In Memory

Greg Bredbeck VIEW PROFILE

Greg Bredbeck

In Memoriam, Gregory W. Bredbeck, 1962-2007
Gregory W. Bredbeck was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1962. He was an
undergraduate at The Ohio State University in Columbus, graduating in 1984,
and he pursued graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. He
completed his Ph.D. there in 1989.
Greg was an astonishing scholar. In his first years at UCR, he
published a book with Cornell University Press and two scholarly articles in
the PMLA, the premier journal in the field of literary studies. All this work
challenged conventions as well. Greg’s book Sodomy and Interpretation
from Marlowe to Milton (Cornell University Press, 1991) took Renaissance
studies by surprise, and it immediately earned Greg a national, even an
international reputation. His book was both brilliant and courageous. When
he started the dissertation that later turned into that book, it was, as he
wrote in his preface, "an isolated and risky endeavor. Nobody would outright
deny the interest of the project, but neither would anybody outright endorse
it. . . . I was treading a fine line between an expansion of gender studies and
a lapse into the unconscionable." His book educated us in the language of
Renaissance sodomy, the crimem sodomiticum of legal discourse, and we
learned about the buggerer, the catamite, the ingle, the 'masculine whore,'
the Ganymede. He gave us a fresh look at old texts and made us see the
homoeroticism in, of all places, Milton. He invited us to think again about the
"master-mistress" of Shakespeare's Sonnet 20 and he made newly visible
forgotten writers such as the Elizabethan poet Richard Barnfield, who openly
celebrated same-sex desire. His ground-breaking chapters about Marlowe's
Edward II, Hero and Leander, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, along
with subsequent essays are shaping the critical conversation about these
works even today.
Greg provoked people, and he offended people, and most especially he
inspired people with his bravery, his wit, his love of words, his fast-moving
intelligence. He expanded our minds. He expanded our sense of academic
community. Greg's early influences included Barthes, Foucault, Deleuze &
Guattari, Alan Bray and Eve Sedgwick, and he brought a sense of play to his
work along with a sharp fierce sense of political engagement. He relished
the multivalences and the indeterminacies and the double, even multiple,
voicings of literary texts. He was skilled in the art of using shock tactics to
start new conversations. He brought national attention to our department
and initiated new directions in Renaissance studies.
His essay “Milton’s Ganymede: Negotiations of Homoerotic Tradition in
Paradise Lost” (PMLA, 1991) appeared in PMLA the next year and he had
tenure in year three. (Another PMLA article, “B/O: Barthes’s Text/O’Hara’s
Trick,” made his rise officially meteoric, and we all were awe of this brilliant
young scholar.) It is hard to convey just how electrifying a presence Greg
was back then -- and how quickly he seemed to know -- and be known by --
just about everybody in the field of Renaissance Studies. His mentors from
Penn and elsewhere included Stuart Curran, Joseph Wittreich, Peter
Stallybrass, Jean Howard, and especially Phyllis Rackin, to whom he
dedicated his book. At the Shakespeare Association of America conferences
he was invited to give a paper in one of the major opening day sessions
(1991) -- rare for such a young scholar -- and he gave papers and led
seminars in subsequent years. He led a seminar again at the huge Sixth
World Shakespeare Congress held in LA in 1996.
Here at UCR he was a lively force, shaking up our dept meetings,
helping to revamp our curriculum, and organizing conferences. For our
Riverside Shakespeare Conference in 1990, he got Jean Howard and Phyllis
Rackin to come out here and present papers, and gave his own groundbreaking
talk "Tradition and the Individual Sodomite," a title with a
characteristically Greg-like clever spin on a famous essay by T.S. Eliot. In
1991, he helped to organize the highly successful conference, "Unauthorized
Sexual Behaviors," contributing also the unnerving, provocative illustration
used for its poster. He even got his day in the sun in the local press,
provoking columnist Dan Bernstein with his graduate seminar on
"Renaissance Bodily Fluids." Greg's productivity and his contributions to the
department were little less than astonishing and he and his work seemed to
be everywhere.
Greg put an enormous amount into his teaching. Websites for his
classes were legendary among the undergraduates, and even colleagues
would go to his sites from time to time in order to challenge themselves to
do more for their students. Greg had some bizarre pedagogical techniques,
which often included showing off his knowledge in an almost arrogant way.
This would spell classroom suicide for most university professors, but Greg’s
students, for the most part, enjoyed this. Especially early in his career,
when he was such a productive scholar, Greg had a firm foundation from
which to pontificate, and students came from far and wide to share in that
experience. Graduate students and undergraduates alike were devoted to
him. Greg’s commitment to teaching is also evidenced in an essay he wrote
for an MLA collection on teaching Lesbian and Gay Studies. “The Impossibility
of a Queer Pedagogy” is one of those essays that we return to again and
again. For only Greg can ask: “do we not all want our students to leave class
with something that is entirely their own, some viewpoint, perspective or
mode of thinking that they have internalized from our courses? . . . This
puts in the position of . . . diddling with the capitalist anus and engaging in
the ‘contradiction’ of heterosexual, hommo-sexual pederasty, even if what
we ask our students to internalize is entirely queer and different.”
At his loss, the department heard from scores of students, those who
knew him in the last year or two as well as those who knew him fifteen years
ago. The outpouring of grief from students is truly moving.
As his PMLA publications suggest, Greg shifted his scholarly focus as
he found how very much he had to say. Moving from sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century British literature, to twentieth-century British and
American literature and even contemporary American literature, he wrote on
