long overdue update

queer modernisms banner 1

For nearly two years now(!) the “Queer Modernisms?” tab at the top of this blog has led to a blank page with “IN PROGRESS” listed at the top.

That situation has now changed–it’s definitely still a work in progress, but take a look!



renee vivien woman of the wolf coverDuring that great burst of feminist scholarship in the 1960’s and 70’s that set out to reevaluate the traditional literary canon there was a concerted effort to translate the work of obscure turn of the century author/poet Renée Vivien into English. And I’m glad they did. For if Vivien is remembered today, it is less for anything she wrote than for her lifestyle and the legends that sprung up around it: her turbulent affair with Natalie Clifford Barney, the flamboyantly androgynous dress immortalized in now-iconic photographs of the couple, as well as her death at the age of 32 that still remains somewhat of a mystery (though whatever the actual cause it was undeniably exacerbated by alcoholism and anorexia). Sadly, focusing solely on her admittedly fascinating life does a great disservice to legitimate literary accomplishment. 

Renée Vivien and Natalie Barney, c. 1900

Renée Vivien and Natalie Barney, c. 1900

And yet, despite the effort of several prominent scholars and the general interest in that time period and cultural milieu, Vivien has tended to remain a footnote of the period. A major footnote, but a footnote nonetheless. And frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Which is not a knock on Vivien or her writing in the least—I immensely enjoyed the various stories collected in this slim volume. But only several stories in it was obvious to me that Vivien is an author who resolutely resists canonization; despite Karla Jay’s resolute attempt in the introduction in spinning these as proto-feminist tales, even she must ultimately concede that “if judged from a contemporary lesbian/feminist perspective, some of Vivien’s work might appear embarrassing” for the reader in search of strong politically and socially progressive sentiments. Instead, these stories take their cues from the Decadent Movement, much more along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s hermetic Salomé (my review here) than The Yellow Wallpaper. Of her immediate peers, Djuna Barnes might be said to be exploring similar terrain—indeed, I was often reminded of Barnes’s own short story collection Spillway and Other Stories—but resolutely resisting literary modernism to an extent that exceeds even the ever-iconoclastic (and similarly underread) Barnes comes at a steep price: these are stories that refuse to slide neatly onto university syllabi. 

The vignettes that comprise Vivien’s various stories—most which strive for a mythic quality, often reworking actual Biblical and/or classical sources—are feverish, hallucinogenic, and, quite often, downright bizarre. The actions of her characters rarely act and react according to any obvious logic, and her setting are a surreal mishmash of Victorian cultural and imperial imagery and stereotypes (one story, for example, is supposedly set in the American wilderness, but revolves around a wild tiger). 

The unabashed irreality of these stories, however, are also their finest quality. They remind me of exotic tropical flowers that can only be cultivated in a hothouse—valued not for their longevity but for the spectacular effect of their short-lived blossoming.

Work Cited:

Vivien, Renée. The Woman of the Wolf, and Other Stories. Trans. Karla Jay and Yvonne M. Klein. New York: Gay Presses of New York, 1983. 

Book Review: LADIES ALMANACK by Djuna Barnes

[To continue celebrating Djuna Barnes this week and because I was thinking about it in light of a film adaptation currently in the works, I’ve decided to revisit and expand this review which was originally posted on Goodreads.]

“‘The Night-Life of Love,’ said Saint Musset, ‘burns I think me in the slightly muted Crevices of all Women who have been a little sprung with continual playing of the Spring Song, though I may be mistaken, for be it known, I have not yet made certain on this point.'”

Ladies Almanack cover Djuna Barnes illustration

Even after more than eight decades critics and scholars still squabble over what exactly Djuna Barnes was trying to accomplish with her Ladies Almanack. Is it an affectionate satire? An exuberant celebration? A sly denunciation? A parodic exercise in self-loathing?

Of course, this is Djuna Barnes we are talking about, so it’s probably all of these things, though perhaps “none of the above” gets even a bit closer to the heart of the matter. But these tensions touch upon exactly the thing that most compels me most about Barnes’s text—it somehow can manage to encompass nearly all interpretations one could possible pose, but stakes itself definitively to none of them. Which makes it a superlative example of one of my academic interests: the conveyance of queer content through “queered” form.

Djuna Barnes Natalie Barney

Photograph of Djuna Barnes and Natalie Clifford Barney, c. 1930.

