Daniel Keyes’ [Flowers for Algernon] – On Disability, Animality, and Structure

Flowers for Algernon

I think I’ll begin by stating that Flowers for Algernon is perhaps one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking books that I’ve read recently. In the narrative, Algernon is the name of a laboratory mouse who successfully underwent an operation to increase its intelligence. The main focus of the novel, however, is Charlie Gordon,  a man suffering from Phenylketonuria with an IQ of around 70. Charlie undergoes  the same procedure done to Algernon, and consequently becomes a genius and a ployglot within a short period of time. However, the procedure is found to have a major flaw, which leads to the mental detriment of both characters.

There were many things I loved about this novel. It is delivered in an epistolary fashion by Charlie, so his musings are quite candid and honest, and his struggle to become a “normal” human being is frequently highlighted throughout the narrative. Even when Charlie becomes a genius, he realizes that there is a difference between being intellectually mature and emotionally mature. Although he is able to quickly learn languages and conduct difficult thought experiments with ease after the operation, he finds it difficult to make friends and connect with people emotionally, and even sexually. What we have here is a novel of development, or a Bildungsroman, that takes place after the character has reached adulthood, which I find completely fascinating.

I thought the epistolary structure of the novel added much dimension to it, for through Charlie’s writing we are able to observe his intellectual progress and detriment. Charlie’s first epistles contain many grammatical errors, words are usually spelled according to their pronunciation, and the vocabulary is relatively simple. The first sentence of his writing, for instance, is: “Dr Struss says I should rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on” (Keyes). As the narrative progresses, and especially after Charlie undergoes his procedure, he begins to improve his punctuation, his grammar, and the complexity of his words and ideas dramatically increases. This change of writing style really adds to the character’s ethos and our ability to connect to his words.

Flowers for Algernon was very rich thematically, and it covered issues such as the role of mentally disabled human beings within our society, and other complex issues, such as the relationship between humans and animals and the effects of psychological and physical abuse to children with expressions of intelligence that deviate from the norm. The novel really tried to deal with the differences that exist between mental and physical disabilities, an issue that I have personally grappled with in terms of my past work with representations of disability within contemporary fiction. In one instance, the protagonist questions how mentally disabled persons are viewed and approached by people who have neutral bodies and minds:

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes–how such people thing nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence. It infuriated me to remember that not too long ago I–like this boy–had foolishly played the clown. (Keyes)

Flowers for Algernon stressed the ludicrous nature of the hierarchies and the restrictions that are imposed upon certain types of disabilities. The protagonist points out how quickly people can accept and lament physical disabilities because they are easily seen and readable. People with physical disabilities are thus considered marked by other people. The issue with mental handicaps, as interpreted by the protagonist, is that since they are not readable through the body, but rather performed, it gives people the right to consider mental illness as an inferior type of disability.

It’s easier to understand that which can be seen and felt, is it not? Of course, the protagonist actively challenges this idea. Most people, prior to his operation, didn’t even consider Charlie to be a person or a human being–as if intelligence was the spark that ignited his humanity or his spirit. This, of course, is where issues of animality are present within the novel, and it is also the reason why the protagonist identifies so strongly with Algernon. Algernon’s mental deterioration foreshadows Charlie’s eventual intellectual regression, and  Charlie thus makes it his mission to understand the causes for Algernon’s sudden and rapid loss of intelligence.

In perhaps one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the novel, Algernon dies. Rather than getting rid of the laboratory mouse via incineration, Charlie buries him in a yard, giving Algernon the validation that few people bestowed upon him as a living creature. As Charlie’s mental health deteriorates, he continues to visit Algernon’s grave and places flowers over it, treating the mouse as more of an individual than any other person ever did. This of course, is due to Charlie’s strong association with the mouse: they are both Others, and they both deviate not only from expectations of normalcy, but also expectations of humanity. Charlie’s lack of intelligence makes him more animal than human according to the views of those who surround him, and thus, he is locked within the categorical cages that they imposed on him.

As a final remark, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this novel and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflowerwhich leads me to believe that Flowers to Algernon was undoubtedly an influence for Chobosky’s novel. The protagonists of both novels are named Charlie, both illustrate the developmental themes of the novel through the protagonist’s writing and writing style (see my essay on Perks’ use of writing to illustrate development here), both illustrate honest and open characters, and Perks even contains an epistle that discusses a laboratory rat, an obvious tribute to Keyes’ novel. I would further like to explore how Perks is ultimately part of the Algernon genealogy… I think there’s a lot of interesting things to be said when juxtaposing both books together.

