milan golob

Queer Mythology


paintings 1 2 3 3 4 5 a b c -
- A B . . . . . . . new








list of paintings ...


titles of ...
paintings not created yet

Queer Mythology

Vera Stravinsky (1888-1982)
2012, oil on canvas, 22×21 cm

Queer Mythology

Vera Stravinsky (1888-1982)

Queer Mythology




Igor Stravinsky with Vera Stravinsky, his second wife, who he married in 1940 and lived together in Hollywood, USA.

Igor Stravinsky with Vera Stravinsky






Making Modernism New: Queer Mythology in The Young and Evil (Part 1)

Sam See
Making Modernism New: Queer Mythology in The Young and Evil (Part 2)*

III. Queering Modernist Mythopoeia

While Ford and Tyler challenge nineteenth-century literary aesthetics and their socio-political implications with mythopoeia, they also question the essentialist assumption that the most popular modernist myths’ “deepest questionings” are common to humanity. Freud’s psychoanalytic rendition of the Oedipus myth—a rendition that became perhaps the most influential myth of the twentieth century, especially its early half—epitomizes the need for such scrutiny. Despite his relatively benign attitude toward homosexuality, Freud interprets the myth in a heteronormative, clinical framework and creates a foil for homosexual identity formation. In his search for the etiology of sexuality, Freud isolates the Oedipus myth’s exclusion of same-sex desire as an explanation for why such desire is abnormal and therefore potentially remediable.[46]

Freud’s powerful interpretation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex demonstrates how idealist visions of mythic totality were, in the early twentieth century, especially regarding sexuality, contentious at best. Such ideals were sourced, after all, in scientifically based fears of degeneracy and atavism, fears of and obsessions with origins made most famous by Max Nordau’s 1895 positivist polemic Degeneration. Julian epitomizes Ford and Tyler’s opposition to this precedent in his response to a character named Rector, an academic who asks Julian why Julian should exist: “I’m not asking you Julian said to account for your birth or anyone else’s” (Y, 90). Instead of the etiology of subjectivity or of desire, Ford and Tyler are, like the surrealists, interested in how desire shapes reality to produce the mythic in the surreal. In fact, Ford and Tyler make their most overt critique of Freud in reference to E. E. Cummings’s surrealist play Him (1927), which Julian calls “comic” and “the most important event in American literary history”: “America doesn’t know how to be comic [Julian] called; it knows only how to be Freudian” (Y, 111). Working against the Freudianization of America, Ford and Tyler engage myth to universalize queer experience and to propose that modernist myth can and must account for kinds of experience too readily overshadowed by heteronormative modernist mythopoeia.

Ezra Pound, Antheil and The Treatise on Harmony, Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1927.

Ezra Pound, Antheil and The Treatise on Harmony, Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1927.

For Ford and Tyler, Freud’s inadequate mythopoeic account of queerness may derive from his clinical desire to see the conscious mind regulate the unconscious, whereas in myth, as Herd translates Hermann Broch’s famous claim, “Conscious effort never affords access to that sacred realm.”[47] In The Young and Evil, conscious and unconscious efforts to create myth must be fused, and such fusion is predicated on the latter’s ability to refashion the former (Freud, of course, prescribes the opposite). One of the more salient examples of this need to reform established myths is in the text’s myth of dollness, evoked early on in chapters 1 and 2—which reference, after Henrik Ibsen, a “Doll’s House”—and later troped in chapter 13, “I Don’t Want to Be a Doll.”[48] In each instance, characters create and ironize the myth of the queer as an effeminized doll to reinforce a universal human desire for myth and to emphasize the particular queer need for myth to be reconceived. Just as Ibsen’s Nora challenges Coventry Patmore’s myth of the Angel (or Doll) in the House, so too do Karel and Julian escape the ontology of dolls, or stereotypes easily taxonomized, easily housed. But unlike Nora, whose doll status is ready-made based on popular heteronormative Victorian mythology, Karel and Julian must first be made dolls by Ford and Tyler’s conscious invocation of the myth: the queer characters must be included within a heteronormative mythology in order to unmake it.

The novel relates Karel’s and Julian’s repudiations of the myth of dollness in stream-of-consciousness passages that foreground the unconscious mind’s associative logic and that allocate narrative authority to Karel and Julian. Whereas the myth of dollness propounds a falsehood about exterior identity, The Young and Evil offers a myth about the foundational possibility of interior subjectivity. For both men, it is upon being abandoned by lovers that they abandon the myth of dollness. When Julian rejects him, for example, Karel descends into a childhood reverie and remembers that his family “SNATCHED” away his dolls because they thought “only little girls” should play with them (Y, 23). Repudiating these “many large people not being very kind” (Y, 20), Karel declares that he will ignore others’ “saying you are the darling of the Doll’s House” and the injunction that “I AM TO STAY INDOORS,” inside the closet of heteronormative myth (Y, 24). Karel proclaims instead that he “shall go further into that other house,” one wherein he can “use high heels over their corpses” (Y, 20). In that queer house, Karel longs for a doll of Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore’s son, whose image evokes for Karel a homoerotic vision of Lancelot (Y, 24). Rejecting his family’s heteronormative rejection of his queerness, Karel fashions a queer mythology—a Lancelot who might desire him—to escape the Doll’s House myth.

