Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence

Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence

Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence

Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence


The field of lesbian studies is often framed in terms of the relation between lesbianism and invisibility. Annamarie Jagose here takes a radical new approach, suggesting that the focus on invisibility and visibility is perhaps not the most productive way of looking at lesbian representability. Jagose argues that the theoretical preoccupation with metaphors of visibility is part of the problem it attempts to remedy. In her account, the regulatory difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality relies less on codes of visual recognition than on a cultural adherence to the force of first order, second order sexual sequence. As Jagose points out, sequence does not simply specify what comes before and what comes after; it also implies precedence: what comes first and what comes second. Jagose reads canonical novels by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and Daphne du Maurier, drawing upon their elaboration of sexual sequence. In these innovative readings, tropes such as first and second, origin and outcome, and heterosexuality and homosexuality are shown to reinforce heterosexual precedence. Inconsequence intervenes in current debates in lesbian historiography, taking as its pivotal moment the fin-de-si cle phenomenon of the sexological codification of sexual taxonomies and concluding with a reading of a post-Kinsey pulp sexological text. Throughout, Jagose reminds us that categories of sexual registration are always back-formations, secondary, and belated, not only for those who identify as lesbian but also for all sexual subjects.


In this book I argue that a sequential logic organizes modern categories of sexual identification. That is, both the reification and the hierarchical valuation of heterosexuality and homosexuality are achieved as if through nothing more than the uninvested narrative mechanisms of numerical order or chronological progression. As second is to first, so the cultural weighting of heterosexuality as first-order and homosexuality as second-order is secured through the self-licensing logic of sequence. These cultural narrativizations of sexual sequence produce the very hierarchies they are taken to describe. In this book I argue that the mechanisms of sexual hierarchisation produce the lesbian as the figure most comprehensively worked over by sequence, secondary and inconsequential in all senses. Widely assumed to have no natural order of her own, to derive her substance from more primary forms of sexual organization, the cultural profile of the lesbian depends on her derivative secondary character. I argue that the enforcement of sexual sequence is a requirement of the cultural imperative to naturalize heterosexuality as the original or pre-eminent modality of sexuality itself.

Yet rather than resist the second-order nature of lesbianism, this book focuses on the sequential switch points of first and second to argue that the logic of sexual sequence disavows the secondary and derived nature of all sexualities, the foundational grammars of which are deferral and displacement. Taking the lesbian as my exemplar, I argue that sexual identity, retrospectively assembled from the behaviors and affects it touts as its natural expression, is always imitative and belated.

Accordingly, I have no investment in an authentic lesbian identity but wish to think productively about the belatedness or derivation of lesbianism that is inextricable from its cultural formation. Of course, the representation of female homosexuality as derivative has been widely and properly critiqued as the synchronized effect of both a homophobic project that renders homosexuality as an imitative form of heterosexuality and a misogynist project that casts femininity as other than a self-authorizing masculinity that assumes for itself the credentials of the generic and the normative. Despite the forcefulness of this critique, it does not follow that lesbian criticism must articulate a resistant discourse of lesbianism uninfected by sexuality's other formations. Rather than fix lesbianism as a sexuality that signifies only in its own terms—that is, rather than assume, in the name of female homosexuality, a version of the very cultural fantasy that produces lesbianism as a second-order sexuality—I argue that it might be more useful to explore how the cultural production of lesbianism as a perverse turn of some other sexual organization that can consequently lay an easier claim to authenticity might be read as a defense, a disavowal of precisely that derivativeness which, far from being the definitional bent of female homosexuality, is the heart of sexuality itself.

This strategy resists the more common formulation of lesbian studies that posits the derivativeness of lesbianism as a problem to be solved, the effect of a homophobic culture's reluctance to recognize the lesbian in her own terms. Rather than take visibility as the term central to the politicized concerns of lesbian representation, my examination of lesbianism and cultural legitimacy in relation to sequence foregrounds the derivative logics that inevitably structure the categories of sexual identity. My prioritizing of sequence over visibility, then, is not merely the substitution of one trope for another. Rather, as I argue in some detail in Chapter 1, the focus on sequence enables a recasting of the terms that structure the deadlocked and perhaps irresolvable debate in lesbian studies about the visibility or invisibility of its foundational identity category.

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