THE HEGEMONY IN ACTION, AND FORSTER’S “MAURICE”.THE PRESENTATION THAT NEVER WAS. BY STEVEN BENSON

The following is a presentation I was intending to give as part of a course at my local (official) university, in response to the whole class having studied Alain-Fournier:”Le Grand Meaulnes”. The theme was novels which had an important effect on us, especially “rites of passage” or, in gay terms, “coming out ” novels.In the end, I felt unable to give the presentation after a mainly sleepless night(though there WAS an additional factor in the stress of that day). Earlier in the course someone had made the fairly standard homophobic comment of “why do you do need to talk about gay issues{in regard to literary texts} so much when we accept you”{sic}; I hope people who have read the contents of parts(only) of the rest of my blogs will “get” the risibility of the inbuilt oxymoron of that statement. Luckily, two other class members had successfully challenged this person at the time and luckily it happened in a break period, not in front of the whole class-unlike a previous scarring incident when I had talked re E.M. Forster’s now (luckily, thanks to Moffat)well-documented inability to write after “Howard’s End”( because he needed to get the overtly homoerotic novel of {eventually} HAPPY same sex love out of his system,”Maurice”): I was met with a virulently homophobic remark in front of the class, which the tutor then failed to deal with.So, all this must have been, semi-consciously, running through my mind; and I decided aginst the possible stress and unlikely(on this occasion), but possible, homophobia I might recieve. I was marginalised, but in a way, I had taken control and saved myself possible stress and re-stimulation anxiety, so , in the circumstances of this unequal often heterosexist world, I had come out equal!Anyway, whilst I continue to try and function as an openly gay man in this sometimes difficult (traditional academic) hegemonic environment, I have also joined an alternative non-hegemonic, anti-capitalist learning space , where I am fully accepted as a person who HAPPENS to be a gay man, and where I am even undertaking a “module” in queer critical theory and practice. So, ONWARDS towards utopia….

Here is the presentation(well, an unadulterated version of it in some respects, the need for adulteration in itself speaking volumes)

“E.M.FORSTER: MAURICE. ONE OF MY RITES OF PASSAGE NOVELS”

In “le Grand Meaulnes”, I felt there was a Hardyesque disjunction and displacement between the characters and their love-fulfilment(object): Seurel loves Meaulnes loves Yvonne(idealized); seurel looks after the dead Yvonne’s baby till Meaulnes returns, AFTER her death, having wrecked his and Yvonne’s relationship by sleeping with Valentine, the fiancee of Yvonne’s brother, Frantz(another vagabond)thus also having been unfaithful to Yvonne.

The debate about the homoeroticism of Seurel and Meaulnes’ “friendship” will rage on{INSET: NOT part of the presentation-why do homosexual relationships and same sex love often provoke such inordinate rage?-there is a conflict subject I have explored in this extract from this posting: SEBALD:CRITICS’ RESPONSE/NON-RESPONSE TO THE LARGE AMOUNT OF HOMOSOCIALITY(CLOSE MALE FRIENDSHIPS)AND OF HOMOSEXUAL/BISEXUAL CHARACTERS IN HIS WORK, WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO THE CHARACTER OF HENRY SELWYN IN “THE EMMIGRANTS”

What are the reasons that most critics (not all-there are a few exceptions-see below) avoid the topic of how Sebald addresses a lot of his writing to the subjects(or abject subjects) of the title of this essay?The effect of this is a DOUBLE marginalisation  and invisibilization of the very same subject matter,and, more importantly PEOPLE, that Sebald himself was VERY obviously trying to say were ALREADY abject and put to the edges of society; and, whilst he is not as clear(albeit, famously, circuitously)as about the Holocaust links( as regards his Jewish characters), the links  are patently implicit in the texts.

