History Professor Jennifer Evans‘ book The Queer Art of History: Queer Kinship After Fascism has just been reviewed by Ben Miller of The Baffler, a magazine of art, criticism, and political analysis. A short excerpt is included below, with the full review, “Queer History Now! Learning to Remember Otherwise“, available online.

Queer historians have been among those trying to insist that how we make meaning matters in how we write history. But as Jennifer Evans points out in her new monograph-cum-manifesto, The Queer Art of History: Queer Kinship After Fascism, the term “queer” has itself experienced somewhat of a loss of meaning and a curdling of political potential in the decades since it was new. The contributions of brilliant critics such as Cathy Cohen, José Esteban Muñoz, and Roderick Ferguson led to the term becoming, productively, more mobile, and instructed how it interfaces with our analysis of race and class. But recently, instead of signifying the making-strange of the sex-gender system, “queer” has become more of a floating signifier of alterity. Everything is queer! Even drones! Ironically, the more “queer” has drifted away from its referents, the more it has become an essentializing category, a term that means something like “different-but-good,” a way of avoiding critical work rather than engaging in it. “In our quest for queer kin,” Evans writes, “we have forgotten that the critical work we do is to disturb the practice of essentialism, of seeing queerness unidimensionally, as inherently wed to progressive causes, always on the side of right.”

The monograph—a reworking and expansion of Evans’s evolving intellectual investigation into the history of German queers and how that investigation might queer German history itself––returns the sex-gender system to the center of the queer study of queer pasts. It asks urgent, uncomfortable questions of both “queer” and “history,” and insists that the two can still improve one another. As Evans writes, when we “let slip the different inequalities that continue to mark queer and trans* entry into the mainstream,” we also “fail to appreciate what solidarity and coalition building actually looked like when and where it did surface.” In our dangerous political moment, it is “imperative that we draw lessons from kin formations good and bad to both rediscover and redeploy the radical potential of queer as a politics, analytic, and way of life.” No collective understanding of history is enough to advance a politics, but, as Evans suggests, it is necessary to tell more complicated stories about our past queer kin if we are to build a political subject capable of confronting the global right-wing trans- and homophobic backlash.

The word kin is key. Evans traces its genealogy, with a generosity and an interdisciplinarity that should be the standard in our writing, through works of queer thought by Laura Doan, Jin Haritaworn, and David Eng, among others inspired by the activism and intellectual output of working-class queer people and queer people of color. Kinship, Evans argues, is a form of attachment that is “not just biological or even social”; it helps us understand how “disparate people brought together by their shared, though different, experiences of marginalization” have articulated politics and desires that challenged the sex-gender systems of their day. Instead of asking for recognition of stable and fixed ways of being, kinship offers a “potentiality of the otherwise.”