Un/Popular Culture

Lesbian Writing After the Sex Wars

By Kathleen Martindale

Subjects: Women's Studies
Series: SUNY series, Identities in the Classroom
Paperback : 9780791432907, 224 pages, March 1997
Hardcover : 9780791432891, 224 pages, March 1997

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Table of contents



Chapter 1 The Making of an Un/popular Culture: From Lesbian Feminism to Lesbian Postmodernism

Chapter 2 Paper Lesbians and Theory Queens

Chapter 3 Back to the Future with Dykes To Watch Out For and Hothead Paisan

Chapter 4 Toward a Butch-Femme Reading Practice: Reading Joan Nestle

Chapter 5 Sarah Schulman: Urban Lesbian Radicals in a Postmodern Mainstream

Chapter 6 Que(e)rying Pedagogy: Teaching the Un/popular Cultures




Offers a lucidly written analysis of the complex and provocative terrain of lesbian literary and cultural theory.


Theorizing lesbian, Kathleen Martindale writes, is like embarking on terra incognita. In this book, Martindale offers her lucidly written analysis as a guide through the complex and provocative terrain of lesbian literary and cultural theory.

Using the publication of Adrienne Rich's Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence and the outbreak of the American sex wars as a starting point, Martindale traces the emergence of lesbian postmodernism and how lesbian-feminism changed from a popular to an un/popular culture and from a political vanguard into a cultural neo-avant garde.

Martindale analyzes the theoretical implications of "creative" texts such as the graphic art and cultural commentary of Alison Bechdel and Diane DiMassa. She experiments in autobiography by Joan Nestle, and deconstructed lesbian genre fiction by Sarah Schulman to determine how these texts elaborate contemporary theoretical issues. These texts, she argues, are widely available and could be considered as postmodernist rewritings and revisions of the most characteristic and preferred lesbian-feminist modes of cultural expression.

Her analysis raises poignant questions about how lesbians read, what they read, and what counts as lesbian theory. She concludes with a discussion of the status of queer pedagogy in academic institutions and what measures need to be taken to promote and safeguard its existence in what are often homophobic educational settings.

Kathleen Martindale was co-founder and editor of the Canadian Journal of Feminist Ethics, which was subsequently named Feminist Ethics.


"Un/Popular Culture presents lesbian writing and theory in its form as art practice and art activism. This means that academic texts don't occupy the center of the stage, though they are resources and occasions for lesbian writing; rather several mixed genres in experimental movement are centered, representing varied typographies of lesbian politics and meaning. Martindale's work is historically imaginative, crafting a narrative intertwining sex radicalism, avant-garde art, feminist activism, and the meaning of this moment called 'post-modern. ' Those already familiar with these materials will be moved to new engagement with this lesbian work, introduced to it and newly convinced of its pleasures and importance.

"Martindale's book is strikingly engaging and useable. I found myself constantly talking back to it and talking about it. Chapter by chapter I told my friends about it, wrung out its issues, tried its arguments out as I spoke with colleagues. Each class I teach seemed to reach out for pieces of it: I wanted to put it in the hands of all my students, graduate and undergraduate. " — Katie King, University of Maryland, College Park

"…[Martindale's] book stimulates dialogue about an area of popular culture studies that deserves more critical attention. Un/popular Culture not only contributes to the scholarly discourse on lesbian culture but also participates in the ongoing process of theorizing lesbianism. " — H-Net Reviews (H-PCAACA)

"I like the range and scope of the material covered. The emphasis on/or attention to popular material, and the popular/unpopular binary that Martindale works here, prove to be fertile and interesting material. She offers a broad sweep, ranging from high theory to comics and zines. The chapters are very well written and persuasively argued. Her interests in the 'undertheorized' and lesbian writing practices are particularly engaging. Her work amounts to a compendium of contemporary lesbian writings in a range of genres, an excellent jumping off point for further reading. No one has yet engaged this subject with such insight, range and care. " — Elizabeth A. Meese, University of Alabama