Chad Parkhill

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On Queering Heterosexuality

Questions of Method

Presented at Queering Paradigms II, 8 April 2010. Detail, Das Gastmahl. Nach Platon (zweite Fassung) by Anselm Feuerbach (1871–74).

I’d like to begin by posing a question: What might it mean to queer heterosexuality? At first blush, what is at stake in this question is the verb ‘to queer,’ and the cathexis of intellection, affect, and political struggle conveniently labelled ‘queer theory’—as if this could ever constitute a single, determinable entity. In the light of these considerations, therefore, the correct response to these questions would be to, first and foremost, explore what exactly it means to ‘queer’ an object (in this case, heterosexuality) rather than to question the givenness of that term. Such an approach is visible in Calvin Thomas’s edited collection on the subject of the interface between heterosexuality and queer theory, entitled Straight With a Twist. In the title essay, the question Thomas poses is not one about heterosexuality qua heterosexuality, but rather one about the boundaries of queer theory proper: “To what extent does critical queerness … depend on a specific identification with the words ‘homosexual,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘lesbian,’ or ‘gay’ and the outlawed sexualities those terms conventionally represent?” he asks. He continues: “and more to the point of this discussion, to what extent could an otherwise ‘straight’ subject elaborate a queer criticism?” What follows is an extended discussion that centres around questions of privilege and appropriation: how is it possible for a ‘straight’ subject to utilise the intellectual apparatus of queer theory for an antihomophobic project of self-examination without appropriating queerness for heteronormative ends? Or without de-specifying the privileged link between non-normative sexualities and that intellectual apparatus? Perhaps unsurprisingly, after thirty or so pages of sometimes-tortured self-examination Thomas has not definitively answered those questions, since any epistemological certainty in such matters would only reflect the heteronormative fiction of the epistemologically-privileged straight, white, male intellect. Instead, Thomas offers us this slyly self-congratulatory remark in his introduction to the volume: “It is appropriation in these senses of the word”—by which he means appropriation as a tool of domination—“that the contributors to Straight With a Twist have attempted to avoid (though to claim assuredly that we have succeeded in our attempt would be to demonstrate that we have failed).”

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Humanism After All?

Daft Punk’s Existentialist Critique of Transhumanism

Published by Parrhesia: a Journal of Critical Philosophy, issue eight, December 2009. Original PDF. Detail from Electroma (2007).

The French dance music production duo Daft Punk have, since the pre-release publicity for their second album, Discovery (2001), used their music (and the accompanying paratexts of video clips, publicity photos, liner notes, and the costume and stage design of their tours) as an occasion to meditate on the relationship between technology and the human. Although their early efforts at exploring this relationship seem at best naïve—they initially claimed that an accident in their recording studio in September 1999 had transformed them into robots—their later texts, such as the video clips that accompany their third album, Human After All (2005), display an increasing level of sophistication, not only in artistic but also in philosophical terms. Despite the fact that their music and its commercial success rely extensively on technologies of sound manipulation, digital reproduction, and new forms of online media, Daft Punk’s recent examinations of the relationship between technology and the human are, to say the least, ambivalent. On the one hand, songs such as ‘Technologic’ can be read as paeans to the possibilities that technology opens up to human existence, and the fact that the song was swiftly seized upon by advertising executives to sell Apple’s iPod music player would support such a reading. On the other hand, the visual codes and semiotics of the song’s video clip suggest that Daft Punk’s vision of the technological is a much darker one than Apple might like to embrace.

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The Prometheus of Paedophilia

Sexual Violence and Queer-Making in Stephen King’s The Library Policeman

Published by Crossroads: an Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, volume three, issue two, May 2009. Original PDF. Detail, Prometheus Bound by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam (1762).

Paedophiles, it seems, are all around us: if not necessarily in our suburbs, then at least on our television screens after the watershed, in the pages of the latest true-crime best-seller, rendered monstrously large in the blockbusters playing in suburban cineplexes. Why are we so obsessed with paedophilia? What impels an author, filmmaker, or dramatist to create texts that centre on the sexual abuse of children, and to what purposes might the resulting products be put?

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