SoSe 15: Queer Transnational Writing and the Work of Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood was an inherently transnational figure whose writing described queer identity and experience from post-World War I England to Cold War America. Born in England in 1904, he gave ... read more
Christopher Isherwood was an inherently transnational figure whose writing described queer identity and experience from post-World War I England to Cold War America. Born in England in 1904, he gave up his medical studies at King's College London in 1929 to meet his friend, the poet W. H. Auden, in Berlin, where Isherwood would live until 1933. After the Nazis took power, Isherwood traveled around Europe for several years with his German lover Heinz who was trying to evade conscription. On the eve of World War II, Isherwood and Auden sailed to America; Isherwood settled in Los Angeles, became an American citizen in 1946, and would live in the US for the rest of his life. In his writing, Isherwood documented the queer subcultures of Weimar Berlin in Goodbye to Berlin (1939); published the first description of the queer style of "camp" in his novel The World in the Evening (1954); and became something of a hero in post-Stonewall gay culture for his frank description of his European sexual adventures in his 1976 memoir Christopher and His Kind.
Isherwood's novels and memoirs focus not only on his experiences of transnational movement, but how such mobility intersects with and influences queer identity. They explore sexual and cultural contact zones, engaging with topics as diverse as international sex tourism in Berlin, the identity of the queer expatriate in Europe and America, and the relationship between sexuality and Hindu spiritualism in India. In this course we will conduct close readings of various Isherwood novels from the 1930s to 1970s in the English, German, and American phases of his career, and will approach them using the critical frameworks of queer theory and the transnational turn in American Studies. We will also take a walking tour of Isherwood's neighborhood in Schöneberg. Students are expected to actively participate in the seminar through a presentation, contribution to class discussions, and short response papers, and to submit a final term paper between 15 and 20 pages in length.