The Almanack is deliberately constructed to work simultaneously on two different levels, with different sets of meaning available to different communities of readers. For the uninitiated the text can come off as a rather bewildering–perhaps even incomprehensible–take on medieval hagiography, with its mock-reverent depiction of Dame Evangeline Musset and her seemingly limitless benevolence toward young women in need.

Some readers, however, might also pick up that Dame Musset’s munificence is not purely altruistic in nature, but extends to a more sensual dimension that involves the women’s “Hinder Parts, and their Fore Parts, and in whatsoever Parts did suffer them most” (Barnes 6). But Barnes herself readily admitted that her Almanack was more than anything intended for “the private domaine” [sic], to be “distributed to a very special audience” (cited Lanser 164); that “special audience” was first and foremost Natalie Clifford Barney, as well as the many members of the lesbian-centric coterie that assembled around her in Paris. And not only was Barney & co. the audience that would be able to understand the layers of meaning shrouded within the narrative, they comprised of the subject matter themselves, as the text’s expansive cast of characters all had real-life counterparts that were being wittily caricatured (see below).

djuna barnes ladies almanack key

Key to the characters of Ladies Almanack I once made for a seminar presentation.

Privately printed and distributed, it’s interesting to consider how the Ladies Almanack was part of a spontaneous(?) flowering of literature published in 1928 that prominently featured same-sex desire–and sometimes dared even more–between women, including Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Compton Mackenzie’s Extraordinary Women, The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen, and, perhaps most importantly in a purely historical sense, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (for a good consideration of the importance of the year 1928 to feminist and/or lesbian texts I highly recommend Bonnie Kime Scott’s important 1995 study Refiguring Modernism, Volume I: The Women of 1928).

djuna barnes ladies almanack illustration

Original illustration by Djuna Barnes for Ladies Almanack

It is particularly enlightening to contrast Ladies Almanack to the latter of these novels, for not only does Hall, along with her longtime partner Una, Lady Troubridge, make appearances within Barnes’s text, but it throws into sharp relief Barnes’s own aim and approach in regards to both content and aesthetics. On the most obvious level, Barnes’s obscure, archaic utilization of language and form in the Almanack is a far cry from Hall’s unambiguously presented apologia-cum-petition. But unlike the wealthy Hall who could use her artistocratic lineage and social privilege to withstand public backlash, Susan Snaider Lanser writes that for Barnes, penniless and an American expatriate, it was “better to shroud [the overtly lesbian content] in obscurity, generating a prose whose meanings dissolve beneath a torrent of difficult words and sentences” (166).

As such, Ladies Almanack can’t just be considered an example of willful high modernist obfuscation; at the same time, its stylistic choices can’t just be solely marked up as a method for eluding censorship either. Rather, it’s something between, I’d argue, an alchemical concoction that attempts to avoid simply shoehorning queer–and intensely personal and private–topics and desires into traditional novelistic forms (The Well of Loneliness again, which can make for a rough reading experience today in its relentless proselytizing), with the purpose of beginning to articulate a new means of expression altogether. Barnes accomplishes this by queerly cherry-picking elements from a variety of sources both historical and modernist, which makes it a kind of anomaly, much like her much more well-known Nightwood, within high modernist literature, of which she was one of the most prominent (if perpetually undervalued) figures.

All these factors–and many others I’m necessarily sidestepping at present–lead to a text that is at once both outdated and undateable, and as playfully and deliberately enigmatic today as it must have been in 1928.

And hell, it’s just an awful lot of fun.

djuna barnes ladies almanack illustration 2

Djuna Barnes’s original illustration of Dame Musset’s funeral. Let’s just say it’s this is not the bleak scene you might assume it is…


Barnes, Djuna. Ladies Almanack. (1928). Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1992. Print.

Lanser, Susan Sniader. “Speaking in Tongues: Ladies Almanack and the Discourse of Desire.” Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes. Ed. Mary Lynn Broe. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. 156-68. Print.


Things have remained quiet around these parts since I wrote this post at the beginning of the year (was it already six months ago?). Over the ensuing months I’ve focused instead on some other projects to help me not only get back into the mindset of writing regularly, but with the hope of rediscovering that writing is actually something I like to do. There are many pleasures the academic life affords, but in my experience it is difficult not to allow writing to become associated with insecurity, dread, panic over deadlines, etc.