All in all, Flowers for Algernon was an amazing read that stimulated me both intellectually and emotionally. I’m glad that years after the novel’s publication (1966), people continue to give Charlie and Algernon the validation and the importance that was never given to them within the novel itself.

References:

Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. Orlando: Harvest Books, 1994. Ebook version.

Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” – On Disability, Animality, and Structure was originally posted on http://angelmatos.net on May 25th, 2013.

John Donovan’s [I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip] – The First YA Novel With Gay Content

My 1969 first edition copy of Donovan's _I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip_

My 1969 first edition copy of Donovan’s _I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip_

During the same political and cultural climate that produced the 1969 Stonewall Riots, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip was published.  Although the riots were not causal of the books publication, it is no coincidence that both events were symptomatic of the tensions and pressures faced by the newly forming gay and lesbian community during the time.

It is widely acknowledged that Donovan’s text is the first novel written for a teenage or young adult readership that has gay content. According to Christine A. Jenkins in From Queer to Gay and Back Again: Young Adult Novels with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-1997, the book’s portrayal of homosexual content

was greeted with enthusiasm by some reviewers and readers; others deemed it inappropriate, even dangerous, to young readers’ developing sensibilities with the possibility that it “might arouse in the unconcerned unnecessary interest or alarm or both.” (299)

This was my first experience reading this landmark text within the genre of gay YA fiction. It was both illuminating and somewhat challenging to read this text, mostly because it accurately represents the attitudes towards queerness that were prevalent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The bulk of the narrative focuses on thirteen year-old Davy, the protagonist, who is striving to adjust living with his mother in New York City after the death of his grandmother, the person who had been taking care of him since he was five. The latter part of the novel focuses on the competitive and turbulent friendship that Davy shares with Altschuler, a boy that Davy meets during his first day at his new school.

Something that surprised me when reading this novel is that its gay themes do not surface until the last fourth of the novel, when seemingly out of the blue, Davy and Altschuler share a spontaneous and slightly awkward kiss. As Davy puts it, “I guess I kiss Altschuler and he kisses me. It isn’t like that dumb kiss I gave Mary Lou Gerrity in Massachusetts before I left. I just happens. And when it stops we  sit up and turn away from each other” (Donovan 143).

This, however, is not the only homosexual experience that Davy and Altschuler share. During a sleepover that the two boys have about a week after their first kiss, they fool around once again, which leads Davy to question the moral nature of their encounters: “There’s nothing wrong with Altschuler and me, is there? I know it’s not like making out with a girl. It’s just something that happened. It’s not dirty, or anything like that. It’s all right, isn’t it?” (Donovan 154).

I don’t want to spoil the radical events that lead to the novel’s ending, but let’s just say that after a series of very unfortunate circumstances, Davy views his so-called deviant homosexual acts as the cause for all of his misfortune, which then pushes him to stress his desire to only be friends with Altschuler. This may seem problematic to some readers because on one hand, the character is clearly linking homosexuality as a deviant desire that causes pain and misfortune to other people because it is “unnatural.”

On the other hand, I think we must keep in mind that Altschuler not only approaches Davy’s views towards homosexuality as crazy, but he goes as far as to claim that “it didn’t feel wrong” and that he doesn’t feel guilty for what he did (Donovan 188). I personally thought that the ending of the novel was particularly ambiguous, for although Davy and Altschuler agree to simply remain friends and to avoid engaging in “queer” behavior with each other, I think the novel leaves the possibility of further sexual exploration slightly open. When Altschuler asks Davy what he wants to be like in the future, the following exchange takes place:

“Me,” I guess. “And guys like my grandmother. There was a great old girl. She was real stiff by nature, but she had respect for me, and I respected her. It was the same way with Fred, too. We respected each other.”

“I respected Wilkins,” Altschuler says.

“I guess we could respect each other,” I say. “Do you think so?”

“Sure,” Altschuler says. (Donovan 189)

Respect is an interesting choice of word in this final exchange between the two boys. It is made clear throughout the novel that Davy’s grandmother and his dog Fred were not only respected, but loved. Respect, in this case, not only involves esteem despite of differences, but it also entails admiration and a deep interest for the other’s well-being.

