The notion that theoretical inquiry and the love of literature are at odds is a tenacious one, likewise the related account of the theorist as heartless killjoy. This article, however, challenges the notion that theory is necessarily down on love. It surveys the several strains of theory that since the turn of the 21st century have made it possible for practitioners of theory to acknowledge more readily that concept-driven intellectual work inevitably has an affective undertow. But it also looks further back, to the late 18th-century origins of the literary studies discipline, so as to understand why the love question cannot be confined to the sphere of amateurism but instead hovers persistently around what literature professors do in their classrooms: what does that persistence say about the place of ethical and affective norms in the discipline’s intellectual enterprise? And just why and how does aesthetic receptivity get defined as “love” in the first place?
Feminist, queer, and transgender theory has developed an array of fruitful concepts for the study of gender. It offers critiques of patriarchy, the gender binary, compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity, and homonormativity, inter alia. New Materialist feminists have analyzed gender variance, continuous variation, and continuous transition through concepts such as rhizome, assemblage, making kin, and sym-poiesis (making-with). Feminists of color and postcolonial feminists have theorized intersectionality—that gender always-already intersects with race, class, sexual orientation, and so on—and gender roles outside the white middle-class nuclear family, such as othermothering and fictive kin. Materialist feminists have studied gender as social class, while psychoanalytic gender theorists have explored gender as self-identification and in terms of the relation of gender identification and desire. Queer theory has explored vexed gender identifications and disidentification as well as heterotopias, counterpublic spaces, and queer kinship beyond the private/public divide. Transgender theory has critiqued transmisogyny and theorized transgender and trans* identities. Indigenous feminist and queer theory has theorized Two-Spirit identities and queer indigeneity in the context of a decolonial vision. Theorists of masculinities have analyzed masculinities as historically specific, plural, and intersectional. Gender studies, in all this diversity, has influenced most fields of study—for example, disability studies in its theorization of complex embodiment, its development of crip theory, and so on. Gender studies, in turn, has greatly benefitted from the study of literature. Literature has been indispensable in the genealogy of dominant gender norms such as the 19th-century norms of the angelic/demonic woman and self-made man. In return, gender theory has offered fresh insights into literary genre, for example the Bildungsroman. Since the development of gender theory, it has taken part in an ongoing dialogue and cross-fertilization with literature, evidenced in self-reflexive and critically informed literary texts as well as in gender theory that includes autobiographical and literary (e.g., narrative, figurative, fictional, poetic) elements.