Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Behind the Lines
HOMOEROTIC ANXIETY AND THE HEROIC IN STEPHEN CRANE'S THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE

Mark Seltzer, in Bodies and Machines, suggests that The Red Badge of Courage contains two stories being worked simultaneously, "a love story and a war story." Continues Seltzer, "On the one side, there is an 'inside' story of the 'quiver of war desire,' of male hysteria and the renegotiation of bodily and sexual boundaries and identities. . . . On the other the side, there is an 'outside' story of social discipline and mechanization, of territory taken and lost. . . . These primal scenes of battle are, finally, struggles to make interior states visible: to gain knowledge of and mastery over bodies and interiors by tearing them open to view."1 Though Seltzer posits an "inside" love story that apparently is different from the "outside" story of social discipline and mechanization, he does not attempt to give the "love story" in the novel a separate account. Instead, to the extent that he acknowledges the "inside" tale, he folds it indistinguishably back into the "outer" story that serves as a focus of his book.

One would not want to deny the complex relation of bodily anxieties related to sexuality to other kinds of anxieties about corporeality in mechanized, industrial society. Indeed, it seems clear throughout the nineteenth century that the codes of masculinity are propped against threats from without and within: from without, by an industrializing, multiple culture that menaces masculine authority based either on cognitive control or achieved social power; and from within, by desires, memories, capacities, and internalized contradictions that are in incongruous tension with the social poses of a rigidified masculinity. Despite the range of interpretive possibilities produced by the common overdetermination of any feature of social life, however, it

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