Queering the Burning Boy: Parody and Performance in Elizabeth Bishop's 'Casabianca'

Jaime Muehl
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What might we gain from an interrogation into the nature of love and desire in Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Casabianca"? In reading "Casabianca" as a campy parody of Felicia Hemans' earlier poem of the same title, I suggest that Bishop overtly rejects patriarchal, heterosexist notions of love and desire as inadequate and ultimately destructive. I ground my argument in Judith Butler's theory of performativity, exploring the ways in which Bishop underscores the discursive construction of love as a performance designed to promote heteronormative conceptions of sex and gender. While Bishop effectively deconstructs the perfromative discourse of love, she also paradoxically animates the ways in which patriarchal love is constantly reinforced and reified through its own performance. Implicit in this performative process is the possibility for the construction of a quer "other" that at once challenges and enables the patriarchal norm.

I will bring Bishop's "Casabianca" into dialogue with Roland Barthes "A Lover's Discourse" to further illuminate the discursive and performative nature of love and desire. Like Barthes who performs the discourse of love as the written reflections of a solitary lover who is not present, the beloved other is left absent from Bishop's "Casabianca." I argue that this deliberate absence, even as it reinforces traditional conceptions of love, also provides a space for strategic forms of resistance within the discourse of love.

Bishop's "Casabianca" explicitly critiques Hemans' glorification of young Casabianca's actions and Hemans' own role in enforcing a patriarchal consciousness. Questions of identity, love, desire and language intersect in Bishop's poem, blurring the boundaries between a heterosexual ideal and the possibility for a queer alternative.

Keywords: Elizabeth Bishop, Queer, Gender, Performativity, Otherness
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
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Jaime Muehl

M.A. candidate in English Literature, English Department, New York University
New York, NY, USA

Ref: H06P0496