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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 2

Sarah Barbour
David Howard
Thomas Lacroix
et al.

Bodies in Motion

Re-creating the Queer Narrative: The Past and the Present in Lawrence Scott’s Aelred’s Sin1

Zoran Pecic


This essay argues that Lawrence Scott’s 1998 novel Aelred’s Sin intersects the studies of queer and diaspora, as it enables a reconsideration of queer cultural texts within the framework of diaspora studies. Adding tactics to the existing research within the field of queer diaspora, the essay argues that Scott’s text destabilises spatial boundaries and allows mobility and local historicity to intervene in the wider debates on queer and diaspora studies. By emphasising writing as a means of homosexual recognition, the essay argues that Scott’s Caribbean queer narrative is a place where, through writing, a tactical homosexual identification can be articulated.

Texte intégral

  • 1 This is a revised version of Chapter 5 in Zoran Pecic, Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: (...)

1Fifteen years after the first emergence of queer theory in academia David L. Eng, Judith Halberstam and Jose Esteban Muños ask: ‘what’s queer about queer studies now?’ (1). Attempting to reassess ‘the political utility of queer’ they call for a ‘renewed queer studies ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional... calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political metaphor without a fixed referent’. Their call for a new political ground for queer studies is suggestive of the necessity and inevitability of queer studies to open up its boundaries and broaden the field beyond the borders of Euro-America. One way of doing this is by intersecting queer studies with diaspora studies, which entails looking at sexuality as a mobile tactic of deterritorialising the relationship between diaspora and queer. This way, the movement between geographical territories becomes a theoretically significant factor in the construction and discussion of sexuality. Moreover, translocation enters the picture as an element in the transformation of sexualities that are on the move—indeed, the local and global effects of various diasporas force us to turn our attention towards re-inventions and re-negotiations of sexualities in new places and new territories. Diaspora forces us to acknowledge that ‘sexuality is not only not essence, not timeless, it is also not fixed in place; sexuality is on the move’ (Patton and Sánchez-Eppler 2000: 2, my emphasis).

  • 2 The hyphen in ‘re-membering’ comes from Anne-Marie Fortier’s Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Ide (...)
  • 3 Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) is considered a classic example of the use of ‘remembering’, where ‘ (...)

2In her landmark book Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (2005), Gayatri Gopinath writes: ‘If conventional diasporic discourse is marked by... [a] backward glance... [then] a queer diaspora mobilizes questions of the past, memory, and nostalgia for radically different purposes’ (4). Connecting theorisations of sexuality with the histories of colonialism, nationalism, racism and migration, Gopinath merges desire and the body with the histories of racist and colonialist violence that still resonate loudly in the present. ‘Rather than evoking an imaginary homeland frozen in an idyllic moment outside history’, Gopinath adds, ‘what is remembered through queer diasporic desire and the queer diasporic body is a past time and place riven with contradictions and the violences of multiple uprootings, displacements, and exiles’ (4). Taking cue from Gopinath, I argue that Lawrence Scott’s 1998 novel Aelred’s Sin exhibits queer diasporic ‘re-membering’2 which re-creates and metamorphoses the materiality of place.3 I argue that the novel not only alters territory and destabilises notions of heterosexual origins; it combines the movement of sexuality with the passage from one fixed boundary to another. More importantly, Scott’s text enables a reconsideration of queer cultural texts within the framework of diaspora studies.

3Aelred’s Sin, which won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for best book in 1998, explores homoerotic love in the Caribbean and in a Benedictine Monastery in England. Its narrator is Robert de la Borde, a French Creole who arrives in England in 1980s from the imagined Caribbean setting of Les Deux Isles (Scott’s fictional name for Trinidad and Tobago) after hearing about the death of his older brother, Jean-Marc, who left Les Deux Isles at the age of 17 to join Ashton Park Monastery in the 1960s. Throughout the novel Robert re-traces the steps of his brother. Jean-Marc had taken on the name of Aelred, after a twelfth-century Cistercian monk Aelred of Rievaulx (1110–1167) whose book Spiritual Friendship (1167) explores erotic love between men and the possibility of an intimate friendship within the ‘uncorrupted’ context of the monastic existence. Re-membering enables Robert to come to terms with the death of his older brother and with his own homophobia. Moreover, it initiates a revisiting of Robert’s own role in Alfred’s life, connecting him, through his own guilt and trauma, with Aelred and the characters Ted and Benedict. But how does remembering alter territory? And how does it intervene in the discourses of queer diaspora?

  • 4 The coming out story is a prime example of a narrative of development from a ‘stifling’ heterosexua (...)

