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Literary Criticism Gay & Lesbian

The Inverted Gaze

Queering the French Literary Classics in America

by (author) Francois Cusset

translated by David Homel

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2011
Gay & Lesbian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price

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François Cusset, author of the acclaimed book French Theory, investigates the queering of the French literary canon by American writers and scholars in this thought-provoking and free-minded journey across six centuries of literary classics and sexual polemics.

Cusset presents the foundations and rationale for American queer theory, the field of study established in the 1990s and promulgated by writers and scholars such as Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Michael Warner, which challenges a supposed "heteronormative" ideology in our culture. He then provides an overview of their reinterpretation of the French literary canon from a queer perspective, then deliberately goes further, confronting that same canon with a lively form of general suspicion--seeking gender trouble and sexual ambiguities in the most unexpected corners of French literary classics, in which macho heroes turn out to be homosocial melancholics, and the most seemingly submissive housewives, great vanguards of lesbian liberation.

Cusset's survey includes medieval and Renaissance literature, works from the Age of Enlightenment, nineteenth-century avant-gardists such as Charles Baudelaire and Honore de Balzac, and twentieth-century modernists such as Marcel Proust and Jean Genet.

Bold in its themes and propositions, The Inverted Gaze (a translation of the book Queer Critics) is an extraordinary work about French literature and American queer politics by one of France's most prominent intellectuals.

About the authors

François Cusset is the former director of the New York-based French Publishers' Agency, and is currently professor of American Studies at the University of Paris, and a series editor and contributor to many journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the author of French Theory (University of Minnesota Press), a pioneering account of four decades of intellectual and political life in the United States.

Francois Cusset's profile page

David Homel has translated over 30 books, many by Quebec authors. He won the Governor General's Literary Award in translation in 1995 for Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? by Dany Laferrière; his translation of Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro was nominated in 1988; and he won the prize in 2001 with fellow translator Fred A. Reed for Fairy Wing. His novels, which include Sonya & Jack, Electrical Storms, and The Speaking Cure have been published in several languages. Homel lives in Montreal, Quebec.

David Homel's profile page

Editorial Reviews

One of the things I found most fascinating about the book was Cusset's take on what makes a work of literature queer. Rather than focusing on what is explicitly queer such as the actual acts of sodomy or lesbian affection, Cusset says that being queer is about the loss of the self, "the art of being where nothing awaits you" and that "the queer approach... loudly proclaims lack of definition as its major virtue." ... Altogether a highly intriguing text.

Imagine that a French theorist takes Judith Butler's Gender Trouble-itself a landmark 'translation' (in the loose sense) of French feminist philosophy and theory-and re-translates it back into a French context, and you will begin to glean where François Cusset is coming from in The Inverted Gaze. Cusset is above all a cultural translator of the transatlantic sex and gender debates unfolding over the last thirty years. Homo, hetero, neuter, neutral, gay, queer, trans-all these Anglo-American terms and many more are newly refracted in Cusset's brainy sexathon.
-Emily Apter, New York University

Emily Apter

Francois Cusset is an elegant, playful, occasionally outrageous writer ... [He shows] a flair for boisterous, intellectual tomfoolery.


The playful capacity of camp rhetoric to both mock the status quo and appropriate it for its own queer imagination is crucial to Cusset's analysis. He sees queer criticism as a break from the stuffy methodology of traditional literary criticism and instead champions the formation of an individual relationship with the text ... Even for the uninitiated, this book serves as a scintillating baptism by fire for all aspiring queer Francophiles making their first trek into the French literary canon.
-Lambda Literary

Lambda Literary

The Inverted Gaze is a guide to the more sexually daring exploration of the human condition as it unfolds in French literature through the ages.
-Windy City News

Windy City News

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