1.Reparative(literally, repairing) reading of gay male-content fiction is to tease out, and RE-INSTATE a marginalised(therefore, because of homophobia, censored, by individual and/or state)text by looking at the covert, semi-covert or the meanings overlooked , intentionally or not, by the heteronormativized reader. RE-INSTATEMENT is the key, thereby repairing or healing the damage done by (self) censorship.In the UK, this, of course, predominantly applies to texts written pre the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967. So we are rescuing theese writings from a heteronormativised oblivion, at worst; or marginalisation, at best. I have given many examples on these blogs before(Hopkins, Forster, Melville, for instance); one being this reading/reparation in the form of a poem/hommage to Ricky in Forster’s “The Longest Journey”(1907)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has argued(in “The Epistemology of the Closet”,1990) that “the reparative impulse…is additive and wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchaote self”.Thus we can bring to light, then RUN with it, (then come up against the heteronormativized critic/readers’ response of “it can’t possibly be homoerotic, it isnt fully overtly in “the text””),IGNORE the bit in brackets, and keep running joyfully with our own gay reparative reading.  So that, for example, “The Longest Journey” and “Howard’s End”(another Forsterian majoritised and pilfered text DO “only connect”{Forster’s own words prefixing the latter novel} with his gay self of the OVERT “Maurice, only published after his death,ie in 1971, 4 years after decriminalization of male homosexual acts). WE, as reparative, powerful, joyful readers, albeit, of necessity, a hundred years on,make wholes of the texts, incorporating ALL sides of the characters, narrators and Forster himself. Not “reducing” his characters or the author to his sexual orientation but (re)presenting him as the whole, unfractured person he would have wanted to be; see this link on the sterling reparative work done by Arthur Maitland, first, then Helen Moffatt This is reparative gay writing at its best. Whether it is a critic or US, as individual readers(and you do not have to be gay to do it!)we have the power to HEAL and repair the texts, the narrators AND the authors; and ourselves in the process.

This way of reading obviously has a link with:

2. Subjective reading or reading to identify with the characters.

But , oh oh…BIG “WARNING”: heteronormativising critics will say, clinging fiercely onto their hegemonic status, “you are merely imposing your own subjective interpretation onto the text”;”we should be trying to get at what the author MEANT”. They are obviously unaware(or, if aware, doggedly grasping onto their OWN subjectivity)that they are doing the very selfsame thing from their OWN individual, subjective perception/world view, that they are accusing gay reparative readers of doing! Not that  am TOTALLY in favour of Barthian Death of the Author interpretation-that there are only an infinite plenitude, matching the number of individuals reading each text, of wholly subjective, personal interpretations-as there ARE certain points an author is attempting to make from his/her OWN worldview or in , eg, his characterization, we should be attempting to grasp; I just think that the minorised ,non(hetero)normative position is de-privileged in this repect; there is a bias aginst the non-heteronormative position because of, in SOME (not all cases), heterosexual subjectivity; so there isnt this levelplaying field, from which we can just have this “what the author means”/”was getting at”/”close reading” school, which is set up as “objective” and therefore unassailable. This is , of course, especially relevant to non-privileged epistemologies,the references of which are often encoded in the very subtexts/parallel texts, of which I have often spoken(Eg “The Longest Journey).

