The last chapter's synchronic frame—its concentration on Crane's relationship to Sapphic modernism and its literary strategies—helps resolve the problem that chapter 1 posed, namely, Crane's long-term, albeit qualified, commitment to decadent aesthetics. His ars contra naturam updates 1890s strategies for expressing homoerotic desire to suit a less naive era. Wilde's fall, furthermore, continued to influence in discernable, isolable ways the style and substance of queer literature into the 1920s. Crane's “alternative modernity” thus proves to be exceptional but not exceptionalist, eccentric but not reducible to eccentricity.
This chapter supplements, extends, and complicates this argument in two fundamental respects. First, it pauses to ponder whether labels such as “modern” and “modernism” (however redefined or rearticulated) should be applied to Crane's poetics without further qualification. This issue is more than semantic. It speaks to the usefulness of periodization when interpreting a writer's work—a usefulness that is anything but evident, given the last several decades of vigorous, persuasive criticism of literary-historical periods as convenient disciplinary fictions.1 Why not, following Raymond Williams, recognize that every slice of time, and a fortiori every work of literature, contains residual, emergent, and dominant cultural traits (121–27)? Such a perspective would license one to read Crane's writings not so much as “modernist”—whether canonical or alternative—but rather as texts participating variably in multiple historical trajectories. This chapter seeks to place Crane's ars contra naturam within a broader time frame so as to avoid the potential myopia of an overly synchronic, modernist-focused analysis.
This diachronic approach dictates a second departure from chapter 2's