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Schlosser, Milton

Queer Effects, Wilde Behaviour: Frederic Rzewski's "DE PROFUNDIS"

Ph.D. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, 1995
(miltoid@agt.net)

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol for "indecent behaviour with men." The cultural, social, and political forces implicated in Wilde's incarceration are represented in American composer Frederic Rzewski's piano composition DE PROFUNDIS: FOR SPEAKING PIANIST (1992). A work in which the pianist recites selected passages from Wilde's letter from prison to Lord Alfred Douglas, DE PROFUNDIS situates music as a socio-political text. As such, this work stands in direct opposition to discursive constructions of piano music as devoid of the political, the social, and the sexual. Further, DE PROFUNDIS requires the pianist perform a series of odd, if not embarrassing, effects. Queer effects, combined with Wilde behaviour, are woven together with text and music to constitute the queer body and the experiences of state discipline inscribed on the queer body. However, a factor complicates the anlaysis of DE PROFUNDIS as a queer text: the characteristics of homosexuality--indeed, the term homosexuality itself--originate within pathological medicine as means to identify and punish the queer body. Consequently, the tracking of queer effects in DE PROFUNDIS may serve unintentionally to perpetuate oppressive stereotypes. The difficult terrain on which issues of gender and sexuality are located necessitates that the first chapter examine issues around "homosexuality" and provide theoretical protocols allowing for the critical evaluation of sexuality and gender in musical texts. In particular, Lee Edelmann's analytic procedure HOMOGRAPHESIS is shown to de-scribe or erase differences intended to singularize the queer body for prosecution and regulatory purposes, thus affording the queer body diversity in its various manifestations. In chapter two, such diversity is seen to result in differing receptions of Rzewski's DE PROFUNDIS by queer performers and listeners as well as straight ones. HOMOGRAPHESIS serves as the framework on which both chapters are structured, reflecting my premise that the analysis of queer effects in DE PROFUNDIS will fail to be critical and ultimately sympathetic to the queer subject unless it interrogates dominant constructions of gender and sexuality.