Monday, May 05, 2014

Deep Gossip and Haiku

I met Henry Abelove at Dorothy Wang's book party, and was introduced to his book of essays called Deep Gossip. The title is taken from Allen Ginsberg's elegy for Frank O' Hara. After describing O'Hara as a "Curator of funny emotions," Ginsberg praises him for his ear "for our deep gossip." The essays are as engrossing as gossip, an apt compliment if we think of gossip as the sharing of information between disempowered people. In these essays, Abelove performs careful and gracious corrections to what has been underestimated, overlooked and sidelined. 

Like many gay men, I have read Freud's letter to the American mother, but had not realized that it was his last riposte to the moralism of American psychoanalysts. In the next essay, the suggestion that other sexual practices besides "intercourse so-called" have been redefined as foreplay in the late eighteenth century is brilliant. Since I am not a fan of marriage, Abelove's reading of Walden in the third essay resonates strongly with me. An anti-novel, Walden delineates pleasures outside of bourgeois society and family. An essay interprets the interpretative community of queer students in Abelove's classroom. Another looks at the beginnings of American Studies through the lens of the work of F.O. Matthiessen, and the subsequent contestation of those queer beginnings.

The last essay of the  collection is especially meaningful to me. It argues that the Gay Liberation Front was influenced in its liberationist rhetoric by its reading of post-World War Two queer writers such as James Baldwin, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, and Frank O'Hara. These writers, having spent long periods of time abroad, witnessed the decolonization of the world and wrote about it. The college students of the GLF read them avidly. Having grown up in Singapore, a former British colony, I was happy to discover the American link between gay liberation and decolonization. Abelove ends the essay, and the book, with three suggestions, the last of which resonates powerfully with me:

The common view of early gay liberation as an identity politics is mistaken. New York's GLF was not predicated on a commitment to a suppostitiously stable or definite identity. It was rather predicated on a commitment to a worldwide struggle for decolonization and its potential human benefits.

The implications of the statement and immense, and I will be thinking them out in the days to come. 



skipping brightly
a great spangled fritillary
a loose thread


No comments: