Books · Gender · GSRM/LGBTQIA · Whiteness & racism

Turning to Tables

Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, OthersQueer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others by Sara Ahmed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Philosophy! The foundation pit of all the sciences and all the arts and all the humanities, no? Philosophy! A praxis… of thinking about stuff more than usual, of following the trail of ideas, seeing where we can go with them… something like that? It’s how I would describe Sara Ahmed’s writing. An image for it might be going for a walk on a beach and examining the shells, turning them over, listening to them, seeing what colour they are on the inside. Except that sounds a bit floaty and whimsical, which this emphatically isn’t, it’s just that it’s an investigation of the often overlooked, a hearing of the seldom heard.

For example, thinking about Husserl thinking about tables, Ahmed thinks about the labour involved in keeping the table and the space around it clear and available for Husserl to sit and think and write at, labour performed by others, presumably women. Ahmed asks: what’s going on behind Husserl while he’s thinking and writing at his writing table? She asks and suggests lots of other things too related to the way people are facing, what they are able, thereby, to notice, what effect spaces and objects and work have on bodies, how these effects depend on those bodies, whether they are read as bodies of colour, female bodies, queer bodies.

Thinking about orientations around things and toward things shows how things get missed, how barriers that stop some can be invisible to those they let pass. Racism isn’t much of a problem these days, say my class of white students…

I was taught, as a student of philosophy, not to value the personal, but to admire the ‘objective’. Yet, philosophers have spoken as if their own thoughts were universal. By investigating the personal, (queer) feminists of colour like Ahmed have rehabilitated the specificity of experiences, opening paths and windows onto nodes of commonality, meeting points, communal tables as well as places of tension and friction.

I’m sure I’ll read this again and keep making connections, keep following paths I’d never noticed. One point of affinity I felt was with Elizabeth Grosz’s essay ‘Refiguring Lesbian Desire’ in which she elaborates on the preposition that desire, rather than being a painful lack, is creative and productive. For Ahmed desire, specifically lesbian desire, certainly is that: it creates paths, reshapes the world. I love reading Ahmed, not just because I recognise and learn to recognise the world spoken differently to the way I have been trained to hear it, but because of this pathbrea/making world shifting potential she points to.

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