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Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum

Humiliation (2011)

by Wayne Koestenbaum

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Wayne Koestenbaum catalogs and ruminates over humiliation in its many forms. His own, public figures, literary figures, anonymous people in airports, restrooms, on stage, in locker rooms, on the street. (YouTube is his self-humiliation media of choice.)

Bodily fluids and excretions get their due along with utterances and actions, both innocent and evil. This thought-provoking book actually made me queasy at times. But not humiliated. Okay, maybe a little. ( )
1 vote Hagelstein | Aug 18, 2011 |
Koestenbaum is an avowedly excitable guide to the subject and sometimes strains historical affinities between his own minor embarrassments – a bad review, a rejected essay – and the plight, for example, of African women who have suffered obstetric fistulas. But painful humiliation can be a matter of accumulated small slights and slippages as much as dramatic exclusion from the social body. And while his is certainly a witty account of the varieties of mortification ("In a sonnet, the ratio of humiliation to uplift is 8:6"), Koestenbaum's point is ultimately an ethical one: "We have an obligation to keep asking questions about experiences that are not our own, experiences that are worse than our own ever will be."
Good books can make you squirm, filled as they are with uncomfortable observations. Bad books can make you squirm, too; reading one is like suffering at the hands of an incompetent emotional acupuncturist. Wayne Koestenbaum’s quite good and very bad new book, “Humiliation,” will make you squirm for both reasons and more.
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Recently in New York City an arrested man was strip-searched--standard procedure--on Rikers Island.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312429223, Paperback)

Wayne Koestenbaum considers the meaning of humiliation in this eloquent work of cultural critique and personal reflection.

The lives of people both famous and obscure are filled with scarlet-letter moments when their dirty laundry sees daylight. In these moments we not only witness the reversibility of “success,” of prominence, but also come to visceral terms with our own vulnerable selves. We can’t stop watching the scene of shame, identifying with it and absorbing its nearness, and relishing our imagined immunity from its stain, even as we acknowledge the universal, embarrassing predicament of living in our own bodies. With an unusual, disarming blend of autobiography and cultural commentary, noted poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum takes us through a spectrum of mortifying circumstances—in history, literature, art, current events, music, film, and his own life. His generous disclosures and brilliant observations go beyond prurience to create a poetics of abasement. Inventive, poignant, erudite, and playful, Humiliation plunges into one of the most disquieting of human experiences, with reflections at once emboldening and humane.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

A noted poet and critic explores the idea of humiliations in history, literature, art, current events, music, film--and his own life.

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