Interestingly there is a growth in a school of reading in my home city, which seeks to be consoling and reparative and healing(through reading) but which is actually RUN partly by proponents of the “close reading” school; this is particuarly targetted at people with mental health issues, some of which may have been CAUSED, primary facie,by the lack of reflexion back, by hegemonic texts, of their own subjective experience(without “reducing” all experience, of course, to hegemonic versus nonhegemonic “groups”/individuals; I am not trying to set up a binary us and them discourse, because there ARE, obviously, universalities: love,human motivation and many other traits which are regardless of sexual orientation, gender and other equal opportunies issues, and these are, UNEQUIVOCALLY, privileged discourses or not, reflected back through literature). But the IRONY of the position adopted by these classes in healing reading!!; though not OVERTLY/CONSCIOUSLY set up to marginalise de-privileged groups”/individuals, they do not set out to recognise these societally structural inequalities and lack of representation, and therefore to encourage them; one has to speak out!. In general, in fact, my exerience and feeling is that subjective, consoling reading, is the lame-duck of academic critical theory or, better, critical BEING; feared because of its ultimately relativistic position and as a challenge to the hegemonic status quo(depending on its position QUA that status quo). Reading gay-affirmative literature actually catalysed-nay, catapulted me-  into my acceptance of my sexual orientation: a validation of my subjective position, healing , consoling; reading as therapy, if you like.

So WHAT IS THE TEXT?Why is subjective, person-centered reading, as opposed to dissecting the text “objectively” (to get at what it means/meant to the author),often seen as inferior? For instance, in a poem, a metaphor might have different meanings to many different people, eg in a poetry analysis class; so what if the poet has not left explanantory notes(most don’t /didnt!) or there is no critical analysis, heaven forfend?(often , again, a form of hegemonic perpetuation-this is THE interpretation of what the poet/writer MEANT when he/she used this metaphor etc). Even if the poet DID leave commentary, he/she might have meant (some?/all?) of it ironically as a PARODY of critical exegesis on what is often either ineffable or open to an individual’s own “take” on the metaphor/whole poem in question, based on their life experience; or there may be a meta/sub/parallel text/meaning , which people from certain minorised subcultural groups, ie “in the know” will grasp and others not(that doesnt mean the majorised perspective is wrong obviously; it just means the minorised one isnt wrong either). Eliot’s own notes on “The Wasteland” are a famous example of this false, satirical explication of his own text-somewhat camp{OOOOOOOH I said it, about Eliot!}Poetry, in especial, is open to this variegated and massive scope of (mainly subjective) interpretation. Do you see my point? Literature, especially poetry, is open to all these critical interpretations(because we are ALL of us critics, not just the academic “mainstream” canon, even the anti-hegemonic critical “anti-canon” of queer/lgbt/feminist/post colonialist readings)- it is open to us ALL: the myriad of interpretations is going on ANYWAY. So there lies the (institutionalised)  hypocrisy!

Graham Robb is a good source here. In “Strangers:Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth century”(2003), he, from a socio-cultural (including literary)point of view, points out that lesbian and gay people did not, by any means, all perceive themselves as victims, even after the homo/heterosexual demarcation of the late ninenteenth century and the La Bouchere Amendment: he describes, from documentary evidence, thriving subcultures, from the 17th century molly-houses(male prostitute brothels) to the writing of novels which through camp, intricacy , baroque writing , sub/parallel texts for those “in the know” could construct their own world and a reflection of it back through art; this is not to underestimate the state apparatus of repression in the UK and most other countries. But they existed and throve.

To illustrate these gay-subjective readings,I would use myself examples of:

1. Camp. The ornate, embellished language of,for example, Ronald Firbank, in”Concerning The Eccentricities[that very word in the title is a giveaway!] of Cardinal Pirelli”(1926), with its not too covert indication that our protagonist is a lover of young men, a sort of church camp still used amongst gay vicars/priests to voice their “private(or rather “privatised”) thoughts/concerns, a sort of polari:”Sarabandish and semi-mythic was the dance that ensued{the pursual of the young man}. Leading by a dozen derisive steps Don Light-of-Limb took the nave”(p.250, 1961 Penguin edition)”. Firbank uses the mock-heroic(“sarabandish” and “semi-mythic”)-and therefore the camp technique of bathos-as well the ambiguous meaning of “take”,as in a dance, or a sexual conquest, to indicate his meaning (which at other points in the narrative is, incidentally, totally OVERT, to someone who is not pulling the heternormative critic’s wool over his/her eyes!).  See my earlier posting on Camp

