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Desiring Brotherhood


artistic vision. However, I argue that it is precisely this focus on

morbidity or negative transcendence that sets McCullers apart

from other ordinary writers. She forces us to rethink a range of

“morbid” affects such as masochism, pain, and failure. How can we

imagine an identity that is not defined in terms of a humanist

framework: a self-activating, voluntaristic, coherent, sovereign

subject supposed to know and be in control? Can we allow for a

different organization of subjectivity that is not based on mastery

and a normative imagination of pleasure, gender, and sexuality? In

what follows, I propose that McCullers’s focus on “morbidity”

offers up a critique of the phallogocentric logic of agency and

subjectivity itself, and this repudiation of masculine positivism

becomes all the more suited for diagnosing the character of an

American empire.

The most fascinating and complicated character in the novel

is Captain Penderton, who, as a closeted gay man, has a “sad

penchant for becoming enamoured of his wife’s lovers” (McCullers,

2001c: 314). McCullers writes of his attraction to Leonora’s lover,

Major Morris Langdon, in the following way:

Indeed [Captain Penderton’s] torment had been a rather

special one, as he was just as jealous of his wife as he was

of her love. In the last year he had come to feel an

emotional regard for the Major that was the nearest thing

to love that he had ever known. More than anything else

he longed to distinguish himself in the eyes of this man.


In this strange triangle, Penderton seems to be more interested in

the Major than in his own wife. Unlike typical men who cannot

tolerate their wives’ faithlessness, he is described as “carry[ing] his

cuckoldry with a cynical good grace that was respected on the

post” (327). In “The Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing,” an

essay published in 1959, McCullers declares that Penderton’s

homosexuality “is . . . a symbol . . . of handicap and impotence”

(McCullers, 2005:

276). At first glance, McCullers’s association of