Chandler Brossard's novel of hipster bohemia Who Walk in Darkness (1952) is no one's idea of a gay or queer text. Its preoccupation is with straight white male subjectivity adrift in a postwar climate of cultural malaise, its references to homosexuality sparse. Yet queerness exerts a set of discomforting thematic and semantic pressures on the story the novel wants to tell about the place of the hipster counterculture in postwar America In this respect, Darkness exemplifies Eve Sedgwick's celebrated argument that the supposedly marginal issue of homosexual/heterosexual definition in fact structures, and indeed fractures, virtually all modern Western cultural expression.1 But while Sedgwick takes the closet to be the primary rhetorical manifestation of the crises of meaning clustered around sexual identity, Darkness prompts us to consider gayness in relation to another metaphor, the underground. Like the closet, the metaphor of the underground evokes charged connotations of secrecy and disclosure, visibility and invisibility, yet it configures them quite differently. Importantly, the underground gay or otherwise contrasts with the closet in its status as a collective rather than solitary space. It summons up the network, the community, the subculture, and its reference to collectivity produces much of its ideational and political value. Darkness makes no explicit reference to gay life as an underground, but it blatantly features the then-new trope of the cultural underground, this blatancy coexisting oddly with diffuseness: the novel deploys the term underground insistently and unsubtly, but also uncertainly and even quarrelsomely. Darkness epitomizes the paradoxical mobility of the idea of the underground. In pointing up its multifarious connotations, the novel yields connections and discrepancies between the gay male subculture and the various other meanings of the underground that it elaborates.

In scholarly contexts, underground has been a victim of its own success as a widely circulated term. Critics often deploy it, in ways virtually indistinguishable from its popular usage, to approvingly denote subversive cultural energies.2 Alternatively, it's dismissed as so overused as to have negligible analytical purchase, or identified as simply a shibboleth of subcultural capital that tells us more about the need of participants in a given subculture to differentiate themselves from others than it does about the specificities of their nominally "underground" forms of sociality and consumption.3 To some extent I join critics who take up underground as an explanatory category, though I aim to keep interpretive pressure on the term throughout this essay, thus treating it as both a critical object and as a critical tool. I don't assume that the term straightforwardly denotes subversion but also maintain that scrutiny of the term's uses and their ramifications help us to track the changing place of gayness in postwar American cultural politics.

In Brossard's novel the cultural significance of gayness plays out in the uneasy relations it sketches between the (white, male) hipster and the (white, male) homosexual. Darkness simultaneously confirms and complicates recurring print media figurations which juxtapose these two denizens of the urban underground. Nominally distinct but actually suggestively proximate figures, the hipster and the homosexual present, in their postwar trajectories, entangled stories of cultural dissidence. I use Darkness as a jumping off point to follow these stories from the immediate postwar moment to the late 1960s, when hip became mainstream and homosexuality went "overground." Homing in on the politics of taste, consumption, and lifestyle, I trace how the idea of the underground enabled negotiation of the vexed and valorized social category of authenticity.

The idea of the underground

Darkness is one of the first fictional depictions of the Greenwich Village hipster subculture that emerged in the years immediately after the war, a distinction it shares with John Clellon Holmes's Go, published the same year.The two novels, both romans à clef, describe different but overlapping "scenes." Though Darkness was sometimes, to Brossard's displeasure, described as a Beat novel, it is Go that fictionalizes that famous group, with the main characters stand-ins for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, and Holmes himself, among others. The social scene commemorated by Darkness preceded the Beats by a few years and included, as well as Brossard, the writers Anatole Broyard, William Gaddis, Milton Klonsky, Seymour Krim, Jay Landesman, and Delmore Schwartz, and the actor and future film director Paul Mazursky. In his study of postwar hip, Phil Ford dubs this set the "Arrow Collar underground," alluding to a joking reference to Brossard's narrator-protagonist Blake by his friends that he is "the Arrow Collar man of the underground."4 A reference to an iconic advertising image of upper-middle-class masculinity, the Arrow Collar sobriquet taints Blake with a hint of squareness. It's an apt label for the men in Brossard's real-life circle, who took up aspects of the white hipster lifestyle sexual promiscuity, marijuana use, enthusiasm for jazz and modernist literature but were not the "Dostoyevskian rebels" mythologized in Beat literature and in Norman Mailer's famous hipster anatomy "The White Negro" (1957).5 On its appearance, however, New Directions marketed Darkness on the basis of its potentially shocking access to the hipster underground, with its "'opposition' to accepted standards and respectability," as the dust-jacket copy of the original edition put it. Waxing on the theme of transgression, the copy explains that the novel's hipster characters "live by their wits in a kind of underground which lies halfway between neurosis and violence" (Figures 1 and 2). Simultaneously bleak and enticing, the copy's image of the underground anticipates the term's use in the decades to come to sell cultural products on the promise of their depiction of non-normative sexuality, drug cultures, criminality, hidden urban underworlds.6 Of course underground is often used more or less interchangeably with underworld, but the former term's implications of guerilla resistance mean that it may function quite distinctly: it suggests a subversive collectivity working beneath, and potentially weakening the hold of, the dominant culture.7

Mark Greif observes that the term underground began to circulate widely in the years immediately after the war as a consequence of an intellectual vogue for the proto-existentialist figure of the Underground Man introduced in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (1864). The alienated and nihilistic Underground Man seemed to speak to the widely perceived "crisis of man" that resulted from the War and the Holocaust and that was compounded by the threat of the Bomb and fears of totalitarianism. Yet, as Greif notes, the Underground Man who is celebrated in the cultural commentary of the 1940s and 1950s, and who appears in Saul Bellow's Dangling Man (1944) and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), for instance, "is not just 'sick' and 'spiteful' like Dostoevsky's original, but increasingly positive and heroic."8 The 1940s idea of the underground, "in a peculiar concrescence of terminology," also draws on the term's use during the war to describe the anti-Nazi resistance movements in France and other countries.9 But while the term comes to be applied to resistant collectivities, the alienation iconically embodied by the Underground Man is retained as a vital element. In their subcultural manifestations, undergrounds can be understood as networks of collective alienation an idea nicely summed up in the critic Mark Schechner's characterization of late 1940s Greenwich Village bohemia as "the tribe of Fyodor."10

A sense of the politicization of culture is what joins the two terms underground and hip in the immediate postwar moment. In the face of widespread, overlapping anxieties about social conformity, mass culture, and totalitarianism, certain marginal forms of cultural production and consumption come to be seen as modes of politicized, countercultural authenticity. Published in 1948, the opening manifesto of the little magazine Neurotica, one of the first organs of the hip sensibility, offered the underground man as not only a hero, as in the work referenced by Greif, but an artist-hero: "We are interested in exploring the creativeness of this man who has been forced to live underground, and yet lights an utter darkness with his music, poetry, painting and writing."11

But as I've suggested, and as Brossard's novel indicates, the underground has multifarious connotations; it's not simply a synonym for subculture or counterculture. Texts working with the idea of the underground often collapse the metaphorical and the literal, representing actual underground spaces. Greif observes the tendency of postwar fiction exemplifying the "'underground man' mood" to feature literal underground men he mentions Invisible Man and Thomas Pynchon's V (1963), a pair to which we could add Richard Wright's allegorical novella "The Man Who Lived Underground" (1945) (recently published in its original novel form), in which a black man on the run from the police takes refuge in a city's sewage tunnels, from where he gains a revelatory, "back-door" vantage on various scenes of urban life.12

This tendency toward literality in postwar underground texts draws on the katabasis, the classical and Christian narrative of the journey to the underworld, of which the myth of Orpheus and Dante's Inferno are paradigmatic examples. Especially in the Christian versions of this topos, the journey to the underworld results in new knowledge and a new self.13 In her study of the "katabatic imagination" in modern fiction, Rachel Falconer argues that the idea of a self forged by an infernal journey is still very much with us, but that postwar katabatic narratives invariably occur within an urban context, "which, unlike their classical predecessors, is already understood to be infernal."14 As countless twentieth-century novels and films tell us, the city is hell. Darkness is, up to a point, a textbook example of the postwar katabatic imagination, taking its reader on a descent into a modern "hell" Greenwich Village bohemia circa 1949. The underground is the master trope of Brossard's katabatic imagination. In the novel the Village streets are continually, threateningly prowled by gangs of young Italian-American hoods, who, we are told early on, are "so far underground they don't need eyes any more" (14). Bringing together the literal and metaphorical valences of the term, Blake talks in an early passage set in Sheridan Square of "the exhausted underground smell emptying out of the subway entrances" that "was all around us" (16-17). Later Blake describes Times Square as also smelling "like the used smell of the subway. Only this was not the underground. Or maybe it was. Maybe it was at that" (54). In images like these, the underground seems to name the pervasive spiritual crisis of modern America. In a usage more familiar to contemporary eyes, the underground also describes the hipster subculture; sometimes that subculture seems to be a symptom of American hellishness, but sometimes it presents the hope of an alternative. The idea of the underground generates both seriousness and skepticism. One character says, "It is like a joke become serious. . . . I don't know when to take this underground business as a laugh or when to take it as a real thing" (90). As Michael Szalay observes, the novel "can't decide . . . whether to disdain or celebrate the hip underground that it describes."15

Hip had begun in the interwar years as a "poetics of self" practiced in large Northern cities by young black men who defiantly embraced their marginalized position.16 In this originary subcultural mode, hip concatenates esoteric forms of dress (the zoot suit; later, sneakers, berets, and "smoked window" glasses), speech ("jive" talk), musical taste (jazz especially, after the War, bebop and hard bop), and attitude (the ironic modes of "signifying" and the "put-on"). And it revels in the illicit and the streetwise hustling, grifting, and the consumption of drugs (marijuana, Benzedrine, heroin) thus opposing not only the racist strictures of white society but also the black middle-class promotion of uplift and striving. White writers such as Brossard translated hip in the late 1940s into "a wider intellectual vernacular," or, as LeRoi Jones put it in 1963, "a general alienation in which even white men could be included."17 In his brilliant study of hip, Phil Ford defines it as a way of styling one's clothes, deportment, speech, and tastes "with the aim of creating an aesthetic distinction between you, the discrete observing outsider, and the square world you find yourself living in. It is not just fashion, and it is not just politics: it is a stance within which fashion becomes political and politics becomes fashionable."18 Similarly, Lee Konstantinou draws attention to the way hip was self-consciously performed and understood in the 1940s and 1950s as "a specimen of political awareness" and "a theory of power": "All hipsters, of whatever class position, saw power as a function of knowledge, curated taste, and strategic consumption."19 The power of the hipster derives from the observational stance through which he critiques and resists the world of the square. Konstantinou's description of hip as "a specimen of political awareness" echoes the dust jacket of Darkness, which fills out its definition of the hipster by informing us that he is "a person who possesses 'superior awareness,'" who "sees through the shams of conventional attitudes and morality."20

