Open Thread Discussion: Arondekar


This space is to be used to respond to group members' engagements, and further engage with Anjali Arondekar's "Without a Trace: Sexuality and the Colonial Archive", and to also bring into discussion the Interrogating Complicities: Postcolonial, Queer, and the Threat of the Normative Conference.

Feel free to engage along with our group!



The question, “If colonial homosexuality was not proclaimed openly, how can we track queer history?” is seemingly posed against the assertion the certain disciplines uphold the archive as “as storehouse of information that can reveal secrets about sexuality’s past”. I believe the question you raise is actually part of Arondekar’s larger project, and that instances like ‘homosexuality’ (or whatever reason certain things don’t make it into the historical record) show part of what is problematic about seeking records or semblances of that which has become to be known as homosexuality in much of Western discourse. There are always many structures operating as to what is documented in any time and space, and limits to what can be known or inferred from their ‘discovery’ as well as infinite ways certain lives and ideas will ever be able to be documented or theorized. So the point is exactly that to track ‘queer history’ presents a lot of problems, one of which is why something of the sort would ever be documented or recorded, and thus ‘discovered’ and how sexuality is dealt with in any particular time and place.

The Shah quote stuck with me as well, so I’ll try and take this opportunity to engage a little further with my own interpretation. He suggests that, “We may trap ourselves in the need of a history to sanction our existence” (16). She goes on to say, “South Asian lesbians and gay men are present now. On that alone we demand acknowledgment and acceptance”. I take this is a warning against looking to the past to help confirm what we are already in the present, as if validating what is not yet valid (help?). While he relies on archival material, he uses it to “think critically about the archives of the past” and tries to figure creative ways in which they can be strategically deployed while realizing the limits inherent in the process. I almost get the feeling that this statement is a warning against having too much of a personal attachment and stake in looking to what has already been to help understand our various identities and validate our experiences. Realizing the process of archiving leaves me wondering more about that which has existed yet never will be known as common social or academic discourse. What conceptualizations of sexualities, genders, familial structures, etc. exist anywhere anytime that cannot exactly be considered queer from within the context we (Westerners…queer scholars… sexuality historiographers?) find them in. How does queer (referred to here as non-normative sexual behavior) transfer when the normative and non-normative have to adapt to a different time and place?

(I will post more to the others... this is all the time I have for now)

That quote from Shah, "We may trap ourselves in the need of a history to sanction our existence," also stuck with me. It did make me wonder why there is such a need to find colonial archive's of homosexuality when we should be focusing on the here and now, not of what happened in the past and of things we cant change. But while talking to a friend she pointed out that some people are researching this to prove that homosexuality is a genetic trait and not just a mental "issue" so trying to find evidence of colonial homosexuality is of importance. So she tells me, I'm not actually sure if that is a fact or if she just heard it from somewhere. It would be interesting to research this and find out.

First I'll reply to the comments already up and then I'll go into my replies the responses.

In reference to Shah's quote I agree that it is a warning to us. If there is that need for constant validation from the past then there is no real way for there to be growth.(Or that's what I started to understand from it). I also wonder why there is the constant need to find the colonial archive's of homosexuality, won't putting more focus on the present be more...helpful? I could see wanting to know more about what happened but putting so much focus there can't be useful in the long run.


I think that there's a lot of productive things that can come out of queering history. Knowing and understanding history can prevent that same mistakes from happening in the future. A lot can be learned from the past, queering the past I would assume would allow the queer community grow. However, we have to be careful of getting to consumed by our focus on the past, otherwise Shah's warning will go to waste.


The passage "The process of "queering" pasts has been realized through corrective reformulations of "suppressed" or misread colonial materials. These reformulations have intervened decisively in colonial historiography, not only decentering the idea of a coherent and desirable imperial archive but also forcing us to rethink colonial methodologies. Implicit in this rethinking, however, is the assumption that the archive, in all its multiple ariculations, is still the source of knowledge about the colonial past. The inclusion of oral histories, ethnographic data, popular culture, and performances may have fractures traditional definitions of the archive (and for the better), but the teleos of knowledge production is still deemed approachable through what one finds, if only one can think of more capacious ways to look" (11) stuck with me and brought questions to my mind as well. The first sentence for me bring a few questions to my mind. I have to think as to why there was the need to have "corrective reformulations" in the first place? Were these reformulations needed simply because homosexuality was so hidden that without them the archive won't have been "a storehouse"? I also wondered if the "rethink[ing of] colonial methodologies a bad thing? I mean at first the rethinking of anything can be hard but breaking down previous thought from the past can bring about a multitude of new discussions and thoughts to be brought to light. However, it is understandable that this rethinking could bring up debates where things could get ugly yet I still think it could be a good thing. Although, I could be wrong. The whole of the end of this passage to be the significance of the whole passage. What I grasped was that despite the fact that adding different medias and non-traditional collections into the archive chances the definition of the archive, it allows scholars a means of expanding their knowledge. Thus, by expanding our knowledge it allows other who might not feels as comfortable with discussing things that they seem to have no correlation, i.e. the past, suddenly feel as if they can take part in the discussion, given the fact that the knowledge pool would now include means to which more people could personally connect with.

