Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ahmed's comfortable chair

Sometimes, a reading based on subsumption to a totality feels too easy, and subsumes a concept itself in the gesture. But I can’t stop thinking about Ahmed’s chapter on “Queer Feelings” in these terms (maybe, though, it’s just that it’s too obvious): the space of the norm can expand to include deviation precisely as deviation, thereby positioning/defining itself against something and neutralizing the threat that said deviation may pose.
Ahmed’s “comfortable chair” image is useful (though seems like an unnecessary metaphor since it’s pretty literal). She writes, “To be comfortable is to be so at easy with one’s environment that it is hard to distinguish where one’s body ends and the world begins. One fits, and by fitting, the surfaces of bodies disappear from view.” By conforming to the norm (actively or not) the space between being an individual, isolated subject and being a part of the larger structure of tradition and reproduction is erased. One fits.
All this, to introduce an anecdote: my politically conservative mother was recently confronted with the fact that two people she loves are queer. She spent months worrying this dissonance, obviously uncomfortable in the direction her reality had taken relative to her ideals. She eventually joined a political group called GOProud—“a national organization of gay and straight Americans who seek to promote freedom by supporting free markets, limited government, and a respect for individual rights”—and, in the discovery of the possibility of a “new normal” that showed that there was room for this, too, within her norm, she was again able to find comfort in it. To me, the elision inherent in her new political alliance feels both sweet (it's nice when your parents appear to being changing in a positive way) and a little troubling in how easy it seemed to accept the wider 'norm' only once it was shown to be legitimate. Ahmed's notion of discomfort as productive resistance feels relevant here.

One more, tangential thought: I think I watched the wrong Peter Jennings clip but, even so, I (like Rob) was really surprised by the tone of that news segment. I don't watch tv news regularly, so maybe my impression of what it's like is based on too-limited experience, but the effort that Jennings made to resist tightly narrativizing the event immediately, to emphasize that an explanation had not yet been arrived at, and to interrogate the assumptions of the people he spoke to felt like an Ahmed-ian embrace of discomfort.

3 comments:

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