Midterm essay prompts

1.  Drawing from the 1890s sexological texts by Ellis and Carpenter, and the overview article by Gibson, write a short paper addressing the following questions (in no particular order):

a. What are some important medical or/and cultural ideas and discourses about male and female homosexuality in the 1890s that are addressed in these texts?

b. Which rhetorical strategies and arguments do Ellis and Carpenter employ to argue for a more sympathetic and fair treatment of “inverts” in society? To develop b, please think about audience and purpose of these texts: who most likely comprises their audience, why and of what exactly do they want to convince them? Even though Carpenter’s and Ellis’s texts were progressive, they also echo the influence of cultural ideas of decadence and degeneration that ultimately pathologize homosexuality.  Still, how did they argue for changes in the laws and cultural views of homosexuality at the time?

c. And finally, what are your personal impressions of these 1890s texts, looking back from the year 2013? Do some of the sexologists’ ideas, arguments or strategies look familiar, different, or both, when we compare them with the ways our own culture still sees and debates homosexuality today?

2.  In which ways can or/and cannot The Importance of Being Earnest be considered a queer text, and why? And what does and doesn’t “queer” mean when we apply our own understanding of the term to the particular context of this play, in which sexual and gender aspects are so intricately interwoven with social, cultural, and stylistic aspects? What makes this text “queer” in your eyes, and what about this text or its author may resist such an anachronistic description?

3. Write an essay discussing how Radclyffe Hall’s novel (in the excerpts we discussed in class) tries to advance the public understanding of, and sympathy for, sexual difference through its adaptation of sexual inversion theories and by other means (such as the religious discourse it employs).

4. Compare and contrast the ways in which Girls in Uniform and The Well of Loneliness (two roughly contemporaneous texts) present lesbianism.

5. How does Velvet Goldmine develop a queer genealogy that reaches from Oscar Wilde to the glam rock era to the present of the movie’s narrator, Arthur Stuart, to the present-day audience watching the film, and what are some possible purposes of developing such a queer genealogy?

6. Pick two texts from the course thus far to discuss and elaborate on the theme of the queer family, commenting on how each text develops this theme, and spending some time thinking about differences and similarities in the ways your two picks treat this topic.  Good candidates for such a discussion might be The Importance of Being Earnest, Velvet Goldmine, the lesbian short “You Move Me” (the longer, non-swimming one we screened in class), Fun Home, All About My Mother, or the two short stories you just read, “Bodhisattva Incarnate” and/or “Brokeback Mountain.”

7. How does race intersect with and complicate ideas about queerness in Paris Is Burning, Giovanni’s Room, or in Cherrie Moraga’s work (which we’ll read the week after next)?  Pick one or more texts for this question, as you prefer no need to be exhaustive in covering all these texts; I’m just giving you various textual choices for your   In your opinion, is either text more successful in complicating these intersecting “identities”?  Why?

8. Discuss the problem of deciding or pinning down what can make a literary or filmic text “queer”, using at least two different examples from the course thus far that illustrate this problem. Is it the sexual orientation of the author, the direct or indirect presentation of queer issues (whatever those might be), the contents, the aesthetic (style) of the text, the audience’s reading of a text, the specific cultural context, or a combination of those factors?  I’m less interested here in a definitive answer to this question (let me tell you: there is none!) than in an intelligent discussion of the problem itself: what is a “queer” text, and why is that question so difficult to answer?


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