When I started this blog in October of 2019, I assumed that I would be blogging about my research interests: James Baldwin and intersectionality in literature and culture. Thus, my first post was Queer Masculinities in James Baldwin’s 𝘎𝘪𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪’𝘴 𝘙𝘰𝘰𝘮 and Beyond. I diverged slightly from the titular topic in the body of the blog post and discussed intersectionality in Baldwin’s literature at large.
I am particularly interested in the implications of race in queer masculinities in Baldwin’s novel Another Country (1962) – especially when it comes to the character of Rufus Scott. Rufus’ experience as bisexual and as male are even further complicated by his experience as black in 1950s New York City.‘Queer Masculinities in James Baldwin’s 𝘎𝘪𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪’𝘴 𝘙𝘰𝘰𝘮 and Beyond.’ October 2nd 2019.
Furthermore, I wondered about similar, yet antonymous, experiences of intersectionality in black queer fiction written by women of the same literary generation.
What would happen if one compared and contrasted Baldwin’s literary illustrations of black queer masculinity with twentieth century works by black women authors which examine black queer femininity? In what ways do the experiences of, for example, Alice Walker’s Celie from her 1982 novel The Color Purple relate to and diverge from the experiences of Baldwin’s characters? How do Audre Lorde’s essays on black queer womanhood in her brilliant collection Sister Outsider (1984) mirror or deviate from the black queer masculinities that Baldwin explores in his novels, or indeed, in his essays, too?‘Queer Masculinities in James Baldwin’s 𝘎𝘪𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪’𝘴 𝘙𝘰𝘰𝘮 and Beyond.’ October 2nd 2019.
However, I found that it was very difficult for me to write about James Baldwin, and my primary research interests, in an informal blog post. Perhaps it sounds foolish but his ideas, and my own research, were too important to me to treat lightly.
I have drafted this blog post so many times. Why? Because it is very, very difficult for me to write about James Baldwin. This may sound unorthodox, considering his literary output is my primary research interest. But that’s exactly why. I only have two registers when it comes to James Baldwin; academic and emotional. So, attempting to write about him and his work on a forum like this is difficult as neither an academic register nor semi-incoherent lyricism is appropriate.‘Queer Masculinities in James Baldwin’s 𝘎𝘪𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪’𝘴 𝘙𝘰𝘰𝘮 and Beyond.’ October 2nd 2019.
And so, I changed tracks. Instead of writing about my primary research interests on the blog, I decided to write about my peripheral and adjacent research interests. Rather than analysing literature that was outside my own intersectional experience, I started focusing on literature that resonated with me on a more personal level. I had always viewed reading and the study of literature as a way to learn more about experiences that I have not had, and will never have, but I decided it was time for me to face my own realities in my research. So, my foray into lesbian and feminist blogging began with what became my most popular post to date: On the Lack of Adequate Lesbian Representation in Film and the Lack of Lesbian Literature on our Bookshelves.
I have found that when it comes to film, it is very difficult to find lesbian films with queer women as their target audience. The vast majority of these films are filtered through the male gaze. I believe that this is to do with a lack of lesbian input behind the scenes and a gender discrepancy within the film industry itself. One of the most troubling aspects of these films for me as a queer consumer, are the sexual scenes. The most graphic sexual scenes I have ever seen in film are almost exclusively featured in films about sapphic women; from Blue is the Warmest Colour to The Handmaiden. While I, obviously, have no problem with lesbian sexuality being depicted on screen, I do take issue with the fact that the majority of lesbian films I’ve seen seem to be aimed at straight male fetishests rather than gay women themselves. The depictions of lesbian sexuality on screen are very often scopophilic and perpetuate male fantasies of lesbian sex.‘On the Lack of Adequate Lesbian Representation in Film and the Lack of Lesbian Literature on our Bookshelves.’ October 29th 2019.
