Julia Horwitz Bibliographic Essay Since about a quarter of my thesis will treat the way that the themes

of sexuality and gender in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood help to define the way that Americans experience Paris as a prison of pleasures, I chose to examine two critical sources that deal with the concept of imprisonment in this novel. Neither source considers the influence of Paris itself as a prison, but both examine the question of imprisonment as it pertains to gender and sexuality in the universe of the novel. In these sources, gender confusion and lesbian love are treated as the subjects to be investigated and analyzed, rather than a means of approaching a discussion of place. That is to say, the criticism tends to focus on sexuality, and the idea of place (both Paris and America) becomes the backdrop for this focus. In my own paper, I hope to reverse this kind of reading, emphasizing Paris as the catalyst for the erotic obsessions that overtake the women in the novel, and their tormented sexual identities as the symptom of their Parisian imprisonment. The criticism, however, sheds significant light on the concept of sexuality as its own prison. In Carolyn Allen’s Following Djuna: Women Lovers and the Erotics of Loss, Allen calls upon sources as varied as Freud, Butler, Irigaray, Rich, and Lorde to explain the literary burden of lesbian erotics in modern fiction. She describes the complexities of queer theory as it relates to the homosexual female couple, discussing in detail the interpretation of lesbian erotics as a narcissistic desire for the self. She points to possible pitfalls in the novel in which Nora refers to her lover Robin as “myself.” At one point she asks Matthew O’Connor, “Have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?” Allen warns her readers of the risk of reading Nightwood with the traditional belief that Nora

and Robin desire each other because of a repressed sexual self-love. Allen therefore takes it upon herself to separate Nora and Robin from each other. She wants to argue against the idea that Nora and Robin remain together in a bond of narcissistic obsession, preferring to read them as distinct individuals whose relationship to each other takes on the form of a series of dichotomies. At various points, writes Allen, the language of the novel depicts them as husband and wife, protector and protected, mother and child, saint and sinner. Inherent in Allen’s conclusion is, contrary to Freudian readings of lesbian parterships, that the sameness of gender highlights the differences between the desires of the two women far more than it could ever imprison them in a cycle of pre-oedipal narcissistic obsession. This book will be most useful for its concise descriptions of the theories that it disputes; in order to argue preemptively against traditional readings of lesbian fiction, it gives a broad overview of the history of the literary treatment of lesbian desire. It will also be useful as a model for disputing a set of well-established, canonical criticism: Allen offers a reading of Nightwood that completely defies Freud’s scholarship, and threatens Irigaray’s. Toward the end of her chapter on Nightwood, she even uses the text of the novel in order to redefine Freudian theories of homosexuality. This kind of reading in which the text of the novel provides the material for analysis of an element or theme in the novel- in her case, Freudian theory- is exactly what I hope to produce in my thesis. One problem I might encounter using this source is that it responds much more to existing criticism of lesbian desire than to either existing criticism of Nightwood or to the novel itself. I am interested in performing close readings of my primary source texts, rather than engaging in critical debate with existing theory.

In Laura Veltman’s article, “‘The Bible Lies One Way, But the Night-Gown the Other’: Dr. Matthew O’Connor, Confession, and Gender in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood,” Veltman shifts the discussion of gender and sexuality from the women in the story to Matthew O’Connor, the “unlicensed gynecologist.” Matthew’s gender identification is as confused and troubled as Robin’s, if not more so: he is a transvestite who engages in homosexual activity, and genuinely wants to be a woman. In her article, Veltman touches on gender as a kind of prison in the story, citing the various passages in which Matthew describes the women and himself as one kind of person who “should have been” another. He says, notably, that he “never asked for better than to boil some good man’s potatoes and toss up a child for him every nine months by the calendar.” Instead, however, he must come to terms with his male sex organs- at one point he even exposes himself in church in front of an altar to the Virgin Mary, asking her if his sexual apparatus defines him, or if he can form his identity in spite of it. In this way, Veltman argues that gender is the prison in Nightwood, and that Matthew uses his torrential outbursts of words to try to reconstruct the novel’s conception of the gender binary. Veltman also discusses, at length, the significance of the confessional, both in American history and in the context of the novel. She describes the problem of anti-Irish sentiment in America in the beginning of the 20th century, citing various works of antiCatholic propaganda which depicted the confessional as a site of sexual deviance and corruption. For many anti-Catholic movement leaders, an enclosed space in which a man in a dominant position is allowed to dictate the behavior of a woman, who must perform

whatever penance he deems appropriate. To a violently anti-Catholic mindset, this scenario lends itself to an abuse of sexual power, and Veltman shows how Matthew’s sexual and religious diatribes can be interpreted on the basis of this historical context. In this reading, the confessional becomes a kind of prison, both physically (the booth itself), and methaphorically (as the woman confessant is confined to the secrecy of both her confession and her penance. This source will probably be most useful as a model for performing close readings. Unlike Allen’s book, Veltman’s article engages with the text itself in order to make its most salient points. This is the kind of reading I hope to do as well, and in spite of its brevity, the article calls upon a wide variety of themes and tropes in order to formulate its arguments. Veltman also gestures toward a number of passages in the book that I would not have thought to examine as possible descriptions of confinement and imprisonment, giving me a better idea of how to interpret the novel, and which themes to examine more closely. In this way, these two sources work together to provide me with an overview of how to treat existing critical, theoretical, and historical scholarship in my own paper. To different degrees, they both engage with the text itself, and then relate their own interpretations of the text to other scholarly conclusions. Both sources graciously and courteously argue against existing interpretations that they believe to be too constricting, and offer their readings instead as a modification, rather than a negation, of these interpretations. While writing my prospectus, I discovered that I tend to have trouble referring to existing scholarship without wholly embracing or dismissing it, and by

reading these sources I am given both scholarship to engage with in my paper, and examples of the methodology I will need to use to discuss this scholarship.

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