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literature

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English Literature: Twentieth-Century  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  

What James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus aspires to be in A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man (1916)--a secular priest of art, transubstantiating reality into fiction--Firbank appears to realize in artistic practice. At the same time, in a way that repeats Carpenter's involvement of aesthetic intermediacy with egalitarian political impulses, Firbank's fiction dramatizes and protests imperialism's rule of global politics.

Two protestors against imperialism, from the same era as Rolfe and Firbank, supplement Carpenter's claims for the public dimensions of homosexual desire: Roger Casement (1864-1916) and T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935). Both figures are nonliterary writers; like Carpenter, however, their influence on literary culture is formative.

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Roger Casement

Casement, an Irishman in the British foreign service knighted for his exposés of imperialist atrocities against natives in the Belgian Congo and in Brazil, became disgusted with England's postponement of Home Rule for Ireland. Invoking Ireland's neutrality during World War I, he enlisted German aid in support of the Irish Easter Rising (against England) of 1916. He was brought to trial in England and convicted as a traitor.

His appeal of his conviction was quashed by the discovery and circulation of his secret diaries, describing his homosexual adventures on three continents. Casement was hanged, a martyr to Ireland and to homophobia. His supporters could not construe the compatibility of political integrity with homosexuality and promiscuity: They declared the diaries to be forgeries.

Politically defeated, nevertheless, Casement lives on, arguably, in Joyce's celebrated allegory of Irish political self-division Finnegans Wake (1924-1939), whose Irish hero is accused of homosexual no less than heterosexual promiscuity in public places, in circumstances made controversial by allegedly forged evidence of the hero's sin.

A traitor to his country on behalf of an illicit, alternative anti-imperialist nationhood, one that Carpenter might have approved, Casement joins the heterosexual Irish political leader and adulterer Charles Stewart Parnell as a primary inspiration for Joyce's influential fiction.

T. E. Lawrence

Like Casement, T. E. Lawrence also betrays his imperialist home by taking the side, in World War I, of Arab nationalists seeking to be free of both Turkish and British domination.

In Lawrence's memoir of his political career, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1919-1922), British and Arab homosexual experience--including Lawrence's--is enlisted by Lawrence in order to formulate a "pathic ethics," that is, a mode of political action that undermines activism, militarism, and imperialism, and that suggests an unfixed, self-divided, intermediate sense of identity as a new political virtue and strategy.

The literary and political impact of Seven Pillars of Wisdom is partly to be measured by its probable influence on E. M. Forster's composition of A Passage to India (1924) and on the politics and art of W. H. Auden (1907-1973) and Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) in their youth.

A Retreat from Carpenter's Politicism

Auden and Isherwood had mixed responses, however, to Lawrence's career. Harshly distrusting Lawrence's involvement of homosexuality with what they took to be self-dramatizing (and, after all, stubbornly imperialist) heroics, Auden and Isherwood suggest a younger generation's retreat from Carpenter's grand narratives about gay and lesbian political callings. The retreat first shows itself in the biographical and historical essays of Lytton Strachey (1880-1932).

Lytton Strachey

Strachey's work implies a Benthamite approach to the apparent gravity of historical narrative scenarios. His Eminent Victorians (1917), which suggests that historical figures who are inspired by grandly conceived narratives about themselves suffer from a crazed self-denial of sensuous pleasure, includes a study of the repressed homosexual General Gordon. The study exhibits imperialism, as well as a mania for religious conversion, as symptoms of the repression of homosexual desire.

In Elizabeth and Essex (1928), Strachey suggests that Essex's rebellion against Queen Elizabeth is motivated by Essex's hatred of her modernity, her shifting hermaphroditic or cast of mind and erotic nature, which projects itself as an antiheroic politics.

In Essex, Strachey exhibits an ideological decisiveness that is equated with pre-modern patriarchy; in Elizabeth's undecided erotic role-playing, Strachey locates a mercurial alternative to Essex's patriarchal rigidity. Although Carpenter's intermediate type is preserved in Strachey's Elizabeth, intermediacy in Strachey's version becomes more ambiguous, as well as far more politically unreliable, than in Carpenter.

In the light of Strachey's mistrust of grand historical projects and narratives, it is not surprising that he chose to be a conscientious objector during World War I, refusing to take ideological sides.

His sense of the self-alienating effects of heroic historical vocations is complemented in two soldier-poets, both homosexual and both casualties of the war, Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). In Owen's poems, an erotic pathos evoked by combat-weary and wounded male bodies becomes an antiheroic emblem for pacifism.

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