Freak Temporality

Female Adolescence in the Novels of Carson McCullers

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Alison.sperling@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

In this article I will explore the repeated depiction of freak show performers and their relation to adolescent, tomboyish female protagonists in the novels of Carson McCullers. In a surprisingly recurrent trope across McCullers’s work, young girls believe that they will grow uncontrollably, as tall as the “nine foot tall” woman at the fair on the outskirts of town. Serving as a link between their rapidly developing bodies and their emergent sense of their own queerness, freakishness threatens to divert them from the normative futures of womanhood. I investigate this intersection of freak studies, a sub-discipline of disability studies, and queer theories of temporality, arguing for an extension of queer time through crip time, one which is necessitated by a consideration of freakishness in relation to youth and development. The figure of the freak across McCullers’s work calls for a reassessment of girlhood’s complex relationship to embodiment, place, sexuality, and temporality.

Introduction

In her essay, “Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing,” Carson McCullers wrote: “Spiritual isolation is the basis of most of my themes. … “Love, and especially love of a person who is incapable of returning or receiving it, is at the heart of my selection of grotesque figures to write about—people whose physical incapacity is a symbol of their spiritual incapacity to love or receive love—–their spiritual isolation” ([1959] 2001b: 174). One of the passages most cited by critics of McCullers’s work, this quotation is used repeatedly to prop up the interpretation of bodily difference in her novels as being purely representational—a metaphor for a kind of spiritual incapacity. While her novels do exhibit loneliness and isolation throughout, the non-normative bodies that populate McCullers’s fiction—the queers, the freaks, the “deaf-mutes,” the “dwarf” and the “giant” (463), the drunk, the sick, the half-blind, and, I will add, the awkward female adolescent—are not mere symbol(s) of interiority; they offer material and alternative futures for bodies otherwise marginalized, or, even, branded incapacitated.

Carson McCullers, a Southern, queer, chronically ill, and eventually disabled, late modernist writer, wrote five novels: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ([1940] 2001a); Reflections in a Golden Eye ([1941] 2001a); The Member of the Wedding ([1946] 2001a); The Ballad of the Sad Café ([1951] 2001a); and Clock Without Hands ([1961] 2001a). In three of these, freak show performers either appear or are referenced in relation to characters who display physical and cognitive differences from the so-called norm. Each novel is distinct in how it negotiates difference in relation to freakishness; it is this that calls for a better understanding of her repeated employment of the freak show trope in her work. In her two major novels, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, as well as briefly in her lesser-discussed novel, The Ballad of the Sad Café, freakishness is specifically associated with the adolescent fear of out-of-control growth that threatens to expose the girls’ underlying sense of their own queerness and to render them undesirable in the future. McCullers’s formulation of girlish adolescence, where growth and maturation (physical and psychic) do not culminate in what is thought to be normative womanhood, but, rather, in their identification with freakishness, form the conditions for what I am calling freak temporality. Freak temporality operates against hetero-normative time, refuses futurity, and, for the girls in McCullers’s work, is not easy to navigate.

The Member of the Wedding ([1946] 2001a) is the novel at the heart of this article; it offers the most sustained case of freak temporality in McCullers’s work. But freakishness makes some other surprisingly similar kinds of appearances in another two of her novels. Following my analysis of The Member of the Wedding, I will offer a brief examination of these scenes from these other novels to bolster my claim that freak temporality exists as a persistent temporal frame throughout McCullers’s work. Looking at these moments together suggests a connection between the sense of time shared by these girls and their obsession—indeed, fear—of growing tall and growing up.

Freak temporality enables the important reassessment of the ways in which freakishness has thus far been theorized in McCullers’s scholarship; it serves not merely as a symbolic trope, but as an explicit link to the very real fears that accompany the adolescent and temporal experiences of the young girls in her novels. The figure of the freak is the central example of how McCullers’s characters perceive their futures, fearing that their sense of their own difference will manifest itself in uncontrollable growth. Time itself is, therefore, experienced with anxiety and dread, with the ultimate fear of never achieving so-called normal adulthood, and, instead, becoming a freak.

