...my students [in a course on gay literature]... enjoyed appropriating and queering works of mainstream, heterosexual culture. In fact they preferred doing that to reading gay novels.... At least, they discovered more queer possibilities in adapting and remaking non-gay material, and thus more uses for it, then they found in good gay writing.Which makes me idly wonder whether slash is in fact the queer woman's equivalent of the gay male cult of the opera diva, the glamourous and/or tragic movie star, the female icon. But actually I didn't set out to offer you a review of this book, because I have more specific passages to discuss.
...what gay men have always sought out is not only direct or literal representations of themselves, but also figural or metaphorical or encoded or encrypted representations of gay desire. There seems to be something about figurality itself that they like.
Another way of putting this is to say that gay identity affirms itself not only through identity... but also through identification.
One section is an analysis of the films "Mildred Pierce" and "Mommie Dearest" (neither of which, full disclosure, I have seen) and their position as gay cult classics. Halperin feels that they gain a lot of their emotional power from an identificatory "fear that the adored mother might express... her unconquerable aversion to her offspring, her disgust at having begotten and raised a deviant child."
Via a discussion of Gypsy and the fraughtness of performance, in gender role terms, for men, he gets to the conclusion (I'm summarising wildly here) that:
The mother's final turn against her offspring reanimates the dread that her love had always excited, the dread 'of being exiled from her presence.'If you've been following my Dreamwidth over the past year you will guess that by this point I was vibrating wildly with thoughts of Elaine and Julian Fleming from Mary Renault's Return to Night (or, as legionseagle prefers to call them, Mama and Baby Fruitbat). Might the problem with chapter 18 of Return to Night be that it is actually not over-the-top enough? Might it not have come across better as a cathartic crescendo of camp, un-sabotaged by Mary Renault's inevitable turn towards rigorous emotional repression?
...gay male culture can... restage in an exaggerated, ludic and reparative mode the horror of the mother's savage withdrawal of the warrant she once gave her queer child to perform, the warrant that licensed his very existence as a subject.
I'm now envisioning that never-made film adaptation of Return to Night with Joan Crawford (who would have been about the right age) in a scenery-chewing star turn as Elaine Fleming, and stealing the whole film, which would then inevitably have become a camp classic. Canon!Elaine says that "if I were a man, Julian, grown-up as you are, I should thrash you for that." (MR did have her turns of melodrama; shame that the rest of the scene takes refuge in exposition of backstory.) Film!Elaine would surely slap him across the face, and there are many readers of Return to Night who would say that's no more than he deserves!
TL;DR - I will come up with any excuse to write about Mary Renault novels. But Joan Crawford as Elaine Fleming is an intriguing thought.