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Review of Sara Ahmed's Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others

Review of Sara Ahmed's Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others
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  This article was downloaded by:[Howard, Yetta]On:18 September 2007 Access Details:[subscription number 780434896]Publisher:Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Women's Studies  An inter-disciplinary journal Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:  A Review of: "Sara Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology:Orientations, Objects, Others " Yetta Howard aa University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USAOnline Publication Date:01 July 2007To cite this Article:Howard, Yetta (2007) 'A Review of: "Sara Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others "', Women's Studies, 36:5, 373 -375To link to this article: DOI:10.1080/00497870701420248URL: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: Thisarticlemaybeusedforresearch,teachingandprivatestudypurposes.Anysubstantialorsystematicreproduction,re-distribution,re-selling,loanorsub-licensing,systematicsupplyordistributioninanyformtoanyoneisexpresslyforbidden.Thepublisherdoesnotgiveanywarrantyexpressorimpliedormakeanyrepresentationthatthecontentswillbecompleteoraccurateoruptodate.Theaccuracyofanyinstructions,formulaeanddrugdosesshouldbeindependentlyverifiedwithprimarysources.Thepublishershallnotbeliableforanyloss,actions,claims,proceedings,demandorcostsordamageswhatsoeverorhowsoevercausedarisingdirectlyorindirectlyinconnectionwithor arising out of the use of this material.     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   H  o  w  a  r   d ,   Y  e   t   t  a   ]   A   t  :   1   8  :   5   5   1   8   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   0   7  Women’s Studies, 36:373–375, 2007Copyright ©  Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0049-7878 print / 1547-7045 onlineDOI: 10.1080/00497870701420248 373 GWST0049-78781547-7045 Women’s Studies, Vol. 36, No. 5, May 2007: pp. 1–4 Women’s Studies BOOK REVIEW  Sara Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others.  Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Book Review  Yetta Howard BY YETTA HOWARD University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California Rarely does philosophical writing successfully manage to make itsreader embrace the abstraction that comes along with such writ-ing and bridge this abstraction with everyday, lived experience.Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology   astoundingly does both. Thebook distinctively intervenes in earlier theories of phenomenol-ogy by indicating how bodily positions, in being directed towardparticular objects, link to queer and raced social frameworks. Ahmed begins her study by stating that her commitment to phe-nomenology “is not ‘properly’ phenomenological” (2). That is, by specifying questions of orientation in terms of how certain bodiescome to inhabit spaces, Ahmed sets out to queer the very ways weconceive of our relationships to objects as well as how socialspaces are shaped by bodily contact; however, Ahmed compli-cates merely equating corporeality with spatiality and the percep-tions of one’s surroundings. She writes, “Neither the object northe body have integrity in the sense of being ‘the same thing’ withand without others. Bodies as well as objects take shape throughbeing orientated toward each other” (54). This notion is in sync with Ahmed’s very methodology: the book opens up phenome-nology—usually regarded as solely philosophical—as an “object”of study through examining how it interacts with “the body” of  work on race and queer studies. Therefore, Ahmed’s refusal to be“properly” phenomenological extends to the structure of herargumentation: she weaves anecdotal evidence from her ownmixed-race, lesbian perspective into the intricacies of her claims,so that the reader is purposefully but logically disoriented. The sig-nificance, then, of Ahmed’s unconventional and interdisciplinary      D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   H  o  w  a  r   d ,   Y  e   t   t  a   ]   A   t  :   1   8  :   5   5   1   8   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   0   7 374 Yetta Howard  approach to theorizing orientation rests in its ability to maintainpolitical relevance in a tangible way. Ahmed gracefully unpacks concepts that are usually takenfor granted, such as “lines,” “turns,” and “sides.” For instance, shecontemplates how lines, in general being thought of as “straight”lines, determine ways of identifying and sexually interacting. Inexplaining the straight body as “a body that appears ‘in line’”(66), Ahmed