queerness

Tapestried Landscape: The Queer Influence of Roberto Burle Marx on Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil

“Marvelous and somehow sad, flamboyant, and threatening.

The words are Elizabeth Bishop’s, writing in a letter to describe the extraordinary tropical plant life encountered at the Sítio Burle Marx, the hundred-acre home and nursery of Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil’s best-known landscape architect and a key figure in the country’s modernist movement. Although Bishop had already lived in Brazil for ten years when she wrote this, the Sítio Burle Marx, located on the western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, was and continues to be an incomparably rich showcase for botanical exotica collected on the designer’s many scouting expeditions to remote Brazilian biomes.

Elizabeth Bishop and the Schizoaffectivity of Whiteness

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1993), Toni Morrison calls for “studies of the technical ways in which an Africanist character is used to limn out and enforce the invention and implications of whiteness. . . . Such studies,” she continues, “will reveal the process of establishing others in order to know them, to display knowledge of the other so as to ease and to order external and internal chaos.” In demonstrating the reflexive role that Africanist personae play in white American literature—the manner by which white people construct blackness as a screen for the projections that enable, through simultaneous disavowal and enforcement, their identifications as white—“Such studies will reveal the process by which it is made possible to explore and penetrate one’s own body in the guise of the sexuality, vulnerability, and anarchy of the other” (Morrison, Playing, 53).

“Orientations”:  A Provocation, A Welcome, An Invitation

When I was in the process of proposing and developing the volume that became Teaching Modernist Women’s Writing in English, one of my peer reviewers noted an orientation towards the celebratory, a somewhat uncritical extolling of the vibrancy of modernist women’s writing. I had found such vibrancy in communities of modernist scholars as I was working on the volume, roundtables and seminars at the annual MSA conference, including one convened in honor of Jane Marcus shortly after her death.

Orientations

A space for reorienting ourselves as scholars, teachers, writers, and practitioners of interdisciplinary modernist studies to the feminist, to the queer—and also a space for sustained orientation to feminist and queer modernisms.

Willa Cather’s Queer Economy

Whenever she found that monied interests were shaping aesthetic taste in American culture, Willa Cather decried the deleterious effects their contrary values had on what she called genuine art. In interviews, essays, stories, and novels written throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, Cather’s critique of consumerism, in particular, took on what John N. Swift calls a “protest against a pervasive materialist commodity culture” and led her to create characters that Guy J. Reynolds claims “embody Cather’s suspicion of the corrosive impact of acquisitiveness, allied to her wariness about how economic modernism [was] producing an increasingly consumerist society.”

“Clean, Original, Primitive”: Sexual Radicalism, Race Consciousness, and the Case of Harlem’s Queers

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.

Translating Desire: Queer Affect, Autobiography, and Involuntary Love in Dorothy Strachey’s Olivia

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.”[1] 

Modernism’s Queer Pedagogies

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?

From Work to Tech: Digital Archives and Queer Narratives

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.[2] 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.”[3] 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.[4] 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.

“Copied Out Big”: Instruction in Joyce’s Ulysses

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.