Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Cultural Droppings: Bersani's Beckett

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Cultural Droppings: Bersani's Beckett

Article excerpt

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

--Beckett, Worstward Ho (7)

Vivas to those who have fail'd.

--Whitman, Leaves of Grass (46)

How should we account for the relatively unexpected appearance of Samuel Beckett on the final page of Leo Bersani's Homos? By what abject logic can Beckett be linked with the three gay outlaws--Gide, Proust, and, most proximately, Genet--whose writing is the main subject of Bersani's concluding chapter? For readers familiar with such examples of Bersani's work as The Freudian Body, The Culture of Redemption, and Arts of Impoverishment, Beckett's importance for Bersani's antiredemptive aesthetic theory will be familiar, and therefore his last-minute appearance in Homos perhaps less surprising than for those who know Bersani mainly through Homos or the justly famous essay "Is the Rectum a Grave?"(1) But that appearance still requires careful explanation, as does, for that matter, my own appearance here as the one who presumes, carefully, to explain it.

For if Beckett was not exactly a gay outlaw, neither, I should say, am I exactly a queer theorist. However, if Beckett's appearance in Homos marks a productive tension in Bersani's argument, my appearance here--as the subject who presumes to explain--could mark a similarly productive tension, a constitutive subversion of exaction, in queer theory itself. If, that is, Beckett was not literally homosexual but nonetheless produced writing that could be considered a literary vehicle for Bersanian homoness, my explication of that vehicular homoness here carries me into my own question: is Beckett, am I, homo? Can or should Beckett or I be called straight queers? Near--queers? What purposes are served by such nominations? What are the implications of these questions for queer theory? How do they assist with Bersani's stated project of "bringing out, and celebrating 'the homo' in all of us" (Homos 10)? What might they tell us about Beckett's writing?

I should point out that neither for Bersani nor for me does this celebration of universal homoness concern a desire for "assimilation into already constituted communities" (Homos 10). In playing the homo card, I am neither claiming an identity nor petitioning for inclusion or membership in any recognizable community, either for Beckett or for myself. Rather, I raise the question of Beckett as homo to join Bersani in the attempt to rethink "what we mean and what we expect from communication, and from community" (Homos 181). I want to examine how Beckett's "determination to fail" or "cult of failure," as well as his participation in "a radical modernity anxious to save art from the preemptive operations of institutionalized culture" (Homos 181), all align him with that "anticommunal mode of connectedness" (Homos 10) that Bersani designates as the antiessential essence of homoness. The contours of that alignment are what I will be examining throughout this essay My examination will lead, finally, to an assertion of the politically salutary value of the way Beckett's "determination to fail" not only resists literary or cultural success but also provides a possible point of resistance to the compulsorily heterosexual norms that subtend institutionalized culture's very definitions of the successful.

The term straight queer appears nowhere in Bersani's work, but it does emerge either directly or by implication in some of the recent formulations of queer theory with which Bersani takes issue in Horn os. In Bodies That Matter, for example, Judith Butler discusses how the word queer it--self, once a slur, has lately become a "discursive rallying point" not only for some lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men, but also for "straights for whom the term expresses an affiliation with anti-homophobic politics" (230). In Making Things Perfectly Queer Alexander Doty writes of "cases of straight queerness, and of other forms of queerness that might not be contained within existing categories or have reference to only one established category" (xviii-xix). …

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