Jonathan Dollimore

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Jonathan G Dollimore
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England

Jonathan G Dollimore (born 1948) is an English social theorist in the fields of Renaissance literature (especially drama), gender studies, queer theory (queer studies), art, censorship, history of ideas, death studies, decadence, and cultural theory.

A theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Depending on the context, the results might, for example, include generalized explanations of how nature works. The word has its roots in ancient Greek, but in modern use it has taken on several related meanings.

Renaissance literature

Renaissance literature refers to European literature which was influenced by the intellectual and cultural tendencies associated with the Renaissance. The literature of the Renaissance was written within the general movement of the Renaissance which arose in 14th-century Italy and continued until the 16th century while being diffused into the rest of the western world. It is characterized by the adoption of a humanist philosophy and the recovery of the classical Antiquity. It benefited from the spread of printing in the latter part of the 15th century. For the writers of the Renaissance, Greco-Roman inspiration was shown both in the themes of their writing and in the literary forms they used. The world was considered from an anthropocentric perspective. Platonic ideas were revived and put to the service of Christianity. The search for pleasures of the senses and a critical and rational spirit completed the ideological panorama of the period. New literary genres such as the essay (Montaigne) and new metrical forms such as the Spenserian stanza made their appearance.

Gender studies Interdisciplinary field of study

Gender studies is a field for interdisciplinary study devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes women's studies, men's studies and queer studies. Sometimes, gender studies is offered together with study of sexuality.


Early life

Dollimore was born in 1948 in Leighton Buzzard, England. After leaving school at fifteen he took various jobs, before returning, as a mature student, to Keele University, where he achieved first class honours in English and Philosophy, and University of London, which awarded him his PhD. [1]

Leighton Buzzard town in Bedfordshire, England

Leighton Buzzard is a town in Bedfordshire, England, near the Chiltern Hills and lying between Luton and Milton Keynes. It adjoins Linslade and the name Leighton Linslade is sometimes used to refer to the combination of the two towns; parts of this article also apply to Linslade as well as Leedon.

Keele University university near Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England

Keele University, officially known as the University of Keele, is a public research university located about 3 miles (5 km) from Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England. Keele was granted university status by Royal Charter in 1962 and was founded in 1949 as the University College of North Staffordshire. A science park and a conference centre complements the academic buildings, making it the largest campus university in the UK. The university's School of Medicine operates the clinical part of its courses from a separate campus at the Royal Stoke University Hospital. The School of Nursing and Midwifery practice is based at the nearby Clinical Education Centre.

Royal Holloway, University of London British university college

Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), formally incorporated as Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, is a public research university and a constituent college of the federal University of London. It has three faculties, 20 academic departments and c. 9,200 undergraduate and postgraduate students from over 100 countries. The campus is located west of Egham, Surrey, 19 miles (31 km) from central London.


As a Reader at the University of Sussex, he co-founded with his then-partner Alan Sinfield the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence, which, as he remembers in Sex, Literature and Censorship, 'attracted some notoriety for being the first of its kind in the country' (3). He later became Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of York. Dollimore is credited with making major interventions in debates on sexuality and desire, Renaissance literary culture, art and censorship, and cultural theory.

University of Sussex public research university in East Sussex, England

The University of Sussex is a public research university in Falmer, Sussex, England. Its campus is located in the South Downs National Park and is a short distance away from Central Brighton. The university received its Royal Charter in August 1961, the first of the plate glass university generation, and was a founding member of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities.

Alan Sinfield was an English theorist in the fields of Shakespeare and sexuality, modern theatre, gender studies, queer theory, queer studies, post-1945 politics and cultural theory. He was a professor of English at the University of Sussex, and the author of a dozen books, and is credited with a leading role in establishing queer studies in mainstream academic studies.


Radical Tragedy (1984, 2nd edition 1989, 3rd edition 2004)

In his first book, Dollimore argues that the humanist critical tradition has distorted for modern readers the actual radical function of Early Modern English drama, which had to do with 'a critique of ideology, the demystification of political and power relations and the decentring of "man"' (4).

Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, edited with Alan Sinfield (1985, 2nd edition 1994)

Treading the same path as Radical Tragedy, this compendium of essays by leading writers on Shakespeare has as its goal to replace our idea of a timeless, humane and civilising Shakespeare with a Shakespeare anchored in the social, political and ideological conflicts of his historical moment. Included are essays by Stephen Greenblatt and Kathleen McLuskie.

Sexual Dissidence (1991)

In Sexual Dissidence , Dollimore sets out “to retrieve lost histories of perversion”, in part by tracing the term “perverse” back to its etymological origins in Latin and its epistemological origins in Augustine. A second theoretical section places Freud and Foucault in dialogue on the subject of perversion, followed by a second historical section, this time, on homophobia.

<i>Sexual Dissidence</i>

Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault is a book about the philosophy of sex by the social theorist Jonathan Dollimore. The book received both positive and mixed reviews. Dollimore was complimented for his discussions of the theologian Augustine of Hippo and the writers Oscar Wilde and André Gide, but was criticized for his repetitive style of writing.

Death, Desire, and Loss (1998)

In a wide-ranging survey from Anaximander to AIDS, Dollimore presses his case that the drive to relinquish the self has always lurked within Western notions of identity and can be found above all, ‘perversely, lethally, ecstatically’ in sexuality.

