Monthly Archives: January 2013

Exercise # 2: Crowdsourced Reading Notes for M. Kuzmin’s Wings (1906)

This is a space in which we add together some notes for reading and interpreting Mikhail Kuzmin’s novel Wings. Since the names and references in this novel can sometimes be rather confusing (often several names are used for one character), the first section will be the most useful to most of you in reading and understanding.

Under “additional notes” you can put anything else you needed to look up in the process of reading the novel, or anything you already know but would like to share with classmates who might find this useful.

This exercise is voluntary, but please contribute as much as you can! (Don’t forget to “sign” your contribution with your pseudonym.)


Vanya (Ivan Petrovich Smurov; Ivanushka; Vanyechka)

Larion Dimitriyevich Stroop (Shtrup; throughout the novel referred to as English, half-English or a British subject)

“Uncle” Kolya (Nikolai Ivanovich, actually Vanya’s cousin)


  • Konstantin Vasilyevich (Uncle Kostya, Alex’s brother)
  • Alex/Alexei Vasilyevich (married to Anna)
  • Anna Nikolayevna (married to Alex)
  • Their children:  Koka (loves Ida Goldberg), Boba, Nata (Natalia Alexeyevna, loves Stroop)

Daniil Ivanovich (Vanya’s Greek teacher)

Ida Pavlovna Goldberg (loves Stroop, tragic suicide)

Fyodor/Fedya Vasilyevich Solovyov (a gay bathhouse attendant and Stroop’s hired paramour) *note: for the Russian reader, the surname Solovyov would conjure up two significant meanings: first, the 19th-century philosopher Vladimir Solovyov argued for an outlook combining Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Hellenistic philosophies, and was an important influence for Symbolists (presumably including Kuzmin). Second, the word “solovey” means “nightingale” in Russian, which may suggest something about the physical beauty or artistic symbolism of Fedya’s role.

the Shpeier sisters (friends of the Kazanskys)

THE SOROKINS (with whom Vanya stays in the country during part 2):

  • Prokhor Nikitch (“old” Sorokin–a timber merchant and Old Believer)
  • Arina Dmitriyevna (his wife)
  • Maria Dmitriyevna (Arina’s sister, tends to romanticize)
  • Sasha (Arina and Prokhor’s son, same age as Vanya)
  • Also connected to the Sorokins, but not related: Sergei and Malanya (servants), Ivan Osipovich, Parfen

Vanya (the name of the corpse that washes up at the end of part 2)

Ugo Orsini (composer or musician?)

Monsignor Mori (the Canon; writes about Roman emperors and Antinous)

Mme Monier (acquaintance in Italy)

Sergei/Seryozha (“the artist,” symbolically chooses lust for Veronica Chibo over his “purer” love for Blonskaya)

A note on Russian naming customs:  Russians usually have a given name (such as Ivan), a patronymic (Vasilyevich), and a surname (Smurov). The given name can take multiple forms called diminutives, forms that usually share the first letter or root with the given name. Diminutives generally denote affection, a close relationship, that someone younger is being addressed, or occasionally, condescension. Because Ivan is in his teens, his elders and friends address him familiarly as Vanya; his uncle addresses him endearingly as Ivanushka when trying to get money out of him. Patronymics are formed from the father’s given name; for men, “ich” or “ovich” is added to the root of the father’s name, and for women, “ovna” or “yevna”. Therefore, Konstantin Vasilyevich’s father was named Vasilii, and Natalya Alexeyevna’s father is Alexei. Surnames also change based on gender, adding “a” or “aya” to female surnames, so Natalya Alexeyevna would not be Kazansky, but Kazanskaya (though some translations choose not to include this detail). -AMU


Link for Antinous as a signal figure for homosexuality; see also Wikipedia entry on Antinous

Introduction to Kuzmin and his work

Biographical book review of Kuzmin’s life and work from “Gay Today”

Russian literature and homosexuality (from glbt online encyclopedia)

Contemporary Symbolist author Vyacheslav Ivanov, part of Kuzmin’s circle in St. Petersburg, wrote the following about Kuzmin in his diary: “[Kuzmin] is a sort of pioneer of the coming age when, with the growth of homosexuality, humanity will no longer be maimed and crippled by the modern // aesthetic and ethic of the sexes, understood as ‘men for women’ and ‘women for men’ […].  This aesthetic of savages and this biological ethic, which blind every ‘normal’ person to an entire half of humanity and cut off an entire half of its individuality in favour of the continuation of the species.”–Quoted in Evgenii Bershtein, “’Next to Christ’: Oscar Wilde and Russian Modernism,” in  The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, ed. Stefano Evangelista, London: Continuum, 2010, pp. 296-7.

Kuzmin’s title and recurring metaphor (Wings) obliquely allude to a passage in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates explains the image of the soul with reference to wings. Here is the passage in Benjamin Jowett’s contemporary (1892) Greek-to-English translation:

