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Stephen P. Knadler Leo Bersani and the Nostalgia for White Male Radicalism (on Leo Bersani, Homos [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995]) Intellectual hipsters, as Andrew Ross remarked several years ago, have always shared an unadmitted kinship with conservative guardians of culture. Both the radical left and the right tend to situate themselves as pariahs of the mainstream social order and arrogate a superiority to mass values (Ross 82). Appropriating for themselves the messianic ground of the higher or purer outside, Mailer's White Negroes circumscribed critical consciousness within a narrow logic of repudiation : the hipster was to identify with whatever was disavowed by conventional or white or straight society (Butler 87). Within recent years lesbian and gay studies has recapitulated the rhetorical strategies of Ross' hipsters to legitimate its institutional foundations. To distinguish the domainoftheir work from feminism, they have enacted an originary separation, inaugurating a methodological disjunction between oppression based on sexual practice and social domination based on gender. Yet the recent trend to isolate sex from gender in lesbian and gay studies needs to attend, I would argue, to its disturbing implications within the current racialized and anti-feminist conservative backlash. What we maybe seeing in the apparentfightfor academic validity is an alarming symbiosis on a narratological level between lesbian and gay theorists and Log Cabin Republicans that would derail a genuine engagementwith queer theory: sexuality is not, as recent lesbian and gay theorists have pointed out, a derivative of gender, but, on the other hand, we need to realize that an analysis of sexual relations apart from an investigation of gender (or race and class) only ushers in a libertarianism that is socially reactionary. In his new book Homos, Leo Bersani issues an unacknowledged polemic within lesbigay studies' internecine cultural war. And sexual isolationists could have found no more eloquent or posturing a hipster to argue for the holier and less assimilative ground of disengendered gay studies than Bersani. A subcultural Puritan, Bersani offers a sexy jeremiad calling upon the gay male community not to backslide into assimilationist politics and identitarian invisibility lestwe lose the good fight against repressive heterosexist norms. But Bersani's comments are more than truthful, although trite, repetitions of radical angst over co-optation by the center. On the contrary, Bersani's admonitions sound uneasily like sound bites of a native informant for Newt Gingrich's own "revolutionary" new world order. Behind his rhetoric of radical 170the minnesota review chic, Bersani asks gay studies to return to an Eisenhower-era, racially hygienic radicalism before today's emasculating postcolonial sensitivity training. Amidst theoretical sleight-of-hand, Bersani writes an Oedipal narrative in which homos must differentiate themselves from the suffocating "mother" offeminism. While professing toherald a liberating reorganization of society, however, Bersani identifies "homo-ness" with arelationality or what he sees as the retrieved patriarchal outside to the multicultural left. As a consequence, Bersani's revolutionary reorganization would function only to justify white men in a renewed exclusion of women and fetishization of minorities—only this second time around we white gay men, Bersani intimâtes, would be able to join the fraternity. Gay studies has always divided, as Tim Edwards has written, over whether its focus should be on gender or sexual oppression (37). The disingenuousness of Bersani's polemics in the first two chapters of his book ("The Gay Presence" and "The Gay Absence") lies in his deflection of attention away from an overt discussion of this division behind a familiar activist ambivalence over assimilation. In defending in these chapters, as he says, an anti-essentialist gay specificity, Bersani simultaneously rewrites gay history so that it is gender studies (here coded as constructivism) which now obstructs liberation, or at least liberation for gay white men. At the core of Bersani's opening argument is the Foucauldian paradox that greater visibility of gays in the media and in public debates leads to new acculturative forms of control, and he reminds us rightly that as lesbigays try to fit themselves into a heterosexual mainstream society, they risk erasing their defining differences (11). However, amidst these forecasts of the margin's obsolescence, Bersani suppresses the buried referent ofhis study and thus elides nuanced analysis. In over...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 169-176
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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