Essays Jamie Russell Queer Burroughs

ISBN 13: 9780312239237

Queer Burroughs

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9780312239237: Queer Burroughs

William S. Burroughs is consistently thought of as a novelist who is gay, rather than a gay novelist. This distinction is slight, yet remarkable, since it has meant that Burroughs has been excluded from the gay canon and from the scope of queer theory. In this intelligent book, Jamie Russell offers the first queer reading of Burroughs' novels. He explores how the novels of Burroughs can be seen as a sustained attempt to offer a very personal rethinking of gay subjectivity and as an attempt to overturn stereotypes of gay men as effeminate. Yet in his celebration and appropriation of some of the most violent, misogynistic, and effeminophobic elements of heterosexually-identified masculinity, Burroughs' life and writing suggest a subjectivity that has been deeply troubling to many in the gay community.

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Review:

This tightly written and convincing study by a British freelance journalist and college lecturer explores the relationship between the wily William S. Burroughs's writing and his homosexuality. In his excellent introduction, Jamie Russell describes the state of Burroughs studies, and the tendency of most critics to follow Norman Mailer in regarding "the fact that he's gay" as "incidental." The drug use and misogyny in Burroughs's novels has received far more attention than the homosexuality of his male alter ego, William Lee, and even gay critics appear to have washed their hands of Burroughs, with his troubling taste for handguns and the outlandishness of his vision.

By contrast, Russell hopes to "chart the progression of the novels' gay thematics, in particular the ways in which they respond to the gay movements that intersect their forty years, and the means by which they attempt to imagine a radical gay identity that builds upon the social gains made by the gay civil liberties movement." Russell pins his thesis on Burroughs's revulsion of effeminacy, the chief model of gay male existence available in the 1950s, when Junkie and Queer were written. In a letter to Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs made a crucial distinction between "us strong, manly, noble types and the leaping, jumping, window dressing c[---] sucker."

Russell argues that Burroughs's famous fragmentation of his male subject in these early novels is not a brilliantly queer destabilizing strategy, as some have considered it, but "the very mark of the regulation of the gay subject by the heterosexual dominant." He had a monkey on his back, in other words, and it wasn't heroin withdrawal. Queer Burroughs is a "strong, manly, noble" piece of cultural criticism of a kind Burroughs himself would have relished. --Regina Marler

About the Author:

Jamie Russell is a lecturer in English and a freelance journalist. He lives in London.

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