This book explores what I call the cultural politics of television by offering a series of readings of contemporary television shows through the lens of queer theory. Rather than affirm or reify a “given” sexual identity (as lesbian and gay studies sometimes does), queer theory starts from an impulse to question, problematize, or even disclaim the very idea of a fixed, abiding notion of identity. Queer theory thus calls for a a relational understanding of identity, while it simultaneously asserts the importance of gender and sexuality to that conception. Such theory is “queer” then in the typical senses of the word: both “odd” and “gay.” This book uses queer theory in an effort to grasp the mutually constitutive relationship of culture and politics, and it does so within the context of television studies.
This book takes seriously the idea that Judith Butler has, from the beginning of her writings, meant to cause trouble. It argues that she wreaks a particular sort of havoc on the field of political theory – a field that has recognized and sometimes even hailed Butler as a feminist theorist and a queer theorist, but that has rarely taken her seriously as a political theorist in her own right. This book explores the types of trouble that Butler has got herself and her readers into; it investigates the manner in which she has made trouble; and it tracks the effects that her troubling has had on politics and the political. Doing so brings Butler into clearer view as a political thinker – bringing to light her political theory as a politics of troubling and a troubling of politics.
Beginning with debates over the relationship between language and politics that go back to Aristotle, this book interprets the work of contemporary theorists to argue for a vision of political theory as an untimely endeavor. Untimeliness can best be expressed in Hamlet’s lament that “time is out of joint”; it is a theory of temporality that displaces linear conceptions of time, helping to render the past itself problematic, to reconceptualize the present, and to anticipate the ghosts of the future. I cash out this conception of untimely theory by analyzing an early (and at the time, timely) event in the recent politics of marriage, ending the book with a close analysis of the 1996 US Federal Defense of Marriage Act.