4In L’invention du quotidien Vol. 1, Arts de faire (1980) (The Practice of Everyday Life, 1988), Michel de Certeau distinguishes between the concepts of strategy and tactics. Strategy is typically linked with institutions and certain structures of power grounded physically in their site of operation. Tactics, on the other hand, are fragmented and not bound to any specific site of operation—their makeshift nature relies on the improper and subverts the ‘mappable’ space of strategy. Based on the idea of tactics, I argue that Scott employs the methodology of queer tactical diaspora. In other words, moving from one theoretical and geographical Caribbean space to the next, Scott’s text never fully ‘comprehends’ the physical and psychological space of queer diaspora. Since queer diaspora deals with movement, slippages and changeability, the notions of queer tactical diaspora become a significantly potent means for deconstructing the developmental model of non-heterosexuality, combining the movement of sexuality (queer/tactics) with the developmental passage from one fixed boundary into another (diaspora/strategy).4 My contention, ultimately, is that Scott’s text inserts tactics within the wider debates on diaspora and queer studies, thus introducing mobility as well as local historicity to the existing scholarship.

  • 5 Scott’s image is based on John Riley’s 1690 painting Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. For mor (...)
  • 6 ‘The configuration of white master/mistress, dog, and black servant, is frequent in English paintin (...)
  • 7 A Harlot’s Progress is inspired by William Hogarth’s 1732 engravings by the same name.

5Through the practice of writing, Robert manages to uncover ignored and silenced histories. In the chapter titled ‘The Portrait’, Jean-Mark is at the Ashton Park Monastery and discovers a painting depicting a little Black boy kneeling ‘in a decorative manner at the duke’s feet’ (77).5 The boy, ‘dressed in red satins and gold silks’, who is ‘smiling up to the duke’ was ‘a diminutive, his master’s doll’ (78). The duke, on the other hand, is ‘not even looking at the boy; he looked out over the world beyond the frame of the painting’ (78). Jean-Marc becomes infatuated with the painting, especially the representation of duke’s superiority and the dehumanisation of the Black boy: ‘The admiration in the boy’s eyes was the same as that in the face of the master’s dog which knelt at his feet on the other side of the painting. It was looking up plaintively’ (78).6 Moreover, as Jean-Marc gazes into the portrait, he feels his own face ‘superimposed upon that of the boy whose face shone from beneath, so that the black face seemed to be his own’ (78). As Jean-Marc metamorphoses into the Black boy, he recalls past memories of accusations from his childhood friends of his ‘superior’ social status: ‘all you French Creole! ’ (79). Instantaneously, Jean-Marc’s recollection of the accusations from his Black friends merge with the memories of his Black nurse Toinette who narrates the story of Mungo—an African boy who is transported to the Caribbean and attempts to escape slavery. Jean-Marc’s identification with the Black boy rather than the Duke speaks to his status both as a privileged White Creole, a product of the colonial ideas of racial and sexual supremacy, and as a victim of the very same values created by his White ancestors. In addition, his identifying with Mungo speaks to the instability of racial categories, in that Whiteness, just like other racial classifications, will prove to be unstable. Perhaps it is pertinent here to point to not only Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) as a classical Caribbean text that investigates the complexity and instability of racial categories, but also David Dabydeen’s 1999 novel A Harlot’s Progress. Whilst we may argue that Scott implicitly alludes to Rhys’s Antoinette, a White Creole who, besides sharing the name with Jean-Marc’s Black nurse, vacillates between her European racial heritage and the Jamaican culture into which she was born, we may also contend that Dabydeen’s novel, whose protagonist Mungo is an African attempting to escape slavery as well as physical and sexual abuse by a slave owner, can be said to be a direct companion to Aelred’s Sin.7 Besides ‘talking back’ to visual representations of Blackness in British art, in which they point out that Blackness is a constituent element of British history, both novels highlight the racial and sexual exploitation of Blackness in British art, history and literature.

  • 8 Although he is a West Indian French Creole and thus not Black, Jean-Marc’s merging into the picture (...)