As evident in the above quote, I began with a bang (pardon the pun). I tackled the issue of the male gaze in lesbian media, particularly the overwhelming amount of lesbian film directed by straight cisgender men. If there’s anything that irks me, it’s a straight man who thinks that he understands the lesbian experience. Straight men’s absolute ignorance on the subject is evident in their sloppy caricaturing of lesbian dating culture and fetishistic fantasies of lesbian sex.
There is more luck in literature, with books such as The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith and Alison Bechdel’s critically acclaimed graphic novel Fun Home and brilliant comic-strip series Dykes to Watch Out For, which illustrate truer depictions of lesbian life; including our friendships, relationships, activism, hardships, our sense of community and found family, and yes, also, our sex lives.‘On the Lack of Adequate Lesbian Representation in Film and the Lack of Lesbian Literature on our Bookshelves.’ October 29th 2019.
Of course, I wasn’t going to waste an entire blog post on the degrading representations of lesbians in male directed film – I wanted to celebrate sapphic art as well. Proper sapphic art written by lesbians, bisexual women, pansexual women – women who love women. I dedicated the rest of that post to my celebration of Patricia Highsmith and Alison Bechdel, who are more realistic in their portrayals of the romantic love between women. To perpetuate this more positive turn, my next blog post was Kerri’s List of Sapphic Lit! Which does exactly what it says on the tin.
One of our tasks to fill our requirements for our MA module EN6009: Research Skills was to write two blog posts on two research seminars we attended. Instead of summarising the event, we were supposed to riff off of it – to write about how the seminars inspired us. This was my first seminar blog post: Research Seminar: ‘Poems about Women from Eighteenth Century Ireland’ by Dr Andrew Carpenter. I turned Carpenter’s discussion of poems ABOUT women from Ireland in the 1700s to a discussion of modern feminism in pop culture!
One of the poems whose female author is actually known is ‘The Old Maid’s Prayer to Diana’ by Mary Tighe (1805). This poem suggests that spinsterhood was a state to be avoided in eighteenth century Ireland. It is interesting to juxtapose this ideology to contemporary ideology. In the twenty first century, there seems to be a focus on normalising the idea of women alone. Recently, actress Emma Watson sparked controversy by declaring herself “self-partnered” in an interview with British Vogue (this interview is well worth a watch in general, not just for this specific comment that the internet latched onto, as she also discusses the previous parameters of her feminism and her growth as an activist). Being ‘self-partnered’ ultimately means that she is rejecting the label of single and rightly stating that she can live a fulfilling and satisfying life without romance. As Cher once said; “men are like dessert” – they are not a necessity to any woman. When questioned on this statement by Jane Pauley, who asked her if she meant to sound “mean and bitter”, Cher replied; “Not at all! I adore dessert! I love men! I think men are the coolest! But you don’t need them to live.” And, luckily, many modern women agree with her. Fulfillment comes from the self, not from the validation of a sex who have been upholding oppressive structures for centuries.‘Research Seminar: ‘Poems about Women from Eighteenth Century Ireland’ by Dr Andrew Carpenter.’ December 9th 2019.
Now, what is anything that I write without an excursion into one of my special interests? In my post Research Seminar: ‘Middle-brow Modernism: Irish Writers and The New Yorker in the Mid-Twentieth Century’ by Dr Yen Chi Wu, I latched onto the idea of loneliness in a Mary Lavin short story and relocated the idea of loneliness across decades, and across continents! I used the Lavin short story as a means to discuss the theme of loneliness in Korean artist Kim Jonghyun’s musical and literary compositions.
Throughout my life, I haven’t come across many definitions or artistic expressions of loneliness that resonate with my own. That is, until I started listening to the music and reading the translated lyrics and literature of musician and novelist, poet and artist Kim Jonghyun. I have found that my own conceptions of time and loneliness mirror his in intimate ways. In his song ‘Lonely’ which he released in his 2017 album The Collection: “Story Op. 2”,he wrote the words “loneliness and misery; the difference is only memory”. I have spent so much time pondering this specific quote. Which is attached to memory? Loneliness or misery?‘Research Seminar: ‘Middle-brow Modernism: Irish Writers and The New Yorker in the Mid-Twentieth Century’ by Dr Yen Chi Wu.’ December 9th 2019.
