A Path So Twisted: Thinking Wildly with and through Punk Feminisms
Jack Halberstam is a professor of American studies and ethnicity, gender studies and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. He is the author of five books including Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke UP, 1995), Female Masculinity (Duke UP, 1998), In A Queer Time and Place (NYU Press, 2005), The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP, 2011) and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012) and has written articles that have appeared in numerous journals, magazines and collections. Halberstam is working on several projects including a book on Fascism and (homo)sexuality. Halberstam has co-edited a number of anthologies including Posthuman Bodies with Ira Livingston (Indiana University Press, 1995) and a special issue of Social Text with Jose Munoz and David Eng titled “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?” He is a popular speaker and gives lectures around the country and internationally every year. Lecture topics include queer failure, sex and media, subcultures, visual culture, gender variance, popular film and animation.
Abstract: In the queer punk film from 1980, Times Square (directed by Alan Moyle), two teenage girls meet in the psychiatric ward of a neurological hospital in New York City and, sensing a shared purpose and a mutual instinct for rebellion, they shed their hospital gowns, don garbage bags and run from the hospital to become part of the discarded denizens of Times Square. Refusing all psychiatric diagnoses of their disaffection, Pammy and Nicky, refuse and resist psychologized accounts of injury and project the injuryback onto the society as a whole. They have been wounded but their wounds are not the problem, the problem lies in a racist and homophobic world that regards them and the queer worlds they inhabit as obstacles to the “safe” and “clean” version of New York City to which local politicians have committed. The film, emerging as it does on the very cusp of the AIDS crisis and just before the clean up of Times Square and at the very beginning of the Reagan years, represents a lost world of queer rebellion that instructs us now on the tactics and the cultures of revolt that were swept aside by neo-liberal discourses of respectability, responsibility and social hygiene. This talk wants to explore (without romanticizing) with Nicky and Pammy the potential of the unsafe and the unclean. In the Patti Smith song at the core of the film Smith asks: “Should I pursue a path so twisted?/Should I crawl defeated and gifted?” Taking this terminology from “Pissing in the River” as a vocabulary for punk feminism, let’s venture into the wild world and the wild genders of Times Square not to find what has been lost but to unlearn the lessons of compliance that are nested within discourses of improvement, recovery and health.