Introduction: Queer Romanticisms: Past, Present, and Future
University College Dublin and Bowdoin College
University College Dublin and Bowdoin College
“Read some Byron, Shelley and Keats / Recited it over a hip hop beat”
Romanticism is hip if this killer line from pop poetess Natasha Bedingfield is anything to go by. Yet the Romanticism that popular culture finds endlessly desirable is resolutely heteronormative. Bedingfield’s number one hit is after all about the impossibility of writing heterodesire (she chooses some particularly complicated heterosexual poets to lay some drum beats down on!) although, of course, a queer interpretation is hardly disallowed. Let us take another couple of examples of this straightening out of Romanticism to make it more palatable to a contemporary audience. Julian Temple’s 2001 film Pandaemonium takes the potentially very uninteresting relationship between Coleridge (Linus Roach) and Wordsworth (John Hannah) and the composition of the Lyrical Ballads as its focus and turns them into the punks of their day. Temple is, after all, the director of The Filth and the Fury, a rockumentary about the Sex Pistols. Punks Coleridge and Shelley (Byron, on the other hand, comes across as the fifth Beatle) may be, but none of the sexual ambiguousness of Rotten or Vicious or of the whole punk aesthetic is allowed to colour the relationship between the pair or indeed the erotics of their collaboration, which Wayne Koestenbaum has so wonderfully unpacked. Then in 2003 we had bad boy Byron played by bad boy Jonny Lee Miller (once married to the bisexual bad girl Angelina Jolie) in a two-part BBC drama. The depiction of Byron is careful to have Miller limp all the way through, but there is little or none of the dissident sexuality which has made Byron something of a poster boy for queer Romanticism. In his review, Duncan Wu notes this reluctance:
For one thing he was more actively homosexual than most portrayals care to admit, his most enduring and passionate relationships, both physical and emotional, having been with men rather than women. Despite the occasional gesture towards that, this dramatization never deals seriously with that side of his personality, making him for the most part rampantly hetero.
Romanticism in the academy has tended to be rampantly hetero too.
We have had Queering the Middle Ages,Queering the Renaissance,Victorian Sexual Dissidence, and Queering the Moderns, but no Queering the Romantics or Queering Romanticism. In a recent special issue of this journal, on “Romanticism and Sexuality,” Richard Sha explains why this might be the case. He claims that Romanticism is very often seen as little more than a speed bump between the Enlightenment and the Victorian period, an asexual black hole in the history of sexuality. In his essay and a subsequent article published in a more recent issue, Sha critiques this mischaracterization of Romanticism as a “seemingly asexual zone between eighteenth-century edenic ‘liberated’ sexuality and guiltless pleasures, and the repressive sexology of the Victorians that enabled real sexuality to emerge” (“Romanticism” n. pag.).
Several of the contributors to this volume are equally committed to challenging the way Romanticism has dropped out of our histories of sexuality and to rethinking the lines of periodization as they have conventionally been drawn. Rick Incorvati, Robert Tobin and Arnold Markley all find homosexual personality types in Romantic novels written long before the so-called invention of the modern homosexual, circa 1869, if one is to believe Foucault and his epigoni. It is the hope of each of our contributors that this rethinking of Romantic sexuality might, as Incorvati puts it, “compel us to reconsider both the prevailing history of sexuality and the role that the Romantic period played in establishing the preconditions for writing that history.”
We call this special issue Queer Romanticisms because we want to signal the queerness of Romanticism as a period. Like queer, Romanticism is always messy, excessive, overspilling historical and corporeal boundaries. Like queer, Romanticism is resistant to the impulsion on the part of critics to define it, pin it down, place a cordon sanitaire around it. Romanticism and queer theory alike favour the indefinite and the boundless. One cannot really say where Romanticism as a movement begins or ends—in fact one could say that Romanticism never ends. Just as it endlessly defers any pinning down of its basic characteristics, shapes, and principles, its end shows no signs of arriving. If this all sounds terribly Derridean then that is because a whole range of Romantic features animate the anti-Enlightenment themes of his deconstruction (and of poststructuralist literary criticism generally).
Yet Romantic literary criticism has been rampantly hetero too. This is not to say that a great deal of valuable work has not been done; it has, and the remainder of this section will attempt to survey some of that groundbreaking scholarship. But queer Romanticists have tended to be a bit like porn stars: very well known in their own field yet not making any real impact outside of those clearly demarcated areas. Yet with a few recent publications this has begun to change. We have seen award-winning essays from Geraldine Friedman in this journal (“Pseudonymity”), Gary Dyer in PMLA (“Thieves”), and the widely celebrated Romantic Genius by Andrew Elfenbein, which has had an impact not just on Romanticism but also on eighteenth-century studies and on the history of sexuality more broadly. Elfenbein and Sha have shown us that Romanticism is protoqueer and that there is a prehistory of the homosexual to be found in the Romantic period. The contributors to this special issue attempt to further expand upon these findings.
It is with the transition from Dear Jane to Queer Jane that we can track some of the success of the Queer Romantic project. The essay by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick on masturbating girls in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (“Jane”) and Terry Castle’s London Review of Books article which suggested that Austen might have shared a bed with her sister (“Gay?”) both caused a controversy which shows no signs of abating. For example, in the most recent issue of The Hudson Review a cantankerous William H. Pritchard asks, “What’s Been Happening to Jane Austen?” (303). The main recipients of his ire are “friends of Foucault” (304) such as William H. Galperin, Sedgwick, Castle, and D.A. Miller. Galperin’s crime is to suggest that there may be a same-sex attachment between Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney which the narrator of Northanger Abbey is too obtuse to notice. Pritchard finds these “sexings-up” of the novelist (306) particularly objectionable, but one cannot help feeling he is a little turned on by them. Why else would he suggest that Misty G. Anderson, who has written an article on female-female desire in Mansfield Park, is “aptly-named” (306)? Why else would he suggest that calling her article “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” “surely provided” Sedgwick with a “spasm of pleasure” (306)? All this steaming up of his glasses seems to have damaged Pritchard’s critical skills. He unembarrassedly tells us that he does not quite understand Sedgwick’s impenetrable prose. But of course this, in his estimable opinion, is why nobody has ever dared challenge Sedgwick and her “homemade prose” (307n5). Pritchard himself “lacks the desire to even begin ‘arguing’ with such prose, and so it seems appropriate that eleven years after the essay was published no one to my knowledge has even bothered to ‘refute’ Sedgwick’s contention that Marianne Dashwood’s ‘erotic identity’ is ‘that of the masturbating girl’” (307). Actually quite a few people have challenged Sedgwick’s interpretation and said a lot more hurtful things about her than even this particular critic can muster. The fact is that Sedgwick’s essay, far from being a loose misreading, has truly changed the shape of Austen studies and the way we have read all of her novels, not just the canonical ones. Right now is an exciting time to be an Austen scholar, with queerings of Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and even her early juvenilia, including the unfinished novel Sanditon.