It is not made clear what respect means in the case of these two male characters. Are they discussing a respect of each other’s differences and desires? Does respect entail that Altschuler should not interfere with Davy’s views of homosexuality as unnatural? Does respect mean love, or does it mean a resistance of temptation? I guess the beauty of this novel is that it ultimately leaves the reader as the agent who must define what respect means in this exchange.

All in all, this was a quick and enjoyable read. Although it is in no way my favorite gay YA novel, I do think that it is worthy of celebration imply because it was the one novel that started it all. Sure, there are problems in terms of gay representation, especially when we approach the text with a modern lens. These problems only increase in voltage when we recall that the novel approaches homosexuality as not only devious, but as a phase (with the exception of Altschuler’s character). I guess what matters is that this novel ultimately allowed gay subjects to see themselves reflected within the genre, a genre in which gay subjects were absolutely invisible.

In sum, despite the speed bumps along the way, this literary trip was definitely worth it.

– – –

Sources:

My copy of the novel is the 1969 edition published by Harper & Row in New York. The version I quote is not the reissued 2010 – 40th Anniversary Edition published by Flux (which you can obtain by clicking here).

My Ultimate Reading Challenge – The Reading List for My PhD Candidacy Examinations

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Part of the requirements for the doctoral degree in English at the University of Notre Dame are written and oral exams (which I will take in March of 2014). The exams are a requirement that demonstrate that all doctoral students have in-depth knowledge of a major field, a secondary field, and a literary theory/methodology, in order to assure that we are thoroughly prepared for teaching and dissertation writing. For these exams, we are all required to construct a reading list for three areas of specialization. The list for our major field should contain approximately 75 works, whereas the reading lists for our secondary field and the literary theory/methodology should contain about 50 works each–for a grand total of about 175 works. This means that we have about ten months to read and familiarize ourselves with these works. Yikes!

After a lot of thought and research, I have decided that my major field will be Contemporary American Literature (1945-Present). My secondary field will be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Literature, and my literary theory/methodology will be Queer Materiality (which fuses readings within the areas of Queer Theory, Queer Cultural Studies, and the Materiality/Sociology of Texts). Professors Susan Cannon Harris (chair), Kinohi Nishikawa, Matt Wilkens, and Barry McCrea have graciously agreed to be part of my examination committee. I am very thankful fo their support and their interest in my project. The lists below were constructed thanks to my committee’s  advice and input, and thanks to extended periods of online and library research. What I have below is a description of each area, along with the reading list that I developed for this list.

Now, in terms of making this a challenge, for every single work that I read, I plan to write a blog post with my thoughts, opinions, and concerns about the work–think of these posts as mini book reviews. If all goes as planned, I should have a total of 176 posts related to my candidacy exams. Each time I write one of these reviews, I will update this post and provide links to the review next to the works’ title. Not only will this help me keep track of what I have read, but it will allow me to share my thoughts an opinions of these texts with the world. Wish me luck!

EXAM AREA I – CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN LITERATURE (1945-PRESENT)

(Historical Field)

These works are typically approached as Post-World War and postmodern, and the list has a heavy emphasis on works published between the 40s and the 60s. Although my primary interest is in the area of gay fiction, I have decided to make contemporary American literature my primary field seeing as it is a more marketable area within the field of English and literary studies. I would claim that my main area of expertise within this area is the coming-of-age narrative, particularly focusing on issues of gender and sexuality in the coming-of-age process. Seeing as texts that are typically dubbed coming-of-age narratives are usually concerned with readers’ self-identification with characters in the text, many items in this list are works that would be considered “middlebrow.” The items included in all of my sub-lists are works that reflect the aforementioned themes within an American and postmodern context.

I am interested in determining whether gendered or queer issues manifest in coming-of-age texts that are not typically approached as queer—thus, I deliberately avoided the inclusion of queer texts within the novels section of this list, as they are included within my second list on LGBTQ fiction. In addition to the notion of “coming-of-age” and gender, I am also invested in the marketing and sociology of texts within a “globalized” postmodern American context. Thus, in conjunction with coming-of-age texts, I have also included novels that have helped to shape the globalized American literary landscape that we live in today—which is why my young adult fiction section also includes important global novels that have had a major impact on the young adult market.

