Department of English

Tiresian Poestics: Modernism, Sexuality, Voice, 1881-2001 (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008)

Fri, July 3, 2009

Ed Madden is an Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He is a graduate of Harding University in Arkansas and the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair of the English Department.

Blind seer, articulate dead, and mythic transsexual, the figure of Tiresias has always represented a liminal identity and forms of knowledge associated with the crossing of epistemological and ontological boundaries. In twentieth-century literature, the boundaries crossed and embodied by Tiresias are primarily sexual, and the liminal and usually prophetic knowledge associated with Tiresias is based in sexual difference and sexual pleasure. Indeed, in literature of the twentieth century, Tiresias has come to function as a cultural shorthand for queer sexualities.

This book argues for the emergence of a Tiresian poetics at the end of the nineteenth century. As Victorian and modernist writers re-imagined Ovid's tale of sex change and sexual judgment, they also created a poetics that grounded artistic of performative power in figures of sexual difference--most often a feminized, often homosexual male body, which this study links to the developing discourses of homosexuality and sexual identity.

To reconstruct the sexual and cultural history of Tiresias, Madden examines a wide range of technological, medical, and sexual discourses. The strangely hybrid body of Tiresias--ambiguously gendered and sequentially sexed--offers an index of the proliferating discourses of sexual identity, especially as voice or performance can be read as a symptom of sexual deviance. Tracing the intersections of sexological, popular, and literary discourses of sexual difference, this book explores not only the cultural history of a sexual myth, but also the cultural representations of homosexuality, illuminating the persistent sexological images of homosexuality as gender inversion. 

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