If the life of Jane Austen has never seemed particularly racy up until very recently then quite the opposite can be said of William Beckford. Yet even Beckford scholars tend to shy away from what they see as the more objectionable sides of his personality, most obviously sodomitical desire and paedophilia. One brilliant recent essay unfettered by such reticence is Andrew Elfenbein’s “William Beckford and the Genius of Consumption,” chapter two of his Romantic Genius (39-62). Let us briefly outline Elfenbein’s main argument (with a detour through Sedgwick) since it deeply resonates with the methodological approach each of our authors follows. Sedgwick argued in Epistemology of the Closet that we needed to abandon our search for great overarching paradigm shifts when we do the history of sexuality (the kind you get in Foucault, Alan Bray, and David Halperin). In Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction she went further and suggested that queer critics and historiographers are caught up in what Paul Riceour calls a “hermeneutics of suspicion” and that we needed to search for other non-paranoid forms of knowledge production. She makes a non-prescriptive call for reparative readings which would allow us to assemble a history of sexual practices and discourses without getting caught up in modern classifications (27-28). Elfenbein attempts to chart such a reparative paradigm in his readings of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century literature, including Beckford, Coleridge, Blake, and Anne Damer. His broad thesis is that the idea of genius has always been linked with homosexuality (at least since Freud concretized the connection between them) but that a “prehistory” for this discursive nexus (genius, homosexual, artist) can be traced back to the eighteenth century, when the link was made between the genius and the sodomite. However, Elfenbein suggests that the role of genius was not simply reserved for intellectuals and artists but could be appropriated by anyone (be they male or female). This idea of appropriation on the part of individuals is resistant to a paranoid interpretation but is not blind to systemic oppression of cultural or sexual dissidents. Rather, Elfenbein aims to produce an important knowledge: “to practice other than paranoid forms of knowing does not, in itself, entail a denial of the reality or the gravity of enmity or oppression” (Sedgwick, Novel Gazing 7).
Elfenbein’s Beckford, then, as a collector of boys and of things is resistant to cultural and societal pressures. Beckford, he tells us, was the “champion collector of his day” (Romantic 41). He goes on: “for the twentieth-century reader, Beckford looks like an early example of the stereotypical gay man who loves antiques, china, lacquer, manuscripts, paintings, bookbindings, and much else” (41). Prior to Beckford, he argues, “collecting on a grand scale did not necessarily involve associations with homosexuality, but he foreshadowed shopping for beautiful things as a distinctively gay option” (41). Beckford strove to be ultra-unmanly, and his collection of lacquer and libretti freed him to pursue a defiantly feminized, proto-dandiacal behaviour (see George, this volume) not tied to use-value. Like Horace Walpole he played the effeminate consumer most self-consciously in the role of opera lover and in creating his gothic dream world at Fonthill Abbey, where he accumulated extraordinary collections of china, books, art, and manuscripts. His novel Vathek is a book about collecting, about the love of things and the love of boys, a book which contradicts the idea of genius as production and undercuts the idea of use-value. Elfenbein connects this aestheticization of use-value to Beckford’s paedophilia, his taste for seductive boys, and with his collections. He writes, “just as Beckford’s collections plucked objects from their original, useful context and froze them into tasteful arrangements, so his pedophilia denied the temporal thrust of reproductive sexuality” (46). Through his readings, Elfenbein “wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self” (Sedgwick, Novel Gazing 28).
Another genius whom Elfenbein reads reparatively rather than gloomily is William Blake (Romantic 149-176). He even goes so far as to suggest that “the love affair between gay writers and William Blake has been long and happy” (Romantic 149) and that Blake has become an honorary queer icon. Christopher Hobson has gone even further than Elfenbein and written a whole monograph, Blake and Homosexuality, which is perhaps the first detailed study of the subject which picks up on every reference to homosexuality in Blake’s writings and illustrations. Like Elfenbein he tries to rescue Blake from assertions that he was a homophobe, finding that Blake wrote seriously about masturbation, lesbianism, and hermaphroditism. Even more persuasive and innovative is Tom Hayes’s “William Blake’s Androgynous Ego-Ideal,” which examines two portraits of Blake, Visionary Head Drawing of the Man Who Instructed Blake in his Dreams (c. 1819-1820) and Monochrome Self-Portrait (c1803) through a post-Lacanian lens. He claims that the visionary figure is Blake’s ego-ideal and that a disavowed homoeroticism is discernible in the gaze of the androgynous figure. Hayes says, “I maintain that this figure is Blake’s ego-ideal. That is, he is a representation of how Blake would like to have looked if he had been able to avoid conforming to the code of a heterosexual masculinity” (143). Blake’s queer desire should alert us to read the poems more sensitively and to look elsewhere for thwarted and disavowed homoeroticism at the heart of Romantic heteromasculinity.
Byron has, as we have said, become something of an iconic figure for queer Romanticism. People are drawn to Romanticism by Byron’s seductive allure and we endlessly recreate Byrons in popular culture. Atara Stein thinks that “Byron would be a rock star” (n. pag.), a darkly glamorous one at that, and the example she chooses is telling: Trent Reznor, solitary genius and lead singer of Nine Inch Nails, who are often celebrated for their queer, often graphically sexual, lyrics and Reznor’s (to say the least) ambivalent sexual persona. Byron as bad boy and mysterious sexual figure has also seduced biographers and critics but for the most part we have seen paranoid readings or essentializing attempts to pin down Byron’s sexual identity. While his (dis)ability has long been openly discussed, it was not until recently (with the emergence of disability studies and crip studies, close cousins to queer theory) that Byron’s sexuality and his (dis)ability could be discussed in the same breath. Again we have Elfenbein to thank for a special issue on Byron’s (dis)ability in the European Romantic Review, which he hoped might “start a dialogue about disability in Romanticism more generally” (“Introduction” 247). (Dis)ability must become a central topic for Queer Romantic studies and not merely an add-on. We must also continue to ask questions about Byron’s sexuality (see George in this issue), and as Amanda Berry puts it about Shelley in this volume: “in this regard the most powerful open secret about [Byron] is not his homosexuality, but the sheer pleasure that emanates from thinking about it, from positing the biographical [Byron] as a sexual being who had sexual experiences and feelings unexpected by mainstream criticism.”
Coleridge has never seemed quite so bad as Byron, but he is another of Elfenbein’s genii, and his collaborations with Wordsworth have been the subject of much queer scrutiny. Wayne Koestenbaum claims that the Lyrical Ballads is “not centrally concerned with an erotics of writing; nor is its only subject Coleridge’s longing for Wordsworth’s authority, and Wordsworth’s anxious response to his friend’s desire” (71). But his speculations about the sexual and textual erotics which bind the two men and their poetry together have generated a rich body of criticism which attends to co-authored works and to singly authored poems.
Another of Elfenbein’s genii is William Cowper, who for him is marked by the domestication of genius. He makes a rigid distinction between Cowper’s public and private worlds and argues for a reading of Cowper’s most famous poem The Task which would see the workplace and the home as loci where men who were sexually attracted to other men might lead “a secret, hidden life that flourished with little regard for the world’s opinion” (“Stricken” n. pag.). In a recent reappraisal of Elfenbein’s article Conrad Brunström, arguing that Elfenbein overstates the poet’s isolation, corrects his reading (twisting through Sedgwick’s theory of homosocial desire) of Cowper as residing in a culture of homosocial paranoia. For Brunström, Cowper is far queerer than Elfenbein allows and his queerness is not based on the absence of women from his life as Elfenbein avers. Such reparative readings of reparative readings are especially important as we try to avoid the “vulnerabilities of a field as of yet unaccepted by more traditional fields” (Berry, this volume).
