Associate Professor Ben Bateman announces his new book, The Modernist Art of Queer Survival
This book explores an archive of modernist literature that conceives survival as a collective enterprise linking lives across boundaries of race, time, class, species, gender, and sexuality. As social Darwinism promoted a selfish, competitive, and combatively individualistic understanding of survival, the four modernists examined here countered by imagining how postures of precarity, vulnerability, and receptivity can breed pleasurably and environmentally sustainable modes of interdependent survival. These modes prove particularly vital and appealing to queer bodies, desires, and intimacies deemed unfit, abnormal, or unproductive by heterosexist ideologies. Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” opposes “survival of the fittest” doctrines and Progressive-era masculinity with a feminist-inspired cultivation of ecological humility and interspecies collaboration. Oscar Wilde develops an autobiographical form that expresses collective subjectivity in De Profundis, an epistolary testament to the constitutive role of suffering in queer community formation. E.M. Forster imagines, in Howards End, how queer ideas and intimacies survive courtesy of invitations that awaken both inviters and invitees to unexpected relational possibilities freed from conventional timelines of development and realization. In Forster’s A Passage to India, the pursuit of “queer invitations” models an evolutionary succession defined by careful attention to creaturely inheritance and by ethical responses to the countless lives, including those obfuscated by imperial privilege, required for the successful survival of any individual life. Finally, Willa Cather’s short and long fiction, including “Consequences,” Lucy Gayheart, and The Professor’s House, argues for suicide as a way of life as it transforms the impulse to throw life away into an ethical alternative to the greedy logics of capitalism.
Benjamin Bateman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Director, Center for the Study of Genders and Sexualities
Cal State Los Angeles
Author of The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (forthcoming from Oxford University Press)