Freak Studies and McCullers

The field of freak studies emerged in conversation with the many ways in which the once widely popular freak show reflected and responded to the reconfiguring of the body during the nineteenth and early twentieth century in America. Swift industrialization in the United States during this period changed how the body was understood in relation to developing technologies of production and labor. The standardization of modern life and mechanized labor “reinforce[ed] … [the] unmarked, normative … body as the dominant subject of democracy” (Garland-Thompson 1996: 12). New kinds of industrial accidents as well as injuries from developing military technologies during the Civil War and, even more so, during World War I, maimed unprecedented numbers of bodies, while scientific discourse and medical practices, including eugenic movements, glorified sameness and bodily uniformity. Scholars of freak studies take up the psychic, discursive, and material ways in which the freak emerges in culture.

Although Leslie Fiedler’s important book Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self was published as early as 1978, it was not until freak studies was picked up as a sub-field to the burgeoning field of disability studies in the late 1980s that it became more established.1 The field of freak studies has grown alongside, and entangled with, disability studies for over three decades. In 2005, Disability Studies Quarterly published a special double issue on freak studies in which Michael Chemers’s introductory “Freak Studies Manifesto” claims outright that freak studies is a “fascinating sub-discipline” of disability studies. He defines “freakery” as “the intentional performance of constructed abnormality as entertainment” (2005: n.p.), arguing for the potential of conceiving of freaks not merely as voiceless and victimized, but rather as active agents or even as artists “whose work shapes and is shaped by the same complex and dynamic social forces governing any aesthetic production” (n.p.). Chemers argues that to consider freaks as cultural actors renders freak narratives potentially liberatory in nature, and that this consideration can be applied usefully to disability narratives as well.

Part of the reason why disability studies has adopted the figure of the freak is because this discipline has long argued that disability is a socially constructed category—built environments and architectures, standardized ways of communication and learning, and the glorification of something called normalcy are just some of the ways in which culture constructs disability as a way to describe (and, more importantly, to discriminate against, ostracize, and oppress) those with bodily, cognitive, or behavioral anomalies. For this reason, Garland-Thompson has distinguished the freak not as a “Freak of Nature,” but as a “Freak of Culture” (1996: 9); freaks presented “an opportunity to formulate the self in terms of what it was not” (59). Much of freak studies productively moves away from more straightforward narratives of stigmatization and exploitation, and suggests instead the possible liberatory power of the freak, “the intentional performance” (Chemers 2005: n.p.), the “successful attempts by disabled people (and other stigmatized individuals) to gain control of the process of stigmatization” (n.p.). The emphasis in freak studies on the freak’s harnessing of difference by way of performance, is in part what scholars in disability studies have found so compelling in the history of the American Freak Show.

Despite the way that freak and disability studies are intricately connected, most scholarship on McCullers that is focused on her freakish figures largely neglects the material significance of freakishness in her work. Early critics tended to talk about bodily and cognitive difference in her novels as abstracted and symbolic. In 1960, Ihab Hassan first named the primary theme in McCullers’s work as the “transcendental idea of spiritual loneliness” made evident by bodily difference (cited in Gleeson-White 2005: 312), what Louise Gossett called in 1965 “[t]he falling apart of community” (159), or what Gayatri Spivak described in 1979 as the difficulties that arise when “people cannot discover a common bond” (cited in Gleeson-White 2005: 129). In her 1990 book, Understanding Carson McCullers, definitive McCullers biographer and scholar, Virginia Spencer Carr, continued with this trend in her description of the role of the freak in McCullers’s fiction: “[t]hroughout the author’s canon, freakishness is a symbol of a character’s sense of alienation, of his [sic] being trapped within a single identity without the possibility of a meaningful connection with anyone else” (2003: 38).2 Throughout, this criticism of McCullers’s writing relegates bodily difference to the realm of the symbolic, and collapses the wide range of difference in her work to a series of symbols of the same kind of isolated and lonely experience.