In other words, I made the conscious decision to take some time off from thesis, and really from most of my “professional” interests in general. I’ve allowed myself the mental space to explore new topics, watch a whole lot of films, work on my beach body (haha), and nurture some new developments in my social life. I’ve also started dabbling in collage art, a medium I’ve long been fascinated by, and have found it tremendously rewarding to channel creative energy toward the analytic and non-linguistic for a change.

But it is time to return to both my thesis and the research interests that initially motivated me to start this blog in the first place. Last week I received a very kind email out of the blue regarding this blog and my research in general, and it gave me an additional jolt of motivation. The summer session at SFSU began yesterday, and it seemed like the perfect time for me to start work up again as well. And I have to say, it was rather nice to be back at it again.

thesis journal queer modernisms

Here’s a photo I took to commemorate the occasion. It was inspired by an account on Instagram that I like (@karahaupt), whose owner visually documented the agonies and ecstasies of her own thesis process. Though I’m not sure how it will exactly play out, I’ve been inspired to undertake a similar project. I’ll probably post some/all of the photos here as well, but if Instagram is a platform you like, feel free to follow along there as well. I’ll be posting all relevant things under the hashtag #jessewritesathesis, or just follow me at @j_ata if glimpses of the current drag scene in San Francisco, the secondhand books I find, images of Jane Russell and classic Hollywood divas, and miscellaneous displays of the faggotry of my friends and I are the type of things that strikes your fancy.

And, of course, I hope to do some writing and posting around these parts too, so stay tuned!

Year in Review: Reading 2014

queer modernisms year of reading queerly

Here I find myself, perched upon the inaugural days of a brand new year that is as “fresh,” to quote one of the opening lines of Mrs. Dalloway, “as if issued to children on a beach.” Of course I’m inevitably forced to reckon with the unrealized intentions of what I intended Queer Modernisms to become over the course of 2014, almost none which ultimately came to pass. There are lots of reasons for this, most of which are exceedingly banal, but I’m relieved to report that current circumstances are undergoing a process of rapid change, and soon I’m going to have much more time–and, more importantly, the energy–to devote to this project which I still hold very dear and have many aspirations for.

The cycle of one year completing and another one beginning has always sparked in me the impulse to reflect and reevaluate. This quality is accentuated by the fact I derive an intense pleasure out of trying to discover and trace the patterns lurking unexpectedly within then past, and then attempting to make some kind of sense out of them. As such, for this first post of 2015 I intend to exactly that: go back and (re)consider my reading habits over the last year. In 2014 I watched less films than I probably ever have, but perhaps as a direct result I experienced what turned out to be an incredibly rich year in my reading, and I want to record–and celebrate–it.

I managed to write about and post several book reviews over the course of the year, but most others that I intended remain in draft form or simply as scribbled notes–if I even got that far in the process at all. I do have a list of books I still intend to go back at some point and give a a full consideration, but alas, I suspect for most the brief and rather scattershot musings presented below will have to suffice. But hey, it’s something, right?

Queer Modernisms Christopher and His KindThe first book that I picked up after completing the last course for my English M.A. program was one that had been hovering near the top of my to-read list for a long while: Christopher Isherwood’s elegant autumnal autobiography Christopher and His Kind. If I had realized how much of it is devoted to clarifying references contained within The Berlin Stories and other earlier texts–almost all of which I have not yet read–I might have held off, but it turns out prior knowledge is not at all necessary to enjoy Isherwood’s book. Rather, I was constantly drawn to the formal quality of “rewriting”–of Isherwood very consciously revisiting events that had found their way into his autobiographical writing over the years, and his attempt to later set the record “straight” about them. Wonderfully enough, being set “straight” in this situation entails being forthright about queer dimensions that had had to be necessarily encoded, deleted, or obscured. It’s a wonderful account of a great 20th century queer life, and the many figures and events that intersected it. In addition, with the careful differentiation between “Christopher” and “I” Isherwood perfectly captures the sensation I often experience when revisiting my own memories: of feeling at once both connected to and severed from them, as if they were observed but not actually experienced firsthand, and that it is only through the process of writing them down–and rewriting them again and perhaps even again–that makes them feel most “real.”

