A HISTORY OF GAY LITERATURE by Gregory Woods

A HISTORY OF GAY LITERATURE

The Male Tradition

KIRKUS REVIEW

These finely honed gay readings of selected Western (and some Eastern) literary texts richly reward the careful attention they demand.

Woods (Gay & Lesbian Studies/Nottingham Trent Univ., England) extracts the full interpretive mileage to be had from ideals of ambiguity, paradox, and perspective. This is already evident in the structure of the book, which approaches its subject from diverse angles, both chronological and thematic. Separate chapters address, among other topics, the Greek classics, the Middle Ages, Shakespeare, Proust, the Holocaust, women writers, masturbation, boyhood, and the political left. That such a far-ranging gay-themed book is possible at all owes to an ambiguity in the notion of gay reading: A text's status as gay may depend either on the sexual identity of its author or on its susceptibility to placement in interpretive contexts of homosexual attraction. Thus, while the very idea of a canon of gay writing depends on a tradition of gay authorship, a gay reading of Shakespeare's "fiendishly ambiguous'' Sonnet 20 stands apart from the (contested) sexual identity of its writer. Woods acknowledges and affirms this tension by publishing his book with a major university press, while implying by his frequent intimate use of the selectively embracing, "us'' that most, if not all of his readers are surely gay. The final brilliant chapter, "Poetry and Paradox,'' weds the social subversions of paradox typical of all minority groups (compare, from a Jewish perspective, Leo Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing) to the heights of poetic art. Woods's own artistry is evident throughout this elegant and startling book, especially in the memorable turns of phrase (e.g., in the chapter "The Family and Its Alternatives'': "Outlaws and inlaws are simply not compatible'').

Though grounded in the particulars of gay male identity, this masterpiece of literary (and social) criticism calls across the divides of sex and sexual orientation.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07201-5
Page count: 458pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1998




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