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James Baldwin repeatedly describes modern life in terms of repressed desires, anxious projections, and tortuous ambivalences – pitiful and destructive pathologies that determine interracial contact in the United States. In a characteristic moment in The Fire Next Time (1963), for example, he traces the intensifying hostilities that will soon lead to a series of assassinations of his friends and colleagues – beginning with the murder of Medgar Evers in June of the same year – to the unprocessed psychosocial contradictions in which “whiteness” is grounded: “a vast amount of the energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem,” he writes, “is produced by the white man’s profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white, not to be seen as he is, and at the same time a vast amount of white anguish is rooted in the white man’s equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror.” Because of the series of unprocessed ethical catastrophes that mark the history of diasporic modernity, everyday life in twentieth-century United States is governed by something like a narcissistic syndrome in which the subject is bound to his inverse mirror image, one that he loves and hates with an unacknowledged passion. Much like a trompe-l’oeil tableau, this idealized imago coincides with a deadly doppelgänger, the harbinger of one’s annihilation. The “race problem” is but a symptom of such narcissistic ambivalence. “These tensions,” as Baldwin continues, “are rooted in the very same depths from which love springs, or murder. The white man’s unadmitted – and apparently, to him, unspeakable – private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro.” The mirror dialectic is originally a way for the “white” subject to avoid acknowledging – paying the price for – the collective past; in The Fire Next Time, Baldwin criticizes the Nation of Islam for eagerly participating in the game in which one reproduces the self by murderously desiring his specular other.
The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature presents a global history of the field and is an unprecedented summation of critical knowledge on gay and lesbian literature that also addresses the impact of gay and lesbian literature on cognate fields such as comparative literature and postcolonial studies. Covering subjects from Sappho and the Greeks to queer modernism, diasporic literatures, and responses to the AIDS crisis, this volume is grounded in current scholarship. It presents new critical approaches to gay and lesbian literature that will serve the needs of students and specialists alike. Written by leading scholars in the field, The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature will not only engage readers in contemporary debates but also serve as a definitive reference for gay and lesbian literature for years to come.
Queer theory had a good year in 1987. Three texts of major import for queer thinking were published. Leo Bersani's work took an explicitly queer turn in ‘Is the Rectum a Grave?,’ an essay that rendered the arguments Bersani had formulated during his long career as a literary theorist, beginning from the mid-1960s, relevant to queer thinking energised by the violently phobic reactions to the AIDS crisis. The same year, Judith Butler published her re-worked dissertation, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France, in which she brilliantly recuperated Hegel's philosophy from the collective dismissal by its numerous critics. Subjects of Desire is important for queer theory, for in this book Butler extracted from the theory of the dialectic a politically salient account of Hegelian becoming. It is on this re-worked model of Werden that she would three years later, in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), erect the theory of performativity, perhaps the single most important concept for the institutional recognition of queer thinking.
The third text I have in mind is Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. In this text, Anzaldúa elaborates on the theory of being and becoming – terms that I use here advisedly – that she had first articulated in the collective project of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981, 2nd edn 1983) earlier in the decade.
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