In addition, several books I read this last year emphasized once again how arbitrary it often seems that some texts, figures, and cultural artifacts manage to find a place within the historical consciousness while for some reason others simply do not. There actually exists an American novel from the Depression Era that not only openly represents gay desires and several criss-crossing male/male relationships, but actually allows space for a happy resolution? I didn’t really believe it either, and then I read Richard Meeker’s Better Angel. And yes, I can attest that such a novel indeed exists, and actually it’s a quite fine one at that. Not a literary masterpiece mind you, but an intelligently and sensitively written account of what is undoubtedly a story experienced by many men in the pre-Stonewall era. It has a stately beauty and wisdom in its plainspoken, often plaintive honesty that becomes particularly pronounced when compared to the hysterical tone taken by most contemporaneous texts that deal with similar subject matter. Meeker’s novel was one of the few books I did actually manage to do justice to and write a full analysis of, so I will direct all interested parties in that direction. It really is a really wonderful book, and unequivocally deserves a much more prominent spot within accounts of queer literature than it has been accorded to date.

Diana A Strange AutobiographyAnother novel in desperate need of further exploration and consideration both by myself and others is the singular Diana: A Strange Autobiography by Diana Frederics (a pseudonym, but that’s a whole separate, utterly fascinating story in and of itself!). Published in 1939 by the Citadel Press, just a glance through the chapter names listed in the table of contents announces its disarmingly forthright approach towards its so-called “strange” content: “Am I A Lesbian?,” “‘I Am A Lesbian!’,” “Leslie and I Become Lovers,” etc. Throughout The Well of Loneliness Radcylfe Hall cloaks her representation of lesbian desires and lives with elaborate–and ultimately deadening–metaphors and other explicit literary devices, and Diana opts for the opposite tack. Consider:

“With this acknowledgment of my homosexuality I discovered myself; now I had something to go on. It was like being born all over again, and the relief I felt astonished me. I had, so to speak, nothing left to be worried about. My fear were all confirmed… I was determined to respect myself for what I was, lesbianism be damned.”

Well yes, that final pronouncement doesn’t exactly jibe easily with our contemporary rhetoric of relentless pro-queer self affirmation, but I will attest that after reading so many books from this period–and let’s be frank, from all eras–where this same realization is accompanied by utter despair, followed by a quick and inevitably sad downward spiral, that the clear-eyed, no-nonsense attitude displayed by Diana’s eponymous subject had a lightening effect on me. With a rather spare, declarative style, it doesn’t take that long for Diana to pragmatically grasp evaluate the facts of her life and fearlessly set forth to make the best of things. And while there are inevitable complications along the way, she does manage to do pretty darn well for herself, and the fact that the concluding chapter of the novel is titled “Fulfillment” says quite lot. If this perspective came as a bit of a happy shock for me in 2014, I can only imagine its effect on a similarly sympathetic reader in 1939. That said, the few scholarly considerations I’ve been able to track down regarding Diana, most particularly Julie Abraham’s introduction to a 1995 reprinting by the NYU Press, take a surprisingly critical stance toward the novel, tending to focus on what the novel is not as opposed to the many things it is. One of my goals for this next year is to pen a few posts that begin to rectify this situation, as Diana was surely one of the great revelations of my reading year.

Stylistically, chronologically, and basically in all ways quite different from Diana but still quite wonderful exercise toward queer affirmation was Richard Amory’s groundbreaking erotic novel Song of the Loon. While at first glance it seems to be little more than an overripe sexual picaresque, very quickly the physical journey that structures the narrative begins taking on deep psychospiritual resonances as each handsome and hunky man the main character encounters helps him understand and embrace some part of his physical attraction to other men. The intentionally grandiose tone and mythic aspirations can seem rather overwrought and more than a bit silly when read today; perhaps even more difficult to tolerate is the representation of Native American culture and individuals, which is the stuff of “noble savage” archetypes. But by situating the world of Song of the Loon beyond any recognizable historical reality, it opens up a space of fantasy and electrifying possibility superseding the bounds of what in a historical sense would have been considered socially acceptable or approbatory in regards to depictions of male/male sexuality. It makes complete sense that Amory’s book became such a touchstone for an entire generations of gay men. To be quite honest, I kind of regret that my own generation hasn’t really been capable of retaining a space for this type of thing within our own (tenuously maintained) queer culture.

