• Isherwood’s Impersonality: Ascetic Self-Divestiture and Queer Relationality in A Single Man

    Octavio Gonzalez (see profile)
    CLCS 20th- and 21st-Century, GS Prose Fiction, LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American, LLC 20th- and 21st-Century English and Anglophone, TC Sexuality Studies
    Anglo-American modernism, Queer history, Gay and lesbian literature, 20th-century American literature, 20th-century British literature, Modernism
    Item Type:
    christopher isherwood, Gay Writings, memoir, Sexuality in literature
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    Part of the Introduction in lieu of an abstract: Christopher Isherwood's celebrated novel A Single Man portrays a gay man as an ordinary human being. For its time, the novel's depiction of homosexuality as a legitimate minoritarian identity, rather than individual pathology, was a radical political gesture. Given this context, literary critics see the novel as anticipating gay liberation. The critical commonplace shows acceptance of the novel's incontrovertible identity politics: A Single Man champions an ordinary gay man as synecdoche for a burgeoning homosexual community, a political minority consciousness. Yet, as my argument will demonstrate, A Single Man endorses an ascetic ethos of queer impersonality, which pervades the majority of the novel's scenes of sociability and attachment. That impersonal asceticism severely qualifies the notion that A Single Man celebrates identity politics as the primary strategic weapon of literary-cultural gay activism. More broadly, my argument is that Isherwood's ethos of impersonality is evident in a broader conception of the Isherwood archive, from Berlin Stories to My Guru and His Disciple. The standard readings of Isherwood fall victim to the notion, critiqued by Michel Foucault, that the truth of the self is a sexual truth—a tendency still rampant in accounts of the 1960s, an era defined in hindsight by the cultural logic of gay liberation and the sexual revolution.
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    3 years ago
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