An Archive of Feelings

Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 41 illus. Published: March 2003

Author: Ann Cvetkovich

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

In this bold new work of cultural criticism, Ann Cvetkovich develops a queer approach to trauma. She argues for the importance of recognizing—and archiving—accounts of trauma that belong as much to the ordinary and everyday as to the domain of catastrophe. An Archive of Feelings contends that the field of trauma studies, limited by too strict a division between the public and the private, has overlooked the experiences of women and queers. Rejecting the pathologizing understandings of trauma that permeate medical and clinical discourses on the subject, Cvetkovich develops instead a sex-positive approach missing even from most feminist work on trauma. She challenges the field to engage more fully with sexual trauma and the wide range of feelings in its vicinity, including those associated with butch-femme sex and aids activism and caretaking. 

An Archive of Feelings brings together oral histories from lesbian activists involved in act up/New York; readings of literature by Dorothy Allison, Leslie Feinberg, Cherríe Moraga, and Shani Mootoo; videos by Jean Carlomusto and Pratibha Parmar; and performances by Lisa Kron, Carmelita Tropicana, and the bands Le Tigre and Tribe 8. Cvetkovich reveals how activism, performance, and literature give rise to public cultures that work through trauma and transform the conditions producing it. By looking closely at connections between sexuality, trauma, and the creation of lesbian public cultures, Cvetkovich makes those experiences that have been pushed to the peripheries of trauma culture the defining principles of a new construction of sexual trauma—one in which trauma catalyzes the creation of cultural archives and political communities.


“Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings is a valuable addition to the literature on archives and postmodern thought. In addition to foregrounding the power of archives in community formation, it contributes to a growing appreciation of the contingent and contextual basis of archival activity.” — Michael Doylen , American Archivist

“I enjoyed An Archive of Feeling. It is an important contribution which certainly led me toward personal search and reflection.” — Ceryl Chessick MD , Activism and LGBT Psychology

"An Archive of Feeling is a groundbreaking book that calls on us to re-humanize parts of ourselves that have long been violated and denied." — Sarah Schulman T, Gay & Lesbian Review

"An Archive of Feelings makes an articulate, impassioned case for the importance of understanding how trauma animates queer subjectivities and mobilizes queer communities." — Arlene Stein , Sexualities

"An Archive of Feelings moves nimbly from Sigmund Freud to dyke punk rock to deconstructive theory. Not for queers who are faint of heart, but in a way about the faint hearts of queers, the book continues Cvetkovich’s career-long interest in what she calls ‘the politics of feelings.’" — Heather Findlay , Girlfriends

"[I]mpressive. . . . [A] groundbreaking study of traumatization and queer sexual encounters that defies ready classification as surely as it refuses to conform to some of traumatology's essential verities. . . . An Archive of Feelings . . . marks an important intervention in lesbian trauma history, correcting prior misrepresentations and omissions, preserving transient moments and artifacts." — Lisa Cardyn , CLGH Newsletter

"[T]he founding text of what will with any luck become a discipline: queer trauma studies. . . . [U]nsettling and compelling." — Marissa Pareles , Lambda Book Report

"Critic and scholar Ann Cvetkovich wrenches the concept of trauma away from the analyst’s couch and recasts it in the context of lesbian culture. By resisting the use of academic psychobabble, she makes a cogent argument for trauma as a source of queer creative and political energy. . . . Cvetkovich’s prose is passionate and bold, delving head-on and clear-eyed into topics like S/M butch/femme sexual dynamics, and incest. She’s refreshingly savvy about underground dyke culture: Here the experience of moshing to Tribe 8 at a women’s music festival is as relevant as Freud’s theory of trauma and consciousness. As scholarship, this book is bound to become an essential study of lesbian cultural output and political activism; as a lay read, it’s both edifying and invigorating." — Chelsey Johnson , Out

"Cvetkovich's book functions (at least) as an important "archive" and an epistemic move to insistently materialize and to queer trauma studies." — Erica Meiners , NWSA Journal

"Cvetkovich's fascinating book is an indispensable model for future work in a variety of fields. As passionate and eloquent when it describes the process of reading popular culture as when it dissects psychoanalysis's claims about subjects, An Archive of Feelings argues that feelings are public and that understanding them can reshape how politics achieves its aims. The book crosses disciplines with care yet with great confidence, and in the process, it helps activists and scholars alike to understand on what terms they share a previously unrecognized culture. This in itself is an invaluable contribution for readers, and it is one that the book works hard to establish and clarify." — Stephanie Foote, American Quarterly

"In her powerful book, An Archive of Feelings, Ann Cvetkovich explores this rich territory, offering an extended meditation on the relation between lesbianism and trauma. . . . The great strength of Cvetkovich’s book is its directness. . . . This arresting collection of cultural objects gives the book a rough-and-ready feel that is appealing and quite rare in academic writing. . . . Cvetkovich’s approach to this complicated set of issues is refreshingly blunt. . . ." — Heather Love , Women's Review of Books

"The book explodes the medical discourse surrounding trauma. . . . This dizzying brew is enough to make even a seasoned purveyor of feminist culture feel very excited. . . . [A] book likely to become a classic of feminist studies and the spark of true enthusiasm for grassroots knowledge. . . ." — Abe Louise Young , Austin Chronicle

An Archive of Feelings makes an extremely important contribution to queer and feminist cultural studies by insisting upon the public, and indeed national, dimensions of sexual trauma. Ann Cvetkovich's book argues for the productive rather than repressive power of trauma and accounts for its role in the production of queer identities and queer counter publics. This is queer cultural studies at its finest!” — Jack Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity

”Avoiding bullshit moralism and sentimentality, Ann Cvetkovich breathes new life into the study of trauma. This is the book I looked for in so many libraries and bookstores and never found. It is not only brilliant but totally necessary.” — Kathleen Hanna of the band Le Tigre


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ann Cvetkovich is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Everyday Life of Queer Trauma 15

2. Trauma and Touch: Butch-Femme Sexualities 49

3. Sexual Trauma/Queer Memory: Incest, Lesbianism, and Therapeutic Culture 83

4. Transnational Trauma and Queer Diasporic Publics 118

5. AIDS Activism and Public Feelings: Documenting ACT UP’s Lesbians 156

6. Legacies of Trauma, Legacies of Activism: Mourning and Military Revisited 205

7. In the Archive of Lesbian Feelings 239

Epilogue 273

Appendix: A Note on Interviews 289

Notes 291

Filmography 327

Bibliography 329

Index 345
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3088-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3076-9
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