The hipster was critiqued and satirized by journalists and cultural critics from early on, a tendency that gathered momentum as the Beat, and then, in the late 1950s, the media caricature of the "beatnik" became the primary embodiments of hip. Yet criticisms of the substantive hipster coexist, often in the same text, with attraction to the superior awareness and esoteric knowledge denoted by the adjective hip. This is a tension, an evaluative distinction, played out up to the present day: hip is a way of being in the world; the hipster is an avatar of fashion-victimhood. No one wants to be called a hipster, but many of us secretly want to be hip. While the hipster may be laughable in his pretensions, the promise he holds out of access to an authentic realm of experience and knowledge, apart from the cant of consumerist, administered society, has been abidingly seductive. More specifically, the hipster of the immediate postwar moment exemplifies Abigail Cheever's observation in her richly detailed study of the midcentury obsession with authenticity that the authentic self should "be fundamentally oppositional; authenticity required defining oneself against the expectations of society and culture."21

Like the hipster, the midcentury homosexual may also be thought of as possessing a kind of secret knowledge, if only about his own sexuality; and, as we'll see, he too was frequently accused of acting, if not actually being, "superior." Furthermore, the homosexual was likewise "defined against the expectations of society and culture." But gay identity was only occasionally therefore understood as authentic; instead, gayness and the gay subculture were generally understood as flagrantly inauthentic, an understanding routed through the stereotype of gay effeminacy. Willard Motley's novel of the Chicago underworld Knock on Any Door (1947), for instance, applies a favorite midcentury epithet for inauthenticity, "phoney," to its gay male characters, indicating their insufficient masculinity.22

Darkness participates in the conventional denigration of gay men as effeminate, but it's also as uncertain about the gay underground and its relation to authenticity as it is about the idea of the underground in general. It's an uncertainty, I suggest, that relates to the open presence of homosexuals in the bohemian word it maps. The gay underground is most often identified in the early Cold War period in paranoid and titillated terms that overlap with anticommunist discourse. Homosexuality is "invisible but also potentially anywhere and everywhere" operating "underneath" "normative life" and "threaten[ing] to poison [it] from below."23 Yet in the following discussion of Darkness and other representations of bohemia, I want to turn from this familiar concern with the obscure or only partially visible aspect of the gay underground to consider the difference to culture that visible homosexuality makes. More precisely, I want to consider how the volatile relations of visibility and invisibility called up by the term underground shape accounts of the influence of gay culture in Brossard's novel and beyond it. Even if they're representationally marginal and socially marginalized, highly noticeable gay men and lesbians make a difference to bohemian life. In its relations to homosexuality, as in many other respects, bohemia functions as "the social and cultural laboratory for modern society."24 In Darkness, I argue, we can trace important aspects of the relations between the gay subculture and mainstream culture as they would develop over the next two decades. But before we move onto the novel's treatment of gayness, we need first to descend further into Darkness's hipster underground.

Figure 1. Cover for original edition of Who Walk in Darkness (New York: New Directions, 1952).

The hipster underground

Rather than unfolding as a straightforward journey, the katabatic narrative of Who Walk in Darkness proceeds, as the dust-jacket indicates, in a kind of peripatetic "drift," relating in monochromatic, Hemingwayesque prose the barhopping, party-going, and flânerie of five young Village bohemians (four male, one female). If the book has a centerpiece, it is again à la Hemingway a boxing match, in which a dirty fighter triumphs over a clean one, an outcome that is "another victory for the underground" (180). While the novel vacillates on what to make of the underground, the latter certainly never stands for the heroic resistance or redemption that Greif suggests it does in many postwar "underground man" texts. Informed by the postwar American enthusiasm for existentialism, Darkness, as Steven Moore writes, pits the Sartrean good faith of the allusively named Blake William and his allusively named girlfriend, Grace, against the Sartrean bad faith of two of the novel's other main characters, Henry Porter and Max Glazer.25 Yet these more "authentic" characters are also tempted by the underground; indeed, typifying the modern katabatic imagination, they are already at least partly in it. The feckless Blake, Moore suggests, is a "stunted" version of the great Romantic poet; Grace's name, on the other hand, while signaling her goodness, also functions ironically, cluing us into the absence of God.26

Darkness explicitly identifies Max as its "underground man" (80). As the other characters explain, this means that Max is "a spiritual desperado . . . really very hip" (80), whose "ideal is to look like a street-corner hoodlum and be the finest lyric poet in America at the same time" (81). In Anatole Broyard's Partisan Review essay "A Portrait of the Hipster" (1948), the hipster also begins as an "underground man."27 In a terse, strikingly deracialized recap of the hipster's postwar transformation, Broyard presents him as originally an avatar of "inchoate delinquency" who, because of the "ubiquitous law," is "forced to formalize his resentment and express it symbolically," embracing parody and irony, or what Broyard calls "second-removism."28 Like some later theorists of subculture, Broyard suggests that a revolt through style is not truly consequential: the hipster's solely symbolic resistance, Broyard claims, "harmonized or reconciled him with his own society."29 It's a suggestion rendered in broader terms by Brossard, who presents the self-styled "desperado" Max as simply a poseur.

If Max's actions and attitudes amplify Broyard's hints at the hipster's posturing, Henry Porter, the novel's other portrait of bad faith, manifests, in an ironic intertextual twist, a fictionalized version of Broyard himself. Broyard, a prominent figure in bohemian and literary New York circles from the late 1940s onward, was rumored to be an African American passing as white. In Darkness, Porter is also probably a "'passed' Negro" (6), and this racial ambiguity is connected to his unsettling presence: the other characters complain that he is "spiritually incommunicado" (214) and that "you don't know where you stand with him" (123). The uncertainty concerning Porter's racial identity provides one of the novel's main points of narrative tension.

Or at least it does in its original version. This version was suppressed due to the intervention of Delmore Schwartz, the literary advisor of James Laughlin, the owner of New Directions. Schwartz realized that the main male characters were based on members of the Arrow Collar underground: Porter resembled Broyard; Max Glazer recalled Milton Klonsky; and the fourth main male character, Harry Lees, appeared to be based on William Gaddis. Schwartz put the word out, and Broyard and Klonsky threatened to sue unless changes were made. Brossard reluctantly made the changes, the most difficult (and nonsensical) of which transformed Porter from a "'passed' Negro" to a man of rumored illegitimate birth passing as "legitimate." Gallimard published the original text of the novel in a French translation in 1954, but it didn't arrive in the US until a 1972 reissue.30 Broyard and Brossard were at one time close friends, but this brouhaha appears to have put an end to that.31 Brossard had touched a nerve, for Broyard had in fact been born into a New Orleans family that identified as African American, something he largely kept hidden from friends, family, and associates throughout a long career as an essayist and book reviewer for the New York Times, until his death in 1990.32

Yet if Brossard was prepared, through his representation of Porter, to cast aspersions on Broyard's integrity, the novel wavers on whether authentic identity matters, or is even possible a wavering played out in its accounts of both racial passing and hipster posing. Although the other characters constantly bring up Porter's racial identity, Blake himself, as Michael Szalay shows, seems unsure of its significance; at one point he says that he doesn't know whether Porter's "camouflaging" "is his trouble" (214).33 And while the novel casts a jaundiced eye on the "dead-faced hipsters" (115) hanging out at Village venues and parties, it's also invested in the hipster's stance of "superior awareness." Brossard's ambivalence parallels Broyard's. Broyard's essay on the hipster, in some ways critical, is also attracted to the attitudes and knowledges that he represents. Recalling Neurotica's portrait of the underground artist, Broyard identifies the hipster not only as an underground man but also an "underground poet," and even a "guerilla."34 Yet Broyard renders these subversive aspects of the hipster entirely in the past tense; his anatomy, appearing early in the history of writing on hip, is already an epitaph. Broyard narrates a tale of co-optation, in which the hipster travels from a life in the exciting, undocumented regions of "darkness where sex, gambling, crime and other bold acts of consequence occurred" into one in the brightly lit venues of mainstream culture where the essay leaves him, "comfortably ensconced in the 52nd Street clip joints, in Carnegie Hall, and Life."35But if the hipster has sold out, it's not inauthenticity as such that makes his current incarnation so debased. In both his initial "underground poet" period and his present-day "poet laureate" incarnation, the hipster's authenticity is brought about through self-aware performance and irony "second-removism."36 The authenticity represented by the hipster is a kind of fake-it-till-you-make-it process that shows up the performativity of all authentic identity.37

Borrowing a term from Shane Vogel, I call this operation (in)authenticity.38 Vogel deploys this term to parse a phenomenon that is historically close to hip but quite distinct in terms of its situation in the cultural marketplace the 1950s enthusiasm for a highly deracinated version of calypso. Vogel describes how calypso performers often "shamelessly embraced . . . inauthenticity and falseness. . . . In embracing and acknowledging the inauthentic, such performances modified inauthenticity itself and allowed for the possibility of an authenticity through inauthenticity."39 If the mass market phenomenon of the calypso craze sits opposite hip on the (sub)cultural capital spectrum, both cultural expressions signal in strikingly similar ways the intertwinement of performance and authenticity in the midcentury moment.40

Brossard's account of (in)authenticity is less elaborated than Broyard's, but he comes close to registering the ways in which hip registers the contingency of any identity we might feel to be "true" through his preoccupation with the processes of self-fashioning and subcultural belonging afforded by what Konstantinou calls "curated taste." The novel makes much of the fact that, by contrast with the "completely underground" Max (144), Blake is only "partly underground" (90). The other characters jokingly call him "the Hamlet of the underground" (47) because of his indecisiveness about joining it, and, as we've seen, "the Arrow Collar man of the underground." But with regard to the vital aspect of taste, Blake's hip or underground credentials are impeccable, his antennae always primed to detect and dismiss any scintilla of midcult or kitsch. He disparages Muzak, reproductions of Van Gogh, and popular swing music, while appreciating Dostoyevsky (of course), Joseph Conrad, and "digging" bebop.

Yet the katabatic aspects of the novel work against the affirmative, self-fashioning capacities of underground taste. A brief sojourn outside the city is accessed through the Lincoln Tunnel, in which the characters must endure an oppressive "pressure underground" (96) in order finally to experience the disappearance of "the exhausted underground feeling . . . as we drove toward Paterson" (97). This mini-katabasis, in which a journey through the underground gives some relief, however, has no lasting effect on the infernal reality described by the novel. Relatedly, though at times he seems to represent an alternative way of being in the world to that of Max's and Henry's, Blake Williams is finally, inescapably, caught in the underground. His otherworldly vision is stillborn rather than, as in the case of his poet predecessor, elaborately realized. The novel ends with another of its main characters, Harry Lees, hospitalized after having been savagely beaten by some of the ubiquitous Italian-American thugs who are "so far underground they don't need eyes any more" (14). As Blake and Grace hurry to the hospital where Harry has been taken, Grace exclaims, "Let's get out of this terrible place." But the possibility of escape remains unrealized, seemingly impossible: "And go where?" Blake responds to Grace. "Anywhere," she replies. "Let's just get out. I'm scared." "So am I," says Blake the final words of the book (245).

