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Dead Letters Sent

Queer Literary Transmission


Kevin Ohi

Dead Letters Sent

Proposes a new model of literary transmission and tradition

By exploring how transmission of a minority sexual culture is intertwined with the queer potential of literary and cultural transmission, Dead Letters Sent builds a persuasive argument for the relevance of queer criticism to literary study.

Literary texts that address tradition and the transmission of knowledge often seem concerned less with preservation than with loss, recurrently describing scenarios of what author Kevin Ohi terms “thwarted transmission.” Such scenes, however, do not so much concede the impossibility of survival as look into what constitutes literary knowledge and whether it can properly be said to be an object to be transmitted, preserved, or lost.

Beginning with general questions of transmission—the conveying of knowledge in pedagogy, the transmission and material preservation of texts and forms of knowledge, and even the impalpable communication between text and reader—Dead Letters Sent examines two senses of “queer transmission.” First, it studies the transmission of a minority sexual culture, of queer ways of life and the specialized knowledges they foster. Second, it examines the queer potential of literary and cultural transmission, the queerness that is sheltered within tradition. By exploring how these two senses are intertwined, it builds a persuasive argument for the relevance of queer criticism to literary study. Its detailed attention to works by Plato, Shakespeare, Swinburne, Pater, Wilde, James, and Faulkner seeks to formulate a practice of reading adequate to the queerness Ohi’s book uncovers within the literary tradition.

Ohi identifies a radical new future for both queer theory and close reading: the possibility that each might exceed itself in merging with the other, creating a queer theory of literary tradition immanent in an immersed practice of reading.

Dead Letters Sent

Kevin Ohi is professor of English at Boston College and the author of Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov and Henry James and the Queerness of Style (Minnesota, 2011).

Dead Letters Sent


Part I
1. Queer Transmission and the Symposium: Insult, Gay Suicide, and the Staggered Temporalities of Consciousness
2. Forgetting The Tempest
Part II
3. Tradition in Fragments: Swinburne’s “Anactoria”
4. Queer Atavism and Pater’s Aesthetic Sensibility: “Hippolytus Veiled” and “The Child in the House”
Part III
5. “That Strange Mimicry of Life by the Living”: Queer Reading in Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.”
6. Erotic Bafflement and the Lesson of Oscar Wilde: De Profundis
Part IV
7. Lessons of the Master: Henry James’s Queer Pedagogy
8. The Beast’s Storied End
Part V
9. “My Spirit’s Posthumeity” and the Sleeper’s Outflung Hand: Queer Transmission in Absalom, Absalom!
10. “Vanished but Not Gone, Fixed and Held in the Annealing Dust”: Initiations and Endings in Go Down, Moses