The other passage that you brought up in wanting to discuss that caused me a lot of thought was; "The intellectual challenge here is to juxtapose productively the archive's fiction-effects (the archive as a system of representation) alongside its truth-effects (the archive as material with "real" consequences), as both agonistic and co-constitutive." (12) It almost seems like to me that juxtaposing this two very different effects of the archive could be too much to do. Perhaps I'm missing something?

The question you posed about what it is that we think about our drive to recover the past, I believe that it has its positive and negative effects. I think that the drive to want to gain knowledge about the past and to find connections with it and our current lives is helpful, if not necessary, if for nothing else to avoid certain mistakes from the past. However, I think Shah's warning is something that most people who have a drive to recover the past seem to overlook. As I have said already that constant need to validation from the past send the impression that the here and now is not good enough and in some way lacking from what the past was.

I would also like to talk more about the "Epistemology of the closet". I think its an interesting thought process of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. I can't say that I understand it fully, so maybe so help on this one would be better so I can better discuss it. However, it does keep me thinking, despite the fact that I'm not to clear on its meaning.


I think that the archiver can add mystery or biased information to archives in relation to the decaede/time period. The power of the archives is in their hands, they could pretty much say what they want and there is no way for us to proof that what they are presenting is otherwise untrue. We have to trust that the archivers did not add such a large amount of mystery or biased information that it would cause the archives to be totally off base with the reality of the time periods.

What an amazingly intense conference. I was astounded by the depth and breadth of material covered and, quite frankly, feel quite overwhelmed. I've struggled with wrapping my head around the concepts covered, and grounding them within Arondekar's article.

At the same time, I was able to take much from it, and will attempt to work through some of it while poising some questions along the way.

Beginning with the first speaker, I related to the idea of the "gaze" as source of power. She spoke of the 'Tourist' and the 'Nomad'. The Tourist, she said, required the State/Empire to function and to effectively "other" the objects of their gaze. The Nomad, and please correct me if I misconstrue, was wondering without boundaries, functioning without State, and is marginalized by the boundaries/gaze of Empire and Tourist. She also spoke about the island as a site of colonialism. What other metaphorical representations can we see in using the island? How is a history of marginalization accounted for? What are the subtleties of the politics of agency as compared to the politics of movement?

The second speaker identified specific hegemonic power, and the collisions between ‘ideas of progress’ and ‘lived experiences’. I feel like this relates to what we have been talking about in terms of “failure”. Those who are marginalized were equated to “voiceless objects of imperial control”. Another speaker talked about empire has creating coercive material power through violent conquest. This Empire’s archive is constructed through regulatory mechanisms. Does the Empire allow political space to organize?

Can we think of the archive as an invention of truth? A repository of failure?

Is the problem of queer studies to abolish itself? Is ‘heteronormativity’ useful as a term beyond 20th century American culture?

What are people’s thoughts on the politics of disgust?

What is the danger of a Single Story?
What is lost when we focus on ready-made (western, “normal”) ideas of kinship? Can we think of queer/queering practices that doesn’t privilege sexuality?

Are we all agents of neocolonialism?

@ Dani_d29
I do think we should consider the drive to turn to archives as a way locate and validate our experience as more than just the necessity to pay attention to the here and now. I do think that looking to the past is important and useful, but what Shah I think is pointing to is a number of possible things. Such as: what is ‘discovered’ or found hidden in the gaps of recorded history is a tiny fraction of what we may ever come to know (in this case often produced through western colonial systems such as law)… and that upon ‘discovery’, or even the anticipation of it, we are so thoroughly confined by our own perceptions embedded by own unique experiences.

Whatever tools of interpretation or ways of knowing that we capable of are always limited, and though academic theory can get us into some incredible spaces, there are no doubt ‘epistemologies’(ways of knowing) that are untranslatable and incommunicable across time and space.