Julian later has a similar epiphany about his own ontological development when, weary of his fleeting sexual encounters, he finds depth in the surface of dollness by repudiating gay versions of dollness. “I am not a fairy doll,” Julian announces, because “a doll does not believe in itself he thought it only believes in its dollness.” At this point Julian views his homosexuality not just as a quantifiable, naturalist surface marker but as a “fetich” that accumulates substance by being a “habit.” Reinforcing the novel’s principle that surface acquires depth through iteration, Julian embraces his sexuality—not his dollness—as “a symbol of power,” a symbol of universal desire but not “a specific symbol” of homosexual dollness (Y, 170). Both Karel and Julian refashion the Doll’s House myth of identity, then, to represent queer desire in mythic terms, those that express queers’ particular interiority (through streamof- consciousness) and their connection to common visions of human universality (through the myths of Lancelot and the Doll’s House). In this way, the queer men can feel, as Julian later reflects, that they “had captured the myth and had not been captured by it” (Y, 87).[49]

The Young and Evil consciously invokes myths to reshape them with unconscious processes, then, a technique that bears comparison to Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel that, Bell maintains, “dissolves the dualistic assumptions of the word ‘consciousness’ itself.”[50] For Bell, “Joyce’s use of ancient myth is integral to a celebration of human life as transformed by the power of the human imagination”—so his conscious deployment of myth is a means of manifesting the unconscious already everywhere in the world.[51] Part of this effort, Bell contends, is to bring Dublin “disinterestedly into being”; as we will see, Ford and Tyler similarly bring a queer world into being without subjectively qualifying that world on any moral basis.[52] While I do not wish to suggest that The Young and Evil imitates or achieves the same goals as Ulysses—the American ban on which was lifted in 1933—Bell’s claims about the latter are salient for the former insofar as The Young and Evil invokes Joyce not only formally (as in chapter 9’s catechism) but by bearing fictional (and historically incorrect) witness to his death (Y, 202). A parallel worth bearing in mind, then, is that, since Joyce envisions the universal (western consciousness) via the particular (Dublin), not at the expense of either (Irish politics figures largely in his project), and since myth generically functions when retold and reconceived, Ford and Tyler may well envision their novel as carrying Joyce’s torch, retelling a universal myth through an ethnic lens.[53]

Part of this retelling involves Ford and Tyler’s departure from dominant modernist myth-makers’ relationships to personality and time. Peter Nicholls characterizes Joyce’s late work, for example, as attempting “to avoid a narcissistic individualism by restoring art to the public sphere.”[54] Informed by modernist theories of impersonality, this stance holds that most literary representations of subjective consciousness exclude the public—and not only the contemporary public but the universal, atemporal public manifested in tradition and history. The impersonal thus functions as the ideal medium for accessing history in either its temporal or atemporal manifestations, a view that extends from T. S. Eliot’s assertion in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) that “the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”[55] This claim echoes Tyler’s contention that the individual spirit, not the personality, is the conduit for mythic collectivity: literature arises, he says, “from the desire to differentiate the personal experience; the operation of the universal or ‘human community’ factor is automatic and concomitant, and is not present in isolatable integers.”[56] Ford and Tyler, however, like Joyce, simultaneously eschew the privilege that Eliot, in “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” places on the mythic past to devalue the present; likewise, they refuse myth as a means for returning to a primitive origin in the past.[57] Instead, Ford and Tyler incorporate the past (mythic allusions) into the present (Greenwich Village) to redeem, by fusing, both temporal zones.

This temporal blend resonates with many modernists’ concerns about the relation between art and life. Like Nietzsche, who, Bell notes, “assimilated the dualistic elements of life and art so completely that they ceased to be separably apparent,” which is “an important clue to the metaphysics of literary modernism at large,” Ford and Tyler see life as inextricably bound with art.[58] As voiced by his character Horace Zagreus in The Apes of God (1930), however, Wyndham Lewis maintains precisely the opposite position: “the real should not compete with creations of Fiction. There should be two worlds, not one.”[59] For Ford and Tyler, Lewis’s Schopenhauerian vision polarizes the very concepts that, in their view, create myth when fused. It is no surprise that Lewis includes homosexuality among “the child-cult, artistic amateurism,” and—the source of his central attack against Ulysses in Time and Western Man (1927)—“the time-cult” as modern trends that engage the subjective, the personal, at literature’s expense.[60] It is therefore equally unsurprising that Ford and Tyler critique Lewis in their novel when Julian remarks that Lewis “has no better word for the behavior of the organism than negative,” an objection that Julian raises in defense of Stein’s fusion of “writting” and “walking,” creating and being—activities which are, for these artists, “the same” (Y, 98).

IV. Surreal Desire

Unlike most Anglo-American modernists’, Ford and Tyler’s mythic vision emerges from their association with the surrealist movement. In 1940, Ford founded the surrealist magazine View, for which Tyler served as associate editor and to which André Breton—in spite of his public stance against homosexuality—conceded the demise of his own journal, VVV.[61] The writers’ interest in surrealism began much earlier, however: Tyler was fluent in Jean Cocteau during the twenties, and Ford’s time in Paris in the early thirties and his association with Stein, Barnes, and Pavel Tchelitchew (the latter two with whom he had relationships) provided him access to the surrealists, among other avant-garde groups.

Louis Aragon’s description of the surrealist aesthetic may best convey how The Young and Evil exhibits that movement’s philosophy. In Paris Peasant (1926), Aragon observes how, walking on the Passage de l’Opera, “the reality of the outside world and the subjectivism of the passage” fuse, a perceptual state that Aragon enjoins the reader to embrace: “let us pause in this strange zone where all is distraction, distraction of attention as well as of inattention, so as to experience this vertigo.” For it is in this state of epistemological vertigo that one can rend the “interior boundaries of [one]self” to gain “access to a hitherto forbidden realm that lies beyond [one’s] human energies.”[62] Surrealist vertigo is the zone between—at the nexus of—conscious and unconscious states, states of “attention as well as of inattention,” and it is notably a “realm” whose “forbidden” qualities connote the non-normative “human energies” of queerness.

“Vertigo” may in this sense be the most apposite term to denote the effect and affect of The Young and Evil, as is evident in chapter 7, “Napoleon and the Merry-Go-Round.” At the beginning of the chapter, Gabriel, who has just been abandoned by Louis, walks through Union Square Park. Gabriel is drunk, so the park feels to him like “a merrygo- round” where “people picked up their legs like racehorses”; it is a vertiginous urban center that “was turning so fast now that it made him dizzy” (Y, 81). After righting himself, Gabriel avoids the Union Square subway and walks to Theodosia’s apartment. On the way, he feels “something . . . pulling him up by the scalp” even as he remains grounded (Y, 82). Upon his arrival at Theo’s, these surrealistic gestures become most vertiginous. First, Gabriel sees Theo’s eye in the crack of the bathroom door:

Gabriel stopped with his lips apart and looked at the slit showing her one eye. He was silent and seemed to be impelled towards the thin horizontal shaft that had an eye at the top. He was running after it (through a tunnel) and the thing was on the end of a train leaving him running as hard as he could; in the darkness he stumbled, he was pitching forward and his face would be smashed; he was falling forward, he made no resistance and was shocked into consciousness like if an alarm clock had gone off. His eyes focused and it was Theodosia’s breathing close face that he saw. (Y, 83)

Here the subway trip that Gabriel consciously avoided manifests unconsciously in the vertiginous and eroticized terms of a “slit” and a “horizontal shaft that had an eye at the top,” which becomes a “train” in a “tunnel.” Theo’s room is now the merry-go-round, as Gabriel’s vertigo reorients a vertical shaft separating door from frame into a horizontal shaft beckoning him toward Theo. When he reaches Theo, Gabriel prepares to perform cunnilingus on her, but he is thwarted when he sees “a nude woman walk up behind him. She kicked his head off. He saw his head whirl brilliantly from his shoulders. His head was a bottle whirling in the sun. He could see the blood gushing from his headless trunk. It gushed like vomit.” This surrealistic vision of Gabriel’s projected feelings is prompted by his literally having projected vomit (presumably on Theo). Gabriel’s conscious activity thus catalyzes and fuses with unconscious activity—which is “shocked into consciousness”—to create a surreal vision that ends as would the most vertiginous ride on the merry-go-round of unrealizable desire (Y, 84).

The surrealist quality of such disorienting passages may derive from the fact that, as Ford records, The Young and Evil was written “roughly unconsciously enough to escape being officialized modernism.”[63] As Breton maintained, composing “roughly unconsciously,” or automatically, is central to the surrealist aesthetic: “automatism alone is the dispenser of the elements on which the secondary work of emotional amalgamation and passage from the unconscious to the preconscious can operate effectively.”[64] By the standards of this theory, Ford and Tyler may be said to have achieved a surrealist “emotional amalgamation” by writing their novel “unconsciously,” automatically, and then consciously revising it, as Ford did for a year in Paris. Rather than being the means by which the novel “escaped being officialized modernism,” automatic writing aligns The Young and Evil with surrealism’s official aesthetic philosophy.

