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Claudine Raynaud

Postscript Looking for Langston: Dream, Desire, Deferral

Claudine Raynaud

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  • 2 Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston, (1989) 45 minutes, distributed by the British Film Institute, L (...)
  • 3 See, for instance, critic Greg Tate's opinion: "What Julien has called a film meditation on the poe (...)
  • 4 Bell hooks ventures that "the refusal to disclose is also attributable to the fact that "transgress (...)
  • 5 On the historical obfuscation of gay and lesbian communities, see Duberman et al., 1989; Chauncey, (...)
  • 6 For an analysis of feminism, sexuality and the cinema, see Rose, 1986. An exploration of the theore (...)

1Looking for Langston, by black British filmmaker Isaac Julien was shown at the Studio Cinema in Tours during the 1995 conference "Sexualités aux Etats Unis: expression et répression."2 Critics have repeatedly dismissed this short (45 mns) black and white film, stating that it is not about Langston Hughes (1902-1967). They are right. The celebrated poet and writer whose poems are recited by generations of African-American schoolchildren, whose social and revolutionary poetry heralds the cause of the dark race, the playwright who has authored at least thirty plays, is not the subject of the film.3 Looking for Langston is a longing for Langston Hughes's homoerotic desire. It is a quest, a melancholy and inconclusive search for a Langston Hughes whom the director tracks in a reconstructed — imaginary — homosexual community of postwar Harlem. It is a reflection on intimacy and secrecy: the intimacy of one's sexual longing for another being and the secret inherent in that desire.4 It is consequently a mirroring study in censorship: censorship of one's sexual preference, self-censorship (repressed, expressed, sublimated desire), the censorship of history, as well as the violence of societal repression.5 Freud's concept of fantasy, in so far as it is linked to specularity and to the forbidden, could thus be a multifaceted point of entry into this cinematic montage. For Looking for Langston ceaselessly cites other artistic media, among them photography, and plays with the visual in its complex relationship to the sexual and the textual.6

  • 7 As such, Julien's cinematic approach parallels Toni Morisson's novelistic technique where both refe (...)

2Why would a young British black homosexual artist go back to the Harlem Renaissance? Henry Louis Gates accurately describes Julien's approach as "archeological" (Gates, 1992, 26). It features indeed images from Harlem Renaissance artists and writers such as sculptor Richmond Barthé or Alain Locke in front of a painting by Palmer Hayden, fittingly entitled "Fétiche et Fleurs" (1926). These archives belong to collective memory but are appropriated by Julien in a deeply personal effort to create links between the Harlem literati and himself. The discrepancy that the viewer notices between the reconstructed past and the "usable past" is willed by the artist.7 The private search produces a film in the shape of a troubled reverie, an interrogation on daydream and desire. According to Freud, fantasy links three temporal sequences: the past which provides the wish itself from the earliest childhood experiences; the present which offers the immediate context; and the future in which the dreamer imagines a new situation which represents the fulfillment of the wish. Looking for Langston can be said to attempt to establish a correspondence with these three psychic moments once translated to the level of the "collective" psyche: the "past" is the historical archival material, the medium which is re-processed in the present, the late eighties (for instance, house music is played at the end of the film as the police break into the ironically-named speakeasy) in order to prepare for the advent of a future.

3The historical reality hinted at by Julien's film can be best evaluated by looking at George Chauncey's highly documented study, Gay New York: Gender Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940. Chauncey dedicates a long section of his book to the presence and visibility of male homosexuality in Harlem in the twenties (Chauncey, 1994, 244-267). The film, however, squarely eschews the realism of a documentary, refuses to transform Langston Hughes into an icon of black homosexual culture, and ponders precisely the risk of the disclosure of a closeted secret. In his analysis, Kobena Mercer explains that while "Hughes is remembered as a populist public figure, the enigma of his private life — his sexuality — is better left unsaid in most biographies, thus the possibility of his homosexuality is routinely consigned to the 'closet' of black collective memory" (Mercer, 1994, 223).

