Please forgive the delay in my post…I was advocating a slowing down of scholarly time to a point where the deadline for this discussion was less important than the actual ideas I had percolating in my mind. But even with this delay (and awful joke to delay further), I still find that I am trying to buy time, to slow down the process of this response in order to fully unpack Will Stockton’s amazing talk “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Queerness, Presentism, and Romeo and Juliet.” I have pages upon pages of notes, several ideas for what I wanted to write, and yet now that I am here, I find I have too much to say, too much to discuss.
Perhaps this is what Stockton referred to in the opening moments of his talk, in which he complimented Jeffrey Cohen's introduction of him, particularly after having to introduce a well-known early modernist for a talk at his university and realizing that--for all he could say about her--he had somehow forgotten to write an introduction. Or, perhaps it is more like Stockton’s response to elaborate on his own thesis about not only needing to define queerness not only as in opposition to, but needing to have queerness in some way, shape, or form tethered to gayness. When asked how explicitly "how we do this?", he refreshingly claimed he was not sure...yet.
This was an answer that I felt personally empowered by, rather than a response by which I was confused or concerned. And this, I think, was what I appreciated most about Stockton’s talk: that I was left with more questions than answers, about Romeo and Juliet, about the reading we have done for this class (including Stockton’s), about my work and my involvement in queer theory. A play that seems theorized to death (no pun intended), discussed until students and professors alike are bored to tears, Stockton brought so many innovative points and questions of his own: if we read Romeo and Juliet as “queer” figures ruled by desire (and nothing else), why do they feel the compulsion to fulfill the societal expectation of marriage? How do we read the Friar and Nurse as queer figures, in terms of their skepticism or sexuality? What does the potential “loss of a day” in the play do to a queering of time?
Likewise, during this discussion of Romeo and Juliet, I could not help thinking about our class’s discussion of The Pardoner’s Tale and Stockton’s chapter on it. Can we tether a kind of queerness back to the Pardoner, to Henry Bailey, to the knight himself? How can the community of the pilgrimage be read in these terms, with a destination in mind that never comes to fruition, a contest that never reaches completion? Is it productive to see the Pardoner and Mercutio in conversation with one another, both skeptically queer about the institutions they potentially take part in?
And lastly, and perhaps—selfishly—the questions I am most grateful for, the ones about my own scholarship. What does it mean for me to use queer theory/ies in my own work on race in medieval literature? Do I need to tether queerness to gayness? How can I responsibly and ethically tether these two terms together, not only in my work in medieval literature, but in my readings of contemporary culture? What responsibility as a scholar do I have to do this work? And, quite simply, in what ways as a straight cis-gendered woman am I a queer theorist, and does that identity really matter?
These are, of course, questions for which I do not yet have answers. But even with this swimming head and even with the greenness of my career as a scholar, I recognize how rare it is to get an opportunity to leave a talk with so many questions, ideas, ephemera. And for that, I feel thankful, excited to work towards learning these answers and furthering the ideas that Will Stockton has so graciously set out for us. So here it is, (the beginnings of) my response to Stockton’s response, questions to answer questions, to enter into an important discussion—both on queer theory and interactions with the past—of which I hope to become a part.