Surrealism’s preoccupation with collapsing states of consciousness may have been attractive to Ford and Tyler because it offers an alternative to determinist models of literary realism and naturalism. As Nicholls describes, “For the Surrealists, the novel as a form is not flawed by description alone, but by a sense of determinism and fatality, by a species of logic which leaves us subservient to reality as it is.”[65] For queers, being “subservient to reality” was often literally, let alone metaphysically, fatal in the early twentieth century; surrealism provided Ford and Tyler the techniques to elude such subservience, at least aesthetically, with its conception of an unconscious that exceeds the limits of naturalist particularity. The Young and Evil’s queer roundelay represents a surreal version of the unconscious, which Breton describes as a promiscuous force that “refuses itself nothing,” that moves “from one object to another, never valorizing among the objects any but the last one.”[66] Considering Breton’s public stance against homosexuality, however, that Ford and Tyler use surrealist techniques to construct their queer vision also indicates how they seized the queer lacuna in official aesthetics to make modernist conceptions of myth new. Their novel may in this sense best represent the surrealist vision to “discove[r] objects which, because they have no clear use, offer a lifted horizon where we may read the promise of a shared will to change.”[67]

Ford and Tyler locate the queerest potential of surrealism in the movement’s focus on desire as a mediating force not only between consciousness and unconsciousness but also between life and death. The passage that invokes the text’s final title offers a salient example of this concept: almost in passing, Karel notices that Louis’s face, which “was dark, even morbid,” “attracted because it was evil and young” (Y, 49).[68] Expressing the surrealist theme that desire is bound with death, Karel’s “attraction” for Louis is based on the latter’s “morbid,” “evil,” and “young” qualities. In The Young and Evil, as an unnamed narrator states, “the macabre is not omitted from any universe” because the threat of death renders all desire, including the “young,” universally macabre and, therefore, unstable (Y, 161). Unfulfilled desire thus motivates the novel’s spatial plot and characters, as Julian notes of himself: “His blood he felt was many engines; his heart was chasing them” (108). The heart chases so promiscuously and so unteleologically, in fact, that the text’s diegesis elides sexual activity—what Tyler calls “mere transcribed orgy”—in favor of desirous interactions, from the banal to the bawdy (Y, 52, 162). Instead of actualizing sex, “whose shadow,” a narrator reports, “is death” (Y, 207), The Young and Evil envisions a world comprised almost wholly of desire.

The surreal proximity between desire and death constitutes, for this novel, the mythic grounds on which a queer community might exist. As Karel thinks, “The possibility of hate is all love needs to complete it. . . . Hatred and love at once raise love above earth” (Y, 195). When love acknowledges its own possible destruction in hatred, Karel thinks, then love becomes mythic, numinously “raise[d] above earth.” Karel extends this sentiment later when he asks “is [want] affection or some thing mystic?”—a question to which the novel answers “[b]oth” when Karel observes that “accident is that for which we are insufficiently prepared and inevitability is that for which we are even more insufficiently prepared. Louis has left me” (Y, 176–77). It would seem that Karel’s reference to “accident” here is his “affection” for Louis, his desire to unite with him, because “inevitability” refers to their union’s fracture; yet Karel ironically says that he is more unprepared for that inevitability than for the accident. Even though he knows that fracture is inevitable, Karel retains the myth that union will not break so that he can turn accidental “affection” into “something mystic”: “Both are divine Karel said accident and inevitability” (Y, 176), both the myth of affection and its real dissolution. Complementing its vertiginous logic, this epiphany ends in a surreal vision: “Birds of plumage screamed through the room” (Y, 177).

V. Ethnic American Folklore

For all its screaming “birds of plumage,” however, this passage still takes place, as most of the novel’s mythopoeic moments do, in locations like “the room,” here a particular apartment that Karel keeps in early twentieth-century Greenwich Village. As its opening paragraph establishes, The Young and Evil wants to document an ethnic community in which sexual desire attains a mythic status, so its most mythopoeic moments coexist with its most folkloric moments, those instances in which the novel historicizes itself and the community it portrays. Such communal descriptions locate the novel’s myth within a folkloric tradition, for, as Manton claims, myths that “seem to be merely of literary interest must once have had . . . a context”—a social, extra-literary context.[69] This emphasis on social context allows myth, according to Erich Fromm, to serve one’s “need to overcome [one’s] feeling of separateness,” the same “need” that, Nealon records, became acute to queers during this historical period.[70]

