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

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

by Scott Herring
     
 

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At the start 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…  See more details below

Overview

At the start 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 range of writers, from Jane Addams and Willa Cather to Carl Van Vechten 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.

Herring is persuasive and polemical in connecting these writers to ongoing debates about lesbian and gay history and politics, and Queering the Underworld will be widely read by students and scholars of literature, history, and sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

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

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.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226327921
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
05/15/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Scott Herring is assistant professor of English at Indiana University.

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