Department of English

"Go Down, Djuna: Blasphemy and Sexology in Djuna Barnes"

A postdoctoral fellow lecture by Dr. Steve Pinkerton

Mon, April 14, 2014 | MEZ 0.306

4:30 PM - 6:30 PM

Blasphemy and sexology collide in the work of Djuna Barnes, whose modernist fictions of the 1920s and ’30s—including Ryder, Ladies Almanack, and Nightwood—employ a rhetoric of religious transgression to unsettle early 20th-century accounts of sexual identity and behavior. In both popular and scientific discourses of the time, homosexuality and transgender identification were routinely conflated under the sign of sexual “inversion." Appropriately, Barnes’s critiques of those discourses draw upon inversion of another sort, exploiting blasphemy’s characteristic upendings of the sacred to turn orthodox sexology on its head. Nightwood fans, for example, will recall the lexical inversion at the heart of that novel’s concluding sacrilegious rite: an erotically charged interspecies “communion” that suggestively replaces God with dog. Neither sexology nor conventional theology was well equipped to explain an erotic and spiritual transaction of this kind. In their stead Barnes offers a poetics of profanation that transgresses, in order to transcend, the period’s reigning dogmas of gender and desire.

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