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From The Homosexual Front to Homonationalism

A one-day workshop at King’s College, London on Saturday 17 May 2014

Long before queer theory was invented in California, Paris experienced its own revolutionary moment of radical homosexual critique, centered around the activism of the fabled FHAR (Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire) and the seminal, Ur-Queer publication that was Hocquenghem’s Le Désir homosexuel. Some forty years hence, and with Hocquenghem becoming progressively more lionized in Anglo-American queer contexts, how does the current French queer ‘milieu’ position itself with regard to its pre-history? This question becomes especially pertinent since the advent and propagation of the notion of homonationalism, first established by Jasbir Puar in the US context, has reached queer France and may yet cause (if it is not already causing) far-reaching reverberations. In a national/cultural context where Universalism looms large over identity politics and over queer critique, is the intersection between race, class and sexuality likely to boost the queer struggle? Or has a deterritorialised queer energy effectively cancelled out the radical yet suspect past, and thus looped the loop of Universalism and its resistance?

This is the context for the workshop on May 17, at King’s College, London, which will have two autonomous yet interconnected parts. The morning is dedicated to a historical and critical consideration of the ‘pre-historical’ queer moment of the revolutionary seventies, including presentations on the FHAR and Hocquenghem, as well as a rare opportunity to watch a little-seen documentary film on the FHAR, produced by Carole Roussopoulos. In the afternoon, French queer thinkers and activists of the present day reflect on the past and present of queer critique in France, and attempt, in particular, to situate current work in relation to homonationalism and related ideas – with Jasbir Puar herself attending and responding to presentations.


Venue: King’s College, London (Room K2.31), Saturday May 17, 2014

9.30 Coffee and Registration

10.00 Welcome/Opening Remarks (Hector Kollias-KCL)

10.10 Dan Callwood (QM): Le corps désirant se lève: locating the radicalism of France’s FHAR

10.30 Jason Hartford (Stirling): Sex, Ecology, Demons – what did essentialism ever do to Guy Hocquenghem?

10.50 Questions

11.10 Coffee break

11.30 Ros Murray (QM): Between the Lines – the FHAR on Video

11.50 UK Première of Le FHAR, (1971) directed by Carole Roussopoulos, followed by questions/debate

13.00 Lunch break

14.00 Hector Kollias (KCL): The Garters under the Uniform – On French Queer Ambivalence, then and now

14.20 Camille Robcis (Cornell): Race and Reproduction in the French Gay Marriage Debates

14.40 Questions

15.00 Joint Keynote Session – Maxime Cervulle (Paris VIII/CEMTI) & Marco Dell’Omodarme (Paris I/Lille III): New Queer Fronts after the Same-Sex Marriage Debate in France, followed by questions

16.15 Coffee break

16.40 Response(s) by Jasbir Puar (Rutgers)

17.10 Questions and Final Debate

17.45 Close

Abstracts & Biographical Notes

Dan Callwood (Queen Mary, University of London):

Le corps désirant se lève: locating the radicalism of France’s Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire 1971-4

This paper will aim to analyse the Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR) as a radical theoretical and political project. The FHAR burst onto the political scene in 1971, but despite (or perhaps because of) its incandescence, the group lasted only three years, its energies spent by 1974. This paper will argue that despite its later mythology, the FHAR was a marginal organisation, and it is in this marginality that we can locate the FHAR’s radicalism. The FHAR was a contestation of the far left and existing conservative ‘homophile’ associations. This marginal position was inseparable from its theoretical elaboration of a ‘revolution of desire’, which appropriated marginality to agitate for universal change in regimes of sexuality. This paper will go on to argue that the FHAR’s real radicalism can be found in its afterlives, concluding with a consideration of the mythology of the FHAR and its influence on radical politics across the 1970s.

Dan Callwood studied History and French at Oxford, and is now a doctoral student in the department of History at Queen Mary, University of London under the supervision of Professor Julian Jackson. His thesis is provisionally entitled ‘Experiencing France’s Gay Liberation ‘Moment’, 1968-1984’ and his chief research interests are gay and lesbian history, queer history and theory, new social movements, transnational exchange and oral history.

Jason Hartford (University of Stirling):

Sex, Ecology, Demons: What Did Essentialism Ever Do to Guy Hocquenghem?