Many of McCullers’s characters across her novels do, in fact, share a sense of loneliness and isolation, in part because of their developing sense of queerness. The emergence of the field of queer theory in the 1990s has therefore enabled more nuanced readings of McCullers’s work. Queer theory developed in part as a response to gay and lesbian studies, which did not account sufficiently for the wide range of sexual identities and desires. Indeed, McCullers’s characters that I will discuss presently are complex examples of queer subjects, longing not just for same-sex others but for alternative kinds of intimate futures that exceed gay or lesbian identification. In the last decade or so, one major contribution of queer theory has been a reconsideration of futurity and temporality more broadly, a temporality that queer subjects make visible and felt.3

The concurrent flourishing of queer theory, disability, and freak studies continues to allow for new considerations of the kinds of embodiment McCullers depicts throughout her novels. One of the most productive intersections between the fields is what Robert McRuer termed crip theory. Here, at the junction of queer and disability studies, McRuer contests these compulsions toward able-bodied and heterosexual identity, which are always “bound to fail.” Crip theory offers a way to “continuously invoke … the inadequate resolutions that compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory able-bodiedness offer us” (2006: 31). In McCullers’s work, it is the girls’ adolescent, queer sense of time that is complicated and further transformed when it is also cripped4 by taking into account their embodied experiences of disability or freakishness.

Freak Temporality

The Member of the Wedding ([1946] 2001a) follows one dreadful summer in the life of Frankie Addams, a 12-year-old tomboyish girl entrenched in the tumult of adolescence in her poor, Southern Georgia town. The novel is, in part, McCullers’s meditation on adolescence by way of her portrayal of a young girl who cannot quell the emotional and physical pain that results from her inability to conform to social norms. The backdrop of the novel is the impending wedding of Frankie’s brother, Jarvis, to Janice, which finally, and, for Frankie, traumatically, occurs over a brief span of five pages only at the conclusion of the book. The wedding itself is a kind of peripheral focus of the novel; although readers never experience the event firsthand, it looms in Frankie’s thoughts right from the start—she is enamored with both her brother and Janice, and she expects somehow to be a part of the married couple. Ultimately, she is forced into the realization that her imagined future as a member of the wedding (and the marriage) is unattainable. With the maternal guidance of the half-blind, African American housekeeper, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her only friend, her sickly cousin John Henry, Frankie’s adolescent experience does not resemble that of any of the other girls, all of whom have ejected her from their social circles.

As Rachel Adams has noted of the novel, the word “queer” appears an “improbable” (1999: 561) number of times. For McCullers, in this novel, in place of the inexplicable—some queer thing she could not name” (520)—queerness often stands in for emotional experience that, in the confusion of youth, Frankie does not yet fully understand. But as Adams and other critics have argued, McCullers makes use of the multiple nuances of the word queer, redeploying its already pejorative use against homosexuals in the mid-twentieth century, while also recognizing the ways in which it could be read as an innocuous description of oddness or inexplicability. Critics have generally disagreed about whether the novel is an embrace of Southern femininity (Westling 1996), a lesbian coming-of-age tale (see examples of this reading in Gayatri C. Spivak, (1979), Lori J. Kenshaft, (1996), and Melissa Free (2008)) or a queer-affirmative novel in its “wide array of erotic groupings” for which “lesbian” (Adams 1999: 562) is insufficient. But, as Elizabeth Freeman has powerfully suggested, the queerest thing about The Member of the Wedding is not Frankie’s subtle desire for Berenice, or for her cousin John Henry, or for the soldier who tries to entice her to his room—it is Frankie’s radically queer desire to become a member of her brother’s wedding and of his marriage. This projected future that she imagines for herself is regularly disrupted throughout the novel by her fear that she is, or will grow up to be, freakish. In Frankie’s mind, freaks have no future, especially not futures in which intimacy or marriage have any place.

The event that bookends The Member of the Wedding is the annual autumn visit of the Chattahoochee Exposition, a fair with “the Ferris Wheel, the Flying Jinney, The Palace of Mirrors—and there, too … the House of Freaks” (476). The novel opens with Frankie’s recollection of the previous October’s visit to the Freak Pavilion, the figures that “all the year she had remembered … until this day” (477). This is the day she had learned of her brother’s wedding, and her memory of the freaks is at the forefront of her mind, revealing an immediate link for Frankie between her experience at the freak show and that of imagining her brother’s wedding. Her description of the entertainment acts breaks the format of the text itself; it is indented and presented as a list.