The homosexual underground

But if Blake and Grace cannot find their way to another world, there are other worlds and still further connotations of underground  hinted at in the novel. Darkness does not explicitly include gay life in its capacious understanding of the underground, but like most other depictions of the bohemian world of the postwar period, it treats gay people as an indelible feature of that world, and, in so doing, it suggests the shaping force of the gay collectivity on nominally heterosexual individuals and a nominally heteronormative cultural setting. In this respect Darkness recalls Sedgwick's account of the "universalizing" effect of gayness, but it does so through the presence of what Sedgwick would call a "minoritized" community of gays. While many queer critics following Sedgwick have stressed the universalizing aspect of queerness and discounted the importance of minoritized subcultural forms, Darkness's rendition of a bohemian underground that is part-gay enables us to see how minoritization and universalism work dialectically.41

In Darkness, the assault on Harry occurs not long after he has revealed to Blake his fear that he may be homosexual. Harry's predicament parallels Henry's apparent racial passing a parallel driven home by the near-coincidence of the two men's first names, Harry being a traditional nickname for Henry. The doubling of racial and sexual latency culminates in the tortured Harry confronting Henry with the question, "Are you or aren't you a Negro?" (230) a question that is met with the retort, "What about you? What are you?" (231). If the book is not certain what to make of Henry's racial ambiguity, it's even less sure about Harry's anxious apprehension of his possible homosexuality. Harry complains that he doesn't feel like a "queer" or a "fairy," but that he is still "afraid" that he "might really be one and not know it." But what does it mean to fear being a queer or a fairy while not feeling like one nor, as Blake assures Harry, "act[ing] like one" or "go[ing] with them"? Harry talks of the "sick feeling" he gets "that people are looking at me and thinking I'm a fairy" (220). His plight invites interpretation in terms of the preoccupation with latent homosexuality instilled in midcentury "sensitive heterosexuals" that Norman Mailer wrote about in his essay "The Homosexual Villain" (1954); or, widening the theoretical aperture, in terms of the paranoid homosexual panic to which, as Sedgwick argues, all straight men (indeed, all men of any sexual orientation) are subject in modern homophobic culture.42 Yet the way Darkness stresses and then fails to resolve the question of Harry's sexuality suggests to me that something more is going on. When an actor's rumored homosexuality comes up in conversation, Max asks "what's wrong with being a queer?" (171). Harry responds with what might be self-denying defensiveness, saying that "just the idea is obnoxious" (171); and in his confession to Blake about his feelings, he insists, "I don't like queers" (220). But as a character, Harry holds out the possibility of an unmarked homosexuality that gives the lie to Blake's confident statement about gay men: "you could spot [them] a mile away" (47). This statement is made in relation to the appearance of a gaggle of laughing men, whom Blake describes knowingly as "having such a gay time," in one of the characters' favorite Village bars (47); "Delicious, aren't they?" says Harry of the group in another possibly self-denying moment (48). Affirming Blake's certainty that such men are easily recognized, Max remarks, "They always seem to wear their trousers high" (48). If gay men can thus be easily recognized (no other definitely gay men appear), the book does not quite know what to do with the possibility of an unobservable gayness suggested in the character of Harry, an uncertainty carried into his fate on the final page, in which, instead of actually dying the proverbial death of the midcentury queer character, he only remains close to it.

There is a strong case to be made that Brossard is quite a homophobic writer, even by 1950s standards. Exhibit A for the prosecution would not be Darkness but its successor The Bold Saboteurs (1953), a semi-autobiographical narrative of delinquent adolescence in 1930s Washington, D.C. The cool prose style of the earlier novel is here replaced by one of high-octane tendentiousness, almost a chapter's worth of which is lavished on an appalled, enthralled account of a katabatic sojourn in the gay underground, or what it calls the "fruities' dank, convoluted world."43 First we get a taxonomy of the various types who cruise a park and are regularly beaten up and robbed by the narrator-protagonist Yogi's gang: "rough heterosexual trade, delicate Mary trade, half and half, and endless hybrids of one sort or another" (142). This is followed by an episode in which Yogi visits a luridly depicted gay bar with a friend. Brossard obsessively figures both the bar and its patrons in terms of the most abject manifestation of the underground: the sewer. A male couple "began some of their dirty business" under a table but are thrown out into the street: "now they could do it in the gutters, unmolested, except by the draining sewage there; but they wouldn't mind, would rather like it" (151). Later, "two college queens swished up to our booth.[...] They had that short-haired clean-cut American boy look beneath which lies such stink and sneaky filth. They were entranced by this busy little sewage duct and one of them [...] kept cawing 'Gay! Gay! Gay!' like some giant jungle crow" (152). Yet alongside these extravagant expressions of disgust, the episode indicates the alertness of the "sensitive heterosexual" to homoerotic feeling. Yogi tells us, "I never really was sure myself what I was doing there" (148) and that the "high-pitched voice" of one patron is "like a razor against the nerves of my so-called normalcy" (152). Edgar Friedenberg writes that this episode "must surely be understood as a brilliant portrayal of severely repressed homosexual feeling and the hostility it generates," even as the amount of "lip-smacking over this queer-bashing . . . suggest[s] that Yogi may be serving, at least to a degree, as the author's ventriloquist dummy."44 If we put this novel's lip-smackingly homophobic description alongside the quite sympathetic portrayal of the possibly homosexual Harry in Darkness, we begin to see that what troubles Brossard in both these novels is not homosexual feeling per se but its underground subcultural expressions the identities, behaviors, and argot that enable one to "spot [them] a mile away." Brossard projects his hostility toward homosexuality onto the gay collectivity while reserving a space of possible acceptance for homosexual desire freed from its immersion in subculture and community.

Bohemias of the 1940s and 1950s have often been acclaimed for their tolerance of racial and sexual diversity (though inordinately, according to a good many of the blacks and queers who were there).45 Brossard himself attested to a sense of fellow feeling with "the underworld, the outcasts," including "homosexuals" (albeit late in his career, in the 1980s).46 The Beats famously accepted and even celebrated (male) homosexuality and bisexuality at least some of the time. But a line was drawn between hip men like Allen Ginsberg and those with clearer subcultural commitments. The reported comments, circa 1958, of an obscure Beat, Chris Nelson, on Ginsberg and Carl Solomon are representative. "Their homosexuality," says Nelson, "isn't real, really. I've seen these guys from the sticks make it in New York who don't know how to be homosexuals and they learn from other fags how to be homosexuals. [Ginsberg and Solomon] are like this intellectual type of homosexual. They are well read and they know all the things that the famous homosexuals have written in literature. But these same guys, they still make it with chicks."47 As Catharine Stimpson put it in an important 1983 essay, Beat authors like Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs "seem[ed] to be repudiating the modern notion of homosexuality as an identity and bringing back the older description of it as an event."48 Stimpson's observation is paralleled in ethnographies of the Beat scene. In a study of the Village Beat scene of 1960, the sociologist Ned Polsky comments on the rarity of exclusive homosexuality: "An extraordinary number of male beats . . . are fully bisexual or in some cases polymorphous perverse. . . . Even beats with numerous and continuing post-adolescent homosexual experiences typically do not feel the need to define themselves as homosexuals and create some sort of beat wing of the homosexual world. Nor do they give up heterosexual involvements."49 And a 1961 ethnography of San Francisco's Beats similarly notes that homosexual experience among men is common but "overt exclusive homosexuality is rare: certainly social homosexuality 'gay bars,' 'gay parties' is not part of this scene."50

Meanwhile in his post-Beat paean to the hipster, "The White Negro," Mailer noted in passing that "many hipsters are bisexual."51 Mailer's revisioning of the hipster as a vital embodiment of amoral, but potentially socially ameliorative, energy relies on a repudiation of the Beats, who, in their contrasting passivity, are identified with the effeminate subcultural queer that they themselves apotropaically rejected. If "one is beat, one has lost one's confidence, one has lost one's will, one is impotent in the world of action and so closer to the demeaning flip of becoming a queer, or indeed close to dying."52 Yet Mailer's reference to the bisexuality of many hipsters also relies on the hip connotations that the Beats had brought to homosex. Even as the Beats helped pave the way for gay liberationist ideas, they took pains to distinguish their own same-sex forays from the gay subculture, defining those forays as not "really" homosexuality, or at least as a different, less stigmatic homosexuality. A masculinizing openness to "mak[ing] it with chicks" was crucial to the distinction.

Intimating these developments, in Darkness the underground man Max occupies a kind of sexual midway point between Harry's uncertainty and Blake's uncompromised straightness. Max asks, "what's wrong with being queer" in the exchange with Harry about the actor; and at one point he expresses his rather queer desire to watch Harry and a woman have sex. Relating this episode to Blake, Harry exclaims, "Jesus. . . . he can do anything. The guy is completely underground. Could you do that, Blake?" (144). Max's up-for-anything sexual interests mark him as "completely underground," anticipating the blurring of sexual (but not gender!) boundaries that was part of hip in its Beat manifestation.53 Yet, as for the Beats, this hip, underground sexuality is distinguished from subcultural gayness. Gayness and unhipness are conflated. In a bar scene in Darkness, the bohemian characters are introduced to an advertising executive, whose marked differences of taste, style, and habitus define him as a square. Max complains to the other characters: "I don't dig this guy. . . . Is he a fruit or something?" (81).