  • 8 Langston Hughes, 1940. The Big Sea: An Autobiography, New York: Hill and Wang. Hereafter cited pare (...)

4That Harlem had "speakeasies where men danced together and drag queens were regular customers" (Chauncey, 1994, 244) is supported by Hughes's own account of balls, such as the annual Hamilton Club Lodge Ball, "where men dressed up as women and women dressed up as men" (BS, 273).8 Hughes dedicates a chapter of his autobiography to these "spectacles in color":

For the men, there is a fashion parade. Prizes are given to the most gorgeously gowned of the Negroes who, powdered, wigged, and rouged, mingle and compete for the awards.
From the boxes these men look for all the world like very pretty chorus girls parading across the raised platform in the center of the floor. But close up, most of them look as if they need a shave, and some of their evening gowns, cut too low, show hair on the chest. (BS, 273)

5Julien's film does not use these popular and highly publicized drag balls as a backdrop. The recreation of the speakeasy also stands in stark contrast to the house-rent parties Hughes evokes in The Big Sea:

Almost every Saturday night when I was in Harlem I went to a house party. I wrote lots of poems about house-rent parties, and ate there many a fried fish and pig's foot ae with liquid refreshment on the side. I met ladies' maids and truck drivers, laundry workers and shoe-shine boys, seamstresses and porters. I can still hear their laughter in my ears, hear the soft slow music and feel the floor shaking as the dancers danced. (BS, 233)

  • 9 The question of the black man's homosexuality in the face of the hyper-fetishization of the black m (...)

6As a black creative artist who has been open about his homosexuality, Julien interrogates past records which might comfort him in his own quest.9 The historical distance between the late eighties and the twenties, the outspokenness of the contemporary black artist as opposed to the secrecy of the black writer, are staged as a dialogue of correspondences, a search for affinities, or clues.

  • 10 In the summer of 1924, Locke came to see Hughes in Paris, which is reported in the chapter entitled (...)

7Julien's desire to salvage a certain transgression, some excess, from what has been handed down in a tamed, "authorized", censured form, can be illustrated by an anecdote, which shows how homosexuality as a theme was not shunned by the younger artists. In his autobiography, Hughes alludes to the founding of the magazine Fire!! by Thurman, Nugent, Hurston, and himself in an attempt to épater le bourgeois and to define an aesthetic space which would not be controlled by the Urban League (Opportunity) or the NAACP (The Crisis).10 The magazine was short-lived because of lack of funds, poor distribution, bad planning; it never went beyond one issue and ironically, several hundred copies were lost to a fire. One of the stories written by Bruce Nugent was in Hughes's words: "a green and purple story..., in the Oscar Wilde tradition" (BS, 237). Hemenway, Hurston's biographer, reports that in a deliberate attempt to challenge the Victorian morality of the older New Negro spokesmen two stories were written, one by Thurman on a prostitute, "Cordelia the Crude", another by Nugent. It was an elliptical monologue of a homosexual pondering his status, "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade":

Thurman announced to the staff that they now had to find something that would get the story banned in Boston....
They began thinking of 'what two things just would not take' and Thurman decided they would write about a streetwalker and a homosexual; after flipping a coin for the assignment the final two stories for the magazine were completed. (Hemenway, 1977, 48)

  • 11 Augustus Dill, the managing director of The Crisis, was fired by Du Bois for having been arrested f (...)
  • 12 Richard Bruce [Nugent], "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade, A Novel Part I," Fire!!: A Quarterly Devoted to t (...)

8This incident illustrates both the conformism of the leading members of the Harlem Renaissance (Du Bois, Locke) and the young artists' desire to shock, to assert their provocative aesthetic choices.11 It also points to the risks of dealing with such topics openly. Nugent signed the novel with a pseudonym.12

  • 13 The opposition black British artist/African American poet and history must also to be taken into ac (...)

