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  • Gothic Sexualities
  • Christine E. Coffman, assistant professor of English
Queer Gothic George E. Haggerty Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. x + 231 pp.

Tracking figurations of sexuality in gothic novels and films from the eighteenth century to the present, George E. Haggerty's Queer Gothic not only makes a persuasive argument for the queerness of the gothic but also reworks the history of sexuality. Haggerty draws on queer, feminist, and psychoanalytic theory to challenge accounts of the history of sexuality that privilege sexology and psychoanalysis and retroactively apply their binary logics to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic fictions.

Especially noteworthy for the close attention with which Haggerty tests prevailing theories of the gothic against a wide range of texts, Queer Gothic will be essential reading for those who work on the gothic and the novel. Two displacements of past work on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic are crucial to Haggerty's argument in parts 1 and 2 of the book. First, in a move that is most persuasive in his chapter on the erotics of loss (chapter 2), he challenges theories of the gothic that turn on what he argues to be a "heteronormative," binary distinction between sadism and masochism that finds its roots in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century sexology (19). Second, he reworks Eve Sedgwick's theory that male homoerotic plottings in gothic fiction are motivated by paranoia driven by disavowed homosexuality (chapter 6). Drawing on Julia Kristeva in his readings of both female and male homoerotic trajectories in gothic novels, Haggerty argues that their trajectories of desire can better be accounted for as motivated by melancholic loss. This melancholia encrypts the horror and violence of a subjectivity constituted through "an originary loss that forecloses same-sex bonds" and thereby bespeaks a more fundamental loss of identity that, following Slavoj Žižek, Haggerty argues can be "constituted only in absence" (44, 111). While foreclosed female same-sex desire is the site of utopian imagining in such writers as Ann [End Page 595] Radcliffe, in the work of other gothic writers sodomy registers abjection and male homoerotic desire heralds "the end of history" (128).

Part 3 considers the cultural limits implied by gothic figurations of male-male desire in twentieth-century literature and film. The first two chapters of this section (8 and 9)—on Henry James, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith—track the implications for the gothic of shifts in openness about queer sexuality in the twentieth century. The third (chapter 9), "Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture," argues that Rice's texts, for all their open and tantalizing portrayals of gay male sexuality, are homophobic in their insistent linking of homosexuality to corruption and their foreclosure of the possibility of male-male love. Rice's popular fiction, Haggerty implies, is the twentieth-century analogue of the "apocalyptic gothic."

Haggerty's readings of gothic texts draw on a wide range of theorists, from queer thinkers Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, and Eve Sedgwick to psychoanalytic theorists Sigmund Freud, Kristeva, Kaja Silverman, and Žižek, yet Queer Gothic neither emphasizes theoretical discussion nor engages at length in methodological debates. While Haggerty's discussion of Freud's work on the paranoiac Daniel Paul Schreber—crucial to earlier queer readings of the gothic—acknowledges Freud's homophobia before reworking his theories for antihomophobic ends, similar controversies within feminist and queer circles concerning Kristeva's and Žižek's work go unacknowledged. Implicitly following scholars who consider psychoanalysis to reveal but not necessarily to endorse patriarchal social structures, Haggerty marshals Žižek's work to argue that the gothic—especially the "hypertheatricality" of gothic drama, to which he devotes chapter 5—self-consciously calls attention to the structural features of patriarchy that form the context for its figurations of sexuality. Even readers such as myself who are largely sympathetic to feminist and queer reworkings of psychoanalysis would benefit from a more detailed working-through of the methodological issues at stake, as Haggerty's rearticulations of psychoanalysis—especially Žižek's work—are innovative and potentially useful for other projects within queer theory.

The book's principal emphasis, however, is not in working out the intricacies of such theories but...


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pp. 595-597
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