I adore Neil Bartlett’s resourcefulness in postulating three types of history of interest to gay men.
The first telling of the story ends with the “I” assuming a coherent contemporary identity; the second with “we” arriving at a coherent contemporary culture; the third with “him” truly deciphered, and enshrined as a major or minor character in the second story and patron saint or role model for the first. All three of these stories are biographies.
Further along I admire how he narrows the appeal of such a model patron saint. He provides an ironic, I believe ironic, twist on the notion of an elite readership that falls out as a consequence of the third method of telling the story.
The third method of reading obliterates even the possibility that I might find ugly, as well as beautiful, meanings in my past, my culture. Indeed, it elegantly does away with any complex or changeable “meaning” at all. It does not require the studied interpretation of signs; it does not need to be learnt or purchased. It is without difficulty. It presupposes that gay men recognize and enjoy the signs of wealth. Other meanings (gay signals operate in a straight world; wealth lives alongside poverty) are forgotten, just as we forget the hours in the gym and see only the natural beauty and health radiating from a well-muscled body. The works of Oscar Wilde, for instance, were written for us and for us alone, and only we can truly understand them. We belong together, don’t you think?
It is a highly accessible elite that is addressed in the pages of Who was that man? a present for Mr. Oscar Wilde. It does not take much to slip into what the French call connivence. And it is this complicity that informs later on the meditation on how to interpret evidence and brings us, reader and author, to a species of resistance.
This “evidence” raises important questions about our own attitude to our own history. Do we view it with dismay, since it is a record of sorrow, of powerlessness, a record of lives wrecked? Or is it possible to read even these texts, written as they were by journalists, policemen and court clerks, with delight, as precious traces of dangerous, pleasurable, complicated gay lives?
And so for day 705