A small boy and others: imitation and initiation in American culture from Henry James to Andy Warhol
In A Small Boy and Others, Michael Moon makes a vital contributon to our understanding of the dynamics of sexuality and identity in modern American culture. He explores a wide array of literary, artistic, and theatrical performances ranging from the memoirs of Henry James and the dances of Vaslav Nijinsky to the Pop paintings of Andy Warhol and such films as Midnight Cowboy, Blue Velvet, and Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures.
Moon illuminates the careers of James, Warhol, and others by examining the imaginative investments of their protogay childhoods in their work in ways that enable new, more complex cultural readings. He deftly engages notions of initiation and desire not within the traditional framework of “sexual orientation” but through the disorienting effects of imitation. Whether invoking the artist Joseph Cornell’s early fascination with the Great Houdini or turning his attention to James’s self-described “initiation into style” at the age of twelve—when he first encountered the homoerotic imagery in paintings by David, Géricault, and Girodet—Moon reveals how the works of these artists emerge from an engagement that is obsessive to the point of “queerness.”
Rich in historical detail and insistent in its melding of the recent with the remote, the literary with the visual, the popular with the elite, A Small Boy and Others presents a hitherto unimagined tradition of brave and outrageous queer invention. This long-awaited contribution from Moon will be welcomed by all those engaged in literary, cultural, and queer studies.
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A small boy and others: imitation and initiation in American culture from Henry James to Andy WarholUser Review - Book Verdict
Moon (Disseminating Whitman, Harvard Univ., 1991), coeditor of Barbie's Queer Accessories (LJ 4/15/95), examines how the adult male artist productively revisits a remembered scene of himself as a "protoqueer" child being ravished by images of his own desire and later exploits aspects of the remembered (or fantasized) initiatory scene in his work. In the process, Moon argues, following Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, that sexual desire is not so much oriented by objects as it is disoriented by imitation. This highly original approach is made even more audacious by the array of texts examined: one chapter finds continuities between James's "The Pupil" (itself read intertextually with E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale "The Sandman" and Freud's essay on "The Uncanny") with the films Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger) and Blue Velvet (David Lynch). Other chapters (some previously published) explore James's account in old age of his teenage initiation into style (and homoerotic imagery) in French romantic paintings; Joseph Cornell's boxes; Fokine's ballet "Scheherazade," and Jack Smith's underground film Flaming Creatures; and the dynamics of male prostitution as portrayed in Andy Warhol's My Hustler and John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. Individual chapters are brilliant, if sometimes highly speculative; Moon is less successful in connecting these chapters into a coherently developed argument. Still, this is highly recommended for collections supporting graduate work in queer theory and cultural studies.--Robert W. Melton, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence
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In the Memory Palace of Henry James
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