Academic journal article Composition Studies

Reproductions of (Il)Literacy: Gay Cultural Knowledge and First-Year Composition Pedagogy

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Reproductions of (Il)Literacy: Gay Cultural Knowledge and First-Year Composition Pedagogy

Article excerpt

"In one moment of sharing ... the hint of a miracle can occur. But even vague miracles fade, turn inside out" (Rechy, City 340-41).

"If the representations that do exist are normative phantasms, then how are we to reverse or contest the force of those representations?" (Butler, "Against" 19)

Our set of "1963" panels at the 2007 CCCC provided the impetus to revisit the point at which the emergent field of composition studies joined broad, and even global, currents of intellectual inquiry. It was an opportunity to examine what Geoffrey Sirc called the "cultural rhymes" and "roads not taken" within one moment in order, perhaps, to better understand our own. In my view, critical reflections on 1963-from discursive practices of the Civil Rights Movement, to representations of art in Warhol and Godard, to intersections of technology and writing-help to document the processes by which an era's disruptive aesthetic, literary, and pedagogical moments become normalized and subjected to order. I focus here on John Rechy's debut novel, City of Night, to consider how cultural pressures, and later disciplinary pressures in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual/queer (LGBT/q) studies, affect the acquisition of critical literacies, particularly among students and scholars who follow the moment of gay emergence Rechy documents in City and in later works. I will also draw some connections between the short history of LGBT/q studies and ongoing conversations among compositionists in order to trace shared tendencies in those fields, which play out in provocative ways around recent applications of multimodal writing pedagogies. As I argue, the fields are particularly connected through the pedagogical pressures that shape ways in which students are either invited into or further distanced from the challenges and complexities of their critical histories. Ultimately, the intersection of gay cultural history and composition theories signal the importance of challenging persistent pressures to accommodate facile, and even injurious, conceptions of normativity at the expense of sustaining critical engagement with the cultural, aesthetic, and institutional problems that originally impelled these two fields. This paper reflects my concerns about the seduction of order, the process of normalization, and the effects of that process on the ways in which we conceive of and draw upon radical traditions.

I. City of Night and the Legacy of Gay Outlawry

Published in 1963, Rechy's first novel is an unprecedented piece of gay fiction, notable particularly for the ways its explicit, insider's depictions of gay hustling and the gay underground of the late 1950s and early 1960s diverged from a literary history that had relied primarily on euphemism and code to express gay content. Not surprisingly, then, early critical and popular responses to the novel focused on its sexual themes and on the incongruous image of a male hustler who could nonetheless write an intensely literary and homoerotic narrative. In Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy (2002), Charles Casillo explains that the novel's "unapologetic homoeroticism made the literary intelligentsia-particularly homosexuals-distinctly uncomfortable" (151). In fact, the image of the ideal hustler, straight-identified, "dumb, tough, and ready for sex" (172), so clashed with the novel's deft analysis of gay culture that Alfred Chester, writing for the New York Review of Books, and later critics challenged the author's existence, and in turn, the novel's own authenticity (156-57).1 Although this incongruity sparked reviewers' suspicions, it also reflected the relationship between gay culture's few acceptable roles and the complex identities, desires, and motivations of the men who practiced them; and this is the recurring theme and critical tension at the novel's heart. Thus, Rechy brought gay sex to the foreground of the narrative to examine the ways in which performative aspects of gay identity were all too often regarded as essential qualities rather than strategically occupied roles. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.