Chapter

Antisapphic Modernism

Scott Herring

in Queering the Underworld

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2007 | ISBN: 9780226327907
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226327921 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226327921.003.0005
Antisapphic Modernism

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Would you fault Djuna Barnes for hating homosexuals? From 1941, the year she returned to New York following a lengthy expatriation in Paris, to her death in 1982, Barnes occupied a cramped flat in Greenwich Village. Impoverished and misanthropic, she made infrequent contact with the artistic and social worlds she had once helped redefine. Curious admirers sought her out instead. Photographer Hank O'Neal, a Barnes enthusiast, recorded a series of visits he made with the curmudgeon during the early 1970s that allowed him into her impenetrable intimacy. She told numerous anecdotes about her bohemian life in the 1910s and 1920s, many of which ran the gamut of international Anglophone modernism. This chapter interprets Barnes's Nightwood as a mystery of the city that addresses the social miseries of forgotten others or as a benevolent slumming narrative that articulates the unspoken. It shows that the text's perverse menagerie of characters references the Rabelaisian carnivalesque and its more contemporary counterpart, the queer shows that played nightly in international metropoles such as Berlin, Paris, London, and New York City during the 1920s and early 1930s.

Keywords: Nightwood; social miseries; slumming; Djuna Barnes; Hank O'Neal; homosexuals; New York; modernism; queer shows

Chapter.  17343 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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