The Disobedient Subject
Advaita Vedanta and the Disruption of Authorized Subject Positionings in Christopher Isherwood’s Life-Writing
Keywords:Advaita Vedanta, homosexual, interpellation, heteronormativity, identity as narrative, queer spiritual autobiography
In conservative religious discourse, “homosexuality” is configured as mutually incompatible with a sincere engagement in religious belief and praxis, and the subject positionings common within the gay liberation project have tended to reinforce the opposition. Here I suggest how some marginalized subjectivities have liberated themselves from the toxic representations of hostile discourses by exploring new possibilities for being and becoming that are distinctly different from those provided by dominant, heteronormative models of identity, especially those held in place by conventional religious teaching. From recent literary theory I adopt the notion of self as a constructed narrative, and examine the extent to which the emerging genre of “queer spiritual autobiography” (Stewart 2002), in particular, contributes to a reverse discourse, becoming a site for contestation and resistance. First-person testimony in the form of memoir and autobiographical writing takes up the project of renarrativizing the self and disrupting authorized versions of male identity, spirituality and sexuality. I illustrate this through the work of the British expatriate writer Christopher Isherwood, a seminal proponent of the genre, to delineate how the positioning of self is renegotiated in queer spiritual autobiography. I draw attention to the integrative potential that Isherwood found in particular teachings and practices of Advaita Vedanta, in which he was trained by his spiritual teacher, that are often misunderstood in Isherwood scholarship. The impact of Vedanta on Isherwood’s textual personae, his experiments with first-person point of view, his interrogation of the problematics of writing religion, and a sustained engagement with a religious inquiry and praxis not predicated on a repudiation of his sexuality, all contribute to make him a writer of exemplary interest today.
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