Sarah Schulman's queer diasporas: People in Trouble and Empathy

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This essay considers the usefulness of the concept of ‘queer diaspora’ in relation to the work of US lesbian writer Sarah Schulman. According to Gayatri Gopinath, ‘The concept of a queer diaspora enables a simultaneous critique of heterosexuality and the nation form while exploding the binary opposition between nation and diaspora, heterosexuality, original and copy’ (p. 11). Since her debut novel, The Sophie Horowitz Story, published in 1984, Schulman has mapped contemporary sexual politics, in particular the impact of the AIDS crisis, in the context of American capitalism and imperialism. Writing from the point of view of marginal, ethnic minority, and/or counter-cultural individuals, Schulman both laments the way in which people are abandoned by their families for their sexual choices and celebrates the creativity of people's survival strategies in the cultural margins. Through a discussion of her works from the early 1990s, People in Trouble and Empathy, this essay explores Schulman's multilayered representation of queer Jewish diasporic experience in New York. Utilizing three models of queer diaspora developed in the 1990s – as a political response to AIDS; as a negotiation of notions of ‘home’; and as a form of cultural mourning – it examines the different ways in which the texts narrativize aspects of queer diaspora. In particular, it argues that Schulman's work explores the specificity of queer female subjects, delineating how lesbians' experience is distinct from that of both straight women and gay men. In conclusion, Schulman's exploration of the joy and anguish of queer subjects in the postmodern city demonstrates the subversive possibilities that reside in the spaces of cultural unbelonging.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)711-729
Number of pages19
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Aug 2011


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