9Whereas the film's fabric is a complex reflection on the processing of historical cultural memory, the narrative stages a markedly subjective representation of the character of Langston Hughes. As such, Looking for Langston might be said to explore the relationship between autobiographical material and creative impulse, between a willed, if not altogether ambivalent, repression of the private, and the construction of a literary career. It is as if the conscious building of an oeuvre, the emergence of a celebration of blackness and of the people, took place at the expense of a confessional mode which would take the artist's self as reference. While exploring censorship, the film thus leaves out what the reader, the critic, and the historian would expect to find: the public figure, the "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race", a term that Hughes might have invented for himself as his biographer Arnold Ramperstad states (in Vendler, 1987, 353). The historical material of the twenties is reworked as fragments of a lost, but retrievable self, the filmmaker's. The audience is ultimately watching a highly self-reflexive artistic statement by a gay black filmmaker who questions the relationship between his art and the representation of his desire at the same time as it evokes such a relationship in a not so distant period of black intellectual and artistic history.13

10The interweaving of archival imagery ("Black Manhattan") with a highly stylized recreation of Harlem nights gives the film the texture of a dream. This dream-effect constitutes a necessary displacement while contributing to a further confusion of the artifact with daydream.

Looking for Langston, Isaac Julien, 1988. Photo: Sunil Gupta.

  • 14 Lacan mocks Freud's analogy between artwork and daydream in Ethique de la Psychanalyse, 1986, 279. (...)

11According to Freud, who likened the work of art to daydreams, art-work cannot be compared to lived experience, but to imaginary productions destined to fulfill unspent desires (Freud, 1933, 69-81). The status of the film as daydream (and montage) enables the fulfillment of the fantasy, without inscribing it in the "real." The illusory fulfillment of fantasy which daydreaming provides stands in sharp contrast with Lacan's repeated assertion that "le rêve, ça montres": something is being shown by the images which constitute the dream or "it/id" shows (Lacan, 1973, 72).14 Social censorship and institutional moral repression echo personal psychic ambivalence.

Last night
I dreamt
This most strange dream,
And everywhere I saw
What did not seem could ever be

You were not there with me

Awake,
I turned

And touched you
Asleep,
Face to the wall
I said,
How dreams
Can lie!

But you were not there at all

  • 15 This dream echoes the blues quoted by Hughes in The Big Sea: "Did you ever dream lucky-/Wake up col (...)

("Dream," SP, 97)15

  • 16 Hughes called himself somewhat self-deprecatingly a 'documentary' poet (Rampersad in Vendler, 1987, (...)
  • 17 Julien, in an interview with Essex Hemphill in Black Film Review (quoted by hooks 1990,194).

12The oneiric quality of the film suits the fragile ambivalence of its subject-matter (loss and longing), the duplicity of fantasy which is both conscious and unconscious, and the logic of desire as the desire of desire. It provides a gauge for the interaction between fantasy and desire. The search for what has been left unsaid between the fragments, in the interstices of the period documents, in the pictures, or in what is left implicit in the Renaissance poems, is an attempt to ponder the measure of discretion.16 The evocation of an undocumented, hence lost, longing coincides with the gesture through which that yearning is conjured up. Indeed, Julien has stated that he attempts to "have desire exist in the construction of images and for the story telling to actually construct a narrative that would enable audiences to meditate and think rather than be told."17 The film turns the tables. What are we — the audience, the viewers —looking for? What are we looking at in these highly fetishized images of black male bodies? The place of the white female gaze is decidedly a puzzling one, when faced with the fantasy of black homoerotic desire.

  • 18 Or the voice of the mother who says: "I say I hope my chile'll/Never love a man./Cause love can hur (...)
  • 19 The search echoes the lines Hughes wrote on Walt Whitman to acknowledge his debt: "Old Walt Whitman (...)

