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Queer Ethics of Reading: The Archive of Slavery between Entanglement and Counterpoint

Sihko Siyotula, Cosmopolis Doodle

Elahe Haschemi Yekani (Flensburg University)

Queer Ethics of Reading: The Archive of Slavery between Entanglement and Counterpoint


In extension of, but also in distinction from, Edward Said’s famous conception of contrapuntal reading strategies that emphasise the influence of the colonies on metropolitan lifestyles, I propose that the emergence of modern Britishness was shaped globally already in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century before the high time of imperialism and should be related more strongly to the debate on the abolition of slavery. I suggest to read literary texts as part of an entangled (rather than contrapuntal) literary history of British writing. My contribution to the lecture series “minor cosmopolitan theory” therefore begins with a methodological reflection on the ethical challenges of reading, particularly when dealing with the archive of slavery today. Contrasting the more overtly politicised queer impulse of embracing negative feelings, which critics such as Ann Cvetkovich propose, with what Stephen Best calls a depsychologising form of “surface reading”, I advocate a return to Sedgwickian queer reparative reading strategies that might function as a link between these supposedly contradictory methodological approaches. Following this theoretical reflection, I revisit Said’s landmark reading of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) to discuss how familial feeling becomes increasingly permeable for subjects like Fanny Price and Robert Wedderburn, the radical orator and author of The Horrors of Slavery (1824), from the margins of the colonies and Britain’s class-bound society simultaneously. This focus on their entanglement also resists a clear-cut spatial binary of the colonial periphery versus the cosmopolitan centre and links questions of class and the new imperial and gendered ordering of Britain’s affective make-up in the course of the nineteenth century.


Thursday, June 8th 2017; 18-20 // Campus Neues Palais, Building 9, Room 2.15 (second floor)

Seminar with Elahe Haschemi Yekani (University of Flensburg)

Each lecture is accompanied by a seminar conducted by the speaker, which picks up on the themes and talking points of the lecture. 

Friday, June 9th 2017; 10-12 

Short Bio

Elahe Haschemi Yekani is Junior Professor of English Literature at the University of Flensburg. Previously she was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study Konstanz and Assistant Professor at the Department of English at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. She is the author of The Privilege of Crisis. Narratives of Masculinities in Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Photography and Film (Campus 2011) and co-editor of Erlöser. Figurationen männlicher Hegemonie (transcript 2007, ed. with Sven Glawion and Jana Husmann-Kastein) as well as Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism, and the Political (Ashgate 2013, ed. with Eveline Kilian and Beatrice Michaelis). Currently, she works on her second book, in which she traces an entangled literary history of canonical bourgeois novels of the late 18th and 19th century with the earliest written testimonies of Black British writers. Her research interests include the Anglophone novel, Queer Theory, Postcolonial and Gender/Masculinity Studies.