The Queen of America Goes to Washington City

Essays on Sex and Citizenship

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 57 b&w photographs Published: April 1997

Author: Lauren Berlant

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

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.


“A collection . . . that cohere[s] as a book through [the] collective deliberation on the new politics of an intimate public sphere—a sphere in which the public good is recognized only in the context of private worlds, normative sex acts, and a utopian obsession with sexual and social innocence that circumscribes the imaginative horizons of the national future.” — Robyn Wiegman, American Literature

“Berlant offers a cogent lexicon matched by sophisticated theoretical formulations that readers can easily adapt to propel their own projects forward. . . . [Berlant has an] uncanny ability to powerfully shuttle back and forth from race, to gender, to sexuality, to class and to other markers of difference that keep us from buying the dream of an imagined norm.” — José Esteban Muñoz, American Quarterly

“Berlant offers a trenchant genealogy of the imaginary realm of citizenship, resituating cultural contests over sex, race, and nation as conflicts over the defining fantasies of public life. Few cultural critics move with as much skill and insight between debates over the public sphere and how best to read pornography. This text links the analytic concerns of cultural studies with the fugitive struggles over the imaginable bounds of citizenship. A keen and disarming book.” — Judith Butler

“Taking her (counter)cue from that celebrated sitcom of American life, ‘The Reagan Years,’ Lauren Berlant makes an exhilarating argument for a theory of ‘comedic’ citizenship. What happens when the collusive myths of the ‘common culture’ become obsessed and estranged by the fraying and freeing of the American people—plurally identified, demographically diverse, sexually ambivalent, culturally mongrel? Berlant’s wit and insight lie in going with the ‘silliness’ of everyday existence, inhabiting its persuasive, popular forms, and then, in ways you least expect, throwing up a devastating picture of the way we live now.” — Homi K. Bhabha


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: The Intimate Public Sphere 1

1 The Theory of Infantile Citizenship 25

2 Live Sex Acts (Parental Advisory: Explicit Material) 55

3 America, "Fat," the Fetus 83

4 Queer Nationality (written with Elizabeth Freeman) 145

5 The Face of America and the State of Emergency 175

6 The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Notes on Diva Citizenship 221

7 Outtakes from the Citizenship Museum 247

Notes 261

Bibliography 289

Index 303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Lauren Berlant is the recipient of the 2019 Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Literature Section of Modern Language Association.

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1924-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1931-3
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