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20. Queer Modernism

Benjamin Kahan

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470658734.2013.00021.x


What would it mean to ask, “could World War I have been fought because of homosexuality?” Such a question is startling in part because of its seeming absurdity. If answered affirmatively, however, this question would not only unthread the familiar narrative of the war beginning with the assassination of the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, by the Black Hand, but would install sexuality at the heart of one of the most privileged sites of literary modernism. Such reconsiderations through the prism of sexuality are emblematic of queer theory and enable us to see historical events and literary texts in a new light. The Eulenberg Affair (1907–1909), which involved a mass of accusations of homosexuality and accompanying libel suits among high-ranking officials and friends of Kaiser Wilhelm II, is central to such a claim. As the historian James Steakley has argued: French, British, and American historians have linked the events of 1907–1909 to a far-reaching shift in German policy that heightened military aggressiveness and ultimately contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Such insights were by no means unknown to earlier observers. Writing in 1933, for example, Magnus Hirschfeld argued that the outcome of the entire regrettable affair was “no more and no less than victory for the tendency that ultimately issued in the events of the World War.” (235) Steakley contends that the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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