Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge

Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge

Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge

Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge

Synopsis

Cruising the Library offers a highly innovative analysis of the history of sexuality and categories of sexual perversion through a critical examination of the Library of Congress and its cataloging practices. Taking the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet as emblematic of the Library’s inability to account for sexual difference, Melissa Adler embarks upon a detailed critique of how cataloging systems have delimited and proscribed expressions of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race in a manner that mirrors psychiatric and sociological attempts to pathologize non-normative sexual practices and civil subjects. Taking up a parallel analysis, Adler utilizes Roderick A. Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black as another example of how the Library of Congress fails to account for, and thereby “buries,” difference. She examines the physical space of the Library as one that encourages forms of governmentality as theorized by Michel Foucault while also allowing for its utopian possibilities. Finally, she offers a brief but highly illuminating history of the Delta Collection. Likely established before the turn of the twentieth century and active until its gradual dissolution in the 1960s, the Delta Collection was a secret archive within the Library of Congress that housed materials confiscated by the United States Post Office and other federal agencies. These were materials deemed too obscene for public dissemination or general access. Adler reveals how the Delta Collection was used to regulate difference and squelch dissent in the McCarthy era while also linking it to evolving understandings of so-called perversion in the scientific study of sexual difference. Sophisticated, engrossing, and highly readable, Cruising the Library provides us with a critical understanding of library science, an alternative view of discourses around the history of sexuality, and an analysis of the relationship between governmentality and the cataloging of research and information—as well as categories of difference—in American culture.

Excerpt

Let’s pretend the year is 1990, the season late autumn. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet has just been released. Now envision yourself as a catalog librarian, and the book has landed on your desk. One of the most essential tasks for you as a cataloger is to determine a single location on a library shelf for each book the library acquires. As it is 1990, there is no way you can anticipate the monumental role this book is going to play in the field of sexuality studies. You could have no idea that Sedgwick would come to be regarded as one of the founders of queer theory or that her work would one day be described as having “changed sexuality’s history and destiny.” Indeed, queer theory had only been called into being a few months earlier as the title of a conference in Santa Cruz, California. Publisher’s Weekly, a leading source of book reviews that guide librarians’ selection choices, suggested that the book was inaccessible and did not recommend it: “Sedgwick does not prove her overstated thesis that homo/ hetero distinction obtains with gender, class and race in determining ‘all modern Western identity and social organization.’ Obtuse, cumbersome, academic prose limits the appeal of this treatise.” You may or may not have seen this review (as a cataloger you probably don’t select items for the collection, and it is entirely likely that you are not a specialist in the subject), but given this critique it may be a wonder that the book has found its way into your hands. Your decision on how to classify this work will be based upon a perusal of the book description on the cover, the table of contents, and perhaps a skim of the introduction or index. You will want to place the book where its potential readers are likely to look, and you will want to locate it with similar titles in order to bring related works together.

Occupying the position of a librarian in this context, how do you begin to reduce Epistemology of the Closet to a single subject within any discipline? If you work in an academic library, you will most likely use the Library of Congress Classification to classify the book. in 1990, available choices within that classification system included sections in the social sciences— HQ76 and HQ71 for homosexuality and sexual deviation, respectively. in . . .

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