The Journey of the Queer 'I': Spirituality and subjectivity in life narratives by gay men.

Marsh, Victor (2007). The Journey of the Queer 'I': Spirituality and subjectivity in life narratives by gay men. PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland.

       
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Author Marsh, Victor
Thesis Title The Journey of the Queer 'I': Spirituality and subjectivity in life narratives by gay men.
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Abstract/Summary As represented by conservative religious discourse, homosexuality is often constructed as mutually opposed to spirituality, but in this project I suggest how marginalised subjectivities might be liberated from toxic, homophobic discourses by seeking out transformational tools from other traditions that open alternative pathways for recovering differently ordered senses of being and becoming. I develop the notion of self as a constructed narrative and examine the extent to which the emerging genre of gay spiritual autobiography in particular takes up the projects of renarrativising the self and disrupting authorized versions of male identity, spirituality and sexuality. I examine this both through my own memoir writing and a re-examination, long overdue, of the work of Christopher Isherwood, a precursor in the genre, to delineate how the positioning of self is re-negotiated in gay spiritual autobiography. Asking: Who is a 'homosexual' when he is not having sex, I take up the issue of spirituality in relation to gay identity formation. In Foucault's analysis, 'in the space of a few centuries, a certain inclination has led us to direct the question of what we are, to sex' (Foucault 1978:78). I have to question what has been occluded by the practice of seeing things only through that lens, what other knowledge sources denied. There is a great deal of evidence that many gay men have active spiritual lives, but rather than following arguments developed by others for uniquely queer forms of spirituality, I suggest how the experience of marginalisation can precipitate a search for an 'authentic' selfhood which marks the beginning of spiritual inquiry, as I define it. For the purposes of my discussion I separate the term 'spirituality' from 'religion'. I see the term 'religion' as referring to a sociological phenomenon, entailing inclusion in ⁄ exclusion from socially and politically valorised faith communities. I follow an Eastern model to deploy a usage of 'spirituality' as concerned particularly with a searching enquiry into the nature of being. I pick up on the post-structuralist analysis of a de-centred self and follow the lead of Stephen Batchelor, Peter Conradi and others to show how other spiritual traditions - notably Buddhism and the non-dualist Advaita tradition of Vedanta - are very familiar with this notion of a de-centred personal identification. In contrast with the Western therapeutic pursuit of a functioning, discrete 'self, spiritual practice in the East is often concerned to demonstrate the illusory nature of this construction, repositioning the small 's' personal self within a more broadly-based context ('Self, 'Ground of Being', 'Tao', etc.) In my own memoir, The Boy in the Yellow Dress, I trace a narrative journey into and out of shame. Confronted with a ready-made, marginalised identity shaped by hostile discourses emanating from Family, Medicine, the Church, and the Law, a sissy boy struggles to recover the lost parts of self. With the help spiritual practices taught by a young guru he is able to reclaim a subjective positioning which heals his alienation and re-aligns him into a continuity of being with all that is. In the exegesis (titled: "Searching for the 'Home Self: The Narrativisation of Subjectivity in Christopher Isherwood's life writing"), I have chosen to focus on the narrative repositioning of the self in texts by BritishIAmerican writer Christopher Isherwood as exemplary of a range of issues surrounding the question of gay spirituality. In the process, I go some way towards recuperating parts of Isherwood's work which are mostly ignored or seriously misunderstood. Isherwood's encounter with a guru figure from the non-dualistic tradition of Advaita Vedanta, his study of key texts in that tradition, and his continuous practice of meditation over several decades, allowed him to re-position and integrate his sexuality with his creative and spiritual life. The various autobiographical texts that are the literary analogue of his journey, record a history of multiple displacements and reveal a subjectivity which is constructed, performative and in process.

 
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