Let us conclude this partial survey by looking at a few more male figures (a lot remains to be done on female figures despite the substantial archive of queer Romantic criticism). Kant would seem an unlikely figure for queering, but Eric O. Clarke in a couple of virtuoso readings has questioned the robust heterosexuality of a man whose lecture notes were written up by his male students (see Koestenbaum on textual erotics and male collaboration) and who demanded a deathbed kiss from his male friend Pastor Wasiansky (“Kant’s Kiss”; “Citizen’s Shadow”). Clarke, like Elfenbein, discusses Kant as a crucial, indeed pivotal, figure in the prehistory of homosexual lifestyle. Clarke has also tried to consider Shelley’s sexual politics in a profoundly suggestive way and without asking the kinds of reductive questions that John Lauritsen has (see Berry in this volume) (“Shelley’s Heart”). Clarke and Elfenbein have been mostly concerned with the (queer) afterlives of various figures (the neo-Kantian response to Kant’s sexual ethics; twentieth century homosexual genii) and Keats is a poet who has generated a rich afterlife (see Kimberly in this volume). James Najarian, for example, sketches Keats’s impact (we might after Elfenbein call it Keatsism) upon a whole host of Victorian writers (Tennyson, Arnold, Hopkins, John Addington Symonds, Walter Pater and Wilfrid Owen) (Keats). Finally, Wordsworth on his own has generated a small but influential body of queer criticism. David Collings’s Wordsworthian Errancies contains a bold reading of anal penetration in The Prelude, and James Holt McGavran has begun the very important project of reading Wordsworth ecoqueerly (“Gender”).
Those working on gothic fictions have done some of the richest work on queer Romanticism, and before we move on to introduce the various contributions to this issue we want to ask in the next section why the gothic might be such a productive site for queer interventions.
In his lead essay to this special issue George Haggerty suggests that the gothic is always already queer. And with four contributions on the gothic to this volume (Haggerty, Fitzgerald, Rigby, and Markley) he is surely correct. But couldn’t one simply reverse the statement and ask, “is Queer Theory always already gothic?” We want to begin with a somewhat bolder claim by suggesting that theory is always already gothic (but as we know, queer theory has its roots in the poststructuralist thinking of Foucault, Derrida, Žižek et al.).
Derrida, like a ghostly figure, haunts queer theory, always just beyond and outside it, his work being its condition of possibility. His writings shape and structure queer theorizing, and his theories of deconstruction echo throughout some of the key concepts of queer studies: iterability, mimicry, speech act theory, performativity, liminality, dissemination, difference/différance, inside-outside dichotomies, the pharmakon, health-sickness dichotomies, fragmentation, l’àvenir, to name but a few which have left their trace and continually return like revenants. Gothic literary criticism has also been haunted by Derrida, while Derrida’s writing has constantly been haunted by the gothic, by spectres, by death. Gothic tropes and topoi turn up of course in all sorts of places, including psychoanalysis (one thinks of Abraham and Torok’s theorizations of the crypt), but nowhere more insistently than in Derridean deconstruction. The living-dead, the phantom, the spectre, and the crypt appear with alarming frequency in Derrida’s corpus. Jodey Castricano has coined the term cryptomimesis to address this convergence of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and gothic literature, and she pays particular attention to the term revenance. This term can mean either revenue or more suggestively revenir—to come back, to return, like the uncanny. There is an uncanny return of the gothic in Derrida’s writings and an uncanny return of Derrida in gothic criticism and queer theory.
Foucault too seems to have been haunted by unconscious gothic returns and expenditures. As a critic always trying to nurture a space for the unspeakable, Foucault was constantly drawn to gothic sites: the prison, the asylum, the operating room, the cell, the church, the confessional (sites which are always marked by sexual terror as Haggerty shows in his essay). In Madness and Civilization, long before volume one of The History of Sexuality, Foucault was already keenly interested in the categories of silence, secrecy, and unspeakability, making madness somewhat analogous to sodomy. The distinctive contours of this matrix—silence, secrecy, (homo)sexuality—were, of course, later assumed in Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet. Little wonder then that Foucault was known as the “Monk” of Paris. He may have “lived like an exegetical monk in Paris,” but in the last ten years of his life he “enjoyed the hedonistic pleasures of San Francisco—especially their gay saunas” (Rousseau 35), and especially the gothicized pleasures of S/M.
One can trace this mutual haunting of the gothic and the queer back to the foundational text for students of gothic literature: Freud’s “The Uncanny.” Nicholas Royle, another interested in Derridean spectrology, brings out the always-already-queer quality of Freud’s text through a reading of it by Hélène Cixous:
Cixous’s essay brings out the queerness of Freud’s text [on the uncanny]. “Queer” here does not just signify “homosexual” (a sense which, according to the OED, has been in use since at least 1922) but more generally refers to what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has described as “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.” The emergence of “queer” as a cultural, philosophical, social and political phenomenon, at the end of the twentieth century, figures as a formidable example of the contemporary “place” and significance of the uncanny. The uncanny is queer. And the queer is uncanny.
The gothic is queer. And the queer is gothic. Another example which students of the gothic will be familiar with from the very beginning is Kristeva’s abject. The abject is that which threatens, is monstrous, other, overspills boundaries, and is marked by dirt, filth, and pollution. The abject unsettles, is culturally unintelligible. It is simultaneously outside culture yet also always fully inside it. The abject is queer, and the queer is abject.
Theorizations of mourning and melancholia, of the foreclosure of homosexual love, and the internalization of loss are always tied up with gothic tropes of death and loss. Slavoj Žižek’s work is littered with gothic imagery, and his theorization of fantasy is similar to Kristeva’s abject. For him, fantasy refers to that which is excessive to the symbolic, resists assimilation into the symbolic; it is always marked, like desire for Lacan, by failure, negativity, and lack. It is a void, a spectre, a vampire which feeds upon the subject. This Hegelian-Lacanian negativity is also, as we have seen, central to Derrida’s spectral economy of the subject. Derrida and Žižek set the scene, then, for Butler’s gothic, for the constitutive loss, mourning, and melancholia which lie at the heart of her performative view of the subject.
The term spectrality, as we have seen, was established in theoretical discourse by Derrida in his Spectres de Marx in 1993. He takes it from Marx, whose opening words to the Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism”) he quotes (Specters 3). The term then gets elaborated in more (necro)political ways by Žižek and Butler, who are both interested in the way political systems rely on policing exclusions which nonetheless return to haunt them. In all of these thinkers spectrality stalks the limits of ontology. Butler’s conception of the subject also generates spectral effects; the self is spectralized. Take her definition of lesbian gender, for example. Her understanding of lesbian gender is that it is melancholic: “Unlike heterosexuals, who for societal reasons cannot grieve the loss of a homosexual love object, a lesbian grieves for the loss of her heterosexual male object by taking it on as her (masculine) gender” (Hemmings 118-19; see also Brideoake in this issue). George Haggerty notes this in his reading of Radcliffe’s The Italian in this issue: “Ellena, Radcliffe’s heroine, wanders through the novel in a state that could be described as melancholy. She experiences loss as fundamental and determining. As the novel develops, it seems that Ellena must reexperience a primal ‘homosexual’ attachment in order to give any significance at all to her love for the hero Vivaldi.” In The Psychic Life of Power the gothicized tropes proliferate as Butler further theorizes subjectivity as an effect of melancholy, and her later work—Antigone’s Claim throughout, Undoing Gender to some extent, and Precarious Life especially—is even more concerned with spectrality. As Iain Morland and Wendy O’Brien describe it: “Prohibited by heterosexist culture, these original homosexual attachments must be lost, yet they are grieved by being secreted inside the subject to constitute the repudiated ground of gendered identity” (n. pag.). They go on: “In Butler’s neo-Freudian account, the burial ground of homosexuality is the plot of land on which heterosexuality is constructed.” The subject for Butler is a gothicized space, like the monastic cell, the closet, or the subterranean chamber.
