Against anglonormative objects: Queer translingual poetics in Nino Gennaro’s protest poetry

Serena Bassi, Yale University

 

 

This paper reconsiders and rethinks one of early Queer Theory’s archenemy, the Gay Liberation Movement that formed across a number of transnational locales in the late sixties and early seventies in the wake of the Compton's Cafeteria riots in San Francisco and the Stonewall riots in New York.

 

In foundational queer scholarship by Gayle Rubin (1984), Diana Fuss (1989) and Judith Butler (1993), the movement has functioned as a stand in for single-issue approaches to sexual politics that figure sexual identities in essentialist and binary ways. A common charge levelled against the movement is that gay liberationist discourse problematically relied on what Foucault (1990) famously termed “the repressive hypothesis,” i.e. the idea that modern bourgeois society has repressed the authentic expression of human sexual drives, thus oppressing gay and lesbians across historical junctures and global locales.

 

My discussion will focus on a little-known gay liberationist group - the arts collective “Teatro Madre” started by the poet and playwright Nino Gennaro in the mid-1970s in Sicily - and on Gennaro’s poem “Baronessa Valenti.” The poem was written and performed collectively in 1974, and published in the collection Rosso Liberty in the 1990s. In my discussion of a thus far neglected Sicilian queer artist, I aim to show that by focusing on peripheral archives and de-centring monolingual Anglo-American texts, a version of gay liberation discourse may emerge that is itself critical of reductive transhistorical ideas of “sexual repression” and “sexual liberation.”

 

The poem I will examine was written and performed in three languages: Italian, Sicilian and English. In the poem, Gennaro forced a dialogue between these three semiotic systems in order to critique the notion of an unfolding teleological “sexual revolution” by means of a translingual poetics. Through a close-reading of “Baronessa Valenti,” I will suggest that queer translingualism may function as an alternative way of knowing embodiment and subjectivity across semiotically diverse linguistic practices of naming.