In this meditative and haunting memoir, renowned cultural critic Jonathan Dollimore recounts a life spent dedicated to understanding the delight and disorder of human desire. Through recollections of his struggles with depression, his discovery of love and literature and his adventures cruising in the gay subcultures of late twentieth-century New York, Brighton and Sydney, Dollimore weaves a candid, nuanced narrative of life in a newly liberated and hedonistic world, soon to be devastated by AIDS.
Effortless blending the tragic and comic, Dollimore’s unique voice relates a life haunted and torn by loss, and the at once intensely personal yet universal experience of suffering and longing.
Jonathan Dollimore is a literary theorist, specializing in the fields of Renaissance literature (especially drama), art, censorship and the history of ideas, and a trailblazer in the study of gender and queer theory. At the University of Sussex he pioneered cultural materialism in early modern and literary studies and gay studies in education, including co-founding there the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence. His landmark books include Radical Tragedy (1984), with Alan Sinfield, Political Shakespeare (1985) and Sexual Dissidence (1991). In later books like Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture (1999) and Sex Literature and Censorship (2001) he turned his attention to a fresh interrogation of those dark, recalcitrant elements of desire and mortality that resist utopian transformation. He has held chairs at the University of Sussex and University of York and lectured and taught throughout the world.
Jonathan Dollimore, a working class man who became one of our most thoughtful intellectuals, has written a memoir that meditates on sex, identity, boredom and ecstasy. It is a rich, sad, wise book.
A delightfully cheeky yet earnest reflection on the utopian and pedestrian possibilities of sexual life … There is much to admire here: the dewy beauty of Dollimore's limpid prose, the way his punctuation marks, like so many finely gloved fingers, point out the words and phrases to savor. There's the self-aware humor of a rebel-cum-scholar with a working-class background who clearly revels in a love of language that is never too far from the love of men … [In] Dollimore's memoir ... desire retains its glimmer of utopian potential to bring us to a place not yet known save in our dreams.
Jonathan Dollimore is unafraid to say what he thinks and feels, and the result reads like a liberation.
[Dollimore] describes his own experiences with great vividness and often humour, and with the instincts of a true storyteller … One reads on, endlessly fascinated by the strange details of his life.
[A] moving and honest exploration of the self through the different kinds of desires that are as strong and fierce as the experiences Dollimore describes with truth and tenderness. It's a brilliant and poignant book.
It's not just another candid memoir designed to appeal to the voyeur in us all, but also a beautiful exploration of how sensuality, and especially touch, are as big a feature of our lives as sex and sexuality.
A meditation in the form of a memoir. Rather than a chronological account of Dollimore's life, the narrative is fragmentary, held together by a constant need to unravel the meanings of desire and surmount episodes of deep depression … Dollimore is a fine and intelligent writer who combines personal reminiscences with philosophical musings in ways that stretch the reader … The book ends with an homage to a now dead friend and a sense that in grief there is a renewed desire for life, a fitting conclusion to a book that's both emotionally and intellectually rewarding.
The power of Desire has to do with the felt accuracy of the record ... What [Dollimore] also demonstrates is how central an account of gay life is to understanding contemporary suffering. In that sense, one might claim, without diminishing its tragedies, that, as Dollimore shows, gay culture stands in for all of us.
There is no resisting the pull of Dollimore's poignant memoir. He relates his compulsive experience of gay culture with raw candour and reflects on it with subtle refinement. This is a meditation about the desire for sex and oblivion and its complex relation to loss, depression, and suicide.
A quietly startling memoir, though with no confrontational element. Jonathan Dollimore's scrupulous sifting of the past always tests ideas against experience, and finds more than once that disasters have a liberating effect. This isn't the sort of book you'd expect an academic to write, in fact it's almost the exact opposite of the sort of book you'd expect an academic to write, and much the better for it. I enjoyed it very much.
At last it is here. We have waited too long for Jonathan Dollimore's sparkling, tender, deliciously funny and astute tales of the life of desire – in his own extraordinary journeys through time. All the mystery, miseries, and delights of lust and longing are exquisitely laid bare, in a memoir so riveting you will return to it again and again.
Jonathan Dollimore's story will touch, haunt and break your heart, though not necessarily in that order. And as if that were not enough, he tells it with such discipline, delicacy and directness that even as it becomes authoritatively his own, the story of his times starts to show through it, and then the story of mortal life and desire itself…. An awe-inspiring achievement.
There are many who will be fascinated to learn about the life of a brilliant teacher, writer, radical intellectual adventurer, who for many was a role model on how to think and do our work differently. Jonathan Dollimore made himself the inspiration for generations of scholars in multiple fields. This memoir is an incredibly powerful, open, self-aware, and beautiful piece of writing. More than anything, it is a gift of trust to his readers.
You might expect a book titled Desire: A memoir to burst with the exploits of an insatiable lusthound, a dizzying notching-up of the bedpost that moves toward a climax of self- understanding. Well, there are plenty of revealing memories here, variously arousing, cute, funny, and bleak, the most elaborate of which occur later in the book and during a chapter devoted to time spent in Sydney in the 1980s…Desire has stirring, eloquent lessons to teach us all.
It is not often that I am invited to review a book that doesn’t have foot- or end-notes, a bibliography, or an index. Dollimore’s Desire: A Memoir has none of these and doesn’t need any of them. But what he packs into his autobiography is full of vulnerability, honesty, wisdom, and surprise. We, the readers, are given much to think about, as in all his writing. Desire is transgressive yet meditative and, at times, existential yet philosophical and reflective, well in the tradition of Wilde, Gide, and Genet.
6/18/21, Novara Media #NovaraFM podcast, Dollimore joins James Butler to discuss the book.