The genre-busting poet and critic Koestenbaum (The Queen's Throat) riffs on humiliation, tracing its relationship with art, desire, the body, and in the construction of celebrities for public consumption. In fragments that recall Roland Barthes's Mourning Diary, the author advances his provocative "paradoxes and juxtapositions" to trace humiliation's contours, the circumstances that make it possible ("Humiliation involves a triangle" of victim, abuser, and witness), and its centrality to certain kinds of pleasure (e.g., Koestenbaum's delight in Liza Minnelli's ability to repeatedly succumb to—and triumph over—humiliation). He refreshes worn tropes such as the humiliation inherent in reality TV and such political scandals as Richard Nixon's resignation ("Watergate wasn't a sexual scandal, but it manifested as physical abhorrence") while also deepening our understanding of racism, lynching, and police brutality in the context of shame. It's a wide-ranging, allusive conversation that wears its erudition lightly—not least because Koestenbaum is at his confiding, self-implicating best ("I am tired, as any human must be, after a life spent avoiding humiliation and yet standing near its flame, enjoying the sparks, the heat, the paradoxical illumination.") (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/23/2011 Release date: 08/01/2011 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.