“All soul is immortal, for she is the source of all motion both in herself and in others. Her form may be described in a figure as a composite nature made up of a charioteer and a pair of winged steeds. The steeds of the gods are immortal, but ours are one mortal and the other immortal. The immortal soul soars upwards into the heavens, but the mortal drops her plumes and settles upon the earth.  Now the use of the wing is to rise and carry the downward element into the upper world—there to behold beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the other things of God by which the soul is nourished. On a certain day Zeus the lord of heaven goes forth in a winged chariot; and an array of gods and demi–gods and of human souls in their train, follows him. There are glorious and blessed sights in the interior of heaven, and he who will may freely behold them. The great vision of all is seen at the feast of the gods, when they ascend the heights of the empyrean—all but Hestia, who is left at home to keep house. The chariots of the gods glide readily upwards and stand upon the outside; the revolution of the spheres carries them round, and they have a vision of the world beyond. But the others labour in vain; for the mortal steed, if he has not been properly trained, keeps them down and sinks them towards the earth. Of the world which is beyond the heavens, who can tell? There is an essence formless, colourless, intangible, perceived by the mind only, dwelling in the region of true knowledge. The divine mind in her revolution enjoys this fair prospect, and beholds justice, temperance, and knowledge in their everlasting essence. When fulfilled with the sight of them she returns home, and the charioteer puts up the horses in their stable, and gives them ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink. This is the life of the gods; the human soul tries to reach the same heights, but hardly succeeds; and sometimes the head of the charioteer rises above, and sometimes sinks below, the fair vision, and he is at last obliged, after much contention, to turn away and leave the plain of truth. But if the soul has followed in the train of her god and once beheld truth she is preserved from harm, and is carried round in the next revolution of the spheres; and if always following, and always seeing the truth, is then for ever unharmed. If, however, she drops her wings and falls to the earth, then she takes the form of man, and the soul which has seen most of the truth passes into a philosopher or lover; that which has seen truth in the second degree, into a king or warrior; the third, into a householder or money–maker; the fourth, into a gymnast; the fifth, into a prophet or mystic; the sixth, into a poet or imitator; the seventh, into a husbandman or craftsman; the eighth, into a sophist or demagogue; the ninth, into a tyrant. All these are states of probation, wherein he who lives righteously is improved, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates. After death comes the judgment; the bad depart to houses of correction under the earth, the good to places of joy in heaven. When a thousand years have elapsed the souls meet together and choose the lives which they will lead for another period of existence. The soul which three times in succession has chosen the life of a philosopher or of a lover who is not without philosophy receives her wings at the close of the third millennium; the remainder have to complete a cycle of ten thousand years before their wings are restored to them. Each time there is full liberty of choice. The soul of a man may descend into a beast, and return again into the form of man. But the form of man will only be taken by the soul which has once seen truth and acquired some conception of the universal:—this is the recollection of the knowledge which she attained when in the company of the Gods. And men in general recall only with difficulty the things of another world, but the mind of the philosopher has a better remembrance of them. For when he beholds the visible beauty of earth his enraptured soul passes in thought to those glorious sights of justice and wisdom and temperance and truth which she once gazed upon in heaven. Then she celebrated holy mysteries and beheld blessed apparitions shining in pure light, herself pure, and not as yet entombed in the body. And still, like a bird eager to quit its cage, she flutters and looks upwards, and is therefore deemed mad. Such a recollection of past days she receives through sight, the keenest of our senses, because beauty, alone of the ideas, has any representation on earth: wisdom is invisible to mortal eyes. But the corrupted nature, blindly excited by this vision of beauty, rushes on to enjoy, and would fain wallow like a brute beast in sensual pleasures. Whereas the true mystic, who has seen the many sights of bliss, when he beholds a god–like form or face is amazed with delight, and if he were not afraid of being thought mad he would fall down and worship. Then the stiffened wing begins to relax and grow again; desire which has been imprisoned pours over the soul of the lover; the germ of the wing unfolds, and stings, and pangs of birth, like the cutting of teeth, are everywhere felt. (Cp. Symp. 206 foll.) Father and mother, and goods and laws and proprieties are nothing to him; his beloved is his physician, who can alone cure his pain. An apocryphal sacred writer says that the power which thus works in him is by mortals called love, but the immortals call him dove, or the winged one, in order to represent the force of his wings—such at any rate is his nature. Now the characters of lovers depend upon the god whom they followed in the other world; and they choose their loves in this world accordingly. The followers of Ares are fierce and violent; those of Zeus seek out some philosophical and imperial nature; the attendants of Here find a royal love; and in like manner the followers of every god seek a love who is like their god; and to him they communicate the nature which they have received from their god. The manner in which they take their love is as follows:— I told you about the charioteer and his two steeds, the one a noble animal who is guided by word and admonition only, the other an ill–looking villain who will hardly yield to blow or spur. Together all three, who are a figure of the soul, approach the vision of love. And now a fierce conflict begins. The ill–conditioned steed rushes on to enjoy, but the charioteer, who beholds the beloved with awe, falls back in adoration, and forces both the steeds on their haunches; again the evil steed rushes forwards and pulls shamelessly. The conflict grows more and more severe; and at last the charioteer, throwing himself backwards, forces the bit out of the clenched teeth of the brute, and pulling harder than ever at the reins, covers his tongue and jaws with blood, and forces him to rest his legs and haunches with pain upon the ground. When this has happened several times, the villain is tamed and humbled, and from that time forward the soul of the lover follows the beloved in modesty and holy fear. And now their bliss is consummated; the same image of love dwells in the breast of either; and if they have self–control, they pass their lives in the greatest happiness which is attainable by man—they continue masters of themselves, and conquer in one of the three heavenly victories. But if they choose the lower life of ambition they may still have a happy destiny, though inferior, because they have not the approval of the whole soul. At last they leave the body and proceed on their pilgrim’s progress, and those who have once begun can never go back. When the time comes they receive their wings and fly away, and the lovers have the same wings.”


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Filed under Exercises

Exercise #1: Thinking about Queer Genders and Sexualities, Then and Now

DUE:  This exercise is due Sunday, Feb. 3, before midnight.

This week and last, we have talked about prominent 19th-century views of gender and sexuality–especially regarding the gender binary and homosexuality, but also transgender issues.  For this exercise, I’d like you to do two things:

1. Find and transcribe (or briefly describe) a moment or a scene in one of the following three primary texts that you found interesting, puzzling, provocative, or otherwise noteworthy for its view or representation of gender (cis or trans) and/or homosexuality: Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Edward Carpenter’s On Homogenic Love, or Rachilde’s novel Monsieur Venus.  In no more than a paragraph, briefly say what you found interesting/noteworthy here, and why.  Add your contribution under Part 1:  19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities below.  (Don’t forget to “sign” with your pseudonym.)

2. Find and add under Part 2: Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities:  one image, video, sound file, or a verbal comment (headline or brief quote) that seems to represent one important way in which our society views, embraces, or censors queerness today.  This can be anything you find interesting, provocative, puzzling, or otherwise noteworthy.  If you like, add brief explanation of why you picked this image (not required but encouraged).  Again, please don’t forget to “sign” after your contribution with your pseudonym.

If you run into any technical problems with posting an image or sound file on WordPress, please let me know and just send me the link so I can help you with it.

* * * * *

Part 1:  19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities

Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:

“For once, they both played this comedy sincerely, and they had sinned against their love, which in order to live had to face the truth while fighting against it with all its strength” (Monsieur Venus, pp. 184).

I think the most interesting part of this quote is the fact that “they [Raoule and Jacques] both played this comedy sincerely.” Going back to Week One’s Butler reading on gender performativity, it is interesting to note that the performances of Raoule and Jacques’ genders (Raoule a masculine figure, Jacques a feminine one, as imposed by Raoule, just in case non-class readers are curious) are undermined by the presence of anatomy. Specifically, Raoule is forced to confront the mismatched sentiment of being in the wrongly gendered body through her nakedness and intimacy with Jacques. Physical actuality of gender trumps, in this rather intimate moment, artistry and artifice. This harkens back to our conversation in class about why we (in modern times) are still shocked or fascinated by the transgendered. Our expectations of a seemingly constant aspect of identity, as dictated by the physical presence of genitalia, is meddled and morphed into the inverse; gender is now hard to define on the basis of appearance. –BPS

“This is a condition which may be ameliorated, and it may be treated in much the same way as if no inversion existed, by physical and mental tonics, or, if necessary, sedatives”

I found it very interesting that the arguments made in the 19th century are much the same as the arguments made today. Even though we think of ourselves in the 21st century as nuanced and modern, we maintain these archaic views of the world and back them up with the same out of date reasoning. It is slightly more understandable in the 19th century when the LGBT social movements were starting, but now that it is such a large portion of the social movements taking place and there is so much information available, I find it hard to believe that people would revert back to this argument mentioned by Ellis of claiming homosexuality as a “condition”. Since this seems to be the reaction of many people both in the 19th century and today, it brings us back to the question of what about this idea is so shocking to people that they feel the need to label it as a “condition” and something that can be “treated” or “fixed”.


“Nor is it possible to view with satisfaction the prospects of inverts begetting or bearing children. Often, no doubt, the children turn out fairly well, but, for the most part, they bear witness that they belong to a neurotic and failing stock. Sometimes, indeed, the tendency to sexual inversion in eccentric and neurotic families seems merely to be Nature’s merciful method of winding up a concern which, from her point of view, has ceased to be profitable.”

