The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship

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Duke University Press, 1997 - Political Science - 308 pages
In The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Lauren Berlant focuses on the need to revitalize public life and political agency in the United States. Delivering a devastating critique of contemporary discourses of American citizenship, she addresses the triumph of the idea of private life over that of public life borne in the right-wing agenda of the Reagan revolution. By beaming light onto the idealized images and narratives about sex and citizenship that now dominate the U.S. public sphere, Berlant argues that the political public sphere has become an intimate public sphere. She asks why the contemporary ideal of citizenship is measured by personal and private acts and values rather than civic acts, and the ideal citizen has become one who, paradoxically, cannot yet act as a citizen--epitomized by the American child and the American fetus.
As Berlant traces the guiding images of U.S. citizenship through the process of privatization, she discusses the ideas of intimacy that have come to define national culture. From the fantasy of the American dream to the lessons of Forrest Gump, Lisa Simpson to Queer Nation, the reactionary culture of imperilled privilege to the testimony of Anita Hill, Berlant charts the landscape of American politics and culture. She examines the consequences of a shrinking and privatized concept of citizenship on increasing class, racial, sexual, and gender animosity and explores the contradictions of a conservative politics that maintains the sacredness of privacy, the virtue of the free market, and the immorality of state overregulation--except when it comes to issues of intimacy.
Drawing on literature, the law, and popular media, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City is a stunning and major statement about the nation and its citizens in an age of mass mediation. As it opens a critical space for new theory of agency, its narratives and gallery of images will challenge readers to rethink what it means to be American and to seek salvation in its promise.

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The queen of America goes to Washington city: essays on sex and citizenship

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Assailing the privatization of citizenship and the idealization of the citizen as a child, Berlant (English, Univ. of Chicago) criticizes a national political discourse that has shifted from public ... Read full review

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Lauren Berlant “Live Sex Acts (Parental Advisory: Explicit Material)” In the previous chapter “Theory of Infantile Citizenship”, Lauren Berlant describes “infantile citizenship” as an ideal national subjectivity that patriotically commits itself to sustaining the national fantasy. The term “infantile” refers to a childlike “belief in the state’s commitment to representing the best interests of ordinary people” (27-28) and the term “citizenship” refers to a national subjectivity constituted by such a belief that “vitalizes a person’s patriotic and practical attachment to the nation and to other citizens”(28). In “Live Sex Acts”, Lauren Berlant further explores how U.S. national culture evokes the “infantile citizenship” of the mass in order to maintain its legitimacy of heterosexual normativity. She proposes the concept of “dead citizenship” in description of an iconic identity which transcends the history. Such a dead identity to which U.S. citizens aspire to in the national fantasy signifies “constitutional personhood in its public-sphere abstraction and supra-historicity, reproductive heterosexuality in the zone of privacy”(60), so it is fixed and thus dead. Berlant points out that the U.S. anti-pornography movement aroused the moral anxiety by invoking the vulnerability of minor citizens, namely women and youth (little girls) “whose moral, mind, acts, body and identity would certainly be corrupted by contact with adult immorality”(65). In other words, the anti-pornography feminists see pornography as an embodiment of sexual violence over women and children, and not to protect these minorities from such violence would befoul national culture. In this sense, “dead citizenship” refers to the deadness of the image of women and children and thus to deadness of the meaning of pornography. Therefore, such deadness reinforces “dead citizenship” of sexuality—heterosexuality as normativity—that citizens aspire to. Lauren Berlant in the chapter makes an insightful observation on the constitution of fantasy of national culture in terms of sexuality. She indicates that in a pilgrimage to an ideal national culture the “infantile citizenship” of anti-pornography crusade is evoked to secure the totality of national body, and that in the pilgrimage the crusade consolidates heterosexuality as dead iconicity and makes live sex acts dead by constituting the “dead citizenship” of little girl which projects national aspiration to its own idealness. She concludes, “she [the putative little girl] has become to represent the standar from which the privileged ‘adult’ culture of the nation has fallen. Protecting her, while privileging him, establishing therein the conditions of minor and full citizenship, has thus been a project of pornographic modernity in the United states”(65, Italic my emphasis). 


The Theory of Infantile Citizenship
Explicit Material
America Fat the Fetus
Queer Nationality written with Elizabeth Freeman
The Face of America and the State of Emergency

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About the author (1997)

Lauren Berlant is Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is coeditor of Critical Inquiry and Public Culture and author of The Anatomy of National Fantasy.

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