13In Looking for Langston Julien plays with the scene of the impossible recounting of that homoerotic desire, its necessary obfuscation, and yet its deployment within the space of the gaze, its display within the staging of intimacy. As we watch the film, the images respond to the poems recited by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka, poems of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as more explicitly homosexual poems by Essex Hemphill (1992). By making the poems correspond to the theme of a hidden sexuality, the film alludes to the dis-placement of desire for the other man, its possible, yet not always predictable, masking in the female voice of the blues poems.18 The persona of the speaker, like that of the spectator, is mediated by the image which portrays the seeking.19 The interplay between text and image ultimately creates another reader of Hughes's poems, such as the following one entitled "Desire":

Desire to us
Was like a double death
Swift dying
Of our mingled breath
Evaporation
Of an unknown strange perfume
Between us quickly
In a naked
Room
("Desire," SP, 90)

14In the scenes of the film, the main two characters, Beauty (played by Mathew Baidoo) and Alex (played by Ben Ellison), the figure who stands in for "Langston Hughes", progress as in a dream. They look for each other, look at each other. At one point, the black male nude faces Alex, who is wearing a suit. The spectator is looking at "Langston" looking at "Beauty." He/she is looking at Alex's gaze and at Beauty's naked back. Alex does the seeking, the seeing, Beauty is the object of desire, stolen," "raptured" by the Black man's gaze. The meeting of their gazes, the exchange of looks, is masked by the nude back, hence invisible, beyond the field of vision.

  • 20 In one scene, a white character leisurely leafs through Mapplethorpe's Black Book.

15Quotations from Mapplethorpe highlight the iconization of the black male body, its eroticization in a white male homosexual gaze.20 They are an insistent reference from which the film effects a departure while interrogating the lingering power of these framed black bodies. In short they question the traces of the gaze as white in the homosexual encounter as well as the possibility of a different text which might tell another desire. What material can be used which has not already been used up, diverted, tainted, worn out? One central scene shows Alex and the black man named Beauty in a bar. Beauty's white partner is angered by Alex's looks, thus illustrating the triangulation of homosexual desire in a male racial context. The aesthetic choice of mixing memory, dream, and desire opens up the possibility of re-writing the fragmented, emblazoned body of the black man, once it is mediated by the black male gaze. The daydream of the entwined bodies of the lovers is followed by a close-up on the lips of the man portraying Beauty. Julien takes the risk of re-writing the stereotype of the "thick-lipped Negro" (Mercer, 1994, 210).

16Alex has been day dreaming his sexual encounter. Fantasy is "an imaginary scenario in which the subject figures, in a more or less deformed way, the fulfillment of his desire, which, in the last instance, is sexual" (Kristeva, 1997, 118). Interestingly, Freud relates fantasies ("fantasmes" in the plural) to one of the privileged examples of dreamwork and uses the metaphor of the mulatto to describe them:

  • 21 The German original reads:.. Man muss sie mit den Mischlingen menschlischer Rassen vergleichen, die (...)

One must compare [fantasies] to mixed bloods in the human races, who overall almost look like the Whites, but who, because of some striking feature or another, betray their colored origin and, because of that, remain excluded from society and enjoy none of their prerogatives of the Whites.
(Freud, 1915, 103, in Kristeva, 1997, 122)
21

17Fantasy as a mulatto could lead us to an analysis of the theme in Hughes's poetry which would exceed the scope of this paper. Yet the racial component of fantasy is framed in Julien's film by the homosexual triangle: white man, black partner, black rival. In its complex reflexivity — involving narcissism, desire, intertextuality and a technique which heightens self-echoes — Julien's film, because of its highly individual imprint, is akin to the "cinéma d'auteur" whose ambition it is to "think specularity" (Kristeva, 1997, 128). Kristeva insists that, whether it is seductive or threatening, specularity never stops celebrating identificatory uncertainties. Sexual difference means that men and women find their bearings differently in this knot of seduction and fear. Referring to filmmakers such as Hitchcock and Eisenstein, she adds: "The trial of sexual difference, as well as that of homosexuality, this clash of identities — impossible to the point of psychosis — are what filmmaking never stops giving to the eye (donner à voir)" (cf. Kristeva, 1997, 134-135):

At the intersection between a real objet and fantasy, the filmic image gives way to the identifiable (and nothing is more surely identifiable than the visible) what remains yonder identification: the drive as non-symbolized, not caught in the object, neither in sign nor in language or, to put it more bluntly, it gives way to aggressiveness. (Kristeva, 1997, 137)

  • 22 See Lacan's comment on Freud's example in Traumdeutung. The dream of the father who is awakened by (...)

