Waiting two weeks after attending a conference to write it up suggests two possibilities: either one has too much on one’s plate, or the conference was of an order of intensity such that it required time to put it into narrative (wait, isn’t that the definition of trauma?!). In this case, it was certainly both, though not in equal dosages.
This postcolonial, queer and affect studies conference was a riveting two days of a truly international collection of scholars, all assembled in the precious space of Bloomsbury in London to talk about, well, precisely the vagaries of love, sex and desire in postcolonial worlds. I would contend that most of the talk was about sex and desire and not so much about love or affect (somewhat to my disappointment), but in any case, it was stimulating to attend so many panels devoted to geographical worlds I have little training in or familiarity with, and yet where the kinds of questions being asked by scholars connect them to my own work in unpredictable ways.
Jack Halberstam’s keynote address, which read the Occupy Wall Street movement in a (probably mostly made-up) genealogy of anticolonial, feminist and queer forms of protest ended in a digression into his seemingly endlessly applicable work on “[Lady] Gaga Feminism.” The second keynote, delivered by Neville Hoad and entitled “Colonial Erotopolitics,” picked up on what I thought was the most interesting and sustained subject of discussion at the conference overall: the potentially slippery and fraught role of sex, desire and affective attachment in larger power formations we would otherwise label as “bad.” In Hoad’s case, he traced the genealogy of modern human rights discourse back to the British consul Roger Casement’s work on documenting the staggering violence of Léopold’s Congo at the turn of the twentieth century, reading this moment in light of Casement’s “black diaries” in which are detailed his extensive sexual exploits in various colonial settings, including the Congo itself. While Hoad was somewhat insistent that he saw something redemptive in Casement’s consistent bottoming to colonial subjects in his bedroom (something Jack Halberstam thankfully challenged), he helpfully outlined one of the many ways in which sex and desire are perfectly compatible with forms of epistemic violence, even when that epistemic violence (in this case, the definition of “human” itself) is in the ostensible service of combatting other violence (Léopold’s reign of terror).
For my part, I suppose I didn’t touch upon sex or desire much at all, but focused rather more on love and affect, presenting a paper that explored the interfacing of blackness, gender (specially, “sissyness”) and queerness in childhood in the short-lived BBC television series Beautiful People (2008-2009). Dissatisfied with the limits of linear and genealogical temporalities in separating the child from adult, of the logic of identity in addressing queer children at all, as well as intersectionality as a paradigm for understanding the haecceity of the queer child of color, I turned to Deleuze for the alternative temporality of “becoming” in order to open a space to think the queer child of color as more than just the standard postcolonial, melancholic queer of color subject. Beautiful People, in any case, is a sharp and hilarious show worthy of much promotion in its own right. The episode I was reading is entitled “How I Got My Tongs.” Have a watch.