The First QuIR Workshop: Anglophone Queer Theories in the Italian Context and Dissident Italian Thought

Charlotte Ross, c.e.ross@bham.ac.uk

Our first queer workshop took place at the University of Verona on 26-27 Aprile 2017. We were hosted by Dr Lorenzo Bernini who lectures in political philosophy there and runs the research centre PoliTeSse, which hosts an impressive programme of seminars and events on the politics and theories of sexuality. The programme included a rich range of contributions, from different academic disciplines (and from interdisciplinary perspectives), as well as two performances.

 

 In the run up to the workshop, it attracted some Italian media coverage. Some newspaper articles about the event seemed to question its scientific validity. Patrizia Floder Reitter, writing in La verità (25 April 2017), noted that the University of Verona organises a great many seminars on the right to determine one’s own gender identity and sexuality, and implied that these events are in some way of dubious academic quality. Indeed she describes the issue of sexual self-determination as a ‘non question’. Floder Reitter comments on the use of the asterisk in Italian-language publicity for the workshop,  which we have chosen as a form of inclusive language (see the earlier posts on queer language). For the journalist, this is a strategy to eliminate masculinity and femininity. This view completely ignores the problematic ‘universal’ masculine plural used in Italian, which effectively eclipses any women to which nouns, verbs or abjectives might refer. Moreover, it disingenuously fails to engage with the issue of binary gendered language which is inadequate to represent the rich diversity of human experience. This type of polemic journalism, which is not based on scientific, peer-reviewed research, has the potential to misinformthe reader. This is particularly problematic in relation to questions of human rights, discrimination and prejudice.

 

Despite these media discourses, the workshop went extremely well. We kicked off with a general session in which contributors introduced themselves and their relationship to queer theories,culture and politics. This gave a helpful insight into the diversity of experience and views in the room. In the first session Ryan Calabretta-Sajder reflected on the queer anthology as a tool for teachers and readers. He compared some leading English-language texts with the Italian anthology Canone inverso (ETS, 2012), and raised some important questions about how we compile such anthologies, the different genealogies of queer thought that emerge in each anthology, and the role of translation in disseminating anglophone queer theory in Italy. Liana Borghi’s paper explored the work of Karen Barad, which she and Marco Pustianaz are currently translating into Italian, focusing on how insights from quantum physics about the ‘queerness’ of subatomic particles might change our relationship with the material world (and our material selves) in fundamental ways.  

This session was followed by an interactive performance by Primavera Contu, that offered an ironic and thought-provoking reflection on bisexuality and sexual labels in general, as well encouraging all participants to reflect critically, innovatively and humourously on their own sexual identities. The post-performance discussion confirmed the ongoing complexities of debates about identity politics and sexual labels: although in today’s era of sexual fluidity they might feel unhelpful and constricting to some, in enduringly hostile and homophobic contexts these labels can allow those who wish to distance themselves from normative sexuality to begin to articulate their own sense of self.

On day 2, we began with an open session picking up on issues raised the previous day that we wished to explore in more detail. This was followed by a paper by Chiara Bertone on critical heterosexuality studies, which confirmed the importance of scrutinising the groups that seem most normative (middle-aged heterosexual men) in order to interrogate and dismantle received ideas about all sexual behaviours and identities. Matthew Zundel’s contribution focussed on Mario Mieli and his Elementi di critica omosessuale (1977) and his exuberant performances as a form of queer pedagogy.

In the final session we enjoyed the performance La disfatta dell’arte, created by Michael Crisantemi, Simone Bolli and Vincenzo Flauto, which dramatised a multiplicity of ideas about queer, about theatre and about coming out in a small town. The second contribution in this session was by the director Tommaso Rossi, who discussed his production of Mio padre ed io, an adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s novel My Father and Myself (1968), in which Acklerly, who was openly homosexual, explored his father’s past. These performances raised lively debates on the importance of theatre as a medium for representing sexual minorities, and for conveying queer ideas, or queering ideas about sexuality, politics and culture mode generally.

The workshop was a success on many levels, although we unfortunately had to cancel the performance by Ruben Montini that we had hoped to include in the programme. We’d like to thank everyone who attended for their compelling and stimulating contributions, and in particular we are grateful to Lorenzo Bernini for hosting us at Verona. Many thanks also to Michael Crisantemi for publishing some articles about the workshop and the participants on the site www.prideonline.it. It is a great way to disseminate ideas and reach out to a broader audience. The articles can be accessed here:

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/04/27/verona-larte-queer/

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/05/04/mario-mieli-saluti-da-new-york-city/

http://www.prideonline.it/2017/05/09/bisessuale-non-una-parolaccia/