Liberating The Cannon, a new anthology edited by Isabel Waidner and published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe (under their Experimental mark) sets out to present the intersection of queer experience and experimental writing. The anthology takes its first cue from classism throughout, presenting experimental and literary work that deals with working-class culture at the same time as queerness. It is, most importantly in challenging cannon, ignoring the usual compartmentalising of queer (and working class) writing into low-brow genre definitions.
Opening the anthology’s set of stories is Juliet Jacques’ The Holiday Camp. The story explores this working class identity’s meshing with the desired queer identity of Sam. In seeing a drag act at the holiday camp, Sam wears his sister’s clothes as an emulative thrill, and is caught by his understanding sister who helps him dress up (poorly). They go out and the drag queen takes him home, in this moment we see how the sister’s working class help is challenged by the more experienced man, who helps Sam dress more effectively. Naturally, Sam is followed and abused on the way home — having to run to avoid being beaten. The confrontation with his parents and sister is one expressing the working class repression — love but a desire to not have to deal with it directly, simply an order from the father to not let them see Sam dressed as such. This kind of acceptance sets out the tone of nearly all the works in the anthology — as often stories about queer identity suffer from the same problem as Spiderman films, that we’re endlessly treated to the moment they were bitten by the queer spider as if that is the defining part of their identity. Instead, this collection explores queer people’s identities that are already possessed fully — and it is in the identities friction with the world that the narratives emerge. For example, later in the collection Sara Jaffe’s Baby In A Bar is about negotiating the possession of the child with her environment. As a gay couple, and she not the birth mother, she expresses a series of learnt tics to make her expression of having a baby seem more legitimate to those around her. Which makes all the more sense when she is directly challenged in the bar by a man who may have been following her.
Language and form is played with throughout the collection, including expressing the tyranny of grammar from ETTO favourite, Eley Williams.
The story explores the way that we use grammar and punctuation to help direct towards a shared reality, but as your remove these constraining elements it opens itself to interpretations — which might be subversive to those who hold power. This pairs nicely with Richard Bramer’s Neoliberalism, a story concerned with programming languages — and how moving from compiled to interpreted is understood by the protagonist, but not a certain kind of man. The theme continues in Bingo The Drunkman by Rosie Snajdr, a kind of re-articulating of a single statement — a kind of re-punning toward a truth — as if just playing with the language forces it into a new reality. Again, unhooking language from it’s formal, normalising ideas to display fluidity of meaning as truth.
In Waidner’s work in the collection we see the directness of which the political can be felt, and how identity is often constructed from pop culture and lives of our heroes — and easily imagined into ours to provide shape and structure. This, in comparison to the previous, uses structures to develop a sense of self. In A Girl Called Johnny by Victoria Brown, which both uses diagrams of locations and footnotes, to supply what seems like a clinical sense of the unrealness of objects that surrounds this particular self, we can see the negative of this. The description of women in the soft-core magazines follows up on this unreality, their setting and captioned bodies is alienating. The language is authorial throughout, and this isn’t a story told by the protagonist, who is turned into an object. Instead it it told with the voice of those who define history in footnotes and police reports.
These structures are what the collection tries to break through — to not really defeat the canon for the identities of the people who populate it (white, straight lads, mostly, I suppose) but because of the structures that are forced from the canon onto the rest of literature.
You should buy it here.
This week’s song is King Krule’s Dum Surfer
Sort of nasty, sort of brilliant.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, we’re still here. I forgot to mention Judson Hamilton, who has something out on Dostoyevsky Wannabe — I responded to No Rainbow here. I hope I did okay with the gay stuff. As always, ETTO was written by @CJEggett, tired and tested and un-proof-read. If you got the subject line joke immediately, please feel free to let me know along with the pitches you sent to The Awl that got rejected. I am starting the planning of the next novel, and it’s going to be wild I think. I also feel it might be the last one from the big old wound in my chest — because even though I still pick at it, it does seem to be healing up.