The Production of Queer Space

The Production of Queer Space

by D. Rita Alfonso

D. Rita Alfonso teaches in the GWS and LGBT studies at UC Berkeley, runs feminist and LGBT reading and discussion groups in San Francisco, and is an amateur (in the best sense of the word) photographer that has been documenting queer events and performers for… going on ten years. She is currently at work on a manuscript on “Queer Space” from which this piece has been excerpted.

Dr. Alfonso has requested that her paper be taken down at the conclusion of the conference.

    • Rita Alfonso
    • April 14th, 2010


    • Jennifer Benson
    • April 14th, 2010

    Hi Rita, I have a couple questions about your work, though they are mostly questions that I think serve to address my own curiosity and they may not advance your own analysis.

    First, I wondered throughout the paper about what was meant by the term “space” at each usage. In some cases I think the use of “space” literally meant the configuration of the inches and yards that surround me. This was the understanding I had in the discussion of Marx and the modification of natural space so that it can be used as part of the productive forces. Right now I’m sitting in a space that was configured for academics who require a specific set of tools in order to engaged in the labor of teaching. There are book shelves, two chairs for visitors, and a desk area that is large enough to accommodate stacks of papers, and a computer. So this is literal space configured for a specific productive purpose. But I don’t think you are largely focused on literal space. And the table at the end indicates multiple uses of space.

    This gave rise to certain questions for me. If “space” isn’t used to mean, literally, the inches around me and their organization for specific purposes, then what does the term mean?

    In some cases I think space is a metaphor that helps one think about and visually represent a relationship. So thinking of objects in space, dominating a space, or moving around in space becomes a tool for theorizing power relationships and the circulation of power among various parties. But I don’t think that you always want space to be this sort of metaphor.

    If space isn’t the inches around me, and if it’s not a visual metaphor, how else how else should I, the reader, understand the term so as to get the most out of the discussion?

    I think I also have a more general question about the motive of a spatial analysis. What is it about “space” that makes it a fertile concept for thinking about power, domination, and resistance? Or, what work the concept of “space” accomplish in an analysis of social domination and subversion?

    Thanks, Jennifer

    • Rita Alfonso
    • April 14th, 2010

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for your questions and observations. I’m so close to this stuff at the moment, it is really refreshing to hear how it is received, and what is missing.

    I’d like to offer two answers, the first of which will likely not satisfy: your question of what is space is exactly what is at stake, so were I to come out and define it, I’d cut the project short. In a way, the entire project (of which this is a sliver) is a really long and extended stipulation of “space.”

    The second answer may or may not be more satisfactory: there are different and multiple ideas about space, and different ways we use the word “space” given a context. (Lefebvre wants to unify these into a single account, I and others want to show the value and diversity inherent is spatiality.)

    One very common and shared understanding is that of space as a container or mathematical matrix — the inches and yards you mention. This is a dominant view of space, and it can be traced back through modernism through to Descartes and Aristotle.

    Another less common, but re-occurring view of space is as the interval — negative space in the pictorial field, the space between things, ontologically also located between being and non-being. This space functions to put things into relation or differentiation; it is the space of the differend, of differance, etc. I like this space, but it still falls withing the holistic logic (to which it plays an outsider role.)

    The first view of space implies surface, the second, depth; these are modeled as binary opposites, and wholly comprehensive. So, space is characterized usu. as surface and/or depth. Surface has two dimensions, height and width, and depth provides a third dimension — inside and outside. I seek other spatial dimensions; possibilities include intensity and flows (process metaphysics, Lefebvre, and Deleuze all give us version s of this). Still, I want to push beyond these. And I think there is a visual language that runs up ahead of our possibilities for conceptualizing spaces, precisely because visual representations privilege space and spatial relations in their system of signification. This is why I go to representational spaces….

    My view is that there are representational spaces that harbor and shelter queer experiences that cannot be sustained in social or “real” spaces. I seek to give primacy to representational spaces in seeking to access queer experience and knowleges, and to added dimensionalities of experience and life.

    As to the aims and value of this project, two or three: first, space is a category that supports multiplicity and difference, as the repeated failure to give a unitary account of space demonstrates. This project is also intended to bring the body (and matter) back into space — a phenomenology of space follows the Lefebvrian account you sample in this essay. It is not obvious at this point, but where I am headed is an engagement with feminist and queer appropriations of phenomenology in the explorations of embodiment from the late eighties and early nineties — the works I cut my teeth on; I want to see if that project can be given new life. I want to show how there is a conceptual genesis and kinship between “straight” conceptions of “space” and conceptions of “woman” “matter” “body” as categories of otherness.

    Second, I am developing an idea of queer occupations, where the political of this project will be more apparent; an analysis of how queer practices (from ACT UP and Queer nations, actions specifically designed to hold spaces) are models for breaking down the private/reproductive and public/productive divide. I don’t really speak the langauge of oppression/resistance or liberation, but of fashioning an appropriate response (in political terms), and of response-ability.

    I really liked what you wrote about cultivating integrity — this has stayed with me. I think this is right… The temptation to give into the fragmentation of everyday life, to become a vehicle for disintegration (social, political, or personal) are ever present.

    Again, thanks for your questions!
    Rita Alfonso

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