Literature and Theatre

Open Access (free)

Katariina Kyrölä

The chapter maps out and examines online debates about trigger and content warnings in the late 2010s, asking how they negotiate vulnerability. Whose vulnerability comes to matter most in these debates, how, and for what aims? The chapter proposes that the figure of the trigger warning currently circulates most intensely in three contexts: first, in feminist discussion forums where the use of warnings is a desired, required and normalised practice; second, in the feminist, queer and anti-racist academic opposition to trigger warnings which emphasises the pedagogical value of discomfort; and third, in the circulation of trigger warnings in anti-feminist online spaces. Each of these contexts understands vulnerability in somewhat different but overlapping ways: as a standpoint that both prohibits and enables; as a necessity to life that must be embraced; and a paradoxical position where claims to power are made through claims of disempowerment. The chapter does not argue against or for trigger warnings but invites readers to re-evaluate their own stances and understand what is at stake in the opposing as well as defending arguments, depending on context.

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Naming, shaming, framing?

The ambivalence of queer visibility in audio- visual archives

Dagmar Brunow

This chapter looks at the dynamics of visibility and vulnerability in audio-visual heritage. It analyses how film archives in Sweden and the UK, following their diversity policies, address and mobilise the notion of queer in their online exhibition, recognising and making visible queer lives, history and cinema, and how they negotiate the risks of increased visibility. As points of contrast and comparison, it discusses two queer ‘minor archives’ Bildwechsel (Hamburg) and the Lesbian Home Movie Project (Maine). Understanding archival practices as performative acts, this chapter examines practices of cataloguing and the use of metadata as politics of recognition, discusses the ambivalences of visibility, and looks at challenges for online curation in term of contextualisation and targeting audiences. It makes a case for an increased self-reflexivity of the archive, outlining how national film archives could foreground their own role in the production of (normative) knowledge. In view of the risk of queer vulnerability, heritage institutions such as national film archives are in need of a thoughtfully conceived and ethically executed archival practice.

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Little pink

White fragility and black social death

Ylva Habel

The chapter examines the Swedish media debate around the animated children’s film Liten Skär och Alla Små Brokiga [Little Pink and The Motley Crew] (Stina Wirsén, Sweden 2012). It focuses particularly on the ways in which the film’s pickaninny figure, Little Heart, and the hurtfulness of this stereotype were discussed and contested in the context of Swedish exceptionalism, where Sweden imagines itself as a raceless, tolerant country, supposedly less affected by postcolonial relations than other nations. The author reflects on the debate partly from an autoethnographical perspective, shedding light on the simultaneous invitation to participate and silencing of black voices in the debate. The chapter argues that the debate ended up producing a sense of white fragility as a priority instead of dealing with anti-black racism, its consequences for black people, and its ongoing maintenance through representation. Drawing on afro-pessimist scholarship, the chapter elucidates the ways in which blackness and black life have become contested, unfathomable objects in Swedish mainstream media debates.

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The invulnerable body of colour

The failure and success of a Swedish film diversity initiative

Mara Lee Gerdén

This chapter examines the affective politics of the Fusion Programme launched by the Swedish Film Institute in 2016 to promote diversity in Swedish film production. The programme emphasised innovation, intersectional analysis, and feminist and anti-racist perspectives on artistic practices. The author, a participant in the programme alongside seven other women of colour, investigates the tensions between participant motivations and a film policy which balanced conflicting frameworks: an outspoken effort to attain goals for gender equality, the desire to implement a perspective on diversity, a notion of quality informing Swedish film policy since the 1960s, and a Swedish self-image expressed as a need to ‘implement Swedish values’. While launched in the name of advancing diversity in Swedish film, it is argued, there was a clear tension between the quality film rhetoric of the Swedish Film Institute and the participants’ insistence on making race play a major role in the respective projects. The chapter investigates the resulting ‘affective indigestion’, analysing pain as a central theme in the majority of the participants’ projects, but also as a recurring emotion emerging from the affective clash between the institutional desire to produce diversity and the participants’ refusal to submit to that desire.

