Affect and Reparative Reading

Queer theory in the 1990s, including Sedgwick’s, offered powerful analytical tools for unmasking the workings of homophobia.  But as she later argued, those same tools were informed by a paranoid positioning that in some cases mimicked the very structures they were meant to critique.  In place of this more or less Freudian “paranoid reading,” Sedgwick articulated an alternative “reparative reading” inspired by the work of Melanie Klein and affect theorist Silvan Tomkins.   While paranoid reading was fueled by a “mushrooming” and “self-confirming” sense that its practitioner was making a “triumphant advance towards truth and vindication,” the reparative reader cultivated “weak theory” and saw the proof of truth in joy along the model of the “autotelic” or self-confirming nature of the affects.  The best criticism, moreover, knew how to allow the paranoid and the reparative to “interdigitate.” This panel will discuss how Sedgwick’s thinking about and through affect helped enable a new theory of reading and a dazzling rethinking of what we think “theory” is and does. Panelists will base their remarks on her 2003 essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re so Paranoid You Probably Think this Essay is About You.”

Watch the video here:

2:00 p.m.
J. Keith Vincent (moderator)
Jonathan Flatley
Heather Love
Tavia Nyong’o

Text: “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading.” In Touching Feeling: Affect, Performativity, Pedagogy, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 123-51.