Organized chaos rules room 203 of East Hall, the private domain of English Professor Lee Edelman, who sits at his desk in crisp khakis and a pressed red button-down shirt.
51-year-old Edelman, raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, has had a prestigious academic career. Though he got his B.A. from Northwestern University, he spent more time at Yale University, earning an M.A. in philosophy, and a Ph. D.
Though known to the Tufts community as a professor in the English department, Edelman is also an author. Most recently, he has written a book called “No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive.”
“The writing of it was easy,” Edelman said. “But the subject matter isn’t likely to make people happy. It argues that our social system is organized around principles of reproduction, with the consideration that the freedoms and liberties we expect as citizens are always held hostage to the potential threat that exercising those freedoms and liberties could cause to a child.
“What you say, what you do, what you see on TV, or what you hear on the radio is constantly being weighed against the possibility that some ‘innocent’ child might see it and be made to lose his or her innocence before his or her time,” Edelman said.
As an example, Edelman referred to the recent controversy centering around Buster the Bunny, a cartoon character who, in one episode of the show “Postcards from Buster,” visits a lesbian couple with a child.
“People see this as a threat,” he said. “But, should two women not walk down the street with their child, then, because some other child might see them and be traumatized?”
A man with strong feelings about LGBT rights, Edelman is opinionated regarding the gay marriage controversy.
“It’s absurd that so much time, money and energy is being spent on something so insignificant to the lives of the population that isn’t gay, lesbian or bisexual,” Edelman said. “If, as the right wing suggests, family values are essential, then why prohibit that for certain members of the population?
“And, if these people want to prohibit strong monogamous bonds in the gay, lesbian, or bisexual community, then they can hardly hold to their notion of non-heterosexual promiscuity,” Edelman added.
However, having just married his partner, Edelman’s reaction to the ceremony was surprisingly subdued. “It was anticlimactic,” he said. “26 years later, the legality of marriage was purely formal.”
Here at Tufts, Edelman teaches a variety of classes, including 20th Century British and American Poetry; Sexuality, Literature and Contemporary Criticism; and Hitchcock: Cinema, Gender and Ideology.
Edelman has been fascinated with Alfred Hitchcock since he was 10 years old. “The first Hitchcock film I saw was ‘The Birds,'” he said. “It was scary, and it was unforgettable. Growing up in the early sixties, there were lots of horror movies. But the scariness of a Hitchcock film – even then, you know – was much more psychological. I knew I was entering the world of a nightmare.”
“[Hitchcock films] have a staying power,” he added. “They involve you in a world that taps into visual experiences. They so terrify you precisely by manipulating you in your understanding of what and how you see.”
Edelman’s interest in the subject matter is obvious to his students. “He’s a professor that everyone – English major or non-English major – should take a course with before graduation,” said junior Melissa Fiorenza, a student in Edelman’s Hitchcock film class. “He’s extremely intelligent and such a captivating speaker, I’m almost compelled to applaud after every class.”
Edelman has received a variety of awards for his excellence in the academic realm. The two most meaningful to him were both presented by the University: the 1989 Lillian and Joseph Leibner Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising, and the Distinguished Scholar Award.
“It was nice to have Tufts recognize my two sides as an academic – both in my teaching, but also in my desire to keep working as a scholar and a critic,” Edelman said.
Though teaching takes up a lot of his time, it is by no means the only thing for which Edelman has had a passion. Growing up, he listened to a lot of music. According to Edelman, his favorite musicians are the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
Additionally, Edelman is a painter, a published poet, speaks French and a little bit of Italian, and is an admitted New York City addict. “[It] is the most wonderful city in the world,” he said. “There’s an energy there – an excitement, an erotic charge – that Boston could only dream about.”
Edelman also has some interesting quirks – his eating habits, for example. “Anybody that knows me knows not to invite me to dinner,” he said. “I can’t stand spicy foods or vegetables. So, I’m basically limited to three or four dishes. Chicken is my staple.”
Edelman ended the interview with a reaction to a post from tuftsreviews.com, a site where students rate their professors. After listening to a very positive review, Edelman said, “That was the best $5 bribe I ever gave.”