Sex, Literature, and Censorship (2001)

Dollimore explores the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, centring his discussion on literature’s “dangerous knowledge”. He calls for a shift in critical values from theoretical learning to experiential knowledge, endorsing a criticism capable of “being historically imaginative inside a perspective which one is also critically resisting” (p. 45).

Jonathan Dollimore in Conversation(2013)

This interview with David Jonathan Bayot introduces Dollimore's critical view on aesthetics, ethics, and politics and on how to mobilize them alongside desire and spirituality for a radical materialist practice. Some of the questions addressed by Dollimore in the interview include: What is cultural materialism and how does it foreground itself vis-a-vis humanism and postmodernism? what is the task of criticism and literary pedagogy in the context of literature and the canon under fire? Stephen Greenblatt writes: "Not only a valuable introduction to the work of a vital theorist and critic, Jonathan Dollimore in Conversation is also an important cultural document: it captures what it felt like to be alive intellectually in a particular, intensely contentious and creative historical moment."


“The perverse dynamic”, is one of Dollimore’s most crucial theoretical concepts, first described in Sexual Dissidence, and later applied in Sex, Literature, and Censorship. The “perverse dynamic” is the production of perversion from within the very social structures that are offended by it and often enforce against it. The perverse “other” turns out not to be the remote alien thing it is supposed to be, enabling a “tracking-back of the ‘other’ into the ‘same’” (33). This return of the suppressed via the proximate Dollimore calls “transgressive reinscription.”

Recent writings

Dollimore’s essay "On Leaving" (2011) is biographical, dealing with its author’s teenage years, his arrival at university, then his departure from that place later in his life, but it also includes a more abstract discussion of the modern university and its function in society. Dollimore discusses the modern professionalised academy, and argues that it promotes mediocrity: 'the professionally defended arts academic is only half alive'; 'professional success – the successful career – is one of the most compromised, complicit and corrupt kinds of success available today.' Dollimore claims that, even if it has always been true that 'you have to find your way through or around formal education in search for what really matters,' it is also true that '[n]ever before… has the project of creating value inside of, and against, educational institutions been so necessary.'

In "A Civilization and its Darkness" (2012) Dollimore examines Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness , and explores the relationship between civilisation and the forces that subvert and destroy it. Civilization, Dollimore writes, 'is, at some level, profoundly and necessarily limited, focused and exclusionary, built on repressions which remain constitutive.' The repressed forces, however, re-emerge intensified, which means that 'only the most highly civilised can become truly daemonic.' Dollimore also reiterates, from Sex, Literature and Censorship, his belief that 'to take art seriously is to recognise that it has the power to compromise both our morality and our humanity.'

Joseph Conrad Polish-British writer

Joseph Conrad was a Polish-British writer regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. Though he did not speak English fluently until his twenties, he was a master prose stylist who brought a non-English sensibility into English literature. Conrad wrote stories and novels, many with a nautical setting, that depict trials of the human spirit in the midst of what he saw as an impassive, inscrutable universe.

<i>Heart of Darkness</i> novella by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad about a narrated voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State in the so-called heart of Africa. Charles Marlow, the narrator, tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames. This setting provides the frame for Marlow's story of his obsession with the ivory trader Kurtz, which enables Conrad to create a parallel between what Conrad calls "the greatest town on earth", London, and Africa as places of darkness.

Dollimore, in his extended "Foreword" to Ewan Fernie's book The Demonic (2012), discusses centrally the modern state of literary criticism. He dislikes the 'obscurantist' tendencies of a lot of so-called "theory," but he also deplores the fact that 'historicism in one newish form or another, has become a new orthodoxy.' The most committed historicism, Dollimore claims, 'tends towards a policing of the play [or whatever else] against interpretation. It doesn't just avoid questions of value, but represses them; in other words it's a contextualising which is also, and more fundamentally, a containment.'

Historicism is the idea of attributing meaningful significance to space and time, such as historical period, geographical place, and local culture. Historicism tends to be hermeneutical because it values cautious, rigorous, and contextualized interpretation of information; or relativist, because it rejects notions of universal, fundamental and immutable interpretations. The approach varies from individualist theories of knowledge such as empiricism and rationalism, which neglect the role of traditions.

A call for a new sort of spiritually intense living runs through Dollimore's recent writings. For example, in his "Foreword", he counsels that 'authenticity is more often than not outside the doxa,' and states: 'almost everything that is done, including what we ourselves do, be it at the macro or the micro level, could and should be done more authentically, more honestly, more meaningfully, more truthfully.'

Dollimore's most recent book is his new autobiography Desire: A Memoir published by Bloomsbury Academic. [2] Lynne Segal writing about the book says: 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.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

In the 1970s and 1980s, Dollimore owned a cottage in Shropshire with his partner, Alan Sinfield. [3]

Selected publications

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  1. "Radical tragedy : Religion, ideology and power in the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries". British Library EThOS. The British Library Board. 1985. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  3. Dollimore, Jonathan (2016). "Alan Sinfield: mentor and lover". Textual Practice. 30 (6): 1031–1038. doi:10.1080/0950236X.2016.1209949.