I would posit these reasons:

1.”the Fear of a Queer planet”(the title is from the book, edited by  Michael Warner{1993}): GROSS societal homophobia and heterosexism, manifested, structurally, throughout the literary critical establishment. This is obvious(and, as I say, there are a few worthy exceptions). The fear is that gay and bisexual people will ONE day take over and outnumber heterosexual people; as if!; we just want equality; but it is the scapegoating/fear of differerence/the other that Sebald writes about , in “Rings of Saturn”, where he describes how Eire only took Roger Casement to its heart when they sidelined his homosexuality, one marginalization being replaced, ironically, by another. PLEASE DO NOT BE OFFENDED: lots of non-gay/bisexual people are NOT guilty of these “sins of omission”!and a lot of it is unthinking and just needs(GENTLE) education; but it is there in some circles, and, in this case, largely prevents a FULL anaysis of ALL of Sebald’s writings(with the usual rider that the great man was not “just” concerned with homosexuals, as he wasn’t “just” concerned with the decimation of the Jews in World War 2, but “The fear of a Queer Planet” means one is heavily pressurized into saying that there is this universality lest one be seen as a “one-issue” critic/person; and there actually IS, in the last analysis, a universality of representation, but a particularity to a grouping/”grouping”(depending on how that group/”group” chooses to be defined)of people at a particular historical moment(the evils of Hitler’s Germany); AND THAT IS WHAT SEBALD IS PRIMARILY WRITING ABOUT AT SOME JUNCTURES.. So,in other words, there needs to be a level playing field of representation before FULL, and non-homophobic and non-heterosexist, analysis can occur.I must also make a distinction(largely but not always because there is obviously some overlap) between homosexuality, as in the actualisation (or DESIRE/NEED to actualize) same-sex sexual acts, and homosociality(meaning close friendships between members of the same sex,{ “homo” meaning “same not “man”, as it does in “homosexual”}where there MAY be sexual yearning but there may NOT be, and it may also be one-sided(I have written another piece on “Romantic same sex friendships”-and the continuum that encompasses- on this blog).

2. Power relations propagated by hierarchical established religions  and by the hegemonic political status quo, especially the former because it has vested psycho-social interests in protecting its own employees, as there is a disproportionate(not as in “too many” but as in statististically disproportionate)number of gay people in the Christian church, in particular, vis-avis the rest of the population. So, Foucouldian control, perpetuated throughout all levels of sacred and secular society, which is internalized by individuals; and individuals include specific critics who will read Sebald,and who, along with everyone else,at least to a degree, form their often (but NOT ALWAYS-see later) heterosexist subectivity. So perhaps see this essay as an educative process! I hope you do (and only if you NEED educating!){So if any of my friends and the many other non-homophobic/heterosexist are reading this , I am NOT getting at YOU at all- I am looking at the reasons for why Sebald’s many homosexual/bisexual characters, so intrinsic to his oevre, have their sexual orientation sidelined and marginalized by hegemonic and unaware critics}. This is not an attack on gay-friendly critics OR friends!This is one heck of a delicate subject…. which is the very point Sebald and I are making!

