“The Estrangement Principle” by Ariel Goldberg— An Essay on Queer Art

Goldberg, Ariel. “The Estrangement Principle”, Nightboat Books, 2016.

An Essay on Queer Art

Amos Lassen

We live in a world that loves categorization and we try to find nice little categories where everything fits and it is not easy to do so. One such category is “queer art”. Ariel Goldman looks at that in this book length essay about the problematic label. We face the question of is queer art that which is made/created by queer people or is it something else. Goldberg thinks that we need wider areas of associations with art made by queer identified people. He explores the lives and works of writer Renee Gladman, and artists Jack Waters and Peter Cramer, among many others in order to show the real complexity of the issue as well as examines the communities and histories behind art. He brings together cultural criticism, close readings, and personal anecdotes yet he never loses site of his goal. We see here that are serious problems in attempting to classify and/or name movements and this can quickly become an exercise in contradiction. Goldberg raises several questions including if it is indeed possible to interrupt the labeling of art while it is the process of being produced and if naming is commodification in a society that is postcapitalist society.

Goldberg gives us a historical and literary research project focusing on writers and artists who are conflicted and resist labels on their work. He looks at the pressures LGBTQIGNC+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Gender-Non-Conforming, Plus) people face today and presents what he has found by looking at it “through the lens of the New Narrative movement and the intersection of activism and writing in the work of Jack Waters, Rachel Levitsky, Gregg Bordowitz, Tisa Bryant and Sarah Schulman”. 

Much of Goldberg’s research is based the use of the word “queer” in queer theory’s canon. He shows to get to this “through the tradition of the public intellectual performing close readings of the mundane publicity around us: press releases, mission statements, book blurbs and gossip”. It is important to note that this is a “durational inquiry about the feelings of urgency and doubt”.

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