Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure

Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure
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  This article was downloaded by: []On: 07 March 2014, At: 00:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Lesbian Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Introduction to the Special Issue: UnderPressure Yetta Howard aa  Department of English and Comparative Literature , San DiegoState University , San Diego , California , USAPublished online: 14 Jan 2013. To cite this article:  Yetta Howard (2013) Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure, Journal of Lesbian Studies, 17:1, 2-6, DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2012.684023 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at   Journal of Lesbian Studies  , 17:2–6, 2013Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1089-4160 print / 1540-3548 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10894160.2012.684023 Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure  YETTA HOWARD  Department of English and Comparative Literature, San Diego State University, San Diego,California, USA This article introduces this special issue on the theme “Under Pres- sure.” It uses an analysis of experimental lesbian filmmaker Su Friedrich’s   Seeing Red  (2005) to frame the issue’s focus on the ways that the category “lesbian” is placed under pressure and/or the pressure “lesbian” places on twentieth- and twenty-first-century cultural production. After this overview, the introduction summa-rizes all seven articles in the order that they appear in the issue.These summaries also show the connections between the articles and suggest possibilities for future critical dialogues on the theme. KEYWORDS lesbian, under pressure   What does it mean to be “under pressure”? Specifically, what does being“under pressure” have to do with lesbianism? In  Seeing Red   (2005), exper-imental filmmaker Su Friedrich presents to her viewers several seemingly random shots of red objects—a Staples office supply shirt, tulips, graffiti of asmiling face, a child’s knit hat, a neon sign for a nail salon—all with selectedportions of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” that play out of sequence through-out the film. But  Seeing Red   is primarily a series of narrative laments aboutthe lesbian filmmaker as aging subject without being reduced to a film aboutlesbianism, filmmaking, or aging. Each of Friedrich’s monologues is inter-rupted by one of Bach’s unsequenced variations that threaten the stability of  what the film presumably seeks to emphasize. Such interruptions also speakto a literary tradition of “lesbian aesthetics” that is as much about oppositionaltextual practices that fall under the rubric of “lesbian” as it is about putatively “lesbian” content. Indeed, as Liz Kotz explains, Friedrich offers “provocative  Address correspondence to Yetta Howard, Department of English and Comparative Liter-ature, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-6020. E-mail: yhoward@mail.sdsu.edu2    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   1   7   4 .   6   5 .   1   1   0 .   1   1   7   ]  a   t   0   0  :   0   8   0   7   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   4   Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure   3  ways of looking at lesbian representation which go beyond the boundaries of the still largely accepted agendas of ‘realist representation,’ ‘positive images,’and highly codified forms of ‘explicit lesbian content’” (1993, 87). One of the only overtly “lesbian” references in the film is the filmmaker’s stating, “Ilive in this big house with  her   and a couple of roommates” (Friedrich 2005). At another point, the commitment to living a non-heteronormative life is putunder pressure as Friedrich lapses into a tearful and incensed declarationabout “spen[ding] a lot of years not having kids, and doing, you know, eat-ing out at shitty restaurants, and doing my own work, ‘cause I thought I’llbe goddamned if I’m gonna be a fucking housewife and I have turned intoa fucking housewife and I can’t stand it!” (Friedrich 2005). After very audiblesobbing, Friedrich continues, through anguished tears, with, “and then youknow the things you can’t stand, you start finding a way that they’re goodfor you” (Friedrich 2005). Here, Friedrich’s statement, marking her brand of lesbian subjectivity, aggressively destabilizes what is an appropriate affectiveresponse to her predicament. While the film may be read as a portrait of an aging lesbian filmmakerstruggling to reconcile with not having any more control over herself thanshe did in her younger years, the film is much more complex than that. JanetCutler writes, “Friedrich embraces and critiques her chosen subjects: the filmmedium and her own life” (2007, 313). This pressure between embrace andcritique in  Seeing Red  , like many of Friedrich’s films, allows us to see andhear what being under pressure looks and sounds like. Queer female iden-tity is both obliquely and explicitly routed through the pressures of gettingolder and the experimental forms that those pressures take. Friedrich’s filmsuggests that we take the title neither literally nor metaphorically: we may literally see red objects (or understand the film’s visual presence as a seriesof red objects) while we hear—Friedrich films herself only from the neckdown—her seeing red. That is, her anger and passionate frustration becomea set of audible grievances about her present condition that is placed againstthe backdrop of literally red objects. The confrontation between the literaland the symbolic, the public and the private, the humorous and the solemnoperates as the experimental form’s inaccessibility colliding with the ac-cessible, everyday lived experience of aging. The pressure point becomessomething akin to what Friedrich addresses as “a point that you reach where you can no longer say and do the same things again” (2005). When we think about being under pressure, we think about conflict-ing forces, uncomplimentary mixtures, or disparate elements coming intocontact with one another—the assumed effects of which may be mostly neg-ative, potentially alienating, or perhaps even productive. Applying pressurehas everything to do with exerting force in some way, until the object be-ing forced can no longer sustain its present condition. This special issueexplores the cultural forms that place pressure on the category “lesbian”and/or the pressure “lesbian” places on twentieth- and twenty-first-century     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   1   7   4 .   6   5 .   1   1   0 .   