The Anatomy of Harpo Marx

The Anatomy of Harpo Marx

The Anatomy of Harpo Marx

The Anatomy of Harpo Marx


The Anatomy of Harpo Marx is a luxuriant, detailed play-by-play account of Harpo Marx's physical movements as captured on screen. Wayne Koestenbaum guides us through the thirteen Marx Brothers films, from The Cocoanuts in 1929 to Love Happy in 1950, to focus on Harpo's chief and yet heretofore unexplored attribute--his profound and contradictory corporeality. Koestenbaum celebrates the astonishing range of Harpo's body--its kinks, sexual multiplicities, somnolence, Jewishness, "cute" pathos, and more. In a virtuosic performance, Koestenbaum's text moves gracefully from insightful analysis to cultural critique to autobiographical musing, and provides Harpo with a host of odd bedfellows, including Walter Benjamin and Barbra Streisand.


He was attached to sounds and because
of his attachment could not let sounds be just
sounds. He needed to attach himself to the
emptiness, to the silence. —JOHN CAGE, Silence

ENTRANCE At the studios of Paramount Pictures in Astoria, Long Island, in his first scene, his first major film, 1929, six years before the Third Reich passed the Nuremberg Laws, Harpo enters honking. Honk honk. Pause. Honk honk. Lemming-like, he pursues a woman who doesn’t realize that a kook is shadowing her. What does Harpo want? He wants to honk, copy, play, irritate, smash, point, lean, and rest. He wants to find a double, to be useless, to recognize, and to be recognized. He wants to greet the void. He wants to go blank. Or maybe he wants nothing.

PILLOW BOOKS Originally I intended to write a book about Harpo’s relation to history and literature. A tiny chapter on Harpo and Hegel. A tiny chapter on Harpo and Marx. A tiny chapter on Harpo and Stein. A tiny chapter on Harpo and Hitler.

Then I drafted a novella, The Pillow Book of Harpo Marx. The narrator, Harpo, was a queer Jewish masseur who lived in Variety Springs, New York, and whose grandparents had starred in vaudeville with Sophie Tucker.

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