I recently read A.J. Stanley’s three-act play, entitled The Troubled Bachelors. This play tells the story of three men all deprived of their choice to live their lives as bachelors; all in the name of a preference of family and reproduction. This is done in the name of the state, in order to put pressures upon the boarders. This “ideological Mobius strip” claims that the only valued member of Irish society is a [re]productive one (Edelman, 2004, pg. 2). The bachelors are to be kicked out of their cottages, of which they have paid rent on time for quite some time, in order for the state to show “proof of our desire to encourage marriage and the raising of large families” (Stanley, 1941, pg. 11). The state robs the agency for choice by imposing sexuality upon these men. There is but one choice for these men, to get married. This is a hard choice to come by for the timid, Kirby, who remarked that if “one of them lassies from England comes near me you can order my coffin” (Stanley, 1941, pg. 20).
This preference of death over marriage is a common theme throughout the piece, but I wonder if the resistance is to the act of marriage (surely Carmody is likely the most resistant to this) or to the imposition of the government into the bedroom of these three men. Whereas the state has a vested interest in the future by the imposition into these men’s bedrooms, the subtext is that these bachelors are selfish and have no state pride. For these men, their “enjoyment of liberty is eclipsed by the lengthening shadow of a Child” (Edelman, 2004, pg 21). It is this fetishizing of an implied child by the state that seemingly grants the state the right to intrude and interrupt the agency and liberty of these men (Edelman, 2004).
Flanagan, a pawn and an embodiment of the state apparatus through his enacting and reproducing the state’s reproductive futurity, remarks that the state has “no desire whatever to interfere with your houses. We merely want to make them real homes echoing to the laughter of children and glowing in the light of a woman’s smile” (Stanley, 1941, pg. 23). This careful deployment of the words house versus homes draws a distinctive difference in the way these men’s live; a house is a building, a home is a family, is the implied difference. By stating that the only “real homes” involve both women and children, the state “installs pro-procreative prejudice” that enables state pawns such as Flanagan to remove tenants (Edelman, 2004, pg. 53). The state has a vested interest in “building up a virile state” and that queer homes, that is, homes without a future, have no place in the Irish countryside and must be moved in preference of the future (Stanley, 1941, pg. 38).
This vested interest in the virile state is echoed in the Irish constitution as well, as Article 41 makes it clear that family, that being mother, father, and children, are “the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State” (Irish Constitution, Article 41.1.2). Further, this constitution makes provisions, for the woman’s place is in the home, and that a mother “shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home” (Irish Constitution, Article 41.2.2). In Article 42 of the constitution, the state also speaks to the fundamental futurity of the state through the fetishization of the child and it’s education. There is an implicit understanding, that while the rights of the parent’s to educate their child are important, if the state deems that the child does not meet a “certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social” that the state can step in to ensure that the child receives this education (Irish Constitution, Article 42.3.2). This privileging of the state’s futurity over the parental rights is in line with the expectations that the state has for the bachelors in Stanley’s “The Troubled Bachelors”. Without children, the state has no future, and thus it is in the state’s interest to produce child-citizens.
One line of Stanley’s play plays with the idea of the supposed death drive, or lack of future of the bachelors. Flavin while on the phone is misheard to say that they are making tombs, whereas he really stated he was making room for married men. Was he not also assuming those tombs for these bachelors, who without progeny of their own are assumed by the state as non [re]productive members of society? An implied death can only be overcome, so says reproductive futurism, by the giving into the ever-present thought of a child, the only true immortality through within our very cells (passed on throughout generations) “immortality lies in wait for us” (Edelman, 2004, pg. 61).
Much like Edelman’s analysis of Scrooge, these men fall victim to the promise of reproductive futurism, finding themselves by the end of the play married to maintain the stasis of their lives as well as the status quo of society. I would tend to agree with Edelman’s call to action: “Fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we’re collectively terrorized” (2004, pg. 29). We all have our own agency and choice, and the state playing matchmaker like some distorted Yente is enacting violence to all whom, by the state’s standards, have a queer sensibility of life and death.