Underground inauthenticity

If homosexual behavior or individual homosexuals could be hip, then, the gay underground was not. In a study of male same-sex sexuality in midcentury New York, Barry Reay notes that John Clellon Holmes's Go is "dismissive" of effeminate homosexuals, "who seem to have no real role in this celebration of life lived on the edge."54 Yet Holmes distinguishes between a gang of "graceful, shoulder swinging" homosexuals encountered at a bar "mincing, chirruping and trying to rub up against everyone" and Stofsky, the sympathetically presented Ginsberg analogue, who challenges "his father's bigoted shock at his homosexuality."55 Reay argues persuasively that entrenched "hostility to homosexual effeminacy crossed the gay/straight divide" in midcentury culture, and cautions that we should not "confuse antagonism to effeminacy with antipathy toward homosexuality."56 I would add to this claim that it is subcultural collectivity  invariably imagined in terms of effeminacy and inauthenticity that is not simply dismissed, but generative of overlapping anxieties about sexuality, selfhood, and culture.57

Emphasizing firstly the cultural aspect of the threat that unhip gayness represents, Blake complains, observing the group of gay men in his favorite bar, that "No good place in town was safe from them any more. They eventually hunted down every good place and then ruined it. Those always happy young faces even the middle-aged ones looked nineteen. They were always having such a gay time. They brought the uptown tourists and then eventually the hustlers and the hoods came, too, for their share of the gravy. You could not do anything about them, either. They knew it and acted very superior about it" (47).58 Gay men don't only ruin the hipster enclave because they attract square voyeurs (uptown tourists) and criminal elements (hustlers and hoods). They also ruin it with their sexual aggressiveness: "One [of the gay men] looked the place over and said to one of his friends, I wonder if there is anyone here I should know." "Why don't you cruise around and find out?" is the friend's response (48). Also invoking the sexual aspects of such predations, Holmes describes the gay men in the bar scene from Go as "trying to rub up against everyone." And in a 1950 Partisan Review essay about the Village's famous hangout the San Remo, Broyard describes the "fairy" patrons, in his trademark baroque prose, as "always à l'affût, in ambush behind demurely dropped lids or frankly tumescent in a gimlet eye." However, Broyard assures his readers that "the real queens are quashed" by the barman, who "throws beers on their tattersall vests[!]"59

In depictions of the hipster scene, fairies and queens are always a tribe apart, easily recognizable by their effeminate mien, their tattersall vests and high trousers they are not the tribe of Fyodor. Yet they are a discomforting presence, whether "quashed" or grudgingly allowed to carry on. In his recent study of midcentury New York and San Francisco bohemian undergrounds, Stephen Duncan echoes Reay's argument about effeminacy, noting that the ubiquitous use of the term "faggot" in those bohemias "reflected concerns about gender transgression and effeminacy, rather than simply sexual behavior." Gay bohemians themselves "often referred casually to the 'faggot table'" at their favored boîtes, "a spatial delineation that represented an identity based on style rather than sexuality."60 Yet while homosexual men of the Ginsberg type might prefer to carouse with their straight hipster confreres rather than join the faggot table, the "spatial delineation" between the various tribes was unsettled by the closeness of quarters; the faggot table was never that far away. Rather than a haven of pluralism, the bohemia of the 1940s and 50s often seems a kind of Darwinian environment in which various tribes of misfits compete for scarce leisure-space resources. The threatening come-ons and intrusions of subcultural homosexuals render their apartness precarious, potentially undermining the distinctions between them and hipsters with same-sexual interests, and between them and straight hipsters. Blake's sneering observation of the gay men in his bar his references to their "always happy young faces" and their "always having such a gay time" carries hints of envious attraction. And Broyard follows up his assurance that the "real queens" of the San Remo are doused with beer with a "sensitive heterosexual" moment: "None of [the queens] do much business here, but the tension so much deeper and more equivocal than at the regular markets is like a delicious knotting in the bowels."61 The sentence ostensibly conveys the feeling of the queens, but the absence of a possessive adjective attached to "the bowels" accidentally renders the subject of that feeling uncertain. Whose bowels are being knotted so deliciously here, exactly? The encroachment of the queens registers as a form of sexual excitation, ambiguously located as experienced by either, or both, the queens and the nominally heterosexual and assuredly hip observer.62 In depictions of bohemia the visible presence of subcultural homosexuals also unsettles and attracts non-hip denizens of, and visitors to, bohemian neighborhoods. In a 1948 essay, for instance, Milton Klonsky writes of the Village's "lay sodalities of fairies" a figure suggestive of efforts to convert and asserts that these groups "caricature" the neighborhood's Italian-American "young toughs," making them "ache with jealousy."63 And then, to return to Darkness, there are those "uptown tourists" coming to gape at the freakishly exotic, magnetically attractive gay men in Blake's favorite bar.

In these kinds of images of influence and attraction, records of bohemian life indicate that the gay underground, despite its spatial connotation, does not stay in place. Like other undergrounds, it is defined by its liability to emerge into and become a part of the overground. Discussing the queer underground cinema of the 1960s, Ryan Powell has shown how the production and consumption of underground film facilitated processes of "world-making" for gay men in the 1960s.64 But the gay underground is not only a space in which "world-making" for men who identify as gay takes place; it also helps to make the world more generally.

In order to pursue my particular interest in the effects of the presence of gay men on other men in Darkness, I find useful at this point the argument of the sociologist of sexuality Henning Bech about "absent homosexuality," which he boldly defines as "the typical form of sexuality among non-homosexual men in modern societies." Elaborated in contrast to psychoanalytic notions of a latent, repressed, or sublimated homosexual drive, absent homosexuality is defined by Bech as "a historically specifiable formation of a certain not always sexual, but sexualizable interest, inherent in masculinity, in what men can do with one another."65 Bech argues that a wide range of relations between men in modern societies are charged with the "emphatic appeal" to sex, "while at the same time a compulsory gesture of disavowal is imposed upon them." This "cramp of actuation and denial" lends homosexuality a ghostly aspect in the social and subjective realms, even though it's paradoxically brought into being by the clear presence of groupings of homosexually-identified men: "'Absent homosexuality' . . . [has a] ghost-like character as that which exists and does not exist, that which is desired and denied, that which is known of and unknown. . . . Absent homosexuality can only be comprehended in its relation to the other pole in the modern form of male-male eroticism, i.e., the homosexuals, in its simultaneous connection to and demarcation from them. Its phantom-like character is indeed related to the fact that it is a reflection emanating from the homosexuals."66

Bech's argument helps us prise open the conundrum of Harry's identification, his sense of being haunted by the possibility of his own homosexuality. It also helps explain the amalgam of desire and disgust evident in The Bold Saboteurs' gay bar scene and in Broyard's depiction of the San Remo but the character of Harry offers a more elaborated and thus a more suggestive version of the dynamic that Bech describes. Harry has a "sick feeling" that he "might really be [queer] and not know it," even though he "really [doesn't] feel queer" (220). The character of Harry, I suggest, registers the operation of absent homosexuality, which "emanate[es] from the homosexuals." It's the visibility of gay men, I'm arguing, that explains why Harry feels he might be gay. The unavoidable presence of gay men in bohemia brings absent homosexuality into relief, activating the sense of homosexual possibility. Harry's feeling that he might be homosexual is "situational," in the sense elaborated by Bech; it is not "an emergency measure," as in the usual understanding of situational homosexuality, but rather produced in an individual, who has not necessarily had any prior "'homosexual' wishes," by his experience of a given situation.67

Harry's statement to Blake that "I don't like queers. . . . I like women" (220), which might be taken to indicate simply the paranoia of homosexual panic, needs to be put alongside the moments of possible self-denial (his joining in the derision of the gay men at the bar, his reaction to the idea of homosexuality as "obnoxious") though self-denial is not really the term I want here, as it suggests an already formed identity and a firm desire. Rather, we could say that Harry's predicament delineates how the "situation" of bohemia activates the possibility of homosexual identity and desire for some, though not for others. (Bech writes that "it is not certain" that "homosexual wishes" would "occur among all participants" in a situation that might encourage their activation.)68 In Darkness Harry, I suggest, represents an intimation of authentic gay identity, though this is something that the culture at large cannot admit and that the novel cannot fully imagine hence the failure of Harry's sexual identity to come into focus. This intimated gay authenticity has subcultural inauthenticity as its indispensable backdrop (the "queers" that Harry doesn't "go with"). The novel both attempts to distinguish Harry from underground homosexuals and places him suggestively in proximity to them.

Following Bech, I'm arguing here that sexuality is never meaningfully distinguishable from its (sub)cultural expressions. Yet midcentury literary culture features many attempts to make such a distinction in relation to gayness. It is indeed through the drawing of this distinction that, for many writers, a sense of authentic homosexuality is enabled. We see this operation in Darkness; we see it in the Beats; and we also see it in the work of many midcentury queer authors. Writers as different as William Burroughs and James Baldwin insisted on the separateness of the homosexual individual and, at least in Baldwin's case, loving homosexual coupledom from the gay underground.69 Like Brossard in Saboteurs, Burroughs and Baldwin draw on katabatic tropes, representing the gay underground as a hellish threat to bodily and psychic integrity that is populated by the dead or the only seemingly alive. Burroughs writes in Junky (1953) of the patrons of a gay bar that "they jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago."70 In Baldwin's Another Country (1962) one character describes the gay world as a place where "You do not meet many human persons. . . . They are all dead. Dead."71 Baldwin's account of the deathliness of the subculture reaches a notorious extreme in the description of one bar patron in Giovanni's Room (1956) as "like a mummy or a zombie . . . something walking after it had been put to death."72 Yet the subculture is seemingly a necessary presence in these texts, as it is in many other midcentury novels concerned with homosexuality. In the novels of Burroughs, Baldwin, and others, the protagonist's katabasis in the gay underground enables the emergence of a new, more authentic gay self; but it also inescapably informs that self. The Bold Saboteurs extends this operation to the notionally straight individual, collapsing the minoritizing and universalizing aspects of queerness again. After leaving the infernal gay bar, Yogi enters into the first of several dissociated states suggestive of psychosis, his "head jangl[ing] hellishly with the shrill, exotic mating calls of the sex-crazed fairies" (155). Rather than bringing about sexual authenticity, Yogi's katabasis in the gay world makes evident the extent of the protagonist's mental distress but it is a distress informed, as Friedenberg puts it, by "severely repressed homosexual feeling."