18Unlike the photograph which gives the onlooker a "still" which, in Barthes's words, fights against the return of the dead (1980, 23), the film's progress mimics the very motion of desire, its tension, its unfulfillment, its yearning. The image re-presents; the motion picture in its rhythm coincides with a temporality necessary to longing and to daydreaming. Dreamwork, which goes on precisely to prevent the dreamer from waking up, is an analogy that might be pursued.22 Juliens cinematic technique shuns pornography, which would define the limits of fantasy, showing a preference for eroticism, which Barthes defines as follows:

  • 23 Barthes is commenting on Mapplethorpe's "Young Man with outstretched arm". Mapplethorpe's later pho (...)

In the erotic picture, the punctum is some sort of subtle exit outside of the field of vision, as if the image threw desire beyond what it gives to the eye: not only towards the "supplement" of nudity, not only towards the fantasy of an act, but toward the absolute essence of a being, soul and body mixed. (Barthes, 1980, 128)23

Langston Hughes, 1920, in Vendler, 1987, 354. Collection of American Literature The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

  • 24 See "Cross," SP, 158. See also "Mulatto," SP, 160; "Consider Me," SP, 286.
  • 25 See "Border Line," SP, 81 in the section entitled "Distance Nowhere." Cultural critic Stuart Hall p (...)
  • 26 Julien asserts: "If you are talking about black gay identity, you are talking about identities that (...)

19Julien's technique translates that photographic punctum into a dreamfulfillment, a filmed fantasy. The dream, in this case a daydream, is the "screen" between desire and reality, longing and enactment. As the film cites other — for the most part, Western homosexual — directors and writers, Jean Cocteau ("Beauty and the Beast"), Kenneth Anger (Fireworks, 1947), Derek Jarman (e. g. "Sebastiane"), Jean Genet ("Un chant d'amour," 1950), the borrowed materials constantly comment on each other. The poems enter into a tense but productive dialogue with the images, the archival images with the fictional daydream, the characters evolving on the screen with the photographs. They respond to each other in repeated reflections and endless mirroring effects, staging the very difficulty, the lure of "identification." Desire is mis en abyme: fantasy is conveyed on the silver "screen" in a medium which is itself a half-breed between fantasy and the real, the filmic image, which, in turn, alludes to photographs, themselves a "cross" between fantasy and reality, and other film footage.24 Added to these, the voice-overs and the music force the spectator into an immediate distancing from the traditional tropes of visualizing sexuality.25 The motion created by montage brings about an instant questioning of sexual "identity," as well as of "voyeurism" in the troubling dynamics of racial and sexual expectations.26

  • 27 The poem recited during this scene is Bruce Nugent's "Lilies and Jade."

20When the two bodies are finally fantasized entwined, asleep, the audience looks at a highly aesthetic "still," an erotic tableau of a lovers' embrace. (The image in fact reappropriates the photography by George Platt-Lynes.) The eroticism, the evanescence of desire, doubles up because the act has not been shown: it has taken place outside of the camera's eye.27 Unseen, it eschews pornography with its attendant derivations: fetishization, objectification, the obscene. It constructs a void, that of desire, while refusing to respond to the demand of the spectator's scopic drive. Unsurprisingly, Barthes links photography and dream in their always renewed tension towards an ungraspable "essence": "In front of photography, as in front of dream, it is the same effort, the same Sysyphian task of climbing tensed towards essence, of coming down without having contemplated it, and of beginning all over again" (Barthes, 1980, 104).

21The film unfolds the time of longing, speaks of longing as waiting. Death and desire mingle, mourning and melancholia echo each other. Loss, loneliness, abandon, despair, all recur in Hughes's poetry, most notably in his blues poems. The speaker of the Weary Blues, quoted in his eponymous poem, longs for death and for the sleep of the rocks:

I got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied
Got the Weary blues
And can't be satisfied
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died

  • 28 See "Fulfillment," SP, 63.

