In her book Touching Feeling, queer theorist Eve Sedgewick details what she sees as two forms of analysis: paranoid reading and reparative reading. Paranoid reading is the most common form of critique. Heather Love describes it as “grim, single-minded, self-defeating, circular, reductive, hypervigilant, scouringly thorough, contemptuous, sneering, risk-averse, cruel, monopolistic, and terrible” (2011, p.237). Reparative reading, on the other hand, is a less suspicious mode of critique that focuses on healing queer wounds rather than simply pointing out more insidious forms of oppression. It is “multiplicity, surprise, rich divergence, consolation, creativity, and love” (Love, 2011, p.237). Reparative reading is a form of academic creation where the emphasis is on finding forms of healing and reparation rather than the seemingly endless mode of finding more things to be depressed about. This is not to say that paranoia is never necessary. Amelioration will always inflict some harm. The good and the bad are not ever divisible. A way to fully utilize reparative reading is to embrace the possibility of hard, difficult, and unwanted feelings. Criticism, paranoia, and refusal are part of self-defence, protection, and healing. Reparative reading might tend towards utopian dreaming, but utopian dreaming is a useful for political change.
Cvetkovich (2007, 2012) is inclusive of the transformative possibilities of bad feelings. Though carefully not ‘looking on the bright side’ of depression, she relates the experience of depression to being ‘stuck’ whereas creativity is associated with movement. If depression is a block or an impasse, Cvetkovich suggests the way to deal with it might lie in forms of flexibility and creativity. Creativity is a form of movement; sometimes it moves forward, sometimes sideways, and sometimes even backward. I want to move Sedgewick’s idea of reparative reading towards an alternative form of knowledge production: art practice. I propose that reparative art is a method to work through difficult feelings but is also a method to stay in them as long as they need to be felt. Sometimes the work is to bring out difficult feelings. Reparative art is not a way to move on from or be cured of mental illness, psycho-social disability, or the states in need of healing, but actually a mode of staying in them. Sometimes that means moving around in them, sometimes being stuck in them.