Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick begins her early essay “Tales of the Avunculate” (1990) with the following line: “Let’s begin – but only because everyone else does – with the Name of the Father” (52). After Sedgwick, might we begin elsewhere? Sedgwick’s seminal concept of the “avunculate” resisted redemptive interpretations of literature and the family, opening up “some alternative approaches” to understanding desire and subjectivity outside the norms of reproductive heterosexuality. More than twenty years after its publication, Sedgwick’s queries and concerns remain relevant, as we persist in the mode with which she closes her essay: how can we stop redeeming the family? We seek to return to the question of the queer “avunculate,” as we identify new avenues, themes, and structures for understanding the extra-nuclear, non-reproductive family in literature and culture. Uncles – in the tradition of Uncle Tom – can serve, in their emasculated tenderness, to normalize pernicious racial divides. Unmarried aunts can appear as the apotheosis of femininity, their clean morality making them both desirable, and terrifying. Cousins, whether kissing or twice removed, can challenge the very basis of blood family, and its taboo against incest and intermarriage. What roles do aunts, uncles – and cousins – play in pedagogies of not simply gender and sexuality, but race, ethnicity and citizenship? How might a return to early debates around kinship and subjectivity help us to readdress the redemption/repair and anti-futurity/utopianism conflicts that haunt queer studies? We welcome work on aunts and uncle from all disciplinary, generic, and critical persuasions.
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Aunts and Uncles: Queer Kin and the Non-Reproductive Subject After Sedgwick
Jenny James/ Pacific Lutheran University
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