Designing Ghosts, Queer Readership, and the Phantom Public in E. M. Forster’s ‘Dr Woolacott’

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Abstract

In an undated manuscript from the 1920s, E. M. Forster sketched out notes towards a theory he called ‘writing to the body with the body’, a ‘melting’ of sentiment into disinterested aesthetics, he identified as pornographic. The ‘On Pornography and Sentiment’ fragment not only reframes our understanding of Forster’s emerging stance during this period as a champion of free speech but also highlights his less well-known status as the nodal figure for a younger generation of gay writers with whom he shared drafts of his erotic short stories. My close readings of selections from Forster’s unfinished notes, his roughly contemporary work of criticism, Aspects of the Novel (1927), as well as his posthumously published short story, ‘Dr Woolacott’, suggest that Forster’s theory of sentimentalized aesthetics made the beginnings of a capable critique. By circulating his short stories, Forster sought to check mainstream censoriousness concerning ‘obscene’ texts; moreover, his ‘refunctioning’ of illicit desires to an ethical purpose enlivened the ‘phantom’ potential of the modernist public sphere (Robbins) and actively facilitated the formation of an inter-generational intimate public (Berlant).
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgaa122
JournalThe Review of English Studies
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

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