I.A – Novels

  1. Alice Walker. The Color Purple (1982)
  2. Ana Castillo. So Far From God (1993)
  3. Art Spiegelman. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986)
  4. Bret Easton Ellis. American Psycho (1991)
  5. Cristina Carcia. Dreaming in Cuban (1992)
  6. David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest (1996)
  7. Don Delillo. White Noise (1985)
  8. James Baldwin. Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
  9. Jack Kerouac. On the Road (1957)
  10. Jonathan Safran Foer. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)
  11. Joseph Heller. Catch-22 (1961)
  12. Junot Díaz. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
  13. Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  14. Matthew Quick. Silver Linings Playbook (2010)
  15. Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  16. Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man (1952)
  17. Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street (1984)
  18. Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar (1963)
  19. Thomas Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
  20. Toni Morrison. Beloved (1987)
  21. Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955)

I.B – Short Stories

  1. Abraham Rodriguez. “Boy Without A Flag” (1992)
  2. Anne Proulx. “Brokeback Mountain” (1997)
  3. James Baldwin. “Sonny’s Blues” (1957)
  4. John Barth. “Lost in the Funhouse” (1968)
  5. John Updike. Pigeon Feathers (1962)
  6. Norman Mailer. “The Man Who Studied Yoga” (1959)
  7. Raymond Carver. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)
  8. Sandra Cisneros. Woman Hollering Creek: The Collection (1991)

I.C – Drama

  1. Amiri Baraka. Dutchman (1964)
  2. Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman (1949)
  3. Arthur Miller. A View from the Bridge (1955)
  4. August Wilson. The Piano Lesson (1990)
  5. David Henry Hwang. M. Butterfly (1986)
  6. Edward Albee. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)
  7. Eugene O’Neill. Bound East for Cardiff (1914). Click here for my discussion of this O’Neill play.
  8. Eugene O’Neill. The Hairy Ape (1922)
  9. Eugene O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956)
  10. John Guare. Six Degrees of Separation (1990)
  11. Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  12. Tennessee Williams. Camino Real (1953)
  13. Tennessee Williams. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  14. Tony Kushner. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1993)
  15. William Friedkin. The Boys in the Band (1970)

I.D – Poetry

  1. Adrienne Rich. An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991)
  2. Allen Ginsberg. Howl and Other Poems (1956)
  3. Elizabeth Bishop. The Complete Poems (1984)
  4. Frank O’Hara. The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)
  5. John Ashberry. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1976)
  6. Sylvia Plath. Ariel (1965)

I.E-1 – Young Adult Novels (Supplementary List)

  1. Daniel Keyes. Flowers for Algernon (1958). Click here for my discussion of Keyes’ novel.
  2. Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  3. J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  4. John Corey Whaley. Where Things Come Back (2011). Click here for my discussion of Whaley’s novel.
  5. John Green. Looking for Alaska (2005)
  6. Judy Blume. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)
  7. Judy Blume. Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)
  8. Lois Lowry. The Giver (1993)
  9. Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  10. Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game (1985)
  11. Robert Cormier. The Chocolate War (1974)
  12. Scott Westerfield. Uglies (2005)
  13. S.E. Hinton. The Outsiders (1967)
  14. Sherman Alexie. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007)
  15. Stephanie Meyer. Twilight (2005)
  16. Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999). Click here for my discussion of Chbosky’s novel.
  17. Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games (2008)

I.E-2 – Global Young Adult Novels

  1. Diana Wynne Jones. Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
  2. Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  3. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). Click here for my discussion of Rowling’s novel.
  4. Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2004)
  5. Philip Pullman. The Golden Compass (1995)
  6. T.H. White. The Once and Future King (1958)

I.F – Criticism

  1. Fredric Jameson. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1990)
  2. Joan L. Knickerbocker, Martha A. Bruggeman, James A. Rycik. Literature for Young Adults: Books (and More) for Contemporary Readers (2012)
  3. Mark McGurl. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (2011)
  4. Michael Cart. From Romance to Realism: Fifty Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature (2010)
  5. Stuart Sim. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism (2011)
  6. Richard Gray. A History of American Literature (2011)

EXAM AREA II – LGBTQ FICTION

(Special Topic Field)

As of now, I envision my dissertation project as an analysis of the intersection between the areas of fiction, queer theory, and middlebrow culture. Part of my focus will be the concept of coming out and concealment, not only in terms of a novel’s content, but also in terms of its marketing and design. Thus, my project will ultimately have a dual focus in that I will pay close attention to matters of queerness and the closet as applied to the coming-of-age narrative and the materiality of the books themselves, delving later on into a discussion of how the digital age has expanded (or perhaps even shattered) the limits of this, as Sedgwick would put it, queer space. In due course, I want to present myself as a scholar who is well versed in the realm of novels that deal directly with LGBTQ concerns, issues, and representations. My hope is that in addition to working with contemporary American novels, I will ultimately be able to teach classes focused exclusively on LGBTQ fiction. With this in mind, although this list will focus heavily on contemporary fiction published after the “gay boom” in the late 90s up to the present day, I also want to develop a historical awareness of the novels and works that paved the way towards a possible market of LGBTQ fiction—especially novels that were published prior to the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