incisively relates sexual normativity, or straightness,to the notion of following straight lines; that is, in an oblique ref-erence to theories of performativity, she discusses the straightnessof these lines as being formulated through the repetition of par-ticular sexual and social norms. Hence, the “orientations” of queer sexual orientations are ones that become, for Ahmed, “‘out of line’” (66). This emphasis on queer desire’s misalignment along the axis of heteronormativity is further explored in her dis-cussion of lines of desire that determine sexual identification viasexual object choice. Even though she begins with delineatingthe alignments through which heterosexual desire is organized,she queers the context of her discussion by focusing on lesbian-ism. Using the politics that surrounded butch-femme couplingalongside the example of butch-butch desire, Ahmed importantly “show[s] how drawing ‘a dividing line,’ can in its turn   make otherforms of sexual desire unlivable, even if that line does not follow astraight line” (99). Here, her very use of lesbianism becomesanother way of exposing how lines of difference become mis-aligned with dominant lines; lines that disappear in being per-ceived as second nature. In other words, rather than anundifferentiated notion of sexual orientation, the examples of lesbianism in the book become uneven with trajectories of queerstudies that are automatically about gay men. Queer Phenomenology   goes on to connect these unmarkedlines—the lines of heterosexuality and maleness—to whitenessand Western perspectives. In “The Orient and Other Others,” achapter that builds on the aforementioned processes and cri-tiques of universalizing, Ahmed describes the ways that racial oth-erness and geographical positions become read through theneutrality and reproduction of whiteness. What she calls an“embodiment of distance” (121) describes the effects of seeingthe West as the vantage point that determines the “otherness” of positions that are other than the West. By broadening the     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   H  o  w  a  r   d ,   Y  e   t   t  a   ]   A   t  :   1   8  :   5   5   1   8   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   0   7 Book Review  375 definitional contours of the word orient   and drawing from femi-nist postcolonial theory, this chapter reveals that notions of theOrient, or the East, cannot be separated from thinking about how remoteness itself is implicated in the Orient as a construction:“orientalism involves the transformation of ‘farness’ as a spatialmaker of distance into a property of people and places” (114).Beyond but nonetheless bound up with location, “orientation”thus corresponds to the exoticizing of otherness: the Orient comes through as a Western “objectification” of distance, so that the object of desire is as much about the sexualization of theactual distance from the West and from the whiteness that is asso-ciated with it.In her final chapter, “Disorientation and Queer Objects,” Ahmed outlines the political stakes of disorientation as well asaddresses the questions that inevitably arise in investigating atypi-cal ideological conceptions. Although she considers the possibili-ties of coalescing around specific experiences of being “offline” with mechanisms of normativity, Ahmed does not prescribe dis-orientation as the necessary path to political redemption. In fact,she problematizes idealizing queer orientations and points out the contradictions and exclusions of viewing disorientation assuch: I am not sure how it is possible to embrace the negative without turning it into a positive. To say ‘yes’ to the ‘no’ is still a ‘yes.’ To embrace or affirmthe experience of shame, for instance, sounds very much like taking pridein one's shame—a conversion of bad feeling into good feeling. [. . .] Sucha ‘yes’ is not available to everyone. (175) This citation demonstrates one of the many features that makethe book so compelling: the manner in which Ahmed dissemi-nates her ideas. Rather than being enmeshed in the jargon that tends to come along with this theoretical territory, Ahmed’s writ-ing style instead succinctly unfolds the remarkable complexity of her assertions. Therefore, while one of the book’s central aimsmay be to push us to rethink our ideas about which objects arereachable and what that reachability articulates about space, race,and sexuality (117), Queer Phenomenology   impressively emerges as atext that is reachable to its readers.     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   B  y  :   [   H  o  w  a  r   d ,   Y  e   t   t  a   ]   A   t  :   1   8  :   5   5   1   8   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   0   7
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