An open seminar from the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship (CISC)
Join the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship and Dr Clara Bradbury-Rance for an insightful seminar on twenty-first century lesbian cinema.
Clara Bradbury-Rance is an early career fellow in Liberal Arts at King’s College London. In her first monograph, Lesbian Cinema after Queer Theory (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), she explores how the queer disruption of lesbian visibility politics has yielded new cinematic languages and radically altered desire’s visual form. In her new work, Clara is investigating the politics of citation and imagined networks of activism in contemporary queer and feminist visual cultures.
Lesbianism has received unprecedented screen time in the cinema in the past decade, marking a significant shift away from a prior invisibility, historically interrupted only by invocations of pathologisation, isolation and tragedy. At the same time, critical discourses have increasingly replaced identity categories such as ‘the lesbian’ with the more fluid notions of queer sexuality. In this paradoxical context, a visibility imperative legitimises, and privileges, the evidencing of lesbian sexuality in the sex scene. However, in an affront to this logic, the erotic register of Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015) was generated largely from a series of looks and fleeting touches. Desire is diffused across a sweeping affective repertory: misty windows, sheets of rain and saturations of city light; lingering musical themes; the revival of celluloid grain.
This paper argues that lesbian potential is indebted to the suspended terms of mid-twentieth-century cinematic homoeroticism, breaching the logic of visibility’s progression. The paper thus asks how queer theory might give us the critical tools to avoid submitting to the promise, or disappointment, of sex as the evidence of desire. Moving from a citation of the visual impossibility of lesbianism in the twentieth century and forwards to the limits of the visually acceptable, the paper explores the kinds of cinematic language through which the queerness of lesbian desire has been made legible on screen.