Sailing Utopia: A Hunt for Queer Pirates in the Work of Claude McKay, Virginia Woolf, and Jordy Rosenberg
At its core, this thesis argues that the ambivalent figure of the pirate can help us to understand José Muñoz’ concept of queerness as a horizon which never arrives (Crusing Utopia 2009). My introduction defines the ocean, and the pirate ship upon it, as an anti-national space rife with potential. Through Derek Walcott’s Poem, “The Sea is History” (2007), and Rediker and Linebaugh’s The Many-Headed Hydra (2013), I show that history has been written by the nation-state; but around the sea, alternative stories exist. As queerness has been erased by the nation-state’s histories, the ocean then becomes a perfect place for queer utopic speculation.
Though they are peripheral figures, pirates spend plenty of time in the fictional spotlight. At times we cast them as villains, and at others we champion them as charismatic vagabonds. A pirate’s earring, long hair, and ruffly clothes perform hyper-masculinity with items that, to modern viewers, are typically feminine. These subversions evoke a queerness that the homosocial space of the ship does not negate. And as piracy is not a solitary affair, collectivity sustains this queer utopia.
I use the pirate as a heuristic to investigate how three primary texts forming a non-traditional historical archive—Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille (1933), and Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of The Fox (2018)—understand the interplay of empire, queerness, and dispossession. Each chapter focuses on a specific place and paratext (Genette 1997) in order to unlock the utopic queer aspects of the novels. The first chapter, pulling from Julius Scott’s book The Common Wind (2018), establishes the pirate as a dispossessed figure who circulates alternative forms of knowledge, viewing the title through the lens of the port city. The second chapter takes up interior paratexts as the ship; which is associated with the disabled body, masculinity, and gender nonconformity. We see the pirate as not simply celebratory, but ambivalent, with the potential for dystopic ends.
Finally, I conclude by arguing that a queer piracy must always remain a potential. A utopic queerness looks back to the past, but forms the present around the ever-changing potentials of the future; while a dystopic piracy acts in isolation, it is immutable, or it focuses on a return to an unrecoverable past.