Although in my past work I have focused heavily on issues and concerns pertaining to the male tradition of gay literature, I am seeking to expand my current scope of queer texts by including a healthy sample of texts within lesbian, transgender, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex traditions (even though the gay male tradition is far more prevalent). Keeping in line with my interest in coming-of-age fiction and issues of materiality, a large portion of these LGBTQ texts are classified within the young adult genre—especially when considering that in today’s literary market, young adult fiction is the genre in which queer issues have been able to flourish, due primarily to its middlebrow and so-called didactic nature. Seeing as LGBTQ fiction can, to some extent, be considered a niche market, I have decided to approach this genre from a global Anglophone rather than a purely American perspective in order to determine how queer and coming-out narratives, in addition to the books’ marketing, are influenced by their specific geographical locations.

II. A – LGBTQ Novels and Prose

  1. Achy Obejas. Memory Mambo (1996)
  2. Alan Hollinghusrt. The Line of Beauty (2004)
  3. Alison Bechdel. Fun Home (2006)
  4. Armistead Maupin. Tales of the City (1978)
  5. Barry McCrea. The First Verse (2005)
  6. Bret Easton Ellis. The Rules of Attraction (1987)
  7. Christopher Isherwood. A Single Man (1964)
  8. Colm Tóibín. The Blackwater Lightship (1999)
  9. Djuna Barnes. Nightwood (1936)
  10. Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina (1992)
  11. E.M. Forster. Maurice (1971)
  12. Edmund White. A Boy’s Own Story (1982)
  13. Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  14. James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  15. Jamie O’Neill. At Swim, Two Boys (2001)
  16. Jeanette Winterson. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
  17. Jeanette Winterson. Written on the Body (1994)
  18. Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex (2002)
  19. Leslie Feinberg. Stone Butch Blues (2003)
  20. Melvin Dixon. Vanishing Rooms (1991)
  21. Michael Chabon. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay (2000)
  22. Michael Cunningham. A Home at the End of the World (1990)
  23. Michael Cunningham. The Hours (1998). Click here for my discussion of Cunningham’s novel.
  24. Patrick McCabe. Breakfast on Pluto (1998)
  25. Radclyffe Hall. The Well of Loneliness (1928)
  26. Rita Mae Brown. Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
  27. Sarah Waters. Tipping the Velvet (1998)
  28. Scott Heim. Mysterious Skin (2005)

II.B – LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction

  1. Alex Sanchez. Rainbow Boys (2001)
  2. Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012)
  3. Brent Hartinger. Geography Club (2003)
  4. Brian Katcher. Almost Perfect (2009)
  5. David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy (2003)
  6. Eddie De Oliveira. Lucky (2004). Click here for my discussion of De Oliveira’s novel.
  7. Ellen Wittlinger. Hard Love (2001)
  8. Ellen Wittlinger. Parrotfish (2011)
  9. J.C. Lillis. How to Repair a Mechanical Heart (2012)
  10. J.M. Colail. Wes and Toren (2009)
  11. John Donovan. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip (1969) – Click here for my review of Donovan’s novel. 
  12. John Green and David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010)
  13. Julie Anne Peters. Luna (2006)
  14. Justin Torres. We the Animals (2011). Click here for my discussion of Torres’ novel. 
  15. Martin Wilson. What They Always Tell Us (2009). Click here for my discussion of Wilson’s novel.
  16. Nancy Garden. Annie on My Mind (1982)
  17. Nick Burd. The Vast Fields of Ordinary (2009)
  18. Perry Moore. Hero (2007)

II.C – LGBTQ History and Criticism

  1. Christopher Bram. Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (2012)
  2. Claude J. Summers. Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage (2002)
  3. Kenneth B. Kidd and Michelle Ann Abate. Over the Rainbow: Queer Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2011)
  4. Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins. The Heart Has its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004. (2006)

EXAM AREA III – QUEER MATERIALITY

(Theoretical/Methodological Field) 