1   1   7   ]  a   t   0   0  :   0   8   0   7   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   4  4  Y. Howard  cultural standards, practices, and desires. The articles in this issue consider various political, artistic, and historical examples that put pressure or areunder pressure. Specifically, they locate the ways that “lesbian” collides withits representational and cultural contexts. Moreover, these articles investi-gate particular encounters that allow us rethink our understandings of queerfemale identities within a variety of aesthetic and theoretical frameworks.Significantly, they allow us to see that being under pressure need not besomething to avoid but also should not be located in just one form: novels,theater, visual arts, and histories, provide the means through which to ac-count for “lesbian” in the twentieth- and twenty-first century, even at the riskof losing its intelligibility or cohesion as category of sexual identification.More than twenty years of queer and feminist theory has taught us that iden-tity is necessarily unstable, and this issue asks us to re-examine how, where,and in what forms the stability pertaining to the category “lesbian” is pushedto its limits through closely engaging with its varied modes of confrontationand contact.The issue begins with Jeff Solomon’s “Gertrude Stein, Opium Queen:Notes on a Mistaken Embrace,” which reads Stein’s commercial successalongside her non-heteronormative public image. Stein’s “specific homo-sexuality interacted in complex ways with her broad queerness,” Solomon writes, “to put both hegemonic censure and Stein’s own image under pres-sure, and eventually to allow her public celebration.” What Solomon de-scribes as “broadly queer,” rather than “specifically gay,” refers to the waysthat Stein and her work operate as a collision between the popularity of her iconoclastic literary aesthetic and the queerness of her celebrity persona, which includes her Jewishness. The centrality of Stein to understanding theconfrontation between queer female aesthetics and the popular is also thesubject of Amy Moorman Robbins’ “‘Lizzie Do You Mind’: Gertrude Stein’sLaws of Genre in  Blood on the Dining-Room Floor  .” In conversation with,but distinct from, Solomon’s focus on Stein’s popularity, Robbins turns toone of Stein’s least popular and posthumously published texts,  Blood on the  Dining-Room Floor  , which invokes Lizzie Borden as a queer female figure.For Robbins, the text “both courts and suppresses the discovery of lesbiansexuality within middle-class society” through its confrontation between thedetective novel genre and “the movement among suppression, innuendo,and disclosure of sexual knowledge” in rethinking the domestic sphere andpatriarchal family structure.The articles that follow use theater history and performance studies toaddress the pressure that lesbianism places on the consumption and recep-tion of popular culture across time. Daniel Hurewitz’s “Banned on Broad- way but Coming to a Theater Near You:  The Captive   and Rethinking theBreadth of American Anti-Lesbian Hostility in the 1920s and ’30s” turns tothe closing and subsequent showings of Edouard Bourdet’s  The Captive   inorder to reconsider “the American homophobic system and the hostility it    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   1   7   4 .   6   5 .   1   1   0 .   1   1   7   ]  a   t   0   0  :   0   8   0   7   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   4   Introduction to the Special Issue: Under Pressure   5 generated toward lesbians.” According to Hurewitz, the play’s history ex-poses “the gulf between powerful moralizers and a more accepting, but lesspowerful general public” and accounts for the politics of censorship andobscenity in early-twentieth-century cultural production. While Hurewitz ex-plores history in the context of theater, Nicole Eschen’s “Pressing Back:Split Britches’  Lost Lounge   and the Retro Performativity of Lesbian Perfor-mance” takes temporality itself as a subject via queer performance duo SplitBritches’ negotiation of the past with present performance and the ques-tion of progress in exploring lesbian gender. For Eschen, the performers“challenge the pressures of aging and gentrification by staging a disruptiverelationship to time and memory” and  Lost Lounge   becomes “a performativeattempt to press back against histories that exclude the lesbian performerand against the pressure toward utopian futurity.”The issue continues with a consideration of national history throughsexual trauma in Alyssa Stalsberg Canelli’s “Reading ‘Rights of Desire’ and‘Rights of Opacity’ in J. M. Coetzee’s  Disgrace  ,” which locates the category “lesbian” alongside the erasure of desire and the question of lesbianism’slegibility in post-apartheid South Africa. Canelli asks, “how does the very concept of an individual’s sexuality—a right of desire—bear the historicalpressure?” and she goes on to show how the rape and subsequent preg-nancy of   Disgrace  ’s lesbian character is both thought of and disavowed as“standing in for the racialized sexual violences of apartheid history.” Thisinterest in sexuality being put under pressure comes through in the issue’snext article, Stefanie Snider’s “Beyond the Static Image: Tee Corinne’s Rolesas a Pioneering Lesbian Artist and Art Historian.” Snider explores the re-ception of Tee Corinne’s sexually explicit photography from the 1970s andthe 1980s as that which “pushed the limits of what was deemed acceptablefor both mainstream and lesbian feminist visual representations.” Snider alsodemonstrates that the aesthetics of Corinne’s solarized photographs revealthe “tension between putting a ‘public face’ on lesbian sexuality and keepingindividual identities private” and ultimately shows how Corinne puts pres-sure on the categories of artist and art historian through her visual workand writings about what it meant to be a lesbian artist. The issue closes with a continued focus on sexuality, but it is asexuality/nonsexuality thatis the subject of Kristina Gupta’s “Picturing Space for Lesbian Nonsexuali-ties: Rethinking Sex-Normative Commitments through  The Kids Are All Right  (2010).” Gupta contends that Lisa Cholodenko’s 2010 film  The Kids Are All  Right   “adopts an ambiguous position on whether sex is a necessary partof lesbian relationships, thus placing pressure on the category ‘lesbian’ toaccommodate nonsexual or asexual women.” Gupta then focuses on queerand feminist responses to the film as reflecting “the continued ubiquity of sex-normativity in contemporary discourses about lesbian sexuality,” whichGupta discusses in terms of de-pathologizing low sexual desire and asexuallesbian identities.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   1   7   4 .   6   5 .   1   1   0 .   1   1   7   ]  a   t   0   0  :   0   8   0   7   M  a  r  c   h   2   0   1   4
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