American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

We must, of course, analyze the ways in which writing relates to "race," how attitudes toward racial differences generate and structure literary texts by us and about us; we must determine how critical methods can effectively disclose the traces of racial difference in literature; but we must also understand how certain forms of difference and the languages we employ to define those supposed "differences" not only reinforce each other but tend to create and maintain each other. Similarly, and as importantly, we must analyze the language of contemporary criticism itself, recognizing that hermeneutical systems, especially, are not "universal," "color-blind," or "apolitical," or "neutral." Whereas some critics wonder aloud, as Appiah notes, about such matters as whether or not "a structuralist poetics is inapplicable in Africa because structuralism is European," the concern of the "Third World" critic should properly be to understand the ideological subtext which any critical theory reflects and embodies, and what relation this subtext bears to the production of meaning. No critical theory--be that Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, Nkrumah's consciencism, or whatever--escapes the specificity of value and ideology, no matter how mediated these may be. To attempt to appropriate our own discourses using Western critical theory "uncritically" is to substitute one mode of neocolonialism for another, To begin to do this in my own tradition, theorists have turned to the black vernacular tradition--to paraphrase Rebecca Cox Jackson, to dig into the depths of the tradition of our foreparents--to isolate the signifying black difference through which to theorize about the so-called Discourse of the Other.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick


The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic

1. HISTORICIZING MALE HOMOSEXUAL PANIC

At the age of twenty-five, D.H. Lawrence was excited about the work of James M. Barrie. He felt it helped him understand himself and explain himself. "Do read Batrie Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel," he wrote Jessie Chambers. "They'll help you understand how it is with me. I'm in exactly the same predicament." 1

Fourteen years later, though, Lawrence placed Barrie among a group of writers whom he considered appropriate objects of authorial violence. "What's the good of being hopeless, so long as one has a hob-nalled boot to kick [them] with? Down with the Poor in Spirit! A war! But the Subtlest, most intimate warfare. Smashing the face of what one knows is rotten." 2

____________________
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic," from Sex, Science, and the 19th Century Novel, pp. 148-186. Copyright 1986, The English Institute. Reprinted by permission of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

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