Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Putting Xmas Carol to Bed

I wanted to take a few minutes as we lay Xmas Carol to bed to think about some of the ideas that circulated.  Digest them a bit.  Ah, more figurative food language with Dickens. 

First, I came to Xmas Carol with a reading offered up by Lee Edelman in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive.  It’s a text I encountered in grad school and serves as a stark, dark lens that mediates my vision of the text.  Edelman’s No Future wants to make the argument that queer people too easily submit to assimilationist elements of heteronormative culture.  And, that reproductive futurism (our investment in kids and the future) police queer people and discipline society in direct and indirect ways. The title No Future takes on several meanings – (1) that we should reject the social lessons that are directed toward us that suggest we should shirk the present by chasing the future, (2) the teleology of the future discredits queers as anti-productive social members, and (3) along similar lines, reproductive futurism “imbues straight sex with its meaning as the agent of historical continuity” (“Ever After” 470).   Crucial to this thinking is Edelman’s notion that children are easy symbolic political tools and there are many larger narratives at work in American culture that support the notion of parents yielding their time and identity to their children.  But what Edelman argues is that in a culture that attaches supreme value to the symbolic child, the biologically non-reproductive queer will also occupy the shadow space. 

Edelman uses Xmas Carol as an application to some of his ideas. The setting, Christmas, provides the ultimate backdrop, being that it is the birth of the embodiment of the sacred, symbolic child.  This frames our worship of family, children, and the social engine.  Edelman even tugs at the solid footing that has propped up Tiny Tim, suggesting his sympathies set up the destructive alterity of Mr. Scrooge.  Edelman laments the turn the novel takes – that Mr. Scrooge must give up his hard-earned money, anti-communitarian angst, and homosexual relations in order to be absorbed into the happy heteronormative ending.  Edelman marks Scrooge as a queer figure with references to screwing, looks at Scrooge’s close relations with Marley and concludes by reading the ending in which Scrooge had "no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards" (Dickens 134),  suggesting that Scrooge's decision here is "accepting this peter-less principle," – that Scrooge must lose his queerness in order to be socially accepted in the end of the novel. We might call his writing analysis; we might call it adaptation; we might call it nonsense or a bad, forced argument.  I’m not sure.  But it’s interesting.

I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on this reading.  My take is that the evidence isn’t strong enough to claim him queer in terms of sexuality, but queer readers have often needed to forge imaginary spaces in text that afford no queer characterization. So, that’s tricky and I’m more in the camp of reader-response than fidelity.  But I think it does help us think about an anti-communitarian and normative ethic and the binaries that exist – we must either be singular and sad or happily swimming in sugarplums with family and community.  That the text folds on this theme makes it a durable tension and ultimately queries the very easy divide that this is making.  


  1. I don't think you're off the mark here. In fact, I experienced some of the same line of thinking in regards to the films, which, in considering your post, now makes me think about A Christmas Carol in a new way (a goal of adaptation!). Watching It's a Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day throws the family-centered, child-rearing morality of A Christmas Carol into the spotlight. Cringing at the final scenes of both films, in which a couple clings to one another, either surrounded by children or discussing the possibility of children, I knew that I was being fed some strong version of this idea of reproductive futurism. Both films suggest that having a family is, though not the moral of the story, an added bonus that comes as a natural capstone to the story.

    If we're considering the validity of Edelman's argument, we need only look to Jimmy Fallon at 2:26.

    1. I'm with the above comment. I can see the foundation for Edelman's argument. As to its being forced, we could interpret countless readings of countless texts as "forced" in terms of the lens that a particular critic might be (almost exclusively, sometimes) using to present an argument from a specific critical school: Marxist, psychoanalytic, New Historicist, etc. So, with the ARGUMENT in mind, I think Edelman's critique is fascinating. But it also sucks the sentimental life out of the text in a really depressing way! But even with my love of the text aside, I don't think it is impossible to reconcile Edelman's reading of _ACC_ to a more upbeat conclusion. Granted, the text puts the onus on Scrooge in terms of a need for change, but once he does change, those around him also need to accept him for the new person that he is. Therefore, rather than reading the text exclusively as a forced change on Scrooge, it is also a text emphasizing acceptance and human togetherness, in general. It's not Utopian by any means, but it does have a strong secular/nonsecular emphasis on the Golden Rule. I think one can apply that principle to a queer reading of the text.

      Also, if you do read Scrooge as a character consumed (more food rhetoric) by homoerotic desire (for Marley or whomever), the emphasis on manliness and particularly the fostering of other male relationships in the novel is by no means contradictory. Scrooge forms a closer relationship to Cratchit, and even becomes a "second father" to Tim. Hello! Strong emphasis on the "nontraditional" family there! His closer relationship to Fred and Tim are problematic with a queer reading, but Scrooge is indeed forced into a way of life that is more open and accepting of his fellow man (in the unigender plural and also masculine singular sense, I would argue).

      So, even though I found Edelman's reading fascinating (and I will definitely give the whole piece a closer read in the near future)--and therefore I found the original "Putting Xmas to Bed" post to be a very interesting and extremely valid contribution to a new view of the text--I would challenge Edelman's evidently derisive reading of _ACC_ without considering the emphasis on openness and acceptance that seem to be fundamental themes in the text. But I would have to agree with the above comment that Edelman's reading absolutely makes many of the subsequent adaptations of _ACC_ with their perhaps forced emphasis on the "nuclear" family exclusively as a bit weird, if not troubling.