Underground minoritization

In a 1959 Village Voice article entitled "The Gay Underground," the leftist organizer and gay man David McReynolds, probably influenced by Baldwin, also used the image of the zombie to convey the cultural and psychic rottenness of gay collectivity. McReynolds argued that "gay society" is a "destructive sub-culture, producing corps of clean-shaven, fresh-scented zombies who eat, sleep, walk, talk, and are dead."73 The article was a response to "The Revolt of the Homosexual," an early argument for radical gay liberation by the erstwhile Arrow Collar Underground member Seymour Krim, which had appeared the previous week in the Voice. Cast as a dialogue between an unsympathetic "Straight Guy" and a forthright "Homosexual," Krim's article, in the voice of the latter, advanced the necessity of a defiant homosexual movement, countering the assimilationist position advanced by the homophile organizations of the day. Gay men, the Homosexual states, "must fight to gain acceptance for what they are not what others want them to be," and he defends effeminacy and drag.74 McReynolds rejected Krim's call for defiance and urged assimilation. He compares the deathly gay subculture with the "Negro subculture which has been and remains tremendously vital," because, he says, rather incoherently, "[Negroes] desperately want to be accepted into the larger framework" and "did not voluntarily separate themselves from American society as a whole." It's hard to see how a subculture, which is by definition discrepant from the wider culture, might draw its vitality from an aspiration to be part of that culture, and McReynolds more or less concedes the incoherence when he states that it is the "struggle" of African Americans that has produced "jazz a contribution beyond words." The point of comparing the African American and gay subculture is really to show up the sterility of the latter, which, McReynolds says, "produces nothing of value." The subculture is beaten with the stick of humanism: "Those writers, poets, and artists who are homosexual and who have produced solid and enduring works of art have done so in every case because they saw themselves as human beings first and as homosexuals second." Where homosexuals "produce art based on [their] sub-culture it is fragile, brittle, and cold beyond words," McReynolds declares, applying the same formulation of ineffability that he did to the black cultural innovation of jazz, but in the negative. Rejecting any emphasis on gay cultural specificity, McReynolds, like Baldwin, urges instead the social acceptance of homosexual love, which, he concludes, would go far "toward wiping out the gay underground."75

In midcentury representations, the gay subculture's destructiveness and worthlessness is often brought into relief through contrast with the cultural achievements of ethnic and racial minorities, as in McReynolds's article. In Darkness the distinction is made implicitly. Brossard iterates the hipster view of black culture as a site of loamy authenticity, positioning the challenging aesthetic of bebop as a counter to the middlebrow tastes that he excoriates elsewhere: listening to jazz at a party, Blake realizes that the seemingly amorphous flow of improvisation, which at first "did not make sense," forms a pattern if "you listened carefully" (114). By contrast, gay culture, synecdochally represented by those intruding gay men in Blake's bar, is parasitic, battening on an already existing hipster space, and offering, in McReynolds's words, "nothing of value." The refusal or condemnation of gay cultural achievement is an important manifestation of the widespread midcentury resistance to the minoritization of homosexuals, if we understand minoritization as the source of an emancipatory project rather than simply the classification of a distinct, "deviant" identity group. This was the argument made in Donald Webster Cory's pathbreaking study The Homosexual in America (1951), which argued that homosexuals are an "unrecognized minority," akin to ethnic and racial minorities such as Jews and blacks due to the prejudice and injustice they suffer on the basis of their identity.76 And other writers of the immediate postwar moment frequently drew less carefully elaborated comparisons, framing the difficulties faced by both homosexuals and ethnoracial minorities in terms of the discourse of the "social problem."77 Indeed, the parallelism that Brossard sets up between the possible blackness of Henry and the possible homosexuality of Harry is a fictional version of this kind of comparison. Yet the extreme stigmatization of homosexuals worked as a brake on the full politicization of their minority status, and even on politically moderate arguments against the prejudiced treatment of them.

Concluding his observations on the encroaching gay men at the Village bar, Blake laments, "You could not do anything about them, either. They knew it and acted very superior about it" (47). The diagnosis of a gay superiority complex is a common feature of the midcentury response to minoritization, though one that comes with varying affective loadings in different texts. Given this context, it's not overblown, I think, to suggest that the imagined untouchability of the men in Darkness, and the acting superior that follows from it, disavows the reality of structural homophobia. Whether they're nominally sympathetic or overtly hostile to homosexuality as an individual orientation, midcentury discussions of gayness frequently, tellingly fixate on gay men's misplaced sense of superiority in order to reject, or at least severely criticize, gay collectivity. The homosexual poet Robert Duncan provides an early example in his landmark essay "The Homosexual in Society" (1944), condemning the gay subculture as "a cult of homosexual superiority," manifested in "a secret language, the camp, a tone and a vocabulary that are loaded with contempt for the uninitiated."78 Like Baldwin and McReynolds, Duncan argued that homosexual love should be accepted but that group identity should be repudiated. What Duncan calls the "evil" of the homosexual cult lies in its misguided sense of separateness, a characteristic not observable, Duncan argues, in other minorities like Jews, which he claims are largely assimilated.79 A more uncomplicatedly hostile characterization of the gay superiority complex is voiced by the TV personality Alexander King, who in a 1960 book lamented that "these cats don't act like sick people, they act like superior people." King expresses his "resent[ment]" at the "dull pretense" of "a lot of homosexuals" "that they belong to an injured minority, like the Jews and the Negroes and the Puerto Ricans in our midst"; if you "tend to denigrate their status they instantly bring up ancient Greece, the sonnets of Shakespeare and the poems of Oscar Wilde."80 More moderately and thoughtfully, Mailer, six years earlier in "The Homosexual Villain," regretted the way that heterosexual prejudice drove gay men to "assum[e] that there is something intrinsically superior in homosexuality."81 Mailer here echoes Cory's Homosexual in America, which, he states in his essay, forced him "to face up to [his] homosexual bias" and to understand "homosexual persecution to be a political act and a reactionary act."82 Cory presented the feeling of gay superiority as an outgrowth of oppressed minority status: "If we are to believe in ourselves, we must reject the entire theory of the inferiority status which the heterosexual world has imposed upon us. And therein we find a reaction common among people who live in a special minority category: we create a new set of beliefs to demonstrate that our gay world is actually a superior one." This feeling of superiority commonly manifests in a belief that "homosexuals are usually of superior artistic and intellectual abilities" and in the kind of roll call of putatively gay cultural achievement referenced by King and familiar from countless twentieth-century defenses of same-sex sexuality.83

Its influence on Mailer aside (an influence that in any case he soon relinquished), Cory's sympathetic analysis of the complexities of minoritization proved to have less impact than the view that gay men's sense of superiority was unearned, a view that also implied their in fact cosseted and privileged status ("you could not do anything about them," as Brossard puts it). In its most extreme elaboration, this view took the form of what Michael Sherry calls the "imagined conspiracy" of gay men's dominance in the arts, in which putative feelings of superiority were mysteriously translated into a culturally superordinate status. Thriving in media commentary from the early 1950s to the late 1960s, this conspiracy theory saw gay artists imposing their "psychological and creative inauthenticity" on an unwitting population and "undermin[ing] the nation's cultural prowess."84 In a further indication that the bohemian setting was fertile ground for awareness of and anxiety about the cultural effects of minoritized homosexuality, Brossard's Arrow Collar underground associates John Clellon Holmes and Jay Landesman were instrumental in pushing forward the conspiracy in the early 1950s, publishing, under the pseudonym "Alfred Towne," an article on the topic in Neurotica in 1950 and then two others in 1951 in the more widely circulated American Mercury. They professed their worry that the "underground pressure group" of gay artists and tastemakers were bringing about "a gradual effeminization of artistic and sexual values."85 "Homosexuality, far from merely receiving sympathetic cultural attention, is actually becoming a cultural force," Holmes and Landesman warned, predicting that "in the near future you won't be able to tell the homosexuals from the non-homosexuals if you read their poetry, criticism and novels, or see their plays or movies."86 In line with Brossard's more oblique suggestions in Darkness and Saboteurs, Holmes and Landesman indicate that minoritization will collapse into universalization, due to the powerful, if shadowy, "cultural force" of gay men. The conspiracy as elaborated by Holmes and Landesman, and many others after them, locates gay artists as an "underground pressure group" paradoxically exerting its influence from a position at the top of the cultural hierarchy though the conspiracy retained the underground's connotations of secret and opaque operations, thereby repurposing longstanding tropes of malign Jewish influence, which the War had rendered less acceptable, as well as aligning with anticommunist discourse.87

This vision of the baleful effects of gay superiority contrasted with the general view of hipster superiority, which, although mocked, was also a focus of attraction. Yet in the midcentury moment, the two kinds of superiority also indicate parallels between the homosexual and the hipster. Both of these figures denote recognizable subcultural fashions (smoked glasses and berets on the one hand, tattersall vests and trousers worn high on the other). And both subcultures take an ironic, critical distance from "mainstream" society, one that is self-protective and self-sustaining: in hip culture, "second-removism"; in gay culture, an aggregate of counternormative styles, attitudes, and tastes that can be collected (as Duncan indicates) under the rubric of "camp." There is, I've suggested, an attraction to gay culture and its superior airs buried below the condemnation, derision, and alarm with which it's usually greeted in midcentury accounts of the gay underground. By and large, however, the fascination with the good (in)authenticity of the hipster contrasts with the condemnation of the bad inauthenticity of the gay subculture. When the notion of gay authenticity is broached, it's posited in opposition to the inauthentic subculture. But, as we've seen in Darkness, the possibility of authentic homosexual identity is also generated by gay inauthenticity. Harry's worried apprehension of his own queerness is, I've argued, only possible in a context of gay men carrying on campily and effeminately.

Afterword: The "end" of the underground

Depicting the gay underground in The Homosexual in America, Cory also raises the possibility of an authenticity arrived at through inauthenticity, offering an untypically positive view of what he calls the "submerged world" of urban gay life.88 For Cory, the gay bar is a site of both self-recognition and fellow feeling a noteworthy contrast with the horror-show luridness of the gay bar representations of queer writers like Baldwin and Burroughs and straight writers like Brossard. Cory writes that the bar offers "the frightening specter of a mirror that holds up the image of oneself, which is a true image." But this fearful self-recognition in the presence of visible gay identity perhaps what Darkness's Harry experiences is displaced by a sense of belonging. If the bar provides a potentially troubling confrontation with one's true image, this katabatic sojourn is offset by "the convivial spirit that comes from being with one's own."89 Cory's description of a drag ball sets out a similarly complex emotional response. At the end of the night, Cory says, "I look around and see the tortured, the grotesque, all of the tragedies of lives not yet lived."90 Yet this description does not work to install distance but solidarity. He writes, "In their costumes and out of them, I am with these people, and I hope they enjoy this moment of peaceful triumph as much as I do."91 Cory's sympathetic account of what Baldwin, Burroughs, and McReynolds would doubtless regard as the artificial and destructive practice of the drag ball holds out the possibility of a politically progressive and personally enriching view of gay (in)authenticity.

