Publication Details

Davidson, G. R. "The Gay Novel and the Gay World." Journal of New Zealand Studies .26 (2018): 34-44.


In a recent review essay, J. Daniel Elam charts the emergence of “gay world literary fiction,” a subgenre of the category “world literature,” which over the last twenty years or so has become both a marketing strategy for publishers and a “disciplinary rallying point of literary criticism and the academic humanities.”1 While Elam’s essay is implicitly underpinned by the usual disciplinary understanding of world literature (fiction from potentially anywhere in the globe, translated into English, and studied comparatively), its focus is narrowed to the “gay world” within the planetary world—a putatively homogenous, transnational gay subculture enabled by digital connectivity and the flows of global capital. This new gay world is, according to Elam, characterized by atomization: “From Sofia to Shanghai, authors of gay fiction describe a collection of scattered and isolated individuals, needy but incurious.” The situation has emerged from the “curious paradox” that “visibility and acceptance” have “made life better” for many gay men “at the cost of community and identity.” “Gay visibility, with its attendant politics of respectability” has occurred at the expense of older subcultural institutions like “the gay bar, the bathhouse, the piano bar, and cruising areas,” rendering the gay community “a banally knowable object rather than the product of a passionately forged experience of self-making. In place of the urgent longings of 20th-century queer literature, one encounters a peculiar form of worldly, muted yearning. So-called gay world literature emerges from a global community that isn’t a community at all.”