can't help noting that blogs are a bit tricky for me... but then again it's the same with me and listservs: scribbling anything seems to take disproportionate amount of time compared to the quality of the outcome. This may also have to do with being a second-language speaker/writer (or then it's just the general slipperiness of language), but it's a challenge expressing myself. So I'm very much of a habitual lurker, and in awe of the kind of eloquence some people seem capable of almost instantly.

So that's my disclaimer, and perhaps difficult to connect to me finding both listservs and blogs potentially wonderful for theory-formation as well as networking (although the former is obviously more difficult than the latter). The hard thing is to achieve the kind of intensity that makes people engage with each other’s ideas - a question of time, granted, but I think it also has to do with goals and aims. So much of what we write and think is for some specific purpose (an article, class, talk, book, meeting), and tied to deadlines, and it may make it difficult to engage in parallel projects that do not have equally set aims or schedules. Recently I've been thinking a lot about how sadly my life revolves around iCal, and how this often keeps me from really thinking and pushing ideas further (or maybe that's just the excuse).

A colleague of mine is doing this wonderful research on a Finnish online forum for young/teenage girls, and the kinds of sexual and gender performances it enables. These self-performances tend to follow extremely predictable scripts in terms of gender normativity, but then some of them work with rather queer understandings of gender, age or sexuality. The thing is, that exchanges between these positions seem somewhat rigid and formulaic (like the recurrent debate over "the natural" and "the gross") in ways that don't really make it a negotiation inasmuch as - what - a kind of insistent repetition?

Nevertheless, here we have what is basically a commercial, highly popular online forum, with queer undercurrents and exchanges, and all kinds of unstable self-representations going on. The users are young, mainly female, spend a lot of time online, debate the attractiveness of the queer eye cast and conventionally feminine post pin-up poses of themselves in irc galleries.

This forum is a good example of queer moments online, and it points to the possibilities of the Web as a popular medium of discussion and user activity. But then again, the example does not exactly fit in a framework of liberating /reactionary... it kind of swings all ways, and this similar kind of ambiguity characterizes a lot of what's going on online. (I'm thinking of research done on gay male online forums and dating sites, and how these rely on self-commodification and address their audiences in terms of identity politics and consumerism, both enabling exchanges and fixing notions of identity.) So yes, definitely heteronormativity is disrupted in terms of the desirable subject positions Radhika addresses – and definitely more so in some examples than others, partly because queer sorts of subjectivities are desirable in terms of consumerism. This does not do away with norms (well, doing away with norms is not all that likely, or possible), but at least norms may realign slightly differently.

The whole thing with money and the Web is something I would love to read/discuss more: transnational economies, alternative publishing structures, ambivalencies of consumerism… and centrally how understandings of economy and agency guide our ways of working through these themes. It seems to me that Internet research too often bypasses questions of commerce as self-evident (as “natural” condition of the medium; as the evil other to independent counter-cultural activities; as a transparent framework, you name it), even if case studies illustrate the complexity of things. I've certainly done my share of simplification in this respect.

S.

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