The Giant
The Fat Lady
The Midget
The Wild Nigger
The Pin Head
The Alligator Boy
The Half-Man Half-Woman (476).
This textual interruption represents Frankie’s attempt to organize her experience of the freaks. The list is the only such break in the novel, and it emphasizes the way in which she understands the freaks as a list of acts or performances, linking them to one another in order to maintain their difference from herself, for “she belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world” (461). Frankie lumps the freaks together in order to distinguish their difference from what she hopes to be her own relative ordinariness.

Of all the freaks at the fair, it is the Half-Man Half-Woman who is described in the most detail and who prompts Frankie’s universalized fear of all freaks. The figure is “[d]ivided completely in half” (476), sporting a dark beard and dressed in leopard skin on one side, and wearing make-up and dressed in a bra on the other. Half primitive, animalistic man and half cultivated, civilized woman, the Half-Man Half-Woman embodies the dueling characteristics that make up stereotypical masculinity and femininity in Frankie herself. She oscillates throughout the novel between being rough, tough, and dirty, to being sweet, well-mannered, and even doll-like. But neither of these postures seem truly to suit her. Frankie says of the figure of the Half-Man Half-Woman that “[b]oth eyes were strange” (476), signaling that neither the male nor the female gaze feels familiar or comfortable to her. Her adolescence is marked by this kind of discomfort with her own expression of gender amidst pressures to conform to the contemporary standards of femininity.

It is not just the eyes of the Half-Man Half-Woman, but those of all of the freaks that captivate Frankie at the fair. “She was afraid of all the Freaks, for it seemed to her that they had looked at her in a secret way and tried to connect their eyes with hers, as though to say: we know you. She was afraid of their long Freak eyes” (476). Frankie fears identification with the freaks, afraid that through their gaze, she will recognize the “secret way” they try to “connect their eyes with hers.” It is her fear of being identified as one of them in this exchange of gazes that troubles her all year. Her naming of their eyes as “long” may suggest, as in the phrase a long face, a sadness or unhappiness that, in her fear of identification with them, Frankie perceives. These eyes are reminiscent of the “strange eyes” of the Half-Man Half-Woman, whose gaze makes Frankie uncomfortable because it elicits in her an unwelcome recognition of her own queerness. Strange, long eyes characterize the freakish as sorrowful or threatening, and induce in Frankie the fear of being known by them, of receiving their horrible and defiant claim that they “know” her. To be known by the freaks is to belong among them, and for Frankie, this fate is the worst imaginable.

The description of the eyes as “long” has a provocative resonance in relation to Frankie’s attempted rejection of queerness. For Frankie, freakishness is the real and embodied manifestation of queerness, and she wants nothing to do with these freaks. The association between being “long” and being queer is something Elizabeth Freeman also identifies in her essay on what she refers to, in its title, as “Queer Belongings.” She writes that “[l]onging to belong, being long: these things encompass … the desire to … have something queer exceed its own time, even to imagine that excess as queer in ways that getting married or having children might not be (2007: 299). Queer belonging, for Freeman, exceeds one’s mortal and finite commitment to the future, that is, marriage and children. This kind of belonging is precisely what Frankie distastefully associates with belonging with the freaks when she says, “I doubt if they ever get married, or go to a wedding …. Those freaks” (2001a: 437). McCullers says of Frankie that she “belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world” and that she was “an unjoined person who hung around in doorways” (461).5 Her yearning to become the third member of her brother’s marriage is her mistaken imagining of this arrangement as a normal alternative to a freakish future. In her supposed rejection of queerness and freakishness, of the gaze from the “long” freak eyes, Frankie embraces the impossibility of belonging in a marriage in which she has no place. For Freeman, “being long” is “to endure in corporeal form over time,” and long to be bigger … spatially, but also temporally, to ‘hold out’ a hand across time.” This kind of belonging, signaled by Frankie’s fear of the freak’s long eyes, is what Frankie fears most—exceeding herself, and especially, being “bigger” (300) in space.6

Frankie spends a great deal of time looking into mirrors, worrying that her rapidly growing body will propel her into a life of freakdom.

