Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing

By James Duncan; Derek Gregory | Go to book overview

9

Travelling through the Closet

Michael Brown


INTRODUCTION

‘[T]heories travel,’ Edward Said (1983, 226) tells us. But to what end? He suggests their inevitable mobility (across disciplines, between material locations and amid different theorists) carries us to the frontiers and boundaries of theory’s ability to explain. It is not surprising then that travel writing—or more accurately the geographies it reveals—might be used to confront the utilities and the limits of a particularly influential body of theory. I would like to goad such a travelling theory in this chapter, namely psychoanalytic accounts of desire, and more specifically their own travels into literary theory. I will argue that these accounts can be brought into conversation with written geographies to produce critical insights about the mechanics of desire, especially when it takes such a spatial textualization: the closet. This long-standing spatial metaphor signifies what Eve Sedgwick (1990) has deemed the fundamental architecture of gay oppression this century. The closet evokes a sense of concealment and erasure typical of lesbian and gay desire. So much so, in fact, that it has itself travelled to signal any denial or ignorance of one’s identity. For instance, we now talk about people who are ‘in the closet’ about their HIV status when they deny their own seropositivity or refuse to tell others about it.

If the closet represents the place where gay and lesbian desire remains hidden, what sort of space is it? In this chapter, I am specifically interested in how the closet spatializes sexual desire for lesbians and gay men. The sign ‘closet’, I want to argue, is precisely such an articulation between sexuality, space and desire. Travel writing about the closet, then, provides a particularly appropriate venue for understanding their relations textually. I want to think through some of these relations by considering the travel writing of American gay author, Neil Miller. In his two books, In Search of Gay America (1989) and Out in the World (1992), Miller explores (quite literally) the geographies of the closet at national and global scales. More specifically, I will focus on his travels into two of the most closeted places on his tours: Selma, Alabama and Hong Kong. Though these are clearly very different spatializations of the closet, their differences highlight the range of ways the closet can work on desire. I will draw on two often competing foci on desire in psychoanalytic/literary theory—Lacan’s and the schizoanalysis of

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Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Limited Visions of Africa 14
  • 3 - Enlightenment Travels 49
  • References 69
  • 4 - Writing Travel and Mapping Sexuality 70
  • 5 - The Flight from Lucknow 92
  • 6 - Scripting Egypt 114
  • 7 - Dis-Orientation 151
  • 8 - The Exoticism of the Familiar and the Familiarity of the Exotic 164
  • 9 - Travelling Through the Closet 185
  • 10 - Writing Over the Map of Provence 200
  • Index 219
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