De/Constituting WholesTowards Partiality Without PartsVienna: Turia + Kant, 2017
Copy to Clipboard
Add italics as necessary
Cite as: Volker Woltersdorff, ‘Sexual Ghosts and the Whole of History: Queer Historiography, Post-Slavery Subjectivities, and Sadomasochism in Isaac Julien’s The Attendant’, in De/Constituting Wholes: Towards Partiality Without Parts, ed. by Christoph F. E. Holzhey and Manuele Gragnolati, Cultural Inquiry, 11 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2017), pp. 31–45 <>

Sexual Ghosts and the Whole of HistoryQueer Historiography, Post-Slavery Subjectivities, and Sadomasochism in Isaac Julien’s The AttendantVolker Woltersdorff

Keywords: The Attendant - Julien, Isaac; Affect; Historiography; Sado-masochism; Trauma; Re-enactments, historical; BDSM (sexual behavior); Slavery; Postcolonialism; Racism; Wholeness; Memorialization



There is a complex historical dimension to desire. Desire can never be isolated from history, nor can history be isolated from desire. Yet for Fredric Jameson, who urges us to ‘always historicize’, desire is of little help when we want to historicize. A historiography that draws on the fascination with history is therefore always suspect of giving a false account of history in its totality. Could an entanglement of pleasure and pain be a way to come to terms with desire in historiography?


Click here to open the pdf in a new window or download.


  1. Anderson, Jay and American Association for State and Local History, Time Machines: The World of Living History (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1984)
  2. Benjamin, Walter, ‘On the Concept of History’, in Selected Writings, ed. by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), iv: 1938–40, pp. 389–400
  3. Derrida, Jacques, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (New York: Routledge, 2006)
  4. Spectres de Marx: l’État de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1993)
  5. Easton, Dossie and Janet W. Hardy, The New Topping Book (Emeryville, CA: Greenery Press, 2003)
  6. Eng, David L., The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) <>
  7. Faulkner, William, Requiem for a Nun (New York: Random House, 1975)
  8. Ferguson, Roderick, ‘The Associations of Black Queer Life: Reading and Seeing the Nineteen-Eighties’, in Global Justice and Desire: Queering Economy, ed. by Nikita Dhawan, Antke Engel, Christoph Holzhey, and Volker Woltersdorff (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 63–78
  9. Freccero, Carla, ‘Queer Spectrality: Haunting the Past’, in Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies, ed. by George Haggerty and Molly McGarry (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 194–213 <>
  10. Freeman, Elizabeth, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) <>
  11. Freud, Sigmund, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. under the general editorship of James Strachey, 24 vols (London: Vintage, 2001)
  12. Gibson-Graham, J.K., A Postcapitalist Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006)
  13. Halberstam, Judith Jack, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011) <>
  14. Hartman, Saidiya V., Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
  15. hooks, bell, ‘Thinking Through Class: Paying Attention to The Attendant’, in Reel to Real: Race Sex and Class at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 91–97
  16. James, E.L., Fifty Shades of Grey (London: Arrow Books, 2012)
  17. Jameson, Fredric, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London: Methuen, 1981)
  18. Julien, Isaac, ‘Confessions of a Snow Queen: Notes on the Making of The Attendant’, Critical Quarterly, 36 (1994), pp. 120–26 <>
  19. Leys, Ruth, Leys, Ruth, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) <>
  20. Love, Heather, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007)
  21. Marx, Karl, ‘Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte’, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1972), viii, pp. 115–23
  22. Marx, Karl, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1898)
  23. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003) <>
  24. Sharpe, Christina, Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) <>
  25. Tyburczy, Jennifer, Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016) <>
  26. Weiss, Margot, Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011) <>
  27. Wood, Marcus, Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)