6What I wish to emphasise in ‘The Portrait’, however, is Scott’s fusing of the dehumanisation of the Black body with the dehumanisation of the queer body. This is seen in the coupling of the boy’s name, Mungo, with Ashton Park. The reference to the Scottish explorer Mungo Park and the African Association works as a method for linking the British colonial mission with Aelred’s position as a postcolonial subject. Later in the novel, when Jean-Marc discovers a grave marked with the letter J, he begins to create a narrative of the life of the boy in the picture, whom he calls Jordan. The reference to the river Jordan works as an allusion to the main mission of the African Association: to discover and map the origin and course of the Niger River and ultimately find the lost city of Timbuktu. As Jean-Marc re-constructs the narrative of Jordan’s life, he uncovers dialogues between the postcolonial tropes of displacement, slavery and racial difference. Lee Easton and Kelly Hewson note that ‘what connects Aelred’s memories to theirs [his Black friends, Mungo and Jordan] is not so much a ‘shared racial essence’ but what Gilroy calls ‘shared histories and geographic movements’’ (89).8 Scott frames the ‘The Portrait’ as an identificatory device, as the creation of narrative serves as a means of identification. By disclosing the intricacies of stories that are woven together, Robert uncovers the untold story of his brother in the same way as Jean-Marc, by the means of imaginative reconstruction, creates the story of Jordan. In addition, Jordan’s name is both imposed and provisional, demonstrating the impossibility of recovery of his real name. Importantly, the two ‘narratives’ share the tropes of identification, queerness, as well as historical/geographical representations, particularly in terms of the conflation of Mungo and Ashton Park. Through the reconstruction of the past events, Robert uncovers dialogues between the tropes of displacement slavery. Thus, he is able to ‘unearth’ and ‘unlearn’. He becomes ‘an earth digger’, ‘a word eater’ (111).

  • 9 Faith Smith’s edited collection Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean (2011) is one of m (...)

7Robert’s account of his brother’s life is a means for homosexual recognition; that is, the awareness of queer sexuality is understood through the practice of writing. Apart from instigating heterosexual ‘tolerance’ of homosexuality, the Caribbean queer narrative is a conduit for the identification of queer sexuality where the act of mirroring enables a queer perspective. Important to note is the narrative structure of the novel: the story of Aelred, the homosexual, is told by Robert, the heterosexual, whilst the story of Jordan, a Black boy, is told by Jean-Marc, a French Creole. The significance of this narrative structure is manifold: whilst Robert’s narrative already defuses any homophobic reactions, inasmuch as it is related by a heterosexual narrator, Jean-Marc’s identification with Jordan transgresses the racial divide that polices the boundary between a slave and a former slave-owner. Whilst Robert’s story provides the necessary context for the story of Aelred, Jean-Marc’s positionings of himself within the history of slavery and persecution ‘contextualises’ Robert’s transgressive identification with his brother. In both cases, one narrative mirrors the other, and it is this mirroring that echoes Gopinath’s idea that queer diasporic remembering, or what I call queer tactical diaspora, has the ability to displace originary homelands. Indeed, by destabilising spatial boundaries, Scott inserts tactics within the wider debates on queer and diaspora studies; for mobility and local historicity emphasise the inseparability of race and homosexuality in the postcolonial discourses on identity and belonging.9 The overall structure of Aelred’s Sin, where Aelred’s outward projection (from Les Deux Isles to England, from monastery to the world outside) is reflected in the backward glance of his own memoirs and journals as well as his brother’s literary production, is reminiscent of the Western coming out narrative. The employment of developmental homosexuality in Aelred’s Sin works as a method of linking race with homosexuality; queer tactical diaspora allows for an investigation and the deconstruction of the policing of racial and sexual borders. Recognising the collared and contained Black body in the portrait, Aelred realises that Blackness is under constant control, a fact which is juxtaposed with the novice master, Father Justin’s mantra: ‘Never in twos, always in threes’ (136). Whilst the latter exemplifies the strict regulation and surveillance of the gay body by the Church, the former is placed within the framework of White racial superiority. As Jean-Marc’s friend Joe points out, the State has taken over the role of controlling the gay body: ‘That’s what it was like then, Joe says. You were arrested. You were imprisoned and fined. You were shamed, insulted, beaten up. Not that it does not take place now’ (173). In order to break down the carefully guarded line between homosocial and homoerotic behaviour, Aelred engages in explicit homosexual acts with Brother Edward, a White and blonde novice at the monastery. This is yet another instance of Scott’s use of mirroring as a means for inserting queerness into the racial imaginary of Ashton Park. Aelred’s Caribbean lover’s statement ‘I’m blacker than you’ stands in stark contrast to his new English lover Edward who is described as ‘tall with blond hair. He had bright blue eyes and very white skin’ (158). Scott’s mimicking of the coming out narrative, as well as the inflection of the narratives of Jordan and Aelred where inversion and doubling enables a recognition and sharedness of narratives, corresponds to the potential and capability of queer tactical diaspora to rework the strategic and stake claim to a nation and home for queer subjectivities on the move. More importantly, Scott’s use of queer narratives by a heterosexual narrator exhibits the ability of queer tactical diaspora to trespass borders and incorporate space as a way of mapping out the interstices between place and body. Moreover, the use of inversion and doubling ‘tacticality’ in Aelred’s Sin highlights race and queerness within the wider debates on diaspora studies, in that it adds mobility and local history to the already existing scholarship.

