The Queerness of Symbols
The chapter examines the use of symbolism by three critics: Charles Feidelson, Marius Bewley, and Richard Poirier. For all three, the critique carried out by symbolism, refusing the division of the real and the unreal, content and style, allowing the latter to suffuse the former, becomes a visionary hopefulness. The imaginative eccentricities of literary form, mirroring the symbolic practices of urban homosexual subcultures, are what bring people to literature not just as an escape from everyday life but as speculations about a world differently configured. Faced with Cold War homophobia, these critics turned to issues of secrecy, suffering, and fellowship, making symbolism into a form of queer world making. When symbols open up a reflective space in the closed surface of reason or convention, they reveal an aspiration that is also a speculative disposition, suggesting a not-yetness that gestures beyond the is-ness of painful realities. Symbols are at once familiar, quotidian, transgressive, and even erotic. They are a hopeful phenomenon, expressing a conviction that objects (and people) have a mystical something that gives them more than predictable significance, endowing them with a sense that the physical and the metaphysical exist in a dynamic simultaneity. This is what, for these critics, makes symbolism queer.
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