This was a possibility also explored by Susan Sontag thirteen years later in her landmark intervention in cultural politics, "Notes on Camp" (1964). There Sontag writes that "Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste: the most refined forms of sexual attractiveness (as well as the most refined forms of sexual pleasure) consists in going against the grain of one's sex."92 Homosexuality is granted the authenticity it was usually denied, an authenticity accessed through artifice ("going against the grain"). Moreover, by associating queer sexuality with "truth," if only a truth of taste, Sontag gestures toward a potentially liberatory view of homosexuality and of camp. Like other writers on gay culture, Sontag assumes an "ethnic" view of gay men, but this time the view works in gay men's favor. Sontag compares homosexuals to Jews, not in order to promote assimilation, but to describe an "integration," in which differences of cultural style are taken up by the wider American community: "The Jews pinned their hopes for integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense. Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense." Like proponents of the homophobic conspiracy about gay men in the arts, Sontag identifies (white, metropolitan) gay men as influential on culture they make up the majority of "an improvised, self-elected class . . . who constitute themselves as aristocrats of taste." But in a reversal of the conspiracy theory's assessment, Sontag implies that the influence is benign, indeed welcome.93 Sontag upends gay conspiracy discourse into an early expression of what, in the post-liberation era, becomes a truism: gay men are a tastemaking vanguard, whom others need to take note of if they want to stay au courant or whose consumption choices eventually trickle down to the straight majority. Blake's complaint about the gay men in his bar "They eventually hunted down every good place and then ruined it" is the inverse of what becomes the received wisdom: it is gay men who create or find the "good places," who create or adopt the leading-edge fashions. Indeed, Sontag's claim about the force of gay taste was spectacularly borne out in the cultural craze for camp that followed her essay's wide dissemination.94

Gay culture was increasingly visible throughout the latter half of the 1960s and gay men were increasingly, though of course not universally, accepted as arbiters of taste. Thus by the late 1960s many were prepared to call it: the underground was now the overground. The publication of Gore Vidal's scandalous satirical bestseller Myra Breckenridge (1968), with its no-holds-barred assault on heteronormativity and the gender binary, offered an opportunity for purveyors of what Vidal called "bookchat" to deliver pronouncements to this effect. In the New York Times, James MacBride styled Myra as "the underground novel to end all underground novels"; through innuendo, he referred to both the book and its author's queerness.95 More expansively, in the New York Review of Books Margot Hentoff wrote that Vidal's novel was "selling with such rapidity as to make the book's publication itself a parody of things underground. A parody so successful that one begins to wonder if the underground still exists, and where." Casting her eye back to "the dreary days of the Fifties, when the underground was still at the old location," Hentoff continued the established comparison of gay and ethnoracial subcultures, noting that "two of [the underground's] hippest sections were the Black and the Gay. Both were mysterious, initiatory, and glamorous in the way things are glamorous when they contain the potential for both excitement and danger. If one was not directly involved with either, but still curious, the key to Black was jazz, and to Gay those peculiar books one came upon from time to time." But, she says, gesturing toward the dramatic cultural changes of the decade, "The Black underground surfaced, the invisible man became visible would not, in fact, go away." As for homosexuality, she claims, "lately the word has an echo of old corridors. A college boy says, 'Last night I dreamed that Donovan was my lover. Wild!' and does not expect to be thought queer, even in long hair and silver chains. It seems at times, these days, that everyone is everything. By contrast, homosexuality implies an almost puritanical rigidity."96

Admittedly off-hand and ephemeral, Macbride and Hentoff's assertions about the disappearance of the underground nonetheless point toward key developments in countercultural formations from the late 1960s on, even though they got their prognoses wrong. The descriptor underground continued after 1968 to appeal to self-styled oppositional cultures, even as hip was massified and countercultural tastes and attitudes became widespread. Hentoff's claim that homosexuality was passé, as the young supposedly embraced pansexual possibility, ignored the growing homophile rights movement that would ramify into radical gay liberation the following year. Indeed, Hentoff's pronouncement about the pansexual present depends, yet again, on the abject figure of the effeminate, subcultural gay man the "queer" with whom the long-haired and chain-bedecked college boy is not to be confused. As Hentoff's image of the college boy indicates, the late 1960s counterculture added androgyny to the hip bisexuality or sexual ambiguity established by the Beats, though it largely continued to reject subcultural identities.97 The emergence into the overground of gay culture coincided with the mainstreaming of hip, and in some ways the antagonistic relations established in the 1940s and 1950s between hipsters and homosexuals persisted and were even strengthened. The sense of self-conscious performativity or (in)authenticity that characterized late-1940s hip diminished in the 1960s counterculture, which was strongly attached to an uncomplicated idea of stripped-back authenticity (even as it relied upon theatricality and the "put-on" in its protests).98 Masculinist (and even feminist) texts of the counterculture and the New Left translated the earlier hipsters' fetishization of black culture into the appropriation of the epithet "nigger" as an honorific badge of oppression, while the term "faggot" emblematized the unhip, unmasculine, inauthentic establishment.99 In terms of the vital aspect of taste, subcultural gayness continued to be associated with chichi consumerism rather than with the hip capacity to see through "plastic," mass-produced fashion.

Yet, as Ford notes, countercultural hip is itself "a stance within which fashion becomes political and politics becomes fashionable." As any number of arguments working with the tricky but indispensable concept of co-optation indicate, the distinction between countercultural rebellion and commercialization is volatile and ambiguous. Thomas Frank, among others, has argued that the notion of "counterculture" is a generative component of consumer capitalism rather than a form of fundamental opposition to it. Frank observes that twentieth-century consumer capitalism "did not demand conformity or homogeneity; rather it thrived on the doctrine of liberation and continual transgression."100 On the basis of this kind of argument, the enthusiasm for, or receptiveness to, gay taste and gay culture that begins in the mid-1960s is a more or less inevitable outcome of capitalism's dynamic of perpetual turnover. But as insightful in many respects as the arguments of Frank and others are, they also, as Phil Ford notes, "[suffer] from an overeagerness to destroy what other writers" on subcultures and countercultures are "too apt to protect."101 Although we can point to the enmeshment of countercultures with consumerism, this does not mean that "dissent is . . . merely a symptom of the capitalist dynamic of creative destruction." "Social movements," Ford notes, "are brought into being by real injustices that demand real resistances."102

The emergence of the gay underground can be understood as both an expression of capitalism's appetite for new markets and new tastes and as a liberatory countercultural force. Moreover, although radical gay liberationists themselves often sought to jettison subcultural forms, liberation politics emerged out of a sense of subcultural solidarity developed not only through a shared sense of oppression but also through shared institutions, lifeways, and tastes. While these subcultural forms continued to be condemned as inauthentic, the gay identity partly forged by them was now a highly visible part of the cultural mix rather than relegated to an underground. The gay influence that had perturbed straight bohemians in "the dreary days of the Fifties, when the underground was still at the old location," was now a culture-wide phenomenon. In this new dispensation, in which, to paraphrase Ford, politics is fashion and fashion is politics, the question Max asks in Darkness would increasingly be sounded: "what's wrong with being queer?" Subcultural gayness, long dismissed or scapegoated as abjectly inauthentic, would begin to take its place among the array of authentic American identities.

Guy Davidson is Associate Professor of English Literatures at the University of Wollongong. He is the author of Queer Commodities: Contemporary US Fiction, Consumer Capitalism, and Gay and Lesbian Subcultures (2012) and Categorically Famous: Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America (2019).


  1. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). []
  2. For recent scholarly studies taking up underground uncritically in the service of celebratory arguments about putatively subversive art, see Paul Clements, The Creative Underground: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life (New York: Routledge, 2017); Duncan Reekie, Subversion: The Definitive History of Underground Cinema (London: Wallflower Press, 2007). More nuanced accounts of the idea of the underground are presented in James Braxton, The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Stephen R. Duncan, The Rebel Café: Sex, Race, and Politics in Cold War America's Nightclub Underground (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018); Yetta Howard, Ugly Differences: Queer Female Sexuality in the Underground (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2018); Kinohi Nishikawa, Street Players: Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018); and the essays collected in Paris-Amsterdam Underground: Essays on Cultural Resistance, Subversion, and Diversion, eds. Christoph Lindner and Andrew Hussey (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013). These works are relatively uninterested in the term's complex history of uses, an animating concern of this essay. The most concerted efforts to unpack the history of the term are found in film studies; however, film studies scholars do not link the term to the midcentury vogue for Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, a key datum for this essay's account of the idea. See Richard Dyer, "Underground and After," in Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film (London: Routledge, 1990), 102-173; Ryan Powell, "Picturing the Underground," in Coming Together: The Cinematic Elaboration of Gay Male Life, 1945-1979 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2019), 19-63; Janet Staiger, "Finding Community in the 1960s: Underground Cinema and Sexual Politics," in Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 125-160; Peter Stanfield, "Going Underground with Manny Farber and Jonas Mekas: New York's Subterranean Film Culture in the 1950s and 1960s," in Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, ed. Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Philippe Meers (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 212-225; Juan A. Suárez, Bike Boys, Drag Queens and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1996), 81-86. []
  3. For dismissals or critiques of underground, see Phil Ford, Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 61; and Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital (Cambridge: Polity, 1995), 116-21. Ford identifies "underground" as one of a series of "exhausted" terms designating countercultural resistance. Thornton discusses the way that the term functions as a designation of subcultural capital, pitted against "mass" culture and "mass" media, in a relatively recent context, the 1990s dance music scene. []
  4. Ford, Dig, 61; Chandler Brossard, Who Walk in Darkness (New York: Herodias, 2000), 85. Subsequent references are provided parenthetically in the text. []
  5. Ford, Dig, 61. The Beats' splashier countercultural credentials probably partly explain Brossard's relative obscurity. Brossard (1922-1993) was the author or editor of 17 books, as well as a writer of short stories and plays. He has enjoyed sustained cultic appreciation, but his literary-critical profile is slight. Until recently, the most substantive scholarly discussion of him was confined to a special issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction 7, no. 1 (1987). A recent interest in hip has seen a fine close reading of Darkness in Michael Szalay, Hip Figures: A Literary History of the Democratic Party (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), as well as perceptive comments on the novel in Ford, Dig. See also Lee Konstantinou, Cool CharactersIrony and American Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 58; Stanfield, "Going Underground," 216, where the enthusiasm of the novel's hip types for action and crime films is connected to the emergence of the idea of "underground film," a term first used by critic Manny Farber to describe B-movies directed at male audiences. []
  6. Post-1950s reissues of Brossard's Darkness and his second novel The Bold Saboteurs (1953; discussed below) are both designated as "underground" on their covers, for instance, with the Herodias reprint of Darkness (2000) touted as "the classic underground novel in its suppressed original version" and the 1962 Lancer paperback edition of Saboteurs described oxymoronically as a "famous 'underground' bestseller." The scare quotes are dropped from later reissues of the Lancer edition, indicating the term's incorporation into the marketing lexicon. In his history of the leading counterculture publisher Grove Press, Loren Glass observes that Grove "almost single-handedly transformed the term 'underground' into a legitimate market niche for adults in the second half of the 1960s, starting with a campaign inviting readers to 'Join the Underground'" by subscribing to Grove's Evergreen Review and by joining the Evergreen Club, "a conduit for distributing Grove's rapidly expanding catalog of 'adult' literature and film." See Glass, Counterculture ColophonGrove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde (Stanford: Stanford University Press), 129-130. []
  7. On the ambiguous political cast of the "underworld," see Heather Love, Underdogs: Social Deviance and Queer Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021), 76-78. Love notes that many political and social theorists have associated underworlds with anarchy and resentment rather than organized resistance, but also that identification with the energies of the kinds of lumpen populations called up by the term underworld has fashioned a good deal of radical thought since the 1960s. []
  8. Mark Greif, The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973 (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 139-140. []
  9. Ibid., 140. []
  10. Mark Schechner, "Introduction," in Milton Klonsky, A Discourse on Hip: Selected Writings of Milton Klonksy, ed. Ted Solataroff (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 18. []
  11.  Neurotica, no.1 (1948): 3. []
  12. Greif, Age of the Crisis of Man, 140; Richard Wright, "The Man Who Lived Underground," in Wright, Eight Men (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008); Wright, The Man Who Lived Underground (New York: Library of America, 2021). []
  13. Rachel Falconer, Hell in Contemporary Literature: Western Descent Narratives since 1945 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 3-4. []
  14. Ibid., 4. []
  15. Szalay, Hip Figures, 85. Darkness's equivocal treatment of the underground contrasts with John Clellon Holmes's GoGo invokes the term underground several times but, by contrast with Brossard's worrying away at it, is confident about its meaning. In Go, the Beats' romanticization of their own rebellion is already in place and the underground is mobilized as a figure of their revelatory, if perilous, way of being in the world: "They had a view of life that was underground, mysterious, and they seemed unaware of anything outside the realities of deals, a pad to stay in, 'digging the frantic jazz,' and keeping everything going." In Go, as in the Beat mythology generally, the underground sojourn is straightforwardly a mode of transcendence. See John Clellon Holmes, Go (Mamaroneck: Paul P. Appel, 1977), 36.

