Saturday, December 10, 2005

Queer Theory

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Dollimore’s essay chronicles the perception and definitions of perversion throughout history. He begins with Freud and Foucault’s definitions of perversions, which are both in regards to sexual perversion, commonly known as homosexuality. Here, the idea is that perversion is the natural state, while normality is the result of repressing our perverse selves. To better understand the controversial nature of Freud’s statements, Dollimore turns to the first appearance and use of the term in literature. St. Augustine defines perversion as “turning away from God’s path.” Incidentally, in the 1300s, Dante would use this word again to signify the “turning away from God’s love.” For Dante and St. Augustine, perversion equals sin; it is not the resulting action that is the sin, but the act of turning away from the straight path. Dante considered sodomy to be a sin because it was a violation of God’s nature. In the sodomy circle of Hell, Dante places his professor Brunetto Latini, whose sin of sodomy is magnified by the fact that he persuaded his students to partake in sodomy with him. Dante’s condemnation mirrors St. Augustine’s remarks that the magnitude of perversion is based on “the innocence of those being perverted.” Thus, Latini taking advantage of his students merits his placement in Hell.

On page 17, Dollimore says, “in its splitting the natural produces the perverse as a disavowal of itself and as a displacement of an opposite (the unnatural) which, because of the binary interdependence of the two (the natural and the unnatural), is also an inextricable part of itself.” Interestingly, this is the same language that Silverman uses to describe women in films. Like Silverman, Dollimore places women in the position of the perverse, a tradition he claims began with Eve. Dollimore seems to be using the same tactic as the ethnic studies literary critics by appealing to the Feminist literary critics and white women in the case of Desdemona. He aligns the plight of homosexuals with those of women thereby connecting the two groups as victims of the label of “pervert.” He presents the struggles of the two groups as trials that all “perverts” endure, which in turn takes away the stigma attached to pervert by making it an arbitrary term oppressively attached to women and homosexuals by patriarchy and ideology, respectively.

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