Such theories of loss, absence, anxiety, and desire are everywhere in early queer theory: Case’s uncanny vampire, Castle’s apparitional lesbian (Apparitional). But no critic has been more haunted by death in his or her writing than Lee Edelman. His grave writing (so heavily influenced by Derrida and De Man) has most recently turned to the figure of the child, the logic of futurity, and the death drive. He writes, “Queer theory, then should be viewed as a site at which a culturally repudiated irony, phobically displaced by the dominant culture onto the figure of the queer, is uncannily returned by those who propose to embrace such a figural identity with the figuralization of identity itself” (“Future” 27). In this attempt to theorize what he calls “sinthom-osexuality,” Edelman demonstrates how queer theory refuses “le futurisme reproductif,” embraces death, and refuses the future in its resistant oppositionality (“Pensée” 70-73).
The gothically Derridean underpinnings of queer theory are nowhere more clearly articulated than in Diana Fuss’s introduction to Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. Fuss consistently draws attention to the intersections between sexuality and hauntology; in an especially sharp formulation, she writes,
Heterosexuality can never fully ignore the close psychical proximity of its terrifying (homo)sexual other, any more than homosexuality can entirely escape the equally insistent social pressures of (hetero)sexual conformity. Each is haunted by the other, but here again it is the other who comes to stand in metonymically for the very occurrence of haunting and ghostly visitation.
It is thus no surprise that this same preoccupation appears throughout the collection, in many of whose essays, Fuss writes, “is a fascination with the spectre of abjection, a certain preoccupation with the figure of the homosexual as spectre and phantom, as spirit and revenant, as abject and undead” (3). A year later, in her essay “Fashion and the Homospectatorial Look,” Fuss sees photography as the “technology of abjection” par excellence and claims that it produces the (fe)male subject as spectre. Photography functions, she says, “as a mass producer of corpses, embalming each subject by captivating and fixing its image” (729). The subject, for Fuss, is always, it seems, haunted by abjection.
Of course the gothic is where it all began for the other queen of queer theory, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose first monograph The Coherence of Gothic Conventions has become the locus classicus for theorists of gothic space. Her Between Men has famously given us the theory of homosocial desire, but it has also given us those of homosexual panic and paranoid gothic, which have proven indispensable for readers of the gothic novel (see Rigby and Markley in this volume). In The Epistemology of the Closet, the gothic, secrecy, and the unspeakable subtend the modern regime of homosexual-heterosexual definition which Sedgwick attempts to fracture. Finally, in her introduction to Novel Gazing, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction is About You,” she returns to one of her favourite interlocutors, D.A. Miller, and argues for reparative readings which would eschew gloomy predictions. Like Foucault, Sedgwick can be an ascetic, but in her fantasy life she indulges in hedonistic gothic pleasures:
For her sex was split in two. There was the hygienic ‘vanilla’ sex with her husband, during which ‘I have orgasms and it feels good, but it’s not what I think of as sexual.’ Then there was the fantasy world that she’d masturbated to since childhood, which she describes in an aptly stark haiku: ‘Violence and pain / Humiliation. Torture. / Rape, systematic.’ Her fantasies had institutional settings, schools, prisons, waiting rooms, undressing rooms, quasi-medical ‘procedures’ to be submitted to.
If, as we suggest, theory and its apparitional offspring, queer theory, are always already Gothic, it is especially urgent for queer theorists to attend to the queer dimension of Gothic writing proper. Several contributors to this volume make this their explicit project. Eve Sedgwick’s fantasies, described above, would be perfectly at home in the fictional world of another “monk,” Matthew Lewis. Lauren Fitzgerald’s contribution to this volume is a brilliantly original reading of Lewis’s novel and his plagiarisms as a form of authorial drag. Like Incorvati, Tobin, Markley, Haggerty and others, she believes that early gothic fictions formulated “a complicated response to the emerging development of homosexual and heterosexual subjectivities, as well as the brutal, institutionalized homophobia of the late eighteenth century.” Among the earliest gothic writers, Walpole and Lewis, she finds a connection between their queerness and their unoriginality. Both queerness and plagiarism have been much discussed before but always separately. Her lengthy discussion of the sexuality (as well as the gender of authorship) leads her to pose some interesting questions (especially for those who have read Elfenbein) about the sexuality of authorship, questions which should vibrate across histories of the novel and authorship, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory.
Like many of our contributors Fitzgerald picks out an overlooked scene in a much discussed novel and argues that “like The Monk’s better-known homoerotic moments, this episode focuses on imitation as a performative strategy and points up the distinctions and continuities between drag and closeting in articulations of male homosocial desire as well as authorship.” Drawing on Sedgwick and Jerrold Hogle she asserts that closeting in the gothic novel “yields drag (and vice versa)” and that “perhaps we can also consider literary imitation as a kind of drag, or in any case a similarly gendered performance.” Lewis “seems finally to resort to a kind of textual closeting through plagiarism” and due to societal pressures he seems to have had to bowdlerize his own novel (see also Rigby on textual closeting).
George Haggerty’s essay elaborates on several earlier essays in which he sketches the queer dimensions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic. There have, of course, been many accounts of the role that Catholicism played in later versions of the gothic (in discussions of Dracula for example), but this is one of the most extensive treatments of the role Catholicism played in the formation of the gothic in the earlier period. Haggerty argues that “Sexuality itself [. . .] depends on its religious context to exert its full cultural significance. Sexuality and religion are not opposite poles from which to understand the action of the novel: they are inextricably bound in the cultural imagination.” In this essay, Haggerty takes his previous analyses of the gothic in new directions, providing some of the first discussions of several neglected gothic texts (Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of the Abbey and William Henry Ireland’s The Abbess) and fresh reinterpretations of familiar ones (The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, and The Italian among others). He makes a very strong case that the discursive space brought into being by fictive convents and monasteries allowed novelists to describe forms of intimate experience that would have been implausible otherwise. As a result, this fictive version of Catholicism made possible the inscription of new sexual possibilities well before the emergence of sexology in the late nineteenth century. This is an important argument, and like Incorvati’s, Markley’s, and Tobin’s essays, it marks a shift in the larger understanding of the history of sexuality. He writes, “It is a commonplace to suggest that ‘homosexuality’ emerged in the 1870s, when it was named and codified, at least tentatively. But an earlier and very necessary process of popularization exists right here: Catholic gothic fiction and the history of sexuality, for this moment at least, overlap in countless ways.”
Mair Rigby’s essay fills another much-needed gap in gothic criticism by recalling our attention to a much neglected figure (Polidori) and pair of texts (The Vampyre and “A Fragment”). Like Amanda Berry—who says about the question “Was Shelley Gay?” that “hoping to escape, or, more accurately, to go far beyond the limitations of identity politics, queer scholars usually avoid questions of this kind”—Rigby does not attempt to try to fix the sexuality of Polidori himself or his characters. Rather, her essay examines the interpretive apparatus itself, both within the novel and that which is applied to the novel, showing how the process of inferring a sexuality or constructing one on the basis of textual and biographical signs relies upon, or constructs, a series of assumptions entirely characteristic of modern sexual epistemology.
Throughout Rigby, like De Man or even Edelman, emphasizes figurality to analyze the man who haunts the margins of Romanticism: “Consigned to a figurative ‘closet,’ Polidori and his work have come to occupy the elusive, but overdetermined space of a known secret, both famous and unmentionable, shut away on the other side of the door, dangerous to look upon, but also endlessly intriguing,” and she tells us, “It is also possible to suggest these narratives will bear out Edelman’s theory that the cultural inscription of homosexuality has become subject to a ‘metonymic dispersal,’ allowing its meaning to be phobically read into almost anything.” The issue here is therefore not to prove that queer meaning is made available in these texts, but rather to analyze the ways in which it is produced discursively and rhetorically as a figurative language. The emphasis on figurality, unpacking queer meaning at the level of language, is also Sedgwickian in light of her early reliance on the Yale school in her understanding of the gothic. Rigby marries this approach with Sedgwick’s later formulation of the paranoid gothic and murderous homosocial desire, and the bond between Ruthven and Aubrey which she describes mirrors the destructive relationships which Arnold Markley finds in Godwin’s fiction.
