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    ‘I don’t know what gender is, but I do, and I can, and we all do’: an interview with Clare Hemmings

    Rudy, Susan (2019) ‘I don’t know what gender is, but I do, and I can, and we all do’: an interview with Clare Hemmings. European Journal of Women's Studies 26 (2), pp. 211-222. ISSN 1350-5068.

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    Abstract

    What follows is an interview with Clare Hemmings, Professor of Feminist Theory and Head of the Department of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics. A leading figure in UK feminist theory, her research insists that we acknowledge matters of ambivalence and uncertainty in our history-making, storytelling and theorising. As such, it contributes to and has productively intervened in many fields, including feminist epistemology, affect theory, historiography and sexuality studies. Beginning with her first book, Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Sexuality and Gender (2002), continuing in Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory (2011), and most overtly in Considering Emma Goldman: Feminist Political Ambivalence and the Imaginative Archive (2018), Hemmings interrogates and challenges dominant modes and expressions of gender and sexuality from a feminist positionality that is itself under-theorised and rarely articulated: that of a feminine bisexual woman. As Hemmings notes, bisexual positionality encompasses the affective capacity for a ‘combination of heterosexual and homosexual desire’ (Hemmings, 2002a; 2002b: 17) and thus generates ‘radical reconfigurations’ (Hemmings, 2002b: 197) of our understanding of the relations between gender, sex and desire. Yet bisexuality has been repeatedly reproduced, within both feminist and queer theory, ‘as an abstract and curiously lifeless middle. As a lesbian and feminist who has occupied that supposedly ‘lifeless middle ground’, albeit differently (I have had two long-term relationships, one with a man, one with a woman), I was interested in speaking with Clare about these issues, and was compelled to do so after I attended an event that she co-organised at the London School of Economics, a screening of Sylvie Tissot’s film about the French feminist Christine Delphy that included Delphy herself. As soon as Delphy entered the theatre and began walking down the stairs to the podium, the audience burst spontaneously into a standing ovation and long applause: '[T]his moment involved both a shared jouissance and the returning of haunting conflicts within feminism – conflicts that we wish had been resolved long ago –because it entailed both exhilarating and dissonant affects, it became a sort of feminist moment par excellence, a moment where solidarity is never exempted from the (re)emergence of disagreements, and where the fantasy of a collective fusion becomes the condition for those conflicts to emerge' (Eloit in Delphy et al., 2016: 151). Delphy’s presence, and the film about her, reminded me that (1) feminist thinkers from the 1970s and 1980s were extraordinarily sophisticated in their understanding of how gender constitutes us as men and women; (2) this analysis is still mostly absent from public conversations; and (3) we still long for such conversations. My interview with Clare Hemmings is thus a continuation of this moment of shared jouissance and haunting. It was conducted informally, in 2017, in Clare’s office, in what was then the Gender Institute, in Columbia House at the LSE. For over 90 minutes during a grey afternoon in London, we spoke on a range of topics, from Clare’s intellectual history to her (then) forthcoming book on Emma Goldman. We discussed her background as a poststructuralist theorist who also carries out empirical research and the challenge of studying sexuality in the archive. In the portion of the interview that appears below, we talk in detail about Clare’s early work on bisexuality and how her thinking contributes to theorising gender in the present.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Article
    School: School of Arts > English, Theatre and Creative Writing
    Depositing User: Susan Rudy
    Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2021 14:07
    Last Modified: 04 Nov 2021 06:08
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/46519

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