Mirror, Mirror On The Wall: Famous Queer Scholar Refuses Prize; Keeps Salary, Named Chair

June 23, 2010, 12:50 pm

Facebook and queer blogs have been a-buzz of late with the international doings of The Famous Queer Scholar. Recently, s/he has traveled boldly to Europe on the pretext of accepting a prize (probably on the euro of the organization giving it), only to publicly refuse the prize. In doing so, s/he made a point of chastising the organization for its failure to adequately refuse racism and “homonationalism” (or the organization’s actual collaboration with the German state — the nature of the crimes isn’t quite clear from accounts of this event.) Although no one wants to explain what they did to deserve this, we are led to believe that it served the bastards right.

Goddammit, I wish I’d thought of this first. The last time I was offered a prize, I just frakking took it, thinking only of the generosity of those who were awarding it and of the microraise it might pry out of Zenith. I now just feel stupid for having not refused all prizes, but I vow to do so in the future, because you just can’t do enough to fight racism, transphobia and homosexual collaboration in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is, of course, only the latest of The Famous Queer Scholar’s refusals. S/he has refused hir own celebrity, becoming particularly cranky in 1992 when a Midwestern graduate student created a very funny fanzine that used hir image to mock the feminist literary turn and the rise of queer academic super-stardom. In a path-breaking book s/he refused ontological gender and identity politics. Later, she refused criticism that this key text undermined a feminist epistemological praxis or the very possibility of queer politics in a democratic society.* Protesting just such a criticism in 2008, s/he responded:
“Despite the dislocation of the subject that the text performs, there is a person here: I went to many meetings, bars, and marches and saw many kinds of genders, understood myself to be at the crossroads of some of them, and encountered sexuality at several of its cultural edges.”
So there.

Refusal has been the cutting edge of queer scholarship for some time. This can, of course, leave historians a bit in the dust, since the vast majority of us are too stupid to write without falling into the intellectual trap that there are real people who did actual things. But refusing the privilege of prizes takes the struggle to a whole new level, particularly for those of us who have little or nothing to refuse. Under these circumstances, short of voluntarily giving up our jobs, refusal is difficult to achieve, so we have to just settle back into the audience and marvel at the courage of others to travel all the way to Europe and refuse things — in German!
As an addendum, I find it interesting that The Famous Queer Scholar, who is white, is being uniformly praised by queer scholars of color for making an inferred claim to critical interventions on race and migration that do not originate with hir. Oh yes, I know Walter Benjamin said that there is no longer an original, only reproductions of it (an idea that is uncannily similar to the notion that there is no gender, only performances of it, the intervention that made FQS a celebrity in the first place, and that I now understand s/he has repudiated on the grounds of that s/he no longer believes in the predictability of its subversiveness.)** Perhaps s/he is repudiating race too, as a necessary precondition to refusing racism. That said, I do believe that the term “homonationalism” was — I think — coined first by this scholar of color (in collaboration with this scholar of color) who may — or may not — be gnashing her teeth that she has not yet been offered anything that she can refuse — even a little credit for her ideas from The Famous Queer Scholar.
Celebrity can be quite problematic, and I have no acquaintance with it, so I am sure there must be some explanation for why, in the name of antiracism, the FQS has nicked other people’s ideas without acknowledging them. Furthermore, I suppose it is hard to refuse celebrity without, paradoxically, becoming more celebrated and hence, unwillingly (but inevitably) contributing to the inherently racist, and firmly institutionalized, academic practice of appropriating the subaltern radical (or is it the radical subaltern?) In this vein, you can go here for a great video of Angela Davis at a recent conference. Although Davis is talking at length about her own ideas concerning the transformation of movement struggle through intersectionality, the clip is billed (by whomever posted it) as “Angela Davis on Famous Queer Scholar’s Refusal To Accept…” (emphasis mine.)
So you can see this famous refusal for yourself, as Warner Wolf used to say, Let’s cut to the videotape!

*See? I can use big words too.
**Transpeople beware: you may soon be burdened with, and have to repudiate, the charge of transnationalism.
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