Overcoming the Threat of Anachronism

In “Epistemology of the Closet”, Eve Sedgewick put forward these questions:

“Has there ever been a gay Socrates?

Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare?

Has there ever been a gay Proust?”

She follows with her own answer: “not only have there been a gay Socrates, Shakespeare, and Proust but … their names are Socrates, Shakespeare, Proust.” The suggestion is that the gay readings of texts akin to those in the canon must be the gay readings of the texts that are in the canon. This I want to broaden to any queer reading, gay, lesbian, transgender, nonbinary, and so on. The only way to find readings useful to this community in the canon is to find them in the texts already in the canon, as it is unlikely—well, I might as well say what I mean, impossible—that we will dig up any comparable texts from the same traditions and give them the historical prominence of these ones any time in the near or far future. Queer readers must be allowed queer readings to keep a canon useful to them, and as the world moves ever onward, the canon remains only useful to us so long as we find the relevance of our world in them, and if this is by necessity anachronistic, then so be it, but I really don’t think it is.

Readings biased toward queerness may be a necessary balance to a plethora of readings biased toward heteronormativity. The proposal of an unbiased reading of any canon text producing the true sexual orientation and gender identity of the players is at best overly optimistic (and at worst intentionally ignorant) in a hetero- and cis-normative world.

I’m picking Chaucer here mainly because he’s my man and I’m writing a thesis on him (whoops, I’m showing you my biases). If I want a gay Chaucer, a queer Chaucer, a nonbinary Chaucer, or a Chaucer who thinks gender is Fake and Not Real™, then I’m going to get him, and if these are anachronisms I have news for you: the idea of a heterosexual, cisgender Chaucer is just as anachronistic, because those categories do not exist until they exist to overpower the minority group. But you don’t hear anyone complaining about heterosexual, cisgender readings of Chaucer, do you? No, you don’t even hear them called heterosexual, cisgender readings, those ones are just called “readings”.