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Same OldQueer Theory, Literature and the Politics of Sameness$
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Ben Nichols

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526132833

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526132840

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(p.39) 1 Useless
(p.iii) Same old

Ben Nichols

Manchester University Press

This chapter examines the place of uselessness in the history of queer representation by looking back to the moment of fin-de-siècle aestheticism. Whilst usefulness has been associated rhetorically with difference (legible most clearly in the idiomatic rendering of usefulness as 'making a difference'), this chapter explores how queers have been associated with sameness in the form of a perceived ineffectiveness that, rather than making a difference, tends to leave things the same. In particular, it addresses two aesthete protagonists from the novels of Henry James: Rowland Mallet in Roderick Hudson (1875) and Gabriel Nash in The Tragic Muse (1890). The chapter argues that the particular brand of aestheticism they embody (more attached to 'theory' than anything else) throws into relief some of the commitments of contemporary scholarship that has focused on queer failure and backwardness. Situated in a history in which queer theory itself has been subject to charges of uselessness from scholars apparently better attuned to the materialities of lived experience, Rowland and Gabriel serve to flag up a longer history of intimate connection between queers and uselessness.

Keywords:   Henry James, uselessness, aestheticism, queer failure

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