Thursday, March 3, 2011


Sean Watkins

Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-De-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship by Leela Gandhi

Chapter 3 Sex: The story of Late Victorian Homosexual Exceptionalism

This week I am going to focus on the discussion of Darwinism and late Victorian understandings of homosexuality. She argues that “Replacing the disciplinary parameters of biology with those of anthropology, Darwin’s Descent consoled his agitated readers through two concessions: first, by restoring Man to narrative centrality, and retelling the story of evolution from his perspective, and second, by foregrounding those unique features of human existence exempt, in some measure, from the leveling laws of natural selection” (47). Here, we see the origins of the scientific classification of justified difference. Sexuality and race were put into hierarchical systems that were predetermined through evolutionary means. It makes me think about the ways in which historians have tried in the past to justify certain forms of cultural exceptionalism. Throughout this chapter we can see how sexual ‘deviants’ are forced into specific categories that are lower than those who follow the true evolutionary chain. Both the homosexual and the savage “were exiled to the desert surrounding the heavily policed oasis of western heteronormative civilization, and in the ideological mirages to which this deser was prone, their features slowly began to merge into each other so that no one could any longer say for certain who was the ‘real’ homosexual or who was the ‘true’ savage”(83). There was this othered position for people who did not fit into the sexual norms of the time and it was justified through science.

Not to get onto a tangent, but this entire chapter brings to light the importance of putting science up to a critical lens. I feel that people are not taught enough in school about these historical events that have helped us to construct a certain view on science and humanity. Many of these themes have caused incredibly strife and hardship simply because we believe that “science” is the objective truth. Perhaps there needs to be more discussion about these issues in order to really push citizens to think about some of these truths they have taken for granted for so long. In particular, we understand that race and ideas of the subaltern have been perpetuated through science. Science believed that there were major differences between races which justified the subjugation of large populations and we have mostly moved past that time period, but are we still questioning these fields as much as critical studies are questioned? This is not to say that we shouldn’t be questioning ourselves as well, but here I argue that we need to be even more self-reflexive now that we have the tools to do so. While this is incredibly hard to do, we need to challenge the power of the sciences in order to be able to question the legitimacy of their findings. At the very least, we should understand why there is so much more credit given to certain disciplines than others and contextualize this for our time period.

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