- "Something Inarticulate":Sexual Desire in the Fiction of Eudora Welty and Hubert Creekmore
Scholars working on the queer South have recognized the work of Hubert Creekmore's underground classic The Welcome as a staple of this canon.1 Eudora Welty occasionally pops up in the queer studies canon as a contemporary to the mid-century southern writer or as seen on the arm of Creekmore when they attended Jackson Symphony Orchestra concerts together (Richards 6; Howard 192). But so far little has been said about the significance of these personal and literary connections, especially Welty and Creekmore's shared explorations of modern sexuality in the American South.
This essay places Welty and Creekmore side by side as writers who shared not only family connections and a social circle of friends, but also an interest in questioning the South's prescriptive sexual normativity. Noting what Joseph Allen Boone calls "libidinal currents" that flow through their fiction, this essay traces aspects of sexual desire in two of their early stories and compares the writers' treatments of bourgeois marriage in their masterpieces Delta Wedding and The Welcome (27). These novels were written in close proximity, as the writers, both unmarried, were in their late thirties.2 By examining the fictional techniques used to represent desire, to queer southern landscapes, and to convey erotically charged thoughts and images that disturb what Adrienne Rich terms "compulsory heterosexuality," this essay argues that both writers converge over explorations of sexual desire in their fiction and, more specifically, over the question of whether or not language is ever capable of articulating desire (11).
In an essay on "Desire," Judith Butler offers two theoretical positions on the relationship of language to desire: "a conception of language that is said to form or produce desire—and without which desire cannot exist—and a conception of language that is the vehicle through which desire is displaced, that founders in every effort to present and communicate desire" (370). Welty and Creekmore are intensely interested in the capability and the limits of language to articulate desire. A preoccupation with sexual desire is deeply woven into the writers' earliest stories and climaxes in their mature novels in a set of triangulations that exposes the nature of libidinal desire as [End Page 83] never simply aimed at a single love object. Creekmore's language attempts to give explicit form and voice to queer desires. Returning to Butler's formulation, we might say that for Creekmore desire is produced in language that attempts a clarifying illumination of same-sex attraction. For Welty, too, language is the vehicle through which sexual desire is produced, but only to be obscured and displaced. Just as in the Lacanian formulation of metonymic substitutions, desire, like language, is defined as displacement. Butler's formulation of this idea is helpful: the aims of desire are "cloaked or displaced in such a way that what one desires is radically other than what one appears to seek" (380). She adds "that desire is not what it appears to be, that it remains irreducible to appearance, implies that it emerges (or, rather, fails to emerge) as an opacity in language. Desire designates that opacity without which language cannot work" (380).
The erotic imaginaries of Welty and Creekmore both work to queer heteronormative southern settings, but Creekmore attempts to transcend the opacity of language by aiming for a clear articulation of queer desire, whereas Welty aims for a constellation of desire neither "straight" nor "queer," an erotic place always less than clear. Dawn Trouard argues that in her fiction Welty explores women who "resist the cultural prescriptions that would make happiness reside in attachments," and she highlights Welty's "provocative take on aloneness" (673, 671). Remaining sexually and socially "unattached" can be the basis for its own form of libidinal pleasure, as French feminist Luce Irigaray has provocatively argued.3 And, as Benjamin Kahan claims more recently, freedom from attachment can constitute its own "coherent sexual identity" (2). Whether articulating queer desire or what Kahan calls "celibate" sexuality, Welty and Creekmore imagine alternative constellations of sexual pleasure. In their fiction, they reveal that desire, by definition, can never be fulfilled. By drawing Welty...