The novel enables the individual to overcome his or her “feeling of separateness” by depicting a universally queer world—one that, paradoxically, maintains a feeling of separateness as a criterion for inclusion within it. It is the falsehood, the practicable impossibility, of such a world that constitutes, in Ford and Tyler’s vision, the foundational reality of New York’s queer community at the turn of the century. The text aims to show, as Julian does, that “America is so Greek but doesn’t know it” (Y, 135)—where “Greek” is code for queer— and that “ninety-five percent of the world is just naturally queer” (Y, 159), and it does so by defeating all expectations of stable identity, individual or communal. As Boone argues, “Ford and Tyler’s goal is not simply that of replacing the traditional boy-meets-girl formula with an equally reductive boy-meets-boy plot.” Instead, the novel’s overall lack of plot notwithstanding, formations of desire in The Young and Evil are “queer in the contemporary sense”—they are so variously and non-hierarchically conceived that they destabilize binary fin-de-siècle configurations of sexuality.[71] As Julian remarks, blurring textual art and life, the “heart [is] a question mark” in this novel: desire is a queer question, not a stable period (Y, 137).

None of the text’s characters resists blurring sexual taxonomies, not even members of normative social institutions, including a magistrate (Y, 191), policemen, and doctors (Y, 41). That these figures transgress in the novel the very boundaries that they maintain in 1930s America is crucial to the novel’s anti-naturalist stance, since the threat of the normative social is otherwise felt throughout the text: parties are always close-curtained (Y, 33); Louis, Karel, and Frederick are arrested (Y, 41, 186); and Gabriel, Karel, and Frederick are attacked by gangsters and sailors (Y, 46, 182). Indeed, in the world of The Young and Evil, “Something is always threatening trade,” as Julian campily quips, where “trade” is code for prostitution (Y, 39).

Ford and Tyler ameliorate this threat by mythologizing the New York queer community, converting the threat of violence into the resource for a desire that never reaches its aims. Chapter 11’s drag ball exemplifies how the novel mythologizes the historical queer community of 1930’s New York, for its “dancefloor was a scene of celestial flavor and cerulean coloring no angelic painter or nectarish poet has ever conceived” (Y, 152). “Lit up like high mass” (Y, 152), the drag ball, a regionally ethnic event in modernist New York, offers a transcendent locale that, once concluded, looks like “the garden of Eden” after the Fall (Y, 168). The chapter contains a poetically lineated passage whose lines begin and end with phrases that connect them to contiguous lines but that fracture any logical connection among the lines’ speakers or their sentiments:

confessed his love for a man so I didn’t stand up and wave the flag I just sat there you know me Mabel and
smiled Mr. Schubert get OFF my face I can’t see the CONtract the wine came up and he looked at my intellect so often go
out of the way of a big truck and put my hand over my cunt like this just too bad isn’t it buttercup scalps (Y, 158)

At the level of external action, as Christopher Looby contends, such lines depict how “interested glances are skipping promiscuously from person to person” on the dance floor and perhaps even mimic “the acoustic effect of turning abruptly in relation to another moving dancer’s utterance and hearing it first in one ear and then in the other.”[72] At the level of internal action, however, the passage’s resemblance to stream-of-consciousness narration but lack of a single narratorial “I” also converts such sensorial information into a collective stream-ofconsciousness, offering arguably the most unifying collective moment in the novel. A utopian vision of what might constitute a queer community, the drag ball is a mythic event that unifies a variegated population, even as its conclusion, like that of the Edenic Fall, will mark that community’s dissolution.

In Ford and Tyler’s historiography, then, the myth of a queer community founds the very real Greenwich Village community that formed around the criterion of sexual difference in the early twentieth century. Ford claimed, after all, that “nothing is invented” in the novel, a statement that highlights the text’s self-historicizing impulse.[73] Part of that impulse is purely geographical because, as one narrator says, books “about the Village . . . are bound to be ninety percent / lies” (Y, 157). Specific addresses of the neighborhood’s gay meeting places accordingly abound, offering a cartography that locates folklorically the environment in which the text’s myth is born. To some scholars, this dual function actually reproduces the historical status of the two regions in which Ford and Tyler wrote The Young and Evil: Greenwich Village and the Left Bank, arguably the first coherent and self-identifying queer communities in western civilization.[74] For while those communities were sites of what, for this essay, constitutes the “particular”—the sexually non-normative—they were more precisely defined, according to Jamake Highwater, as “artistic ghettos” where “the basis of commonality was neither linguistic or ethnic” but “based on difference.”[75]

