Alan Sinfield

Alan Sinfield is convenor of the English MA programme ‘Sexual Dissidence and Cultural Change’ at Sussex University. Literature, Politics and Culture in Post-War Britain was published in 1989.

‘If he were a dog he’d have been put down I five years ago’ – so the Daily Sport on Freddie Mercury. The virulence of the hostility towards gay men that the Aids pandemic has released, it occurs to me, is directly proportionate to the idea, which was getting into general circulation in Britain around 1980, that gays were doing better with the sex-and-love questions. We seemed to have learnt a few tricks that straights had yet to develop. Gay men had organised genial ways of meeting for casual sex, and also loving couples that might manage, even, to evade gendered roles. They knew how to see other men without falling out with their partners; how to go to bed with friends; how to remain on close terms with former lovers; how to handle age and class differences. They were at ease experimenting with kinky games; they were getting the fun back into sex. For the right-wing bigot, therefore, the Aids pandemic was a godsend. It countermanded, precisely, that alleged gay advantage. It had all been a fantasy, ‘the family’ should set the limits of human experience. Gays, Section 28 says, have only pretended families.’

I am grateful to Richard Rorty for his principled good sense on ‘multiculturalism’ (LRB, 20 October), but would nonetheless offer two reasons why cultivating a distinctive subculture is a worthwhile move for subordinated groups – as opposed, for instance, to seeking a ‘share in the mythic America imagined by the Founders’.First, subculture is good for morale. Considered as a model for the...

Marriage of Souls

22 July 1993

E.E. Duncan-Jones’s thoughts on same-sex love in Donne’s poem ‘The Anniversarie’ (Letters, 7 October) find some confirmation in an essay published last year in Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England, edited by Claude Summers (Harrington Park Press). George Klawitter draws attention to the verse epistles written in 1592-4, perhaps six years before ‘The Anniversarie’, between...

Nationalising English

28 January 1993

Thanks for Patrick Parrinder’s valuable contextualising of the education debate (LRB, 28 January). May I attempt one crucial re-focusing? The Government hopes to gain support by pretending that the issue is whether or not school students will gain a worthwhile appreciation of Shakespeare. We all know – don’t we? – that most students will fail to attain that. And they will be seen as failing,...
Claude Rawson’s response to Alvin Kernan’s proposition that ‘the old literature is stone dead’ (LRB, 25 April) seems paradoxical: he denies that it is true, and asserts that literature is being killed off by Stanley Fish and a Marxist-feminist-multiculturalist ‘thought police’. Professor Rawson conflates diverse matters.We should distinguish ‘literature’ as a. a body of texts and b....

It’s Only Fashion

James Davidson, 24 November 1994

The newspapers covering the trial in 1895 found it difficult to put the hideous words into print. Most hoped that those who needed to know would know enough already. Others assumed that a lacuna...

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Frank Kermode, 22 October 1992

Anti-semitism is so disgusting a disease that timid laypersons might prefer to leave its pathology to the experts, but it is pandemic and they cannot wash their hands of it. Sander Gilman’s...

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David Norbrook, 18 July 1985

‘Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an Englishman’s constitution.’ Henry Crawford’s comment in Mansfield Park is a reminder that...

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