However, unable to help myself, I managed to somehow link these examples of loneliness in Irish and Korean art and literature to loneliness and grief in James Baldwin’s writing. I particularly highlighted my interest in analysing the various suicides that appear in his novels.
In relation to my literary research, it would be interesting to examine the intersections between loneliness and grief, particularly in the aftermath of death. Suicide is a recurring theme in James Baldwin’s works. While Baldwin doesn’t particularly focus on the act itself, he often focuses on the way grief manifests for those who live through losing a loved one to suicide. I am interested in the theme of suicide in literature but have not yet approached researching it to any deep degree. At the moment, my meditations on suicide have been confined to my own creative writing.‘Research Seminar: ‘Middle-brow Modernism: Irish Writers and The New Yorker in the Mid-Twentieth Century’ by Dr Yen Chi Wu.’ December 9th 2019.
After this, I turned my attention to Japanese Manga and wrote about Nagata Kabi’s art in the post; On Lesbian Loneliness: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (1/3). This was interesting as it let me further explore lesbian representation in literature, while also examining a text that centered around mental illness.
While mental-illness manifests itself in a myriad of different ways in different individuals, Nagata expertly details how the intersection of being mentally ill and of a sexual minority (while living in a capitalist society which does not make allowances for people who are struggling to find work our housing) can lead to excessive bouts of isolation and, as a result, may impede the romantic aspect of a person’s life.‘On Lesbian Loneliness: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (1/3).’ February 4th 2020.
The depictions of mental illness in this manga, and its intersections with Nagata’s experience as a lesbian, prompted me to consider the difficulties for neurodivergent lesbians, particularly autistic lesbians, and how this contributes to lesbian loneliness.
This section of the novel reminded me, peripherally, of the limited options there are for lesbians, bi, and pansexual women to meet. Like the escort agency, meeting women on dating apps such as Tinder or Her is similar in its forced intimacy. It is never comfortable to go on a date with someone you have only spoken to through a screen. This can be a particularly daunting task for people with social anxiety or other mental health issues. Similarly, gay bars and gay clubs can be exclusionary environments themselves, particularly for women on the spectrum. The flashing lights, the loud music, the mixed odours of sweat and alcohol and perfume, the heat, the crowds – all of this is a nightmare for those with sensory issues and the perfect cocktail to trigger sensory overload. This makes these queer spaces not only difficult for some people to go to, but impossible.‘On Lesbian Loneliness: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (1/3).’ February 4th 2020.
Next on the agenda was a blog post on our “wiki-session” class, in which the MA students had to edit a Wikipedia of their choice. In Wikipedia Wonderland you can see the progress I made editing the Wikipedia page for James Baldwin.
Note that Baldwin is listed as merely a “novelist, playwright, and activist” – I amended this to make it more accurate by adding “essayist” and “poet” into the equation. Perhaps I should also have added “short story and screenplay writer” – Baldwin was a man of a great many talents.‘Wikipedia Wonderland.’ February 6th 2020.
I edited out the erroneous insinuation that Toni Morrison and James Baldwin were cousins and I even found out something new: Marlon Brando and James Baldwin were roommates for a spell! However, there was a lot to be left desired that I sadly did not have the time to add to the page.