I found it interesting that Ellis not only attacks the idea of children in non-heteronormative families, but also the idea that Nature, somehow, utilizes homosexuality as a way to prevent future generations from failing stock. In this, there’s the idea that homosexuality is a curse or a blight upon people for falling outside the acceptable boundaries of society. The idea that eccentric people may beget homosexual children merely because Nature deems them unprofitable surprised me, especially because eccentric is merely a term designated by societal norms and standards and not an inherent natural aspect of any personality. —KO

“‘… And what does the sex of our caresses matter to our frenzied passion? What matter the proofs of affection that can pass between our bodies? The memory of love throughout the ages, the censure of every living man and woman – do they signify …? You are a beautiful woman… I am a man, I adore you and you love me!’” – Monsieur Venus

This scene of Raoule and Jacques’ wedding night was interesting to me and provocative because of its portrayal of the relationship and distinction between sex and gender and its reinforcement of the gender binary. In this particular quote, Raoule seems to discount the idea that sex should come between their love for each other, but her identification of herself as a man and Jacques as a woman is confusing; it solidifies the gender binary and yet blurs the lines between sex and gender. Raoule’s masculinity makes her a “man”, and yet Jacques is revolted when his skin and her breast make contact, exclaiming “Raoule, you are not a man? You cannot be a man?”. Thus begs the question, “What makes a man?” Though it appears simple enough, texts like Monsieur Venus and Marjorie Garber’s “Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender” show it to be more complex than it seems. – HSK

“‘I’m a man in love  with a man, not with a woman!’….I wanted the impossible…It’s mine…That’s to say, no, really…it’ll never mine!…” (Monsieur Venus, page 73)

I read this as an interesting moment within Raoule’s ongoing process of self-awareness and inner realization. Readers can observe her struggle with her identity and how her perceptions of her situation and circumstances darken as the novel moves along. This quote is derived from one of the first serious confrontational arguments Raittolbe has with Raoule and is perhaps one of the first times within the novel’s passages that Raoule consciously realizes she will never truly be a cisgendered man due to her anatomical nature. I wonder if her ultimate grotesque decision to turn Jacques into an inanimate object for sexual pleasure correlates with the increasingly hopeless view she has on the anatomical state that she cannot ever truly change.

– Martina Navratilova

“A spring hidden inside the flank connects with the mouth and animates it at the same time it spreads apart the thighs.” (pg. 210)

I found this sentence at the end of Monsieur Venus extremely complex and interesting for a variety of reasons. The first thing I noticed was how gender-neutral the sentence is: Rachilde avoids gendering the wax figure or its master. This is especially interesting when penetration is deeply gendered by society: men penetrate women. However, in the relationship between Raoule and Jacques, it is Raoule who penetrates Jacques. By refraining from gendering this penultimate sentence, Rachilde challenges the reader’s expectations of gender and sexuality by dismantling the socially constructed nexus between male/penetrator and female/penetrated. Furthermore, this sentence also challenges the reader’s conception of sexuality by asking the question: How can we define the relationship between Raoule and Jacques with our limited vocabulary and understanding of gender and sexuality? Is this a heterosexual relationship, because it’s between a man and a woman, is this a homosexual relationship because a man is being penetrated, or is it something entirely else that we do not have the framework to understand?


“If he is still young, and if the perversion does not appear to be deeply rooted in the organism, it is probable that — provided his own good will is aiding– general hygienic measures, together with removal to a favorable environment, may gradually lead to the development of the normal sexual impulse. ” – Ellis

I thought this passage was interesting because it reveals certain themes and ideas about  homosexuality that were present in Ellis’ time, but that also still ring true today. Ellis asserts that a person’s homosexuality can be reversed through his own good will, hygienic measures, and a favorable environment. Though I have never heard the claim that good hygiene can reverse homosexuality, comments about the importance of environment and a strong will to change are common in anti-LGBT rhetoric and programs. For example, certain programs or camps that claim as their mission to “cure” people of homosexuality often cite personal conviction/will, as well as a “pure”/”healthy” environment as keys to change. It is both unfortunate and troubling that these messages from Ellis’ time are still very prevalent in conversation today. – LGT

“A man madly in love! Yes! Already I want to raise an alter to my idol, though I know I’ll never be understood!… Alas! Can an unnatural passion that is at the same time a real love ever become anything but dreadful madness?…” Monsieur Venus pg 73

It is interesting to consider this question which Roule posits.  Here it is clear that the unnatural is referring to the love between her and Jaque.  Clearly their love is unnatural by the standards of those days.  Yet, was is interesting is the reason she would pursue such a love even if she knows it will be complete dreadful madness.  Could the love between her and Jaque ever evolve into something that must be kept a secret and hidden?  They did after all get married, but even in matrimony neither one was able to completely be in public what they were in private.  Eventually, however, it was clear that their love was in fact a dreadful madness which Roule was not able to handle.

Basil Hallward

“He led the lazy existence of oriental women confined to the harem who know nothing except love and for whom everything comes back to love.” (p93, Monsieur Venus)

This portrayal of Jacques speaks to both his transformation into a “woman” during the novel, and further serves as an interesting reading of what a “woman” is — the image Rachilde paints here of the harem life seems almost luxurious, but is lacking in the purpose / freedom that men have.


“The yokel waltzed well, and his supple body, with its feminine undulations, seemed made for this graceful exercise. He did not try to hold his partner, but made himself part of her, one waist, one torso, one being. To see them pressed together turning round and round melting in an embrace where their flesh, despite their clothes, molded together, one could picture the single divinity of love in two people, that complete individual spoken of in the fabulous tales of Brahmins, two distinct sexes in one monster.” (Monsieur Venus, pg. 155)

I found this excerpt very interesting because not only does it express the feminine features that correlate with Jacques, but emphasizes the way the two of them are seen as one. One true love and two bodies meshed together as one “monster”. Their views upon themselves may seem unnatural to some, but their love is beyond natural. The “single divinity of love” that was portrayed in this scene forgets about a man being a woman and a woman being a man and sees them as two people folded together as one and moving in perfect harmony. However, the very last word in this quote, “monster” struck me as very interesting. The whole scene they are portrayed as this beautiful image, seemless, and then the word monster created this automatic negative connotation. Is this relationship between the two creating a monster?

— Calais

“In the studio, Jacques Silvert let himself fall back on the couch, bewildered. He looked like a small child surprised by a big storm. So, he was set up in a home of his own, with brushes, paints, carpets, curtains, furniture, velvet, a lot of gilt, a lot of lace…” (29) In class we discussed many of the ways Rachilde compares Jacques to a child. Here he is like a scared child, and Rachilde juxtaposes that comparison with her list of the objects Raoule has arranged in his studio. This combination fuses his childishness with her control over his environment, a control that only mounts in her “Temple of Love” later in the novel. This control over a domestic space and its translation into sexual power interests me because it subverts the expectation of the aristocratic late 19th century woman to take care of her home. Raoule twists the traditional link between women and the domestic sphere by linking such control to her domination (and penetration) of Jacques, who plays not the role of a husband but that of a child. This mix of interior design and S&M charges Raoule’s power over her own home due to gender and class with a sexual and subversive power. -EE

“I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!” –  (Monsieur Venus, Page 73)

I feel that this is a telling depiction of how Raoule officially defines herself within the story. For her to officially state and mark that she is a man, when obviously she was born a woman, signifies the strength in her sense of masculinity and taking up the ‘role’ of a man. It is sad, for Raoule, that no matter how strongly she seems to identify with her male identity, she can never quite complete such a transformation without the appendage that she will never be able to attain. It’s strange as the more that I have read and thought about such topics as transgender I have come to think that gender is its own stage performance with all those that identify with one gender or another, simply are just acting out its script. It makes gender seem something that is ‘played’ rather than something that is inherent.


