Lesbian Rule

Cultural Criticism and the Value of Desire

Lesbian Rule

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 20 b&w photos Published: November 2003

Author: Amy Villarejo

Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies > Film

With hair slicked back and shirt collar framing her young patrician face, Katherine Hepburn's image in the 1935 film Sylvia Scarlett was seen by many as a lesbian representation. Yet, Amy Villarejo argues, there is no final ground upon which to explain why that image of Hepburn signifies lesbian or why such a cross-dressing Hollywood fantasy edges into collective consciousness as a lesbian narrative. Investigating what allows viewers to perceive an image or narrative as "lesbian," Villarejo presents a theoretical exploration of lesbian visibility. Focusing on images of lesbians in film, she analyzes what these representations contain and their limits. She combines Marxist theories of value with poststructuralist insights to argue that lesbian visibility operates simultaneously as an achievement and a ruse, a possibility for building a new visual politics and away of rendering static and contained what lesbian might mean.
Integrating cinema studies, queer and feminist theory, and cultural studies, Villarejo illuminates the contexts within which the lesbian is rendered visible. Toward that end, she analyzes key portrayals of lesbians in public culture, particularly in documentary film. She considers a range of films—from documentaries about Cuba and lesbian pulp fiction to Exile Shanghai and The Brandon Teena Story—and, in doing so, brings to light a nuanced economy of value and desire.


“Although the argument is demanding to follow, [Villarejo’s] insistence on the importance of the condition of cultural production will go a long way in giving readers points of entry to her analyses. . . . [F]ascinating. . . .” — Reina Lewis , Signs

"Lesbian Rule [is] a book which retains trans-regional relevance. Villarejo provides real tools with which we can investigate the cinematic lesbian as she appears, or indeed, does not seem to appear, in the lounge rooms, the archives and at the festivals of those of us as far away as Australia." — Megan Carrigy, Senses of Cinema

"[A]n erudite and complicated book. . . ." — Monica B. Pearl , GLQ

"[T]he reader of Lesbian Rule is left with as many questions as answers, but they are questions that inspire readers to continue Villarejo's examination of popular imagery." — , On Campus With Women

Lesbian Rule is a challenging yet rewarding book. Its insights are original, provocative, and far-reaching." — Steven Cohan, author of Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

“Once you read Amy Villarejo’s ingenious recontextualizations of the lesbian presence in documentary film, lesbian visibility will never look the same again. Studded with brilliant theoretical insights about fetishism, archives, diaspora, and more, Lesbian Rule’s surprising juxtapositions make even the most obscure cultural object ‘shimmer with history.’ Best of all is the dreamy prose—witty, elegant, and full of delight.” — Ann Cvetkovich, author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Amy Villarejo is Associate Professor in the Department of Theater, Film, and Dance at Cornell University. She is coauthor of Queen Christina and coeditor of Keyframes: Popular Film and Cultural Studies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Lesbian Rule 27

2. Droits de Regards/Rights of Inspection: For Agnes and Inez Albright 55

3. Archiving the Diaspora: A Lesbian Impression 83

4. Absolut Queer: Cuba and its Spectators 123

5. Forbidden Love: Pulp as Lesbian History 159

Conclusion: Straight to Video 191

Notes 209

Index 231
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2005 Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize (SCMS)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3192-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3155-1
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