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Queering Language: Editorial Statement

Paul Foster Johnson

While the occasion for publishing the work of these outstanding writers is to examine the nexus of sexuality and experimental writing, the evidence of this reading experience transcends a simple Venn diagram. The queer(ing) texts collected here inscribe and interpret difference as they grapple with L/language’s history and future. We editors hope that readers will find among these selections not consistency or coherence, but common concerns. Psychopathia sexualis and schizophrenic subjects be damned, we believe this issue reflects a community.
Projects such as this one become more important as manifestations of counterculture and solidarity evaporate. The multicultural ethos that pulled us under the queer umbrella has been superseded and defined by an intransigent norm that lashes out against specters of political correctness. For their part, many twenty-first-century queers have come to embrace an assimilationist agenda that is incongruous with the social and economic conditions (and exigencies) experienced by people who might have been tempted to identify with the term, but ultimately did not, often for reasons of cultural difference.
Vanguard literary movements too have dimmed—not died—and their long life in arts and letters continues to prove the insufficiency of this model of progress. The renegade stances adopted by the avant-garde inevitably resolve in appropriation by the very cultural forces they attempt to redirect. As the verse culture industry grinds on, it remains for us to work against it. Instead of writing from the margin back to the center, these poems are points of resistance in practice.
These contributors are not easy to pin down. When asked for identification, they send out queer rhizomes. Desire in these poems is illegible, unrequited, and queerer than the labels that constitute sex and experimentation as they are managed in discourse.
Just as Judith Butler tells her colleagues that she is “off to Yale to be a lesbian,” poetic performances of professional and sexual selves are intertwined. Universities, presses, and scenes offer shelter and support to unorthodox creative and scholarly endeavors, and they also confer and dictate the identities of their subjects. Anthologies—like the present issue—are another such means of organization, a medium through which we see the restless work of identity administration.
As I took up the task of the queer anthologist, I wanted to include poets who wear the burden of representation well. I set no parameters for work I solicited, but knew that the submissions would be smart, kicky, elegiac, confrontational, decadent, or all of the above. They would not necessarily posit a problem but live in it. They would be fine with indeterminacy despite their quarrelsome becoming. I was thrilled that the work I received in turn satisfied these expectations and brought in so much else. With minimal editorial interference, the responses showed that these writers were already thinking through similar limits and challenges.
I love how so many of the poems in this issue contain politics without transparency, how they are fully engaged and ready to expose the “fallacy of the monad // Gonad?” (see Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Pointillism”). Some are flinty and some flamboyant, but all wield their difficulty as an implicit argument that technical virtuosity need not get in the way of the important or the good. Most of all, these documents of aesthetic difference both embody and go beyond community. They are a show of force and signs of the times.