There were a few things missing that I would have liked to have added, but I did not have the time to find sources for these snippets of information I know off the top of my head. For example, there was no mention of the suicide of Baldwin’s best friend which prompted him to expatriate in the first place. Nor was there any mention of the significance of music in Baldwin’s writing (though I was delighted to see homage to the artistic influence of painter Beauford Delaney on Baldwin and his work included on the page! Check out Delaney’s incredible Baldwin portraits here). Finally, there was little mention of his poetry collection Jimmy’s Blues and it was his only work with no wiki page of its own! I’ve decided that once I establish myself as an academic (fingers crossed) I’m going to light up Baldwin’s page with all of this information and sources to boot! Perhaps, some day, my work on Baldwin will be listed as a valid source…‘Wikipedia Wonderland.’ February 6th 2020.
My second blog post in my three-part series on Nagata Kabi’s My Experience with Lesbian Loneliness series can be found here: On Lesbian Loneliness: My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol 1 (2/3). This blog post dealt with the same themes as the manga itself; the idea that, sometimes, the only person keeping oneself lonely is oneself. This post was a little more reflective than it was literary, but I believe there is room for personal sincerity even in academic blogging.
At the end of the manga, Nagata realises, after being confessed to by a lovely woman, that her issues with loneliness are not to do with the fact that she is fundamentally undesirable or socially inept, but its cause is more deeply rooted. She admits, when she is unable to reciprocate the feelings of the woman she is dating, that “the one keeping me lonely is me” (158). It is remarkably easy to cast blame on those around us in order to avoid examining our own hand in our unhappiness. Recognising how we contribute to our own pain, or our own loneliness is scary because there are two options; to consciously ignore your destructive behaviours or to try to help yourself. You are left with two options; shame or effort. In continuing to pursue her dream of creating manga-art, and working towards overcoming her intense attachment to her mother and her issues with romantic attachments, Nagata chooses effort.‘On Lesbian Loneliness: My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol 1 (2/3).’ February 11th 2020.
A blog post that I believe was wildly underrated (if I do say so myself) was my post about Erin Williams’ Commute: My Journey through Female Shame in Erin Williams’ ‘Commute’. In this blog post I celebrated one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read and challenged some of the (what I considered to be) unfair criticism it had received on Goodreads.
I would like to point out that there are many reviews on Goodreads that argue that this novel is problematic as its representation of women is not intersectional. As an advocate for intersectionality and, hopefully, a future scholar in literary intersectionalism, I argue that the reason this novel isn’t intersectional is because it is a deeply, intensely personal memoir detailing the experiences of a woman who, appears to all intents and purposes, as white and straight. There is, indeed, a narrow social vision in this memoir, but it is autobiographical, and I am left wondering whether or not we can fault the author in light of this? I would like to hear your opinions in the comments.‘My Journey through Female Shame in Erin Williams’ ‘Commute.’ February 15th 2020.
Once again, I managed to link something completely unrelated BACK to James Baldwin, linking Williams’ idea of bearing witness to another’s suffering to Baldwin’s self-identification as witness instead of writer.
In her own words, “our trauma becomes our shame” and that shame “is an instrument of oppression” (285-286), and “we tell our stories to bear witness to one another’s suffering… and to antagonise a status quo that invalidates our lived experience” (290-292). This particularly resonated with me as a James Baldwin often referred to himself as not merely a writer, but a witness. A witness to the tragedies of humanity, which often come wrapped in disparity and oppression.‘My Journey through Female Shame in Erin Williams’ ‘Commute.’ February 15th 2020.
To conclude the post, I also wrote about the beauty of women supporting women, and how uplifted and nurtured I feel by the women in my own life.
To end on a somewhat lighter note, this book is also a beautiful homage to women and to sisterhood. Shame can tear out everything you have inside of you. But Williams doesn’t forget to mention the things that helped refill the empty spaces inside of her, like love, organic chemistry, Maggie Nelson poetry, and, most significantly “trust in other women” (260). As a person who finds her own solace in other women – who feels uplifted and healed by the women in her life – this resonated with me more than words can say. And, I think, this doesn’t just apply to women. Whatever your experience, whatever your background, turn to people whose experiences intersect with yours in some way. Let them share their story, and, perhaps, share yours. Let yourself become vulnerable in safe spaces. Try to find a way to heal.‘My Journey through Female Shame in Erin Williams’ ‘Commute.’ February 15th 2020.