    An alternative, though not incompatible, genealogy of the idea of the underground to the postwar one I set out in this essay is offered by Lara Langer Cohen in "Going Underground: Race, Space and the Subterranean in the Nineteenth-Century US," American Literary History 33, no. 3 (2021): 510-526, a discussion of her forthcoming book of the same title. Cohen focuses on the use of the underground as a metaphor for nineteenth-century African American cultural and political resistance, first popularized by newspaper coverage of the Underground Railroad. She sees the twentieth-century idea of the subculture as related to but in some ways discontinuous with the nineteenth-century idea of the underground. Like me, Cohen characterizes the idea of the underground as capacious and even "referenc[ing] disparate meanings simultaneously"; like me, she also notes the "imbrication of the figurative sense of underground with its literal one" (513). Along with Cohen, I see the idea of the underground as "com[ing] into being by gradually accreting and constellating meanings" (511). Therefore, while the postwar idea of the cultural underground is given impetus by the vogue for Notes from Underground, it also activates many of the older resonances of the word's metaphorical career.[]
  16. Ibid., 15. As well as Ford, my account of hip in this paragraph draws on Konstantinou, Cool Characters, 49-102; Andrew Ross, "Hip and the Long Front of Color," in No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989), 65-101; Scott Saul, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 30-47; Szalay, Hip Figures. []
  17. LeRoi Jones, Blues People (New York: Morrow, 1963), 219; quoted in Ford, Dig, 15. []
  18. Ford, Dig, 58. []
  19. Konstantinou, Cool Characters, 52. []
  20. On the dust jacket superior awareness appears to be in scare quotes; it certainly doesn't appear in the book. In his memoir, Arrow Collar underground member Jay Landesman attributes the phrase to Anatole Broyard, who introduced him to Greenwich Village life: "He seemed to know everybody who was 'superiorly aware,' his definition of a hipster." See Landesman, Rebel without Applause (London: Bloomsbury, 1987), 83. []
  21. Abigail Cheever, Real Phonies: Cultures of Authenticity in Post-World War II America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 4. []
  22. Willard Motley, Knock on Any Door (New York: Appleton-Century, 1947); for a discussion of this novel's gay "phoneys," see Aaron Lecklider, Love's Next Meeting: The Forgotten History of Homosexuality and the Left in American Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021), 204-205. []
  23. Powell, Coming Together, 21. []
  24. Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 201. []
  25. Steven Moore, "Foreword," in Brossard, Darkness, vii. []
  26. Ibid. []
  27. Anatole Broyard, "Portrait," Partisan Review 15, no. 6 (1948): 723. []
  28. Ibid., 721, 724. []
  29. Ibid., 721. []
  30. Moore, "Foreword," viii-ix . []
  31. However, Broyard's "Portrait" was subsequently reprinted in an anthology of bleeding-edge commentary on contemporary American culture edited by Brossard. See Chandler Brossard, ed., The Scene Before You: A New Approach to American Culture (New York: Rinehart, 1955). []
  32. Henry Louis Gates, "The Passing of Anatole Broyard," in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (New York: Vintage, 1998), 180-214. []
  33. Interested in how the mainstreaming of the hip ethos in the 1950s and '60s urged "whites, and Anglo-Saxons especially, to embrace racial difference" (85), Szalay sees Darkness as a transitional text, caught between a declining nativism and the widespread emulation of African American hip culture that was to come. Szalay persuasively argues that Darkness rewrites the plot of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926). Brossard's novel, like Hemingway's, is preoccupied with racial difference, and Darkness closely parallels the narrative events and character relations of Sun in order to work out that preoccupation. Yet while Sun, from the point of view of Jake Barnes, depicts racial difference in stark either/or terms contrasting the distasteful Jewish Robert Cohn with the admirable Spanish Pedro Romero  Darkness projects racial difference onto a single figure, the possibly African American Henry Porter, and "can't decide what kind of difference being black does or should make or, analogously, whether to disdain or celebrate the hip underground that it describes" (84-85). []
  34. Broyard, "Portrait," 727. []
  35. Ibid., 723, 727. []
  36. Ibid., 727, 724. []
  37. Something close to this view of authentic identity was also elaborated in sociological scholarship contemporaneous with Brossard's novel. In a 1952 critique of the idea of authentic identity, Irwin Rinder and Donald Campbell argue that "the notion of a man's 'real' or 'authentic' self" is "an oversimplification, for man actually has a number of selves. . . . We are husband, father, academedician, political participant, worshiper, consumer, etc., and the organization which we make of this plurality of roles and identities constitutes our personality and individuality. Our authenticity consists in our developing and integrating within our-selves both a self and a self-consciousness for those identifications and roles which our unique life histories have provided us." See Rinder and Campbell, "Varieties of Inauthenticity," Phylon 13, no. 4 (1952): 274. []
  38. Shane Vogel, Stolen Time: Black Fad Performance and the Calypso Craze (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2018), 27. []
  39. Ibid., 4. []
  40. On the intertwinement of performativity and authenticity in midcentury hip culture, see also Duncan, Rebel Café, esp. 238; Ford, Dig, esp. 43. See also Abigail Cheever's similar discussion of the "real phony," Cheever, Real Phonies, 13-15. []
  41. For Sedgwick's account of minoritizing and universalizing views of homosexuality, see Epistemology, 1. For a discussion of the dominance of queer universalism and the neglect of minoritization in queer theory after Sedgwick, see Guy Davidson, "Queer Literary Studies and the Question of Identity Categories," Literature Compass 17, no. 5 (2020). The classic account of postwar gay and lesbian minoritization is John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). []
  42. Norman Mailer, "The Homosexual Villain," in Advertisements for Myself (1959; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 226; Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet; Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). []
  43. Chandler Brossard, The Bold Saboteurs (New York: Herodias, 2001), 147. Subsequent references are provided parenthetically in the text. []
  44. Edgar Z. Friedenberg, "The Bold Saboteurs," Review of Contemporary Fiction 7, no. 1 (1987): 124. []
  45. Although the sociologist Ned Polsky claimed in his 1960s ethnography of the Village that "interracial intercourse is particularly frequent," Scott Saul notes the writer Hettie Jones' estimate that there "were fewer than half a dozen steady interracial couples" in the Village in 1957. See Polsky, "The Village Beat Scene: Summer 1960," in Hustlers, Beats and Others (Harmondsworth: Penguin, [1967] 1971), 161; Saul, Freedom Is, 77. James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, two of the few African American queers resident in the Village in the immediate postwar period also recorded in their memoirs the prevalence of racist attitudes in the Village gay scene. See Baldwin, "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" (1985), in Baldwin, Collected Essays (New York: Library of America, 1998), 814-829; Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1982). The Arrow Collar Underground member Paul Mazursky's cinematic valentine to early 1950s bohemian life Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976) indicatively deals with the marginalized groups of gay men and blacks by combining them in the one character, played by Antonio Fargas. []
  46. Steven Moore, "A Conversation with Chandler Brossard," (originally published in Review of Contemporary Fiction 7, no. 1 (1987).[]
  47. Lawrence Lipton, The Holy Barbarians (London: W.H. Allen, [1959] 1960), 36. Lipton's book, an encomium to the Beat scene in Venice, California, records many speeches by and conversations among that scene's members. []
  48. Catharine R. Stimpson, "The Beat Generation and the Trials of Homosexual Liberation," Salmagundi, no. 58-59 (1983), 389. []
  49. Polsky, "Village Beat Scene," 162. []
  50. Fancis J. Rigney and L. Douglas Smith, The Real Bohemia: A Sociological and Psychological Study of the "Beats" (New York: Basic Books, 1961), 48. []
  51. Mailer, "The White Negro," in Advertisements for Myself, 351. Polsky attributes the "very high tolerance of sex-role ambiguity" of white Beats to the influence of "Negro beats, for not only do Negroes set the tone of beat life, but Negro culture has always had a higher tolerance of sexual ambiguity than white culture" ("Village Beat Scene," 162). The same idea implicitly underlies Mailer's casual reference to hipster bisexuality, given his insistence on the way the white hipster emulates what Mailer notoriously styles as the uninhibited and instinctual lifeways of African Americans. []
  52. Mailer, "The White Negro," 352. []
  53. The Beats subverted certain conventions of masculinity through their emotional openness, but this went hand-in-hand with misogyny and hostility toward effeminacy. See Jordan S. Carroll, Reading the ObsceneTransgressive Editors and the Class Politics of US Literature (Stanford: Stanford University Press),136; Rachel Blau Duplessis, "Manhood and its Poetic Project: The Construction of Masculinity in the Counter-cultural Poetry of the U.S. 1950s," Jacket 31 (2006). []
  54. Barry Reay, New York Hustlers: Masculinity and Sex in Modern America (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 171. []
  55. Holmes, Go, 95, 108. []
  56. Reay, New York Hustlers, 171. []
  57. Though the texts this essay gathers together focus on the contrast between the gay male subculture and hip, it should be noted that there are occasional, phobic references to lesbianism in the texts I refer to. The bar in which the encounter with the "graceful, shoulder swinging" homosexuals in Go takes place is a lesbian one, and a brief description of its patrons helps fill out the novel's revelatory depiction of New York's underworld: "The Lesbians were in couples, the 'men,' brutal, comradely, coarse; wearing badly cut business suits and loud ties. The 'girls' were carbon copies, except for long hair and dresses" (95). The gay bar scene in Saboteurs includes "nasty looking . . . Lesbians . . .[who] appeared very glum; no laughter of any sort emanated from their booths" (149). Darkness features a bizarre scene in which a drunk lesbian disrupts a Communist Party rally on Sixth Avenue and starts removing her clothes (205-207). []
  58. Blake's complaint is echoed in a 1953 guidebook to San Francisco's North Beach bohemia: "One of the most colorful places for a real drunk in other days used to be the Black Cat. . . . The place changed hands and the new owner encouraged the fruit[s] and the place went to hell" (Henry Evans, Bohemian San Francisco, quoted in Duncan, Rebel Café, 124). Contrasting with these depictions of antagonism, Herbert Gold in a 1960 essay on the Village describes "the hipsters" as "allies" of "the homosexuals," both of these groups "giv[ing] a strong flavor" to the Village mise-en-scène. See Gold, "Greenwich Village: The Changing Village," in The Age of Happy Problems (New York: Routledge, [1962] 2002), 213. []
