Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

PART 3
Ruptured Bodies, Ruptured Tales
MASCULINE INJURY AND TRANSCENDENCE IN TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY U.S. LITERATURE

It is in this period that culture generates such mechanisms of masculinization as the Boy Scouts, muscular Christianity, bodybuilding, institutionalized sports such as football and baseball, and the public modeling of martial aggressiveness by figures such as Theodore Roosevelt.1 Such mechanisms of male acculturation point to a growing unease toward signs of feminine presences in the masculine psyche, presences it had been the project of "true womanhood" systematically to cultivate throughout the previous century. The insistence on specifically masculine virtues, in other words, reflects the success of domestic ideology in producing the feminine as an ongoing and ineradicable challenge to male authority, both intrapsychically and in the material world of social relations. The twin halves of this cultural crisis coincide with the much noted crystallization of homosexuality/homophobia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The intense desire for the redeeming stuff of masculinity is shadowed by a growing panic that, experientially, masculine affiliations, enthusiastically cultivated, cannot be separable in kind from erotic desires for other men. Such a threat is in part contained by the casting of the homosexual as a recognizable figure antithetical to normative masculinity, but this defense against homoeroticism paradoxically also intensifies the threat of impermissible, feminizing desires alien to the specular, manifest masculinity of the touchdown run, the heroic charge, or the Western duel.

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