The Heteropessimism Cluster

deadline for submissions: 
November 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Post45: Contemporaries

Post 45: Contemporaries: The Heteropessimism Cluster


Edited by Annabel Barry, Caroline Godard, and Jane Ward 

Abstract submission deadline: November 30, 2022

 

Since Asa Seresin coined the term "heteropessimism" in 2019, the deluge of think pieces on the disappointments of heterosexuality hasn't diminished. Heteropessimism is the theoretical idea that heterosexuality will never be satisfying or equitable for women. It is also the practice of performatively announcing an emotional disaffiliation with heterosexuality without, in most cases, relinquishing it as a practice. This cluster will bring into conversation positions on heteropessimism in feminist philosophy, queer theory, sociology, literature, film, television, and social media in order to understand its affective appeal and political efficacy. 

Why do so many different people continue to find heteropessimism interesting as a mode of analysis, as evidenced by Overthink podcast's February 2022 episode on "Heteropessimism" and Christine Emba's April 2022 New York Times opinion piece "Straight People Need Better Rules for Sex?" Alternatively, is heteropessimism boring, as Phoebe Maltz Bovy suggests in her article Straightness Studies, published last year in the Hedgehog Review? To quote Seresin, the structure of heteropessimism "is anticipatory, designed to preemptively anesthetize the heart against the pervasive awfulness of heterosexual culture as well as the sharp plunge of quotidian romantic pain." In other words, heteropessimism tells us the ending of heterosexuality in advance while inuring us to its harms. Why do we keep talking about heteropessimism if we always reach the same conclusions?

What is heteropessimism's relationship to the concept from which it has been associated, Afropessimism? Is heteropessimism fundamentally appropriative? How does race factor into the propositions of heteropessimism? Can queerness offer an escape from heteropessimism, or are all interpersonal relationships colored by existing in a world in which heterosexuality is the dominant paradigm? How might narratives of abuse in queer relationships, such as Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House, extend or contest assumptions about the connections between heteropessimism and queer lives?

Possible topics and questions include:

  • Given the decline of the rom-com genre and its deliberate subversion in recent films like The Worst Person in the World, is heterosexuality losing traction as a cinematic plot device?
  • If political lesbianism became outmoded after sex positive feminists won the infamous feminist “sex wars” of the 1970’s and 80’s, contemporary feminists like Amia Srinivasan and Katherine Angel are beginning to question the framework of consent as the sole criterion for non-problematic sex and to revive the question of how seemingly free and affirming sexual desires might be irremediably tainted by patriarchy and capitalism. What do we make of new feminist books that question sex positivity, like Angel’s Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex, and Blythe Roberson’s How to Date Men When You Hate Men?
  • Is heteropessimism specific to the Anglophone world? What is global about heteropessimism? How might looking to non-Western texts challenge notions of what heteropessimism is, or what it does?
  • What does heteropessimism have to say about masculinity? Can men be heteropessimists?
  • What would it mean to call recent novels about disappointing relationships such as Luster by Raven Leilani and Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan heteropessimist?
  • How do television dating shows like The Bachelor, Love is Blind, and The Ultimatum offer a temporary, carnivalesque liberation from normative heterosexual dating conventions, only to finally reinscribe married, monogamous, heterosexuality as the only possible relationship structure?
  • In Shonda Rimes’ Bridgerton, what is the point of having Eloise Bridgerton function as an internal counter-voice to the series’ preoccupation with the Austenian marriage plot–she reads Mary Wollstonecraft and declares that “marriage is a prison for women”–if viewers know she will be subsumed inevitably into a redeeming “love marriage” of her own?
  • How does Taylor Swift engage in a queer self-styling, taken up in the internet #Gaylor controversy, while profiting from the relentless heterosexuality of her lyrics?  

We welcome essays that blend the academic with the personal. Students and emerging and established scholars are equally encouraged to apply. Please email a 250-word abstract/pitch to Annabel Barry (annabel_barry@berkeley.edu), Jane Ward (janew@ucsb.edu), and Caroline Godard (caroline.godard@berkeley.edu) by November 30, 2022. First drafts of accepted essays will be due by January 13, 2023.