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Dr. Chase Dimock

Assistant Professor of English at Broward College and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

Month

June 2012

My Review of “The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing in Time” by Jane Gallop

In my most recent review here on Lambda Literary, I considered the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s posthumous book The Weather in Proust and mourned the loss of one of our greatest queer scholars. In hindsight, I wish I had come across Jane Gallop’s latest book The Deaths of the Author (Duke University Press) beforehand, because Gallop meticulously yet gracefully analyzes the complicated relationship between a devoted reader and the author that inspires them. After reading these essays on Jacques Derrida’s memorial to Roland Barthes, Sedgwick’s elegies for two writers dying of AIDS, and Gayatri Spivak’s writing before the specter of Karl Marx, Gallop has given me a new language with which to speak about the passing of queer writers.

Amid the political turmoil and cultural revolutions of the late 60s, two gay French philosophers, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, forever changed the study of literature by proclaiming the death of the author. Much like Nietzsche’s announcement that “God is dead,” Barthes’ statement sought to demystify the “author-god” as a social construction and to emphasize the reader’s own interpretive powers. Gallop uses this statement as an inspiration to consider not just the figurative death of the author once we view him as a mere conduit of tradition and culture but also the literal death of an author when we are forced to reconcile the real life of the person with the literary persona they left behind.

(Full Article Available at Lambda Literary)

My Review of ‘The Weather in Proust’ By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

With his seminal novel, In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust created modern literature’s most famous and poignant symbol of remembrance: the madeleine, a cookie whose taste and texture suddenly unlocked long-forgotten memories of his childhood and granted him the inspiration to write his epic coming of age story in turn-of-the-century France. The Weather in Proust (Duke University Press) is the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s madeleine—a remembrance of queer theories past. The deeper I delved into the book, the more I became reacquainted with Sedgwick’s indispensable contributions to queer studies and was reminded of what a loss the discipline had suffered with her passing in 2009.

The Weather in Proust is a collection of nine essays, five of which were intended to become part of a book on Proust and an additional four that encompass Sedgwick’s three decades of queer scholarship. The book is a meeting of the old and the new, both a retrospective on this founding mother of queer theory and a glimpse into what occupied her mind in the final years of her life. In Proust, Sedgwick finds a kindred spirit. Both writers are notorious for their excruciatingly detailed and nuanced literary dissections of the hidden crevasses of human desire and esoteric references to spirituality, philosophy, and classics. Yet, for those who may be turned off by the prospect of daunting literary analysis, only the first chapter of the book is dedicated to closely reading Proust. Instead of deconstructing Proust, Sedgwick calls upon his queer-inflected vision of mysticism and sensuality as a muse to guide her through her own meditations on subjects ranging from Buddhism, to Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theories on affect, to textile weaving.

(Full Article Available at Lambda Literary)

Saint Turing: A Few Reflections on Gay Iconography and Martyrdom on the Occasion of Alan Turing’s 100th Birthday

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of British mathematician Alan Turing’s birth. In celebration of his enormous contributions to the fields of mathematics, computational science, cryptology, and artificial intelligence, the scientific community has dubbed 2012 the “Alan Turing Year”, commemorating the occasion with numerous conferences, museum exhibitions, a series of articles on his life in the Guardian and BBC, a Google doodle, and even a functional model of his famous Turing Machine made of Legos. By his mid 20s Turing developed his theory of the “Universal Machine”, thus ushering in the age of modern computer science. A decade later, Turing devoted his studies in cryptology toward cracking the German naval enigma. By developing machines known as “bombes” that could decrypt the messages the Nazis relayed to their U-boats, Turing’s intelligence gathering re-shaped World War II. Historians have argued that cracking the Nazi code shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives.