“There is no obscurity in the principles of healthy morality involved; that there is no exception here to the law that sensuality apart from love is degrading and less than human” (Carpenter 336).

What I find particularly striking about this passage is the phrase, “less than human.” It seems to suggest that the only proper form of expression between a man and woman/man and man/woman and woman, etc. is through the faculty of love. But, how does one fall in love? It’s it a sensuous experience? A development of feeling that, at its core, stems from a type of sensual attraction? There are all different types of relationships, many of which do not involve love, but this passage argues that these relationships are immoral, and I have to wonder if this much attention was devoted to heterosexual relationships during the authorship of this piece, because it seems like this notion of “healthy morality” is only brought about in discussions of homosexual relationships.   –MGA

“It is for us primarily a disgusting abomination, i.e., a matter of taste, of esthetics; and, while unspeakably ugly to the majority, it is proclaimed as beautiful by a small minority.” From Havelock Ellis, “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” 335.

In each of the works we’ve discussed I’ve been fascinated by the connection between aesthetics, sexuality, and death. The links between these themes have emerged in both the fixation on art and beauty materialized (sometimes to the point of art replacing life, as in Wilde, or rendering life material, as in Rachilde) in our literary texts as well as in discourses of revulsion in reaction to non-normative sexual practices. We’ve seen death eroticized in queer narratives on the one hand, and queer sexualities condemned as deserving the death penalty on the other (such as by the judge evoked by Ellis who “regretted…that ‘gross indecency’ [sodomy] is not punishable by death”—Ellis, 335). The quotation above highlights the role of aesthetics in judgments on sexuality, and the tension or contradiction between the lofty aesthetic ideals espoused by the sexually non-normative characters in our texts as opposed to attacks on their non-normativity precisely for the fact that it is deemed aesthetically displeasing. Today, gay men in particular are often stereotypically associated with a heightened aesthetic sensibility (as in Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” etc.). Is there a link between the “unnaturalness” of which homophobic discourse accuses queer sexualities and the artificial—implying both artfully constructed and non-alive—of aesthetic impulses?  -AMU

“The more he forgot his sex, the more she created around him multiple opportunities to feminize himself, and, so as not to frighten too much of the male inside him that she wanted to smother, she treated each degrading idea at first as a joke, content to make him accept it seriously only later. Thus, one morning she sent him via her footman an enormous bouquet of white flowers […] Jacques turned very red when the flowers arrived, then he solemnly placed the flowers in pots around the studio, playing out the game himself, catching himself being a woman for the pleasure of art.” (Rachilde, 94)

For me, this passage particularly brought to mind Judith Butler’s article, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” In the Rachilde passage, the small opportunities that Raoule sets out for Jacques to feminize himself through start as some sort of comedic acts. As though it is appropriate for him to take on a womanly role because the performance did not disturb his maleness. Calling this process “a joke” reminds the reader of a section that a previous student wrote about when Raoule and Jacques are described as sincerely taking part in a “comedy.” (As a side note, the historical symbolism of the white flowers is fascinatingly interesting as it indicates that white flowers are always appropriate because neither Raoule nor Jacques ever menstruate.) Jacques’ reaction to Raoule’s bouquet further shows how his sexual character is developed through the art of performance. Once he receives the flowers, Jacques takes on the role of being a woman into the private setting of his own studio. By “playing out the game himself,” the “joke” of roleplaying becomes a sincere act. When Jacques takes on the role of a woman without the presence of Raoule in the studio, it becomes clear—his gender is a personal performance.


In Haverlock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the author takes a transgressive and progressive stance defending and accounting for the subject known as the homosexual. However, what I found particularly interesting was the author’s reasoning for why homosexuality was not only an acceptable component of sexuality but one that was essential to natural section and the survival of heterosexual reproduction. When explaining why he believes homosexuality to be essential to the human species, Ellis writes that the “cure” of inversion is both unnecessary and destructive to human reproduction. He writes, “The success is unlikely to be either permanent or complete, in the case of a decided invert; and in the most successful cases we have simply put into the invert’s hands a power of reproduction which it is undesirable he should possess.” (P. 332) For Ellis, reproduction makes up the future of humanity and this reproduction cannot and should not happen in homosexual relations. And if the homosexual does in fact manage to reproduce, Ellis implies that this would be undesirable because the homosexual would genetically reproduce his inversion to his offspring.  This viewpoint can be argued to be one of the earliest examples of queer futurity. That is, Ellis seeks to bring up the possibility that homosexuality and inversion can be eradicated through heterosexual reproduction, thereby preventing the future existence of queerness and homosexual. As such, homosexuality becomes a historical subject that only exists in a particular time period; it has the potential to be eradicated or removed from human existence. It is not permanent, only a subject that is exists within a set and fixed period. As such, heterosexuality only exists because it is pitted against homosexuality and the existence of the former is predicated on the destruction of the latter. –VCA


“While there is, no doubt, a temptation to aid those who are anxious for aid to get rid of their abnormality, it is not possible to look upon the results of such aid, even if successful, much satisfaction.  Not only is the acquisition of the normal instinct by an invert very much on a level with the acquisition of a vice, but probably it seldom succeeds in eradicating the original inverted instinct.”  -Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 328, Havelock Ellis

When I was first reading Ellis, this passage caused me to raise my eyebrows.  It reminded me of the “Cure the Gay” industry that exists in modern day-wherein people offer “those who are anxious for aid” so-called cures in the form of camps, “therapies” books and other materials.  Havelock Ellis knew this and wrote about it over a century ago-and told readers that trying to overcome homosexuality “seldom succeeds.”  How interesting, that this is something still debated in courtrooms and homes across the world.