Seeing as my dissertation project will focus on issues such as coming out, concealment, confession, circulation, and distribution, immersion in the realms of queer theory and the sociology/materiality of texts will be crucial to my study. The fusion between queer theory and the materiality/sociology of texts is one that has been vastly underexplored within studies of gay fiction, and in my estimation, this is due primarily to the fact that the aims of these studies, at first, seem radically different. Queer theory problematizes the male/female binaries while in turn addressing other dichotomies within the domains of sexuality and pluralistic identities. Queer theory approaches identity, as Jonathan Kemp points out in “Queer Past, Queer Present, Queer Future,” as a porous, unfixed, and intersectional entity that takes into consideration multiple cultural facets, including but not limited to race, gender, religion, and nationality, among others. Crucial within this approach are goals such as the disruption of binary approaches, the notions of reproductive futurism, and ideas concerning affect and the body. Furthermore, a strand of queer studies also has an obvious activist and emancipatory mission.

I think these issues would mesh in an interesting and productive fashion with the materiality and sociology of texts, which focuses mostly on how the textual, paratextual, political, and cultural elements of literary productions work in conjunction to circulate texts within the social sphere—particularly when it comes to the role of the closet and “concealment.” I think queer theory, particularly when it comes to notions such as the closet, futurity, and affect, will provide a rich and innovate spin on the materiality/sociology of texts, a spin that will ultimately prove to be quite fruitful when it comes to the analysis of the socio-cultural dimensions of LGBTQ texts, which in and of themselves actively align themselves against the status quo.

III.A – Queer Theory

  1. David Ross Fryer. Thinking Queerly: Race, Sex, Gender, and the Ethics of Identity (2011)
  2. E.L. McCallum. Queer Times, Queer Becomings (2011)
  3. Elizabeth Freeman. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010)
  4. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Epistemology of the Closet (1990). Click here for my discussion of Sedgwick’s book.
  5. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003)
  6. Ian Barnard. Queer Race: Cultural Interventions into the Racial Politics of Queer Theory (2004)
  7. John D’Emilio. “Capitalism and Gay Identity” (1983)
  8. Jose Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009)
  9. Judith Butler. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)
  10. Judith Butler. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004)
  11. Judith Butler. Undoing Gender (2004)
  12. Judith Halberstam. Female Masculinity (1998) and The Queer Art of Failure (2011)
  13. Lee Edelman. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004)
  14. Leo Bersani. Is the Rectum a Grave?: and Other Essays (2009)
  15. Lynne Huffer. Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2009)
  16. Michael Warner. The Trouble with Normal (1999)
  17. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume I (1976)
  18. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume II (1984)
  19. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume III (1984)
  20. Roderick Ferguson. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2004)
  21. Sarah Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006) and The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004). Click here for my discussion of Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion.

III.B – Queer Materiality and Queer Cultural Studies

  1. David Savran. A Queer Sort of Materialism (2003)
  2. Elisa Glick. Materializing Queer Desire: Oscar Wilde to Andy Warhol (2009)
  3. Guy Davidson. Queer Commodities (2012)
  4. Heather K. Love. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (2007)
  5. Jaime Harker. Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America (2013)
  6. Kathryn Bond Stockton. The Queer Child, or, Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (2009)
  7. Kevin Floyd. The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism (2009)
  8. Michael Moon. A Small Boy and Others: Imitation and Initiation in American Culture from Henry James to Andy Warhol (1998)
  9. Michael Trask. Cruising Modernism: Class and Sexuality in American Literature and Social Thought (2003)
  10. Michael Warner. Publics and Counterpublics (2005)
  11. Samuel R. Delany. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary (2000)
  12. Scott Herring. Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism (2010)
  13. Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley, eds. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children (2004)
  14. Susan Stryker. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (2001)

III.C – Materiality and the Sociology of Texts

  1. Andrew Piper. Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (2012)
  2. Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities (1983)
  3. D.F. McKenzie. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (1999)
  4. Gérard Genette. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (2001)
  5. Janice A. Radway. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (1984)
  6. Jim Collins. Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture (2010). Click here for my discussion of Collins’ book.
  7. Jürgen Habermas. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1991)
  8. Kathryn Sutherland and Marilyn Deegan. Text Editing, Print and the Digital World (2008)
  9. Nicole Matthews and Nickianne Moody. Judging a Book by its Cover (2007)
  10. Pierre Bourdieu. The Field of Cultural Production (1993)
  11. Raymond Williams. The Long Revolution (1961) and The Sociology of Culture (1982)
  12. Ted Striphas. The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (2011)

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