Tag Archives: queer theory

Unintelligent Design: Keats, Natural Religion, and Reproduction

William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) was a profoundly influential distillation of what was then known as the argument from design, and is now called intelligent design. Observing a profoundly functional world around him, Paley claimed that “in the properties of relation to a purpose, subserviency to an use, [the works of nature] resemble what intelligence and design are constantly producing, and what nothing except intelligence and design ever produce” (216). Paley’s God is a master tinkerer, less omnipotent immensity than systematic, clever craftsman. Everywhere he turns his argumentative lens (the eye, after all, being Paley’s chief example), he finds a natural world that works. Functionality proves design, design indexes a designer, and a designer must design consciously, with specific ends in mind. The divine idea is realized in the created world through the careful accretion of contrivance. This is Paley’s word: God as the great contriver, with an exquisite design sensibility. Final cause predominates, as everything is shaped by divine purpose toward its end.

Continue reading Unintelligent Design: Keats, Natural Religion, and Reproduction

Romantics Today: Where art thou, Queer Theory?

Ten years ago, literary scholars initiated some compelling re-evaluations of what the term “queer” in queer studies might now mean for twenty-first-century academia. By 2005, the radical wave of activism that had once propelled this theoretical trend had begun to dissipate, and it had been fifteen years since the publication of foundational texts like Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. In social and political realms, LGBTQ human rights issues were making headway in the mainstream: Massachusetts had taken the initiative on marriage equality, Stonewall was an experience remembered by an earlier generation, and women’s studies courses and programs had sprung up around the country. By 2005, academic theorists had recognized that gender was a questionable and fluid term, that sex roles could be performative, and that the personal had become political. Where to go from here? Continue reading Romantics Today: Where art thou, Queer Theory?

Memoirs and Confessions of a Second-Year Ph.D. Student

Here are the facts as I know them: 1. There are never enough hours in a day; 2. I have students who still think I don’t know that changing their font from Times to Courier adds at least a page to their essays; 3. The long 19th century is such a joy to study.

I didn’t always know these facts. When I was an undergraduate English major, using Courier in every paper I wrote about books that I only partially read, I was aimless. I took classes in order to get my degree, I earned A’s, and I didn’t minor in anything. You could say that I wasn’t the most pragmatic person on the planet. At the time, I wasn’t fully focused on school or my future; my older brother had left for Israel instead of attending law school as he had originally planned, and I struggled, trying to understand his decision. Later, as I pondered what I might do after my B.A., I was torn between graduate school and law school. A Romanticism seminar in the fall of my senior year tipped the scales.

One of the first books that we read was Frankenstein, the first assigned book of my undergraduate career that I read cover to cover. What sold me on Mary Shelley’s work wasn’t the fact that she wrote in response to a ghost story competition—instead, it was an anecdote shared by my professor. He told us how he had inscribed the creature’s words: “I will be with you on your wedding night” in a card at his friend’s wedding. How clever, I thought. I, too, wanted to be that witty, literary friend at weddings, but I realized that I should not and could not quote a book that I had not read. It was the first time that I fell in love with a canonical work.

We read a lot of other interesting works in class, and– in case you’re wondering–I did actually read them in their entirety. However, it was the last assigned work of the semester that changed my life. But Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice didn’t grab my attention right away. So, to make it more animated, I began reading it aloud to my cats with different voices. Soon, I was invested in the characters. And then I brought my interpretation of the novel to class: I said there was an erotic attachment between Darcy and Bingley. My classmates reacted with violent disagreement. They took it personally—that is, they were uncomfortable with any reading of a famously heteronormative text that involved queer desire. In all honesty, their disagreement delighted me. It motivated me. It led me to attend office hours and read literary theory for the first time. I read Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Freud, Lauren Berlant, and Michael Warner. I wrote multiple drafts of my end-of-semester paper. And I realized that—just as my brother had done something unconventional that he loved—I loved writing about literature that I had actually read and thought about in unconventional ways; I needed to read for intellectual engagement, not just for pleasure or for finishing an assignment.

I didn’t know it then, but I had stumbled upon the subject I am most passionate about, the deconstruction of heterosexist interpretations of texts. You could say that Pride and Prejudice was my patient zero. As a MA student, I continued working with Austen; the next text that I plunged into was Persuasion, and then it was Emma. In my M.A. thesis, I argued that the heteronormative relationships depicted in Austen’s three novels are built and premised upon queer desire.

As a Ph.D. student who will enter into her final semester of coursework in January, I am actively compiling my exam lists and just as actively kicking myself for not actually reading for my first three years of college. The list of works that I’ve read, while growing, is woefully underdeveloped, and I see my exam lists as an opportunity to atone for my undergraduate sins.  Even though I’ve been exposed to theory and a variety of tropes and texts, I remain interested in looking at texts—especially famous heteronormative love stories—and analyzing the ways in which desire functions. My dissertation will be a transatlantic study of desire and will further the ideas that I’ve been so passionate about since that seminar on Romanticism in my senior year of college.

PS. In case you’re curious–I have read Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and therefore feel okay about using parts of Hogg’s title.