Jonathan Goldberg is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English at Emory University and the author of several books, most recently
The Impossible Situation
This chapter examines an anomalous moment in Beethoven’s opera, the one place where speaking voice is accompanied by music (a combination that defines melodrama). It suggests that the inventiveness of this moment does not so much suggest a way beyond the political impasses of gender on which the situation of the opera depends as offer other, queer ways to see beyond the dilemma of the opera in which agency is limited by a constrained sense of gender difference.
This chapter explores the queer relationships between and in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Haynes’s Far from Heaven, films avowedly responding to and recasting Sirk’s impossible situation. Sirk’s film deals with the impasses around a couple separated by social status and age difference; Fassbinder adds racial difference to the couple’s dilemma; Haynes adds to race questions of hetero/homosexual difference. The chapter suggests these markers of social difference point beyond the particulars of the sociohistorical contours of identity. In so doing, they establish an insuperable mechanism of impossible difference (one that is both social and psychological). At the same time, ongoing aesthetic practices, exemplified by the work of the three filmmakers, who are also articulate theorists of their practices, find possibility in impossibility. These all lie in queer relations that promote identifications beyond the limits of constraining categories of identity.