- Intersections between Queer, Irish, and Caribbean Migrants to London in Neil Jordan’s “Last Rites”
Nos barques sont ouvertes, pour tous nous les naviguons.— from poétique de la relation by édouard glissant (21)
The first story of Neil Jordan’s 1976 Night in Tunisia, “Last Rites,” begins with the image of a feeble man “lying on the floor with open wrists” (8). Initially, the short story appears to project an overtly deterministic negativity often found in popular renderings of queer life. Yet, as one’s reading progresses, taking on the full breadth of experience and emotion explored by Jordan, one comes to realize that different forces are at work. In just ten pages, he immerses the reader in the particularities of an unassuming Irish immigrant in London: his depression, elation, and unavoidable relation to those peopling his existence, both past and present. Therefore, despite the short story’s negative ending (suicide), this paper seeks to foreground the persistence of the intersectional possibilities that it suggests.
Máirtín Mac an Ghaill observes that the liminal space occupied by the Irish queer in London leads to a situation where “ethnicity, sexuality and class” function as “crucial points of intersection” and allow for “different forms of power, desire and identity formation” (130). Neil Jordan himself worked as a navvy in London in the midseventies, and while he is not gay, his time in the city likely allowed him to conceptualize issues of race, sexuality, and Irishness in new ways.1 One sees this in how “Last Rites” features a queer Irish protagonist who masturbates “in a homoerotically charged scene” next to Trinidadian immigrant in a neighboring shower [End Page 76] cubicle (Madden 178).2 The text reflects how queer Irish migrants often find themselves at the crossroads of London’s racial, ethnic, and sexual make-up (Mac an Ghaill 130). On the one hand they are racialized and subjugated by their English counterparts; however, due to their skin color, they still enjoy a degree of privilege vis-à-vis Black migrants from Africa or the Caribbean (122). For gay Irishmen, this is compounded by the fact that they would not immediately be thought of as homosexual unless they were publicly engaging in some form of same-sex activity (133). This shows how the Irish queer straddles various interlocking “minority/majority” boundaries relating to race and sexuality within the city (133).
In light of such observations, I argue that Jordan’s short story highlights the queer Irish migrant’s travails in navigating global-capitalistic society, as he tries to reconcile his tacit identity vis-à-vis ever-present constructions of race and class. To demonstrate this, I propose to read its main elements and characters— a frail Irishman in a state of arrested development, his eroticized and racialized Caribbean counterpart, their proximity and distance in adjacent shower cubicles, and the green bridge by which they came— at the intersection of three theorists: Kathryn Bond Stockton, Anne-Marie Fortier, and Édouard Glissant. Together, they allow for a synthesis of queer and postcolonial theorizations striving to clarify the place of marginalized others within a supposedly “enlightened” world that has yet to bring forth the progress promised to those on its peripheries. The nameless shower-goer’s trajectory brings together those of the migrant worker and the queer subject, resonating with Stockton’s notion of “growing sideways,” Fortier’s “Queer Diaspora,” and Glissant’s conceptualization of Relation.3
A reading of “Last Rites” engaging with its negative and relational qualities takes on new relevance in light of recent debates in the field of Queer Theory between Lee Edelman and José Esteban Muñoz surrounding futurism. On the one hand, Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive offers a critique; in his view, LGBTQ movements invest themselves too heavily in a politics of incremental change in hope that future generations might come to enjoy greater acceptance in heteronormative society.4 He identifies this as a futurist politics derived from a liberal narrative of progress that has consistently excluded— and created new [End Page 77] categorizations to subjugate— queer life.5 Therefore, Edelman asserts that, rather than employ those same liberal discourses to...