Shakesqueer: the Sequel

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Re: Shakesqueer

We got an anonymous
e-mail last week that claimed that “Bethany Stotts’s article
on the Shakespeare panel at MLA (1/9/08) attributed two of the panels to the
wrong scholars and then misquoted them.”


“Jeffrey Nunokawa wasn’t event at the event,” EHAMSON asserts. “So much for accuracy in Accuracy in Academia.”


for you to go back to school.”
What follows, then, is both an update and an answer.


A listed speaker at
the MLA forum, Princeton Professor Jeffrey Nunokawa
was replaced at the last moment by Professor Ellis Hanson of Cornell
.  Accuracy and Academia
awarded Hanson the number one slot in its ’98-’99 “Top Politically Correct”
professors for his defense of teaching pedophilia in the classroom. “[Hanson]
the instructor of ‘The Sexual
,’ told Accuracy in Academia that ‘the erotic fascination with
children is ubiquitous…One can hardly read a newspaper or turn on a television
without feeling obliged to accept, study, and celebrate it,’” wrote
Daniel Flynn, AIA’s
former executive director. 


The MLA program and
website still list
Nunokawa as a speaker at the “Shakesqueer


Professor Ellis
Hanson lectured at the MLA conference on Antony and
Cleopatra—not Hamlet, as previously listed. He said, “Why do Shakespeare and I
both seem to find these interludes more interesting than the actual love scenes
with Antony? How might we theorize these other
“queer” relations she has—not quite sexual, not quite chaste, but the word
friend or lover fails grasp.” “Cleopatra has great fag hag potential…the
queer enthusiasm, not quite sexual, not quite feminine, not quite hetero, not
quite homo, no polite name for it yet,” he continued.


Hanson teaches Corning
University’s ENGL 276 Desire, which
has, in the past, featured pornographic films such as Deep Throat.
“Topics for discussion include Greek pederasty, sublimation, hysteria,
sadomasochism, homosexuality, pornography, cybersex,
feminism, and other literary and performative
pleasures, and the focus is always on expanding our critical vocabulary for
considering sex and sexual desire as a field of intellectual inquiry,” reads
the course description.


Ariel Brewster, a
writer for the Columbia University News
, recounts how that “[Freshman Laurel Ingraham]
said that Hanson tried to weed out anyone unable to handle the material by
projecting a large image of naked male genitalia on the first day of class, and
by announcing that he would not use polite euphemisms for parts of the human
anatomy.” “Hanson’s course has an enrollment of about 200 and is one of the
most popular offerings in the English department,” Brewster writes in his 2006 article,
“Porn 101.”


“Sometimes a
student will complain, ‘This is offensive,’ or words to that effect. What they
usually mean is, ‘I have just shut off my brain, thank you and good night.” Or
someone will tell me he is ‘uncomfortable’ with something I said…Most
tiresome: students who don’t want to think deeply about a sexual desire that
they don’t share,” Hanson told the
Cornell Daily Sun.


While absent from
the Shakesqueer panel, Nunokawa’s
scholarship reflects ideologies similar to that of the other panel speakers. A
look at Nunokawa’s article,
“Queer Theory: Postmortem,” reveals three similar trends.


1.       Self-Nihilism. While condemning
Leo Bersani’s meditation on the phallic “sexual
shattering of the self” as a superstitious “theodicy” for the fear of death, Nunokawa nonetheless examines at length—and even praises—Bersani’s work, “Is the Rectum a Grave?.”

 “My guess now is that I have been drawn to
discover the mortal terrors that attend even the smallest social escapes—all of
them more or less caught up with erotic penetrations—in the literature I study,
in part by Bersani’s astonishing story of sexual
intercourse, social withdrawal, and self-destruction,” he writes.


2. Opposition to
. Referring to the social norm as
monistic, Nunokawa writes that

“But perhaps a
better label for the conception of the self, society and their relation to one
another I have sought to escape for some time now would be monism…but there
are other, less totalizing, less totalitarian ideas of what binds self to
society, and it is to them I have turned in my current research about what it’s like
to get away from others in nineteenth-century literature and political theory.”


3. Classical
Literature as erotic.
Nunokawa ascribes a veiled
eroticism to the works of Victorian writers, especially Jane Austen. “Characters near and far, in Austen, Brontë, Dickens, Thackeray, Browning, Mill, and Eliot, are
removed by raptures more or less noticeably erotic, more or less noticeably
mortifying,” he writes. Referring to Jane Austen’s Emma, he later writes

“I have heard, if
not the loneliness of the dying, some echo or prophecy of it in the most
unlikely places: in disengagements as slight as a romantic daydream, a
“dreadful force” that “strike[s]” the dreamer. I have seen, if not a shattering
sexual penetration, a sight that bears signs of this primal scene—the picture
of the most flexuously stylish, socially conscious girl imaginable, moved by a
paralyzing terror beyond all thought of society….”


article was published as part of a South
Atlantic Quarterly
special issue on queer theory. Both Carla E. Freccero (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Lee Charles Edelman (Tufts
) contributed to the volume. All three professors, along with other
, spoke at an October 22, 2007 Rutgers University “After Sex?” event,
which was hosted by the English Department.


Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.