Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Transnational Queer Literature of the (Other) Americas

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Transnational Queer Literature of the (Other) Americas

Article excerpt

This article contributes to the current transnational turn in American literary scholarship by examining the cross-cultural connections between several North and South American writers, beginning with Walt Whitman. The specific focus of this survey is on the notion of a queer literary network of allusion and intertextuality and, thus, begins with a critical assessment of existing models of literary influence. After sketching out the limitations of current models of textual interaction, the author examines the links between the work of Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Hart Crane, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Adrienne Rich.

Queer Intertextuality

Transnationalism has become an important avenue of research in American Studies in recent years. In a reaction against the longstanding tradition of American exceptionalism as well as pressures from work in Postcolonial and Transatlantic Studies, literary scholarship in the Americas is slowly turning away from exclusively national paradigms. (1) In doing so, critics leave behind the notion of a "tradition" in order to map out new tropes of connection, contact, and continuity. For example, the trope of the "circuit," or alternatively the "network," figures relations between writers as complex configurations that transcend frontiers of national belonging. (2) This article sketches out one such circuit of connections, animated by the current of queer desire. Beginning with some methodological issues raised by the notion of a queer literary network, the essay traces the literary complicities between several writers, starting with Walt Whitman, who has figured as a pioneer of queer literary eroticism for several generations of Latin and North American poets, including Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Hart Crane, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Adrienne Rich. In locating the origin of this particular network with Whitman, I do not mean to imply that Whitman is the only or the most important precursor to twentieth-century queer transamerican literature. Latin American poets have other major figures to read and write with, including the Spanish baroque poet Luis de Gongora y Argote (1561-1627), on whom Garcia Lorca delivered a lecture in 1927 explicating Gongora's poetry in a clearly queer-inflected way (Oropesa 176). Instead, I would like to show that this group of poets from different countries--and centuries--shares a surprisingly dense network of affiliations and inter-connections, with Whitman as one of many possible starting points.

First, a few words about my choice of the term "queer" rather than the more neutral "homosexual" or familiar "gay and lesbian" (though I will occasionally use these in this article to avoid repetition). I am conscious of the fact that the word "queer" can appear to some as a trendy Anglo-American export that risks misreading the specific circumstances of gender and sexuality in Latin American cultural contexts. Nevertheless, the word "queer," like the term "Latin America" itself, can be useful precisely because of its foreignness--its very distance and awkwardness contributing to its utility, reminding users that it does not describe a natural fact but a tentative concept. (3) Similarly, "queer" has become the most useful umbrella term for the meanings covered by the medical term "homosexual" and the essentializing categories of "gay and lesbian," and for the persons, activities, and situations that previously might have been called "ambiguous" or "deviant." (4) Rather than specifying a stable identity or ontological category of people, "queer" functions more as a relative term positioned in opposition to what Adrienne Rich has called "compulsory heterosexuality" or what also goes by the term "hetero-normativity," the ideology and social practices enforcing heterosexuality as the norm (Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality" 229). ff Gay and Lesbian Studies listened for a homosexual voice speaking about homosexual themes, Queer Studies has calibrated its ear to listen to the silences, hesitations, stylistic devices, subtle allusions, and figures that characterize the often very coded nature of queer writing. …

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