Academic journal article American Studies

CELIBACIES: American Modernism and Sexual Life

Academic journal article American Studies

CELIBACIES: American Modernism and Sexual Life

Article excerpt

CELIBACIES: American Modernism and Sexual Life. By Benjamin Kahan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2013.

Benjamin Kahan's book, Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life, is an original study that views celibacy no longer as the absence of sex but as a full- fledged sexual category which acquires its letters of nobility not only in our over- sexualized times, but also in retrospect as Kahan harks backs to the mid-nineteenth century, arguing that celibacy was a key political and social strategy in US culture from 1840 to the 1960s. Kahn's somewhat paradoxical thesis forces the reader to re- conceptualize celibacy as a different organization of pleasure whose practice turned out to be a weapon of subversion and created a distinct sexual identity.

At the intersection of sexuality, feminist, queer, and Black studies but also literary criticism, Kahan's study pores over diversified texts from Henry James's novel The Bostonians (1886); and W.H. Auden's poem "The Sea and the Mirror" (1944); to Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto (1967); and brings together disparate figures such as the "maidenly" Marianne Moore; the Harlem Renaissance religious leader Father Divine (with his celibate interracial communities countering the racist eroticization of black bodies); and Andy Warhol and his Factory (with its "alloerotic" kind of governance and "celibate mode of collaboration") to consider "celibacy's relation to Boston marriage, temporality, racialization, queer citizenship and social- ity" (27). Likewise, initially building on the work of scholars such as Leo Bersani or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Kahan uses an eclectic theoretical apparatus that combines sociology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. …

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