Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dogs, Cats and NPR

So it probably comes as no surprise I listen to NPR. It might be marginally more interesting that my current little slice of heaven has it's own NPR station. (Actually it doesn't, really. There is a transmitter that repeats the signal from the Charlotte NPR affiliate, WFAE.) I'm sure I'm one of literally dozens of people in the area who listen in.

For instance, two weeks ago, they re-broadcast my favorite ever This American Life story, which includes the story of Roger Dowds on the Irish version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It's the best piece of radio, ever. This is a picture of him from the gameshow. There's another picture of him floating around teh internets that I'm not convinced is really him, for my own vain reasons.

Yesterday, however, I caught something new. It was a story on Weekend America about Abraham Lincoln as a fag. Not that that of itself was that odd, but the slant the story, and the place it ended up was very much like my own current research. Which was odd for me; it's not like I think my topic is particularly abstruse or irrelevant, it's just that it doesn't get a lot of popular exposure. And okay, it /is/ NPR, but still...

Basically, it had two historians on who said: "He couldn't have been a homosexual because that kind of sexual identity hadn't been created yet." Which is true; the word 'homosexual' wasn't coined until 1869, so it could never have been chosen my Lincoln to describe himself, even if he was frequently sharing beds and swapping night-attire with his umm, "bodyguard."

It briefly touched on gender stereotypes and how they change, as well, even if it didn't use the terms. They did point out that it wasn't that odd for men to exchange fairly intimate compliments. They even went so far as to point out how the first decades of the 20th Century changed this.

What they didn't really expand on was the sort of pre-1869 default setting for what we would call "same-sex attraction" got lumped in the category "sodomy" along with (depending on exactly where and when, but generally) sorcery, treason, marital infidelity and blasphemy. The real horror of sodomy, since it wasn't a particular way of defining one's self, was that it could happen to anybody. (Cue the ominous chords...)

Another part of that is that the whole modern conception of sexuality as a polarity between strictly homo- or strictly heterosexual (with, of course, the complete amelioration of one at the expense of complete peiorization of the other) is a fabrication. People's desire generally is on a continuum that intersects with a contemporary society's mores.

Anyway, these generally are the assumptions that underpin what is called the New Historicism, and the starting point for my thesis on Marlowe. And, consequently, my writing project on Edward II. If you anything about Marlowe, then you know he fits poorly at best in the modern conception of either "straight" or "gay" and just as poorly into Elizabethan attitudes towards sex. Choosing to understand sex and desire as a meeting point personal identity and socio-political pressure (I hope. I really hope.) offers a new way of evaluating his works.

...Also, I feel like pointing out that I found out while listening to the above story that there is a basset hound who lives on the way to the local BBQ shack. He lives about two or three blocks from the house where I grew up, and it was all I could do not to pull over and pet him.

For some reason, he reminds me (maybe in the set of emotions he rises up in me) of my first friend in New York, Sniffle-Kitty.

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