Queering the Underworld: Slumming, Literature, and the Undoing of Lesbian and Gay History

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Overview

At the turn of the twentieth century, tales of "how the other half lives" experienced a surge in popularity. People looking to go slumming without leaving home turned to these narratives for spectacular revelations of the underworld and sordid details about the deviants who populated it. In this major rethinking of American literature and culture, Scott Herring explores how a key group of authors manipulated this genre to paradoxically evade the confines of sexual identification. Queering the Underworld examines a wide range of writers-including Jane Addams, Willa Cather, Carl Van Vechten, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Djuna Barnes-revealing how they fulfilled the conventions of slumming literature but undermined its goals, and in the process, queered the genre itself. Their work frustrated the reader's desire for sexual knowledge, restored the inscrutability of sexual identity, and cast doubt on the value of a homosexual subculture made visible and therefore subject to official control.

About the Author:
Scott Herring is assistant professor of English at Indiana University

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
"In this original, accessible, and important work of US cultural history, Herring contributes to scholarship on the anomalous position of slumming literature (sordid narratives about the underworld and its bizarre inhabitants) in the early 20th century."
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
This sprightly, informative book does a rare thing: it covers entirely new territory in gay literary studies. . . . A fine, compelling, and original work.

— Richard Canning

American Literature
Scott Herring’s Queering the Underworld stages a different departure from identity, whose strength is not its subtlety but its bravado—offering, perhaps, the most original conceptual account of queer identity since Epistemology of the Closet.”

— Jordan Alexander Stein

Leo Bersani
“Why read slumming narratives if not to get the lowdown on low life? With brilliant perversity, Scott Herring celebrates a group of American writers—among them, Willa Cather, Jane Addams, and Djuna Barnes—who remystified what slumming literature had appeared to demystify, thereby undermining the genre's promise of subcultural legibility. In this original and important work of cultural history, Herring makes a very timely argument for what he calls ‘sexual unknowing’—an argument, essentially, for saving our underworlds by renouncing our fierce and destructive desire to reduce them to objects of knowledge.”
Christopher Looby
“Scott Herring’s bravely searching book deserves wide and careful attention. At once a compelling account of modern U.S. slumming literatures and a persuasive polemical intervention in contemporary queer studies, Queering the Underworld is original in conception, efficient in execution, and consistently engaging.”
Siobhan Somerville
“Beautifully written and boldly argued, Queering the Underworld makes an invigorating contribution to the fields of American studies and queer studies. In agile readings of varied sources, Herring not only resituates ‘slumming’ as a genre that could sometimes jam the signals of sexual modernity in the U.S., but also demonstrates the larger stakes of an unflinchingly queer approach to the history of sexuality.”
Times Higher Education - Denis Flannery
"Powerfully researched, passionately argued and often beautifully written. . . . Herring is scrupulous—and excellent—in setting his chosen texts in dialogue with each other, with the historical forces that produced them."—Denis Flannery, Times Higher Education
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide - Richard Canning
"This sprightly, informative book does a rare thing: it covers entirely new territory in gay literary studies. . . . A fine, compelling, and original work."
American Literature - Jordan Alexander Stein
“Scott Herring’s Queering the Underworld stages a different departure from identity, whose strength is not its subtlety but its bravado—offering, perhaps, the most original conceptual account of queer identity since Epistemology of the Closet.”
Choice
"In this original, accessible, and important work of US cultural history, Herring contributes to scholarship on the anomalous position of slumming literature (sordid narratives about the underworld and its bizarre inhabitants) in the early 20th century."
Times Higher Education
Powerfully researched, passionately argued and often beautifully written. . . . Herring is scrupulous—and excellent—in setting his chosen texts in dialogue with each other, with the historical forces that produced them.—Denis Flannery, Times Higher Education

— Denis Flannery

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226327914
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Herring is assistant professor of English at Indiana University.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     ix
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction: Queer Slumming     1
Underworld Unknowing     1
The Hermeneutics of Sexual Suspicion     4
The Suspicion of Sexual Hermeneutics     13
Rotten Politics     20
Terra Incognita: Jane Addams, Philanthropic Slumming, and the Elusive Identity of Hull-House     25
Disappearing Acts     25
Spinster Panic     31
Queered Cosmopolitanism     39
Twenty Years in Cedarville     49
The Limbo of Forgotten Spectators     61
Willa Cather's Experiment in Luxury     67
Cather's Case History     67
In the Company of Tramps     74
Decadent Movements     79
The Miseries of Pittsburgh     83
Fairy Worlds     87
Slumming on Park Avenue     96
Capitalism and the Erasure of Gay Identity     100
"Slightly Known Territory": Renaissance Admixture and the So-Called Van Vechten School     104
A Caucasian Storms Harlem     104
The Signifying Slummer     111
Parties and Mixers     121
Friendship beyond Understanding     127
Nugent'sShtick     138
"Just a Case of Mixed Signs"     144
Antisapphic Modernism     150
Les mysteres de Djuna Barnes     150
Looking for Bohemia     156
Stephen Gordon's Slumming Tour     165
Lost in transition     173
Watchman, What of the Night?     177
Hidden from History     182
The Obscure Life     188
Epilogue: Secrets of the African-American Bisexual Man; or, Double Lives on the Down Low     193
Straight Outta Compton     193
Never Apologize, Never Explain     199
Undetectability     203
Beyond Subcultural Studies: A Manifesto     207
Notes     211
Works Cited     237
Index     265
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