Valerie Traub’s article in the most recent PMLA, “The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies” helpfully questions the unquestioned assumption that all teleologies, all linear sequences implicitly lead to straight, heteronormative historical time. Surveying the field, she shows the value of thinking in terms of queer temporalities and queer histories but ultimately questions the assumption that queer theory challenges categories because she desires instead to historicize how categories, however incoherent and incomplete, came to be.
It’s always good to put pressure on the assumptions of field (especially after there’s consensus) and show the slippage between the historicizing and reading, chronology and normativity, sequence and sex (etc, etc.) And I totally appreciate her sense that historical time is always plural not simply because of a heterogeneous present, but because historical time is always synchronic and diachronic.
But I think Traub’s account of difference and similarity is not quite right. Arguing that traditional history privileges difference, she suggests that queer unhistoricism looks for similarity rather than alterity (connections across time, versions of the past that denaturalize the present, etc). But, I’d argue that anachronism in its queer and postcolonial iterations is hardly so simple as creating connections grounded in similitude, even if Chakrabarty argues for “lived relationships.” For me the power of anachronism can’t be reduced to endurance or duration beyond a seemingly bounded historical period, it’s a force of difference within a space that longs for consensus, generalization, and shared time, showing the diverse genealogies that must be employed to explain the present. If anachronism enables lived relationships, it also destablizes our sense of similitude with our contemporaries, putting pressure not only on how we narrate our histories but also how much we assume we know our own present.