Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Love's Letter Lost: Reading Brokeback Mountain

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Love's Letter Lost: Reading Brokeback Mountain

Article excerpt

The set of texts known as Brokeback Mountain conveys a special affective intensity capturing the highs and lows of an emotional sublime, from euphoria to heartbreak. (1) Many readers of Annie Proulx's 1997 short story and viewers of Ang Lee's 2005 film were touched in unprecedented ways and drawn to read it or see it again and again, each time introducing other friends to the magic, which was at once uniquely felt and personal, and shared and understood among specific communities, if not with any consensus (Holleran). To many, aspects of Brokeback Mountain were deeply familiar because its protagonists' gestures and sentiments have been experienced by those who have fallen in love and lost the object of their affections. Brokeback Mountain is also a love story that puts into question categorical definitions of gayness and normative masculinity, and therefore it involves social politics and identity issues particular to geographic contexts and historical situations (Patterson). Nonetheless, Brokeback Mountain the film also achieved strong identification and recognition across various parameters of gender, community, and nation (Hart 152). These are all aspects of Brokeback Mountain's immense magnetism and broad cultural resonance. It is, however, not the valence between identity politics and attributions of universality that I wish to pursue here. In recent criticism, these debates have been addressed intelligently and with great variety, implicating gender, genre themes, mass culture, and national cinema and literature traditions. (2) Alternatively, I would like to analyze the conduits of amorous feeling in the Brokeback Mountain narratives and the cultural mechanisms that function to grip the reader and viewer in such powerful emotional states. According to Pullen, "the performance of emotion is key to the progressive potential of Brokeback Mountain to tell a story of male homosexuality within the masculine genre of the frontier and the cowboy" (159). My goal is to identify and make visible the means by which emotion is conveyed in the rush of Brokeback Mountain's sensations--in other words, to put my finger on some intangibles surrounding the joyful and painful feelings of subjects in love.

Feelings of love transpired not only for Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, the conflicted cowboys in Brokeback Mountain, but also for the viewers and readers who fell into empathetic states of mourning for the characters' many losses as well as their own (Stacy, Reading dedication page; Holleran 13). In A Lover's Discourse, French literary critic, cultural theorist, and semiotician Roland Barthes writes that "identifications" occur when "the subject painfully identifies himself with some person (or character) who occupies the same position as himself in the amorous structure" (129). Not only watching the film but also reading the short story became, for many, obsessional activities akin to a dysfunctional love affair. As Barthes so aptly states of the lover's delirious fall into these ambiguous states of intersubjectivity, of having but not-quite-having the Other: "I am engulfed, I succumb" (10). For some aficionados, a forced weaning from the Brokeback Mountain texts--as if from a pathological dependence--appears necessary (Kostos). "This can't go on" is a figure of speech identified by Barthes whereby "the sentiment of an accumulation of amorous sufferings explodes in this cry," and it is akin to Jack's iconic lamentation to Ennis: "I wish I knew how to quit you" (Barthes, Lover's 140; Proulx, "Brokeback" 21). "I am crazy," writes Barthes, further capturing the lover's plaintive dementia (120). Yet Barthes's ability to so deftly articulate this near-psychotic condition of love is also a paradox, which he readily admits: "I am mad to be in love, I am not mad to be able to say so. [...] I quite sanely describe my madness" (120). The tension sustained by the apparent impossibility of a "logical" or "systematic" discourse about love and the fact of having, nonetheless, written one is one of Barthes's contradictory achievements in A Lover's Discourse. …

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