2.Changing the gender of the protagonist(s)by the knowing/in-the-know reader; for example, in Proust, Albertine is REALLY Proust’s male lover; or, in the complex fetishisation pertaining around his lesbian characters, where Marcel can SPY on a lesbian couple making love in some sort of twisted, tortuous (mis) representation/sublimation of his (suppressed) same-sex desires(and I am not confusing Proust with the narrator, Marcel, here{though perhaps we are MEANT to as they bear the same first name!}; because Marcel/the narrator is inordinately and repeatedly intrigued by homosexual men{Charlus, Saint-Loup} and lesbian women; he is obsessed with thinking Albertine is having lesbian affiars, as is Swann{in Volume one]with Odette, where it turns out she almost certainly is!)

So, instead of the paranoid reparative reading Kosofsky Sedgwick refers to in “The Epistemology of the Closet”(1990), which she warns us to beware of reducing the whole narrative to,and which would be made sheerly defensively against the hetero/homo hegemonically and socially imposed divide (from the late nineteenth century), we can tease out the parallel/subtexts and CELEBRATE them, therby REPAIRING/HEALING the texts, character and author, albeit retrospectively.(I shall explore , at a later date, that/how Sedgwick, in “Epistemology”,{ in the chapter on Proust, “The spectacle of the closet”} and in her last work, a compilation of essays on Proust and other issues, “The Weather in Proust”(2011),makes a case for Proust’s -what we would now call- queer performativity in his ACTING OUT  of the spectacle/drama of the contestation between closet/gay-perjorative and homosexual apologia{an, at least, form of gay-affirmative parallel and sometimes overt reading}; and whether I agree that that argument holds water)

So, its what MAKES the text meaningful to US, as individuals(gay or not), subjective, personal, consoling because self-affirmatory(reflecting back) OUR, individual lives; consoling/”identifying with the characters”; whatever you wish to call this way of reading. So, what the author “MEANT” becomes heavily contested, especially, but not only, in these gay-occluded texts.

3.This connects nicely with DECONSTRUCTIONIST textual reading: Derrida wrote of the complex concept of the “trace”(in “Of Grammatology”, 1967)as that linking the past with the present and into the future, so that, in gay reparative reading, the “trace” or THREAD of the (excavated/rescued/healed)re -readings of the occluded and censored gay (overtly) PAST texts is interwoven/re-weaved into our present(as readers excavating the hidden/parallel meanings TODAY); and this thread/”trace” informs the FUTURE (and the NOW, in SOME countries, at least,where  gay writers are free to write openly), a future of “Queer Utopia”, if you like(cf. Munoz, “Cruising Utopia:The Then and There of Queer Futurity”, 2009, where he, similarly explores the Derridean idea of the trace in lgbt/queer history, keeping it alive even in the dark times of AIDS pre combination therapy treatment, and running with that thread into the queer Utopian future, where things can only get better!)

Reparative reading has been seen as as odds with deconstructionist readings of texts but I think it fits quite well: Catherine Belsey (in “PostStructuralism:A Very Short introduction”,2002)describes how the text(gay or not, but especially pertinent to marginalised, occluded texts generally) inhabits the gaps and undecurrents in the said “text”; that is, in a MIDDLE position between author(often mediated by narrator)and reader, where we can look at what the author is at least attempting to put across(in a meaning sense) and how our individual SUBJECTIVE positionning in the world mediates and alters that meaning; so the links here with subjective/”identifying with the characters”/ consoling reading, and with reparative readings are obvious; WE, as individual readers, FILL IN those gaps, by the very performativity of reading; in other words, by the way in which we ENACT the drama of the text in our OWN minds. Roland Barthes said the reader is “the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost”(“The Death of the Author”, 1967″; interestingly and relevantly, for obvious reasons, Barthes was gay)


About decayetude

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