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A Taste For Brown BodiesGay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire$
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Hiram Perez

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9781479818655

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479818655.001.0001

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The Queer Afterlife of Billy Budd

The Queer Afterlife of Billy Budd

(p.25) 1 The Queer Afterlife of Billy Budd
A Taste For Brown Bodies

Hiram Pérez

NYU Press

This chapter returns to Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor: An Inside Narrative, acknowledging Eve Sedgwick’s designation of the novella as a foundational text for modern gay male identity. Focusing on the neglected figure of the African sailor, the narrative’s original beautiful sailor, the chapter investigates how nostalgic fantasies about the savage or the primitive mediate same-sex desire in the novella. The chapter presents Billy Budd’s blond beauty as surrogacy for the African sailor, the original fetish of Melville’s narrative. Blondness figures in Billy Budd as a proxy for primitiveness. The chapter argues that the perpetual deferral of homosexual desire performed by the narrative and embodied in the figure of the sexually frustrated Claggart construct a model of autonomy for gay modernity in constituting its interiority—its “inside story” as it were, what Sedgwick will term the epistemological closet.

Keywords:   African sailor, Billy Budd, blondness, closet, Eve Sedgwick, Herman Melville, modern gay male, primitive, sailor, savage

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