Did perfume from a dress make T.S. Eliot so digress?
September 29, 2002 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Did perfume from a dress make T.S. Eliot so digress? Or was it the scent of other men? A rash of biographies this year claim to have found closet homosexuals just about everywhere; Adolf Hitler, G.F. Handel, Friedrich Nietzsche and T.S. Eliot are all suspected – largely without substantial evidence – of being gay. [more inside]
posted by Ljubljana (15 comments total)
Not that I have any problem with any of the above-listed being gay. It’s the method of divination that strikes me as kind-of queer. Is it possible to tell someone is gay by the things they write? Are Handel’s cantatas “certainly homosexual”… as M.I.T. professor Ellen Harris insists?

And how much do sexual proclivities really tell us about someone?

(thanks to aldaily for the Eliot link.)
posted by Ljubljana at 11:41 PM on September 29, 2002

"Another, a boy called Franz, said: 'He asked me if I'd like to stay with him and he told me his name was Adolf Hitler.'"

Come on...who hasn't used that one before?
posted by Zulujines at 12:04 AM on September 30, 2002

Shocked! Shocked I am! Next you'll be telling me they were all left-handed!
posted by Poagao at 12:09 AM on September 30, 2002

And how much do sexual proclivities really tell us about someone?

[obvious]It tells us who they liked boinking.[/obvious]
Anybody who claims anything more is an idiot.

While information like this might provide some insight into the person's output(ie: the Depeche Mode guy isn't gay, and Never Let Me Down really is just about taking a ride — in a car — with his best friend), whether it matters depends upon your beliefs as to whether it's needed. There are those who prefer that the interpretation for their work be left entirely to the audience, with the creator fading into the background.
posted by Su at 12:10 AM on September 30, 2002

In my work, I play with this, the notion of the author's authentic selfhood, all the time. My work seems insanely autobiographical, but it's a cul-de-sac that doubles back on itself. Biography is as blank or as pregnant with meaning as you want it to be. People often think of the author's biography as some sort of key to unlocking the work. As interesting as I think Freud's work is, it certainly opened a Pandora's Box; suddenly everything became, not purposeful allegory or symbolism, but a veil behind which shivered the dark, true nature of the creator. Artwork became a cipher to be deciphered, rather than a thing-in-itself. The artist became less in control of the being of their work- the audience now feels that they always see the skull beneath the skin. I'm convinced this is what has led to the downward spiral of the arts into a pit of juvenilia and onanism.

I never want to know what is 'behind' a work- I want there to be mystery. I never believed that the artist's biography could ever explain anything beyond circumstances.

To say that a piece of music, or a poem, has a sexuality... it's the stuff of pointless academic dissertations.

And to psychoanalyze the motives and feelings of someone from the shards and fragments and bones they left behind, without any authoritative evidence to back up your assertions, is the height of folly. It's a fun game for dinner conversations, but blows as serious biographical scholarship.

As Thompson says at the end of Citizen Kane:

"No, I don't think it explains anything. I don't think any word explains a man's life. No - I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle - a missing piece."
posted by evanizer at 12:59 AM on September 30, 2002

Also General Bernard "Monty" Montgomery. As you say, not much evidence in any of these cases.
posted by Daze at 8:49 AM on September 30, 2002

It's a fun game for dinner conversations, but blows as serious biographical scholarship.

As a critic who works on autobiographical writing, I ask you in all seriousness, evanizer: Given the caveats you've laid out, can there be such a thing as "serious biographical scholarship"?
posted by Raya at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2002


I really dont understand what we're supposed to discuss here. Yep, they were probably attracted to members of the same sex. Now what? Can we talk about people who are attracted to the opposite sex as well? Well, not just people of course, famous and infamous people.
posted by Satapher at 8:56 AM on September 30, 2002

At least nowadays it can be conjectured, and that's a plus...not too long ago it would have been ignored by biographers or excised by editors (absolute proof or not)...
posted by amberglow at 9:04 AM on September 30, 2002

I recently found out that Richard the Lionheart was gay. Not just rumoured to be gay but self-confessed gay. He walked to a chapel in just his britches and confessed to the sin of sodomy.

Now my stance on humanity is that there are general trends that can be observed within various groups but you can't take anything forgranted. Having said that, I was surprised that one of the most war-like kings in history was gay. It also changed the course of history, as Richard's failure to breed left us with King John, whose mismanagement led to the Magna Carta and then there was all kinds of trouble after that.
posted by Summer at 9:15 AM on September 30, 2002

it's too bad that, for the most part, it's only conjecture. i remember in writing class hearing that it was conjectured that hemingway was a closet homosexual. there was circumstantial evidence given: his macho exterior was a coverup (quite possible); his failures with marriage, and his eventual suicide, was derived from his displeasure with his orientation (quite possible).

i wondered where the proof was. could any have been found? for i found all the conjecture rather pointless without ground: it seemed like all the conjecture amounted to was an excuse for a book describing scandal. (and thus, scandal being as interesting as it generally is, becoming a bestseller.)

(on a side note: is there really evidence for hemingway?)
posted by moz at 9:20 AM on September 30, 2002

What bothers me most about this scholarship is not the suggestion that a substantial number of historical people had homosexual inclinations (which certainly stands to reason) but that this does, or should, mean something with respect to contemporary gay life / gay people.

The contemporary western notion of "being" gay is one that would be alien to the vast majority of people with homosexual inclination throughout time, and probably to the majority of those now. To these men, sex with other men was (is) a private auxiliary to an overtly heterosexual public life, including wives, children, and the rest of the lot. Indeed, the classic construction of gender-sexual identity in many parts of the world holds that a man who only assumes the "top" position in gay sex is in no way gay, at all.

Also, I think that much evidence is capable of being misread. In times preceding feminism, women were frequently denied education, travel, access to high culture, social interaction beyond immediate friends and family, participation in politics, etc. There was a lack of women who had the specific depths with which a highly ambitious and artistic men could forge certain bonds of intimacy, particularly those bonds of intimacy which leave an historical record (like corresondence). Thus, we have these many recorded intimate friendships, which are construed as gay despite a lack of express evidence, when in fact they are just as easily construed as a certain kind of platonic friendship among straight which gender liberation has made superfluous.
posted by MattD at 9:25 AM on September 30, 2002

Another particularly silly example of this trend: Was Robin Hood gay?
posted by Daze at 10:00 AM on September 30, 2002

i heard Gonzo was gay.
posted by Satapher at 10:07 AM on September 30, 2002

"is there really evidence for hemingway?)"

I saw a few pictures of him in a biography? He had a story called "up in Michigan" about a guy who rapes a woman who secretly loves him. A Lit professor where i went to university wrote a book about him. (Deano, Fred wrote a book)
i think i know what you mean. Was Hemingway gay? Well, his suicide was because he had Cancer and suffered from depression. What your or whoever is really asking... Was Hemingway depressed because He was...
it's kinda moot really. I love biographies.
posted by clavdivs at 11:39 AM on September 30, 2002

« Older Do you know what the Second Amendment actually...   |   Republican Insider Hint #1: Apply foot to mouth... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments