Dissertation Abstract


The Homo-Exilic Experience:  Queerness, Alienation, and Contrapuntal Vision


Timothy K. Nixon


       The number of individuals from Europe and the Americas who chose, or were forced, to leave their homelands for social and political reasons exploded in the twentieth century.  In a number of cases, the individuals’ sexualities troubled the dominant culture.  Homophobia and heteronormativity encumbered some of these queer individuals’ connections with their homes and either exacerbated an existing rift or caused an irreparable break with their families, communities, and countries.
        My study begins at that juncture, the intersection of queer sexuality and the experience of exile.  Building upon Edward Said’s ruminations, this project suggests that twentieth-century queerness has often coincided with exile.  Whether at the level of the family or the state, rifts and breaks between the lesbian or gay individual and the home place demonstrate that a type of exile is sometimes associated with accepting one’s queer sexual identity.
        The experience of exile has a monumental impact on the individual, for it is injurious and wounds the psyche of its survivors.  Rather quickly, however, this project shifts its focus and suggests that from such pain something positive arises.  Said notes that being exiled complicates and expands the perception of the survivor.  This comes, he explains, from seeing how life is lived from more than one vantage point.  A double-vision—or, contrapuntal vision—results from exile.  For the four queer writers at the center of this project, exile sharpened and refined their literary output.
        Four specific case studies of the works and lives of Christopher Isherwood, Klaus Mann, James Baldwin, and Arturo Islas comprise the body of this dissertation.  These case studies demonstrate the commonalities and variations of exile among the four writers and in relation to Said’s conceptualization.  Additionally, these chapters investigate what America meant for each of these exiled writers.  “The Homo-Exilic Experience” charts the trans-Atlantic movements, as well as migrations within the United States, of Islas, Baldwin, Mann, and Isherwood.  Their relocations, it is argued, were but physical manifestations of their pre-existing alienation, and an expanded perspective, resulting from their exilic experiences, sharpened and enhanced their art.