“Boring Myself to Death”: The thanatotic theater of Hedda Gabler
In No Future, Lee Edelman has theorized queerness through the figure of the “sinthomosexual,” one who rejects the imperatives of sexual and societal reproduction and openly wields the negativity of the death drive. Edelman charts this figure through a series of literary and filmic texts; his examples are all male, but in a footnote he suggests the Kate in The Taming of the Shrew might be among them. This paper begins by wondering whether Kate’s standout status might be linked to the fact that she’s a theatrical character: wondering, that is, whether the stage might be a privileged site for the female sinthomosexual. I approach this question through a reading of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, a play in which the heroine’s particular brand of death-dealing frigidity certainly resonates with Deleuze’s “coldness of the masochistic ideal,” but perhaps even more with Edelman’s description of a figure like Ebenezer Scrooge: “he almost seems to rebuff the very warm-bloodedness of mammalian vitality, as if, like a textbook-perfect example of the death drive according to Freud, he aimed to return to the icy, inert immobility of a lifeless thing.” I argue that Hedda’s own queer coldness arises through her complexly adverse (and thrillingly perverse) relationship to the theater medium, suggesting that the critique of “reproductive futurism” (Edelman) might be a founding gesture of the modern stage.
Julia Jarcho is an Assistant Professor of English and Dramatic Literature at New York University. She received her PhD in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley. Her current book project, Negative Theatrics: Writing the Postdramatic Stage, traces a series of modernist and contemporary writers for whom theater offers the chance to contest the value of the present as such. Her article “Mouthing Off: the negativity of monologue in Mac Wellman’s A Murder of Crows” is forthcoming in Modern Drama (57.3); “Absence Pleasures: Whiteness, Death, and Music in American Psycho” appeared in Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 11.1. She is also a playwright and director; her play Grimly Handsome won the 2013 OBIE Award for Best New American Play.