Congratulations to Dr. Erin Nunoda

October 7, 2022 by Tony Pi

Erin Nunoda defended her doctoral dissertation, "Unconsummated/Queer Loneliness", on Wednesday October 5, 2022. The committee consisted of James Cahill (supervisor), Nic Sammond, Sara Saljoughi, Scott Richmond, exam chair Farzaneh Hemmasi, and external examiner Amy Villarejo (University of California, Los Angeles).

We asked Erin about her work, as well as her plans for the future.

My thesis theorizes queer loneliness as a state of unrequited longing that contests borders between the presence and absence of sex. I use this concept not only to situate unconsummated desire under the purview of queer relations, but also to think through sexual legibility in moving image media. In focusing on distance, vicariousness, and frigidity as approaches to visuality and spectatorship, my thesis troubles an insistence on coupled reciprocity that undergirds several forms of cinematic analysis (realism, allegory, suture). In doing so, I seek to think about uncoupled forms not as negations of intimacy, but as a way of reimagining both onscreen sexual representation and some foundational aspects of cinematic grammar. 

I want to express my immense gratitude to all of my friends at CSI. I know that without their support, I would have been completely lost (especially throughout 2020-21). I have loved reading their work, seeing their conference presentations, and learning from their interventions into media studies. By the same token, I owe the world to my committee members (James Cahill, Sara Saljoughi, and Nic Sammond) for their guidance throughout this process, and for always being generous, critical readers. 

I am currently teaching the Teen Media (CIN260) class at Innis, which has been a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the session on the history of boy bands. I want to pursue a future in academic work, and I am currently applying for assistant professor and postdoc positions for 2022-23. I hope to continue teaching over the next year, as I have had incredible experiences with U of T students, both as a course instructor and as a TA. In these capacities, I have been very fortunate to be present to their insights, and I know that their ideas have impacted this thesis. 

Her supervisor, James Cahill, had this to say about Erin's thesis:

Erin Nunoda’s thesis, “Unconsummated/Queer Loneliness,” is a highly original interrogation of some of the foundational assumptions of queer theory—the extent to which it does or must be premised upon “consummated” forms of intimacy (as glorious and non-normative as its forms may be)—and how one might theorize the aspects of queer life and aesthetics marked by the absence or illegibility of sex. With critical generosity and skill, Erin works across an extensive corpus of scholarly literature and cultural phenomena to develop her theorization of queer loneliness. She theorizes forms of pleasure and bliss that emerge from subjects, sites, and experiences that are typically dismissed as lacks, absences, or simply outside the bounds of the pleasurable and worthy.  

While my description has foregrounded the theoretical interventions in queer theory and critical sexuality studies, this does not happen at the expense of close attention to the audio-visual text and forms of mediation. Nunoda’s argument is firmly grounded in insightful readings of films and videos, which are never reduced to the status of mere illustration but serve as the medium for her theoretical account of the interlaced histories she examines and the development of her arguments and ideas. She focuses in particular on cinematic media in the age of home-video, which is historically coincident with the emergence of the AIDS crisis and push for LGBTQ+ rights in the face of a repressive political contexts. Her chapters are structured by non-dyadic pairings of media texts that allow her to think queer loneliness comparatively, in their unreconciled differences, that bring further clarity to a variety of iterations of queer loneliness, including innovative readings of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and Barbara Hammer’s experimental video No No Nooky TV, Sadie Benning’s Me & Rubyfruit and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, Obayashi Nobuhiko’s Hausu and Peter Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Naughts, and Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn and YouTube “Dead Mall Videos.”      

The committee—Sara, Nic, and internal-external evaluator Scott—have come to appreciate Erin as a theorist and cultural critic nonpareil with a gift for identifying underexamined presumptions in theoretical work and elaborating broadly resonant responses that construct alternative formulations for thinking through impasses with and through audiovisual media. It has been such an honour and a pleasure to work with her on this project. We are all so pround and impressed with what Erin has accomplished, and we are really enthusiastic to see what she does next and to keep learning from this brilliant and singular thinker.