Even more extraordinary, however, is the insistence one finds in these portraits on dynamic, group subjects. Because of the framing and narrative devices of literary portraiture, desire, self-consciousness, artistic inventiveness, and artistic and erotic appreciation circulate within and among a group defined by its insistence that this affirmative circuit of desire is pleasurable. Self-consciousness in literary portraiture is an aesthetic strategy, a dynamic and structural poetics that deploys sexuality as a figure of a larger twisting of relationships—those between the viewer and the viewed, the subject looking at himself, readers watching the subject look at himself being looked at. “Modernism”‘s modes of rendering the relations between the subjects and the look constitute a selfconscious style that reproduces the self-consciousness of the characters it describes. Indeed, self-consciousness and sexually perverse subjectivities are central to what we have come to recognize as the signature innovations that characterize modernist styles.
- A Thousand Words: Portraiture, Style, and Queer Modernism by Jaime Hovey