reparative reading

Last week I read Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick’s “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You”.

Her critique is that so often those involved in queer (as well as feminist) theoretical work approach subject matter in a paranoid fashion. As she refers to it, many of us carry around intellectual baggage “under a label such as ‘the hermeneutics of suspicion’”.

What she means is that they approach these works- whether they be books, articles, films, tv shows, etc- expecting to find something “bad”.  

This piece really resonated with me. While I think that part of developing tools for critical analysis involves looking at these cultural texts and being able to pinpoint instances in which the theory we happen to be evaluating pops up, this can often go too far.

There is the danger of being unable to engage with much of popular culture for fear of finding some tiny tidbit that might be “problematic”. Eventually one approaches everything expecting to find nothing of value, ready to call out whatever might not fall into one’s perfect conception of Correctness.

I am certainly guilty of this. When I took my first class in women’s studies it was as if a whole new world was opened up to me- or at least, I was given a different lens through which to view the world- and I suddenly could see all of the sexism that permeated our culture.

Overall, I don’t think that this realization was a bad thing, for me at least.

However, I have recently been thinking about what kinds of harm this can do, specifically for me psychologically and emotionally.

If I approach everything with the intention of rooting out anything potentially negative, I can miss things that might be incredibly valuable. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m never going to find anything positive if I only have my sights set on the negative. I end up not taking notice of things that might be illuminating, or uplifting.

At the very least, I’m just mad all the time. Talk about exhausting.

I want to try, moving forward, to find what might be “reparative” within texts and experiences I encounter and engage with.

If I go in expecting to find something negative, I will. Instead, I want to endeavor to examine the texts themselves as holistic entities, each with a multitude of stories to tell. I want to see all of the parts, good and bad, and take from them concepts that might end up being of use to me, rather than solely things I can pick apart and critique.


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