Organization: Department of English, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Queer lives have changed unprecedentedly since the time social media became a rage. While older queers look back nostalgically at the pre-Internet years, when finding even one other queer person was a challenge, others regret being born earlier. It is indeed a strange dilemma which cannot be resolved. While there is no scale to weigh the pros or cons of the pre-Internet or post-Internet queer lives, at least, there is a consensus that building a community and connecting virtually is lot easier than it was even a decade ago. But are we queering companionship, romantic or erotic intimacies and our community enough? Have we yet realized or is there a possibility of ever realizing what queering companionship, intimacies and community relations outside the heteronormative template could entail?
In 1981 Foucault said: ‘The problem is not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex, but, rather, to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships. And, no doubt, that’s the real reason why homosexuality is not a form of desire but something desirable. Therefore, we have to work at becoming homosexuals and not be obstinate in recognizing that we are. The development toward which the problem of homosexuality tends is the one of friendship.’ What kind of friendship or companionship or intimacy was Foucault hinting at? Companionship or intimacy may not be realized within structures of coupledom or romantic-erotic associations only, but, also, it could just be ‘a matter of existence’. As Foucault elaborates: ‘[H]ow is it possible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals, their room, their leisure, their grief, their knowledge, their confidences? What is it to be “naked” among men, outside of institutional relations, family, profession, and obligatory camaraderie?’ Or for that matter, what it means for two women to vow to live with each other forever, through a contract of friendship, such as maitri karar, to circumvent Hindu Marriage laws in India? More importantly, what does it mean to exist together, if not live together, in the digital world? Not only the idea of friendship or companionship, but the idea of community too has undergone a sea-change. With the ever-expanding world of the Internet becoming accessible to more and more users, an awareness of
differences and fractures, rather than commonality on which the very idea of community is premised, is increasingly becoming more pronounced. The ‘multiplicity of relationships’ we are forging over the Internet is fraught with a disturbing sense of being different from each other rather than similar. In the digital era, does the community exist at all, or like the concept of the nation itself, it is only an imaginary entity to which, we feel, we belong?
While community is now a more problematic concept than ever, friendship, companionship and intimacies too have undergone a significant transformation. Friendship does not usually come sealed on a stamp-paper; yet, it comes with some unarticulated promises, without the bindings of responsibilities dumped on the partners ‘tied’ to each other forever. Even if friendship comes with a certain degree of unsaid promises, companionship may not. Companionship is more fleeting, less demanding, and may last a few hours, or maybe for the duration of an hour long video call between two absolute strangers meeting on a dating app. At a glance, it may appear friendship is way more desirable than a fleeting companionship, for friends can become companions, while there is no guarantee that an inadvertent companion may end up becoming a friend. But, what appears problematic in this hierarchization is the desire for long-term or sustainable relationships. Let’s give us a moment and ask, why do we hanker for permanence so much, when everything in life is so transient, or because of that? There is no definite answer. So, could queering companionship and intimacy entail, not prioritizing the permanent over the transitory? Is the thought itself unsettling or may be devastating? Could it be more challenging to work our heads around this thought than perhaps dismantling the hierarchy of mono- and polyamory? In the ever-expanding digital world, when communities have shifted online, and when the very ‘matter of existence’, for many, has become a matter of being with absolute strangers (sometimes even without real names), and connecting through likes and loves on short-lived Instagram stories, is it time to queer and radically rethink the longstanding notions of friendship, companionship, intimacy and community? Could the exploration of ‘multiplicity of relationships’, as Foucault talks about, could be satisfactorily possible only then?
When companionship, intimacy and community existence is largely experienced without the tactility of bodies, and a certain degree of detachment – literal and metaphorical – enabled by smartphones and other electronic devices, how does one redefine the very ‘matter of existence’ as a queer person and how does one ‘work’ towards becoming queer, with or without looking back nostalgically to a more vibrant, yet, not-so-fiercely-connected world of the pre-Internet era? This conference throws open these questions for you to debate and argue through papers for 15-minute presentation slots. Please send a 250-word abstract to share your views by 14 February 2023 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 28 February 2023.