Rules of the Craft: Apophasis and Occult Politics in the Gay Liberation Movement

Friday, January 2, 2015: 4:30 PM
Conference Room E (Sheraton New York)
Abram J. Lewis, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
LGBT historians have traditionally cast sexuality as an especially elusive object: accounts have reflected copiously on sexuality’s ephemerality and textual evasions, on the silences of queer archives, and on disciplinary history’s elisions of queer life. But instead of proposing new strategies for demystifying obscured pasts, this talk will discuss what might be gained by developing greater historiographical intimacies with secrecy, mystery, and unknowing. To this end, I draw from my own research on 1970s queer religious activism along with two strands of religious critique: theories of the occult which emphasize hiddenness and imperceptibility in social practice, and the older theological tradition of apophaticism, or negative theology, which centers the radical ineffability and unknowability of the divine. I suggest that these fields may open up new understandings of the arguably very “queer” ways that LGBT communities have sought to engage and alter their political realities. Specifically, I focus on post-Stonewall activists who took up organizing strategies that resist empirical adjudication, for instance, hexings, levitations, telekinesis, and spells. I read these unorthodox praxes as part of a larger post-Civil Rights politics of the queer occult that challenged confessional injunctions to sexual visibility and disclosure. More broadly, I suggest that rather than always militating against the mystified or concealed, historians of sexuality might also work to strategically affirm mystery and the esoteric as integral to queer political pasts.
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