Reflection by Tara Thomas
Daniel Wright explores how “bad” logic—tautology, contradiction, vagueness, and generality—is the vehicle through which novelists articulate erotic desire in the novel, rendering it formalistically detectable while maintaining its inherent resistance to rational intelligibility. His exploration of how the erotic pushes the boundaries of logic, what Wright calls the “normative philosophy of right reasoning,” formalizing itself at the fuzzy edges of reason, is a provocative contribution to queer theory’s reassessment of negative affect and the closet. Eroticism in the Victorian novel, Wright argues, deploys logic as “a science of form,” which is, to a certain extent, indifferent to its content in order to articulate desire formally “without forcing us into a moral judgment” (145). Framing Bad Logic with queer texts like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Well of Loneliness, while focusing his chapters on heterosexual desire in the Brontës, Eliot, Trollope, and James, Wright examines the formalization of women and queer protagonists’ inquiries into the ethics of erotic desire. Through his intricate application of recent queer theory to the history of logic Daniel Wright provides a nuanced reading of the formalization of desire that accounts for the multifaceted ideologies and sexualities represented in the Victorian novel.
What I find most interesting is Wright’s argument about how for Victorian authors, formalizing desire using categories of logic generally considered fallible enables rather than represses an ethical examination of the erotic. Wright contributes to queer theory’s repudiation of the repressive hypothesis by demonstrating how the seemingly ambiguous linguistics of erotic desire in the Victorian novel is consistently articulated through bad forms of logic, creating a pattern of deliberate encryption. Drawing from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, Wright extends Ahmed’s reevaluation of the utility of disorientation as a means by which we begin to reorient ourselves. In Wright’s understanding of the bad logic of desire within the Victorian novel, the murky forms desire assumes “can function as a logic of the closet,” yet its primary function is not to repress. Rather, desire adopts bad logic because the erotic is particularly difficult to pinpoint, and its elusiveness resists the formalization that threatens to “sap it of its energy” (10). Bad logic such as vagueness, generality, tautology, and contradiction open up formal avenues to explore desire as opposed to the constricting, repressive forms of good logic. That writers express desire and the erotic through the disorienting metaphors of bad language and logic is particularly useful for understanding the murky language of sexual orientation, desires, and acts in non-heteronormative Victorian novels. My own encounters with logic in the Victorian novel crop up in philosophical conversations between men whose discourse consistently ends with abrupt awkward dialogue. Wright’s suggestion that through reevaluating queer moments in the text, we will frequently find desire not tucked behind but rather articulated through language is a fresh contribution to nineteenth-century gender and sexuality studies, enticing for its examination of novelists who explore the ethics of desire in terms of logic rather than the language of sexology.