In her article ‘Revolting Doubles: Radical Narcissism and the Trope of Lesbian Doppelgangers’ (Lesbian Studies 2013) Jenzen looks at the relationship between sexuality and the politics of form. Focusing in particular on films such as Black Swan and Mulholland Drive that have been labelled as homophobic and misogynist, this article asks whether by focusing on form, rather than plot, we can open up a critical space in which to engage with these texts and whether this can lead to a better understanding of why these works have been dismissed from queer sexuality studies.
Developing the theoretical approach taken in her earlier work on the queer uncanny (2007), this article brings together discourses on aesthetics, psychoanalysis and dissident sexualities with visual art, cultural and film studies to examine the trope of the lesbian doppelgänger in both popular culture and contemporary art. Underpinned by a series of interviews with UK-based artists and through a combination of textual and visual analysis, Jenzen shows how the trope of the lesbian doppelganger is prevalent in both film and contemporary art and, moreover, has a historical lineage that can be traced back to the early twentieth century.
Extending the work of critical theorists Edelman (2004) and Love (2007) and by interrogating the stability of contemporary social and political order through discourses of sexuality, Jenzen’s article departs from the majority of the work in this field through her direct engagement with texts deemed to be misogynistic and homophobic. By recontextualising the qualities of radical narcissism associated with the doppelgänger and by locating this trope within cultural and historical understandings of sexuality, this article makes a critical intervention into neoliberal agendas of sexual politics, and offers a deconstruction of the tenets of positivism that lie at the heart of identity politics and at heart of previous LGBT studies of these works.
‘Queer teeth: exploring traumatic health legacies’ (2014) is a book chapter in Queering health: Critical Challenges to Normative Health and Healthcare (Zeeman, Aranda and Grant (eds)) that brings the methodologies of queer trauma studies (cf. Brown, 2003; Cvetkovich, 2003) and the work coming out of the affective turn within queer theory (Ahmed, 2010; Love, 2007; Munt, 2007; Sedgwick, 2003 et.al.) to the debates of a particular section of medical history: the dental research experiments at the Vipeholm Mental Hospital in Sweden (1945-55). In these experiments patients were fed large amounts of sugar to provoke dental decay in order to generate empirical data. The nature of trauma in this instance manifested through bodily pain – toothache and tooth loss – and the severely compromised wellbeing of the patients, but is also a factor in terms of their loss of individual dignity and autonomy. Drawing on hospital archives, news media reporting from the time and the research into the significance of the sugar experiments for the dentist profession by Bommenel (2006) the chapter aims to draw out the dynamics of desire and trauma complexly bound up in the desire for (and pleasure of) the sweet candy patients were given contrasted by the trauma of the pain (toothache) and invasive oral examinations. In other words, to highlight the ‘messy’ nature of trauma and discuss the potential of queer responses to a medical archive as an archive of feelings. This move builds on queer theoretical work that mobilises affect as a mode of doing history (cf. Cvetkovich 2003, Freeman 2010, Love 2007) to discursively open up new aspects of the embodiment of trauma through queer models of thinking and a non-pathologising ethos.
In addition, this chapter also attempts to illuminate what it means to connect with a traumatic public past, particularly when any registering of its lived experiences is distinctly ephemeral. This particular feature of the archive material is one widely experienced in queer culture and is also in a sense the modus operandi for queer historiography. It also emphasises the need to politicise trauma. This involves moving away from individualising perspectives, insisting instead on the correlation between structural social injustice, discrimination, violence and the individual’s lived experience as well as advocating a resistance to the amnesic powers of mainstream culture.
The article ‘Haunting poetry: Trauma, otherness and textuality in Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days’ (2010)examines the difficulty of writing about trauma and asks how authors approach writing and representing what is often through to be un-representable. Bringing into dialogue the hitherto principally discrete fields of trauma studies and literary criticism, this article examines the idea of the Otherness of trauma and its vexed relationship to representation and language. Developing from her previous investigations into the politics of form and her more recent work on the literary fantastic (2009), this article extends previous scholarship on public cultures of feeling (Anne Cvetkovich, 2003; and Heather Love, 2007) to investigate the relationship between theorisations of public cultures of trauma and how they intersect with the personal in the novel. Focusing in particular on Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), Jenzen shows, through a close and critical analysis of Cunningham’s use of syntax, silence, and his radical juxtaposition of register and genre conventions, how Cunningham uses stylistic devices, rather than a representational approach, to represent the traumatic events in his novel.
Published in the inaugural volume of the academic journal Otherness: Essays and Studies by The Centre for studies in Otherness (University of Aarhus, Denmark), this article forms part of a larger international and multidisciplinary project within the arts and humanities to develop a hub for generating discussion and collaboration across disciplines such as cultural theory, continental philosophy, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, gender studies, Gothic studies, postmodernism and poststructuralist theory.