  • 10 For more on diasporising queer theory, see my monograph Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: (...)

8It is in this context that I argue that Aelred’s Sin works as a response to Terry Goldie’s critique of queer theory and postcolonial studies and of the focus on overarching categories such as ‘race’ and ‘queer questions’: ‘ [It is] less than surprising that texts that represent the specific contexts of homosexual experience in what is usually constituted as postcolonial countries are almost never considered in this light’ (22). Goldie is critical of the tendency to read ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ in a strictly African-American context: ‘The universal homosexual is one feature of queer theory, in which the social configuration of homosexuality becomes a very minor element in contrast with a universal sexual orientation which not surprisingly looks very American’ (21). In Aelred’s Sin, the configuration of homosexuality occurs at the intersection of ‘queer’ and ‘Black’, as Aelred gazes at the picture of Jordan whilst Benedict stares at ‘his naked legs’ (81). Later in the text, Edward observes Aelred for the first time and remarks to Benedict: ‘He’s very dark’ (161). Here, Benedict and Edward gaze at and desire Aelred’s dark body. In both cases, a transgression occurs where the queer body is read in terms of race whilst the Black body is read in terms of homosexuality. Consequently, the intersection of Black and queer works as a means of ‘diasporising’ queer desire and assigning homosexuality to the Black body.10 In terms of the conventional diasporic discourse, which is marked by a glance back to an idealised past, Scott’s novel intervenes in the discourses of queer and diaspora studies by incorporating the questions of desire and the body within the histories of racist, colonialist and homophobic violence that still resonate loudly in the present.

9In Aelred’s Sin the coupling of queerness and diaspora is seen in the mirroring of the sodomisation of Jordan and Aelred/Jean-Marc, as both characters experience the same fate as a result of their ‘otherness’— Jordan, an African slave, and Aelred, a homosexual. In fact, the act of sodomy acts as a force that both transgresses and maintains the ambiguous lines between White/Black and heterosexual/homosexual. Jordan says: ‘Master Walter come back drunk from a drinking bout.... He is stumbling around in the stable with his breeches down and he is calling wildly for his little nigger boy.... He is standing over me’ (368–369). After the act of sodomy, Jordan relates: ‘But I cannot sleep when Master Walter revive and he drag me to the room with the peeping hole and the contraptions and where he hang me against the wall to whip me. He remember who I is’ (369). Here White supremacy is exerted over the Black body by the means of sexual violence, whilst in the case of Jean-Marc (and his boyhood lover Ted who was bullied to the point of point of committing suicide), the compulsory heterosexuality of the school is enforced by the same means. Ironically, in both cases male heterosexuality is rendered superior through the acts of sodomy and the subsequent feminisation of the enslaved Black body and the homosexual body; they are rendered impossible within the context of compulsory White heterosexuality. Here, I would like to point to Dabydeen’s long poem ‘Turner’ (1994), a poetic response to J. M. W. Turner’s 1840 painting Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On, in which Dabydeen questions both the invisibility of slavery in British art as well as any attempt to preserve its memory. The poem’s narrator, who was drowned by the slave ship captain Turner, describes not only the horrors of the Middle Passage but also the beauty of the underwater world. He is later joined by a stillborn child, also a victim of Turner. Important to note here, however, is that Dabydeen’s Turner is not only a slaver but also a paedophile who, besides exploiting slaves, sodomises the Black body before he throws it overboard. In Dabydeen’s poem, as in Scott’s novel, the Black body, by the means of sexual violence, becomes the victim of White mastery, all the while calling into question the binary between homosexuality and heterosexuality.

10The connection between queerness and the Black body in Aelred’s Sin corresponds to the process of writing as a means of identification. From the instant they are branded as ‘bullers’, Ted and Jean-Marc’s bodies are marked as queer and consequently rendered impossible within the context of the school’s compulsory heteronormativity. For Ted and Jean-Marc, the identification of homosexuality results in an increasing harassment and ostracisation, resulting in the gang-rape which, interestingly, is narrated in two versions: one in Robert’s voice and the other in Jean-Marc’s writing in his journal. In the first version Robert overhears the senior boys bragging about raping Ted and Jean-Marc:

They had it coming to them. If that’s what they want. If that’s what they like, the bullers. If that’s where they want to take it. Let them. Did you hear them? Like they were asking for it. PLEASE was louder than STOP. Did you hear them? (308)

