After the publication of the well-known sole issue of the Harlem Renaissance journal, FIRE!! A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists (1926), W. E. B. Du Bois wrote to the journal’s cofounder Richard Bruce Nugent and asked, “Why don’t you write more about Negroes?” In response, Nugent quipped, “I write about myself, and I’m a Negro, aren’t I?” (Wirth, “FIRE!! In Retrospect,” n. p.) (figs. 1 & 2). Du Bois’s question to the openly queer and artistically experimental Nugent exemplifies 1920s debates about Black American racial representation that occurred between older and younger Black artists, many of them centered in Harlem.
Dorothy Strachey, the older sister of the biographer and essayist Lytton Strachey, and of the psychoanalyst and translator of Sigmund Freud, James Strachey, published her only novel, Olivia, in 1949, under the pseudonym of “Olivia.”
How did people learn to be queer in an era before stable identities, lifestyles, or representations of sexual outsiders were readily available or, for that matter, before they even existed?
Contemporary genealogies of transgender are now returning to the scene of the modern, for the modernist era witnessed tremendous change in concepts of sexual and gender identity. In turn, contemporary modernist scholarship is returning to fin de siècle sexology. Michael Levenson in Modernism (2011) makes the case for the sexologist’s case study as an experimental modernist narrative form. In 2016 Benjamin Kahan published Heinrich Kaan’s “Psychopathia Sexualis” (1844): A Classic Text in the History of Sexuality and edited a cluster for Modernism/modernity’s Print Plus platform on “sexual modernity.” And currently we, with Nikolaus Wasmoen, are co-editing the first comparative scholarly edition of Man into Woman (1933), the life narrative of “Lili Elbe,” who, as Einar Wegener, was one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery in 1930. Thinking about the display of this text in both print and digital versions raises an interesting set of connections between transgender theory and a theory of the literary work as an historical artifact.
The narrator of Joyce’s “Ithaca” renders Molly Bloom’s experience of “direct instruction” (Ulysses, 562). From the perspective of her teacher, who is interested in outcomes, this experience is not a success. Molly’s insouciance and inconsistency, as recorded in the sentence above, lead the self-appointed pedagogue Leopold Bloom to adopt a “more effective” and modern approach: “[i]ndirect suggestion implicating selfinterest” (563). Joyce’s language suggests here, however, that the “direct” method proves surprisingly enabling—more so, in fact, than the updated, “implicating” alternative. The latter leads, in “Ithaca,” to an ultimately straightforward if initially perplexing consumer equation: “She disliked umbrella with rain, he liked woman with umbrella, she disliked new hat with rain, he liked woman with new hat, he bought new hat with rain, she carried umbrella with new hat” (563). Note the relative predictability of the sentence, its directness, even, “indirect suggestion” notwithstanding. It’s as if “indirect suggestion implicating self-interest” could yield only this parade of pros, cons, and commodities, this regular succession of dislikes and likes.
Queer Bloomsbury is a book in two parts, and as such, evokes two different responses. “Part One: Ground-Breaking Essays” consists of lightly-edited reprints of essays by Carolyn Heilbrun, Christopher Reed, George Piggford, Bill Maurer, and Brenda Helt ordered chronologically from Heilbrun’s 1968 “The Bloomsbury Group” to Helt’s 2010 “Passionate Debates on ‘Odious Subjects.’”