("The Weary Blues," SP, 33)28

22The following poem pictures death as change and survival:

Dear Lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing
Never to kill
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh...

Opportunity 8 (June 1930, 182)

23Death is metamorphosis, and a child, the speaker of yet another poem, waits for his mammy: "She is Death" (Fine Clothes to the Jew, 78). The first scene of the film stages loss as a funeral. Silent mourners, men and women, are gathered to re-collect, re-member. In the words of bell hooks', who quite pointedly links this ceremony to the Aids epidemic:

The funeral ceremony at the beginning of Looking for Langston, with its serene elegance and pomp, wordlessly lets us know that this passing is precious and should not be forgotten. (...) The homoerotic, homosexual desire that, like all sexual passions, culminates in the recognition of the possibility of loss, of dying, is both tragic and full of wonder. Death is no longer nightmare; it is an elegant transformative ritual, an occasion that demands, requires even, meaningful recognition and remembrance. During the funeral scene, the beloved who has been excluded, outcast, is collectively embraced, held in the arms of memory (hooks, 1990, 196).

  • 29 Although halls were held regularly until the late 1930s, after an initial effort to shut down clubs (...)

24Echoing this "homecoming" of loss as retrieval, the last scene stages police brutality as the speakeasy, where tuxedoed men dance and drink champagne, is raided; the place is found empty, the couples have left. The scene figures the most violent of all censorships, state repression, police brutality (it inevitably recalls Stonewall), which leads to silencing. The moral is clear: transgression does not lead to exposure, disclosure, but may be met with its failure, the vacuum of the scene one wishes to repress. The analogy with dreamwork remains relevant: the censorship of one's desire, the forbidden (here stigmatized by the "Prohibition" of the twenties) is dis-placed towards its destruction by the "representatives" of the moral order, the integration of the Law, the super-ego.29 The film is about transgression (hooks, 1990, 194; Mercer, 1994, 225); it is about repression and secrecy. The silent deserted room metonymically stands in for the shared and untold secret: "And death becomes/An empty cabaret/And eternity an unblown saxophone... " ("Sport," FC, 40).

  • 30 Dreams recur over and over again in Hughes's poetry (and prose). "The loss/Of the dream/Leaves noth (...)

25The film's make-up — modernist collage, citations of modern art from the Harlem Renaissance — strangely echoes the title of Hughes's later collection of poems, "Montage of Dream Deferred" (1951).30

What happens to a Dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load

Or does it explode?

("Harlem," SP, 268)

26Transgression might also reside in the incongruity, the incommensurability, of the collective dream, when juxtaposed to the private fantasy, the lyric voice. To the Dream of the Race, the prothetic vision of an end to oppression and exploitation, Julien has — temporarily, tentatively, counterpunctually — substituted the intimacy of erotic dreamwork, and thus questioned their interplay: "A dream within a dream/Our Dream deferred." ("Island," SP, 272). The elusive core of the film must be found in the openness and the ambivalence of the pursuit, in the redoubled reflexivity of a quest which questions its own drive, in the beyond of the limit of fantasy, this "handful of dream-dust Not for sale" ("Dream Dust," SP, 63). It rests in the "image-free" unrepresentable quality of desire: what stands outside of the field of vision: "hors-champ."

Bibliographie

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Notes

2 Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston, (1989) 45 minutes, distributed by the British Film Institute, London. Julien is the director of Territories (1984, with the Sankofa Collective), Remembrance (1986) and Young Soul Rebels (1991). This essay only offers guidelines for a more in-depth analysis.

3 See, for instance, critic Greg Tate's opinion: "What Julien has called a film meditation on the poet and writer Langston Hughes is more a collage about the historical conditions of being black, gay, silenced and incomprehensible" (Art Review Forum, in hooks, 1990, 194).

4 Bell hooks ventures that "the refusal to disclose is also attributable to the fact that "transgressive sexual practice is rooted in mystery, the flirtation between secrecy and disclosure.... Julien's film links Hughes to homosexual practice without letting go of this element of mystery" (hooks, 1990, 197).