11Whilst the boys view the rape as an act of deserved punishment, they also perceive Ted and Jean-Marc’s cry ‘please’ as a request for more. Jean-Marc’s account of ‘The Raid’, however, which is written is his journal, is different from Robert’s:

We are both crying and looking at each other. Made to lie side by side face down. Stripped naked. Pinned down. We enter each other’s eyes, watery. Here in this luminous eye we see only each other. This is where we have curled, into each other’s eyes. To hide.... We leave our bodies on the ground and ascend above them and look down. We look down. They are used by them. Utterly. We utter nothing. Someone says PLEASE. Someone says STOP. One goes in, one comes out. One goes in, one comes out. There is a crown in there. (356, emphasis in original)

12Jean-Marc’s version differs from Robert’s matter-of-fact account of the rape (according to Robert, Jean-Marc ‘embellished’ his version), attesting to the importance of narration and storytelling for the process of identification. Moreover, Donnell argues that the reconciliation between Jean-Marc and Robert is significant in that it ‘offers writing as a form through which empathetic engagements can be positively channelled, thereby implicitly positioning Caribbean narrative itself as another space from which tolerant identification can be achieved’ (211). Jean-Marc’s account places heavy emphasis on crying as a means of expressing the pain he and Ted went through: ‘We enter each other’s eyes’; ‘in this luminous eye we see only each other’; ‘into each other’s eyes’. In terms of narration Jean-Marc’s account is personal and lyrical; he uses metaphors of sight to express the close connection between him and Ted, and at the same time, he voices their pain through the image of disconnection with the situation: We leave our bodies... We look down. They are used by them. In fact, Robert explicitly states that he is able to pick up Jean-Marc’s ‘implicit and explicit meanings in his writing’, recognising that Jean-Marc’s writing is poetic: ‘his poetry is a poetry of pain’ (358). Through poetry Robert is able to reconstruct Jean-Marc’s life, which ultimately forces him to acknowledge his compliance in Jean-Marc’s ostracisation and abuse. Importantly, the end of Jean-Marc’s ‘poetic’ narrative of ‘The Raid’ demonstrates that it is not merely an overstated rendition of the gang rape, but it is just as ‘factual’ as Robert’s account. After identifying Aelred’s language, Robert acknowledges the impact of Aelred’s poetry and the subsequent change to his view of homosexuality, queer desire and the diasporic queer body: ‘I eat his words. I am drunk with his blood. Words of blood soak into desk tops, on to lavatory walls. Messages. They were marooned in their desire. I become a poet’ (129). Aelred’s language and his narration of what happened on the day of ‘The Raid’ attest to the space of language in the Caribbean queer narrative for homosexual recognition and tolerant identification. Scott’s emphasis on Robert and Aelred connects the two characters in terms of homophobic abuse and violence, but also compassion and empathy. Although initially unable to understand Aelred’s life choices, it is through reading (Jean-Marc’s journals) and writing (Aelred’s story) that Robert gains an awareness of the sexual and racial dynamics that contributed to his own persecution of Aelred in Les Deux Isles. Through Aelred’s ‘poetry’ Robert is able to see his own past through the eyes of his brother, a past where homophobia and Black oppression become sites of knowledge and awareness:

I feel sad and lonely. I wanted to take care of them now. I wanted the details of their love to be named. Aelred of Rievaulx had tried to name his sin, writing to his sister. This is hagiographic tale, not a pornographic story. It is of the passion of those whose young love was inspired by saints and who were wrestling with their nature. His words lead me. I eat them, before I can digest their meaning. I look out on his world. It falls under his gaze, now my gaze. (221)

13Scott’s emphasis on writing and homosexual identification, then, corresponds to my idea of queer tactical diaspora, for Aelred’s Sin is a novel that transgresses the racial and sexual divides through empathetic identification, crossing national, racial and sexual borders. In Aelred’s Sin, queer memories trespass borders and incorporate literary space as a way of mapping out the interstices between race, sexuality and identity.

