Academic journal article Style

The Default Reader and a Model of Queer Reading and Writing Strategies Or: Obituary for the Implied Reader

Academic journal article Style

The Default Reader and a Model of Queer Reading and Writing Strategies Or: Obituary for the Implied Reader

Article excerpt

"Being heterosexual has several benefits.... One can enter into most cultural narratives, that is novels, films, fine art, on the basis of simple and satisfying identification" (Beloff 39). This thought-provoking, and regrettably still valid, assertion about the benefits of being heterosexual implies a reverse assertion about the disadvantages of not being heterosexual, namely the implicit assertion that for the non-heterosexual recipient entrance into, and identification with, most cultural narratives is hampered. The reason for this is as simple as it is saddening: I would argue that the implied reader of most cultural narratives, whether they be films, novels, plays, poems, songs, or fine art, is not a notion as abstract as Wolfgang Iser originally suggested (cf. Implied, Act). Even though s/he is certainly not an actual flesh-and-blood reader, I would claim that the implied reader is nonetheless characterized by a set of fairly concrete defining features. Accordingly, it would come nearer the truth to say that what is commonly referred to simply as the implied reader is usually what I propose to call the default reader, exhibiting certain default characteristics or default settings. These default settings touch upon aspects of crucial importance for our identity as human beings, such as ethnicity, belief systems, health and able-bodiedness, and, last but not least, sexuality. One of these default settings, I take it, is the default setting concerning sexual orientation: heterosexuality.

Based on these assumptions, the aim of this article is threefold. Firstly, I will introduce the concept of the default reader. Secondly, I intend to lay the foundations of a descriptive cognitive model of queer reading and writing strategies.(1) Thirdly, I will sketch out a preliminary catalogue of queer textual structures, intended to serve as the basis for a more detailed typology to be developed in the future.

Before we turn to the concept of the default reader, however, a few words on my use of the terms queer and queerness are due. The heuristic definition of queerness which this paper takes as its basis is a simple if two-sided one:

One meaning of queer is considered to be closely linked to sexuality, while the second meaning is taken to signify strangeness, oddity, peculiarity or extra-ordinariness irrespective of sexuality. By the first meaning of queerness I understand a relational term indicating a certain distance or deviance from the norm, especially from heteronormativity, which denotes some sort of sexual otherness. This can be same-sex sexuality but may also be any other form of marginalised, "non-straight hetero-sexual or hetero-normative" sexuality, with the norm implying a monogamous and monoamorous lifestyle. (Kubowitz 172) (2)

What I would like to stress here is that I take a decidedly positive, affirmative stance towards queerness. To my mind, queer not only designates various kinds of sexuality and sexual orientation other than the heterosexual dominant but also that which is, and those who are, extraordinary or exceptional. The trouble, though, with words typically used to define queerness is that they themselves are more often than not negatively connoted. "Strangeness" and "oddity," as well as "deviance" from the norm are points in case, which is why even openly queer-affirmative theorists are scarcely able to provide really positive definitions of queer. Therefore, to highlight the affirmatory stance in my use of the term, I might just as well add: Queer is cool. Queer is beautiful. Or else I could do what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (8) suggests would be wisest, namely to attach queer merely to the first person singular and declare: Queer is how I conceive of myself as a bipolar, left-handed, short-sighted, but otherwise fairly able-bodied member of the high-risk group of breast cancer, a once untimely orphaned, now middle-aged, middle-class white lesbian academic in a culture still dominated by heterosexuality, heterocentricity, and heteronormativity--at least this is how I perceive myself some of the time, particularly when focussing on those aspects of my identity in which I deviate from heterocentric norms. …

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