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Title: Looking for right now : cruising in gay New York
Author: Parlett, Jack
ISNI:       0000 0004 7968 6067
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis identifies a concern with looking in the work of three queer New York writers: Walt Whitman, Frank O'Hara and David Wojnarowicz. Through this triptych formation I offer an account of the look as an optical instrument of desire that is intimately linked with visual culture. I begin with Walter Benjamin's work on Baudelaire to consider the interrelation between the erotic urban glance and photography. I then pursue these concerns in relation to the gay semiotic terrain of cruising, and also consider the potentially violent and exclusionary implications of looking. The three chapters focus, respectively, on Whitman's fixation with photographic portraits, O'Hara's love of the movies, and Wojnarowicz's invocations of Genet and Rimbaud. Throughout these texts, fields of cultural reference mediate descriptions of desired strangers, and these mediations inform the crux of the thesis. I argue there is an erotic valence to these writers' respective interests in the visual, and that they thereby conceptualise the instant of cruising as an image. Work by Benjamin, Kaja Silverman and Roland Barthes is used to draw an analogy between the urban look and the object-beholder relations of the visual arts, in particular photography. I also focus upon the shared ground between still and moving images and the tensions between liveness and its representations. Having identified the look as a site of hybridity, where different artistic forms are suspended, and where the utopic may quickly give way to the violent or wounding, I argue in the final section of the thesis that such hybridity bears analogous relations to queer reading. Using the example of Whitman's poetics of presence, through which he seeks to commune with his readers 'many generations hence', I suggest some of the ways in which poems cruise their readers in particularly queer ways. Queer reading emerges from this enquiry as a site of ambivalence, and thus in turn bears parallels to contemporary digital iterations of cruising like the app Grindr, whose 'Looking for Right Now' function provides the title of the thesis.
Supervisor: Stillman, Anne Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: American Literature ; Queer Studies ; Cruising ; Poetry ; New York ; Walt Whitman ; Frank O'Hara ; David Wojnarowicz