Important simply since it's one of the earliest to attempt such a study; the field has come a long way since then, but there was still a lot of informImportant simply since it's one of the earliest to attempt such a study; the field has come a long way since then, but there was still a lot of information here that I've yet to come across elsewhere. That Austen rates The Young and Evil so highly was an unexpected and extremely welcome discovery....more
A novel in desperate need of further exploration and consideration both by myself and others. Written by Diana Frederics (a pseudonym, but that’s a wA novel in desperate need of further exploration and consideration both by myself and others. Written by Diana Frederics (a pseudonym, but that’s a whole separate, utterly fascinating story in and of itself)!) and published in 1939 by the Citadel Press, just a glance through the chapter names listed in the table of contents announces its disarmingly forthright approach towards its so-called “strange” content: “Am I A Lesbian?,” “‘I Am A Lesbian!’,” “Leslie and I Become Lovers,” etc. Throughout The Well of Loneliness Radclyffe Hall embroiders her representation of lesbian desires and lives with–and ultimately deadening—metaphors and other explicit literary devices; Diana resolutely opts for the opposite tack. Consider:
“With this acknowledgment of my homosexuality I discovered myself; now I had something to go on. It was like being born all over again, and the relief I felt astonished me. I had, so to speak, nothing left to be worried about. My fears were all confirmed… I was determined to respect myself for what I was, lesbianism be damned.”
Well yes, not exactly a final pronouncement that jibes easily within our contemporary rhetoric of relentless pro-queer self affirmation, but I will attest that after reading so many books from this period –and let’s be frank, from all eras—where this same realization is accompanied by utter despair followed by a quick, inevitably sad downward spiral, the clear-eyed, no-nonsense attitude displayed by Diana’s eponymous subject had nothing less than a lightening effect on me.
With a rather spare, declarative style, it doesn’t take that long for Diana to pragmatically grasp evaluate the facts of her life and then set forth to make the best of things. And while there are inevitable complications along the way, she does manage to do pretty darn well for herself, and the fact that the concluding chapter of the novel is titled “Fulfillment” says quite lot. If this perspective came as a bit of a happy shock for me in 2014, I can only imagine its effect on a similarly sympathetic reader in 1939.
The few scholarly considerations I’ve been able to find regarding Diana, most particularly Julie Abraham’s introduction to a 1995 reprinting by the NYU Press, take a surprisingly critical stance toward the novel, tending to focus on what the novel is not as opposed to the many things it is. But for my part, Diana was surely one of the great revelations of my reading year.
Mishima has long been one of the major blind spots in my ongoing exploration of queer lit, something rectified this year with my reading of ConfessionMishima has long been one of the major blind spots in my ongoing exploration of queer lit, something rectified this year with my reading of Confessions of a Mask. Alas, I was left surprisingly… indifferent by the experience. I fully admit that I often struggle with texts where suicide and other kinds of violence–towards the self or otherwise–are afforded prominent thematic positions, and I suspect this general disinclination was compounded by some fundamental problems with what feels like a dutiful but lumpy translation by Meredith Weatherby.
That all said, there was one great passage in the book that I still vividly remember read it one morning on the MUNI on my way to work: in two relatively short paragraphs Mishima managed to concisely explain how it is possible to have and maintain a split consciousness in regards to one’s sexuality, at once aware that his body is responding in a certain way and yet at the same time “never even dream[ing] that such desires… might have a significant connection with the realities of [his] ‘life.'” This one passage alone was enough for me to intuit that I should not write Mishima off completely, and so at the present I have filed both the author and his text under the category of “to return to someday.”
As anybody familiar with the singular artistic vision of Djuna Barnes is aware, reading anything she wrote is like entering a type of parallel universAs anybody familiar with the singular artistic vision of Djuna Barnes is aware, reading anything she wrote is like entering a type of parallel universe—one that resembles our own in many ways, but also one that is no longer able to repress and erase what is odd or sad or grotesque, particularly in regards to the human condition. As an astute commentator much smarter than me has noted, reading Barnes is to enter a textual space "in which the normative becomes, for once in history, the excluded, the taboo, and the unmentionable."*
Barnes was a prolific artist and her written work encompasses journalism, interviews, novels, plays, poetry, criticism, and a copious amount of wittily irascible letters exchanged with just about all of the great cultural luminaries of the 20th century (unfortunately a collection has yet to emerge, so for now one can catch glimpses of them in the countless biographies and commentaries detailing the modernist era). She was also, of course, a short story writer, and this was my first encounter with her short-form fiction work. Once one is familiar with Barnes's baroque style and bleak worldview it is difficult to not immediately recognize her writing, and so on the one hand these stories easily fit in with all of the other modes she wrote in. But I also found them different in a crucial way as well, for if her novels and longer fiction feel like a meander through a shape-shifting dream world, the short stories operate in a quite different manner. For within these little slips of short stories, many no more than several pages long, she is somehow able to contract and compress entire cosmos of feeling, affect, experiences, and histories (of both a personal and cultural nature).
Not that this ever seems the case at the beginning of each story. Barnes's technique is to introduce several eccentric characters, establish a setting and then embroider these elements in a delicate meshwork of commentary and observations that are unexpected and incisive and beautiful in turn, if not all at the same time. Often they hardly seem like "stories" at all, but rather character sketches, all evocative description and not much else. But that impression is deceptive, for almost like clockwork in the closing lines something inevitably happens—a snippet of dialogue perhaps, or a turn of phrase—and suddenly everything comes together in a brief flash of insight. It's not exactly that everything seems to "fall into place," or it is like a puzzle with an "aha!" conclusion, or even that an epiphany occurs on the part of either character or reader, but everything still comes together in the very last moment, and suddenly makes some kind of sense.
But "sense" isn't even the right word, as it's something more ambiguous and indescribable than that. But whatever it is it's extremely potent: there were several times upon reaching the end of a story that I had to set the book down for a few minutes, blown away by an unexpected wave of emotion that just coursed through me. How? I likely wouldn't have been able to tell you. Why? Glancing back through the stories now, I can't exactly tell anymore. And yet somehow, fleetingly, in the moment of reading these stories they would somehow reveal an emotional coherence, and often to devastating effect. It didn't take long for me to become fully convinced that Barnes is one of the great short story writers, even if she is rarely anthologized, and I'd be surprised if she's ever included as a "how-to" example in a guide to writing a "good" short story. Because by any standards these stories shouldn't work. But somehow they do, and the results are unlike just about anything else I've ever encountered or had the great pleasure to read.
"'You see,' she continued, 'some people drink poison, some take the knife, others drown. I take you."