It was the summer of fear … and there was one fear that could be figured in arithmetic with paper and a pencil at the table. This August she was twelve and five-sixths years old. She was five feet and three quarter inches tall, and she wore a number seven shoe. In the past year she had grown four inches, or at least that was what she judged … . According to mathematics and unless she could somehow stop herself, she would grow to be over nine feet tall. And what would be a lady who is over nine feet tall? She would be a Freak

(478).
She is genuinely afraid of the unfamiliar transformations of her developing body. While she repeatedly says of her “queer feelings” that she does not know “what caused this fear, but she was afraid,” her fear here of growing too tall is “the one fear that could be figured in arithmetic” (478). Her attempts to mathematically figure her growth rate make evident her belief that her future is somehow calculable and predetermined. While her queer desires seem inexplicable to her, sometimes creating actual cessations and gaps in her narrative,7 this is one fear she can measure. Her rapidly developing body is the material site of her fear of the future.

In her anxiety after the October visit to the freak show, Frankie dares to ask Berenice, “Do I give you the creeps? Am I going to grow up to be a Freak?” (466). Wanting to go anywhere but up, Frankie seems to feel that she already has something in common with the freaks that gives Berenice “the creeps.” If she grows too tall, she, too, will be a freak, and, according to Frankie, freaks are not a part of weddings. By setting up freakishness in opposition to marriage, McCullers shows that Frankie’s fixation on the wedding is simultaneously her attempted rejection of freakishness. And yet, Frankie’s dreams of a wedding still do not align with tradition or normalcy, for despite her fear that she might become freakish (or queer) when she grows up, she unknowingly sets her sights on the queerest of impossible prospects—becoming the third member of her brother and Janice’s marriage.

In those two other novels worth turning to briefly, the trope of the tall woman compellingly repeats itself. In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ([1940] 2001a) adolescent girl and protagonist, Mick Kelly, also fears that her rapid height gain will result in freakishness. Like Frankie, tomboyish Mick fears that she is different, and worries that her rapidly developing body is evidence of her inner desires, which she fears are anomalous and perverse. In a scene at the local town café, owner Biff Brannon speaks to her.

‘How old are you now, Mick—thirteen?’
‘Going on fourteen.’
She knew what he was thinking. It used to worry her all the time. Five feet six inches tall and a hundred and three pounds, and she was only thirteen ….
I grew three and a fourth inches just in the last year,’ she said.
‘Once I saw a lady at the fair who was eight and a half feet tall. But you probably won’t grow that big’ (95).
This passage, though but a moment’s exchange between Mick and Biff, bears a striking resemblance to the more prominent freak show trope that appears repeatedly in The Member of the Wedding that McCullers would publish six years later. Here, Mick keeps diligent tabs on her growth, down to a quarter of an inch, and it worries her “all the time.” Like Frankie’s calculated but faulty logic that projected her eventual height at over nine feet, Mick, too, has carefully monitored her height and weight, worried that her growth spurt of “three and a fourth inches just in the last year” will be maintained in the years to come. Biff’s reference to the lady at the fair who was eight and a half feet tall does nothing to quell Mick’s anxiety; indeed he only partially attempts to ease her fears by telling her that she “probably won’t grow that big.”

In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter it is not the girl who references the freakish—it is Biff, whose obsession with the spectacle of those whom he calls “freaks” seems to lure a steady flow of outsider-regulars into his café. While Biff’s citing of the “lady at the fair” intentionally provokes Mick’s fears of her growing body, he is also oddly fixated on the subject in another moment of the novel: “Mick had grown so much in the past year that soon she would be taller than he was. She was dressed in the red sweater and blue pleated skirt she had worn every day since school started … . She was at the age when she looked as much like an overgrown boy as a girl” (113). Here, Biff echoes Mick’s anxiety over her growth spurt the previous year, noting that soon she would be “taller than he was.” In his obsessive surveillance of Mick (as mentioned above, he refers to the clothes “she had worn every day”), he perceives her as both girlish and boyish, a mixture of qualities that Biff seems to associate with adolescence. Like Frankie, tomboyish Mick is not described as becoming more woman-like as she matures. Instead, the way that Biff describes her vaguely recalls another ambivalently-gendered figure, the Half-Man Half-Woman that so frightens Frankie in The Member of the Wedding.

While in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, it is Biff who links Mick’s growth with freakishness and her gender ambiguity, both these novels explicitly work to expose the adolescent fear of growing as tall as the fairground lady. In The Member of the Wedding it is Frankie’s experience at the House of Freaks— the Giant, the Half-Man Half-Woman—that incites her fear of growing tall, and growing up.