“All that I desire – and I claim it as my right, is the freedom to exercise this divine gift of loving, which is not a menace to society nor a disgrace to me. Let it once be understood that the average invert is no a moral degenerate nor a mental degenerate, but simply a man or a woman who is less highly specialized, less completely differentiated, than other men and women” (Ellis 334)

This quote from Ellis’s so-called American lady correspondent surprised me at first because it seems incredibly progressive for the times. I felt that, in a society where judges openly claim that homosexuals should be put to death, this women (if she really exists and is not Ellis in disguise) must be magnificently brave to write such an unapolagetic letter. It’s interesting because the quote itself both refers to the dominant views on “sexual inversion” and also soundly rejects them. I love the idea that, no matter what the common view of society, there will be people who are unashamed, even proud, of their identities. It also struck me because of the reference to an “invert” being less highly specialized. I think that, today, this idea persists that people attracted to their own gender are also less likely to follow dominant gender norms, that homosexuality and genderbending are linked and sometimes even interchangeable.  – Ash

The man seated on her right in the clouds of some imaginary heaven has relegated his female companion to the second rung in the scale of beings. … The inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act evidently gives rise to an idea of the yoke of slavery. … Man is matter; pleasure is woman, the eternally unappeased. (90-1)

This passage illustrates the immense power over life that sovereign distinctions, when they are operative, possess. Rachilde here reverses Aristotle’s hierarchical distinction between form (eidos) and matter (hylē) in order to subvert traditional views regarding male and female gender roles. She does so not in favor of a new, more egalitarian relation between ‘the sexes’—she does not render the distinction inoperative—but rather preserves the violent operativity of the distinction, simply inverting the direction in which power flows. Aristotle’s supreme accomplishment in Metaphysics Θ is to establish being-in-energeia (actuality, activity) as absolutely prior in being (ousia) to being-in-dunamis (potentiality, capacity). He shows how this distinction maps analogously onto the distinction between form and matter; form, then, has absolute priority in being (or ‘substance’) to matter. In the reproductive act, Aristotle thought, the male donated his form (via his seed) to the matter of the female body, which took on that form, thereby produced a new human. The female form, then, is material—and, as such, absolutely posterior to the male form, which is more closely connected with the formed, rational part of the soul than the body. This is the context in which to understand Rachilde’s reference to the “inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act”; and, even more significantly, to understand her/his declaration that “[m]an is matter”. We can, indeed, understand why this chapter might have been cut from certain early editions of the book. Rachilde here does nothing less than turn the history of metaphysics against itself—but, we must note, without yet destroying it (by rendering it inoperative). We will have to wait to see if any of the other books in this class might provide us a paradigm with which we might attempt to think inoperativity.


* * * * *

Part 2:  Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities

Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 9.45.28 AM –petradt

“Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch–BPS

“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

by Tombstone of Leonard Matlovich (1943–1988)

                           — Calais


– A.C.T.



MJ intern Gavin Aronsen reports:

landmark survey of 6,450 trans and gender non-conforming people released in February by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed some disturbing numbers:

  • Ninety percent of responders reported facing discrimination at work.
  • Unemployment rates were double the national average.
  • More than a quarter said they had been fired due to their gender identity.
  • Those who had lost their jobs were four times as likely to be homeless and 70 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

And, perhaps most remarkably (and most related to Monday’s post), a full 41 percent of responders admitted to having attempted suicide.


I find it heartbreaking and mind-boggling that marginalized populations like the transgender community still face so much discrimination because of the need to fit into the model of capitalism (in order to obtain work) and the expectations of “appropriate behavior” embedded in our culture.


Here is a very interesting video on Casey Legler, an up-and-coming model who identifies as female but works as a model in men’s fashion. Really interesting look into someone who seems very comfortable as a cisgendered person who is willing to mend gender binaries regardless:

Casey Legler, a model who identifies as female but works as a male model – Martin Navratilova

I found this music video interesting because the artist really dismantles the gender binary that society is so keen on perpetuating by combining both masculinity and femininity in their gender presentation. The juxtaposition of lipstick and a mustache I think really upsets people because they want things to be “either” masculine or feminine, not both.



Male model Andrej Pejic

-Basil Hallward

A picture from the Seattle Times of marriage ceremonies on the first day of legal same sex marriage in Washington — speaks to the celebration as a group, not just as a couple, of love.


Picture 1 —DA

Picture 56

This image is the headline and main photo of a Huffington Post article, which illustrates the growing conversation about the intersectionality of queer issues with other social issues, including immigration reform. – LGT

In this video, drag queen Sharon Needles acts as an example of the intersection many people inhabit between sexually queer identities and other alternative subcultures, as well as providing a critique of “mainstream” drag performance and telling an interesting queer coming-of-age story: -EE

Beautiful as a woman, beautiful as a man –MGA.

Sharon Needles has already made an appearance with EE’s post of Sharon’s video about “how death gave her an edge,” but I wanted to include the music video for her new song “This Club is a Haunted House” (, which unites some of the questions of how sexuality, aesthetics, and death can be linked. Sharon plays the boundaries of aesthetically appealing and evokes the aesthetics of death in her looks and her newly released album, which features songs like “Let’s all die,” “Call me on the Ouija Board,” “Dressed to Kill,” and “Dead Girls Never Say No” (which of course reminded me of Raoule’s play with the Jacques-mannequin at the end of Monsieur Venus). In the “This Club is a Haunted House” video, the song begins at 1:51 and the true blood orgy begins around 4:55.  -AMU

Censorship of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” music video (first video to be banned on TV for displays of queerness) –VCA


Infographics are being used for non-profits to garner the attention of readers used to “quick bites” in their media-not everyone wants to read an article, but peoples eyes are attracted to the format of an inforgaphic.
In the above video, a straight male asks a lesbian acquaintance  for advice on pleasing a women. It’s both a hilarious sitcom moment, and also a moment that I think argues that lesbians and straight men have quite a bit in common.  – Ash
“The ups and downs of political fortune may measure the social order’s pulse, but queerness, by contrast, figures, outside and beyond its political symptoms, the place of the social order’s death drive: a place, to be sure, of abjection expressed in the stigma, sometimes fatal, that follows from reading that figure literally, and hence a place from which liberal politics strives–and strives quite reasonably, given its unlimited faith in reason–to disassociate the queer. More radically, though, as I argue here, queerness attains its ethical value precisely insofar as it accedes to that place, accepting its figural status as resistance to the viability of the social while insisting on the inextricability of such resistance from every social structure.” (Lee Edelman, No Future: Queery Theory and the Death Drive, p. 3)


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Identity, Queerness, and Love

“It is almost as if, starting from a certain point, every decisive political event were double-sided: the spaces, the liberties, and the rights won by individuals in their conflicts with central powers always simultaneously prepared a tacit but increasing inscription of individuals’ lives within the state order, thus offering a new and more dreadful foundation for the very sovereign power from which they wanted to liberate themselves.”
Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, p.72

Giorgio Agamben, in the preface to Homo Sacer, frames the project that he is beginning (and has continued to pursue in subsequent volumes) as an interrogation of the unarticulated link between Hannah Arendt’s analyses of totalitarianism (in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem, etc.) and Michel Foucault’s analyses of power (in The History of Sexuality, Discipline and Punish, etc.). His engagement with the fundamental concepts of Western political theory (and their contemporary crisis) leads him many places, all of which are important, but only a few of which we will touch on here. Relevant to us is his extension of Foucault’s notion of biopolitics beyond the historical origin that Foucault assigned it (the end of the eighteenth century) back to the very beginnings of Western sovereignty. If Agamben is correct that our current mode of thinking politics is nothing more than an extension of the Aristotelian categories incinerated by analyses like his and Jacques Derrida’s (whose thought has been decisive in the formation of contemporary queer theory), then we must pay attention to the results of those analyses—namely, that such a way of thinking the world is inherently ethnocentric and violent. I will here discuss how we might apply the conceptual tools given us by these and other relevant thinkers to queer theory, especially as it does (or does not) relate to identity politics.

