Jonathan Dollimore

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Jonathan G Dollimore
Born 1948
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England
Occupation Sociologist and academic

Jonathan G Dollimore (born 1948 in Leighton Buzzard[1]) is an English sociologist and social theorist in the fields of Renaissance literature (especially drama), gender studies, queer theory (queer studies), art, censorship, history of ideas, death studies, decadence, and cultural theory.

After leaving school at fifteen he took various jobs, before returning, as a mature student, to Keele University, where he achieved his BA, and the University of London, which awarded him his PhD

As a Reader at the University of Sussex, he co-founded with Alan Sinfield the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence, which, as he remembers in Sex, Literature and Censorship, 'attracted some notoriety for being the first of its kind in the country' (3). He later became Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of York. Dollimore is credited with making major interventions in debates on sexuality and desire; Renaissance literary culture; art and censorship, and; cultural theory.

Work[edit]

Radical Tragedy (1984, 2nd edition 1989, 3rd edition 2004)

In his first book, Dollimore argues that the humanist critical tradition has distorted for modern readers the actual radical function of Early Modern English drama, which had to do with 'a critique of ideology, the demystification of political and power relations and the decentring of "man"' (4).

Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, edited with Alan Sinfield (1985, 2nd edition 1994)

Treading the same path as Radical Tragedy, this compendium of essays by leading writers on Shakespeare has as its goal to replace our idea of a timeless, humane and civilising Shakespeare with a Shakespeare anchored in the social, political and ideological conflicts of his historical moment. Included are essays by Stephen Greenblatt and Kathleen McLuskie.

Sexual Dissidence (1991)

In Sexual Dissidence, Dollimore sets out “to retrieve lost histories of perversion”, in part by tracing the term “perverse” back to its etymological origins in Latin and its epistemological origins in Augustine. A second theoretical section places Freud and Foucault in dialogue on the subject of perversion, followed by a second historical section, this time, on homophobia.

Death, Desire, and Loss (1998)

In a wide-ranging survey from Anaximander to Aids, Dollimore presses his case that the drive to relinquish the self has always lurked within Western notions of identity and can be found above all, ‘perversely, lethally, ecstatically’ in sexuality.

Sex, Literature, and Censorship (2001)

Dollimore explores the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, centring his discussion on literature’s “dangerous knowledge”. He calls for a shift in critical values from theoretical learning to experiential knowledge, endorsing a criticism capable of “being historically imaginative inside a perspective which one is also critically resisting” (p. 45).

Jonathan Dollimore in Conversation (2013)

This interview with David Jonathan Bayot introduces Dollimore's critical view on aesthetics, ethics, and politics and on how to mobilize them alongside desire and spirituality for a radical materialist practice. Some of the questions addressed by Dollimore in the interview include: What is cultural materialism and how does it foreground itself vis-a-vis humanism and postmodernism? what is the task of criticism and literary pedagogy in the context of literature and the canon under fire? Stephen Greenblatt writes: "Not only a valuable introduction to the work of a vital theorist and critic, Jonathan Dollimore in Conversation is also an important cultural document: it captures what it felt like to be alive intellectually in a particular, intensely contentious and creative historical moment."

Ideas[edit]

The “the perverse dynamic”, is one of Dollimore’s most crucial theoretical concepts, first described in Sexual Dissidence, and later applied in Sex, Literature, and Censorship. The “perverse dynamic” is the production of perversion from within the very social structures that are offended by it and often enforce against it. The perverse “other” turns out not to be the remote alien thing it is supposed to be, enabling a “tracking-back of the ‘other’ into the ‘same’” (33). This return of the suppressed via the proximate Dollimore calls “transgressive reinscription.”

Recent writings[edit]

Dollimore’s essay "On Leaving" (2011) is biographical, dealing with its author’s teenage years, his arrival at university, then his departure from that place later in his life, but it also includes a more abstract discussion of the modern university and its function in society. Dollimore discusses the modern professionalised academy, and argues that it promotes mediocrity: 'the professionally defended arts academic is only half alive'; 'professional success – the successful career – is one of the most compromised, complicit and corrupt kinds of success available today.' Dollimore claims that, even if it has always been true that 'you have to find your way through or around formal education in search for what really matters,' it is also true that '[n]ever before… has the project of creating value inside of, and against, educational institutions been so necessary.'

In "A Civilization and its Darkness" (2012) Dollimore examines Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, and explores the relationship between civilisation and the forces that subvert and destroy it. Civilization, Dollimore writes, 'is, at some level, profoundly and necessarily limited, focused and exclusionary, built on repressions which remain constitutive.' The repressed forces, however, re-emerge intensified, which means that 'only the most highly civilised can become truly daemonic.' Dollimore also reiterates, from Sex, Literature and Censorship, his belief that 'to take art seriously is to recognise that it has the power to compromise both our morality and our humanity.'

Dollimore, in his extended "Foreword" to Ewan Fernie's book The Demonic (2012), discusses centrally the modern state of literary criticism. He dislikes the 'obscurantist' tendencies of a lot of so-called "theory," but he also deplores the fact that 'historicism in one newish form or another, has become a new orthodoxy.' The most committed historicism, Dollimore claims, 'tends towards a policing of the play [or whatever else] against interpretation. It doesn't just avoid questions of value, but represses them; in other words it's a contextualising which is also, and more fundamentally, a containment.'

A call for a new sort of spiritually intense living runs through Dollimore's recent writings. For example, in his "Foreword", he counsels that 'authenticity is more often than not outside the doxa,' and states: 'almost everything that is done, including what we ourselves do, be it at the macro or the micro level, could and should be done more authentically, more honestly, more meaningfully, more truthfully.'

Selected publications[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]