The trope of the tall woman as queer is repeated once more in McCullers’s fiction, appearing in the short novel The Ballad of the Sad Café ([1951] 2001a). This novel tells the story of another café owner in a small Southern town, Miss Amelia Evans, who is confronted one day by a man who claims to be her distant Cousin Lyman, a “hunchback” who, in sharp contrast to Miss Amelia, is “scarcely over four feet tall” (417). Miss Amelia is described by way of the townspeople’s perception of her: they “remembered that Miss Amelia had been born dark and somewhat queer of face, raised motherless by her father who was a solitary man, that early in youth she had grown to be six feet two inches tall which in itself is not natural for a woman, and that her ways and habits of life were too peculiar ever to reason about” (407). Miss Amelia is said to have grown to be six feet two inches “early in youth,” fulfilling the greatest fears of the girl protagonists of the earlier novels. Her growth is described as “not natural for a woman,” indicating that growth itself is imbued with gendered judgments about what a woman is naturally supposed to look like. Miss Amelia is repeatedly described as awkward and gawky, descriptions that recall the somewhat unwieldy body of adolescence: “[s]ometimes [Lyman] followed in Miss Amelia’s footsteps … in order to imitate her awkward long-legged walk; he crossed his eyes and aped her gestures in a way that made her appear to be a freak” (499). In these two passages, Miss Amelia is described both as unnaturally tall and as freakish. McCullers again explicitly connects freakishness to growth and to womanhood, linking the girls’ fears of growing into freaks with Miss Amelia’s full realization of this fear.

Freak temporality is most clearly illustrated in McCullers through the trope of the tall woman, that possibility of uncontrollable growth that she represents, and the damage that becoming freakishly tall threatens to inflict on the young girls’ fantasies of having a normal future. While freak temporality might be promising in its subversion of teleological, straight-time towards normal adulthood, it is a haunting menace for the girls in McCullers’s work who are unable to imagine their lives outside of the cultural expectations imposed on them in the American South in the early part of the twentieth century.

These excerpts from McCullers’s novels help to illustrate “freak temporality”—a temporal logic attentive to the embodied experience of adolescence, wherein development and maturation do not pave the way to normal adulthood but to identification with the freak. In McCullers’s work, this temporality is linked explicitly to the girls’ subtle sense of their own developing queerness. Freak temporality operates against heteronormative time, threatening to undo the dominant cultural imaginings of futurity. It reveals in McCullers’s work a robust example of what Alison Kafer has called “crip time” (2014: 25), a temporality that “requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies” (27).8 Freakishness operates on the material level by altering the girls’ perception of the passing of time. It emphasizes the ways in which their bodies and psyches experience time with dread and anxiety. Freak time is attentive to the body and to bodily difference since it is both real and imagined in the future. It exposes one way in which adolescent temporality might be experienced and felt in ways that disability studies helps us to understand. It asks us to think about the way in which developmental narratives towards able-bodied and heterosexual adulthood are often painfully impressed upon, and oppressive to, young adolescents. Freak temporality disables time, cripping it, occasioning perhaps a more inclusive temporal structure for the ways in which differently-abled bodies experience and live time in the world.

Conclusion

Across McCullers’s body of work, the recurrent figure of the freak bears explicit relation to female adolescent temporality. Where past readings of McCullers’s work have repeatedly read the freak as a symbol of interiority, I have argued instead that the freakish body is more than representative; it is, for the girls especially, the real material result of difference. For the 12- and 13-year-old girls, normal futures of marriage and child-bearing are much more appealing than embracing their developing sense of queerness, or even freakishness, despite the fact that the marriage Frankie desires is already radically impossible. While McCullers’s characters experience freak temporality with a kind of dread, they also remind us of adolescent difficulties with embracing alternative kinds of bodies and futures. Freak temporality shapes the experience of McCullers’s central characters, instilling in them trepidation and anxiety about their future prospects of community, belonging, and intimacy. Their repeated fear of growing into freakishness is the defining example of freak temporality in McCullers’s work, and my examination of its surprising recurrence is a new, and, I think, crucial addition to scholarship on McCullers’s work.