queer modernisms collected frank oharaQueer Modernisms Frank O'Hara Poem

I finally took The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara with the collage cover by Larry Rivers I’ve admired for so long off of the shelf and placed it instead on my nightstand. Picked up and perused over a period of several months during the summer, I found the poems themselves, so famously impressionistic in their itemized and/or offhand casualness and intimacy, to be perfectly suited for reading during “off moments:” say, in the minutes before drifting off to sleep, or as a way to delay for a few more minutes getting out of bed during weekends. As a naturally early riser I found myself returning constantly to the lovely “Getting Up Ahead of Someone (Sun),” and the concluding line “each day’s light has more significance these days” resonated with more than perhaps any other single line of writing I encountered this last year. I wouldn’t say that I’ve read this collection; rather, it remains is an entity I actively live and interact with, and I love that quality about it.

In one specific way Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding was the most explicitly “queer” book I read this last year. The term itself constantly, even obsessively reappears through McCullers’s short novel, slowly building into a kind of incantation that transforms material that could be potentially dull and unnoteworthy into something rich and vivid and almost oversaturated with potential meaning. In McCullers’s capable hands the nondescript rural Southern town in which the novel is set is revealed to be an almost unbearably evocative psychological landscape pulsating with an intense emotional charge. McCullers absolutely deserves her reputation as one of the great prose stylists of 20th century American literature, and with The Member of the Wedding she crafted a perhaps the great depiction of the archetypal queer childhood.

Confessions of a Mask Yukio MishimaMishima has long been one of the major blind spots in my ongoing exploration of queer lit, something rectified this year with my reading of Confessions of a Mask. Alas, I was left surprisingly… indifferent by the experience. I fully admit that I often struggle with texts where suicide and other kinds of violence–towards the self or otherwise–are afforded prominent thematic positions (something I also experienced with my reread this year of another novel by a queer(ish) author, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood), and I suspect this general disinclination was compounded by some fundamental problems with Meredith Weatherby’s lumpy translation, which also seemed to keep me forever at a distance. However, there was one great passage in the book that I still vividly remember read it one morning on the MUNI on my way to work: in two relatively short paragraphs Mishima managed to concisely explain how it is possible to have and maintain a split consciousness in regards to one’s sexuality, at once aware that the body is responding in a certain way and yet at the same time “never even dream[ing] that such desires… might have a significant connection with the realities of [his] ‘life.'” This one passage alone was enough for me to intuit that I should not write Mishima off completely, and so at the present I have filed both the author and his text under the category of “to return to someday.”

Queer Modernisms Beauty of Men

Similar things can be said to characterize my feelings toward Andrew Holleran’s The Beauty of Men, one of my few forays into contemporary(ish) gay fiction this year. Selected by my boyfriend after an argument where he accused me of never reading the books he recommends to me, I was disappointed that the entire reading experience made me feel like a passive witness, recognizing the undeniable literary brilliance, but only feeling it at a distant, cold remove. This was particularly disappointing considering this is one of his very favorite books. Rather than empathizing with the overwhelming despondency over the way the AIDs crisis, geographical isolation, personal circumstances, and unreciprocated desire has left the main character’s life in a state of utter ruin, I was surprised to find myself more wrapped up in–and ultimately moved by–the gut-wrenching sadness hovering over his mother’s debilitating health condition(s). I still find it a bit mystifying that I generally seem more capable of relating to the queer literary output of the pre-Stonewall era than the literature that blossomed under the advancement of the Gay Rights Movement, and while acknowledging its great accomplishment, literary skill and observational acuity, The Beauty of Men ultimately reaffirmed this situation yet again.

Queer Modernisms Gilda StoriesOn the other hand, one of the great literary pleasures of 2014 was Jewelle Gomez’s justifiably influential Gilda Stories. As I enthusiastically told friends how much I was reading and immensely enjoying this cycle of lesbian vampire stories, I would get vaguely patronizing smiles in response–I guess anything vampire-related gets that reaction these days–forcing me to trumpet all the more Gomez’s dazzling ability to intricately braid together the stuff of history, race, desire, time, and (im)mortality into a series of narratives that are not only compulsively entertaining to read, but poignant and thought provoking as well. While there was admittedly a slight sense of diminishing returns as Gilda’s life narrative progressed over its 200+ year trajectory, the central character of Gilda herself–fundamentally invariable as the distinctive contexts around her change like so many grade school dioramas–remains ceaselessly riveting.

