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Queer across the Atlantic: Homo/sexual representation in the United States and France, 1977–2001

Neil C Hartlen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines homo/sexual representation in French and American literature and film from 1977-2001. I use the slash to distinguish between two areas of representation whose relationship forms the object of my comparative analysis. Focusing on narratives featuring sexual encounters between men, I analyze sexual representation as it ranges from reticence to frankness. I consider these same narratives in relation to what I call "homo representation," the interpretation of sexuality in minoritizing terms of identities, communities and politics. I argue that French texts demonstrate a greater frankness in relation to sexual representation; the dominance of a universalist tradition in France, however, inhibits the categorization of these texts and the sexuality they depict as "homosexual" or "gay"---or at least limits the political significance of that categorization. In contrast, I argue that the American texts I consider participate in a minoritized gay literature and subculture that has evolved in response to the greater reticence around sexual representation in the American mainstream. That mainstream, however, proves to be more open to "homo representation" on the levels of both culture and politics. I analyze texts by Renaud Camus, John Rechy, Dominique Fernandez, Edmund White, Cyril Collard, Gregg Araki, Guillaume Dustan, Dennis Cooper, Paul Smaïl, and Samuel R. Delany, situating them in the context of various genres. Applying minoritizing vs. universalizing strategies and normalizing vs. transgressive ones in different ways, these genres include coming out narratives (for which I propose an alternative gay Bildungsroman model), AIDS narratives, "ghetto" narratives, "assimilative" narratives and "queer" narratives. Within my American examples, minoritizing ghetto narratives predominate, establishing alternative community norms that are themselves challenged by more transgressive queer narratives. In my French examples, however, universalizing assimilative narratives are more usual, even as they reserve a surprisingly privileged place for transgressive sexuality in comparison with their more normalizing assimilative counterparts in the United States. I argue that these differences must ultimately be understood in relation to contrasting ways of situating sexuality, literature, and politics within the public and private spheres, even as those configurations continue to evolve in both countries through the 1990s and beyond.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|American literature|Romance literature|Gender

Recommended Citation

Hartlen, Neil C, "Queer across the Atlantic: Homo/sexual representation in the United States and France, 1977–2001" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3242349.