Representative of how the novel shuttles between the historical particularity of Greenwich Village and the mythic universality of the sexual-aesthetic, this conflation of the queer with the artistic via the broad category of “difference” enables the novel’s myth to include— indeed to centralize—the queer within communal myth by simultaneously transcending such particular focus under the auspices of the aesthetic. Highwater’s concept of the “artistic ghetto” coincides, after all, with how The Young and Evil and, indeed, a generation of queer texts depict everyday life, sexuality, and art as inextricably bound. Writing during the ascendance of psychology and anthropology—two disciplines that sought to correlate the individual and the community through quasi-scientific means—Ford and Tyler join a group of queer writers at the turn of the century who were attempting to, in Chauncey’s words, “create gay histories,” or historical communities within which they could locate themselves, even if it meant telling the anachronistic and mythopoeic “lie” about “sexuality” as a transhistorical phenomenon.[76]

Suggested by this anachronism, the most striking feature of Ford and Tyler’s historiography is its literary rather than positivist nature. In keeping with Heather Love’s claim that “the inventiveness of a whole range of queer historical practices might be understood as a result of the paired necessities of having ‘to fight for it’ and to ‘make it up,’” many early-twentieth-century queers attempted to discover a lineage of “homosexual” writers in literary history so as to place themselves within “an honorable tradition.”[77] Writing against the heteronormative tradition of American folklore, such writers create what could be called a mythopoeic historiography, one that claims its historical falsehoods (Shakespeare was not, Michel Foucault’s constructionist legacy has taught us, homosexual) as foundational for the formation of twentieth-century queer communities. Because gays found themselves unrepresented in “the family-centered oral traditions available to other disenfranchised groups,” they created literary histories that would represent their lives, often through “individual and idiosyncratic readings of texts” and through the creation of gay argot, which Chauncey argues “fostered their sense of collective identity” and “allowed men to see themselves as participants in the dominant culture by enabling them to see themselves in the interstices of that culture.”[78]

The Young and Evil’s ethnic argot most notably includes campy, bawdy humor in the form of double entendre. In response to Louis’s request for a cigarette, for instance, the text reads, “Have one Julian said offering his package. Have something to eat” (Y, 31), where “package” refers to much more than Julian’s cigarette case, and the “something” to eat connotes phallic food, like the hot dogs and bananas Karel and Julian have just consumed (Y, 28). Such coded humor may seem to be the stuff of folklore, not myth, but the accumulated effect of this double-talk is to evoke the dichotomy between states of consciousness integral to the novel’s surrealist vision: operating on two semantic levels, code, pun, and double entendre may be said to work first on the level of folklore but second on the level of myth. When Julian asks “what is divine besides slang,” accordingly, he suggests that slang is literally a medium for accessing the divine (Y, 134).

As a folkloric document composed in the style of the mythical method, then, The Young and Evil marks a crucial queer turning point for American modernism: it establishes a historically inchoate tradition of gay folklore, creates a new queer (rather than specifically gay) myth for that folklore, and inserts itself into the dominant folklore of modernist literature. For Ford and Tyler, folklore must be mythic because history is itself a myth, as Tyler claimed of Pound’s early Cantos: “[I] am inclined to doubt efficacy of your idiom as HISTORY,” he says, for “the best parts Ive seen are always those which depend least for meaning upon the strictly contemp. frame.”[79] Tyler suggests that the queer modernist need to “feel historical,” as Nealon says, manifested itself not only as a queer need for personal and ethnic history but as a modernist need for universal history, one accessed in this novel through the conduit of queer desire.[80]

The Young and Evil also marks a historical turning point for queer literature because it diverges in style and subject from most other gay-themed American novels in the thirties, the majority of which ended with the queer protagonist’s ignominious death, a formal trait that Chauncey associates with writers’ desires to placate potential censors.[81] Ford and Tyler’s novel does not end with the protagonist’s death (in part because it has no protagonist), however, nor does it bow to convention to avoid censorship. Circumnavigating those heteronormative pressures, just as Joyce did with Ulysses, the authors had the book published by the Obelisk Press in Paris. The publication and partial creation of the novel in Paris’ queer community (perhaps more developed than any in New York) indicates how Ford and Tyler distinguished themselves from other queer American writers even as they attempted to represent those writers’ communities through a transnational vision. In doing so, they establish a tradition of queer mythopoeia that a range of late twentieth-century British and American texts including Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) and Gil Cuadros’s City of God (1994) recognize, modify, and retell themselves.[82]

From its narrative outset, The Young and Evil invites such folkloric transmission. Just after being immersed in the “strange” (and strangely familiar, or “common”) world of the Round Table, Karel is beckoned by a “nice fat old bullfrog” who “had a fresh cup of tea to offer Karel.” At the bullfrog’s request, Karel then “repeat[s] an old nursery rhyme he learned as a child,” retelling a common myth in a strange locale (Y, 11). Recalling the animal-populated tea party in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice in Wonderland (Louis and Karel’s names indeed recall that text’s author), Ford and Tyler refashion popular fairytale tropes with gay code: the bullfrog, akin to the “horrid ogre” that Karel later encounters (Y, 13), might be a “troll” (itself a mythological reference), or an unattractive gay man, and the “tea” (a reference to “tea rooms,” or restrooms in which gay men have sex) is likely a sexual advance, if not its product. The novel’s first page thus thematizes and structuralizes the necessity to tell, remake, and retell popular, universal myths for the benefit of a particular community’s folkloric tradition.

