The Greenwood (2)

January 14, 2009

So.  The unifying thing behind the disparate photographs I mentioned in the last post is how the idea of the greenwood was taken up by activist Edward Carpenter in the late 1800s. 

First, the greenwood.  The greenwood is a trope in British writing dating back to Shakespeare at least, and bundled in that trope is a kind of nature that’s both wild and tamed, other to civilization as such but also inhabitable if ultimately unknowable.  If you’re familiar with As You Like It, Jacques and the other lords head out into the greenwood to escape the grind of court life.  It’s a kind of shuffling off of culture for a new, more flexible kind of arrangement.

Where Carpenter comes in is here: as a queer activist and socialist writer at the turn of the last century, Carpenter was important both for trumpeting the queer cause (his work directly inspired the Mattachine Society) and for breaking class barriers in (queer) romance in the name of socialism.  Part of his deal was also a kind of withdrawal from culture into the “wild” though for Carpenter this also had aims for reform and helping the rural poor to get an education etc. etc.  Interesting guy.

How this relates to “The Prussian Officer”: both D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster were directly influenced by Carpenter.  The story in the installation is the tale of a homoerotic relationship between and officer and his servant that becomes incresingly violent, leading to both mens’ deaths.  It also involves an escape into the greenwood as a move away from both the normal and the repressed.

So nature, seclusion and repression are all ideas spinning around within how the works relate to each other.   As well as class and socialism and the instability of subjection positions in a “wilderness” that ranges from northern England to Palm Springs to Elysian Park.  (Palm Springs being a kind of contemporary gay greenwood, in a remote sense.   And it would be great to go back there to takes some photos as well.  Ugly as hell, but an interesting place with an interesting history.)

More will trickle out as I think through this project but this seems like a way to go forward with the body w/r/t queer (post)abstraction because of the simultaneous presence and absence of the human body.


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