QUEERING AND DEQUEERING THE TEXT Tennessee Williams s A

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Cercles 10 86, imitate and repeat even parody Williams and Albee can say as. much and often speak more frankly than others about the horrors of. family life the tedium of marriage Millet 341 342, The critic Howard Taubman famously complained in 1961 about the. infiltration of homosexual attitudes in American drama judging that the. portrayal of women and heterosexual life should be undertaken by clearly. heterosexual playwrights whereas the gays could write gay plays. Loughery 292 Stanley Kaufmann s attacks of the same kind in the 1950s. and 1960s are equally in famous Tinkcom 348, It is silly to suppose as some critics still do that homosexuals. exclusive or not do not know enough about heterosexual life to write about. it convincingly or interestingly Homosexuals live like everyone else in a. heterosexual world 1 It is equally silly to suppose that homosexual writers. particularly want to write about the homosexual experience to the exclusion. of other spheres and even if they do want to write about the homosexual. experience too they usually know better than to limit themselves to it. particularly before Stonewall especially if they want to make a living out. of their work, So without claiming that Williams s only aim was to discuss things. queer he certainly had an interest in finding ways for this silenced majority. to be allowed to speak Miller 99 As we shall see in order to focus on. gender and sexual orientation Williams s plays often queer the pre text. more than the text the queer in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1955 Suddenly Last. Summer 1958 and A Streetcar Named Desire 1947 has already died before. the play starts The queen is dead long live the queen it is this death that. gives life to the plays, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams tells us in his notes for the.
designer takes place in the bed sitting room of a plantation home in the. Mississippi Delta He goes on to specify that the style of this room is. somewhat unexpected Why Because it hasn t changed much since it was. occupied by the original owners of the place Jack Straw and Peter Ochello a. pair of old bachelors who shared this room all their lives together Cat 13. Just in case Straw s and Ochello s sexual orientation were not clear enough. as indicated by the classical euphemism a pair of old bachelors and the. fact that they shared the room Williams then accumulates references to the. tremendous love Straw and Ochello felt for one another. So the queering of the text starts before and beside the text as it were. Things are never simple with Williams More than perhaps any other. American playwright he delivers a great deal of information in his stage. directions thus creating both a mine and a minefield for the scholar It is so. tempting to read his often copious directions or as in this case notes for the. designer as simply part of the text and assume that they signify as much. as the dialogue In the same way it is tempting to forget for research or. teaching s sake that we are dealing with a play a work of art to be seen on. If such notions were true a sizeable portion of the art of the past twenty six centuries. or so would be irrelevant to heterosexuals from Plato to Warhol via Michelangelo. Shakespeare Wilde and Chaikovsky If such notions were true any novelist wishing to write. say about serial killers would have to murder several people before hitting his keyboard. Georges Claude Guilbert 87, stage rather than to be read Naturally much depends on the talent or. lack thereof of the director and stage designer of any particular production. talent in this case not meaning slavish observance of frequently unrealistic. authorial wishes In this paper I intend to force myself to remember that few. productions of Williams s plays scrupulously obey the master s directions if. only because they are not necessarily feasible I also intend to take them into. account even though some may say that they are more paradiegetic than. diegetic When Williams writes that there is something about Blanche s. uncertain manner as well as her white clothes that suggests a moth. Streetcar 117 I am not certain however talented the director actress and. costume designer that a single spectator in the theater thinks of a moth. In Act Two of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when it has been established that. Brick and his wife Maggie the cat do not have sex any more that Brick is an. alcoholic that Big Daddy is dying of cancer and that Gooper and Mae. embody the worst possible form of heterosexuality and heteronormativity. they are heterosexist bigoted brainless unfeeling homophobic breeders. Big Daddy states You started drinkin when your friend Skipper died. Brick s frat house teammate football playing friend Skipper committed. suicide some time before Act One Big Daddy reports that Brick s brother. Gooper and wife Mae have suggested there was something not right not. normal in his relationship with Skipper and we learn that Maggie has. suggested it too Cat 75 When Brick becomes highly agitated Big Daddy. says Now hold on hold on a minute son I knocked around in my time. Brick wonders what s that got to do with Cat 76 Precisely that has. got everything to so with, You don t have to be a queer theorist to imagine that what Big Daddy. is trying to tell his son is very possibly that he himself in his youth had sex. with men on several occasions I knocked around can easily be identified. as polysemic and I bummed this country or I slept in hobo jungles and. railroad Y s and flophouses in all cities are highly evocative even in pre. Village People America Cat 76 Later he says Jack Straw an Peter. Ochello took me in Cat 77 conjuring up the picture of a young and. attractive man rescued from poverty and homelessness by two generous. gentlemen possibly moved by other feelings than mere charity At this point. some critics see distinct hints to sexual relationships in Big Daddy s. discourse Some like imagining a potential m nage trois Clum Tennessee. Williams 752 They left the plantation to him turning him into some sort. of a son which in no way contradicts the above obviously. But Brick shouting uses phrases such as that pair of old sisters. Cat 76 81 dirty things dirty old men ducking sissies and finally. queers Cat 77 He is the one who talks about things like that an. unnatural thing Cat 78 and fairies Cat 79 At last we understand. that Maggie suggested to Skipper that he and Brick were repressed or. latent homosexuals leading Skipper to try and prove her wrong in bed. But he was incapable of performing polysemy intended that night After. much coaxing Brick ends up admitting that it was after a long distance call. in which he made a drunken confession and on which he hung up. that Skipper killed himself Cat 81 However hard Brick tries to pass the. buck and blame it on somebody else he is ultimately responsible for. Cercles 10 88, Skipper