Self-consciously modernist, Ford and Tyler seem to cry “MAKE IT NEW” throughout such passages, but they make Pound’s cry coyer and queerer: “Won’t you join our table? they said in sweet chorus.” Requesting recognition of the queer community’s “table”—which is, to its authors, simultaneously modernism’s—The Young and Evil “makes new” the often heteronormative ends to which Eliot’s “mythical method” was put. If modernism was dominated, as Tyler claimed, by writers “who arent MEN enough to be FAIRIES,” Ford and Tyler wrote like fairies, or queers whose historical moniker reverberates mythically.[83] In doing so, Ford and Tyler offer a “sweet” invitation to their modernist peers and to modernist scholars alike to sit at their table and to wonder whether the line between the strange and the common in American modernism isn’t much thinner than they’ve recognized.[84]

* ELH 76, 2009, pp. 1087-1099. The Johns Hopkins University Press.


[46] See Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey (New York: Basic Books, 1962), 6, wherein Freud describes homosexuals as inverts, pace Havelock Ellis. Freud’s position on homosexuality is notoriously ambiguous: while he does break from nineteenth-century sexology in his claim that “inverts cannot be regarded as degenerate” (4), for instance, he still assumes that an invert’s self-loathing indicates the possibility and need for “being influenced by suggestion or psycho-analysis” (3n)—that is, cured—without questioning the social pressures that might produce such loathing. While Freud might share some good will about queer sexuality with Ford and Tyler, then, his vision is restricted by the etiological and normalizing aspects of his psychoanalytic project. For further information about Freud and myth, see Bell’s cogent analysis of Freud’s mythopoeic retelling of Oedipus in Literature, 17.
[47] Herd, 63. Ford seems all too aware of the risks of attempting to create myths consciously: in his diary, he criticizes Genet for this very habit. See Ford, Water From a Bucket: A Diary 1948–1957 (New York: Turtle Point Press, 2001), 61.
[48] Boone notes that the Doll’s House was a “gay speakeasy” in modernist New York (256), but the text’s references to the Doll’s House are also biographically derived: as Ford records in his diary, the “Doll House” was, in his youth, “originally a kind of playhouse built for children” but in which Ford and his friend Tim would have sex (5–6). The novel’s Doll House is a folkloric reference to a gay bar, then, and a central symbol in Ford’s sexual biography, a heteronormative toy that he and his friend refashioned for the purposes of queer pleasure.
[49] Tyler later made this necessity to refashion classical myths central to The Granite Butterfly: “The ‘realistic’ narratives involved in this poem become original mythopoeic thought automatically using classic-myth labels as easy indices . . . (imaginative cardindex system?)” (74). Tyler reiterates this thought in a letter to Robert Graves, describing the poem as “a personal revival of myth, not in order to reinforce the Classical form of the Medusa and Oedipus legends” but “to convert them to my own uses because I identified certain dominant experiences in my life with these two Classical figures, and yet, so doing, to revaluate the poetic, or basic, meaning of those figures” (136). See Barnes’s Nightwood, ed. Cheryl J. Plumb (Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995) for further examination of the relationship between queerness and the figure of the doll (118, 123) and, incidentally, Little Red Riding Hood (69).
[50] Bell, Literature, 69.
[51] Bell, Primitivism (London: Methuen & Co., 1972), 47.
[52] Bell, Literature, 87.
[53] See Manton, 15. In his Modernisms (Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1995), Peter Nicholls describes Ulysses’ “major narrative form [as being] taken from Homer’s Odyssey and supplemented by a wealth of internal correspondences and codes” (254), the kind of structure, I am arguing, on which The Young and Evil is based: pre-established mythic frameworks are modified—and thus expanded into new myths—via coded language and narrative spatialization.
[54] Nicholls, 251.
[55] Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose, 40.
[56] Tyler to Pound, 29 January 1933, Pound Papers, Box 53, Folder 2399. In the novel, Karel delivers a political speech that conveys a similar sentiment. See The Young and Evil, 264–65.
[57] Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” 177–78.
[58] Bell, Literature, 24.
[59] Wyndham Lewis, The Apes of God, ed. Paul Edwards (Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1981), 253.
[60] Nicholls, 262.
[61] See Steven Watson, “Introduction” in Ford and Tyler’s The Young and Evil, xxii-iii (my pagination).
[62] Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant, trans. Simon Watson-Taylor (London: Picador, 1980), 101.
[63] Watson, “Introduction,” ii.
[64] Andre Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1972), 230. Again, this fusion of unconscious and conscious literary techniques resembles Joyce’s aesthetic in Ulysses. As Bell describes it, “Although the techniques are highly self-conscious, their meaning is not directly stated, and the potentially philosophical questions embodied in the successive narrative techniques remain precisely that, embodied, and are resistant to any systematic discursive account” (Literature, 69).
