Humiliation

BIG IDEAS//small books

Wayne Koestenbaum

Picador

0312429223

9780312429225

Trade Paperback

192 Pages

$15.00

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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.

REVIEWS

Praise for Humiliation

“Covering vast territory - from Jesus Christ to Judy Garland and certainly beyond - in a tiny, dazzling package, ‘Humiliation’ the book provides growth opportunities but without the shame that goes along with humiliation the experience. Koestenbaum is a master of highly accessible cultural criticism: intimate, self-deprecating, provocative, often hilarious, at times deeply moving.”—The Boston Globe

“[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 offers a swarm of exquisite, Barthesian paragraphs on the subject of humiliation.”—James Hannaham, The Village Voice

“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

“Koestenbaum consistently offers enlightening, well-written insights into the process of abreaction; the way language can be humiliating to the artist, the writer or the illiterate; queer theory; and reality television and voyeurism . . . Insightful and blissfully free of jargon, Humiliation may not be the last word on the subject, but it’s an accessible introduction.”Kirkus Reviews
 
"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."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

In the Press

HUMILIATION by Wayne KoestenbaumKirkus Book Reviews
Read the Kirkus Review of HUMILIATION . A series of meditations on the concept of humiliation.

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

FUGUE #1
 
STRIP SEARCH

 
1.
Recently in New York City an arrested man was strip-searched—standard procedure—on Rikers Island. The arraigned man said, “I was put into a cage and told to take off my clothes.” He was ordered—according to The New York Times—“to squat and spread his buttocks.” The accused, who’d been arrested for possession of marijuana, described the strip search as “horrifying”: “Being a grown man, I was humiliated.”
2.
“Humiliation” means “to be made
Read the full excerpt
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MEDIA

Watch

  • Embarrassing Email Mistakenly Sent

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Hot Date, Cold Sore

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Shy Coworker, Dirty Movies

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Farted in Yoga

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Fat or Pregnant?

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Private Moment, YouTube Star

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Book Party Faux Pas

    From the Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series, by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated: Web Series

    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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Wayne Koestenbaum

  • 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.

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