Homos

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Overview

Acclaimed for his intricate, incisive, and often controversial explorations of art, literature, and society, Leo Bersani now addresses homosexuality in America.

Hardly a day goes by without the media focusing an often sympathetic beam on gay life--and, with AIDS, on gay death. Gay plays on Broadway, big book awards to authors writing on gay subjects, Hollywood movies with gay themes, gay and lesbian studies at dozens of universities, openly gay columnists and even editors at national mainstream publications, political leaders speaking in favor of gay rights: it seems that straight America has finally begun to listen to homosexual America.

Still, Bersani notes, not only has homophobia grown more virulent, but many gay men and lesbians themselves are reluctant to be identified as homosexuals. In Homos, he studies the historical, political, and philosophical grounds for the current distrust, within the gay community, of self-identifying moves, for the paradoxical desire to be invisibly visible. While acknowledging the dangers of any kind of group identification (if you can be singled out, you can be disciplined), Bersani argues for a bolder presentation of what it means to be gay. In their justifiable suspicion of labels, gay men and lesbians have nearly disappeared into their own sophisticated awareness of how they have been socially constructed. By downplaying their sexuality, gays risk self-immolation--they will melt into the stifling culture they had wanted to contest.

In his chapters on contemporary queer theory, on Foucault and psychoanalysis, on the politics of sadomasochism, and on the image of "the gay outlaw" in works by Gide, Proust, and Genet, Bersani raises the exciting possibility that same-sex desire by its very nature can disrupt oppressive social orders. His spectacular theory of "homo-ness" will be of interest to straights as well as gays, for it designates a mode of connecting to the world embodied in, but not reducible to, a sexual preference. The gay identity Bersani advocates is more of a force--as such, rather cool to the modest goal of social tolerance for diverse lifestyles--which can lead to a massive redefining of sociality itself, and of what we might expect from human communities.

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Editorial Reviews

Voice Literary Supplement

Perhaps no one since Leo Bersani in "Is the Rectum a Grave?" has written so convincingly against the danger of homosexual assimilation as Leo Bersani in Homos...One of the strongest elements of [this book] is Bersani's attack on things which promote a 'denial of sex,' whether it be sex acts themselves or, more importantly, the context in which those sex acts are made possible...Homos is a profound piece of imaginative literature.
— Dale Peck

New Statesman & Society

In Homos, Leo Bersani effectively attacks some sacred cows of gay cultural theory. Most obviously, he argues against the tenet that gay and lesbian identities are socially constructed and so ultimately (indeed, preferably) dissolvable...Refreshingly, [Bersani] also does not skate round sensitive questions such as the status of sadomasochism within gay sexual practice, and the tortuousness of the political liaison between gays and lesbians...Bersani emerges as our most persuasive advocate of homosexual identities that offer and require social resistance—he terms this "anticommunitarianism"—but also as perhaps the only writer in the field who convincingly brings together psychological and sociological accounts of sexuality.
— Richard Canning

Times Literary Supplement
Bersani engages with questions which the gay movement cannot ignore.
San Francisco Chronicle

In his provocative and sure-to-be-controversial book, Homos, Bersani argues for the need to preserve the 'otherness' that he maintains is the essential core of homosexual identity.
— David Wiegand

Our Times
Homos is one of the most interesting books to appear in lesbian and gay literature--in fact its vision is so broad that it places lesbian and gay readers centre stage in what could be a revolution.
Psychoanalytic Books

Leo Bersani, one of the most interesting, original and sophisticated of...literary historians, has written primarily on Modernism, from Baudelaire to Beckett and Genet, using Freud's metapsychology as a way of penetrating into the radical implications of their thought...[His] work...[is] a surprise and a revelation, both careful and highly original...It is deeply exciting to engage with Bersani's ideas. They allow us to open up traditional psychoanalytic theory, so that it is no longer a mere therapeutic strategy, and consequently a device for social control and homogeneity, but instead a larger perspective for understanding and valuing those possibilities and differences that can constitute human experience.
— Kenneth Lewes

Contemporary Sociology

Homos is an extremely persuasive analysis of the "anticommunal" freedom made possible by "perverse" sexuality...Bersani's argument is at once subtle, even brilliant.
— Peggy Phelan

Voice Literary Supplement - Dale Peck
Perhaps no one since Leo Bersani in "Is the Rectum a Grave?" has written so convincingly against the danger of homosexual assimilation as Leo Bersani in Homos...One of the strongest elements of [this book] is Bersani's attack on things which promote a 'denial of sex,' whether it be sex acts themselves or, more importantly, the context in which those sex acts are made possible...Homos is a profound piece of imaginative literature.
New Statesman & Society - Richard Canning
In Homos, Leo Bersani effectively attacks some sacred cows of gay cultural theory. Most obviously, he argues against the tenet that gay and lesbian identities are socially constructed and so ultimately (indeed, preferably) dissolvable...Refreshingly, [Bersani] also does not skate round sensitive questions such as the status of sadomasochism within gay sexual practice, and the tortuousness of the political liaison between gays and lesbians...Bersani emerges as our most persuasive advocate of homosexual identities that offer and require social resistance--he terms this "anticommunitarianism"--but also as perhaps the only writer in the field who convincingly brings together psychological and sociological accounts of sexuality.
San Francisco Chronicle - David Wiegand
In his provocative and sure-to-be-controversial book, Homos, Bersani argues for the need to preserve the 'otherness' that he maintains is the essential core of homosexual identity.
Psychoanalytic Books - Kenneth Lewes
Leo Bersani, one of the most interesting, original and sophisticated of...literary historians, has written primarily on Modernism, from Baudelaire to Beckett and Genet, using Freud's metapsychology as a way of penetrating into the radical implications of their thought...[His] work...[is] a surprise and a revelation, both careful and highly original...It is deeply exciting to engage with Bersani's ideas. They allow us to open up traditional psychoanalytic theory, so that it is no longer a mere therapeutic strategy, and consequently a device for social control and homogeneity, but instead a larger perspective for understanding and valuing those possibilities and differences that can constitute human experience.
Contemporary Sociology - Peggy Phelan
Homos is an extremely persuasive analysis of the "anticommunal" freedom made possible by "perverse" sexuality...Bersani's argument is at once subtle, even brilliant.
Library Journal
At least since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which marked the beginning of the Gay Rights movement, the process of coming out of the closet has been a personal milestone of individual liberation. Dealing openly with friends and family has usually been seen as a positive move toward greater acceptance of the homosexual by society at large. Now, however, University of California professor Bersani has turned this idea on its head. The author takes the contrary view that greater visibility will, at the very least, annihilate gay culture and make gays and lesbians an easier target for any future antigay backlash. Intellectually, Bersani wants to have it both ways. For example, he accuses the gay fringe, drag most especially, of validating the dominant heterosexual power paradigm while at the same time decrying the "degaying" of gay life as assimilationist. At its most radical, the whole argument may be specious, since, as the author himself points out, the very term homosexual is a fairly recent construct that unrealistically limits the broad range of human sexual behavior. Nevertheless, Bersani's comments make for interesting if rather academic reading. Suitable for large gay/lesbian collections and academic libraries.-Jeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., Ore.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674406209
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 0.50 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Leo Bersani is the Class of 1950 Professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: "We"

1. The Gay Presence

2. The Gay Absence

3. The Gay Daddy

4. The Gay Outlaw

Notes

Index

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