Architectures and masculinities in nineteenth century Britain (1878–1895)
As a “histrionic” reading of nineteenth century architectural history, theory and criticism, this research attempts to locate the ways in which architectural discourse functions as a subjectivating device while also demonstrating the ways in which these subject formations work to structure architectural discourse itself. Beginning in 1878, the date of James Whistler's libel trail against John Ruskin and ending in 1895 with the trials of Oscar Wilde for gross indecency, this project maps the ways in which the effeminate body is inscribed within the architectural canon throughout this historical period while also foregrounding those moments when architectural discourse first confronts and is confronted by the invention of homosexuality. Operating within the theoretical space of gender and sexual performativity, this research attempts to understand the ways in which architectural discourse (in conjunction with the British legal system and the language of sexology) participates in both the production of this “deviant” subjectivity and in the proliferation of other homosexual possibilities. Once the effeminate-homosexual emerges as a viable (thought abject) subjectivity, another “style” of homosexuality emerges within architectural discourse that “appears” to adhere more closely to late nineteenth century codes of chivalrous masculinity and systems of homosocial bonding. It is this style of homosexuality that “passes'” into the architectural canons of early modernism as illustrative of the rhetorical gestures of a properly ornamented masculine performance. However, as late as Adolf Loos' theorization of ornamental crimes (1908), the architectural positioning of the effeminate/homosexual subject is still concerned with questions similar to those posited in 1878 by John Ruskin in his critiques of James Whistler. Only now, these improperly edifying styles of signification and masculinity are presented not only as sexually deviant, but also as architecturally and socially criminal. This examination of the relations among these emerging homosexualities and the architectural discourse of early modernism provides an opportunity for understanding the ways in which architecture participates in just such subjectivating tendencies as well as the ways in which architecture provides a means of resistance to such criminalizing gestures. This exploration of the relations among gender, sexuality and architecture during the later half of the nineteenth century also attempts to provide a model through which such subjectivating tendencies that persist within contemporary architectural discourse might also be problematized and resisted.