This presentation investigates one of the most persistent legacies of 1970s French proto-queer theory, anti-essentialism. It will argue against the perception that ‘essentialism’, broadly understood as the belief in a biological origin for sexuality, necessarily entails a ‘slippery slope’ endorsement of racism and pseudosciences of gender and class, or (either concurrently or alternatively) a classical liberal bias in viewing the social economy. The method will be to contrast Hocquenghem’s hostile approach to science in general with different ideas from other progressives, including Mario Mieli and Donna Haraway. My aim is to highlight the interaction and, sometimes, tensions between anti-essentialist thought, in France and elsewhere, with cyborg and ecological theory. The question of ecological queerness arises particularly clearly in the case of transgender and intersex thought, and beyond these in comparative gender culture. I will trace this heritage and its complications through a discussion of the aforementioned thinkers with reference to, among others, Marie-Hélène Bourcier, Iain Morland, Sally Haslanger, and Stacey Alaimo.

Jason Hartford is currently Lecturer in French and Global Cinema at the University of Stirling. He works in the long modern period from 1870 to the present, engaging with queer, post-structural and psychoanalytic theory, fiction after Flaubert, the Belle Époque era in France and Belgium, cinema since 1968 (especially French and comparative horror), and Christian iconography, as well as cultural interpretations of science.

Ros Murray (Queen Mary, University of London):

Between the Lines: The FHAR on Video

The Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR) surfaced, like portable video technologies, at the beginning of the 1970s in France, inspired by the activities of May 68 and the politics of the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (MLF). Taking a radical and instinctive perspective on the interactions between sexuality, corporeality and activism, the group’s early chaotic immediacy was captured on video by vidéaste Carole Roussopoulos. This paper considers the militant lesbian and gay politics of 1970s Paris through the lens of these emerging portable video technologies, taking Roussopoulos’ 1971 video Le FHAR as its starting point. It seeks to interrogate the relationship between portable video and the FHAR’s proposals, arguing for a proto-queer gaze that surfaced in the space between gestures, bodies and words – and, as technology, in-between yet simultaneously in opposition to both film and television. In short, it seeks to ask, what is the status of the image in this peculiarly queer video? How might Roussopoulos and the FHAR urge us to see differently?

Ros Murray completed her PhD at King’s College London on the work of Antonin Artaud, which formed the basis of her forthcoming monograph Antonin Artaud: The Scum of the Soul (2014), before becoming Research Associate at Manchester University on the AHRC-funded project ‘Queer Cinema from Spain and France’. She is currently Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where she works on feminist documentary video in 1970s France, exploring the relationship between video technologies, embodiment and politics.

Hector Kollias (King’s College London):

The Garters under the Uniform: On French Queer Ambivalence, Then and Now

The distinctly queer image of the garters under the uniform is Guy Hocquenghem’s invention, a reference to what he saw as the (curiously inverse) masquerading of subversive intentions that necessarily have to take on the mantle of ‘phallic’ discourse. Forty years on, queer discourses in France are still wrestling with the same ambivalence, and my presentation hopes to chart this ambivalence in the face of major and minor modes of discourse, minoritarian and universalizing impulses. The goal will be not to bulldoze over differences of position and approach, thus to de-historicize or universalize ‘queer made in France’, but to examine ambivalence as a peculiarly French queer trope, a discursive strategy employed precisely to subvert and destabilize the universal, and which, as I will argue, yields considerable libidinal profit that, perhaps surprisingly, has remained constant through all its historical and contingent transformations.

Hector Kollias is Lecturer in the French department at King’s College London where he is also director of the Queer@King’s research centre. Alongside Oliver Davis (Warwick), he heads the AHRC-funded project ‘Queer Theory in France’, under the auspices of which this workshop takes place. With Davis, he has co-edited a special issue of Paragraph on ‘Queer Theory’s Return to France’ and has written articles and chapters on Foucault, Bersani, Dustan, and Rancière among others. He is currently engaged in two book-length projects nearing completion: on the notion of perversion in psychoanalysis and queer theory; and on the figure of Alcibiades as part of the longstanding legacy of the Platonic ‘model’ of homosexuality.

Camille Robcis (Cornell University):

Race and Reproduction in the French Gay Marriage Debates

My paper examines how the discourses on reproduction and race have converged, intersected, and bifurcated in the anti-gay-marriage protests in France in recent years. Rather than treating the defense of the traditional heterosexual family and the appeal to explicitly racist arguments (notably against the figure Christiane Taubira) as independent and separate, I propose to consider the popular mobilization of race and reproduction together, as the two constitutive pillars of the French nation. Ultimately, I wish to challenge the dominant interpretive frameworks that have explained the protests as a form of political pathology (whether it be populism, homophobia, racism) in order to emphasize instead its commitment to French republicanism.

Camille Robcis is assistant professor of History at Cornell University. She is the author of The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis and the Family in Twentieth-Century France (2013) and is currently working on three research projects: on the history of institutional psychotherapy in France; on the relations between French intellectuals and third-world revolutions in the 60s and 70s; and on the reception of the concept of gender in France, particularly by the Catholic church.

