“I didn’t understand anything, but it was wonderful!”: The Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Transnational Queer Cinema

Professor David Caron writes: “In her famous 1992 Village Voice article, film scholar B. Ruby Rich coined the phrase “New Queer Cinema” to account for the appearance of work in film and video produced by American queer artists and activists during the worst years of the AIDS crisis. Since then, films by and about queer people have become ubiquitous, here and, increasingly, around the world. Rich herself has continued to trace the concept of New Queer Cinema amidst this diverse new output. But is there such a thing as queer cinema today? If so, what could its defining traits be?

In search of partial answers, I turn to the works of Thai director and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose films offer what I understand as a queer perspective on exclusion and the fragility of human lives in our globalized age. Themes such as the unknowable, the discarded, the missing, the unresolved, the disabled, the simultaneous, the joyful and the nonhuman pull viewers in multiple, crisscrossing directions. Seemingly abstract, they also provide entry points into very concrete questions surrounding global capitalism, mass migration, war, urban development and political violence. They create delicate new forms that help us envision different modes of relationality in a world where people and capital tend toward deterritorialization. “Queer,” here, represents an ongoing formal critique emerging from political and economic realities, not as a common cultural or sexual identity. Taken as a trend, if not quite a movement, this new, transnational queer cinema, of which Apichatpong’s work is an example, finds its place alongside other alternative voices to the current order of things by reactivating the lost strangeness of people, of thought and, of course, of cinema itself.”


Professor David Caron is a scholar of 20th– and 21st-century French literature and culture, with specific interests in queer and HIV studies, as well as Holocaust studies. Some of his previous research (in AIDS in French Culture: Social Ills, Literary Cures and My Father and I: The Marais and the Queerness of Community) has focused on the questions community and republican universalism, dealing with issues such as the engagement of urban spaces by minoritized groups, the cultural and political uses of “the Republic,” representations of collective disasters (AIDS, the Holocaust), masculinity, the concepts of neighborhood and family, etc. His most recent book The Nearness of Others: Searching for Tact and Contact in the Age of HIV explores how the fear of contact is a defining characteristic of modern Western culture and asserts that this fear is codified through tact, a policing practice designed to deal with social discomfort and with the unsettling awareness of the boundaries separating norms and bodies. However, tact may be reclaimed to envision new forms of sociality. With particular emphasis on HIV disclosure, the book examines the ways in which we may use tact to accept, rather than avoid, risky contact and to reappraise the cultural meanings of HIV/AIDS. His new book project, Think Strange: Queer Cinema in a Transnational World, asks what it means to respond to calls one doesn’t understand and locates that question at the heart of a new kind of queer cinema. It turns for answers to queer films from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. These works of art, the book argues, let us examine how the dual experience of wonderment and sensuality can make thought more receptive to its own strangeness, and people hospitable to actual strangers.


This event is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture and co-sponsored by the French Department.