14Aelred’s Sin is not a novel that illustrates queer theory. Nor is it a novel seen from the perspective of diaspora. Rather, defying a firm grounding within either diaspora or queer studies, the novel is queer and tactical in its goal of disrupting the Eurocentric ideas of sexual diasporic narratives where the dichotomies between nation and diaspora, and heterosexuality and homosexuality, are maintained. Through a queer tactical reading the novel disrupts and dislocates these binaries, employing the same theories and methodologies that underpin them. Scott ties to the Western coming out story a diasporic narrative of gay development from heterosexuality (viewed as oppressive) to homosexuality (viewed as liberating and cathartic). As a result, the coming out story becomes a method of constructing a narrative of one’s identity in which the storyteller adjusts the plot, by means of appropriating the past and the present, to fit the story into a coherent narrative structure. The storyteller becomes a revisionist who rewrites and re-adjusts elements in order to construct an identity formation that is detached from the binary thinking of a transition from shame to pride. In Scott’s novel, however, the storyteller is not Jean-Marc but his brother who not only participated in violence against homosexuality but who is currently, according to himself, ‘eat [ing] his [Jean-Marc’s] words’ (112). The novel’s narrative structure, which rests on Robert’s awareness and acceptance of his brother’s homosexuality, complicates and nuances the traditional coming out story by including self-criticism, for the novel’s homoeroticism is overwritten by the once-homophobic man’s awareness and recognition of an ‘unnatural’ homosexuality (Donnell 211). Interestingly, Robert highlights both the seemingly transitional narrative of Jean-Marc’s life from the oppressive Les Deux Isles to the ostensibly liberated England, and the diasporic movement between the two territories surrounding it: ‘I have the journals and now my own stories. I reconstruct, I tell his life. It begins to change something in me. It begins to change me writing this. Write it to understand it: that was his method.... I eat his words. He moves between here and there’ (112).

15The movement between here and there is established early in the novel through the difference between the landscapes of Les Deux Isles and England. Consequently, in the chapter entitled ‘The Clothing’, the young boy moves from being Jean-Marc de la Borde of Les Deux Isles to Aelred of Ashton Park, England. Jean-Marc/Aelred’s displacement is emphasised by his memories of home (Malgretoute), triggered by (the smell of) his brown suit and his white cotton shirt which

smelt of his home far away. They smelt of his mother and father, his brother and sisters, whom he had left. They smelt of his country. They smelt of heat and sunshine and haze and rising up to a blue sky above green can fields and the shade of the cocoa hills. (29)

16Subsequently, the transition is followed by doubts about Ashton Park: ‘What was he doing here?... He smelt that smell of travelling in aeroplanes on the sleeve of his jacket. There was a musty smell of Ashton Park, then of his home Malgretoute: in spite of everything’ (29). The movement from one territory to another is repeated once again at the end of the novel when Aelred begins yet another movement—out of the monastery and to a ‘civilian’ life with his lover, the former monk Edward. In the chapter called ‘The Flat, Bristol’, we are told of Jean-Marc’s exit from Ashton Park and Edward’s eventual death by AIDS. Thus the transitions between the stone church to the school in the mountains, to Ashton Park and ultimately Bristol, highlight a subjectivity on the move; that is, Jean Marc’s body as a marker of difference, implicated in multiple contexts and mobilities of race, class and sexuality. As Jean-Marc’s body moves from one territory to another, it demonstrates how queer diasporic fiction can create alternative formulations of home and diaspora. Jean-Marc’s mobility allows him to form new sites of connection and affiliation—sites that are rooted in the Middle Passage, the Caribbean diaspora and postcolonial homophobia. By constructing a retrospective look at Jean-Marc’s moves from the Caribbean to England through his brother’s eyes, Scott destabilises the static place, and even more importantly, he questions the developmental model of queer identity.

17By focusing on the motif of coming out I do not want to suggest that Scott’s novel is simply an addition to the postcolonial technique of rewriting colonising fictions. Rather, Scott merges queerness and homoeroticism by exposing the erasure of queer identity in the context of the decolonising politics of the Caribbean, as well as the postcolonial space of the monastery. Thus, Aelred’s Sin exposes the racial and sexual underpinnings of both Les Deux Isles, as a previously colonised space, and the Ashton Park Monastery, the colonising force that relegates the Caribbean as the Other. Jean-Marc’s access to a home is prohibited by the erasure of queerness in Les Deux Isles as well as in the monastic life in Ashton Park. Therefore, his transitions from one space to another is a movement ‘outward’, towards a space that accommodates his queer desires. This is not to suggest that Jean-Marc’s flight from Les Deux Isles should be read in terms of traditional understandings of homosexual impossibility ‘at home’ vis-à-vis queer promise ‘abroad’. On the contrary, both Les Deux Isles and the monastic order of Ashton Park do not match Jean-Marc’s codes of morality, which would regulate expressions of affinity and belonging. In both cases Jean-Marc is forced to move to another space, this time the world outside the cloister and which, according to himself, is ‘not much different’ than the life in Les Deux Isles or in the monastery: ‘We can’t hold hands in the street. We worry about being caught sleeping together. It’s worse... in some ways’ (440–441). In the ‘Epilogue’, Jean-Marc’s friend Joe expresses many of the ‘ironies’ surrounding Jean-Marc’s ‘coming out’ in the 1960s. Before he does so, though, Robert narrates the scene in which Joe displays a photograph of Jean-Marc, Edward and himself:

