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© E. L. McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen 2014. Is there such a thing as "gay and lesbian literature?" It might seem odd to pose this question at the outset of a collection of essays appearing under this very heading, much less one whose title implicitly asserts that not only does such literature exist but that it has a history. Our view is that all the terms of the title bear equal degrees of skepticism, yet insofar as there is a thing called "literature," or a formation of "history" that charts the evolution of this entity, there could be something that might be called "gay and lesbian" literature. As Barbara Johnson has observed, "it is not simply a question of literature’s ability to say or not say the truth of sexuality. For from the moment literature begins to try to set things straight on that score, literature itself becomes inextricable from the sexuality that it seeks to comprehend" (13). As astute a close reader as Johnson would not miss the queer resonances of "to set things straight" we begin with Johnson’s insight in order to signal this volume’s intention to undo how literary studies has been set (as) straight. To peruse the ranks of Cambridge’s History of Literature series is to be faced with collections largely organized by nation, period, or genre. By contrast, this volume works across those three major vectors for organizing literary studies. Notwithstanding Queer Nation’s campy activist formation in the 1990s, and in line with Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman’s trenchant assessment of the nation paradigm for queer sociopolitical organizing, LGBTQI people hardly constitute a nation. Indeed, as not a few of our contributors point out, the state may attempt to expunge all evidence of same-sex desire, whether in literary or actual practice, in the very name of "nation." Nor does "gay and lesbian" necessarily indicate a period, even though the history of sexuality marks the inception of the term "homosexual" as a particular Western ontological category in the sexual taxonomy of the late nineteenth century. If "gay and lesbian literature" depends on a notion of the homosexual, such literature would be periodized as a peculiarly modern and Western phenomenon. Nor, finally, is "gay and lesbian literature" a genre.
author list (cited authors)
McCallum, E. L., & Tuhkanen, M.