Judith Butler begins her massively influential Gender Trouble by noting that, largely and historically, “feminist theory has assumed that there is some existing identity, understood through the category of women, who not only initiates feminist interests and goals within discourse, but constitutes the subject for whom political representation is pursued”—but that this “very subject of women is no longer understood in stable or abiding terms” (1). This is the case because “there is very little agreement after all one what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category of women”. Butler then situates this observation in the context of Foucault’s analyses of the ‘technologies of the self’ used by juridical systems of power to produce the kinds of subjects necessary for the systems to function. The category of ‘woman’, then, may be understood as arising from the similar historical process that created the category of the ‘homosexual’ (also the ‘deviant, ‘pervert’, etc.) as detailed in Foucault’s History of Sexuality.

Let us quickly gloss this notion of ‘subject production’ using some of Agamben’s language. Homo Sacer famously opens by observing that the Ancient Greeks had no one word that signified all that we mean when we use the word ‘life’. They instead had two related, but distinct, terms: zoē, which signified the fact of life (common to plants, animals, humans, and gods); and bios, which signified the form of life (such as that of the shoemaker, the musician, the politician, etc.). Zoē was seen as appropriate to the oikos (the home, the domestic sphere, the private), and bios to the polis (the city, the public sphere, politics). Foucault’s notion of productive power in the form of technologies of the self (as opposed to repressive power in the form of political techniques like the police and military) may be articulated as follows: when one enters a community of the sort that Western politics has always taken (and continues to take), she or he is forced to inhabit a certain representable form of life; a certain set of possible bioi may be imposed on the member’s zoē, and one of these must be chosen. The production of the categories of ‘woman’ and ‘homosexual’, then, may in fact be nothing less than an outcropping of the very power structure that the categories’ production was supposed to rectify (in the form of increased rights and ‘freedoms’). Indeed, if Alain Badiou is correct that the State is not founded upon a joining-together but rather the dissolution that it prohibits, then we may say that the purpose of recognizing a group or a political identity for the State (representing said identity in the laws it passes, etc.) is solely so that the group in question does not begin (or continue) to operate outside of State power. As Agamben puts it in The Coming Community, “[a] being radically devoid of any representable identity would be absolutely irrelevant to the State” (86).

This, then, is the aporia inherent in identity politics. When marginalized groups fight to be recognized as groups by the State, they cede some of (even most of) their freedoms to that sovereign power. This is even and especially true in the so-called ‘democracies’ of the West today. Indeed, Agamben argues, what does distinguish modern politics from its predecessors is not as Foucault argued the seizing of biological life as the object of sovereign power—but rather that this seizing has now come directly into the light, and has as such begun to ‘hide in plain sight’. Consider the following:

“If anything characterizes modern democracy as opposed to classical democracy, then, it is that modern democracy presents itself from the beginning as a vindication and liberation of zoē, and that it is constantly trying to transform its own bare life into a way of life and to find, so to speak, the bios of zoē. Hence, too, modern democracy’s specific aporia: it wants to put the freedom and happiness of men [the object of political science for Aristotle is eudaimonia, or happiness] into play in the very place – “bare life” – that marked their subjection. … To become conscious of this aporia is not to belittle the conquests and accomplishments of democracy. It is, rather, to try to understand once and for all why democracy, at the very moment in which it seemed to have finally triumphed over its adversaries and reached its greatest height, proved itself incapable of saving zoē, to whose happiness it had dedicated all its efforts, from unprecedented ruin.” (13)

This is a thought with which we must reckon. Rights and liberties that were decades ago unthinkable have accomplished incredible things; they have saved and improved many lives. But we must ask ourselves: are the forms of life we are winning those that we give ourselves, or those that are given us by the same violent and powerful State that previously denied us our happiness? There is no doubt that policies around the world toward marginalized persons need to be changed in some fashion. The Other must be included in discourse, but Agamben urges us that when this is done in the form of State representation (as it is in identity politics), that inclusion becomes an operation of power that consists in forcing the Other to assume a recognizable bios (which may then be included—or senselessly excluded, as was done with the categories of “Jew”, “Gypsy”, “homosexual”, and many others in Nazi Germany).

I now wish to turn to Edward Carpenter’s “Homogenic Love” as a case study of ‘homosexual liberation’ gone wrong. To do so is not to fashion a normative judgment to be bestowed upon the historical person Edward Carpenter, but rather to learn from his (perhaps ‘well-intentioned’) mistakes, that we might think a new politics today. I read the excerpt from class as divided into three sections, each with an operative binary (in the Derridean sense, wherein one term is prioritized over and preferred to the other). The first part of the piece states that there is a disjunction between science and morality, that is, that the former (at least most often) cannot influence decisions of the latter; and, that morality is in some way more immediately accessible to us than science (the first binary, then, is morality over science). The second part argues that homosexuality is, in fact, a moral good—that it builds character, fosters a Whitmanian “comradeship”, as a spiritual kind of love as opposed to heterosexuality’s gross materialism (the second binary is spiritualism over materiality). Third, assuming that the purpose of law is benefit to benefit society, Carpenter argues that it ought to be changed to reflect his character-based analysis; that is, homosexuals ought to be granted further rights (the last binary could be said, then, to be society/character over law).

Carpenter’s mistake by now should be obvious. He does not question the existence of the ethnocentric binaries handed down to him from history; he accepts them and manipulates them to argue for legal recognition of homosexuals as a political category. But it is this very representation within the juridical framework that allows for the systematic control of that form of life represented. And, indeed, Carpenter’s folly is even more sinister than this, for he does not just say that homosexuality is good—he says that homosexuality is better than heterosexuality. This means that the ethnocentrism of sovereign logic seeps through his writing. Consider, for example, his argument (contra Christian morality, for example) that sex for sex’s sake is more spiritual than sex reproduction’s sake. While this argument indeed furnishes a reason not to discriminate against homosexuals (and any who choose to engage in sex acts for non-reproductive ends), it also provides a foundation for the oppression of heterosexuals.

But we must be careful here—for there is a third way. We need not passively accept the discriminatory binaries that have characterized the history of Western metaphysics. We can find new nonviolent ways to think about the world. And this, indeed, is in some sense what contemporary queer theory does in continuing the legacy of Deconstruction. The important thing to recognize about the power of the label “queer” is that it is meant to be an anti-label; it is an identity that is an anti­-identity.

I propose that we may draw some connections between it and Agamben’s exploration of the messianic form-of-life in The Time That Remains, a life that he has also deemed “whatever being” (in The Coming Community) and a “life of power” (in Means Without End). The messianic klesis (calling) is “essentially and foremost a calling of the calling. For this reason, it may apply to any condition; but for this reason, it revokes a condition and radically puts it into question in the very act of adhering to it” (23). It is therefore captured in the formula hōs mē, that is, “as not”. He cites Paul in 1 Cor. 7:29-32: “But this I say, brethren, time contracted itself, the rest is, that even those having wives may be as not having, and those weeping as not weeping, and those rejoicing as not rejoicing, and those buying as not possessing, and those using the world as not using it up” (emphasis added).