Maxime Cervulle (Université Paris VIII – Vincennes Saint-Denis / Cemti) & Marco Dell’ Omodarme (Université Lille III / Université Paris I – Panthéon):

New Queer Fronts after the Same-Sex Marriage Debate in France

In France, recent public debates over same-sex marriage have displaced the homonationalist tactics of mainstream gay organizations and deeply troubled queer politics. The rise of a large opposition movement, which culminated into a convergence of the right-wing forces, has opened up a front of conflicting sexual nationalisms. Caught in the middle of this battle fought with weaponized national symbols, radical queer politics seemed reduced to silence, if not to ventriloquism, as conservatives used references to US queer theory to raise the spectre of the disappearance of “sexual difference” in the wake of same-sex marriage and adoption, and of anti-sexist and anti-homophobic policies in public schools. Through an analysis of the coordinates of these debates, this presentation aims at mapping the displacement of queer fronts, and taking an inventory of the queer conceptual tools that may be put to use in the current configuration

Maxime Cervulle is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at University Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis and at the Centre d’études sur les médias, les technologies et l’internationalisation (CEMTI). He is the co-author of Homo exoticus. Race, classe et critique queer (2010) and the author of Dans le blanc des yeux. Diversité, racisme et médias (2013).

Marco Dell’Omodarme is a philosopher. He was one of the members of French queer group Le Zoo. He teaches Art and Cultural Studies at University Lille 3, and is currently finishing his doctoral thesis on epistemic subjectivity and the constructivist perspectives on knowledge production at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Phico – EXeCO).

Respondent: Jasbir K. Puar (Rutgers University):

Jasbir Puar is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and the author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (2007), a redacted version of which has been translated into French by Maxime Cervulle as Homonationalisme. Politiques queers après le 11 Septembre, (2012). Her edited volumes include "Queer Tourism: Geographies of Globalization" (GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies); and co-edited volumes on "Sexuality and Space" (Society and Space); "Interspecies" (Social Text); "Viral" (Women's Studies Quarterly). Her forthcoming monograph, Affective Politics: States of Debility and Capacity (Duke University Press, 2014) takes up questions of disability in the context of theories of bodily assemblages that trouble intersectional identity frames.

Du Front Homosexuel à l’ homonationalisme : la critique queer en France avant et après la théorie queer

Colloque à King’s College, Londres, samedi 17 mai 2014

Bien avant que la théorie queer n’apparaisse en Californie, Paris avait déjà fait l’expérience d’une critique homosexuelle radicale et révolutionnaire, avec l’activisme légendaire du FHAR et Le Désir homosexuel de Guy Hocquenghem, un texte parfois considéré comme « queer avant la lettre » et dont la publication a fait date. Quelques quarante ans après, tandis que Hocquenghem est porté aux nues dans les milieux queer Anglo-Americains, quel regard la « France queer » porte-t-elle vis-à-vis de cette préhistoire de la critique sexuelle ? La question est d’autant plus pertinente qu’elle est ici posée dans le sillage de l’avènement et de la dissémination en France du concept d’homonationalisme, élaboré en premier lieu dans un contexte américain par Jasbir Puar, mais qui a rencontré en France un écho important. Dans un contexte national et culturel au sein duquel les politiques de l’identité et la critique queer ne sont jamais quitte de la présence de l’universalisme, la vigueur de la lutte queer n’est-elle pas renforcée par l’intersection entre race, classe et sexualité ? La déterritorialisation de l’énergie queer aurait-elle, au contraire, défait le passé radical et pourtant suspect, bouclant alors la boucle de l’universalisme, autant que celle des possibilités d’y résister?

Tel est le contexte sur lequel ce colloque propose de revenir. Il aura lieu le 17 Mai à King’s College, London, et consistera en deux parties autonomes autant que connexes. La matinée sera consacrée aux regards critiques et historiques sur le moment queer et révolutionnaire des années 1970, avec notamment des présentations sur Hocquenghem et sur le FHAR, ainsi que la rarissime présentation d’un documentaire sur le FHAR produit par Hocquenghem et réalisé par Carole Roussopoulos. Dans l’après-midi, ce sera au tour de penseurs et activistes queer français d’aujourd’hui de se pencher sur l’histoire et l’actualité de la critique queer en France et de tenter tout particulièrement de situer leur travail par rapport à l’homonationalisme et à ses voisins conceptuelles – en présence de Jasbir Puar qui tâchera de répondre aux interventions.

Le programme du colloque sera bientôt annoncé. L’assistance à ce colloque est gratuite, et ceux ou celles qui sont intéressé(e)s sont prié(e)s de s’inscrire par email à l’adresse suivante: