Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Queerness of Quentin Compson III (pt 1)

By Andrew E. Colarusso

If you're unfamiliar with William Faulkner's unheimliche masterpiece, The Sound and The Fury, then perhaps it is time you familiarize yourself (however fraught that process may actually be) The novel, first published in 1929, is written in four parts from four distinct voices. These four voices have since become iconic representations of the southern gothic style (cf. Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, James Dickey) and integral figures within Faulkner's mythopoetic invention of Yoknapatawpha County (more on this in subsequent posts). My interest in beginning this series is an attempt to unpack the identity of Quentin Compson III (1890--June 2, 1910), the consummate and tragic gentleman, as a figure of queerness. 

Let's begin with queerness. What does it mean for an individual to identify as queer? Typically, usage of queer is the referent of an individual's sexual proclivity, i.e. a homosexual, also typically male (though this has certainly changed over the past century). Queer is often analog to terms like fag/faggot--a word we may count among the dross of our American vernacular, but a word no less important to the fabric of our aural/oral culture (am I punning?, it reads as "too deliberate"). But, departing from common linguistic usage, there has been a popularization, a sort of movement (the kernel of which I'd date to the mid-late 70's) around queerness. But how? Queerness is, in a manner of speaking, an evasion--a perpetually limp wrist (There is a junk gesture that marks the junkie like the limp wrist marks the fag; the hand swings out from the elbow stiff-fingered, palm up) Queerness, perhaps as I've seen it in our present (and near future) political context, is an apolitical discourse that unsettles and therefore remains elusive and estranged from channels of power (though not necessarily estranged from agency--a sort of nowhere and everywhere occupation) (There is always movement around queerness) (Novels, in general, were heterosexual, whereas poetry was completely homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual although he didn't say so... Anyway, the poetry scene was essentially an (underground) battle, the result of the struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize control of the word.) It is the refusal to choose either the sword or the ball before an observer (cf. 4th Chamber) though the ball and sword appear readily available before the queer individual. One could say it is the manner/manor/man(or) of body-form-cunctation. Hesitance. Self-consciousness. Derision of ego formation. Inaction perpetuated. The connotations here border on the negative--though there is a beauty in this, perhaps the only and crucial element when considering beauty (we shall return to this) 

Roy Cohn (as played by Al Pacino in the film adaptation of Tony Kushner's Angels in America):

No. Like all labels they tell you one thing, and one thing only: Where does an individual so identified fit into the food chain, the pecking order? Not ideology or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. Not who I fuck or who fucks me, but who will come to the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, a homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men, but really this is wrong. A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anit-discrimination bill through the city council. A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout. Does this sound like me Henry? 

So Quentin Compson?
(to be continued)