Here, I argue, is the (anti-)essence of the queer. It is not that we abandon any and all cultural signifiers that could represent masculinity or femininity—this would be impossible. We instead repurpose those cultural signifiers (this is the messianic theme of ‘recapitulation’ described elsewhere in The Time That Remains). We open these static signifiers up to new use; we take the sacred (here our ‘necessary’ cultural codes) and profane it. Just because I have a beard does not mean I must live a masculine life. Just because I listen to Britney Spears does not mean I must live a feminine life. Just because I do anything does not mean that I must live any particular culturally codified form of life that might include that anything—and just because you have x, y, and z qualities does not mean that I must make a judgment about your quality; it does not mean I must understand you keeping in mind what those qualities ‘represent’. I instead grasp you for who you are. I—and this is really as simple as it gets—love you. For, as Agamben writes in the short essay entitled “Whatever” that opens The Coming Community:

“Love is never directed toward this or that property of the loved one (being blond, being small, being tender, being lame), but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): the lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is. The lover desires the as only insofar as it is such—this is the lover’s particular fetishism. Thus, whatever singularity (the Lovable) is never the intelligence of some thing, of this or that quality or essence, but only the intelligence of an intelligibility.” (2)


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Reflection on Ellis’s “Studies in the Psychology of Sex”

The first thought (read: string of tangents) that popped into my mind as I read the excerpt from Ellis’s “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” was this youtube video – which I think aptly captures the progression of gay rights activism and views on homosexuality from the 1900s through to today. Like many other videos on youtube, the comments section is atrocious and brings up many other issues that, for the purposes of this blog post, I am deciding to ignore it; I’ve also decided to ignore the political side of this video and the fact that it is a trailer of sorts for a documentary.  What I am really interested in are how the views on homosexuality have (or have not) changed since Ellis’s time. Let’s begin by retrieving parts of Ellis’s time capsule.

Ellis’ observation that two consenting adults who choose to engage in sexually intimate acts have not committed indecency would have been a bold and radical statement during his time, but to most of modern society this view seems commonplace. Modern society seems to turn a blind eye towards things that go on behind closed doors – which leads to Ellis’s idea about perception. In the same paragraph, Ellis comments on the fact that acts can only be regarded as indecent if the participants or witnesses choose to view it thus. Simultaneously, Ellis implies that the context of acts, i.e. where the acts are performed, affects people’s perception of them as decent or indecent. He gives the example of childbirth, an act that by itself is not indecent, but may be seen as such if carried through in public. To me, this gray area of human perception and the difficulty of straddling the line between the concepts “decent” and “indecent” are immensely interesting. We struggle with similar dilemmas today of which the laws governing indecent exposure (which vary widely around the world) are an example. However, sodomy laws, to use an umbrella term, have mostly been repealed or struck down – at least in the United States. Was the question of morality ever tied into our judgments of things as decent or indecent? Perhaps by touching on this idea of “impropriety” being a product of our own perceptions, Ellis reaches the bigger, more elusive, and timeless topic of morality.

Morality encompasses the values that delineate the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad. Such principles apply to people and people form societies. It should come as no surprise that society’s views can shape moral values and vice versa. Having been under the impression that most people who view homosexuality as a disease also find it to be immoral, I was initially surprised by Ellis’s concession that homosexuals could be completely moral people aside from their inversion; their “condition” did not detract from the fact that they could be good and just people. In contrast, today’s view of the immoral homosexual seems to pin “immorality” on homosexual thoughts and actions, instead of actions alone. Perhaps the shift in the point at which homosexuality becomes immoral is only an illusion because Ellis’s views do not reflect average society or religious society’s views on homosexuality as immoral behavior. In the end, Ellis rises above it all and calls for balance and reason: to eliminate inverts would be unreasonable and may “destroy also those children of the spirit which possess sometimes a greater worth than children of the flesh” (336). It leaves me unsatisfied to read that subduing their homosexual desires is the moral thing for inverts to do and that they may live on as children of spirit by denying something that is still intrinsically part of them as individuals. The origin of the moral versus immoral aspect of homosexuality and how people’s perception of this issue has changed throughout history interests me greatly and is something I would like to explore in the future.


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Queerness, Reclining and Upright

After reading Oscar Wilde, approaching a text like Havelock Ellis’ requires a change of mindset. Its philosophy of writing opposes almost directly the Aestheticism of Wilde: it does not generate text as art for art’s sake but instead channels writing towards a social purpose. Finding the queerness within both of these texts—taking into consideration their very different purposes, their distinct styles, and their authors’ (purported) divergent sexual behaviors—I hope to consider how literary queerness can differ and for what reasons we recognize different texts as queer in different ways.

In our discussion of Dorian Gray I always found myself linking Dorian and Henry’s constant reclining position with their queerness, my impression being that at the fin-de-siècle, this kind of queer body lies down on a divan with perfumed cushions instead of sitting upright at a desk with pen and paper. Decadence seems to encapsulate this reclining position, whereas the upright, hardworking position tends toward a text like Ellis’: a work written in technical language and with a quite specific purpose in mind. Both works contain their fair share of queerness (especially Ellis’ letters, breaks from his dryer, more utilitarian prose) but are most definitely queer in different ways and for different reasons.

These generalizations of course oversimplifies much about the texts we’ve read these last three weeks, but comparing Ellis and Wilde will help to complicate (and collapse) them especially well. For now, I will categorize the production of queer texts into two camps: decadent (idleness, art for art’s sake, laying down, Wilde) and productive (utility, writing for a moral purpose, sitting up, Ellis) existing in opposition.

Barthes be damned, authorship makes up a large part of the location of queerness within these texts. Wilde is considered a queer person, whereas Ellis is not: the decadent perspective here is written by an insider (a “queer” person) whereas the productive one is written by an outsider (a “straight” person). Ellis’ text still contains an insider perspective, however, in its letters from sexual inverts. The framing, then, of the insider perspective is crucial. In a decadent novel, that queer perspective is, as we discussed, both everywhere and nowhere. In a productive text, it is more openly identified as queer, yet that identification serves to twist it into evidence for the outsider’s analysis instead of allowing it to speak for itself. The closeted queer text underneath Wilde’s decadence is somehow more dangerous for its author, even though its references to queerness are better hidden. The productive text, wielding the power of definition to separate its author from his subject, has lower stakes for the author because of its openness and the appearance of objectivity.

Both texts permit varied readings, queer and not. Wilde’s novel could be read as homoerotic (or not) and as approving of queerness (or not) because of its ambiguities. Similarly, Ellis’ text can be read as either condemning or liberating homosexuals and is written using the jargon of medicine, psychology, and sociology. Thus the first, the decadent, relies on masks and codes to allow for multiple, even contradictory, interpretations of its own stance on queerness. Much is left up to a reader in determining whether the novel contains homoeroticism and whether it approves. The second, the productive, utilizes technical and explicit language, but still manages to allow for similarly varied interpretations concerning to what extent the author is accepting or intolerant of homosexual behavior.

