Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Tearing the Goat's Flesh: Homosexuality, Abjection and the Production of a Late Twentieth-Century Black Masculinity

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Tearing the Goat's Flesh: Homosexuality, Abjection and the Production of a Late Twentieth-Century Black Masculinity

Article excerpt

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Exodus 23:19 Chivo que rompe tambor con su pellejo paga.

Abakua proverb.

Diana Fuss has argued in a recent discussion of contemporary gay and lesbian theory that the figure of what we might call the undead homosexual, the homosexual who continually reappears, even and especially in the face of the most grisly violence and degradation, is absolutely necessary to the production of positive heterosexual identity, at least heterosexual identity produced within bourgeois-dominated economies of desire that, as Eve Sedgwick demonstrates, deploy homophobia to check slippage between (male) homosociality and homosexuality.(1) The inside/out binarism, then, the distinction between normality and chaos, is maintained precisely through the mediation of the sexually liminal character, that is to say, the homosexual. Fuss writes:

Those inhabiting, the inside . . . can only comprehend the outside

through incorporation of a negative image. This process of negative

interiorization involves turning homosexuality inside out, exposing not

the homosexual's abjected insides but the homosexual as the abject, as

the contaminated and expurgated insides of the heterosexual subject.(2)

Fuss's point is well taken. For she suggests not simply that the innate pathology of the homosexual must be revealed in order to produce the heterosexual community, but also that the homosexual works as the vehicle by which hetero-pathology itself might be negotiated; that is, the homosexual as "the contaminated and expurgated insides of the heterosexual subject."

In relating this insight to the production of African-American masculinity, I would argue that the pathology that the homosexual must negotiate is precisely the specter of Black boundarylessness, the idea that there is no normal Blackness to which the Black subject, American, or otherwise, might refer. Following the work of Rene Girard, especially his 1986 study of the place of violence, real and imagined, in the production of communal identity, The Scapegoat,(3) I will suggest that homosexuality operates mimetically in the texts that I examine, standing itself as the sign of a prior violence, the violence of boundarylessness, or cultural eclipse--to borrow Girard's language--that has been continually visited upon the African-American community during its long sojourn in the new world. Indeed Orlando Patterson, Henry Louis Gates, and Paul Gilroy, among others, have argued that the Black has been conceptualized in modern (slave) culture as an inchoate, irrational non-subject, as the chaos that both defines and threatens the borders of logic, individuality, and basic subjectivity.(4) In that schema, all Blacks become interchangeable, creating among the population a sort of continual restlessness, a terror. Girard writes:

The terror inspired in people by the eclipse of culture and the universal

confusion of popular uprisings are signs of a community that is literally

undifferentiated, deprived of all that distinguishes one person from

another in time and space. As a consequence all are equally disordered in

the same place and at the same time.(5)

Though Girard's discussion here precedes from a consideration of societies suddenly thrown into confusion: plague-ridden medieval Europe, revolutionary France, his work suggests that all terror, all confusion, works to undifferentiate the subjects of the (newly) chaotic society such that the members of the society come to stand in for one another in their common experience of vertigo. The scapegoat, then, would be the figure who reproduces this undifferentiation, this chaos, this boundarylessness. The violence directed against the goat would mitigate against the prior violence, the erosion of borders that has beset the entire community.

I would add to this only that anti-homosexual violence operates in the production of Black masculinity on two levels. …

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