But in this article I have also attempted to rethink queer temporality as it is experienced in and through non-normative bodies. While freak temporality clearly draws its theoretical foundation from theories of queer time, it also works to recognize the feelings of disorientation, discomfort, and uneasiness to the adolescent female experience of queerness, particularly in stifling environments like those represented in McCullers’s work. Enabled by queer theories of time as non-linear, multi-directional, even working backwards in queer life, freak temporality draws out the fears and anxieties that often accompany these radical re-imaginings, by girls, of the future. Extending theories of queer time by way of freak and disability studies also maintains the embodied experience of difference as a key distinction of freak temporality. Recent scholarship in disability studies has begun to ask how disabled or crip time might better account for not just queers, but also for disabled lives and bodies. As Kafer writes, “Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds” (2014: 27). Freak temporality reclaims the many non-normative bodies of McCullers’s work as not merely representative or metaphorical. Instead, the female adolescent body maintains its pervasive potential to dismantle standardized temporal structures, to refuse not necessarily the future itself, but any compulsory normative course headed in its direction.

Notes
1

See Robert Bogdan’s Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (1990), and Rosemary Garland-Thompson’s Extraordinary Bodies (1996) and Freakery (1996).

2

For an exhaustive record of critics who have read McCullers’s characters as universalized symbols of human alienation, see Rachel Adams (1999).

3

Judith Halberstam has defined “queer time” in part as “a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance” (2005: 4). See also Lee Edelman (2004), Judith Halberstam (2005), Sara Ahmed (2006), Muñoz, José (2009), Heather Love (2007), and Elizabeth Freeman (2010).

4

In using this word I draw from McRuer’s idea that both “queerness and disability both have the potential to disrupt the performance of able-bodied heterosexuality.” This intersection of queer and disability studies, crip theory, is used in this article as a way of challenging “the ongoing consolidation of heterosexual, able-bodied hegemony” (2005: 19) that I see at work in McCullers’s novels.

5

Judith Halberstam has said of McCullers’s description here that it is Frankie’s “lack of connection, the awkward failure to fit, that makes up Frankie’s identity” (1998: 190).

6

See Kathryn Bond Stockton’s notion of queer children’s “sideways growth” which has, “unhelpfully … been relentlessly figured as vertical movement upward (hence: ‘growing up’) towards full stature, marriage, work, reproduction, and the loss of childless-ness. …” (2009: 3).

7

See Nicole Seymour for a full discussion of the narrative syntax in the novel and its implications for a “non-futurist adolescent” (2009: 300).

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  • Freeman, Elizabeth. 2010. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Free, Melissa. 2008. “Relegation and Rebellion: The Queer, the Grotesque, and the Silent in the Fiction of Carson McCullers.” Studies in the Novel, no. 40: 426447.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 1996. Freakery: Culture Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press.

  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 2005. “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35, no. 2: 1557–1587.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gleeson-White, Sarah. 2005. Strange Bodies Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gleeson-White, Sarah. 2001. “Revisiting the Southern Grotesque: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Case of Carson McCullers.” The Southern Literary Journal 33, no. 2: 108123.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Halberstam, Judith. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Halberstam, Judith. 2005. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press.

  • Kafer, Alison. 2014. Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Kenshaft, Lori J. 1996. “Homoerotics and Human Connections: Reading Carson McCullers ‘As a Lesbian.’” Pp. 220242 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Melvin J. Friedman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Love, Heather. 2007. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1940] 2001a). The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Pp. 1306 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1941] 2001a). Reflections in a Golden Eye. Pp. 307394 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1946] 2001a). The Member of the Wedding. Pp. 459606 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1951] 2001a). The Ballad of the Sad Café. Pp. 395458 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1961] 2001a). Clock Without Hands. Pp. 607806 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. 2001a. Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. 2001b. The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings. New York: Mariner Books.

  • McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press.

  • Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

  • Samuels, Ellen. 2011. “Cripping Anti-Futurity, or, If You Love Queer Theory So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It?Paper presented at the Annual Conference, Society for Disability Studies. San Jose, California.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seymour, Nicole. 2009. “Somatic Syntax: Replotting the Developmental Narrative in Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding.” Studies in the Novel 41, no. 3: 293314.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Spivak, Gayatri C. 1979. “Three Feminist Readings: McCullers, Drabble, Habermas.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 35: 1524.