[65] Nicholls, 284.
[66] Breton, Communicating Vessels, trans. Mary Ann Caws and Geoffrey T. Harris (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Pres, 1990), 287.
[67] Nicholls, 289, emphasis mine. For further examination of the relationship between surrealism and myth, see Northrop Frye’s Reading the World: Selected Writings, 1935–1976, ed. Robert D. Denham (New York: Peter Lang, 1990) and Herbert S. Gershman’s “Surrealism: Myth and Reality” in Myth and Symbol: Critical Approaches and Applications, ed. Bernice Slote (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1963), 51–60.
[68] Tyler describes his vision of evil in Nietzschean terms: to him, evil indicates “whoever rejects labels and methods and systems, even nominal rights and privileges, in order to uncompromisingly create its own individual good” (Watson, i). Coupled with Djuna Barnes’s evaluation of the novel as rejecting conventional morality—“their unresolved acceptance of any happening is both evil and ‘pure’ in the sense that it is unconscious” (quoted in Watson, i) —Tyler’s idea that evil denotes that which falls outside the realm of morality echoes the text’s queer, or antinormative, aesthetic and metaphysic.
[69] Manton, 12.
[70] Quoted in Manton, 13. However, during the 1950s—the most popular decade for both mythopoeic and New Critical scholarship—many scholars dismissed the idea that historical context was relevant to mythic texts. See Lucente, 32.
[71] Boone, 253.
[72] Looby, 442–43.
[73] Watson, iii.
[74] See Highwater, 169.
[75] Highwater, 170.
[76] Chauncey, 283. For just a handful of modernist examples of such projects, see John Addington Symonds’s sexological treatises A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883) and A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891); Edward Carpenter’s anthology Ioläus (1908); and Blair Niles’s Strange Brother (1931).
[77] Love, 130; Chauncey, 284.
[78] Chauncey, 283, 287.
[79] Tyler to Pound, 12 February 1934, Pound Papers, Box 53, Folder 2400.
[80] Nealon, 8. This discussion accords with Michael Pina’s contention that “history has become the supreme myth of the modern age,” though it deviates from Pina’s pessimistic conclusion that this is in practice “the myth of no myth” (“The Archaic, Historical and Mythicized Dimensions of Aztlán,” in Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco A. Lomelí [Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1991], 44, 28). Ford and Tyler acknowledge that the secular belief in history as a discourse of truth constitutes a new source of mythopoeic thought in the twentieth century, and they accordingly practice historiography as mythopoeia: they tell lies about history, especially about the transhistorical nature of sexuality, in order to create the grounds for new forms of belief.
[81] Chauncey, 324–25. See James Levin’s The Gay Novel in America (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991), esp. 36, for an analysis of how The Young and Evil diverges from gay novels in this period.
[82] Boone remarks that, historically, the queer vision of The Young and Evil had little political or social efficacy. He singles out Karel’s privileging of the individual spirit over the material masses and argues that it is indicative of “the failure of the sexually fluid alliances arising in interwar New York City” to create a coherent political vision such that queers “lacked any organized or conscious sexual politics beyond the politics of pleasure or the politics of art” (Boone, 265). This claim highlights the paradoxical nature of the queer community—that it is a group only insofar as it is fractured—and how mythology might best imagine that paradoxical construction in literature. Although Karel’s stance may not function for a stable political group, it constitutes, if this novel’s folklore is to be believed, the ground of a real historical group’s founding mythology. For a mythic text like The Young and Evil, the focus is always, Boone says, “in the present-tense, lived experience of daily world-making” (265); in that sense, the novel’s myth succeeds every time it is read and worlds are thereby remade on a “daily,” if not permanent, basis.
[83] Tyler to Pound, 25 February 1933, Pound Papers, Box 53, Folder 2399.
[84] In his much-contested A Place at the Table (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Bruce Bawer writes that contemporary gays and lesbians must choose between little (ethnic) and big (universal) tables of cultural orientation, and he argues that they should choose the latter: “Certainly most homosexuals don’t want to be relegated to that little table. We grew up at the big table: we’re at home there. We want to stay there” (70). Unlike Bawer’s assimilationist and dualistic position, Ford and Tyler’s “invitation” suggests that the little table of American modernism was its big table: the two collapse into one simultaneously ethnic and universal vision of queer modernism.