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Zoology, Celibacy, and the Heterosexual Imperative: Notes on Teaching Lu Xun’s “Loner” as a Queer Text

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This essay reflects on the reception of Lu Xun’s short story “The Loner” (Gudu zhe, alternately translated as “The Lone Wolf,” “The Misanthrope,” and “The Isolate”) in American classrooms, where students have sometimes wondered whether that character might be read as “queer.” It suggests that the title character’s unusual and self-imposed celibacy is probably best explained by his belief, in a very general sense, in the foundational values of zoology as practiced in Japan and China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and thus that the story may be a better gateway to understanding the ways in which Lu Xun envisioned the mixed impact of new political economies on private life than a source text for queer studies. At the same time, however, this essay emphasizes that in “The Loner,” as elsewhere, accounting for the “heterosexual imperative” of early zoology (e.g., with its emphases on animal husbandry, propagation, reproduction) can have meaningful consequences for “queering” interpretations of received texts from literature, history of science, and beyond.


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