Academic journal article Genders

Bar and Dog Collar: Commodity, Subculture, and Narrative in Jane Delynn

Academic journal article Genders

Bar and Dog Collar: Commodity, Subculture, and Narrative in Jane Delynn

Article excerpt

[1] The author of five novels (the first of which was published in 1978) and numerous stories, essays, and articles, Jane DeLynn has had a respectable, if not prolific, literary career. She has attracted little critical attention, however, even in the specialized field of queer literary scholarship--three of her novels, namely In Thrall (1982), a narrative of adolescent love, as well as the two I turn my attention to in this essay, Don Juan in the Village (1990) and Leash (2002), are primarily lesbian-themed. The dearth of attention is worth thinking about, particularly when one considers that Don Juan made a considerable splash in lesbian and feminist literary circles when it was first published. One reason why DeLynn has been more or less ignored, perhaps, is that her representations of lesbian culture and lesbian identity don't fit easily into the paradigm of queerness as heroic (if only partial) subversion of the hegemonic regime of heteronormativity. Her novels are stubbornly unavailable for readings of lesbian identity and community as utopian, resistant, or future-oriented. In many respects, her work would seem to offer promising material for the recent tendency in queer criticism to explore negative affect, abjection, and antisociality (e.g., Edelman, Halperin, Love). Up to now, however, the apparently "negative" images of lesbianism offered by DeLynn's work--where they have attracted attention at all--have generally been condemned. Gabrielle Griffin, for instance, in a brief discussion of Don Juan, complains that the novel "cannot be said to promote homosexuality as a desirable identity or existence" (182); and DeLynn herself in interviews and essays has claimed that responses to her from the lesbian community have often been disapproving, manifested in carping reviews, walk-outs at readings, and so on ("Sentences" 17-18; "What" 9).

[2] In this respect, it's instructive to compare DeLynn's critical stocks with those of Sarah Schulman--like DeLynn, a New York-based documenter of Manhattan's downtown lesbian scene. Schulman is a veteran activist as well as a writer and her political sympathies animate her fiction; her novel People in Trouble (1990), for instance, fictionalizes the radical AIDS activism of the 1980s in which Schulman was herself engaged. Schulman's work is impeccably right-on in its investment in a leftist, pro-queer, pro-multicultural, and pro-working-class agenda, and her work has consequently been extensively celebrated by lesbian critics (Schulman--admittedly more prolific than DeLynn--currently has twenty-four MLA entries while DeLynn only has one, and that is for an interview rather than a scholarly essay). The characteristic narrative arcs of Schulman novels tend to engender in her commentators anticipatory glimpses of a better world. Schulman features prominently, for instance, in Sally Munt's book-length discussion of lesbian representation in terms of "heroic desire," with its calls for an "aspirational figure who gathers the desires of the lesbian reader into an intersubjective space" (8). Similarly, a recent discussion of one of Schulman's novels by Alla Ivanchikova concludes that her work "opens up possibilities for a new, more radical and fair, future" (41).

[3] Rather than offering such feelgood, futural visions of lesbian life, DeLynn, as I will go on to show, tends to insist on its banality, its lack of profound "point." This jaundiced outlook, I suggest, offers an account of the contemporary lesbian lifeworld that, while it might not seem as obviously politically serviceable as the work of other lesbian novelists, ultimately offers a nuanced account of the intrication of lesbian identity and commodity culture. In their rendition of the tensions and relays between consumer capitalism and lesbian desire, DeLynn's novels Don Juan in the Village and Leash simultaneously invite reconsideration of the common postulation of lesbianism as external to commodification and suggest ways in which queer sexuality might constitute a riposte to the saturation of the commodity form. …

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