So I guess I want to ask how we acknowledge/embrace multiple (infinite?) “nows”, if that makes any sense. To just say focusing on the present is more productive or better is a little too simple for me when dealing with this piece. However, if we realize that similar difficulties arise when looking to historical archives as when transporting ourselves across whatever cultural/ideological/ geographical/ racial/ religious/ national borders (information not accurately understood) then we should realize that the range of “now” that exists is as vast and unknowable as is the history of sexuality.

(I am officially delusional and tired. I think I might have confused myself even… Hope I can make some sense out of it tomorrow)

You asked why we need “corrective reformulations”: because colonial texts have been misread and misrepresented… and because destabilizing the idea of the archive is a GOOD thing. You also ask if “rethinking colonial methodologies is a bad thing… NO! it is quite a wonderful thing actually.
This is a huge part of my own personal expansive idea of what queer can do/be… that is, as a way to interrogate aspects of how we come to know, relate, and engage with the world. Within academia, within communities, nations, individual bodies, and so on the focus of our attention here is how we can know and relate to information and objects. Acknowledging colonization as the foundation of institutions such as academia and its role in the perpetuation of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal ideal, one has to question if we can ever get outside enough to get it. Can we escape the confines of how knowledge is ordered and valued? Is there a limit as to what can ever be written or articulated in translating information into any language?

When “the teleos of knowledge production is still deemed approachable through what one finds, if only one can think a more capacious way to look” (11): it is not only about building and expanding archival materials (though is not all together a bad project that should be rejected) or expanding the diversity of representation… but about expanding our capacity to view it differently. Again, realizing the untranslatable ways of knowing or being and creative ways social beings organize themselves should limit our essentializing and universalizing impulses.

And about the archive’s fiction and truth effects, and them being both ‘co-constitutive and agonistic’ being too much, I think that this is sort of a ‘queering’ of the line between a sort of social-constructivist and materialist binary. So that they need each other and are interdependent, yet in some ways vastly different and oppositional products of the archive (and its fever) that cannot cease to exist and seem to be inevitable. We desire the past and there is an allure to particular histories such as sexuality, and in seeking and finding and producing works on what we find we will also produce something that has ‘truth’ effects (something tangible, possibly useful and ‘productive’ to an ends) as well as ‘fiction’ (the misinterpretation, inability to comprehend, distortion). Both are important to understand, and are intimately linked.

Even if the idea of queer sexuality (or any non-normative body) is seen as something horrifying (fiction),that does not deny the multiple ways (violence, shame, discrimination) this can effect material reality (truth).

There are so many thoughts about the conference that I’m still having, and also still feel overwhelmed.
Here are some scattered notes from the keynote (hopefully I can elaborate further…):

*In looking to the archives, there is a sense of queer negativity and affect… of failure.

*She asks, ‘what is at stake if we continue to so?’

*’What is we shift sexuality as marginal to our focus? See it with fraught optimism and a future of unapologetical abundance? Let go of loss? Live at the margins of desire?”

*’remedy the marginalized (our impulse/liberal impulse?: not sure, not in my notes): whatever form it takes (nation, gender), see that there is content under erasure’.

*’See them as separately complicit/’Asymmetrical ignorance’

*’Sexuality delinked from identity/ much more than a doomed attachment to sexuality (in reference to the drive to recover a past about it)/ no example or exemplar of ‘queer’ but as a discontinuity of sexual identity’

*’How is sexuality made intelligible?/ Kinship


Not sure if anyone took better notes during Juliana Hu Pegues’ reading of “Asian and Native Intersections in Alaska: The Fruitful and Fruitless Queering of Postcolonialism”, but in the end she said that in response to a panel from the day before (Arondekar addressed a few papers) that she had shifted her conclusion. She ended on saying something to the extent that she wants to ask how the politics of unbecoming might offer a bridge/link for postcolonialism and queerness. If I understand correctly, she sees a value in pulling from queer theory (JHalb- not sure what piece exactly) in explaining how subjects are situated into ‘non/being’ or ‘un/becoming’.

To this, Arondekar addressed the important distinction between queering subjects as a practice vs. as nouns, which was also addressed a few other times during other panels. Another person presented in which they used soldiers as their ‘queer’ subject… and discussion also ensued as to broadly queer can be used, and how ‘queering’ and ‘queer’ and our various understandings create some confusion as to what exactly we mean. So it’s not just our class…. It’s professors, ph.d and grad students, and people that are likely fairly advanced that are not clear as to what queer entails.

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