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Queer Compulsions

Queer Compulsions: Race, Nation, and Sexuality in the Affairs of Yone Noguchi

Amy Sueyoshi
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Queer Compulsions
    Book Description:

    In September 1897 Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) contemplated crafting a poem to his new love, western writer Charles Warren Stoddard. Recently arrived in California, Noguchi was in awe of the established writer and the two had struck up a passionate correspondence. Still, he viewed their relationship as doomed-not by the scandal of their same-sex affections, but their introverted dispositions and differences in background. In a poem dedicated to his "dearest Charlie," Noguchi wrote: "Thou and I, O Charles, sit alone like two shy stars, east and west!" While confessing his love to Stoddard, Noguchi had a child (future sculptor Isamu Noguchi) with his editor, Léonie Gilmour; became engaged toWashington Postreporter Ethel Armes; and upon his return to Japan married Matsu Takeda-all within a span of seven years. According to author Amy Sueyoshi, Noguchi was not a dedicated polyamorist: He deliberately deceived the three women, to whom he either pretended or promised marriage while already married. She argues further that Noguchi's intimacies point to little-known realities of race and sexuality in turn-of-the-century America and illuminate how Asian immigrants negotiated America's literary and arts community.As Noguchi maneuvered through cultural and linguistic differences, his affairs additionally assert how Japanese in America could forge romantic fulfillment during a period historians describe as one of extreme sexual deprivation and discrimination for Asians, particularly in California. Moreover, Noguchi's relationships reveal how individuals who engaged in seemingly defiant behavior could exist peaceably within prevailing moral mandates. His unexpected intimacies in fact relied upon existing social hierarchies of race, sexuality, gender, and nation that dictated appropriate and inappropriate behavior. In fact, Noguchi, Stoddard, Gilmour, and Armes at various points contributed to the ideological forces that compelled their intimate lives. Through the romantic life of Yone Noguchi,Queer Compulsionsnarrates how even the queerest of intimacies can more provocatively serve as a reflection of rather than a revolt from existing social inequality. In unveiling Noguchi's interracial and same-sex affairs, it attests to the complex interaction between lived sexualities and socio-legal mores as it traces how one man negotiated affection across cultural, linguistic, and moral divides to find fulfillment in unconventional yet acceptable ways.Queer Compulsionswill be a welcome contribution to Asian American, gender, and sexuality studies and the literature on male and female romantic friendships. It will also forge a provocative link between these disciplines and Asian studies.8 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6117-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    At the end of the nineteenth century in Oakland, California, love coursed through Yone Noguchi as he climbed up a hillside bursting with spring flowers. Noguchi had just begun corresponding with western writer Charles Warren Stoddard, and he felt intoxicated with affection. Even the air tasted delicious. Moved by thoughts of Stoddard, Noguchi gathered poppies and buttercups into a bouquet and offered them to his new imaginary love. Then, to seal his love for Stoddard, Noguchi threw kisses east toward his bungalow in Washington, DC.¹ Yet, as Noguchi wrote letters of impassioned love to Stoddard, he also impregnated writer Léonie...

  5. ONE An Ocean Apart 1875–1897
    (pp. 14-32)

    In a small town called Tsushima ten miles west of Nagoya City in Japan, Okuwa Noguchi gave birth to her fourth son, Yonejiro, on December 8, 1875. Okuwa’s husband Denbei worked as a merchant selling paper, umbrellas, andgeta, or wooden slippers. While the couple appeared typical of commoners, orheimin, they may in fact have proved a bit different from other small merchant families who just seven years previously occupied the lower rungs of Japan’s four-tiered social structure.¹ Okuwa’s brother was the famous Buddhist scholar Shaku Taishun, and Denbei’s father at one point owned a small plot of land.²...

  6. TWO Two Shy Stars 1897–1900
    (pp. 33-55)

    In September of 1897 as Yone Noguchi slept, he dreamt of his new “love” Charles Warren Stoddard. He had long been pondering a poem for his “dearest Charlie,” and in the stillness of the night, verses came to him as if a gift from God. “It is our fate that we drift away from each other? Thou and I, O Charles, sit alone like two shy stars, east and west!”¹ Yone, a recent immigrant from Japan and an aspiring poet, had just met Charles, an established western writer, and the two had begun a passionate correspondence. Still, their relationship appeared...

  7. THREE To the Bungalow and Beyond 1900–1904
    (pp. 56-77)

    In May of 1900, Yone Noguchi’s long-awaited visit to Charles Warren Stoddard finally materialized. As he prepared for his departure, he exclaimed, “At last! At last! The time has arrived! . . . I suppose you will welcome me with your heartfelt words of delight and love. At last the time has come!!”¹ He reminded Charlie of his love and declared his impatience to see him this very minute.² In the ensuing months their relationship would reach new heights of intensity as the two finally embraced in person. Charlie, however, was not the sole object of Yone’s affection. Within three...

  8. FOUR Queer Intimacies 1899–1904
    (pp. 78-99)

    By December 1903 Yone Noguchi appeared to be married to Léonie Gilmour, even as he reinforced his engagement to Ethel Armes and wrote letters of affection to Charles Warren Stoddard. Yone and Ethel’s relationship proved particularly tortured as the two waded through countless disagreements. As they mended their relationship with each tumultuous turn, they insistently avowed that they hoped to marry one another. Yet their most important love may not have been with one another. Charlie remained a key figure in Yone’s life, and Ethel herself seemed to prefer long-term romantic relationships with women rather than men. Part of her...

  9. FIVE Double Crossings 1904–1909
    (pp. 100-124)

    When Yone Noguchi arrived home in Japan in September 1904 after thirteen years abroad, he faced an overwhelming welcome. Dinners and receptions in his honor took place every day. While he wrote to Charles Warren Stoddard of the “nuisance” of all the events that left him no time to himself or his writing, he relished his new celebrity status. He was delighted to stay at home with his parents and confessed that “it is not so bad to be treated [well] in the native country. I am a line on the Japanese newspaper.”¹ Still, all would not end blissfully for...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 125-148)

    The memory of Yone Noguchi faded significantly in the decades that followed his return to Japan. Almost a century after Noguchi left the United States, literary critic Edward Marx pressed for his recognition, a neglected pioneer of Asian American literature.¹ In his own homeland as well, Noguchi’s name seemed to hold little lasting power. Though in 1989 Hosea Hirata wrote from Japan that Noguchi was “a legendary figure in the history of modern Japanese poetry,” seven years later, in 1996, Keiko Wada wrote that the name Yone Noguchi did not “ring a bell” for most Japanese.² So unfamiliar had Noguchi...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 149-212)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 213-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-230)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-233)