Sedgwick wrote on the transformative potential of queer reading practices in ways that, to me, also describe fannish modes of attachment:
“I think that for many of us in childhood the ability to attach intently to a few cultural objects, objects of high or popular culture or both, objects whose meaning seemed mysterious, excessive, or oblique in relation to the codes most readily available to us, became a prime resource for survival. We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn’t line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and with love.”
In the same passage, she writes of “a visceral near-identification with the writing I cared for”: not with one or more of the characters, but with the writing; “on the level of sentence structure, metrical pattern, rhyme.” This fannish merging with the text – with its aesthetic form – was “one way of trying to appropriate what seemed the numinous and resistant power of the chosen objects.”
Meanwhile, Carolyn Dinshaw, a medieval scholar and one of the founding co-editors of the journal GLQ, was writing about the “queer … touch across time”: the intense affective attachments, including identification, which produce queer – that is, oblique, resistant and desiring – relationships to the medieval past, which exceed and refuse normative trajectories and linear histories, and find in medieval pasts and texts that “numinous and resistant power” that makes certain art objects, for their fans, potent “resources for survival.” Finding in the distant past another way of organising sexuality, selfhood and experience, which we somehow recognise, which we somehow need – the “defiant and confused” feeling of knowing, without knowing how we know, that this book, this person, this artwork, is “one of ours,” as Alison Hennegan describes in “On Becoming a Lesbian Reader.” The queer touch across time retrieves though this is too passionless a word – it rescues artworks and archives from the dustbin of history, resonating with Taylor J. Acosta’s characterisation of fandom as “a historiographic approach in the Benjamanian tradition, not as an explicit critique of history, with its pretences to critical distance, total understanding, and specificity, but rather as an alternative practice in which an art produced of love and affect can function historically.” The queer or fannish touch across time produces “worthless knowledge”: knowledge that has no value that can be registered by neoliberal-capitalist metrics and that is for that reason invaluable.
(It strikes me that my desire to quote from these texts, to show them to you, is itself fannish. Look! Look at this thing that I love! It says something to me that cannot be said in any other form. Does it speak to you too? What does it say?)Willis, I. ‘Afterword: Fan Theory/Theory Fan Or I Love This Book’. FANDOM AS METHODOLOGY. LONDON: GOLDSMITHS PRESS.
Fannish proximity across time and space