  • Spivak, Gayatri C. 1996. “A Feminist Reading: McCullers’s Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” Pp. 129142 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Beverly L. Clark and Melvin J. Friedman. New York: G. K. Hall & Co.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stockton, Kathryn Bond. 2009. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Westling, Louise. 1996. “Tomboys and Revolting Femininity.” Pp. 155171 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Melvin J. Friedman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Alison Sperling is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Her current project, tentatively titled “Weird Modernism,” interrogates embodied modes of temporality within literary modernism by theorizing “the weird” across the period. Her research looks to wide-ranging theoretical frames and methodologies to think about the body, including queer theory, disability studies, feminist science studies, and critical animal and plant studies. Her work will also appear this year in Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, as well as in the collection, Lovecraft Annual, edited by S.T. Joshi.

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Adams, Rachel. 1999. “‘A Mixture of Delicious and Freak’: The Queer Fiction of Carson McCullers.” American Literature 71, no. 3: 551583.

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  • Ahmed, Sara. 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Bogdan, Robert. 1988. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit / Robert Bogdan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carr, Virginia. 2003. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

  • Chemers, Mark. 2005. “Introduction Staging Stigma: A Freak Studies Manifesto.” Disability Studies Quarterly 25, no. 4. http://dsq-sds.org/ (accessed 25 November 2014).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chen, Mel. 2012. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Edelman, Lee. 2004. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Fiedler, Leslie A. 1978. Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self / Leslie Fiedler. New York: Simon and Schuster.

  • Freeman, Elizabeth. 2002. The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Freeman, Elizabeth. 2007. “Queer Belongings: Kinship Theory and Queer Theory.” Pp. 293314 in A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies, ed. George Haggerty and Molly McGarry. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Freeman, Elizabeth. 2010. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Free, Melissa. 2008. “Relegation and Rebellion: The Queer, the Grotesque, and the Silent in the Fiction of Carson McCullers.” Studies in the Novel, no. 40: 426447.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 1996. Freakery: Culture Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press.

  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Garland-Thompson, Rosemary. 2005. “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35, no. 2: 1557–1587.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gleeson-White, Sarah. 2005. Strange Bodies Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gleeson-White, Sarah. 2001. “Revisiting the Southern Grotesque: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Case of Carson McCullers.” The Southern Literary Journal 33, no. 2: 108123.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Halberstam, Judith. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Halberstam, Judith. 2005. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press.

  • Kafer, Alison. 2014. Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Kenshaft, Lori J. 1996. “Homoerotics and Human Connections: Reading Carson McCullers ‘As a Lesbian.’” Pp. 220242 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Melvin J. Friedman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Love, Heather. 2007. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1940] 2001a). The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Pp. 1306 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1941] 2001a). Reflections in a Golden Eye. Pp. 307394 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1946] 2001a). The Member of the Wedding. Pp. 459606 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1951] 2001a). The Ballad of the Sad Café. Pp. 395458 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. ([1961] 2001a). Clock Without Hands. Pp. 607806 in Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. 2001a. Complete Novels. New York: Library of America.

  • McCullers, Carson. 2001b. The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings. New York: Mariner Books.

  • McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press.

  • Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

  • Samuels, Ellen. 2011. “Cripping Anti-Futurity, or, If You Love Queer Theory So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It?Paper presented at the Annual Conference, Society for Disability Studies. San Jose, California.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seymour, Nicole. 2009. “Somatic Syntax: Replotting the Developmental Narrative in Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding.” Studies in the Novel 41, no. 3: 293314.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Spivak, Gayatri C. 1979. “Three Feminist Readings: McCullers, Drabble, Habermas.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 35: 1524.

  • Spivak, Gayatri C. 1996. “A Feminist Reading: McCullers’s Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” Pp. 129142 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Beverly L. Clark and Melvin J. Friedman. New York: G. K. Hall & Co.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stockton, Kathryn Bond. 2009. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Westling, Louise. 1996. “Tomboys and Revolting Femininity.” Pp. 155171 in Critical Essays on Carson McCullers, ed. Melvin J. Friedman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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