5 On the historical obfuscation of gay and lesbian communities, see Duberman et al., 1989; Chauncey, 1994.

6 For an analysis of feminism, sexuality and the cinema, see Rose, 1986. An exploration of the theoretical stakes of homosexuality, film and psychoanalysis is elaborated in Queer Looks which, contrary to Mercer, 1994, contains an analysis of Looking for Langston which centers on fantasy (Mercer in Gever et al, 1993, 238-257).

7 As such, Julien's cinematic approach parallels Toni Morisson's novelistic technique where both references to memory as "archeology" and the "usable past", i. e. "history as life lived," are used in contrast to a mythic and official version of History.

8 Langston Hughes, 1940. The Big Sea: An Autobiography, New York: Hill and Wang. Hereafter cited parenthetically as BS. See Chauncey, 1994, 257-263.

9 The question of the black man's homosexuality in the face of the hyper-fetishization of the black male body and its concomitant feminization in a racist culture is being debated within new cultural givens. See "Homophobia in Black Communities" (hooks, 1992, 120-127). In December 1994 Thelma Golden, the curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, organized an exhibition entitled "Black Male" — to be also read as "blackmail" —, which staged a debate on these issues. The artists tried to question the masculinization of the black male body, notably in Mapplethorpe's photographs. In Constructs # 11" (1989) gay black artist Lyle Ashton Harris appears naked wearing a tutu and a blond wig, his back to the camera. Lorna Simpson's "Gestures/Reenactments" (1985) presents de-dramatized photographs of black men (Lebovici, 1994). See hook's review of Paris is Burning (1992, 145-157).

10 In the summer of 1924, Locke came to see Hughes in Paris, which is reported in the chapter entitled "A Distinguished Visitor" (BS, 184-186); they also met in Venice (BS, 189). Locke introduced Hughes to Godmother, Mrs. Charlotte Osgood Mason. The circle of young black writers, who gathered around Howard University professor Alain Locke and Carl Van Vechten, Claude McKay, Bruce Nugent, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman — the "Nigerati," as Thurman nicknamed them — are depicted as involved in relationships with both men and women. See Lewis, 1981; Garber in Duberman, 1989; Avi-Ram, 1990; Reimonenq, 1993; Chauncey, 1994, 264-266. In the introduction of Color, Sex and Poetry (Hull, 1987), they are portrayed as a coterie which excluded women.

11 Augustus Dill, the managing director of The Crisis, was fired by Du Bois for having been arrested for homosexual solicitation in a public washroom (Chauncey, 1994, 167, 264).

12 Richard Bruce [Nugent], "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade, A Novel Part I," Fire!!: A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists 1 (1926), 33-39. Gay and lesbian characters are included in McKay's Home to Harlem (1927), Thurman's The Blacker the Berry (1929) and Infants of the Spring (1932). Nugent's prose poem celebrates the speaker's cruising and consummating an affair with a Latin "Adonis."

13 The opposition black British artist/African American poet and history must also to be taken into account. See Mercer, 1993, 248.

14 Lacan mocks Freud's analogy between artwork and daydream in Ethique de la Psychanalyse, 1986, 279. His own development of the notion of fantasy takes it into the workings of the Unconscious: the logic of fantasy, the structure of fantasy, fantasy's formula. See Lemaire, 1977, 189-190, for a brief description of primal fantasy and Brousse in Miller, 1987,105-123.

15 This dream echoes the blues quoted by Hughes in The Big Sea: "Did you ever dream lucky-/Wake up cold in hand?" (SP, 209). For a tragicomic counterpart to this poem, see "The Morning After" (SP, 43). See also note 22 below.

16 Hughes called himself somewhat self-deprecatingly a 'documentary' poet (Rampersad in Vendler, 1987, 353-395). See Spillers, 1992. "Interstices " could be a metaphor for what one looks for when dealing with a repressed sexuality. It is also the space of exclusion when one does not partake in the code (the shared secret sign of recognition).

