03.06.2013 / Elizabeth Freeman


Wednesday, March 6, 2013
10am – 12pm
Board Room, SF Campus

Elizabeth Freeman is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and the editor (with Nayan Shah) of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. She is the author of two books from Duke University Press, The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture (2002) and Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010). She has work from her current project, tentatively titled “Sense-Methods,” forthcoming in several journals and anthologies.


Student Review by Amanda N. Simons

On March 6th, 2013, California College of the Art’s Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies hosted Dr. Elizabeth Freeman, Professor of English at University of California, Davis. Freeman presented the talk entitled Hopeless Cases: Queer Chronicities and Gertrude Stein’s ‘Melanctha.’ Read aloud from pages upon pages of narrative text without the supplement of any visual presentation, this talk was a 90-minute journey through the vastly differing critical arenas of bioethics, literary syntax, queer theory, and the occupation of time in Stein’s “Melanctha” and beyond.

“Melanctha” is the second of a three-part first published work of Gertrude Stein, Three Lives (1909). As a professor whose concentration is in 19th Century English Literature, Freeman pointed out matter-of-factly to the CCA audience of visual artists and critics that the narrative particulars of “Melanctha” were largely unimportant in understanding her talk. Rather, three main points could be gleaned from this story: Stein used repetition in the story to signify a stasis of time, the main character Melanctha was portrayed as incomplete or abnormally complex, and the combination of the two former elements establish queer life as counter to what Freeman has coined “chrononormativity,” or the normative occupation of time.

Freeman began with an intimate look into the use of the word “chronic” and its applications in the narrative, the medical community, and in biopolitics. Chronic as ongoing. As subject to relapse. As habitual. As other than normative. As uncertain in outcome. As not traceable to a legible beginning. To be subject to the chronic is to be queerly counter to what Freeman explained as a “global narrative of futurity.” In a clinical setting, a legible and thus fulfilling life is based on the completion (or not) of events in a specific, forward-looking, and normalized narrative—complete school, marry, raise children, retire. Stein’s character Melanctha was diagnosed as victim to an unnamed diagnosis of something that was chronic. She did not achieve normative life milestones, she suffered from physical and mental illness, and as if Melanctha had arrived at a temporal stasis, repetition in dialogue and description was used as a literary tactic to also surface this quality of the chronic for the reader. And yet, despite the counter-futurity suggested by the chronic, this quality also provides a space for generative meaning-making.

The chronic can also be a space of comfortable habit, a space of self-preservation, and a space that supports and upholds queer politics. The chronic reveals queer resistance to and non-compliance with the social and clinical emphasis on chrononormativity. What can be interpreted as stasis can also be interpreted as insistence—repetition that can never be pure repetition, but only a mimicry of that which already exists. Such a space of insistence is counter to the normative unfolding of time, but also generates a space to consider whose time is considered to be misused or unused appropriately, and whose gauge is really being used to measure the quantification of either. Though uniquely different from the usual combination of conversation and visual stimulation presented at other VCS Forums, the form of Freeman’s talk certainly matched its content: for those who committed to carefully following the talk’s complex trajectory, the moral of its narrative was vast and also applicable in the context of Visual and Critical Studies. Time is measured by normative markers, and your use of time determines your relationship to the norm.