The Queerness of Literature

Autumn’s fingers are finally stretching across campus now, and in the morning we are all feeling the chill of her “mists and mellow fruitfulness”; woolly hats and long coats are beginning to appear, and the feat of removing them in the tiny space allotted to you in a lecture theatre is an acrobatic one. From my large bedroom window I can watch the flocks of birds depart south for the winter, and they provide a welcome distraction from the work at hand… the dreaded first essay.

Having only been given it the day before last I can probably be forgiven for still feeling a little intimidated. It’s been over a year since I last wrote anything academic and I rather feel that I may have lost my spark, I read the various scholarly articles recommended to me but can’t imagine ever being able to sign my name at the bottom of one – I’m certain that any day now they’re going to realise I’m a fraud who definitely shouldn’t have been let on the course. But for now we beat on.

It is perhaps only now that I realise what a ridiculous subject literature is; the subject of my essay is the dialogue between Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” and its historical context, but what most of the secondary material available to me concentrates on is the sexual identity and sexuality of the Pardoner, and I can’t help but feel that it’s all a bit ridiculous.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for applying Queer Theory to texts, but this speculation is all based on one line and it is never mentioned again. I think it says more about the preoccupations of our generation than it does about Chaucer and his time – but then again my frustration might stem from the fact that none of these essays help or advance my own so I may be being unfairly critical.

Moreover, as I trawl through various databases of literary articles and works, sifting through the bizarre in search of the enlightening, I keep being overcome by just how small and yet detailed the academic world is. It may be heretical to say so, but I read some scholarly works and think, “Really, who cares about this?” A lot of people apparently, it’s a profession after all (Strange the things people will pay you for). But still I think of all the people I know who went to uni and wonder why they didn’t warn me just how strange and pedantic it all could be – so consider this my warning to you now.

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