Week 13: A comment on the “nostalgia for abjection”

In his essay on camp in New Queer Cinema, Glyn Davis cites a group of writers and filmmakers admitting “a queer nostalgia for difference and alterity, as epitomized by ‘old school’, pre-Stonewall campness: that is, a nostalgia for an era before the mainstreaming of gay culture.” It may seem somewhat odd to be nostalgic for an era of coded representation and systematic repression. However, seen as  a”‘nostalgia for abjection'” it makes more sense in terms of the empowering potential of abjection.

Thomas Elsaesser, in a lecture on what he terms “the cinema of abjection,” argued, echoing Julia Kristeva, that abjection can be used to yield power over those who abject, via reappropriation. The abject subject is viewed as waste: once part of the hegemonic body now rejected and discarded. The abject can then reappropriate the disgust and fear they generate for the ones that reject them. By overtly manifesting their presence–much like camp subjects–the abject pose a threat to the hegemonic body, thereby empowering themselves. Thus, by owning their abject status, the rejected individuals/groups expose and reappropriate the discourses that discriminate them.

Seen through this narrative, the era before the mainstreaming and commercialization of gay culture–however threatening–can indeed be seen as one motivating fierce pro-queer activism and, more significantly, an embrace of difference as a positive identity trait.

 

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