restricted access The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing (review)
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Reviewed by
Lawrence R. Schehr. The Shock of Men: Homosexual Hermeneutics in French Writing. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. xvi + 215 pp.

In The Shock of Men, Lawrence Schehr argues for a homosexual hermeneutics that would not be a hermeneutics of “the” homosexual: that is, for one that escapes from the “imprisoning binarism” of a theory that defines homosexuality as the “other” of a dominant heterosexuality and homosexual discourse in opposition to a hegemonic heterosexual discourse. An unfortunate consequence of literary criticism grounded in such binary thinking is that it inevitably reads homosexual texts as exemplars of some universalizing and stereotypical definition of homosexuality, rather than as the product of individual writing subjects. As Schehr points out, no one ever categorizes works as “heterosexual,” with the result that works that would fall into that non-existent category are normally read in terms of their particularity, rather than their exemplarity. Homosexual texts, on the other hand, are nearly always read as apologia, with the individual homosexual “lost in the apologetics.” Furthermore, homosexual hermeneutics, as it is currently practiced, tends to read through Foucauldian concepts of ethics, dominance, and power, so that it is ultimately impossible to distinguish between a homosexual text and any other text definable according to “juridico-discursive norms” as “minority.” If the homosexual writing subject is to get his due, argues Schehr, “each ‘homosexual’ text must be considered exactly as one would consider a white male heterosexual text,” in other words, as having the same right to interpret the world as the dominant heterosexual discourse.

Schehr devotes his introductory chapter, “From Gide to Foucault,” to defining his own critical stance, if not in opposition to, at least by distinction with Foucault and the type of oppositional hermeneutics his writings have fostered, particularly in Anglo-American spheres. He begins by demonstrating the underlying theoretical affinity between Foucault and André Gide, generally recognized as the first modern French novelist to “come out of the closet,” as well as a precursor of contemporary gay theorists in his essay Corydon, an apology for homosexuality that marshals both nature and (Greek) culture in its defense. Though Foucault’s social constructivist approach may appear to innovate on Gide’s essentialist one, they share a form of idealism, since [End Page 520] both refer back to ancient Greece as the mythic origin of the Western subject and the locus of the nature-culture split, on the basis of which both construct their definitions and justifications. The reference to Gide also enables Schehr to segue into an elaboration of his own homosexual hermeneutics in the subsequent chapters, via an explanation for his choice of texts.

Given that his object is not the Homosexual text, but a (homosexual) textuality, Schehr is less interested in works that explicitly thematize homosexuality than in those about which he can argue that the text itself is the locus of the constitution of a homosexual subject—and, as we will learn later, if there is any feature that can “define” the homosexual subject for Schehr, it is its resistance to closure and hence to any identification with a transcendental signified. Thus, though many critics interested in homosexual writers have favored Gide over Proust because of the former’s “outness” and openness in defending homosexuals, Schehr argues that Gide was too much a proponent of dyadic and essentializing thought—as evidenced by the tendency to thematic closure in his novels—to offer material for the kind of hermeneutics being elaborated in The Shock of Men. Proust and the three other authors studied here—Roland Barthes, Renaud Camus, and Michel Tournier—“all write according the discourses structured by an individual,” affirms Schehr. “Each of them sees the oppositions I have discussed as being secondary to the processes of interpretation by and through the subject.”

Thus in the remaining chapters of the book, Schehr will focus on homosexuality, not as a theme, but as an interpretant—that is, not on reading (about) homosexuality, but on reading through it, by examining the relations among narrative, theory, interpretation, and (homo)sexuality in each of the works studied and the manner in which homosexuality in each case disrupts any attempt to arrive at interpretative closure—always...