Michelle Douglas Lecture 2023 - Hopeful Monsters: the Queer undecidability of David Bowie
In these times of media generated conservative backlash, hard won legal rights of LGB, and especially trans, people are being targeted for diminution and/or removal. It would appear trans rights, in particular, have come to be perceived as an Achilles Heel of the liberal left and as central to the waging of a ‘culture war.’ The situation for trans people can only be described as an onslaught. While it is necessary to fight back both through the legal and political institutions of the state as well as the theatre of the street, it is equally necessary to celebrate trans lives, to foreground trans and queer joy, something that can get lost, especially in social media silos. In this spirit, this year’s Michelle Douglas lecture will consider hopeful monsters.
The idea of the monster, as well as at least one of its offspring – the abnormal individual - has tracked sexual and gender difference. It is an idea born of anxiety concerning physical or psychological otherness. The lecture will, drawing on George Canguilhem and Michel Foucault, explain how monsters appear in the world and why they fade away. It will then, drawing on Jacques Derrida, explain why we should embrace monsters. David Bowie will serve as a conduit, a lightening rod, to drive home the importance of the idea of the monster evident in the work of these three French philosophers. Thus, the lecture will be about three things: monsters, hope and David Bowie. Monsters: because the monster is the legal and social outsider par excellence. Hope: because monsters are quintessentially hopeful, they guarantee us a future. Bowie: because he is the hopeful monster writ large, a mama papa coming for you. Through Bowie, the lecture will journey through the territory of gender and sexuality and consider distinctions the monster brings to crisis.
The lecture will be 45 minutes in duration and will be followed by a Q&A. It will be an audio-visual feast, drawing on Bowie images, text, and tracks from his extensive back catalogue.
‘As long as there’s fire …’ (‘Where are we Now’ (The Next Day album 2013)).
Alex Sharpe is a Professor of Law at the University of Warwick and an Associate barrister at Garden Court, a human rights Chambers in London. She is the author of four monographs: Transgender Jurisprudence (Cavendish, 2002), Foucault's Monsters and the Challenge of Law (Routledge, 2010), Sexual Intimacy and Gender Identity 'Fraud' (Routledge, 2018), and David Bowie Outlaw: Essays on Difference, Authenticity, Ethics, Art & Love (Routledge, 2022). For more on Alex see: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/people/alex_sharpe/