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Sara Ahmed

This chapter focuses on the politics of hurt and bad feeling within feminism: how hurt, injuries and experiences of violence bring people to feminism, how racism, sexism, injury and injustice generate agency and political transformation, but also how the hurt expressed by those who have been traumatised by sexism or racism is often heard as imposition. Discussing the figure of the too-easily-hurt student, the charges against Women’s Studies as anti-intellectual talk about hurt feelings, and feminism itself as politically impoverished (and damaging to the left) because of its concern with individual consciousness and suffering, as well as the figure of the melancholic migrant, the author highlights a tendency to underestimate the difficulty of giving and sustaining attention to forms of suffering. As a result, the desire to move beyond suffering in reconciliation and ‘get over it’ means that those who persist in being hurt become seen as killjoys and causes of general unhappiness. Instead, the author suggests, bad feelings should be seen as creative responses to histories that are unfinished

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The caring nation

Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves as a reparative fantasy

Anu Koivunen

This chapter analyses Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar), a trilogy of novels by Jonas Gardell (2012–13) and a three-part TV drama (2012) on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Stockholm in the 1980s, as an intense occasion of affective historiography. While enabling the gay community to revisit the trauma of HIV/AIDS, to mourn the victims and to communicate the injuries to the mainstream audience, the transmedial epic also engaged in a politics of nation. While issuing a fierce accusation of homophobia against past Swedish society, through processes of resignification and transference, the epic and its extensive media coverage reframed the HIV/AIDS-stricken bodies as objects of compassion, restoring the self-image of Sweden as a caring nation, a welfare state and folkhem, a people’s home. In a reparative and fantasmatic gesture, it concludes in a Christian dream of redemption for both queer subjects – celebration in life, turning of shame into life – and the nation, provided that ‘we all wipe each other’s tears without gloves’. Analysing the epic and its media framings, the chapter examines the terms by which gay history may be incorporated into a national narrative, and how vulnerability may become a resource for the nation-building.

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Abortion prevention

Lesbian citizenship and filmmaking in Sweden in the 1970s

Ingrid Ryberg

This chapter examines two rare lesbian film productions in Sweden in the 1970s, The Woman in Your Life is You (Lesbian Front, 1977) and Eva and Maria (Marie Falksten, Annalena Öhrström and Mary Eisikovits, 1983). The two films are unique cases illuminating the official shift from regarding homosexuality as a mental disorder to regarding homosexuals as a vulnerable group exposed to prejudice and discrimination in Sweden in the early 1980s. Both were funded by the state agency Socialstyrelsen [The National Board of Health and Welfare], the same agency in charge of the official classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in Sweden until 1979. Drawing from archival research and interviews, the chapter sheds light on the rhetorical twists and euphemisms through which lesbian filmmaking was inserted into the National Board of Health and Welfare’s budget and administered as an issue of birth control education. The notion of vulnerability, the chapter argues, played an instrumental and multifaceted role in the production of lesbian citizenship and audio-visual self-presentation at this moment in time.

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Nadia Valman

Margaret Harkness’s London is a city of mobility, both local and global. In her fiction, she utilises a familiar trope in late nineteenth-century urban writing, the figure of the peripatetic protagonist, in order to produce a complex urban panorama. This chapter considers perspectives on the city in Out of Work and In Darkest London from the viewpoints of two kinds of urban walkers: the slum saviour and the unemployed man. It explores the formal conventions wrought by this exploration of viewpoints, most notably, a shift from progressive to episodic narrative development.

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The vicissitudes of victory

Margaret Harkness, George Eastmont, Wanderer (1905), and the 1889 Dockworkers’ Strike

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David Glover

George Eastmont: Wanderer sealed Margaret Harkness’s disengagement from the socialist politics with which she had been actively involved since the 1880s. Its broad canvas also marked another key departure: the turn from late nineteenth-century slum fiction to the reinvigorated condition of England novel that characterised the Edwardian era. Unusually for Harkness, who wrote her books extremely quickly, George Eastmont: Wanderer underwent a long period of gestation. First mooted in the months following the 1889 Dockworkers’ Strike, the novel’s pivotal and deeply traumatic event, Harkness’s major work did not appear until some fifteen years later. This chapter attempts to decipher the painful history of this delay, situating it against the background of the author’s difficult reappraisal of her own political past and the critical interventions through which she distanced herself from the labour movement and the strike’s most significant achievement, the creation of the new unionism.

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Through the mill

Margaret Harkness on conjectural history and utilitarian philosophy

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Lisa C. Robertson

This chapter evaluates the writing Harkness produced during her time living in the countries that are now India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Placing Harkness’s work in a nineteenth-century tradition of British historiographical writing about India that begins with James Mill’s History of British India (1817), the chapter argues that her work during this period consciously eschews conventional historical methodology and offers an important counter-narrative to colonial history. It suggests that in her attention to the ways that social movements and political institutions shape people’s daily lives, which is set within a broad foundation of personal knowledge, Harkness’s writing engages more ardently with the conventions of cultural history than it does with those of travel writing.