Paranoid postures and reparative postures.

On an hermeneutical and philosophico-political debate in queer theory


  • Giuseppe Aprile Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna Pisa, Italy



The alternative between paranoid reading and reparative reading, conceptualized by Eve Kosofsky Segdwick, has been recently reengaged by Lee Edelman in an essay written in response to Judith Butler, where the former resorts to the dichotomy as epitomizing the cleavages that characterize more generally queer theory – for example, the one between the utopian and the antisocial strand. Although Segdwick refers to the dualism in a hermeneutical context, it is already in her framework – and even more clearly in the Butler-Edelman exchange – that the dichotomy emerges as relevant for the elaboration of ethical-political postures, allowing to rethink the reasons why and the modalities of relationality, as well as theories of subjectivity tout court.

In the first place, the essay aims at reconstructing the conceptual genealogy of the paranoid-reparative dichotomy and its relevance for Segdwick’s thought, going back to its foundations in Melanie Klein’s psychoanalysis and Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory. Throughout this reconstruction, it will attempt at investigating both the reasons why of Segdwick’s concern for the psychic consequences of the ‘paranoid’ posture on the epistemic subject as well as her stance towards the relation between truth-knowledge and political practice. Such a preliminary inquiry is necessary to understand what pushes Segdwick’s quest for a reparative alternative to the paranoid ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. In this framework, resorting to the work by scholars such as Patricia Stuelke, Heather Love and Rita Felski, it will be possible to see how the debate wages both the advantages and the criticalities of reparation, as well as the relevance of the dichotomy for the meaning of academic work.

Secondly, moving from hermeneutics to political philosophy, the essay examines the most recent elaboration in queer theory to investigate the validity of the very distinction between the paranoid and the reparative. At this purpose, it will refer – on the one hand – to the idea of ‘solidarity in disidentification’ by Judith Butler and – on the other hand – to the notion of ‘inconvenience drive’ featuring the latest work by Lauren Berlant. While Lee Edelman remarks how the result of Butler’s analysis – introducing negativity and ambivalence in the construction of solidarity – is that of realizing a ‘non flamboyant de-rivalization’ between the paranoid and the reparative, I will argue that this is not the case. To the contrary, I will suggest that both Butler and Berlant – but especially the latter – through their frameworks rather allow to appreciate reparation in its full richness, as the very posture which is able to keep together both the elements of the antisocial and the utopian.

Keywords: paranoid, reparative, queer theory, solidarity, inconvenience drive.