A professor of English, Elizabeth Freeman sets her literary sights on the overlaps and continuities between sexual and temporal dissidence. Despite the queer academy’s distance from corporeality and the promotion of more transcendental approaches to historiography, Freeman boldly outlines history as an erotic, embodied experience.
With her feet firmly rooted in visual and literary references, Freeman delves into queer familial structures, temporal gender performativity and (perhaps most provocatively) racial legacies of sadomasochism.
Freeman eloquently challenges heteronormative teleologies, but not through deconstrunctionism or transcendence alone – instead she lays claim to the possibilities of queer temporalities and histories.
Coining terms like erotohistoriography, temporal drag, and chrononormativity Freeman’s theoretical framework is predicated on the queer temporalities and chronologies that she unpacks.
Her refashioning of historiography is not only deeply experiential, but it is embodied—two strands of theory that have troubled feminist and queer thought alike for decades. More than this, following in Audre Lorde’s footsteps, Freeman re-envisions the historical as experienced through eroticism.
She moves beyond shame and loss as traditionally explored in queer theory and into the realm of ecstasy, as traversed by theorists like José Esteban Muñoz. Freeman’s history is one of carnal enjoyment; embodiment that forces us to reconcile the political potential of pleasure without forgetting the racialized and gendered legacies of pain that this can carry.
Her insistence on addressing both corporeality and experientiality is most stimulating in her chapter on sadomasochism. In this section she criticizes the queer academy’s inability to adequately unpack the racial baggage of S&M practiced and theorized in the queer community.
In this chapter she outlines new ways of theorizing Marquis de Sade through Isaac Julien’s film “The Attendant.” The film features interracial S&M encounters between two men who engage in deeply historical play that replicates chattel slavery.
These enactments occur in a space that is deeply laced with historical connotations – the art museum. Yet another move that Freeman masters as an historian herself is her ability to renegotiate the value placed on historical texts.
She gracefully moves between more canonized works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (both literary works), to Cecilia Dougherty’s Coal Miner’s Daughter and Elizabeth Subrin’s Shulie (both video pieces).
In this chapter she uses Isaac Julien’s film to access Marquis de Sade, not the other way around. In doing so she successfully restructures which texts shape her historiographies: minor visual works by lesser known authors occupy the foreground of Freeman’s discussion.
This is queer theory at its best: imaginative and troubling while remaining entrenched in lived (a)historical experiences. In Time Binds, Elizabeth Freeman finds herself among the ranks of queer theorists like José Esteban Muñoz, David L. Eng and Jasbir K. Puar.
Without cleansing their hands of the complicatedness of history’s racial legacies, these theorists explore the messiness of queerness. Freeman’s book is centered on queer time and queer history’s exciting and, at times, (corporeally) violent moments.
As she herself explains when closing her remarks on S&M’s deeply racial historical potentialities:
These are not, to be sure, reparations for past damages (as if the perfect redress were possible), or the means of transcending all limitations. They are, however, ways of knowing history to which queers might make fierce claim.
—— TIME BINDS:
Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories
by Elizabeth Freeman Duke University Press
Paperback, 9780822348047, 264pp.