cover image Humiliation


Wayne Koestenbaum. Picador, $14 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-312-42922-5

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%E2%80%94and triumph over%E2%80%94humiliation). 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%E2%80%94not 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.)