Wilde’s preface to Dorian Gray assigns his text a grand artistic purpose that underscore’s that decadent art, even while opposing productivity and utility, still finds its motivation in its creators’ intentions and goals. The preface’s ornate (and self-praising) style seems in direct opposition to Ellis’ text, which appears no-nonsense in comparison. That a text like Ellis’, despite its own lofty projects of solving the “social problem” of homosexuality and its inclusion of quite dramatic first-person accounts, appears more realistic, more grounded, and simpler than Wilde’s is quite notable. Both texts’ meanings face similar contestation, contain similar complications, and originate from goals of similar magnitude. Yet Dorian Gray’s queerness and Ellis text’s queerness are unmistakably different, owing to their different locations on a spectrum of decadence and productivity.


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Ellis and his Studies in the Psychology of Sex

Havelock Ellis’s “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” really touches upon the hypocritical behaviors performed by society on those that are considered ‘sexually inverted’ to those that have ‘normal’ sexual orientation. Ellis additionally pinpoints the idea that no matter the restrictive policies and punishments that the law attempts to drive into society regarding homosexuality, the existence of homosexuality will still be present. Ellis, however, goes about driving these opinions in a very guarded manner that seems to be one that will still let him be ‘accepted’ within the societal eye and therefore writes with language and content that still undermines homosexuality.

Ellis’s piece really shines light on the hypocrisies within this time period highlighting the differing behaviors towards those that are ‘sexually introverted’ compared to those that are ‘normal’. He uses examples of the innate sexual drive that human beings posses and how, although we all encompass such a drive, society feels that they can place restrictions and punishments on how such inborn drives can be acted upon. He also states how, “Within certain limits, the gratification of the normal sexual impulse, even outside marriage, arouses no general or profound indignation; and is regarded as a private matter; rightly or wrongly, the gratification of the homosexual impulse is regarded as a public matter” (332). Such hypocrisies, although are obviously not as radical as put forth within Ellis’s time, seem to draw parallels within the modern day United States. Huge movements have obviously been made in the progressive direction concerning the acceptance of homosexuality, however society still seems to place such hypocrisy in its beliefs about rules that abide to the heterosexual over the homosexual i.e. homosexual relationships within the military and gay marriage.

Ellis’s technique of systematically arguing for the rights of the homosexual whilst attempting to ‘cover his tracks’ and ‘saving face’ by insisting views that would’ve been accepted by those within high-ranking society is quite evident within the document. Ellis starts his piece by addressing the notion of being ‘sexually inverted’, and how it is something that could be compared to as a sickness in the fact that it could be cured and the individual may be able to rid themselves of their ‘abnormalities’, “The sexual invert is specially liable to suffer from a high degree of neurasthenia, often involving much nervous weakness and irritability, loss of self-control, and genital hyperesthesia” (328). However, it is followed with an insightful argument of how those that are ‘sexually introverted’ cannot just rid themselves of their homosexuality by methods believed by other physicians at the time to alleviate sexual introversion, such as marriage. Ellis additionally seems to ‘hide’ behind a shield when he introduces a letter that was sent to him by a man that sought to confide in Ellis regarding his homosexual urges and difficulties. The man, who was not named, described how his urges “made his life a hell” and how the “horror” of such an “abnormality” “has been an enemy” to his religious faith (330). Through this letter, the readers of Ellis’s piece, would’ve understood how homosexual tendencies were not ones that were chosen consciously and additionally were out of the individual’s control. Whether this letter was actually written by an unknown man, or by Ellis himself, who knows. Either way, it was an effective technique of squeezing some kind of empathetic view from the reader in regards to a foreign homosexual standpoint. The letter also demonstrates how it is someone else’s opinion and thus sheds any blame Ellis could have received for publishing the content that was within the letter.

Havelock Ellis’s style of writing within the “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” could be regarded as frustrating to some as his opinions seemed more like a tennis match than a document that had a cemented message. However, I feel that for this time period and for this subject especially, Ellis had to be wary of society and its viewpoints. By documenting all views, Ellis would’ve, in my opinion, furthered the documents opinions with added credibility as the public would view it has something that was not just one sided, but provided an overall scope on the ‘sexually inverted’ and how their predicaments were, at the end of the day, out of their control.


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The “Social” Question of Homosexual Love

 In Edward Carpenter’s “Homogenic Love,” Carpenter makes an impassioned argument for the decriminalization of homosexual love. The main body of his argument is an argument for homosexual love as a force for “social good.” On the one hand, this serves the purposes of asking readers to move beyond a purely “aesthetic” and personal judgment of homosexuality–whether or not one regards such acts as disgusting is less important under Carpenter’s framework than the social impacts of such love. However, turning homosexual love into a “social” question also serves to diminish and contradict the moral force of his piece by allowing for the treatment of  heterosexual and homosexual love differently under the law depending on their respective social utilities.


Carpenter opens  by writing that “if on the side of science much is obscure, there is no obscurity in the principles of healthy morality involved” (336) and closes by arguing that “in the case of persons of opposite sex: the law limits itself on the whole to the maintenance of public order, the protection of the weak from violence and insult, and of the young from their experience: so it should be here…if the dedication of love were a matter of mere choice or whim, it still would not be the business of the State to compel that choice” (340-341). These are arguments that quite clearly stand the test of the time and make it unambiguous that the law has no moral justification in interfering with consensual love between two persons of the same sex.


In the body of his essay, however, Carpenter breaks from this clear-cut question, and argues instead for the social “benefits” of homosexual love. He argues that “the other love should have its special function in social and heroic work, and in the generation–not of bodily children–but of those children of the mind, the philosophical conceptions and ideals which transform our lives and those of society” (337), that “it is difficult to believe that anything except that kind of comrade-union which satisfies and invigorates the two lovers and yet leaves them free from the responsibilities and impedimenta of family life can supply the force and liberate the energies required for social and mental activities of the most necessary kind” (338), and that “it is hardly needful in these days when social questions loom so large upon us to emphasize the importance of a bond which by the most passionate and lasting compulsion may draw members of the different classes together (339). The fact that these reasons are clearly less persuasive today–as the nature of homosexual couples have changed so that in many ways, such as in their ability to have families, they have come to resemble heterosexual couples–demonstrates the dangers of adopting this sort of social argument. These are the same dangers Carpenter hinted at of relying on “science” to answer the “question”: on these types of utilitarian or objective grounds where “evidence” rather than morals are weighed, there is room for ambiguity and obscurity whereas on moral grounds there ought to be clarity.


That said, it is no doubt possible that there may have been rhetorical advantages for Carpenter to argue the social question. In Studies of the Psychology of Sex, Ellis writes that “rightly or wrongly, the gratification of the homosexual impulse is regarded as a public matter” (332). Indeed, a major component of both Ellis’s and Carpenter’s arguments is showing their readers that homosexual love is prevalent throughout their society and cannot be eliminated by law. Because Carpenter was writing with the goal of creating a tangible and immediate change in the law rather than a more abstract change of opinion, it might be argued that even though some of his arguments are less persuasive today, that engaging with the social rather than moral question of  homosexuality may have been the easiest type of argument for readers at the time to digest and relate to.


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Filed under Week 3: Sexology, Inversion, Uranianism