Markley’s essay extends some of his more recent work and assembles a remarkable number of symptomatic passages in Godwin’s early and later fiction, showing that this novelist focussed on the question of same-sex attraction in its various guises, including aggression and rivalry. Like Haggerty, Incorvati, Keegan, and others, he brings welcome attention to texts with which some readers may not be familiar. Moreover, in specific passages Markley opens up new areas of historical and literary interest. For example, he shows that Godwin often conveys his emphases through a variety of classical allusions (Greek love, as well as Haggerty’s advice about how to read it, is everywhere throughout the issue), raising the question how same-sex desire might operate in the period’s evocations of antique conceptions of friendship. The essay is especially important when it argues that Godwin wishes to alter familiar notions of masculinity (see Tobin on Bildung also), not least in the role it gives to the gentle male figure Julian in the late novel Cloudesley. In this regard, Markley suggests not only that Godwin already helps represent an early version of the “homosexual” (see Incorvati and Tobin as well), but also that he attempts to use such a figure for the purposes of transformation; in effect, Markley is saying, Godwin has already embarked upon a project that distantly anticipates the queer politics of later periods.
Taken together, these contributions underscore an often unsuspected dimension of the Gothic: its literary sophistication. By highlighting what other modes of fiction try to suppress—by emphasizing its borrowings, offering up fictive versions of Catholicism that do not pretend to be rooted in historical fact, and drawing attention to the figural strategies whereby readers find sexual encodings in its fictions, the gothic decentres literary representation itself, transforming it into a campy performance, a space for sexual invention, a challenge to homophobic reading, and a domain in which to affirm alternative possibilities for masculinity. What has often been regarded as a mode of literary naïveté, a kind of fictive infantilism, now appears to be a mode of writing that denaturalizes normative sexualities and that, long before the emergence of the sexologists, already undermines their ponderous knowledge. In thus queering normative codes and narratives, the gothic already creates the terms and strategies of contemporary hauntology, opening up the space now occupied by psychoanalysis, theory, queer theory, and the politics of living otherwise. The gothic is our monstrous parentage.
But such sophistication is not a feature only of the gothic. Our contributors also show that Romantic poetics relies directly on strategies of oppositional performance, contrarian imitation, and strategic displacement. If camp is central to The Monk, it informs the period’s poetics as well. In a groundbreaking essay, Bridget Keegan takes up a neglected domain of poetic production—the labouring-class pastoral poetry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—and finds within that realm unsuspected possibilities for queer articulation. She argues that labouring-class poets often wrote within pastoral traditions not to reinforce their erotic conventions, but to inhabit them subversively. Such poets, constrained by the demands of patronage, could not easily challenge elite notions of nature, social class, labour, or Britishness except through an indirect critique—through an oppositional, camp performance. Keegan shows how John Clare queers poetic convention, whether by pointing to the lack of substance beneath the poetic surface, speaking as a woman in a tale of unrequited love, or more adventurously, leaving the gender of the poem’s speaker or addressee unmarked. In a different vein, Janet Little turns pastoral against itself, adopting the conventions of pastoral romance only to resist the demands of heterosexual desire. Finally, Samuel Thomson, in “The Acrostic—to Damon,” not only draws upon pastoral conventions of male friendship but also intertwines the letters of his last name with that of his beloved, queering pastoral and subverting his own singularity in the process. This essay not only expands the archive of queer Romantic articulation well beyond the sphere of relatively elite writing but also, through its use of the notion of camp, adds greatly to the critical strategies we might bring to bear on that archive.
A similarly oppositional strategy shapes the career of a poet at the other end of the social scale, Lord Byron. According to Laura George, Byron embraces precisely those traits for which the fops of the Restoration and eighteenth century and the more recent beaus and dandies had been attacked: their proximity to a thing, their submission to reification, their fidelity to detail, their hovering on the verge of nothingness. In contrast to Jerome Christensen, who holds that Byron makes the crucial turn towards his late, mature career when he resists Beau Brummell’s descent into thinghood and sets himself over against the world of the commodity, George argues that this turn takes place in the overtly trivial Beppo, and especially in its dandiacal narrator, thereby making near nothingness the basis for his further career. In his poetics, Byron does not resolve the contradictions of a reified culture, but like the dandy, performs them. In this strategy of oppositional performance, this inversion of a long tradition of rhetorical attack, one might see an aristocratic counterpart of the strategies of camp; if plebeian authors can subversively appropriate the tropes of an elite genre, so also can a celebrity poet subversively don the costume of the apparently nonexistent thing. In either case, a parodic Romanticism inverts surface and substance, in the process decentring social and aesthetic hierarchies on behalf of a possibility they never directly name.
A somewhat different problematic appears in Amanda Berry’s searching reading of Percy Shelley’s The Cenci. Rather than adhering to a normative tradition or subverting it through a queer poetics, Shelley attempts to displace one kind of sexual transgression with another—to translate a tale of sodomy into one of incest, to recast an Italian story for an English audience, to transform Byronic into Shelleyan practice. In effect, he hopes to subsume a sodomitical poetics through the strategies of Gothic drama. But as Berry demonstrates, by thus presenting men in the form of women, Shelley replicates the shift visible in his essay on the manners of the ancient Greeks. Because Greek women were essentially enslaved, they could not serve as fit objects of male desire; it follows that only the presence of an intelligent and morally responsive woman could ward off the potential slide into Greek love. Without Mary, Berry argues, Percy could become a sodomite. But it turns out that by displacing sodomy into incest, Shelley does not in fact produce a drama that can be staged in England; rejected at Covent Garden and deplored in its initial reviews, the play demonstrates that a tale of sodomy, when recast in this particular heterosexual guise, remains unmistakably queer. Berry’s essay at once reframes the question of Shelley’s sexuality and illuminates, once again, the imbrication of gothic literature and queer desire.
Like those on the gothic, these contributions on Romantic poetics point to the productive dimension of denaturalizing literary strategies. Where many readers of Romanticism have emphasized its reliance on organic or natural metaphors, these contributors show that it often operates in exactly the opposite way, borrowing on received social codes to invert or denaturalize them. In the one instance—Shelley’s The Cenci—in which an author attempts to straighten out a queer history, he succeeds only in propagating that queerness further, undermining his poetic authority in the process. Here again we see how queer interpretation can capitalize on that dimension of writing once emphasized by poststructuralist literary theory—writing’s reliance not on extra-literary reality but the constructedness of representation itself—to show how romantic texts can undermine normative sexualities. Taken together, the contributions on the gothic and Romantic poetics show that queer romanticism emerges in part from the self-conscious use of literary codes to displace them, to inhabit them in the mode of oppositional performance. From the vantage of this volume, Romantic authors write not to overthrow the canonic authors of previous generations, but to defy literary naturalization itself.
