I am fucking tired of worrying about whether or not the work I’m doing is fulfilling some larger purpose. Tired of proving that such larger purposes are indeed not malicious. As a queer person my actions are constantly interrogated. This is especially true when such actions are done in proximity to children and youth. After all, what could I possibly get out of it? (Do know that it is tough not putting that question in quotes, because it is an actual question I have heard with regard to my volunteering with trans youth). Explored by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity such worried “paranoid […] critical practices” (128) privilege “triumphant advance[ments] toward truth and vindication” (135). This comes at the disenfranchisement of action for action’s sake. Considering my involvement with trans youth, for example, the ends and the means are the same: community involvement. Queers deserve to see one another in our multitudes. This said I will not deny that there is use in a paranoid critical mode of analysis. I agree, however, with Sedgwick’s commentary that “[p]aranoia knows some things well and others poorly” (130). With this in mind: the paranoid reading “knows” that which is queer, dysfluent, etc poorly. In addressing Herman Melville’s Billy Budd I am compelled to address that paranoid readings of Billy Budd have been undertaken and undertaken again, and I cannot find there to be any reason to continue in being “reflexive and mimetic” (131) in Budd‘s analysis. This is a reasoning based in self-gratification to be sure—if few are willing or able to provide me what I need, then it makes sense to provide it for myself: “Reparative motives […] are about pleasure […] and […] they are frankly ameliorative” (144). As this analysis must be framed within the context of the #ENGL496 classroom, however, I will venture to explore connections between the above-mentioned “paranoid practices” and societal enforcement/s of fluency.
Despite my focus on Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling as a jumping-off point for analysis, actual analysis is to be conducted upon/within Billy Budd. Specifically I will be interrogating the relationship of Billy and Captain Vere in Chapter 19 of the text through the eyes of the Narrator. In no small part due to his stammer Billy Budd is hailed by John Claggart as that which he is not–a traitor. In confrontation with this Billy violently acts out his stammer, killing Claggart and thus becoming the transformed subject of the traitor. It is not my argument that Billy’s actions should thus be condemned in this socially embodied role as the subject of the traitor, but rather it is my argument that this transformation acts as allegory for queer-masculine identificatory practices. As a Deviant Queer I will identify the Narrator as the Deviant Homosexual of the text, and in doing so call attention to the impact of not only the Narrator’s Gaze upon Billy but also the my own Gaze as the Reader upon the text. In undertaking this type of analysis it is contention that there is a celebratory, reparative aspect to the Gaze–in the viewing of another as oneself is viewed–even in situations where such a Gaze results in danger for one or more subjects.
Tentative reference pool (to be pared down/expanded upon/set ablaze for final writing):
- Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),”
- Jonathan Culler’s “Fabula and Sjuzhet in the Analysis of Narrative: Some American Discussions,”
- Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics,
- Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
- bell hooks’ All About Love,
- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet; and Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity,
- Pierre Louÿs’ The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments,
- Brendan Maclean’s House of Air (NSFW),
- Herman Melville’s Billy Budd,
- Aislinn O’Donnell’s “Shame is Already a Revolution: The Politics of Affect in the Thought of Gilles Deleuze,”
- Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret M. Lock’s “The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology.”