115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Queer Gourmandism of Richard Bruce Nugent’s Gentleman Jigger

Elizabeth Blake, Haverford College

Linking sexuality with an appetite for “eats,” this paper argue that Gentleman Jigger shows how a cultivated queer gourmandism can resist discourses of racial essentialism, reconfiguring the relationship between the “civilized” mind and the “primitive” body and suggesting new narratives of queer black male desire.

Proposal: 

Early in Gentleman Jigger, Richard Bruce Nugent’s autobiographical novel of the Harlem Renaissance, the protagonist, Stuartt, is asked directly if he is queer. Refusing to answer the question as it is intended, he turns it into a joke, saying “yes,” that he does like both men and women, adding “And I’m very fond of eats. Does that make me queer?” Both answering the question and defusing it, Stuartt links two forms of appetite: the sexual and the gustatory. In terms of the latter, Stuartt is a “gourmand as well as a gourmet, appreciating quantity as well as quality.” Gourmandism is the ability to take pleasure in the experience of eating; a gourmand is a person who has cultivated the enjoyment of both the bodily pleasure of taste itself and the social pleasure of commensality. Yet gourmandism is also associated with discrimination and snobbery; by contrast, Stuartt’s queer gourmandism operates outside these realms, enabling him to take pleasure in all tastes and sensations, not simply those that are “good.” Stuartt’s version of gourmandism combines what Nugent himself once referred to as “the Negroes’ instinct to eat well and copiously” with forms of sophistication descended from the eighteenth-century European tradition of gourmandism, bringing them together into a way of being that enacts an implicit critique of the idea of an innate racial instinct and demonstrates how cultivated behaviors, such as those of the gourmand, might also begin to feel instinctive. Stuartt’s gourmandism, like the culture of the black dandy, performatively breaks down the dichotomy between the “civilized” mind and the “primitive” body. Both resist the essentializing discourses of racial primitivism while at the same time responding to the necessity for what Virginia Woolf calls a “more primitive” language, meaning one that is “more sensual, more obscene.”