Friday, August 19, 2011

Henry Abelove--Deep Gossip (2003)

In this collection of essays, Abelove reconsiders a number of aspects of gay, lesbian, and queer history, including Freud's legacy, the popularity of heterosexual intercourse during the eighteenth century, and the place of Queer Studies in American literature and American Studies.  The title of this essay collection comes from Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for Frank O’Hara, a “curator of funny emotions” who possessed a “common ear for our deep gossip” (xi).  To Abelove, these lines provide both an organizing emblematic structure for analyzing modern lesbian, gay, and queer culture in America as well as a role for such an analyst to aspire to.  Abelove shows how these lines emphasize nurturing and listening with “close attention democratically” (xii) to gossip—“illicit speculation, information, knowledge,” an “indispensible resource for those who are in any sense or measure disempowered” (xii).  And, “it is deep “whenever it circulates in subterranean ways and touches on matters hard to grasp and of crucial concern” (xii).
I appreciate Abelove's willingness to see how understandings of gay, lesbian, and queer histories have changed across both academic disciplines and generations.  Some of the strongest parts of these essays are not only in their reclamation (or re-reclamation) of figures from Thoreau to Freud in their significance to queer history, but also in their resistance to the all-too-common teleological tendencies of queer histories which often focus on identities rather than behaviors.  Finally, his consideration of the relationship between Queer Studies and American Studies is fantastic (and the role that Red Panic played in the disappearance of the former): using a psychoanalytic metaphor, he says that if Queer Studies was present at the start of American Studies in Matthiessen’s work, then it might be figured as part of the unconscious of the discipline—and “the future of American Studies would then depend in large measure on whether or not that unconscious is permitted to return” (69).  Reclaiming F.O. Matthiessen’s original conception of American literature with its implicit questions of the place of same sex desire from later critics such as Leslie Fiedler who insist on seeing homosexuality and democracy as separate, Abelove succeeds in bringing same sex desire back to the center of this discipline.

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