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Topics in Literature and Society:Writing Sexual Nonconformity

ENGL 293.401

People have often developed their styles of sexual being in active conjunction with reading literature. In the simplest sense, some people awaken to the personal possibility or urgency of sexual nonconformity as a result of encountering literary depictions of erotic difference. For instance, many readers have found in the poetry of Walt Whitman a liberating sense of sexual freedom. But there are other similar cases of readers finding in literary works--from the classical past, from romantic poetry, from contemporary fiction--an emboldening sense of the possibility of sexual self-fashioning, and courage to resist the coercions of "normality," or the constraints of sexual "identity" per se. What do the so-called "perversions" (e.g., homosexuality, heterosexuality) owe to literature? What is literary about being queer?

This course will be both a general introduction to the field of gay/lesbian/queer literary studies and a specific investigation of the intimate and vexed relationships between writing, reading, and sexual identity. We will probably read some notable works from the literary past (perhaps Plato, Whitman, Melville, Freud) along with particular accounts of how readers have used these works to fashion their own sexualities. We will also read some basic works of contemporary queer theory, including Michel Foucault's *History of Sexuality* and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's *Epistemology of the Closet*. In addition, we will study a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts (perhaps Henry James, Blair Niles, Henry Blake Fuller, Dawn Powell, James Baldwin, Reinaldo Arenas, Hilton Als) that place the historical emergence of dissident sexualities in various social, political, ethnic, racial, and class contexts. Our aim will be to understand how sexual orientation (or disorientation) is enmeshed with other social issues and categories.