  59. Anatole Broyard, "Village Café," Partisan Review 17, no. 5 (1950): 526. []
  60. Duncan, Rebel Café, 124. []
  61. Broyard, "Village Café," 526. []
  62. Ibid. Broyard's piece was a riposte to a 1950 New York Post article on the San Remo by Mary McCarthy. While he demonstrates his insider's knowledge of the venue, Broyard's narration is third-person. Self-assured "objectivity" is typical of midcentury essayistic style, of course; but in this context it provides a kind of writerly analogue of the hipster's observational stance, in which other hipsters (and homosexuals) are subject to a coolly appraising, disembodied hipster gaze disembodied until, that is the appearance of the strange image of the knotted bowels. []
  63. Milton Klonsky, "Greenwich Village: Decline and Fall," in A Discourse on Hip, 107. []
  64. Powell, Coming Together, 22; on the role of gay underground cinema in building a sense of gay collectivity, see also Staiger, "Finding Community." []
  65. Henning Bech, When Men Meet: Homosexuality and Modernity, trans. Teresa Mesquit and Tim Davies (Cambridge: Polity, 1997), 82. []
  66. Ibid., 84. []
  67. Ibid., 229, n. 55; 34. For a compatible discussion of situational homosexuality, see Benjamin Kahan, The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergence of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 26-44. []
  68. Bech, When Men Meet, 34. []
  69. Though Burroughs, unlike Baldwin, is not commonly thought of as a celebrant of love, his novel Queer (written in 1952, but not published until 1985) contrasts the narrator's romantic obsession with one young man with disgusted representations of gay men and their bars. See William S. Burroughs, Queer (London: Penguin, 2010).[]
  70. William S. Burroughs, Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk," ed. Oliver Harris (London: Penguin, 2003), 60. []
  71. James Baldwin, Another Country (London: Michael Joseph, 1963), 203. []
  72. James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room (London: Corgi, 1963), 31. []
  73. David McReynolds, "The Gay Underground: A Reply to Mr. Krim," Village Voice, March 25, 1959, 5. []
  74. Seymour Krim, "Revolt of the Homosexual," Village Voice, March 18, 1959, 12, 16. This piece is reprinted in Jeffrey Escoffier, ed., Sexual Revolution (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press), 468-475; quote at 469. []
  75. McReynolds, "Gay Underground," 5. On McReynolds, see Martin Duberman, A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds (New York: New Press, 2011). McReynolds was planning a book entitled The Gay Underground in the late 1950s that never came to fruition. Much like his article, the book was intended to criticize homosexuality as a way of life but to defend homosexual object choice though McReynolds agreed with the dominant view that homosexuality was a pathology (Saving Remnant, 63). In 1973 Jonathan Ned Katz's "gay liberation documentary play" Coming Out! incorporated the debate between Krim and McReynolds. At the end of the scene concerned, "the actors onstage moved toward 'David,' raised their fists at him and chanted 'Gay Power!' They then lifted him up 'like a log' and carried him offstage." Understandably, McReynolds found the scene painful to watch, though he professed that he was "glad Krim won that debate and I lost it" (156). []
  76. Donald Webster Cory [Edward Sagarin], The Homosexual in America, 2nd ed. (New York: Castle Books, 1960), 13. []
  77. For discussions of changes in the social and intellectual environment of the postwar years that encouraged a sense of the parallels between sexual minorities and ethnoracial groups, see Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 13-18; Matthew Frye Jacobson, Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 151-153. []
  78. Robert Duncan, "The Homosexual in Society," in Duncan, A Selected Prose, ed. Robert J. Bertholf (New York: New Directions, 1995), 41. []
  79. Ibid., 44. []
  80. Alexander King, May This House Be Safe from Tigers (London: Heinemann, 1960), 244. []
  81. Mailer, "Homosexual Villain," 225. []
  82. Ibid., 227. []
  83. Cory, Homosexual in America, 13. []
  84. Michael S. Sherry, Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 1, 2. []
  85. Alfred Towne, "Sexual Gentleman's Agreement," Neurotica, no. 6 (1950): 26, 28. See also Alfred Towne, "Homosexuality in American Culture," American Mercury, August 1951, 3-9; and "The New Taste in Humor," American Mercury, September 1951, 22-27. In his memoirLandesman presents the first of these articles as something of a put-on that was purposely written to give the issue of Neurotica in which it appeared a "punch," but which he ended up believing, giving himself over to "hysteria, paranoia and bigotry in proving a conspiracy existed where no one else could see one." He doesn't mention the other two articles. The adoption of the "Towne" pseudonym does at least suggest some reluctance to be publicly associated with the conspiracy. See Landesman, Rebel without Applause, 104, 105. On "Towne" and his place in postwar gay conspiracy discourse, see also Erin G. Carlston, Double Agents: Espionage, Literature, and Liminal Citizens (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 197-198; Sherry, Gay Artists, 33-34. []
  86. Towne, "Sexual Gentleman's Agreement," 27, 28. []
  87. On the repurposing of anti-Semitic tropes in Cold War anti-communist and homophobic rhetoric, see Carlston, Double Agents, 218. Given that he is the model for the sexually confused Harry in Darkness, it's worth noting that William Gaddis offers significant contrasts to the phobic representations of Brossard, Landesman, et al., in the Village scenes of his debut novel The Recognitions (1951). Here the homosexual conspiracy theory is simply one fragment of a blizzard of satirized Village chatter swirling around a version of the San Remo. A young painter complains, "there's a queer conspiracy to dominate everything. . . . Queers dominate writing, they dominate the theater, they dominate art. Just try to find a gallery where you can show your pictures if you're not a queer." The speech is immediately followed by a trip by some of the main characters to a drag ball in Harlem, which, while an occasion for comic incident, bears no trace of the shrill alarm voiced by other writers covered here when confronted with massed homosexual effeminacy. See William Gaddis, The Recognitions (New York: Penguin, 1985), 309. []
  88. Cory, The Homosexual in America, 121. []
  89. Ibid., 120. []
  90. Ibid., 133. []
  91. Ibid., 133-134. []
  92. Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp,'" in Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966), 279. []
  93. Ibid., 290. Famously, Sontag begins her essay with the announcement that she is "strongly drawn to camp, and almost as strongly offended by it" (276). Sontag's stance of (partial) offense, along with what many have perceived as her sidelining of queer culture, have generated much hostility from gay critics. But the essay bears no trace of the offendedness with which Sontag begins, instead presenting camp taste in commendatory, even celebratory, terms (albeit through the filter of Sontag's characteristically cool and impersonal prose style). On Sontag's complexly rendered but approving account of camp, see Terry Castle, "Some Notes on 'Notes on Camp,'" in The Scandal of Susan Sontag (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), ed. Barbara Ching and Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, 21-31; Guy Davidson, Categorically Famous (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019), 99-123. []
  94. This is not to say that everyone got in on the craze, of course. Camp was also often attacked, as in a gruesomely homophobic 1966 Village Voice piece by Vivan Gornick, which directed the conspiratorial thinking of Landesman and Holmes toward effeminate camp specifically rather than effeminization in general, and which relied on the well-worn anti-subcultural tropes elaborated by writers like Baldwin and McReynolds to make what passes for its argument. Gornick echoes the zombie theme in her reference to the "mindless grotesquerie" of gay taste; and once again gay culture is contrasted unfavorably with those of other minorities, the "Jews and Negroes, [who] have through [their] literature, music, thought, and behavior . . . added immeasurably to the sum of humanity's knowledge of the pain and deformity of castigation." See Vivian Gornick, "It's a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire," Village Voice, April 7, 1966, 20. Michael Sherry notes that, like many1960s leftists, Gornick "found it hip to deplore camp, and homosexuals generally" (Gay Artists, 138). Gornick assumes the superior awareness of hip, setting herself off confidently from the "middle-class taste" and "popular culture" that are in "the hands of the homosexuals" ("It's a Queer Hand," 1). Yet in striking her hiply homophobic pose, Gornick was undertaking a rearguard action. Sherry identifies Gornick's piece as exemplary of the mid-1960s peak of the "frenzy" of gay conspiracy punditry, which shortly thereafter started to lose traction. []
  95. James MacBride, "What Did Myra Want?," review of Myra Breckinridge, by Gore Vidal, New York Times, February 18, 1968. In advance of the book's publication, in his "American Notebook" column in the New York Times, Lewis Nichols also wrote that Myra "is an underground book," due both to the withholding by Vidal's publisher of review copies and hints dropped by the publisher to booksellers that the book "has in it something akin to both 'Candy' and 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'" (respectively, the bestselling erotic novel by Terry Southern and the heavily queer succès de scandale by Hubert Selby, Jr.). See Lewis Nichols, "American Notebook," New York Times, January 28, 1968. []
  96. Margot Hentoff, "Growing up Androgynous," review of Myra Breckinridge, by Gore Vidal, May 9, 1968. []
  97. For a discussion of the hostility to effeminate subcultural identities in not only the counterculture and the New Left, but also the radical gay liberation movement, see Michael Trask, Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 93-107. []
  98. On authenticity and theatricality in the counterculture and the New Left, see for instance, and respectively, Douglas Rossinow, The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); Craig J. Peariso, Radical Theatrics: Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).[]
  99. Such uses of "nigger" include the radical professor Jerry Farber's "The Student as Nigger," in The Student as Nigger (Los Angeles: Contact Books, 1969),114-128, and Yoko Ono and John Lennon's misbegotten feminist anthem "Woman is the Nigger of the World," John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, with Elephant's Memory, Some Time in New York City (Apple Records, 1972). A couple of the many examples in which "faggot" designates anti-countercultural forces include Jerry Farber's identification of scholarly prose style as "pretentious faggot-academic," and Germaine Greer's identification of the "female eunuch" as a "female faggot," who like "male faggots . . . lives her life in a pet about guest lists and sauce béarnaise." See Farber, "The Student and Society," in Student as Nigger, 21; Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1970; New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 87. []
  100. Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 20. For a similar argument, see Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (New York: HarperCollins, 2004). []
  101. Ford, Dig, 14. []
  102. Ibid., 82. []