If gothic and Romantic texts are already inventing the oppositional strategies of camp, we should also expect them to be fashioning alternative forms of sexuality as well. The final group of essays in this collection substantially revises received accounts of the history of sexuality, particularly those that place the emergence of the major components of modern sexual identities in the late nineteenth century. These essays demonstrate that aspects of those identities were already in play in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
In his reading of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet, Rick Incorvati demonstrates that the characteristic ensemble of markers that identify the “homosexual” were largely in place in early-nineteenth-century England. Scott’s protagonist already exemplifies the conjunction of effeminacy and same-sex desire that Alan Sinfield, for example, places much later in the century, in the wake of the Wilde trials. But Incorvati also shows that Scott shares his period’s firm reliance on the distinction between the likes of Darsie Latimer and sodomites, between a potentially commonplace or tolerable mode of desire and its translation into abhorrent sexual acts. It may be, as Incorvati suggests, that the Victorian sexologists did not so much create “the homosexual species as marry [. . .] the already extant types of the sodomite and the homosexual,” making the sexual act already implicit in the inclination. This essay thus challenges received narratives on a number of counts, suggesting not only that a particular sexual type is already familiar early in the century, but also that the key shift involves a little-remarked alteration in the status of sexual acts. But this is not all: Incorvati also shows that Scott himself takes pains to historicize the sexual type he describes, deriving Darsie Latimer in part from the context of all-male educational institutions, the conventions of eighteenth-century sensibility, and the erosion of Scotland’s hereditary institutions. Scott thus proposes his own account of Romanticism’s place in the history of sexuality: insofar as he treats his protagonist comically and deplores the dangerous political consequences of his passivity, he aims to shore up normative masculinity through a critique of romance, distancing himself from the potentially effeminizing effects of sensibility.
A similar effort animates many members of the Keats Circle as they seek to do justice to the life of their beloved poet. As Caroline Kimberly shows, the early biographers of Keats tended to queer him—to make him a figure of feminine delicacy, an erotic object, a devotee of sensual pleasure, or a man dependent on his friends. Members of the Keats Circle were displeased by these accounts and sought a biographer who would do more justice to his virile independence. Yet ironically, these tendentious depictions of Keats created a language in which later all-male aesthetic circles could articulate their mode of mutual attachment. Kimberly argues that the Cambridge Apostles drew upon the Keats legend as they crafted their own model of a community founded on male-male desire, attachment, and mutual support. The conjunction of the Keats legend with the homophilic ideas of the Apostles came to fruition when Richard Monckton Milnes, an Apostle, wrote the 1848 Life of the poet, providing the definitive image of the queer Keats that was to prove crucial to a late-Victorian, aesthetic readership. Kimberly’s account thus amplifies and partially confirms Incorvati’s speculations regarding the history of homosexual identity: in the history of the Keats biography, one can see how, despite the efforts of the Keats Circle, certain fictions of queer masculinity eventually enabled the emergence of all-male communities who increasingly defended, or practiced, sex between men. Here again it seems that the more explicitly homosexual communities of the late nineteenth century emerge from a precise shift within discourses and practices inherited from sensibility or Romanticism; the homosexual is not a wholly new invention, but a more sexualized version of a familiar, and perhaps privileged, aesthetic figure.
But this type could be sexualized to that extent only because it could already be associated in some way with sexual practice. One must apply Incorvati’s insights with caution: if one draws too firm a line between inclination and act, one too confidently erases the sexual possibilities embedded in same-sex attachments in the earlier period. In her analysis of how the Ladies of Llangollen were read by various literary visitors to their home in northern Wales, Fiona Brideoake resists settling the question of whether theirs was a genitally sexual relationship. Instead, she suggests that we interpret it as a productively opaque relationship, one that could be read in various ways by various constituencies. Some visitors, including Scott and his biographer Lockhart, could render the Ladies’ sartorial anachronism comically, as if once again to distance themselves from a partially superseded mode of affect; others, such as Anna Seward or Anne Lister, read such anachronism as a sign of the potential longevity of a same-sex relationship. Here again one sees the themes broached by Incorvati and Kimberly: a mode of affect from the era of sensibility is either regarded with a certain affectionate scepticism or appropriated as the sign of a new sexual possibility. In this case, however, the same-sex attachment was found neither in a novel nor in a biography, but in the cultural project of the Ladies themselves; to comprehend their significance, we would argue, one must accept the possibility that new sexual paradigms might emerge not in discourses, as many have assumed since Foucault, but in practices—in a lived, rather than written, cultural project. As Brideoake points out, their version of a rustic domesticity found an echo in the rustic household of William and Dorothy Wordsworth and thus served as a template for emergent notions of Romantic community. But the centrality of the Ladies for Seward and Lister suggests that an affectively saturated domesticity also belongs to the genealogy of same-sex desire. For Seward and Lister, at least, a secure and countrified domesticity, free of the connotations of urban sophistication, served as the perfect image of the life for which they strived, the supreme example of queer satisfaction. Brideoake’s account thus raises the question: to what extent is domestic sociability a component of modern sexual practice? Is it the embedded referent, for example, of Darsie’s attachment to Alan and of the Keats Circle’s attachment to the poet? Domestic sociability is perhaps the perfect emblem of the productively opaque nature of sexual affect in the Romantic era: it might enable, but is not sufficient to bring about, an explicitly sexual relationship.
In his essay, Robert Tobin shows that Romanticism plays an equally crucial role in the formation of modern sexual discourse in Germany. Certain crucial elements of liberal Romanticism—the notion of “Bildung” along with one of its correlative assumptions, the unity of mind and body, and the demand for the sexual emancipation of women—eventually make possible the homosexual emancipation movement as it is articulated, most famously, by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first modern figure to demand the liberation of inverts. Here again one sees a familiar pattern: ideas that apply only cryptically or tangentially to same-sex desire in the earlier period eventually become the template for a more overt project when later figures, such as Heinrich Hössli and Ulrichs, appropriate the idea of female sexual emancipation to argue for the sexual emancipation of the invert, the woman within the man. But Tobin’s account provides a useful contrast to the one that emerges from the essays of Incorvati, Kimberly, and Brideoake. As he argues, the underlying continuity in Germanic culture is the liberal Romantic demand for the emancipation of the flesh. Instead of sexualizing a mode of same-sex affect, as seems to have happened in England, in Germany the later generation expands a project of sexual emancipation to include same-sex desire. Thus in Germany Romanticism plays a crucial role not by providing productively opaque or safely nonsodomitical models of desire, but by pursuing a radical, cosmopolitan, and at times scandalous sexual agenda, especially, as Tobin demonstrates, in the overt gender-bending of Lucinde or in the demand for the emancipation of women and of Jews in Wally.
These contributions, together with Haggerty’s reading of the Catholic gothic, sketch an alternative history of late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English and German literary cultures. Between the era of sensibility and that of the sexologists, there transpired a long culture war between those who would celebrate and enlarge upon the queer possibilities of sensibility, male effeminacy, same-sex domesticity, and the demands for sexual emancipation, and those who would resist or contain them. In this context, “modern” sexual identities and sexological discourse both emerge not to initiate new forms of sexual knowledge but to intervene in an already existing contest, not to give definitive shape to the problem of sexual identity but to attempt to stabilize already existing possibilities in new discourses of knowledge or of liberation. The genealogy of “modern” sexualities thus extends back much further than Foucault would suggest, incorporating modes of articulation that do not pretend to the status of knowledge. Within that broader genealogy, romanticism must hitherto be understood to have pride of place: without it, the debates and the inventions of later periods are inconceivable.
Where, then, do we go next? After we foreground the sophistication of the gothic, the denaturalizing strategies of romantic poetics, and a vast new era in the history of sexuality, what remains to be done? Here (in no particular order) are some further areas for scholarly inquiry:
We need more and more sustained readings of neglected Romantic texts that lie, as Rigby would put it, at “the margins of Romanticism.” Several of the essays in this volume provide us with fresh readings or in some cases surprising re-readings of neglected novels and poems. As Robert Tobin says, there is much fun to be had in the “adventurous hermeneutics of queering obscure German Romantic and post-Romantic novels.”
We desperately need more readings of European Romanticisms. Robert Tobin has provided a breathtaking survey of literary and historical queerness in eighteenth-century Germany in his Warm Brothers which should act as a template for other countries. In this volume he attends to a wide range of neglected Romantic and post-Romantic German texts.
