11 December 2006

Gurganus, Allan. Plays Well with Others. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Not that I feel compelled to apologize or anything, but I think I've got only 1.5 more gay novels left to read this year. This is a bit of a relief, as I'm ready to diversify my reading list a bit more. You ask me: What does it mean for a novel to be a "gay novel"? And I tell you: Welcome to what is increasingly looking to be the central argument/problem my focus-list comprehensive exam will seek to tackle.

In it—or, perhaps, in the tardy paper I plan to write about the gay novels I've read this term—I'm going to argue for the existence (the easy part) and the importance (the somewhat harder part) of the "post-gay novel". Right now I'm not 100% set on what this label even means, but central to it, I think, are gay characters who are gay in the way they are also U.S. citizens, and male, and Catholic, and white, and Libertarians, and marketing executives, or whatever. In other words, the plot of a post-gay novel doesn't advance through a character's gradual understanding of his gay identity, the plot of a post-gay novel begins at that point, or actually often beyond it, and moves forward the way heterosexual novels do—i.e., any way they want.

Gurganus's novel is split in the middle by AIDS. Before it enters the book, no one in the novel has it, and the characters have really only heard about it (and this is in the way early '80s so surely what they've heard isn't specific). After it enters the book, one of the main characters has it, and nothing is the same. Somewhere, somehow, I want to argue that the AIDS crisis is—for gay men after Stonewall—the post-gay moment.

This sounds wretched and gross, the way it couches an epidemic that has killed millions of people in catchy pop-academic terms, but here's a passage in the Gurganus novel from about three-fourths the way in:
Our fathers were the victors of WWII; they felt justly proud of their sacrifices. They always regretted aloud that we boys hadn’t been granted so good a war as theirs. They wished we had “gone over,” not “come out.” “Would’ve made a man of you,” we each heard from old guys who hadn’t a clue of how the world had changed around them. Even by our dads’ hard standards — AIDS — another undeclared “policing action” like Korea or Vietnam — would soon make us, their gifted linebacker nelly-boys — “Real Men.”

Compare the survival rate of footsoldiers from the Second World War with that of any cute young gay guy sashaying the streets of the West Village during his summer of love, 1980. Odds are . . . (285)
Is there something that WWII did to American Literature in general (well...WWI certainly did a lot vis-a-vis Modernism) that the AIDS epidemic did to American Gay Literature in specific? What about all the (hundreds of thousands of) gay men and women who fought in WWII and then lived through AIDS? Has anyone else compared the two?

These days, in the thick of papers and the holiday season, there are too many questions to wonder about the answers of.