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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 537-539

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Book Review

Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality

Calvin Thomas, ed. Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000.

Edited by Calvin Thomas, Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality promises to use the term "queer" to interrogate "heterosexuality" in theory, literature, and culture, but in practice the interrogation rehearses what has become a highly familiar constitutive tie. Thus, the volume's contributors trace homoerotic disruptions of straight narratives so as to render queerness and straightness each the pliable corollary of one another, much like the "twist" featured in the collection's title. While neither explicitly foregrounded nor evenly critiqued until the conclusion, sexism emerges throughout the volume as the twist's ironically unifying torque. If this insight is deferred, the figure of the twist nonetheless reveals a promising, related figure to which the contributors allude sotto voce, until at the collection's apex Catherine A. F. MacGillivray loudly proclaims the value of the "hole." Her animated dialogue with Calvin Thomas demonstrates what more cogent feminist critique might have provided and how little, at times, straight-but-twisting-scholarship ventures, especially when critics remain reticent about the permutations of queerness within their own and their subjects' praxis. If for MacGillivray, there's a hole in this work, then it's that the "hole" has been minimized. Nonetheless, her trenchant analysis realizes the collection's burgeoning web of references to the gendered politics and politically shattering pleasures of the hole, too often lost in what Thomas calls the tendency to "cover [our] asses." For instance, MacGillivray's emphasis on the significance of reception for re-imagining gender and jouissance resonates with the work of Roland Barthes, whose influence is prominent throughout the volume. In his well-wrought essay, "Updike's Erect Faith in A Month of Sundays," John Duvall features Barthes in an [End Page 537] argument about the anxiety that receptivity inspires in the novel's protagonist, a hyper-heterosexual minister whose faith, like his masculinity, must be embodied compulsively in "risen" flesh; this flesh in turn ejaculates into an abject "feminine" receptacle Updike also figures as the reader/congregation. In assessing the sexism that precipitates the protagonist's intense homophobia, though, Duvall might have offered disapprobation as explicit as what Katherine Gantz provides in her excellent discussion of the homosocial framing of Elaine in "Reading the Queer in Seinfeld."

Drawing likewise on Barthes's work in The Pleasure of the Text to develop her provocative treatment of Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, Mary Wiles extends and complicates the "hole's" potential for giving rise to jouissance--by way of the fetishized phallus--in her essay "The Fascination of the Lesbian Fetish." Reading the female child's involuntary alienation from her mother's body as instituting a lack embodied as castration, Wiles canvasses the novel for the dramatic modes through which Bone reinscribes this lack and thereby secures varying degrees of agency; these strategies range from racial posturing to self-extirpating gospel singing, from masochistic spiritual and sexual fantasies to self-fetishization as a river-dragging body hook. If that argument seems condensed and if the image of a hook remains more suggestive of the phallus than the hole, then let me encourage the volume's readers to take a closer look at Wiles's complex revisions of Teresa de Lauretis's formulations.

The strongest essay in many respects, Wiles's work nonetheless departs from the volume's apparent focus on the production of heterosexual desire, but more importantly fails to reckon adequately with the body of feminist work theorizing the value of receptivity. She seems to miss how Bone's use of the chain, from which she detaches the river-dragging hook for masturbatory ends, suggests a figure constituted by holes, a figure for both contiguity and absence, allowing Bone to preempt unwanted penetration without having to yield receptivity. The figure of the chain, finally, anticipates...


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