A lot more work needs to be done on both minor and canonical female writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and the Brontë sisters.
Similarly, major male writers such as Southey, De Quincey, Burns, and Carlyle need more queer attention.
We need to reinvigorate our psychoanalytical readings of Romantic texts, and Geraldine Friedman’s recent work on Anna Seward and fetishism will be a paradigm-shaping example.
We urgently need work on transgender in the Romantic period. Again Friedman has provided the blueprint with her essay on Mary Diana Dods (“Pseudonymity”).
As Gary Dyer has argued, “Queer studies in the Romantic period needs to focus more on the discursive construction of communities, on how written and spoken texts implicitly establish communities of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders,’ and on how those communities relate or allude to communities of proscribed sexuality” (n. pag.). Several of our contributors answer this call but none more consistently than Fiona Brideoake, who writes, “Butler and Ponsonby continue to facilitate both the memorialization of queer communities and their future instantiation.”
We have not yet exhausted Sedgwick’s theories of homosocial desire as several contributions here (most notably Rigby’s and Markley’s) attest, and her ideas can still be taken in interesting directions (as Elfenbein’s reading of Cowper demonstrates). A queering of Pantisocracy is one way to go. Looking at the Shelley circle is another.
We need to place our new understanding of the history of sexual identities, desires, and communities within the broader history of sexual subjectivity, taking into account how the notion of the sublime vastly expanded the available range of emotions and pleasures and how its offspring—notions of imaginative excess, interior vastness, or sublime criminality—made possible literary renditions of extreme or transgressive sexualities. An inquiry along these lines would make possible new readings of Burke’s writings on the sublime and on the French Revolution, as well as the many instances of sublimity in Romantic poetics, all in conjunction with gothic transgression, and the writing of Sade. We have not yet comprehended the crucial role that canonic Romanticism plays in the formation of modern sexualities.
While histories of sexual acts and identities are important (as the essays in this volume make clear) we also need to attend to a much-neglected history of affect and friendship in the nineteenth century. Alan Bray’s The Friend, which has a chapter on Anne Lister, read alongside recent scholarship on affect by Rei Terada (a Romanticist), Sedgwick (Touching), and Brian Massumi, and Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship should provide a usable model for doing the history of emotion.
The queer dimensions of Romantic (homo)depression have yet to be limned: Wertherism and Macpherson’s Ossian would seem like good places to begin.
We also need to revisit our classed readings of texts as Keegan, Markley, George and others do in this volume. This focus may sound like an academic throwback to the early days of cultural studies, but a reinvigorated queer cultural materialist critique is still urgent at a time when critical orthodoxy would tell us that class and Marxism are both dead and gone. As Keegan puts it, “Specifically, a queer reading might productively undermine the usual critical practices for evaluating and valorizing labouring-class writing [. . .]. Furthermore, it may also contribute to a broader queer history of eighteenth-century and Romantic literature.”
(Dis)ability (with the exception of Byron Studies) is still a neglected topic. One can trace a disabled poetics to a tubercular Keats (see Kimberly, this volume), a syphilitic Shelley (see Berry, this volume), a club-footed Byron (see Elfenbein’s special issue [“Editor’s”]), a mad John Clare (see Keegan, this volume) and Gerard de Nerval. Robert Neveldine looks at bodies at risk in both Romantic texts and avant-garde music and literature to sketch a neoromantic theory of corporeality.
Following on from that we need to challenge the boundaries (theoretical, historical, corporeal) between Romanticism and postmodernism. As we have seen there is a seemingly boundless fascination on the part of rock musicians and (queer) subcultures such as Goth with Romanticism which scholars of popular culture have rarely researched.
We also need to attend closely to modern rewritings or reworkings of Romantic texts, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, for example. Make your own list.
Romanticism has been a critical period for exponents of ecocriticism, and Bridget Keegan in this volume attempts to sketch the lineaments of an ecoqueer criticism. If it is now possible to “green” a text as it is to “queer” a text, the potentialities for giving Romantic texts (prose and poetry) an ecoqueer makeover are potentially limitless.
If an ecoqueer criticism is necessary, even more important is a posthumanist theory, neither anthropocentric nor speciesist, which takes seriously the question of the animal (see George on species in this volume). While several posthumanists have engaged the animal (Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Jean-Luc Nancy) others have ignored this question completely (Lacan, Levinas, Lyotard, Irigaray, Bhabha, and Butler). Cary Wolfe says, “If our work is characterized in no small part by its duty to be socially responsive to the ‘new social movements’ (civil rights, feminism, gay and lesbian rights, and so on), then how must our work itself change when the other to which it tries to do justice is no longer human?” (Animal 7). It should be clear from this how important it is in (queer) intellectual and ethical terms to “take seriously the question of the animal” (Animal 190)—and also to take seriously our love for the animal, affective circuits between human and animal. As Kennan Ferguson has it, “a tenuous suspicion remains that the emotional affinity between humans and dogs does not measure up to the standards of true love, that the term itself might better be termed ‘affection,’ ‘attachment,’ or ‘fondness.’ But the emphatic term ‘love’ is, I believe, unavoidable” (378).
As Rigby hints, we need a theory of monstrosity specifically attuned to the Romantic origins of the link between monsters and biopolitics. After all, the link between monstrosity, sexual abnormality, and (dis)ability is to be found in the teratology of Geoffroy St-Hilaire and Cuvier, as well as early-nineteenth-century physiologists, botanists, zoologists, and philosophers. Richard Sha and Robert Tobin have both shown how “Romantic science, with its efforts at unifying the natural and the creative world [. . .] contributed vitally to the evolution of modern notions of sexuality” (Tobin, this volume).
Finally, we need to break away from an over-reliance on Foucault which may be part of the reason why “very little has been said in sexuality studies to suggest that the practice of historicizing sexuality has a pedigree extending back to the Romantic period” (Incorvati, this volume). Complicating the acts-identities model is a crucial beginning. As Incorvati concludes his extremely important essay on Scott’s Redgauntlet: “I have also proposed that the sharp distinction maintained between acts and inclinations may have allowed for a homosexual type like Darsie [Latimer] to exist contemporaneously with the sodomite, all the while remaining largely distinct from that type in terms of its moral stigma. Though such conclusions remain tentative, it is worth speculating about the impact of such a condition on the history of sexuality.”
We hope that not just Romanticists will read this issue and that this list will engender new and exciting work right across the humanities. We would like to thank Michael Eberle-Sinatra for recognizing the timeliness and importance of this special issue; we hope that it rewards his vision and patience by making a significant contribution to both Romantic and queer studies futurally imagined. We also thank our contributors for their transformative labours and their oppositional imaginings; may their combined efforts bring to the fore once again the liberatory possibilities that yet remain in the Romantic legacy.
The essays collected in this special issue (with the exception of Lauren Fitzgerald’s) were all first presented at a conference entitled Queer Romanticisms which was held at University College Dublin in August 2003. The other speakers at the conference were Eric Clarke, Hal Gladfelder, Patrick Holland, Richard Sha and Joe Rezek. We would like to thank the Women’s Education, Research and Resource Centre for hosting the conference. For conference reports, see O’Rourke and Berry.
Our collaboration on this introduction took shape as follows: David Collings wrote “Cross-Writing: Queer Displacements in Romantic Poetics” and “Queer Possibilities, Resisted and Embraced,” as well as the paragraphs immediately preceding and following these sections; Michael O’Rourke wrote all other sections.
Byron, written by Nick Dear, aired in September 2003.
Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger, eds.