1967! The year of consenting adults! Joe said cynically. On the steps of the student union in Bristol. That’s where we all met. Edward read history, J. M. English and History and me, Sociology and Politics. We were educated for the sixties: ‘68 was Paris and Prague! We went through everything together. That story you’ve been piecing together, Joe said, is a horror show as far as I’m concerned. (439–440)

18The reference to the sexual liberalism of the 1960s alludes to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act in the United Kingdom, which decriminalised private homosexual acts between consenting men above the age of 21. Since queer theory and queer studies problematise, through the poststructuralist lens, the gay liberationist and lesbian feminist understandings of identity, sexuality and power relations, the queer take on Jean-Marc’s position would posit sexualities based on the notions of identity politics — ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ — as being exclusive and too limited. However, Joe’s reference is significant in that it points not to a poststructuralist critique of identity politics but to the period when such politics began to take place. The elusive and vague definitions of queer and queer politics may make it a powerful tool for challenging normative sexual knowledges. Furthermore, the linking of queer politics and nationhood may appear to be a serious contender for the deconstruction of the discourses surrounding queer subjectivities’ access to citizenship and national subjectivity. However, unlike Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman’s notions of a Queer Nation (1993), which remains bound to the generalising logic of American citizenship based on sexual object-choice and individual self-identity, Scott’s novel decentres the dominant Euro-American paradigms and the globalisation of the ‘queer’ identity based not on visibility but on the displacement of the Western sexual conventions and the reworking of (queer) pleasures and desires that emanate from non-Western territories. Thus queer diaspora and queer Caribbean writing break down the logic of the global ‘gay’ identity, as they disintegrate the colonial narratives of development and progress that deem all ‘other’ sexual practices as underdeveloped and non-modern.

19In Aelred’s Sin, however, the disjunction between the Euro-American notions of queer citizenship and non-Western queer desire is transposed onto the contrast between Jean-Marc’s excitement of radical sexual liberalism in Europe and the seafront in Barmouth, Wales:

It was hot. The hillsides near the estuary were purple with rhododendrons and shimmering with yellow gorse. High mountains sheer to the Irish Sea. In the distance mountains in haze. Reminds me of islands, J. M. said. (440)

20The scene at the seafront in Barmouth, working as an emblematic borderline space, is crucial for our understanding of Aelred’s Sin as a novel that is critical of Euro-American paradigms of both sexual liberation and Queer Nation, for it merges nationality, sexuality and race by juxtaposing Les Deux Isles with Wales. This synthesis is done through the sea, especially the Atlantic, and exposes the materiality and trauma of the Middle Passage. In this, Scott sutures the Atlantic with the coming out narrative in order to route/root his novel deep within Caribbean culture and space. Aelred’s Sin depicts the Atlantic as a way of connecting the landscapes of Les Deux Isles and Wales in order to complicate the relationship between ethnicity and national belonging by mixing sexuality with diaspora. This is shown in the following scene when Jean-Marc attends a funfair and sees a ‘black guy playing a steel tenor pan’ (441). Here, several trajectories of identity connect Jean-Marc’s status as a homosexual, an immigrant and a racialised Other to Caribbean space and diaspora. Jean-Marc’s connection to the music is so powerful that he exclaims: ‘God that music! I’ve not heard it in years. I would know it anywhere’. In his encouraging Jean-Marc to ask the man where he is from Edward exclaims in jest: ‘Bet his name is Jordan’ (441). The inclusion of Jordan in the scene ties the colonial and postcolonial themes of mirroring that is present in Ashton Park, suturing Jean-Marc to Jordan (the African slave in the portrait) to Mungo (the runaway slave) to Ted (his mixed-race childhood lover in Les Deux Isles). Furthermore the linking of the four figures is also achieved through representation of homophobic violence and the construction of body as a racialised Other. As Edward associates Jean-Marc with the Black Atlantic whilst the music is playing, the connection is reinforced by Jean-Marc himself who exclaims: ‘Calypso, man! Hear that calypso music!’ (441). On the one hand, Scott problematises the universal figures of Blackness and queerness by complicating the notion of a stable identity. On the other, he deconstructs the relationship between ethnicity and national belonging by diasporising the idea of Queer Nation.