17 Julien, in an interview with Essex Hemphill in Black Film Review (quoted by hooks 1990,194).

18 Or the voice of the mother who says: "I say I hope my chile'll/Never love a man./Cause love can hurt you/Mo'n anything else can" ("Lament over Love," SP, 153).

19 The search echoes the lines Hughes wrote on Walt Whitman to acknowledge his debt: "Old Walt Whitman/Went finding and seeking/Finding less than seeking/Seeking more than found" ("Old Walt," SP, 100).

20 In one scene, a white character leisurely leafs through Mapplethorpe's Black Book.

21 The German original reads:.. Man muss sie mit den Mischlingen menschlischer Rassen vergleichen, die im grossen und ganzen bereits den Weissen gleichen, ihre farhige Abkunft aber durch den einigen oder anderen auffälhligen Zug verraten und darum von der Gesellshaft ausgelschlossen bleiben und keines der Vorechte der Weissen geniessen;" "Das Unbewusste," original edition: Internationale Zeitschrift für ärtzliche Psychoanalyse,vol. ΙII, Leipzig ung Wien: Heller, Ist part, notebook 4 (08/09/1915).

22 See Lacan's comment on Freud's example in Traumdeutung. The dream of the father who is awakened by the voice of his dead son telling him: "Father, can't you see that I am burning?" illustrates the fact that one function of the dream is to fulfill the dreamer's desire to carry on sleeping (Lacan, 1973, 58).

23 Barthes is commenting on Mapplethorpe's "Young Man with outstretched arm". Mapplethorpe's later photographs of black male figures such as "Man in a Polyester suit" (1981) or "Ken Moody" (1983) could obviously not he included in La Chambre claire, whereas the portrait of "William Cady, born a slave" (1963) by R. Avedon, as well as the portrait of an African American family by James Van der Zee (1926), allow for an inscription of blackness in Barthes's notes on photography. For an analysis of Mapplethorpe's gaze and artistic intervention in Black Males (1983) and The Black Book (1986), see "Reading Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe" (Mercer, 1994, 171-221). The translations from the French are mine unless otherwise indicated.

24 See "Cross," SP, 158. See also "Mulatto," SP, 160; "Consider Me," SP, 286.

25 See "Border Line," SP, 81 in the section entitled "Distance Nowhere." Cultural critic Stuart Hall performs the voice-over narration.

26 Julien asserts: "If you are talking about black gay identity, you are talking about identities that are never whole in the sense that there is always a desire to make them whole, hut in real life, experiences are always fragmentary and contradictory" (in hooks, 1990, 200).

27 The poem recited during this scene is Bruce Nugent's "Lilies and Jade."

28 See "Fulfillment," SP, 63.

29 Although halls were held regularly until the late 1930s, after an initial effort to shut down clubs and speakeasies in 1931, the Hamilton Lodge balls eventually came to an end in 1939. See Chauncey, 1994, 330-333.

30 Dreams recur over and over again in Hughes's poetry (and prose). "The loss/Of the dream/Leaves nothing/The same." ("Beale Street," SP, 70). Simple's Uncle Sam (1965) closes with Boyd prostrate before Simple's overwhelming dream, crying: "Dream on, dreamer... dream on" (Jemie in Gates and Appiah, 1993, 168). The interplay between the private dream (the lyric voice) and the collective dream (the political voice) deserves a fuller and more pointed development. See also "Demand," SP, 96.

Table des illustrations

Légende Looking for Langston, Isaac Julien, 1988. Photo: Sunil Gupta.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4106/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Légende Langston Hughes, 1920, in Vendler, 1987, 354. Collection of American Literature The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4106/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 464k

Auteur

Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Tours. She has taught at the Universities of Birmingham and Liverpool, Northwestern, the University of Michigan and Oberlin College. She specializes in critical theory (racial and sexual difference) and autobiograpical writing (ITEM-CNRS). She is the author of Toni Morrison (Belin, 1997), a dissertation on Andrew Marvell, as well as articles on Joyce, Milton, Lowry and contemporary Afro-American autobiographical texts (Hurston, Angelou, Brooks, Lorde, Kennedy).

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1997

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