- No Penis? No Problem: Intersections of Queerness and Disability in Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
- The Eighteenth Century
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 58, Number 2, Summer 2017
- pp. 177-193
- View Citation
- Additional Information
My argument claims Sterne's strange, experimental novel as a touchstone for how queerness and disability intersect in the eighteenth century. First, drawing on Tristram's narration concerning Toby's wound, I claim both wound and narration as sites of queerness. The narration and Toby's characterization disrupt heteronormative constructs of gender and desire. Next, I explore Toby and Trim's verbal and physical exchanges in order to reveal the intimate homoeroticism generated between the two men with disabilities; their war careers and domesticity reveal the intersection of queerness and disability inherent in their relationship. Rather than being characterized as impaired, lacking, or in need of recovery, Toby's desire is marked by redirection and relocation. Finally, I examine Toby and Trim's queer collaborative enterprises of rebuilding Namur. The model war zone suggests that male-male pleasure is temporally and materially fluid; the two men revel in erotic energy generated by polychronicity and repurposed objects. All three areas—wound, relationship, and miniature war zone—reveal that queer disability in Tristram Shandy unsettles binaries of male/female, homo/heterosexual, and ultimately abled/disabled through the use of pleasure and the erotic relationship between reader and text. Alternative desires and ruptures to ideological regulations of corporeality emerge through the text's refusal of a "compulsory able-bodiedness." Sterne chooses instead to centralize disability as pleasure.