I meant to leave this rambling series of thoughts as a response to Anne’s last post and to Mia’s comment about it, but I added a block quote, and I don’t know how to format those in the comment section, so now it’s its own entry.

Mia, Eve’s theory of reparative reading is exactly where I wanted to go with this question about the consolations of reading, too!

I think there are definitely some people working from a critical or theoretical perspective to understand at least aspects of the comforts and sustenance literature provides — in particular, from various margins and interstices of queer studies. Michael Moon and Jennifer Doyle, maybe. Definitely Wayne Koestenbaum — and, of course, Roland Barthes.

But Eve Sedgwick is really amazing here.

One of the questions with which Eve began that class, “Reading Relations,” was: “Is there a canon of anti-depressant literature — literature that affirms the world is alive and full and in some relation to one?”

In the context of Kleinian theory, that’s a pretty complicated relation she’s talking about, especially because the boundary between the world and oneself is so porous according to Klein.

(Feel free to skip this long-winded summary of Klein’s depressive position.) [Ed. Oh, but then you would miss out on a lot of booby talk!]  For Klein, the world is filled with objects — primarily, in her writing, mothers and their breasts, but those pretty much stand as an analogy for everything else. Inasmuch as those objects contain plenitude and are willing to nurture you with it, they are good. Inasmuch as they don’t or won’t, they are bad. In the depressive position, people realize that their good and bad objects are part of the same ambivalent object. Their fantasy attacks against the bad object therefore may destroy the good object. Also, their attempts to internalize the good object so that they have its nurturing plenitude inside them bring the bad object in too, which may destroy the good object itself and attack them from within. And the internalization itself, conceived of as devouring, may destroy the good object right out. A lot can go wrong. One of the main defenses against this anxiety is the capacity for reparation. If you can repair all this damage to the good parts of the object in question, one will come to feel secure both in its external existence (and availability to provide you with sustenance), as well as in its existence in your internal fantasy world. People moreover identify with this fantasy world (Klein calls it “phantasy” to distinguish it from daydreams). Thus, to the extent one understands one’s internal good objects to be alive and well — and one’s reparative faculties to be capable of keeping it that way — one will experience oneself as viable. That’s happiness!

In the essay in Touching Feeling Mia refers to, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” Eve hypothesizes a way of reading particularly queer texts and practices not as ironic demystifications of mainstream gender codes, à la Judith Butler, but rather as a form of reparation. Speaking of the “queer-identified practice of camp,” she writes:

The desire of a reparative impulse, on the other hand, is additive and accretive. Its fear, a realistic one, is that the culture surrounding it is inadequate or inimical to its nurture; it wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self. (149)

She continues with  a long list of some of the different reparative maneuvers that comprise camp. This post is already redic [sic] excessive, so I’m going to just go ahead and quote that, too:

To view camp as, among other things, the communal, historically dense exploration of a variety of reparative practices is to be able to be able to do better justice to many of the defining elements of classic camp performance: the startling, juicy displays of excess erudition, for example; the passionate, often hilarious antiquarianism, the prodigal production of alternate historiographies; the “over”-attachment to fragmentary, marginal, waste, or leftover products; the rich, highly interruptive affective variety; the irrepressible fascination with experimentation; the disorienting juxtapositions of present withventriloquistic past, and popular with high culture. (149-50)

Reparative reading then can involve recognizing as reparative camp and similar practices. It can involve actually assembling and conferring plenitude on texts or objects as Eve describes. Or it can involve the more complex relation of discovering a text already to have that plenitude and working to get it into some kind of nurturing relation to oneself.

So then there’s the question of what Queen Victoria gets out of In Memoriam. Is there a reparative reading from the position of the mainstream, of being a member of a culture not inimical to one’s nurture (even of being queen of that culture)? Does In Memoriam just remind Victoria of the conventional consolations of her culture — Jesus, Christmas, hetero marriage — and thereby reaffirm or reimpose them in all their coercive and exclusionary force? And then what sort of reading resists that coercion?

On the other hand, In Memoriam is a pretty queer poem, and it practices a pretty queer sort of reparation. Gerhard Joseph’s first book describes how Tennyson uses Christ as an erotic surrogate for Arthur Hallam (irrepressible fascination with ventriloquistic experimentation; disorienting juxtapositions of present with past). Christopher Craft makes sure everyone realizes how gay that substitution is in his chapter on Tennyson in Another Kind of Love. (I mean, really, is anyone convinced by the wedding at the end of the poem? No!)

My paper for Gerhard’s class was a (pretty sophomoric) attempt to read In Memoriam as a queer, reparative text according to Klein’s and Sedgwick’s theories. The poem is filled with physically experienced meldings of separate people, with cannibalistic fantasies of feeding off corpses [Ed. !!], with Tennyson’s own reparative work to summon the specter of Hallam, who then supernaturally enlivens the rocks and trees that surround him.

In fact, as I learn from Gerhard’s book, Hallam’s whole theory of spirituality and love involves a great deal of fetishizing femininity (gender differentiating), and then internalizing and identifying with its elevating plenitude (gender blending). That process of fetishization, moreover, seems to require a good deal of Hallam’s own reparative capacity to confer resources on an object.

In Memoriam is just one example, and it would be absurd (though exciting) to claim based on it that all comforting reading is reparative — and therefore in some way queer. Clearly it isn’t. However, there does seem to be something going on here, especially among certain types of conservatives. I am interested to discover a number of these same themes and manuevers in Edmund Burke’s Philosophic Enquiry, as well as in his Reflections. Likewise, I’m fascinated by Walter Benjamin’s series of attractions to and friendships with conservative or reactionary figures like Leo Strauss and Carl Schmidt, and especially with the rich aside in which he compares Karl Krauss to Burke (without elaborating what he means).

Either which way, reading to identify with characters, as Anne posted about previously, is incredibly important for this discussion. I think Eve’s distinction in Epistemology of the Closet between kitsch attribution and camp recognition must be relevant, here. James Creech takes that distinction and runs it all the way to the endzone in Closet Writing/Gay Reading. I’ve sort of run out of steam, though, so I’m gonna leave it there.

Anyway, there’s a quick précis of what I want to do with my life.