My final post, Until I Write Again: My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol 2. (3/3), concluded my mini-series on Nagata Kabi’s manga. In this post, I celebrated Nagata’s achievements and ruminated on the cyclical nature of mental illness and how that was reflected in the series.
My overwhelming admiration for Nagata Kabi stems from her utter candidness about her mental illness. What started with a woman determined to lose her virginity and regain control of her mental health, has culminated in a three part series that shows just how difficult the process of healing really is. Break-through after break-through, relapse after relapse, but still, Nagata perseveres. From pulling out her hair, to binge/starvation cycles, to sleeping all day, to self-mutilation, and alcoholism – this series is a tough read emotionally. But what kept me coming back to it was Nagata’s unbreakable strength. No matter how bad her relapses became, she persevered, and, along the way, began to understand and accept her parents for who they are, and make friends of her own.‘Until I Write Again: My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol 2 (3/3).’ March 22nd 2020.
I finished this final blog post with a little recommendation list for my followers to peruse in between now and the next time I post to the blog. I absolutely will be posting again, as this experience has made me fall in love with blogging about literature, media, and culture! It feels right to end on the same note here.
Read books by James Baldwin.
Listen to JONGHYUN’S solo music on Spotify.
Kiss your pet on their forehead for me.‘Until I Write Again: My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol 2 (3/3).’ March 22nd 2020.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my six month experience of academic blogging!
“Darling of Cannes Now at Center of Storm”. Nytimes.Com, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/movies/julie-maroh-author-of-blue-novel-criticizes-film.html.
“Lonely” by JONGHYUN translation credit: https://colorcodedlyrics.com/2017/04/jonghyun-jonghyeon-lonely-feat-taeyeon-taeyeon
Baldwin, James. Another Country. Penguin Books, 2001.
Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room. Penguin Books, 2001.
Baldwin, James. Go Tell It on the Mountain. Penguin Books, 2017.
Baldwin, James. Just Above My Head. Penguin Books, 1994.
Baldwin, James. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone. Dial Press, 1968.
Bechdel, Alison. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. 2008.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Eggerue, Chidera. What a Time to Be Alone. Hardie Grant Publishing, 2018.
Garden, Nancy. Annie On My Mind. Random House/Listening Library, 2008.
JONGHYUN. “Lonely.” JONGHYUN The Collection “Story Op. 2,” 2017. Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/track/5efB9wfc6dn3pzll9ElIrH?si=sqaUrx20SRmUqO3dPhMEgA.
Kechiche, Abdellatif. Blue is the Warmest Colour. Wild Bunch, 2013.
Kim, Jonghyun. Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free. Seoul, South Korea, 2015. (Unofficial Translation by sigani_jina on Archive of Our Own: https://archiveofourown.org/works/14618484/chapters/43425311)
Lavin, Mary. ‘In a Café’. The New Yorker, February 1960, p 32.
Lorde, Audre. Sister, Outsider. Crossing Press, 1984.
Maroh, Julie. Blue is the Warmest Colour. Glenat, 2013.
Moonlight. (2016). [DVD] Directed by B. Jenkins. Florida: A24.
Moore, Thomas. ‘Postscript to an Epistle to George Morgan Esq.’ 1804.
Nagata, Kabi. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. East Press, Tokyo, 2016.
Nagata, Kabi. My Solo Exchange Diary. Shogakukon, 2016.
Park, Chan-wook. The Handmaiden. Moho Film, Yong Film, 2016.
Tighe, Mary. ‘The Old Maid’s Prayer to Diana.’ 1805.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Phoenix, 1983.
Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith. Virago Press, 2002.
Williams, Erin. Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame. Abram’s Comicarts, 2019.
Featured Image: by Kerri McIntyre