QuIR Workshop II Recap:
Translating Queer Historicities
For this event, we met at the Institute of Modern Languages Research in London. The programme was again full and wide-ranging. We kicked off with a paper by Eva Nossem on queer terminology, which provided an overview of the semantic development of ‘queer’ in English, and of its use in Italy, where it is often untranslated as an adjective, but has also given rise to various neologisms, including the verb ‘queerizzare’ and the noun ‘queeritudine’, among others. Given the impossibility of translating ‘queer’ into Italian, since it is impossible to retain its history as a reclaimed marker of stigma, which arguably endows it with a particular political and disruptive edge, Nossem suggested that the Italian term ‘frocia’, a feminized version of the colloquial term generally used to mean ‘gay male’, might be considered as an approximate equivalent. We then heard presentations by Orlando Myxx and Sara Lucas Agutoli. Orlando is an artist and the Archivist for Archivio Queer Italia (AQI), a group of Italian activists, many of whom are London-based, who have created a fantastic online database of queer research, art and activism relating to Italy. It is an incredibly rich resource that is growing all the time, and which makes visible the variety of groups, individuals, and associations who are researching queer, and creating queer moments and artefacts in and beyond Italy. Orlando discussed the challenges of compiling this type of resource—a queer archive—which involves tagging, labeling and organizing work and ideas that often deliberately resist categorization. In addition, he reflected on the fact that the group give their time and energy on a voluntary basis, raising issues of precarity in relation to queer subcultures. Orlando also shared some of his own work as an artist, which includes haunting photographs and insightful, striking poetry. Sara Lucas Agutoli moved to London relatively recently and has collaborated with AQI on their now celebrated Deep Trash club nights. She discussed some of her recent work, including photographs, performances and sculptures, which capture and create moments of queer (dis)identification.
On the second day, there were 6 more excellent presentations. The first, by Elena Dalla Torre, explored the biofiction by the transwoman Carla Follis, in light of erotic and somatic communism and of Paul B. Preciado’s theorization of and reflections on trans identities. In the same session, Lorenzo Bernini gave an insightful, critical account of the ways in which Judith Butler’s work has been used in Italy by different stakeholders across the spectrum to mean radically opposing things: from the feminists of difference and the ‘Se non ora quando’ movement who have contested the notion of queer as denying sexual difference, to gay male thinkers who have accused ‘queer’ of destabilising a sense of gay male identity and the LG movement, to Vatican and anti-abortionist catholics who have adopted Butler’s work as emblematic of a ‘theory’ or ‘ideology of gender’, which both aims to transgender and neutralise society, and risks corrupting children….The ongoing debates on this issue in Italy are furious and highly problematic since, as Bernini demonstrated, opposition to the so-called ‘ideology of gender’ has managed to block campaigns aims at increasing awareness of diversity in schools, for example, that can help to stop homo and transphobic bullying.
In a different vein, Michela Baldo reflected on translation and queer activism, treating translation as an affective, performative practice. She discussed translations into Italian of some key queer anglophone texts and issues of precarity in relation to the translation sector. Touching on some similar texts and ideas, Alberica Bazzoni discussed the tense relationship between queer and feminism in Italy, suggesting that both feminism and queer have been misrepresented and misinterpreted in problematic ways, leading to unhelpful media debates. As a solution, she proposed that Italian feminists (particularly feminists of sexual difference) need to take a queerer approach, whilst queer thinkers need to ensure that they maintain a feminist awareness. In the final panel session, we turned to literature. Nicola Ibba presented his research on Umberto Saba’s Ernesto as a case of ‘posthumous queer writing’; a new sub-genre of queer texts that emerge after their author’s death, in a different discursive, cultural and historical landscape. Tommasina Gabriele tackled a very contemporary text, Elena Ferrante’s global bestseller L’amica geniale, and proposed that the queer character in these four novels is exploited, both by the characters and the author, in rather disingenuous and problematic ways. These papers opened up a productive discussion on temporality, queer precarity, academic versus media debates, and on translation across languages, time and ideological positions.
Thanks to the insightful research papers, the relaxed, informal atmosphere which fostered extremely interactive discussion, and the generosity of the artists who shared their work, this workshop was again a rich, challenging and empowering experience for all who participated. We are planning to publish a selection of papers from these workshops in an open access online journal, in both English and Italian, to make this research accessible to a broader readership.