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Dr. Chase Dimock

English Professor at College of the Canyons and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

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Queer Studies

Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

(Full Interview Available on As It Ought To Be)

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My Review of Bettyville By George Hodgman

My review of George Hodgman’s memoir Bettyville has been published in the journal Western American Literature. Here is an excerpt:

In Bettyville, New York book editor George Hodgman returns to his native, rural northern Missouri home to care for his elderly mother. In the process, he crafts a Proustian remembrance of growing up gay in a small town amid the cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies that at once seemed as distant as Fire Island in New York and as near as the campus of the University of Missouri.

The actual geographical location of Bettyville is Paris, Missouri, a town that like thousands of other small American towns finds itself slowly disappearing from the map as it struggles to transition into the twenty-first century. What separates Hodgman’s account from many other queer coming-of-age narratives of small-town life is his genuine affection for Paris despite the decades-old wounds he still nurses. Hodgman offers both a personal and sociological elegy for his hometown. Mourning Paris’s vanishing main street, he writes, “Wal-Mart, the store that wiped out the merchants, shuttered everything, has never offered a lonely widow a turkey dinner, a day of fellowship among friends, or hope” (217). He feels most at home where he never fit in and shows true affection and empathy for townspeople who were taught by their religion and their government to hate him.

(Full Article Available in Western American Literature via Project Muse)

The Twilight Zone and Mental Illness

This past weekend, I was a guest on Daniel Crocker’s podcast Sanesplaining, a show dedicated to exploring topics related to mental health in current events and culture. I was invited to discuss the classic Sci Fi show The Twilight Zone and how it commented on cultural understandings of mental health in its era. My section begins around the 26 minute mark.

LGBT Writing and the 21st Century

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Mayday Magazine’s special LGBTQ edition is now available, featuring poetry, fiction, and commentary selected by myself and poet Amy King. The following is an excerpt from our co-authored introduction, “LGBT Writing and the 21st century along with a link to the entire article and issue:

On Sunday, June 12th, 2016, the most fatal mass shooting in American history took the lives of 49 LGBT people and allies. Up to this point, there had been a culturally pervasive sense that the upward trajectory in the cause of LGBT rights meant that LGBT people were becoming less susceptible to bigotry and violence as signaled by the passing of legislation on marriage equality. This sense of tolerance led many to believe that LGBT culture was becoming obsolete. The thought was that becoming accepted into the mainstream meant that an alternative culture of LGBT outcasts was no longer necessary. This viewpoint sees LGBT culture as an ersatz imitation of a community pieced together out of the remnants of society. Now welcomed into society, it was time for LGBT people to cast aside the juvenalia of the queer world: the sexual exploration, the gender ambiguity, and the political dissidence, and embrace the politics of respectability. We’re here, We’re queer had its moment when we had to burst from the closet and fight for our lives during the AIDS epidemic and the rise of the Moral Majority, but just like the feminists and people of color have been told earlier, the passing of a few laws and the corporate adoption of some diversity initiatives meant that the goal of acceptance has been accomplished and it was time to pack up and step down.

What the viewpoint above does not understand is that while fighting for civil rights has always been a priority of LGBT culture, it has never been its end point. LGBT cultures have always been about living and thinking queerly. A queer culture is a non-normative culture; it resists and challenges assumptions and fixedness. Queer culture is in a constant state of flux; it evolves without a predetermined destination. Historically, queer writers have used their marginalized positions in society as an opportunity to critique normative culture from the outside and to investigate and cherish the repressed and devalued parts of human existence. As long as there is a norm, there will be a queer, and thus there will always be a space in the margins in which a universe of experience will be discovered. (full article available at Mayday Magazine)

My Review of “Homosexuality is a Poem” By Christopher Hennessy

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(Poet, Frank O’Hara)

……..Christopher Hennessy’s Homosexuality is a Poem, is a part-theoretical, part-historical examination of the relationship between post-war poetry and gay identity. Focusing on the work of poets such as Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, John Wieners, and the poets of the early Gay Liberation Movement, Hennessy contends that the lyrical form allowed gay writers the ability to theorize and imagine gay identity and desire in innovative ways. As they invented new forms of poetic expression that challenged lyrical conventions, they in turn used poetry to object to society’s marginalization and persecution of homosexuality in the 50s and 60s. This poetry, in turn, helped to imagine queer community and politicize gay desire in ways that inspired and vocalized gay politics in the pre- and post-Stonewall eras.

………In his first chapter, Hennessy lays out the structure of his investigation into how post-war gay poets reinvented the lyrical form to fit the queer experience of same-sex desire, the politics of sexual liberation, and gay identity. He identifies these as the principal aims of his study: “making sexuality central instead of peripheral” to the study of a gay poet’s corpus, understanding “postwar lyric as a form still influenced by the long shadow of The New Criticism” via its impact on minoritized gay poets, showing “how the lyric functions differently for the gay poet,” and beginning “new critical conversations” about gay poets in ways that “include taking seriously these eroto-poetics” and conceiving of their creators “as lyric theorists.” (pp.8-9) Hennessy’s approach toward analyzing the work of these pioneering poets is as much a historical project as it is a work of literary criticism. His readings of Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, and John Wieners stress the oppressive environment of the post-war social climate before the modern gay rights movement as a contributing factor to how they used poetry to theorize and narrate gay experience. Hennessy contends that “the experience of gay male desire, before it had emerged fully as a political and social identity, was a textual experience, a discursive identity rather than a set of acts. But perhaps more importantly it was a question, not an answer, the way in which the best of poems function.” (p.17) Poetry did not merely describe gay male desire; it helped men who felt such desire invent and define themselves.

