The exquisite amateur. FitzGerald, the Rubáiyát, and queer dilettantism. Benjamin Hudson
Victorian Poetry 54 (2016) 2 (Summer), pp. 155-177
Though both popular and critical appraisals of FitzGerald’s translation have pointed out his, or the poem’s, amateurism, no inquiry has considered how the text itself cultivates its own antiprofessional stance—how it, in other words, invites readers to “Make Game” of life. Although this point may seem to be self-evident in a poem dedicated to inebriate pleasure, it is nonetheless worth considering, and clearly establishing, in order to identify how this amateurism, complicates erotic readings of the poem while enriching current critiques of its antiteleological temporality and agnosticism. What happens when we investigate amateurism in the Rubáiyát not as an ad hominem assessment of its translator but as an intentional political affront to midcentury culture? If, as Gray has argued, the poem’s setting is “a distant and mythical past that nevertheless allegorically shadows forth contemporary Britain,” then surely the committed dilettantism of the Rubáiyát is a rejoinder to midcentury sociopolitical practice. That is to say, amateurism is every bit a part of the speaker’s angry desire to “shatter [the world] to bits” as its agnosticism and temporal experimentation. For FitzGerald’s poem not only promulgates this antiprofessional ethos but applies it even to the ends of the lover by cultivating an amateur sexuality—an erotics at odds with both the professional definitions of a nascent sexological discourse and also the very terms on which sexual orientations themselves are constructed. Fitzgerald’s dilettantism, Hudson argues, and his affective attachments to the writer he called “My Omar” allowed him to form a various, multiplicitous text that drowns linear, professional temporality—even that of the author and the lover—in the sweet vintage of oblivion while creating in its wake a genuinely original poem, if not in Graves’s sense. The author first examines the poem’s dedicated amateurism, which clashed angrily against the dominant ideologies of its time, before considering this dilettantism’s effects on the poem’s erotic investments.