s death Skipper loved him No amount of auto suggestion can. persuade him that this love was an invention of Maggie s No matter how. clever she was and no matter how dumb Skipper was how could she. have convinced Skipper ab nihilo that he harbored queer feelings. Whether Brick more or less unconsciously reciprocated those feelings. and desires whether he was basically heterosexual homosexual or bisexual. is not so important Garber 390 Of course it is often tempting to see. homophobia in men as the manifestation of bottled up homosexual. tendencies without indulging in supermarket psychoanalysis it is well. known that the most violent queer bashers are often queers not merely in. the closet but right down there in the cellar who hate themselves. Williams s original idea for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was queerer than. what was finally shown on stage since Elia Kazan who first directed the. play obliged him to somewhat dequeer the ending Then the film was. further dequeered as always Sinfield Cultural Politics 54 Garber 387. Still it remains a queer text to an important extent What is central to the. understanding of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and all of Williams s work is to see. that Skipper s death is the principal motor of the play just as some form of. hubris is the motor of many a Greek tragedy The play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. simply would not exist if Skipper had not committed suicide before the. curtain rises Admittedly there is Big Daddy s cancer the question of. inheritance Maggie s splendid character Big Mama s pathetic ramblings. and Mae s detestable child rearing Then of course there is the Southern. heritage But without Skipper s suicide there is no Brick drinking himself. into oblivion and no play Yes Brick is responsible for Skipper s death. but Brick was merely an instrument of the heteronormative dominant. culture Homosexual panic killed Skipper Sedgwick Epistemology passim. Sedgwick Tendencies passim Hence my Dead Queer Theory which I wish. to further illustrate before I move on to A Streetcar Named Desire. Williams s work often depends on events that took place prior to the. diegesis per se to the action in the restrictive sense Tennessee Williams. is a master of the guilty secret buried in the past Garber 390 This is a. habit in Southern literature obviously Dark often Gothic pasts full of. daunting secrets haunt the present Suddenly Last Summer is no exception. Catherine Holly is locked up at St Mary s a private institution watched. over by zealous nuns Why Because the preceding summer vacationing at. a sea resort somewhere called Cabeza de Lobo she more or less witnessed. the murder of her cousin Sebastian Venable eaten alive by a mob of. underprivileged boys The Dead Queer this time is a poet just like Allan. Grey in A Streetcar Named Desire a frail poet with a weak heart who wrote. one poem a year, Sebastian used to have a perfect arrangement with his overprotective. mother Violet who took him on vacation to various chic places and used to. procure for him In Cabeza de Lobo Violet was replaced by Catherine As. D A Miller calls her Catherine is queer bait Miller 98 The idea is. simple if you are a lonely homosexual with money in the 1950s and you. want to meet young attractive men travel with a woman who has charm. and an easy going manner The implication of course is that those young. men Sebastian had sex with were not necessarily homosexual themselves. Georges Claude Guilbert 89, Indeed in Cabeza de Lobo the boys were certainly heterosexual Starving as.
they were they were prepared to comply for a few coins shades of Baron. Von Gloeden s Sicilian boys This was and is a common practice Today it. would be called sexual tourism Not that Sebastian actually needed to get. away from New Orleans to find such pleasures as there are always straight. young men in any western city who resort to prostitution for various. reasons a phenomenon with which Williams was familiar. After he had had a few Cabeza de Lobo boys Sebastian feeling. poorly and possibly satiated stopped going to the public beach with. Catherine The boys were still starving though As she narrates the. traumatic events Catherine first calls them homeless young people. Suddenly 152 then hungry young people Suddenly 153 and eventually. naked children S u d d e n l y 154 So as to make clear for the. spectator reader that Sebastian s activities were more pederastic than. pedophiliac Williams makes her specify I think he recognized some of. the boys between childhood and older Suddenly 156 So presumably. Sebastian has not had sex with all the boys who eat him only some of them. the older ones That gang of kids shouted vile things about me to the. waiters of the caf says Sebastian No doubt they called him queer. Setting aside the ridiculous question of the lack of realism of. Suddenly Last Summer 2 it is worth pointing out that Sebastian has martyr. tendencies like his namesake Saint Sebastian being of course the. quintessential gay saint But this in no way prevents his death from being. the result of homophobia If society had been more open minded Sebastian. might have found love on his doorstep in New Orleans would not have. turned into a self destructive neurotic dandy and the play Suddenly Last. Summer would not exist Instead he is killed by cannibal heterosexual even. if they were available for rent homophobic boys Koestenbaum 117 Miller. Since Catherine easily stands for the Madwoman in the attic. syndrome Bront passim Rhys passim Gilbert Gubar passim such a. queer reading goes hand in hand with a feminist reading What does an. oppressive patriarchal society do with women outcasts women full of rage. who find refuge in madness What does it do with women who dare have a. mind of their own or who will not shut up and do men s bidding Women. who are in patriarchy s way It locks them up in a psychiatric institution. possibly considering lobotomy which is what happens to Blanche at the. end of A Streetcar Named Desire Things may get worse when the. disturbing more than disturbed women are the depositories of secrets. especially of course when they hold the keys to the closet like Catherine in. Suddenly Last Summer and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof both played by. Elizabeth Taylor in the film versions Koestenbaum 116 117. Yet it would be simplistic to see Williams as some kind of gay. militant He himself long suffered from a severe case of internalized. homophobia By most accounts including his own he remained a virgin. until the age of 26 1937 and after heterosexual affairs yielded to his. further dequeered as always Sinfield Cultural Politics 54 Garber 387 Still it remains a queer text to an important extent What is central to the understanding of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and all of Williams s work is to see that Skipper s death is the principal motor of the play just as some form of

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