Reparative Practices and the Exemption from Meaning: Sedgwick and Barthes

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Title:
Reparative Practices and the Exemption from Meaning: Sedgwick and Barthes
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Conference Name
Spanking and Poetry: A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Host Institution
CUNY Graduate Center
Location
Province:
New York
Country:
United States
Conference date
Fri, 02/26/2010
Conference Name
Spanking and Poetry: A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
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Language: 
English
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Abstract:

 

In this paper I seek to trace fruitful connections between Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of reparative reading and Roland Barthes’s concept of the Neutral. Each serves the same dual functions: as a phenomenology or thick description of affective experience, of how things feel, and as an ethical project—that is, as Barthes says, as “a guide to life,” a question of how to behave on which “depends the vital thing we used to call happiness: which makes it a specifically ethical problem” (105-6). Each is therefore, I argue, deeply engaged in congruent projects of understanding and expressing the ways in which people—particularly queer people, or different people, or people for whom conventional heterosexism and the culture of “entrepreneurial” corporate capitalism does not offer sustenance—assemble and preserve meaningful objects (in the psychoanalytic sense of something one relates to) that, as Sedgwick writes, can be “available both to be identified with and to offer one nourishment and comfort in return” (128). The stakes of this understanding, for both thinkers, are the availability of another means of resistance to an impoverishing or hostile culture, a means of resistance that is constructive and generative of more nurturing alternatives. Barthes’s desire for the Neutral as a means of evading or outplaying the requirement that everything mean something—and, moreover, mean one thing defined by its opposition to one other thing—I argue, is motivated by his desire to be able to value nuanced, changing things for nuanced, changing, idiosyncratic reasons, just as Sedgwick writes that the “desire of a reparative impulse […] is additive and accretive. Its fear, a realistic one, is that the culture surrounding it is inadequate or inimical to its nurture; it wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self” (149).  

Works Cited

  • Barthes, Roland. The Neutral. Ed. and Trans. Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. New York: Columbia UP, 2005. Print.
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.” Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Print. 123-152.
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