Scott Herring

“Hoarding Queering: On Late Life Steward”

This presentation examines Sam Steward’s later life as a compulsive hoarder to argue that his lifelong commitment to sexual deviance was matched by a lifelong allegiance to “material deviance”—the non-normative object relations that inform and exceed erotic usage. To do so I situate Steward within an overlooked queer genealogy—the hoarder who engages in perverse relations with stuff—that complements his participation in historical traditions of modern sexual inversion as well as erotic traditions of sado-masochism. By attending to Steward’s material aberrations in Berkeley, we can recuperate the devalued late life of what one observer terms “an 80-year-old hoarder in a tiny bungalow in some random backyard.” While this cluttered existence has been cast as a “cautionary tale,” reading Steward’s hoarding as a critically queer engagement with objects instead lets us approach his accumulations as a continuation—rather than the waning—of a vibrant life beholden to deviance of all sorts. Hence when we attend to the material culture that saturated Steward’s final years, his queer hoarding helps us depathologize depictions of the writer as either a “sad old queen” or a “dirty old man”—genres that an elder Steward both inhabited and creatively revised thanks to his deviant object conduct.

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