Monday, 5 October 2009


In his book, Friendship's Bonds: Democracy and the Novel in Victorian England (University of Pennsylvania Press 2004: Google books has a chunk of it, here) Richard Dellamora argues 'Western concepts of the nation-state have been constituted in part in relation to the story of Sodom in Genesis. In other words, Judeo-Christian concepts of state depend upon the imaginary projection of a condemned opposite, called Sodom' [18]. He traces the way key nineteenth-century texts chart the opprobrium attached to 'dangerously near, dangerously assimilated' national or ethnic groups, 'intimate Others'--the Jews, for instance--and 'Victorian distrust or dislike of homosexuality as the extreme version of male intimacy.' It puts a new twist on the interpretation of Fagin in Oliver Twist, for instance, with his grimy, secret, intimate/dangerous harem of boys.

One point that Dellamore makes is that for Victorian theologians 'sodomy' was, at least, until the end of the century, parsed in a more wide-ranging way than just male homosexual sex. Some things aren't covered: I wondered, for instance, about how (assuming Dellamora is right) it affects the development of nationhood that one's intimate-Other is always already laid waste and constituted only on a refugee level. Isn't there a kind of implied triumphalism in this? But mostly it got me thinking about the saltiness of the Sodomitic situation ... which is to say, the way salt has to do with desolation and infertility, but also with life and sexuality (I've talked about this, a little obliquely, before). By this logic, homosexuality would be 'saltier' than straight sex; that's right, I think.

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