21By the means of queer tactical diaspora Scott is able to place a heterosexual narrator as a storyteller who re-integrates his older brother into the family structure, Caribbean space and the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, whilst the object of his narrative re-constructs another narrative; namely, that of Jordan. Taken together the two narratives sustain each other, as Robert employs the story of Jean-Marc to better understand his brother, whilst Jean-Marc constructs the story of Jordan to better understand himself. The two seemingly independent narratives—the lost and silenced histories of the African presence in the Caribbean and the queer Caribbean diaspora in Britain—are joined together through queer tactical diaspora. As a consequence and as a testimony to the effectiveness of Scott’s structuring of the novel in terms of homosexual identification, Robert’s relationship to his brother and to the Caribbean is transformed. Robert’s narrative of Jean-Marc’s diaspora forces him to once again ‘eat his words’.


Works Cited

Berlant, Lauren and Elizabeth Freeman. ‘Queer Nationality’, in Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, Michael Warner, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Dabydeen, David. Hogarth’s Blacks: Images of Blacks in Eighteenth Century English Art. Mundelstrup: Dangeroo Press, 1985.

Dabydeen, David. Turner: New and Selected Poems. London: Cape Poetry, 1994.

Dabydeen, David. A Harlot’s Progress. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999.

Donnell, Alison. Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature: Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History. London: Routledge, 2006.

Easton, Lee and Kelly Hewson. ‘Returning to Repair: Resolving Dilemmas of the Postcolonial Queer in Lawrence Scott’s Aelred’s Sin’, Ariel 35.3–4 (2004): 81–98.

Eng, David, Judith Halberstam and Jose Esteban Muños, eds. ‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’, Social Text 84–85, 23.3–4 (2005): 1–17.

Fortier, Anne-Marie. Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity. Oxford: Berg, 2000.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso, 1993.

Goldie, Terry. ‘Queerly Postcolonial’, Ariel 30.2 (1999): 9–26.

Gopinath, Gayatri. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Pecic, Zoran. Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: Exploring Tactics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: André Deutsch, 1966.

Sánchez-Eppler, Benigno and Cindy Patton. ‘Introduction: With a Passport Out of Eden’in Queer Diasporas, Sánchez-Eppler, Benigno and Cindy Patton, eds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Scott, Lawrence. Aelred’s Sin. 1998. London: Allison & Busby, 2003.

Smith, Faith, ed. Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.


1 This is a revised version of Chapter 5 in Zoran Pecic, Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: Exploring Tactics (Palgrave Macmillan: 2013), reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

2 The hyphen in ‘re-membering’ comes from Anne-Marie Fortier’s Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity (2000) in which she argues that re-membering is ‘the processes through which spaces of belonging—imagined and physical—are inhabited, in the literal sense of dwelling, in the sense of populating or ‘membering’ spaces with ghosts from the past, and in the sense of manufacturing... subjects’ (128).

3 Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) is considered a classic example of the use of ‘remembering’, where ‘rememory’ is a mechanism used to evoke, re-enact and re-imagine historical events as a way of understanding the past as well as the present.

4 The coming out story is a prime example of a narrative of development from a ‘stifling’ heterosexuality to a ‘liberating’ homosexuality.

5 Scott’s image is based on John Riley’s 1690 painting Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. For more information on this painting and others, see Dabydeen 1985.

6 ‘The configuration of white master/mistress, dog, and black servant, is frequent in English painting’, writes Dabydeen. In Riley’s painting, ‘black servant boy and black dog adopt the same attitude of admiration for their Master. The black and the dog are mirror images of each other.... A hierarchy of power relationships is being revealed: the superior white (superior in social and human terms) is surrounded by inferior creatures, the black and the dog, who share more or less the same status’ (26).

7 A Harlot’s Progress is inspired by William Hogarth’s 1732 engravings by the same name.

8 Although he is a West Indian French Creole and thus not Black, Jean-Marc’s merging into the picture of Jordan does not only connect the two characters mentally; the triangular geography of the Caribbean—England—Africa exemplifies Gilroy’s notion of the Black Atlantic.

9 Faith Smith’s edited collection Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean (2011) is one of many volumes that explore the complexity of sexuality in the Caribbean.

10 For more on diasporising queer theory, see my monograph Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: Exploring Tactics. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013.


Roskilde University
Is Lecturer at the Department of Culture and Identity at Roskilde University, Denmark. He is the author of Queer Narratives of the Caribbean Diaspora: Exploring Tactics (Palgrave Macmillan 2013) and has previously published on Jamaica Kincaid’s travel writing. Zoran is currently working on a project on queer Sinophone cinema and was in 2014 an Affiliate Fellow at the Centre for Cinema Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

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