Notes on Pride

Material Gworls: E Patrick Johnson's "Quare Studies"

June 19th, 2021

Zanele Muholi Qiniso, The Sails

Durban 2019 © Zanele Muholi

"Quare,’’ on the other hand, not only speaks across identities, it articulates identities as well. ‘‘Quare’’ offers a way to critique stable notions of identity and, at the same time, to locate racialized and class knowledges. My project is one of recapitulation and recuperation. I want to maintain the inclusivity and playful spirit of ‘‘queer’’ that animates much of queer theory, but I also want to jettison its homogenizing tendencies" (Johnson, 2005, p. 127)
"The theory that I advance is a ‘‘theory in the flesh.’’Ω Theories in the flesh empha- size the diversity within and among gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgen- dered people of color while simultaneously accounting for how racism and classism a√ect how we experience and theorize the world. Theories in the flesh also conjoin theory and practice through an embodied politic of re- sistance. This politics of resistance is manifest in vernacular traditions such as performance, folklore, literature, and verbal art" (Johnson, 2005, p. 127)
"But, to riff off of the now-popular phrase ‘‘gender trouble,’’ there is some ‘‘race’’ trouble here with queer theory. More particularly, in its ‘‘race for the- ory,’’∞Ω queer theory has often failed to address the material realities of gays and lesbians of color" (Johnson, 2005, P. 129).

Believe it or not, I started my training as a political scientist. Specifically, a political theorist. In my modern political thought courses as an undergraduate, I was mesmerized by the ways thinker asked broad questions about power, governance, the role of the state. And yet, I was always struck by how the narratives of theory, which often produce universal narratives about the world (e.g. disciplinary society is the universal condition of the modern age for Foucault or the prison camp as the norm of sovereign power and modernity for Agamben) rarely speak to the material conditions of Blackness. EPJ’s “Quare Studies” is a revelation for its centering of materiality, flesh, to theory. This playful and ingenius riff on “queer” via his use of the term “quare” is a call for grounding theory not just in materiality but also in the nuances of race and class, which shade universality with the inflections of particular experiences. Quare for Johnson is instructive not just because it displaces the grand narratives of queer theory, but because it demands that scholars attend to performance: to the microscopic things we might to with our bodies. This attention not only has the power to reshape what theory in the academy looks like, but also brings the seeminly frivolous, the unserious, and the disregarded into the center of conversation.