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The Illuminating Case of Benjamin Bateman

University professor encourages students to find their passion.

Professor+Benjamin+Bateman+presenting+his+book+%22The+Modernist+Art+of+Queer+Survival%22.
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The Illuminating Case of Benjamin Bateman

Professor Benjamin Bateman presenting his book

Professor Benjamin Bateman presenting his book "The Modernist Art of Queer Survival".

Allen Flores

Professor Benjamin Bateman presenting his book "The Modernist Art of Queer Survival".

Allen Flores

Allen Flores

Professor Benjamin Bateman presenting his book "The Modernist Art of Queer Survival".

Mary Pace, Contributor

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Last Thursday, Cal State LA’s Professor Benjamin Bateman presented his book “The Modernist Art of Queer Survival”.

The CCC’s series highlights cultural, gender identity and justice-focused research by Cal State LA faculty, staff and administrators.

Professor Bateman’s book focuses on modernism and queer survival, specifically using literature from 1880-1940 produced by writers who worked on modernism and on national boundaries.

While his focus is on British modernism, he also notes that social Darwinism was a rising discovery that engages in surviving-fittest-takes-all mentality. This idea became tied to a society that is heteronormative.

“Think about the kind of person that’s desirable in that scenario: someone who is selfish or incredibly ambitious, someone who is organized, efficient and laser-like focused in everything they do,” said Bateman.

“If you want to survive,” he added, “you prioritize those who you deem fit to continue and suppress those that you don’t want to.”

“The Modernist Art of Queer Survival”, then, returns back in time to look at a set of writers who we call today “gay and lesbian.” At the moment of writing, none of the authors identified as “gay.”

Bateman’s goal is to enlighten readers about the connection between eugenics and its influence on the heteronormative idea of good, capitalized citizens:

“Gays, bisexuals and lesbians are seen as inferior because they do not contribute to the reproduction of the ‘race,’” he said. “This creates an impact in modernist ideas and literature.”

Bateman recalls the struggles of finding his voice as an undergraduate writer while pondering an interest in queer studies and theories. At the time of his attendance, his university did not offer classes on LGBT literature.

“I had to do it for myself to do side reading,” said Bateman. “I had faculty who were eager to read them with me. Over time, I became comfortable talking about queer studies.”

As a result, he was able to find an archive of literature he was passionate about:

“You have to find what interests you and allow them to synergize with your work.”

Bateman also highlights the importance of having genders, sexualities and ethnic studies:

“We need to be able to have somewhere to go that’s fostering you as an individual.”

Sonia Cruz, an English graduate student, highlights the value of having a community:

“What spoke to me as a graduate student is it’s important to build a community around you,” she said. “I spend the most time with my friends and we are learning a new way of writing for academia as something that’s completely new and challenging.”

Bateman did not realize the impact of the work he was doing:

“I do think now, in 2018, the literature I was reading was very much about my survival as a gay man,” he said. “I recognize that it was important for me that these ideas take shape as me beginning to understand myself a little bit more.”

Jessica Somers, also an English graduate student, found the event to be insightful:

“I thought this event was illuminating. I always find Dr. Bateman’s research to be highly provocative and inspiring.”

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