3. What about the “we all come from our own subjectivity versus the universality of the close meaning/trying to get at what the author is saying” point of view?”Our “own subjectivity”, in this case, would refer to whether we identify as heterosexual/gay/lesbian/bisexual/bi-curious/transgender/queer/transexual/pansexual/genderqueer/psychologically androgynous as regards the purported set “traits” of the “male”v.”female” binary and the gay v. straight binary/are beyond, or AIM to be beyond, all such classifications(and remember, here, I am ONLY talking re sexual orientation identity: we are obviously MUCH much more than our sexual orientation identity but I am talking here of a matter relating to the persecution and invisibilization of Sebald’s homosexual{or non-sexually active-with each other- homosocial} characters; so am not “reducing” the debate to one issue;it is the RELEVANT issue; as for instance, a discussion of the history of slavery would be relevant for “The Beloved” by Toni Morrison.I can understand, or NOT understand, as little/as much of the execrable things done to the slaves in Africa and the United States; I can at least make an imaginative attempt at empathy(and an attempt it will ONLY be, because of the sheer horror of the atrocities). Similarly, I can attempt to relate to heterosexual/opposite-sex love stories; in fact, I CAN(largely; though there are differences around the hegemonic status of opposite-sex and same-sex relationships)relate to them  because love IS universal-we ALL feel it. But the point I am making is that it does not occur to me to accuse anyone of “heterosexualizing” a (non-heterosexually based) text, or “finding a straight subtext” in everything. This is, obviously, because, texts have more opposite-sex affect interest/relationships in them, statistically, than same-sex love affects/relationships, roughly mirroring the amount of same-sex attracted people in the population generally. So, what i am saying is there is NO NEED to find a straight subtext/parallel text in a book; because it is THERE, overtly; it just is(with varying degrees of sexual passion depending on the author’s taste and the censors of the time/place!).So there is absolutely no need for the opposite-sex affect narrative to be hidden, or coded.So these prejudiced, homophobic(or, at the very least, heterosexist) statements, conscious or unconscious,ARE just that; at least heterosexist, possibly homophobic. Then is the added irony of a lot of the great writers being homosexual/gay/bisexual/lesbian, whether they actually had sex or not(it is the emotional ATTRACTION to people of their own sex I am talking about.) So, I am safe saying Alan Hollinghurst is gay(and “out”) because he writes OVERTLY about same-sex relationships and sex; it is now FULLY documented(cf Maitland and Moffats’ biographies, as well as the earlier Furbank one, personally authorised by the author himself)that Forster was gay(though a lot of critics still marginalize this fact, even though his diaries speak of a nervous breakdown beacuse, even though “only connect” is the prefix to “Howards End”, he, ironically, had a nervous breakdown after writing it because he wrote, in his diaries, that he COULDNT connect through his prose because he couldn’t write directly and overtly of his homosexuality; and then went on to write “Maurice” with its majoring on same-sex affects; how more obvious do you have to get?!); Whitman, pretty safe  now, though probably not taught in U.S schools, being America’s national poet, that he was homosexual, but agreed by critics, though often bypassed; Henry James, pretty agreed homosexual in affect but probably no sexual experience, but not proved; Melville, beginning to get “contentious”-the existence of the sperm scene and the Ishmael and Queequeg “marriage bed” scene being particuarly risible proof of the ludicrousness of the homophobic and/or heterosexists’ critics’ stands; G M Hopkins-contested, though some of the poems are 100% EXLICITLY homoerotic(I have written about this on another post and poem), so blatant homophobia when his sexual orientation is marginalised, especially as he never got over the death of the man he loved, in ALL ways(whether they had sex or not), Arthur Dolben; Shakepeare-oooooh: BE CAREFUL Shakespeare pro-gay or pro-bisexual critics- we really have “fear of a queer planet”(on the literary stage) here!UK’s national bard. The odds are up!Anyway, you get my drift….

END OF INSET}

(though I am relieved to hear Michelle Roberts-in a radio 4 discussion on “Le Grand Meaulnes”, where she, unapologetically prorounded this same-sex attraction, whether consummated or not,thereby underlining its “normality”/normality-as an advocate that this sexual attraction from at least Seurel TO Meaulnes({even if unreciprocated}is indubitably present in the text). But I have myself chosen a novel which 100%UNEQUIVOCALLY ENACTS(in ALL senses) male, same-sex love, with a protagonist who goes through  a DOUBLE, intertwined coming-out into adolescent yearning and into gradually acknowledging, and , eventually accepting , and fulfilling his homosexuality-Maurice.

However, to get to that stage Maurice has to go through the usual baptisms of fire of ANY adolescence; but has the immense additional burden of societal, not only prejudice, but actual ILLEGALITY of even concensual same-sex male homosexual acts(they were illegal between the La Bouchere Amendment of the 1880s and the belated enactment of the Woolfenden’ Committtee’s half-hearted recommendations of 1967); a burden which his first lover, Clive Durham , fails to carry.

Forster puts this eloquently in this quotation from the text:”he sank far below them now, for he was descending the Valley of the Shadow of Life. it lies between the lesser mountains and the greater, and without breathing its fogs, no-one can come through. He groped about in it longer than most boys”(p.25. Penguin edition, 1971); this occurs at a time where, to Maurice, “all is obscure and unrealised”(in relation to his same-sex desires and loves, and without the WILLED unrealisation of Meaulnes of these desires).