Such accolades coming 58 years after his death evidence not only his importance as a historical figure, but also how his ideas continue to influence contemporary research and debate on computer science in our increasingly digitized society. As the “Father of Artificial Intelligence”, Turing’s 1950 article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” foresaw how rapid advances in information science would produce a future in which the line between human intelligence and artificial intelligence would become blurred. Asking, “can machines think”, Turing postulated that ultimately the true mark of artificial intelligence would be whether or not one could tell the difference between communication with a human versus a machine. Turing’s standards for evaluating artificial intelligence have not only framed the scholarly and ethical debate in the scientific community for the past six decades, but they have also proven to be a prophesy of daily life in the 21st century. Living amongst automated phone banks, internet chatterboxes, GPS navigators, and Apple’s Siri app, everyday life has become a series of Turing tests as we increasingly rely upon forms of artificial intelligence and speak to it as if it were real.

Yet, less emphasis has been placed on the tragedy of his untimely death. In 1952, Turing was arrested and convicted of gross indecency for a consensual sexual relationship with another man, the same 1885 statute under which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned more than half a century earlier. Instead of serving prison time, Turing chose to undergo an experimental hormonal treatment prescribed by the British government. While this chemical castration via a synthetic oestrogen hormone curbed his sex-drive, it had dire side effects. Turing began to grow breasts and developed a deep depression. His conviction also caused him to lose his security clearance, thus barring him from continuing to work with the British intelligence agencies. The man who did as much from inside a laboratory to defeat the Nazis as any general did on the battlefield was now considered a threat to national security solely by virtue of his sexuality. Two years later, on June 8th, 1954, Turing took a few bites from a cyanide-laced apple–an elaborate end designed to let his mother believe that his suicide was actually an accident due to careless storage of laboratory chemicals. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology for Turing’s “appalling” treatment, but a 2011 petition to pardon Turing’s conviction was officially denied by the British Government.

(Full Article Available at The Qouch)

The Erotics of Melancholia: Natalie Clifford Barney’s “The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife”

In the author’s note for her 1930 novel The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife, Natalie Clifford Barney writes: “For years I have been haunted by the idea that I should orchestrate those inner voices which sometimes speak to us in unison, and so compose a novel, not so much with the people about us, as with those within ourselves, for have we not several selves and cannot a story arise from their conflicts and harmonies?” Culminating in one of her few works in her native English tongue, this American ex-patriate’s “haunting” of multiple selves serves as a model to conceptualize an identity and lifestyle that had as of then not been granted an adequate discourse to describe it. As an unapologetic lesbian writer, Natalie Clifford Barney and her Parisian salon from the turn of the century well into the 60’s defied the heteronormative conventions of her era. She dared to write explicit love poems to women so as to ward off the “nuisance” of male admirers, she promiscuously romanced the great lesbian writers of her time from Liane de Pougy to Djuna Barnes, she created an alternative academie des femmes against the male dominated academie francaise to promote female authors, and she hosted theatricals based on Sapphic rituals in her own home garden.

For Barney, these “multiple selves” stand in for an identity that blurs the lines between masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual and penetrates to the depths of the human psyche and soul where desire is multi-form and multi-directional. As a literary project, The One Who is Legion embodies Barney’s vision of the erotic possibilities of a psyche and society unmoored from the constraints of binary categories and stable, self-same identities. In the aforementioned author’s note, Barney outlines the basic plot of the symbolist novel: “A.D., a being having committed suicide, is replaced by a sponsor, who carries on the broken life, with all the human feelings assumed with the flesh, until, having endured to the end in A.D.’s stead, the composite or legion is disbanded by the One, who remains supreme”. Barney’s summary of her novel is as confusing as the novel itself. The novel not only evades a sense of a stable plot or characterization, but it purposefully leaves the genders, sexualities, and even the number of individuals inhabiting singular bodies ambiguous. The “One”, the name Barney gives the spirit that resurrects and relives AD’s life on earth is in fact a legion of selves inhabiting a single body that refer to the body as “we”. The novel reads more like an extended prose poem, choosing to explore detours of philosophical musings and poetic contemplations rather than telling a linear or consistent narrative.

(read more at The Qouch)

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