12.04.2013 / Julian Carter


Wednesday, December 4, 2013
10am – 12pm
San Francisco Campus Boardroom

Julian Carter is Associate Professer in Critical Studies and affiliated faculty in Visual & Critical Studies. He is a queer theorist and critical historian whose work focuses on normativity, embodiment and the construction of identity.

He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Normal Sexuality and Race in America, 1890–1940 (Duke University Press, 2007). The book uses sex advice writing and other vintage pop-cultural sources to show how the concept of “normality” combines ideas about heterosexuality and whiteness in a way that makes it difficult for white, straight people to perceive the specificity of their subject-positions. Other publications include essays on lesbian pulp fiction and the politics of disidentification; the racial imaginary of early gay and lesbian historical writing; and the theoretical as well as social boundaries on lesbian identity, for which he earned a citation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Currently he is working on a phenomenological account of the “wrong body” experience filtered through contemporary dance performance. Ian is co-editor, with David Getsy, of a forthcoming special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly devoted to trans* cultural production in art, film, dance, design, architecture, literature, and music.

Before coming to CCA in 2006, Ian taught at Stanford and New York University. He sits on the editorial board of the new Transgender Studies Quarterly and the governing board of the international Committee on LGBT History. Major academic honors include the Ida B. Wells Prize of the American Historical Association’s Committee on Women in the Historical Profession and an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women.


Student Review by Emily K. HolmesIan Carter is an associate professor of Critical Studies and affiliated faculty of Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts, and has published widely on issues of race, sexuality, and gender. His most recent work focuses on the swan as an iconic symbol in historical and contemporary dance, an on-going project titled “Swansongs: Trans(per)forming Injuries of Race and Gender.” At the beginning of the forum Carter announced that while he would present his research, his primary goal was to discuss the process of research. Too often, he commented, academics evade discussion of how they got to their brilliant ideas, which leads to overly romanticized and alienating notions of scholarly work.

In Carter’s experience, research tends to begin with a big, driving question and the corresponding act of gathering a relevant archive of materials. Organizing this archive into concept-based categories facilitates the process of refining one’s governing query. Usually scholars find themselves drawn to one particular category of their research (at least temporarily), so establishing the most specific topic of interest and driving question enables the essential next stage of defining one’s terms as precisely as possible.

Carter identified several axioms of academic work, including: “theoretical claims emerge from engagement with primary sources,” and “essays rarely arrive at their anticipated destinations.” From these two axioms, Carter stressed the importance of flexibility when regarding one’s own work. He suggested that often the big question that started the project evolves over time, and this change necessitates re-evaluating the driving questions. Continually reframing of one’s queries sometimes necessitates abandoning ideas, or pursuing unexpected direction; such divergences may feel like time wasted, but are necessary stages of creativity.

To illustrate his points on the “how” of academic work, Carter included aspects of his research related to “Swansong.” The primary examples were from Bay Area choreographer Sean Dorsey’s Lou (2009) and French choreographer Jerome Bel’s Veronique Doisneau (2004). Both of these contemporary dance performances “quoted” iconic choreography of the cygnets from the classic ballet Swan Lake. Traditionally, adolescent females play the role of the young swans; Carter’s driving question evolved as he began examining the quoted but decontextualized choreography of the cygnet within these two conceptual works. Issues of gender, sexuality, and age emerged, as did questions of institutional context and authorship.

Carter’s forum presented a network of information that allowed multiple entry points for the VCS community. When the floor opened to questions, we were able to ponder both Carter’s components of the academic process, as well as the content presented. Notably, despite Carter’s focus on scholarship, the majority of the comments centered on elements of dance and its relationship to scholarly study—the products of his research, even if unfinished. One generative thread of the conversation focused on persistent institutional divisions between mind and body, a schism that takes place both in humanities departments that neglect dance as a topic of study, and in dance institutions that steer away from critical reflection on the labor of the dancers themselves, and the roles which they are cast to perform.

Overall, the reaction from the community present at the forum indicated a strong receptivity to critical dance analysis, a topic which shares more relevance to visual studies than some might think. However, the discussion of such material was enhanced by the presentation of Carter’s unpacking of the process by which he made his claims. The combination of these two facets of Carter’s work made for a constructive forum, a rewarding way to conclude the fall semester.