Poignantly, and intensely ironically,Forster himself, though he had satisfying long and short-term relationships with men-read Martland and Moffats’, respectively, analyses and lives, the only ones to deal fully and effectively with the homosexual side of Forster’s life as part of his whole personhood-would not allow this book to be published till after his death(it wasnt published till 1971, FIFTY-SEVEN years AFTER having been finished{in 1914})

…Back to Maurice… He dreams of an ideal “friend”(as did I, from the age of about 8):”most probably he was just a man”{as opposed to a God!though they FELT like they were gods!}; he feels, at this stage, he will never meet that friend.

In this next quotation, there are echoes of Seurel. Maurice tells of worshipping other boys(Seurel, loves and worships Meaulnes including upto the point where he lives out Meaulnes life with and, at times, FOR him, in another example of object identification with the loved one: the lost domain IS Seurel’s too largely because it is Meaulnes’, whom he loves), occasionally reciprocated:”the adoration was mutual on one occasion, both yearning for they knew not what”(again Maurice’s nameless yearnings echoing Seurel, Meaulnes AND Frantzs’).

So, we have a sort of (purely) psychological mirroring of the nebulous shape-shifting(between dream and reality) psychogeography of Meaulnes'(and , therefore, Seurel’s) lost/forsaken/never-to-be attained demesne; with, as i have said, the VAST societal prejudice and illegality to combat.

………………………………………………………………………………

I wishIi had read “Maurice” in the mid 1970s, when I was 16 or so, when I was myself an adolescent; but such books were a total no-go area(for largely the same societal reasons as for Forster and Maurice, though legality, but very few equal rights to heterosexuals,came when I was 8). If I WERE to have read it then, it would have made my adolescence ineffably easier, less delayed(till my mid 20s, when i came out as gay) and less disjointed and painful; because I would have had a positive role model in Maurice’s bravery to be himself. When I finally DID read it, in 1981, thanks to a gay friend, who gave me the confidence to come out(after, like Forster himself, a nervous breakdown, for many of the same suppression of sexuality reasons)and who suggested it alongside a raft of other gay rites of passage novels:- it was TRANSFORMING. I, like Maurice(when he finds Alec),was not, anymore, alone. In fact it shows the true value of reparative(in the TRUE sense of healing, not “corrective”)reading in that it helped point the way for me to tentatively, at first, explore my OWN sexual orientation.

The next to last chapter of “Maurice” ends with Alec, the gamekeeper, and Maurice being together, in ALL ways: “‘And now we shan’t  be parted no more; and thats finished”, says Alec. Forster was DETERMINED his labour of love, “Maurice”, would have a happy, romantically and sexually fulfilled homosexual love ending(and that was VERY VERY rare for a text, of that era, with a homosexual content)

So, Forster’s novel, especially if read in conjunction with a co-analysis of the Alain-Fournier,acts out all kinds of lost but then REGAINED(unlike “Le grand Meaulnes”) domains: what an achievment  for a gay man, writing at about the same time as Alain-Fournier(1913/14). I should like to see it on a university syllabus, as, though it divides critical opinion(usually, but not quite always, along the lines of gay-friendly, or NOT, critics and readers, the neagtive critiques of whom are risible in that the novel has stylistic equality with “The Longest Journey” and “Howard’s End”{both of which, even in there final heavily censored versions,have overt, semi-overt and sub/covert references to homosexual desire and love}:- so, yes, ON THE SYLLABUS because:

1. it is a great novel, gay or straight characters notwithstanding

2.It has great psychological acuity and depth.

3. it is a psycho-social exploration of attitudes towards homosexuality and class,and, like Alain-Fournier,describes the last throes of what was percieved(at least) as a utopian pre-war lost, innocent world.

4. It is stylistically beautiful; tender and poignant, as Forster usually is

It is a classic, in other words, whether you are gay or not; as is “Le grand Meaulnes”, whether you are straight or not

OTHER CLASSICS OF GAY SEXUAL AWAKENING(which made a big effect on me):

1.E. White “Boys Own Story”

2. Barry Nonweiler:”That Other Realm of Freedom”

 

—————————————————————————-

Thats was the presentation that never was ; you can work out the ironies…

But I have noticed on (re) writing it, it was wholly UNcensored; which, of course, makes my point all over again…

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About decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)
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