Books by Michael Warner

Released: Nov. 1, 1999

Warner (English/Rutgers Univ.) challenges the current stodginess of queer activism—focused as it is on the gay community's hope to be considered "normal"—through his incisive critique of the banalities and dangers of such normalcy. Criticizing the way some identities are deemed normal while others are not (Ö la Foucault), Warner delineates with lapidary skill the problems of the cultural constructions of the normal, how heterosexual lives are thus validated at the expense of the queer. Using a smoothly textured argumentative style, Warner showcases the functioning of shame within a conservative ideological framework to reward some identities and punish others. His argument stands strongest when he concentrates on how the eradication of shame from sexuality would liberate queer communities from the monolith of marriage and how the rejection of normalcy would accord the gay community a liberated space within the spheres of the sexual culture. Ironically, the trouble with The Trouble with Normal is that it directs its arguments toward the queer community rather than the straight one. Telling gay people that, for various ethical reasons, they shouldn't even want to marry, when they already can't, does not change the fact that laws that enfranchise some while disenfranchising others are discriminatory. Warner's rhetoric persuasively reveals the hierarchical parameters of marriage and the constraints of normalcy, but a more universal approach to his topic would delineate the limitations of marriage for all people—not just queer people. In the end, his polemic leaves standing discriminatory treatment of queers for the sake of a theoretical attack on normalcy. Warner's ethical vision succeeds as a utopian revelation of sex freed from shame, but a sharper eye for the real-life ramifications of such an outlook might have revealed its limitations. Read full book review >