topics as wide-ranging as E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Tony Kushner’s Angels in
America, and even Disco. In the Angels in America piece, which appeared in
an essay in a collection published by the University of Michigan Press, Greg
pointed out that the apparent liberalism of the play is misleading and that it
requires, for full understanding, a context dating from the liberationist
rhetoric of the 1970s. He points to Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater
Company as a necessary predecessor of Kushner's play and published an
article on Ludlam in Modern Drama, the chief journal in its field. In that
article, the comic, "camp" and parodic theater of Ludlam is convincingly
placed in the context of the militant rhetoric of early gay liberation.
Greg was one of the founding members of the Interdisciplinary Minor
in LGBT Studies at UCR, and at the Academic Senate meeting in which the
proposal was discussed he spoke eloquently about its value to the
undergraduates at UCR.
At this time, Greg threw himself into campus service in various ways.
He served on the Committee on Educational Policy; on the Reg Fee
Committee; and on the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Lesbians
and Gays. And he was nominated and elected secretary of the Gay and
Lesbian Caucus of the Modern Language Association in 1995, a nationally--
and not just in academia--visible post and succeeded to vice-president and
president over the next two years.
In the mid-nineties, however, Greg moved out of Riverside, and he
began to distance himself from campus activity. In Palm Springs, his new
home, he devoted himself to activist activities in that community. He was
involved with People-with-AIDS, and especially with PAWS, a program that
helped care for the pets of people who were suffering that disease. At the
same time, he became interested in Buddhism, and he exchanged his disco
shoes for a prayer mat. Those of us who visited him in Palm Springs,
witnessed a lively and energized home that radiated a very special calm.
Some of us remember one of Greg’s own parties at his mid-century
modern house in Palm Springs with his eclectic friends: fellow Buddhists,
fellow dog lovers, old rock and rollers and Hollywood exiles, ACTUP activists,
real estate agents and professors. We were not allowed to bring our pets,
because he felt this was unfair to his own pack of dogs. Given his
unsentimental take on dog training, which paralleled his unsentimental take
on treating people, we thought they would be very well behaved, but in fact
they were suspiciously spoiled and Greg’s was the only refrigerator we had
ever seen filled entirely with home-made dog treats.
Often at his parties, he asked us to throw our deepest worries, which
we had written on small slips of paper, into the fire he had going in the back
yard. Those of us who did so felt an enormous relief. All of Greg’s new
beliefs seemed to sweep us up in its hopefulness. That feeling, and the
rhetoric of Buddhist disburdening, gave Greg’s friends a false security about
his life in Palm Springs. Things for Greg in that desert world were not as
positive as they seemed.
Still, at that time he began to offer classes on the topic that now
fascinated him: dogs. Students were intrigued, and courses like this one
became the talk of the undergraduate majors:
This course examines the cultures that arise around dogs, and
the cultures that arise between dogs, and the cultural neuroses
of dissolution masked and displaced through images of dogs in
numerous discourses. Readings are typically selected from
Eastern traditions of practice and mythology (the Zen koan; The
Rig Veda); formative mythologies of Western culture such as
natural science (Darwin), psychology (Pavlov; Thorndike) and
classical epistemology (Aristotle); and more materially
efficacious discourses of the West such as popular culture
(Cujo), folklore (black dogs and hell hounds) , and urban
legends. While there are readings in the course, the majority of
the material for the course is delivered through lecture, and
coursework often involves group projects that happen over the
span of a few sessions. Thus students who cannot assure
themselves that they will attend class should find a course other
than this one to take. Students with an antipathy or allergy to
dogs also should not take this course, as the dogs we study are
both material and textual, and some dog-human interaction is
necessary in the course. All others, however, are more than
welcome to come, sit and stay.
Greg also began to write in this vein, contributing to the
UCR/California Museum of Photography show on “Dog Days of
Summer” an essay called “Walking With Cerberus: Anthropomorphism
in the Void.” Although others were able to make dog-obsession a
scholarly field, Greg turned instead to journalism, publishing engaging
essays on dog culture, in the form of Buddhist canine reveries, as well
as other feature articles, for a local gay paper in Palm Springs, the
Desert Post Weekly. He also wrote a column called “The Desert Rat”
that addressed local elections, public events, and other topics both
interesting and provocative.
In the last few years, however, even this seemed to slip away.
In one last show of commitment to his students and to UCR, Greg took
over the Chair of the LGBIT Minor at UCR in 2004, and he put a lot of
energy into getting some energy back into that minor. He taught the
introductory course more or less on his own, and developed a following
among these students as well. In his last years, and indeed up until
his very last quarter of teaching, he found that he had an increasingly
devoted cadre of undergraduates whom he inspired.
But in other ways, he pulled back. Greg was nursing illness in
his last several months. He stuck it out alone, and did not seem to
have a strong circle of friends around him when things went from bad
to worse. Still, we like to imagine that he maintained that inner
strength that his Buddhism so clearly offered.
Among his websites and guides to his classes, to queer
scholarship, and so on, we found this little site that features, in a lively
graphic setting that suggested a postcard from far way, this short


We like to remember this Greg: the one who could challenge us to be our
better selves; the one who could remind us why we are doing what we do;
and that one that could assure us that it was all right to “think not two.”
Deborah Willis
John Ganim
George Haggerty, Chair



Click here to see Greg's last Profile entry.