Queer Realities: Twenty-First Century Fiction and the Boundaries of Utopia
Jayne, Ian Michael
Ortiz, Ricardo L
In this thesis, I argue that contemporary forms of American and British queer realism—specifically, those focused on gay masculinity—are consistently attenuated by narrative invocations of the utopic mode. I analyze Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 The Line of Beauty, André Aciman’s 2007 Call Me by Your Name, and Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 A Little Life. The backward temporal movement in each of these novels problematizes its textual construction of present and future; consequently, in each novel, life itself becomes utopized, a process which bears upon both the aesthetic qualities of contemporary literary realism, and also upon our understandings of queer lives in and beyond fiction. The contemporary realist novel functions as a complicated portrait of the ways in which the realities of race, gender, class position, and sexuality collide with the whims of utopic fantasy—a collision marked both by impermanence and possibility. My critical introduction sketches out salient debates about literary realism’s history through and beyond postmodernism, queer theory’s conceptualizations of the “anti-social” turn and the affective turn, as well as the modulations of queer utopia and queer of color critique. Chapter 1 argues that Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004, Man Booker-prize winning novel, The Line of Beauty, is fundamentally a narrative of fantasy. By starting with the novel’s invocation of Henry James and its own meta-realist emphasis, I suggest the text’s status as a rejoinder to the supposedly “hysterical” realisms from which it emerges. I then argue that the novel’s strategies of narrative focalization construct homophobic conservatism as an object of satire, but that these strategies fail to recognize their reinscription of white gay masculinity as the primary arbiter of queerness. Chapter 2 examines two iterations of the same narrative: André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Call Me by Your Name, and Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 film adaptation of the same name. I claim that both novel and film deploy numerous and contradictory frameworks in depicting the temporalities of queer desire, and that these fluctuating movements across time and space challenge the realities of the early 1980s in northern Italy. Within novel and film, clear apprehension of a single gay reality becomes extremely difficult; consequently, the coextant, interlaced, and melodramatic structures of temporality and affect participate in a Muñozian kind of world-making which is both predicated upon and delimited by the plural aporias engendered by time and space. Chapter 3 identifies similar strains of temporal and affective surplus in Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 novel, A Little Life. In this chapter, I suggest that Yanagihara’s fusion of literary naturalism with the fairy tale narrative constitutes a utopic revision of various racial and sexual identitarian positions. I argue that A Little Life’s currents of abjection and self-harm are best understood through the textual construction of optimism, and that this affective positionality refracts along the novel’s ahistoricism and its temporal vacillations. Ultimately, I suggest, Yanagihara’s novel establishes a “reality” that is both hypercontextual and self-reflexive. Art—both the novel itself, and the art narrated within its pages—thus become(s) a metatextual signifier of the perpetual installation of the utopic within the “real”—and the perpetual failures and recurrences of both modalities.
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