Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Patriotic Perversions: Patricia Highsmith's Queer Vision of Cold War America in the Price of Salt, the Blunderer, and Deep Water

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Patriotic Perversions: Patricia Highsmith's Queer Vision of Cold War America in the Price of Salt, the Blunderer, and Deep Water

Article excerpt

For many commentators in today's fraught, shrill (might one say hysterical?) political public sphere, the United States is at a crossroads: Is the world's lone superpower ready to take on the burden of empire, or is it going to remake its commitment to internationalism through a "return" to a (two-faced) liberalism? For critics like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the screech-infested cable-television world of political commentary is almost beside the point. According to Hardt and Negri, we are already in the age of empire in which war is a permanent practice of the political. In a world governed by the processes of global capitalism that secure the wealth and privileges of a few "aristocratic" states at the expense of the many, war has become a means to secure those processes and the wealth they bestow on the few (Hardt and Negri 2001, 179-82). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be read, therefore, as battles fought to secure the economic, military, and political advantages of the United States and her coalition allies. "Freedom and democracy," as sound bite and as rhetoric, becomes a phrase that performs the epistemic violence necessary to secure an empire in the name of a nation-state that has claimed for itself the mantle of the good society.

Perhaps the shrillness of what passes for political debate in today's media is a symptom of the effort, the cultural work needed to enact precisely this kind of epistemic violence. Within the context of the 2004 American presidential election campaign, conservative appeals to the home, family, heterosexual marriage, and the rights of the unborn child became the organizing rhetoric of patriotism, and, as I will show in this essay, need to be read not just as an echo of the Reagan era, but also of the domestic ideology of the 1950s. The cultural work enacted by these rhetorics is an attempt to conjoin the wars of empire with the ideology of the good society-the privatized society of home and family. In the age of "permanent war," as in the age of the Communist atomic threat, the myths of certainty-the naturalness and Tightness of heterosexual coupledom, for example-become the necessary counterpoint to the uncertainty of war.

Indeed, in the 1950s a comparable shrillness, even hysteria, dominated the political public sphere. The McCarthy witch-hunts of the early 1950s and the "lavender scare" that, as David K. Johnson makes clear, both preceded and outlasted McCarthy's particular brand of demagoguery, created a "moral panic" that was also the mise en scène for postwar anxieties about economic reorganization and the worldwide military and political expansion of American power (Johnson 2004, 4). As many scholars have argued, the Cold War culture of "containment," in which national security was predicated not just on the official foreign policy of containing the expansion of the Soviet Union, but also on containing the internal threat-the possible infiltration of the domestic, interior space of America by various "enemies within"-tended to destabilize, rather than stabilize, conceptions of American citizenship, home, and nation.' The rhetorics of patriotism through which McCarthy made his base appeal to paranoia and through which Congress demanded the expulsion of homosexuals from government cast the Communist, and the equally morally degenerate homosexual, as threats to national security. Yet these projections of an enemy within paradoxically provoked a corresponding sense of fragile borders-between nation-states, but also between social groups and spaces, and between individuals, both strangers and neighbors. Such a threat was conjured through images of the privatized space of an idealized domesticity-the white middle-class world of suburbia. The stereotype of the Communist as suspicious next-door neighbor, or the homosexual as the unmarried office colleague with a penchant tor hard liquor, situated fears of their "un-Americanness" in "their" proximity to "our" domestic life. …

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