Gesture and the Emergence of Desire in Eudora Welty
Eudora Welty’s strange and beautiful story “First Love” pairs two stories of love’s emergence from loss: the main character’s dawning love for Aaron Burr, who must leave him behind, and his love for his parents, from whom he has been separated in a raid. Joel, described as deaf and mute, falls in love with a great orator—for, the story tells us, one of his gestures. Turning to theories of gesture in Giorgio Agamben, Werner Hamacher, and others, the chapter links the emergence of desire to what these accounts suggest is the potentiality inherent in gesture: language, or proto-language, that expresses nothing other than itself, than its own happening. Welty’s own enigmatic language, where one is perhaps never sure whether any given statement is literal or figurative, embodies this language-turned-to-gesture and makes the events of the story difficult to distinguish from the taking place of its language—a recursive structure that the chapter suggests is the story’s rendering of the fathomless initiations, the abyssal temporalities, of the interval of queer becoming and inception. For the story never tells us what Joel becomes; it leaves Joel (and us) in what Kathryn Bond Stockton calls the “interval” of the queer child.
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