“[Kostenbaum’s] book is a series of brilliant, occasionally transgressive notes, jottings, and pensees, some as short as ‘Imagine a society in which humiliation is essential—as a rite of passage, as a passport to decency and civilization, as a necessary shredding of hubris.’ Because ‘sexuality, in any of its guises and positions, is potentially humiliating’ much of Koestenbaum’s book is unseemly in its self-abasement, as he admits piling up humiliations for the ‘sportive nature of U. S.-style humiliation: we’re cheerful decimators.’ He’s a man who admits not being able to finish watching Michael Haneke movies, but by the time he’s finished traversing everything from Liza Minnelli to Richard Nixon to Teddy Kennedy to Artaud and Basquiat, you can’t help thinking he may well know more about the humiliating innards of the society we live in than almost anyone else living. For certain, one of 2011’s most extraordinary books.”—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
“Koestenbaum follows his own internal compass of what counts, and it can lead him to sparkling insights about human nature that all those Tipping Point knockoffs can't match. He's a master at overthinking a simple subject to both an exhaustive—and endlessly exhilarating—degree. That's what he's done with his short but potent new book, Humiliation, a subject he tells us that has left him tired ‘after a life spend avoiding humiliation and yet standing near its flame, enjoying the sparks, the heat, the paradoxical illumination.’ He actually explores this lifetime fascination with gusto, and in a wonderfully cringe-inducing final chapter, recounts his most memorable humiliations in short vignettes.”—Kerry Lauerman, Salon.com
[Humiliation] talks about Michael Jackson and Eliot Spitzer and Artaud’s awful shock treatments, and ejaculating when you don’t want to, and The Swan and the Holocaust and African women with fistulas, and ends with a short run-down of his humiliations—sexual, scatological—stories of insults, rejected essays, failures, begging. Some of them are other people’s shames, and he is only a witness. Humiliation is complicated—it unites us and divides us.”—Bookslut
"There's ample material here to engage aficionados of pop culture, from a discussion of Alec Baldwin's ranting voice mail message to his adolescent daughter to television shows like The Swan, a Fox reality program featuring 'disturbed women [who] ask to be humiliated on television so that they might end up beautiful.' Through these and myriad other examples, Koestenbaum makes a persuasive case that television is little more than 'a manure pond of humiliation, contaminating the viewer,' and raises the legitimate question whether our eagerness to exult in the humiliation of others defines contemporary American culture."—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
“This literary ‘topping from the bottom’ is the funniest, smartest, most heartbreaking yet powerful book I’ve read in a long time.”—John Waters
“Humiliation runs like a rash over the body of all of Wayne Koestenbaum’s work; here, he directly addresses the feeling, and the result is one of my favorite recent books: psychologically astute, verbally pyrotechnic, bottomlessly provocative, surprisingly funny, and immensely sad. An extraordinary meditation on nothing less than—I don’t know how else to say it—the human condition.”—David Shields, author of Reality Hunger
Wayne Kostenbaum has published five books of poetry, one novel, and six books of nonfiction. A graduate of Harvard and Princeton, he is a distinguished professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and also a visiting professor in the painting department of the Yale School of Art.
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.
From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.