Jonathan Goldberg, ed.
Richard Dellamora, ed.
Laura George, in her essay in this issue, captures this taxonomic confusion very well: “Sparks, fops, beaux, swells, coxcombs, popinjays, macaroni, dandies, and their kin defy taxonomy in that they can neither be clearly distinguished, nor simply collapsed, nor easily grouped. They also, again inconsistently and in varying degrees, defy taxonomy in the ways in which they do and do not map onto other nonce taxonomic distinctions between the masculine and the feminine, the animate and the inanimate, the human and the non-human, the present and the absent.”
See Clemens, who contends that contemporary theory is still essentially Romantic. He winds through Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and Badiou. Most important for the present essay is chapter 6, “Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and the Family Romance of Queer Theory,” a close reading of Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet.
At both Queer People conferences in Cambridge, organized by Caroline Gonda and Chris Mounsey, in 2002 and 2004, Elfenbein’s Romantic Genius and Haggerty’s Men in Love have been the most quoted texts. These conferences cover the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but Elfenbein’s book has also been influential on those working in later periods in sexuality studies and beyond.
For an overview of queer Austen scholarship see Johnson and Looser. For queer readings of Emma, see Korba and Potter. For readings of several Austen novels, including the unfinished Sanditon, see Clara Tuite’s excellent monograph Romantic Austen. For a similarly apoplectic essay to Pritchard’s which worries that Sedgwick and Castle’s readings of Austen will threaten the “beloved English literary canon,” see Hughill. We are reminded how important this queer work on Austen is by a recent review of Tuite’s monograph in which Diane Long Hoeveler writes, “There is a good deal of strong and interesting material in Tuite’s study as well, but the attempt to ‘queer Austen’ will, at least I hope, pass from the critical scene and seem in itself in a few years to be a historical curiosity” (314). We sincerely hope not.
For another queer reading of Beckford, see chapter 5 of George Haggerty’s Men in Love.
We are summarizing the introduction (1-16) and chapter one, “The Danger Zone: Effeminates, Geniuses, and Homosexuals” (17-38).
Reznor’s relationship with Marilyn Manson has been the subject of much speculation: backstage enemas and on-stage fellation are suggestive. For a reading of queer Goth/ic, NIN and Anaïs Nin, see Holmes.
See Gary Dyer, “Byron’s Mysterious Sexuality.” Michael would like to thank Gary for sharing his as yet unpublished paper with him.
The most recent (and the most problematic for sexuality scholars) is Fiona McCarthy’s Byron: Life and Legend. See Lauritsen, rev. of Byron.
We are thinking particularly of Louis Crompton’s Byron and Greek Love, and Fiona McCarthy’s recent biography here.
This issue includes essays by Elfenbein, Christine Kenyon Jones, Marjean D. Purinton, Stuart Peterfreund and a response from disability studies scholar Rosemarie Garland Thomson. See also Elfenbein’s “Paranoid Poetics.” Elfenbein has also identified Byron as a significant figure in his prehistory of the homosexual role in “Byronism and the Work of Homosexual Performance in Early Victorian England.” See also the conclusion to Romantic Genius where he locates the shift from the prehistory of genius to the history of genius in the career of Byron and makes a very careful case for doing so (203).
See chapter 7 of Romantic Genius (177-202).
See for example McGavran, “Glossing Over” and “Defusing.”
In his article “The Citizen’s Sexual Shadow” and his paper “Kant’s Kiss,” Clarke delineates the connections between homoerotics, ethics, and sexual citizenship. See also Bonfiglio.
Lauritsen’s essay “Was Percy Bysshe Shelley Gay?” can be accessed at http://www.gaytoday.badpuppy.com/people.htm. Queerings of Shelley are few, but for a smart example see Nagle. Stein says that if Shelley were a rock star he would be Morrissey, a musician famous for his solitary genius, homoerotic song lyrics, and asexuality.
See also Najarian, “‘Greater Love.’”
See especially chapter 5, “Characters of Danger and Desire: Deviant Authorship in the 1799 Prelude” (118-156).
Martin McQuillan has said, “the book remains to be written which will take full account of a queer Derrida, passing through such notable indices as ‘Envois,’ ‘Plato’s Pharmacy,’ and the right-hand column of Glas” (191-195). Sadly, Jacques Derrida died as we were bringing this essay to a conclusion. The obituaries and academic and non-academic responses to his death which have sought to make light of it and belittle his work make this section all the more urgent as we attempt to try to come to terms with this loss and do the work of mourning for him.
Several critics have coined terms in the wake of Derrida’s hauntology, including “cryptomimetics (Castricano), spectography (Rabaté), Gothic spectro-poetics (Wolfreys) or phantomistics (Royle)” (Luckhurst 536).
On Derrida, queer theory, and apocalypticism see Coviello.
On the queer as uncanny, see Case.
The gloominess and horror-tinged criticism is hardly surprising since Žižek is throughout his oeuvre fascinated by horror fiction and B-movies. For a queer Žižekian reading of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, see Haggerty, “Anne Rice.” The connection to AIDS is more explicit in Butler’s work, but see Vilaseca. On loss in post-Marxist criticism and the queer theory of Dollimore, see Soto-Crespo.
Kear also points out that “if Ego equals Ghost, then ‘I am’ would mean ‘I am haunted’—in other words, ‘I’ am simultaneously constructed by the introduction of the desire and the failure of it. This forces ‘me’ performatively to repeat the ‘hauntologically’ primal scene which marks the site of ‘my’ constitutive foundation in loss and lack” (183).
Butler herself thinks that her early work on Hegel is her most gothic. She reminded Michael O’Rourke that Judith Halberstam had also started in gothic (personal communication, September 2004).
Fuss is presumably referring particularly to Hanson’s “Undead” (324-340) and Nunokawa’s “‘All the Sad Young Men’” (311-323).
In Between Men, see especially chapter 5, “Toward the Gothic: Terrorism and Homosexual Panic” 83-97.
For a much more thorough account of Sedgwick’s romance with the gothic, see Kelleher.
Matthew Lewis has been the subject of much queer criticism. A recent biography is MacDonald’s Monk Lewis. A special issue of this journal contains three important essays: Wilson, “‘Monk’ Lewis”; Hogle, “The Ghost”; and Tuite, “Cloistered Closets.” For a Deleuzian reading, see Doyle.
See David Leavitt’s new novel, The Body of Jonah Boyd, which interestingly disarticulates plagiarism and (homo)sexuality by only confronting the former.
See Haggerty, “‘The End of History’”, Men in Love, “Beckford’s Paederasty” 136-151, and “Walpole’s Secrets” 152-173.
She employs a similar technique in her “‘A Strange Perversity.” The book remains to be written which would take account of the impact of Paul De Man on queer theory.
Both draw on McGavran’s brilliant essay, “‘Insurmountable.’”
See Markley, “Mary Shelley,” and “Tainted Wethers.”
See also Wilner, especially chapter 9, “Conclusion (Tailpiece),” which has a Sedgwickian reading of Rousseau and spanking.
See also Stryker.
See Dyer, “Byron.”
See especially “Friendship and Modernity,” 205-289.
See also Scott McLemee’s review essay, “Getting Emotional.”
See also Lanser.
Donna Haraway, queer Cyborgian theorist, challenges the animal-human barrier in her most recent work, Companion Species.
See also Rai.
See Gigante, “Monster.”
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|Auteurs :||Michael O’Rourke et David Collings|
|Titre :||Introduction: Queer Romanticisms: Past, Present, and Future|
|Revue :||Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 36-37, novembre 2004, février 2005|
Copyright © Michael Eberle-Sinatra 2004-2005 — All rights reserved