It’s not uncommon for Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs to be categorized as a lesbian (or more precisely, proto-lesbian) text: I’d personally say that judging strictly from what’s depicted within the narrative itself, such a characterization is more than a bit of a stretch. Instead, Country is an exquisite depiction of female homosociality in nineteenth century rural New England, its evocative vignettes masterfully capturing the interplay of nature and community in a society that has long since ceased to be. Along similar lines was W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, which isn’t explicitly queer in any way, but which is easy enough to read as queerly coded text if one is so inclined: interpretations can surely be made regarding Larry Darnell’s resolute eschewal of the heteronormative life he seemed destined for, and it’s not particularly difficult to understand what Eliott Templeton’s hyper-stylized Continental prissiness is really supposed to signify. I actually ended up not caring much for the novel itself overall–I sensed it would have resonated with me about ten years ago, but that moment has long since passed–but I was continually drawn to Maugham’s tremendous empathy for his characters both as an author and as the first person narrator within the novel itself. I found myself endlessly intrigued that he ultimately seems to have little interest in distinguishing “negative” and “positive” qualities of his various characters, opting instead to present them as intricate constellations of characteristics through which to appreciate, empathize, and ultimately understand them. In the end it struck me as a wonderful exercise in empathy by the outside observer who is almost undoubtedly queer.

Of course it should come as no surprise that the queer always eludes demarcations and supersedes boundaries, with the propensity to appear unexpectedly. This was something I was reminded of constantly during my reading, and a particularly poignant example that haunted me for a long time after was a brief but unforeseen disclosure toward the end of J.L. Carr’s charming and quietly profound novella A Month in the Country, which emphasized yet again that queer lives, histories, and desires are often palimpsestically present within spaces–textual and otherwise–where they might otherwise not be expected.

Of the several book reviews I wrote this last year, one was for a book I very much liked and admired (John Preston’s Franny, the Queen of Provincetown), and one I enjoyed reading but was ultimately held some reservations toward (Edmund White’s Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris).

Queer Modernisms Glenway Wescott Herve GuibertTwo books I enjoyed throughout the duration of 2014, and which I will continue reading into 2015: the respective journals of Glenway Wescott and of Hervé Guibert. As someone one who also avidly keeps a journals it is a literary form I particularly cherish. As such, I relished the time I spent perusing Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937 – 1955. Not only does Wescott capture his world–which is not only one that specifically fascinates me but which is of extreme relevance to this blog–with a charming and ultimately disarming blend of refinement and self-deprecating wit, I will fully admit that the daily struggles and insecurities recorded by this massively talented but temperamentally hesitant author was sometimes a source of solace for me as I too struggled with the restlessness and guilt of not accomplishing most of my own writing goals throughout last year.

On the other hand, for me time spent reading Hervé Guibert’s The Mausoleum of Lovers: Journals 1976 – 1991 often felt like temporarily wandering into an alien territory, affording me a glimpse into an interior landscape that I do not recognize in the least. Echoing my thoughts on Mishima, I often shrink from Guibert’s overt fascination with exploring and fantasizing over topics such as violence, cruelty, pain, death, and suicide, but every entry is crafted with razor-like incisiveness that always managed to keep me consistently riveted.

There are a few other texts I could write about, particularly theory and criticism, that I could record here, but I think this is as good a place as any to conclude.

And what am I reading at this moment? I’ve been enjoying wandering in and out of Melville’s incredibly strange, Pierre: or the Ambiguities in which I plan to read in conjunction with James Creech’s wonderful study Closet Writing/Gay Reading, and I began a collection of Wescott short stories just recently published for the first time, a thoughtful and much-appreciated gift from my partner for Christmas.

But there still remains so much to read, so now onward to 2015!

IotD: The Androgynous Chic of Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Today marks the birthday of Swiss writer, journalist, and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who was born May 23, 1908. She is closely associated with the Mann family (particularly Thomas’s children Erika and Klaus), and had a fabulous whirlwind of a life, which, sadly, ultimately ended up being ill-fated and much too short. Schwarzenbach passed away in 1942, only 34 years old. A succinct overview of her full life can be found here.

The queer modernists in general tended to be a glamorous bunch, but for me Annemarie’s androgynous chic is a contender for the title of most glamorous of them all.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach camera

Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Seriously, just do a Google image search.


IotD: Francis Rose Depicts Stein & Toklas at Home

stein & toklas - sir francis rose

stein and toklas - sir francis rose

Sir Francis Cyril Rose was a titled British painter that Gertrude Stein patronized throughout the 1930’s, but despite her best efforts she was never able to generate much sustained interest in his work and he remains an obscure figure of the era.

And while Rose is certainly no Picasso or even a Matisse, there’s a quality to his art that more immediately compels than the work of either of those more famous artists. I particularly like how he is able to evoke a sense of comfortable queer domesticity at 27 rue de Fleurus, with as much emphasis on Toklas and their beloved dogs as on her famous modern art collection. The Stein glimpsed here is certainly a far cry from, say, the imperious sibyl immortalized by Picasso some twenty years before.

I did a fair amount of research on Rose several years ago in conjunction with a paper I wrote on Samuel M. Steward, and truly, there are aspects of Rose’s life that are stranger than fiction. I’ll have to write up some more information on this curious figure sooner than later.


TOP: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Tempera and gouache on cardboard
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

BOTTOM: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Gouache on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


What’s Here/Queer/Modernist: Weekly Reads #1

Several of the blogs I regularly read present a weekly–or at least occasional–list of items of interest on the web, and I thought I’d follow suit. Also, I thought this would be a good place to include information on events that aren’t specifically or solely related to queer modernism, but would be of interest to anybody in And if you have any leads on material of interest, please let me know in the comments section!

So here’s what here/queer/modernist out in the world [wide web]:

The Quill Cover - Clara TiceBand of Thebes reminded me that I missed Lincoln Kirstein’s birthday last week, on May 4. Shame on me, but luckily he was there with a celebratory post.

Bookplate Junkie shares a flea market discovery: an October 1919 copy of The QuillA Magazine of Greenwich Village. The issue is dedicated to illustrator Clara Tice, who has a wonderful Beardsley-meets-Djuna Barnes quality. True to form, he also includes some bookplate examples of Tice’s work.

“A bio represents a selection of facts. But, as Nancy Mitford argues, ‘It should not be a mere collection of facts.'” Sketchbook reviews the new Carl Van Vechten biography by Edward White over at Goodreads, and he is not particularly impressed with it (and that’s more than a bit of an understatement).

“As a lesbian writer, even as one who has known many interesting people, I have very little in common with [Edmund] White.”  A skeptical Janet Mason takes on–and is ultimately won over by–White’s latest, Inside a Pearl, My Years in Paris.

In “how did I miss this?!” news, here in San Francisco there was a commemoration of the centennial of the publication of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, which also promoted the release of Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition, published by the iconic City Lights Books. Happily, audio of the event has been made available for those of us who missed it.

Speaking of Stein, Poets.org has shared some archival footage of the great iconoclast.

I don’t think that Susan Sontag was a great film critic; to hear her tell it, she wasn’t really a critic at all. But it’s still hard to overestimate her importance as an American writer in relation to movies.” Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted his remembrance of Sontag written after her passing in 2005.

The Ezra Pound Society has announced that they have a new virtual home.


blast-at-100 event posterJust another reminder that the H.D., Jean Epstein, and Queer Modernism, Spectatorship, and The Specimen lecture(s) are coming up this Friday (05/16/14) at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. I wrote up the event here, and the actual event page can be found here.

Trinity College is hosting a “Blast at 100” this summer to commemorate the Vorticist literary magazine, and just announced their plenary speakers for the event. Details and registration can be found here.



IotD: The Many Faces of Charles Henri Ford

I’ve gushed about Deviates, Inc. before, and I can’t help but repost a mini-collection that was posted there yesterday, which contains multiple sketches of young Charles Henri Ford drawn by Pavel Tchelitchew. My guess is that all date from the 1930’s, in the period just after Ford and Tchelitchew met in Paris and embarked on their decades-spanning romantic relationship.

From Ford’s diary, July 1953:

“Twenty years ago tomorrow was the beginning of what has resulted in a twenty-year relationship, constant association, with Pavlik. I wrote Parker [Tyler] then: ‘I’ve found a genius.'”

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 1

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 3

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 2

See the original post at Deviates, Inc here.


Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.