Dante's Left Foot Kicks
Queer Theory into Gear
Dante is an exiled, aggressive . . . salvation-bent intellectual, humbled to rise
assured and ardent, zealously prophetic, politically messianic, indignant, nervous,
muscular, theatrical, energetic.
—Mandelbaum, 1982, 8
Mandelbaum's description of Dante sounds “queer.” Dante's critiques of the Church in the Divine Comedy are aggressive, ardent, zealously prophetic. He critiques, in a rude-positive way, or in an in-your-face way, the scandals of the medieval papacy: This is called “queer” politics. He also subverts notions of identity: Witness Tiresias “who changed his mein ... from a man ... into a woman” ( 1982, 181). Sexuality as a shifting, changing way of being in the world is “queer.” A queer sensibility attempts to subvert the apparent neat and tidy relation between sex and gender. Queer politics, thus, serves to undermine rigid categories of identity. The birthing of queer identity means grappling with ambiguity and complexity around the notion of what it might mean to be a person. Personhood, for queer theory, is a contradictory and complex phenomenon. Witness the diviner Amphiaraus: “He's made a chest out of his shoulders and since he wanted so to see ahead he looks behind and walks a backward path” ( 1982, 181). Discontinuous, jagged, backward ways of walking through the world are also “queer.”
Like Dante, queer theorists/activists are “zealously prophetic, politically messianic, indignant, nervous ... theatrical” (Mandelbaum 1982, 8). Although theory and activism might be interpreted as two distinct things, I collapse the two. I read queer theory as a form of activism and queer activism as a form of theory. I find the bifurcation between theory and activism a difficult one to maintain. Exposing and critiquing the violence