Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Introduction: Hans Turley, Queer Studies, and the Open-Hatched Eighteenth Century

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Introduction: Hans Turley, Queer Studies, and the Open-Hatched Eighteenth Century

Article excerpt

This special issue remembers Hans Turley - scholar, teacher, editor, friend, and pirate - with a collection of essays inspired by his life and work. They honor his scholarly contributions, intellectual derring-do, sardonic wit, and above all, perhaps, his gift for friendship. In his relatively short professional life - he received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1994, taught at Texas Tech University, and joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1998 - he helped extend the range of what can be studied and said by eighteenth-century scholars, especially those interested in the history of sexuality, which is nearly everyone these days, and by queer scholars most of all. In the months following his death in June 2008 it was often remarked that he had been one of the guiding forces in bringing queer studies into the official purview of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS). George Haggerty put it well: "he was there every step of the way to share his work and to offer responses to everyone else's. No one did as much for our field or was as close a friend to all of us working in it." Hans was an editor of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation from 1997 to 2005, and in 2003 he edited a double issue entitled "Preposterous Pleasure: Homoeroticism and the Eighteenth Century" (vol. 44, nos. 2-3). In his introduction, recalling the formation of the first Queer Caucus at ASECS a decade earlier, he observed that the caucus is "still going strong, sessions are crowded, and more and more scholars are working on the subject." That was 2003. The 2012 ASECS meeting in San Antonio saw sessions on "The Butch Eighteenth Century," "Transgressive Continental Sexualities," "Sexuality and Disability," and two Gay and Lesbian Caucus sessions on "Unaccountable Women: Theorizing the Unrepresentable" - all lively and well attended, and all indebted to Hans Turley for the role he played in building support for queer studies in ASECS.

Turley's major scholarly achievement is Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity (New York, 1999), a pioneering - and risky, as Laura J. Rosenthal notes in her contribution to this issue - study of homoerotic desire in early eighteenth-century texts. The book is important for its attractive and compelling image of "golden age" piracy as a transgressive male homosocial world, implicitly sodomitical; its original reassessment of the novels of Daniel Defoe, particularly the Robinson Crusoe trilogy (1719-20) and Captain Singleton (1720); and its revelations of the distortions engendered by heterocentric habits of thought. Oddly enough, the question of the (homo)sexual side of piracy had barely been bruited prior to 1983, when gay historian B. R. Burg in Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition took it for granted that, yes, of course, pirates were sodomites. Turley did not disagree, exactly, but was more intrigued by the silence surrounding pirate sexuality - he began this project in the postmodern nineties, after all - and in a neat adaptation of the work of Michel Serres, undertook to read for its queer implications the long history of cultural silence as it was punctuated by the "noise" of homophobic disturbance in selected eighteenth-century texts. With something of the gleefully destructive bravado of his pirate subjects, he set out to smash dichotomies - heterosexual /homosexual, villain/hero, fact/fiction, legend /reality - and to pull from the historical record elements that could be used to challenge heteronormative assumptions about sexuality and identity. Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash was one of the earliest works of eighteenth-century scholarship to introduce queer perspectives into the post-structuralist mix at the same time that it brought post-structuralism into the GLBT fold.

Without quite announcing it, Turley was playing a double game. He wanted to complicate and radicalize what in the seventies and eighties had been a more straightforward and unashamedly empirical approach to histories of homosexuality. …

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