This article examines the representational slippage between queerness and entranceability in two queer modernist novels, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood and John Rechy’s City of Night. Highlighting the historical and conceptual overlap between early sexological work on inversion and early psychological work on trance, it argues that, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, queer desire was in part understood as a function of compulsively misdirected and pathologically fixed attention. Embracing rather than refuting this model of queerness, writers such as Barnes and Rechy drew on the language and imagery of homoerotic entrancement to cultivate a mesmerizing—and distinctly queer—aesthetic, incorporating entrancement into their writing at the levels of both form and content. The article thus suggests that sexology provided writers such as Barnes and Rechy with an unexpected method for capturing and holding the attention of their readers, shaping queer modernist aesthetics in an oft-overlooked way.
Perverse Attention(s): Djuna Barnes, John Rechy, and the Queer Modernist Aesthetics of Entrancement
Patrick Kindig is assistant professor of literature and creative writing at Tarleton State University. His forthcoming monograph, Fascination: Trance, Enchantment, and American Modernity, explores the role of fascination—a kind of compulsive, irrational, fixed attention—in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture. He is currently at work on a second book project titled “Perceiving Queerly: Sexual and Perceptual Deviance in the Long Twentieth Century,” which examines how normative models of sexuality and perception reciprocally shaped one another over the course of the long twentieth century.
Patrick Kindig; Perverse Attention(s): Djuna Barnes, John Rechy, and the Queer Modernist Aesthetics of Entrancement. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2022; 68 (3): 273–294. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10028070
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