The Feeling of Kinship

Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy

The Feeling of Kinship

Book Pages: 268 Illustrations: 34 illustrations Published: April 2010

Author: David L. Eng

American Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory

In The Feeling of Kinship, David L. Eng investigates the emergence of “queer liberalism”—the empowerment of certain gays and lesbians in the United States, economically through an increasingly visible and mass-mediated queer consumer lifestyle, and politically through the legal protection of rights to privacy and intimacy. Eng argues that in our “colorblind” age the emergence of queer liberalism is a particular incarnation of liberal freedom and progress, one constituted by both the racialization of intimacy and the forgetting of race. Through a startling reading of Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark legal decision overturning Texas’s antisodomy statute, Eng reveals how the ghosts of miscegenation haunt both Lawrence and the advent of queer liberalism.

Eng develops the concept of “queer diasporas” as a critical response to queer liberalism. A methodology drawing attention to new forms of family and kinship, accounts of subjects and subjectivities, and relations of affect and desire, the concept differs from the traditional notions of diaspora, theories of the nation-state, and principles of neoliberal capitalism upon which queer liberalism thrives. Eng analyzes films, documentaries, and literature by Asian and Asian American artists including Wong Kar-wai, Monique Truong, Deann Borshay Liem, and Rea Tajiri, as well as a psychoanalytic case history of a transnational adoptee from Korea. In so doing, he demonstrates how queer Asian migrant labor, transnational adoption from Asia, and the political and psychic legacies of Japanese internment underwrite narratives of racial forgetting and queer freedom in the present. A focus on queer diasporas also highlights the need for a poststructuralist account of family and kinship, one offering psychic alternatives to Oedipal paradigms. The Feeling of Kinship makes a major contribution to American studies, Asian American studies, diaspora studies, psychoanalysis, and queer theory.


The Feeling of Kinship is a significant contribution to queer studies, and black cultural studies more generally.” — David Marriott, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“[E]xpand[s] the political horizons of feeling and cultural politics with exciting complexity . . . brilliant.” — Sarah Cefai, Cultural Studies Review

“Eng’s most exciting contribution to queer studies . . . consists in his
transformative reading of the landmark court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). . . . As The Feeling of Kinship elegantly demonstrates, a queer liberalism that places faith in a future of legislated equality risks obscuring the present of those relegated to the waiting room of history.” — S. Pearl Brilmyer, GLQ

“This is a brave book that demands its reader rethink the ties that bind.” — Lily Cho, Reviews in Cultural Theory

The Feeling of Kinship will be of interest to a wide range of readers, especially those working in Asian American studies, queer studies, area studies, postcolonial theory, and psychoanalysis. Its adeptness at thinking through the relay among individual, family, race, and nation is a welcome addition and one that promises to be an important touchstone for years to come. — Benjamin Kahan, Journal of Asian American Studies

The Feeling of Kinship is a timely examination of the persistence of racial and national differentiation within the privileged investments of ‘queer liberalism’ in its particular focus on the rights to affective union in domesticity, privacy, and family. Here, as elsewhere, David L. Eng demonstrates his gifts of critical precision and elegant presentation.” — Lisa Lowe, University of California, San Diego

“Spanning psychoanalysis, law, and aesthetics, and reading richly and with passion, David L. Eng's The Feeling of Kinship looks at transnational adoption as an exemplary scene of contemporary intimacy in the United States. This is a fearless book that knows and feels what it means to have to defend oneself from the ‘liberal’ place in which one lives; what it means racially, sexually, and legally to have to be defensive in a nation that identifies itself with freedom.” — Lauren Berlant, author of The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David L. Eng is Professor in the Department of English, the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, and the Program in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America, also published by Duke University Press, and a co-editor of Loss: The Politics of Mourning and Q&A: Queer in Asian America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy 1

1. The Law of Kinship: Lawrence v. Texas and the Emergence of Queer Liberalism 23

2. The Structure of Kinship: The Art of Waiting in The Book of Salt and Happy Together 58

3. The Language of Kinship: Transnational Adoption and Two Mothers in First Person Plural 93

4. The Prospect of Kinship: Transnational Adoption and Racial Reparation (with Shinhee Han, Ph.D.) 138

5. The Feeling of Kinship: Affect and Language in History and Memory 166

Notes 199

Bibliography 225

Index 239
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4732-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4715-6
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