Isherwood: Queer Theory and Modernity (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

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Isherwood and Queer Theory

Isherwood disrupted the ‘conventions of a coherent self’[1] during his reconstruction of the memories recorded in his diaries. Carr focuses on the earlier entries, covering 1939 to 1944, in his text Queer Times: Christopher Isherwood’s Modernity. Isherwood’s reflections, and the consequent alterations he made to the original documents, were made during 1946, a full two years after the diaries were written.

Carr suggests that these changes provide Isherwood’s text (Diaries, Volume One: 1939-1960) with more conscientiousness than his original writing would have possessed. This disruption may have occurred because of the changes to the text’s narrative style in order to shape it to fit its new form – that is, fictional prose. Isherwood confesses that the diaries he kept between 1939 and 1944 were irregular and incomplete records of his life.

Isherwood openly admits that changes to the original diaries were needed in order to provide a clearer and more consistent narrative. As result, the text has been revised and expanded upon where necessary. He also had to ‘fill in the gaps… [by] writing bridge passages of narrative’[2]. Carr observes that Isherwood’s tendency to re-write the past to construct his narratives ‘turns his life into a work of art, and holds history up to the task of critical reflection’[3].

The implications of this action are far-reaching. Isherwood’s diaries are no longer an accurate portrayal of his self and his life. He has used them as material for several texts based in the same time period, re-creating and manipulating his personal records of reality. These texts include three fictional-autobiographic novels and a personal memoir, all offering different accounts of the same events. As Carr eloquently puts it, Isherwood has ruptured the ‘linear time… of history… [by] narrating the past again and again’[4] in this manner. His reconstruction of his memories creates a duality of fact and fiction within his personal history.

 


 

[1] Jamie M. Carr, Queer Times: Christopher Isherwood’s Modernity (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), pg3

[2] C. Isherwood, Diaries, Volume One: 1939-1960 (reprint edition), (unknown: Harper Flamingo, 1998), pg3

[3] Queer Times, pg3

[4] Queer Times, pg3

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