(Full Article Available via Dissertation Reviews)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crafting Hermaphroditism: Gale Wilhelm’s Lesbian Modernism in We Too Are Drifting

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My new article “Crafting Hermaphroditism: Gale Wilhelm’s Lesbian Modernism inWe Too Are Drifting” has been published in the Summer 2014 edition of College Literature. Below are an abstract for the article and a link to Project Muse where the full article can be accessed through most college library subscriptions.

Abstract:

This article argues for a renewed interest in forgotten modernist lesbian author Gale Wilhelm through an examination of her 1935 novel We Too Are Drifting. Aimed at a wide readership, Wilhelm’s novel differs from the work of high-modernist lesbians like Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes with its middlebrow sensibilities. Furthermore, it presents the hermaphrodite as a new metaphor for conceptualizing lesbian identity in contrast to the dominant model of the invert espoused by Radclyffe Hall’s famous The Well of Loneliness. Without engaging in explicit politics, entering into clinical considerations of sexual psychology, or including gratuitously titillating scenes that the public had come to expect with the subject of lesbianism, Wilhelm’s revolutionary gesture needs to be gauged differently: it assumes the lesbian’s right to define her own existence as the a priori condition for writing about lesbian love by focusing on how lesbian artists use visual media to express their identities and desires.

(Full Article Available at Project Muse)

My Review of Returning to Reims By Didier Eribon

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One of the most alarmingly overlooked issues facing lgbt politics is the impact of social and economic class divisions within the lgbt community. Today, as lgbt organizations increasingly promote the image of the upper middle class professional as the face of its campaign for rights, it is more important than ever that we understand the role social and economic class plays in the queer world as issues such as gentrification, homeless youth, and affordable healthcare affect the more vulnerable members of the community. Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims presents a fresh insight into examining social class as an integral part of gay identity. Part personal memoir, part philosophical treatise on the relationship between sexual identity and social class status, Eribon’s book is both a delicately told tale of a young Frenchman crafting a gay self in the working class world and a stunning analysis of how acculturation into a social class identity affects sexual identity and vice versa.

(Full Review Available at Lambda Literary Review)

My Review of Butch Queens Up in Pumps By Marlon. M Bailey

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For most of the lgbt community, knowledge of Ballroom culture in America begins and ends with Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. While the film’s release was one of the defining moments of lgbt culture with its masterful (though not unproblematic) depiction of the genius and spectacle of Ballroom performers balanced with the reality of urban poverty, racism, and the AIDS epidemic they faced, its subject matter has largely been frozen in time as 80s nostalgia and aestheticized in the lgbt imaginary. The snarky quotes, over the top fashions, and Madonna’s appropriation of Voguing have stuck in lgbt culture, but the film’s messages about black lgbt life seem to have faded from memory.

Although Marlon M. Bailey’s Butch Queens Up in Pumps is more than just an update on the last three decades of Ballroom culture, the mere fact that the lgbt community would need to be reminded that these same issues of racism, poverty, and public health remain as pressing today as they were 25 years ago is evidence for the importance of this book. It is not written as a companion or a correction to Paris is Burning, but as a fan of the film, I was struck by how the book reframed they way we view Ballroom culture. As a work of scholarship, Butch Queens Up in Pumps meticulously details how racism, poverty, homophobia and AIDS still challenge the black lgbt community and how Ballroom culture in Detroit provides a space of resistance, yet as a combination of ethnography and memoir, the book reads personally and emotionally in a way that few academic studies achieve.

(Full Article Available at The Lambda Literary Review)

My Review of Camp Sites By Michael Trask

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The gay community has always had a contradictory relationship with the notion of authenticity. We have delighted in the camp spectacles of drag on stage and marveled at the “realness” of ball culture in Paris is Burning, yet we maintain that to be “straight acting” is the pinnacle of masculine attractiveness and many lgbt rights groups preach assimilation and highlight our “normality” as a political tactic. In Camp Sites, Michael Trask traces some of the origins of this contemporary obsession with authenticity in the lgbt world and its cultural politics to a shift in the culture of leftist politics and American academia from the 50s to the 60s.

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Charging that the New Left of the 60s “drew with surprising frequency on the Cold War culture’s wide repertoire of homophobic suppositions,” Trask argues that “the New Social Movements had such difficulty with the queers” because “the equation radicals forged between authenticity and a meaningful life rendered gay culture’s uncommitted and artificial persons beyond redemption, even if such figures would serve a role in defining countercultural commitment by their negative example.” (1) Trask contends that the Left of the 60s saw the hallmarks of gay existence such as camp culture, male effeminacy, and closetedness as vestiges of the inauthenticity they sought to dismantle as they posited more utopian visions of cultural revolution. As Trask puts it “in the liberal mind, camp followers became so hopelessly beholden to surfaces that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunistic gap between appearance and depth, the gap in which realpolitik unfolded.” (8)

(Full Article Available at The Lambda Literary Review)

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