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

Paperback | December 30, 2007

byScott 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, 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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From the Publisher

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 ...

Scott Herring is assistant professor of English at Indiana University.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.6 inPublished:December 30, 2007Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226327914

ISBN - 13:9780226327914

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments

Introduction: Queer Slumming
   Underworld Unknowing
   The Hermeneutics of Sexual Suspicion
   The Suspicion of Sexual Hermeneutics
   Rotten Politics

Chapter One Terra Incognita: Jane Addams, Philanthropic Slumming, and the Elusive Identity of Hull-House
   Disappearing Acts
   Spinster Panic
   Queered Cosmopolitanism
   Twenty Years in Cedarville
   The Limbo of Forgotten Spectators

Chapter Two Willa Cather’s Experiment in Luxury
   Cather’s Case History
   In the Company of Tramps
   Decadent Movements
   The Miseries of Pittsburgh
   Fairy Worlds
   Slumming on Park Avenue
   Capitalism and the Erasure of Gay Identity

Chapter Three “Slightly Known Territory”: Renaissance Admixture and the So-Called Van Vechten School
   A Caucasian Storms Harlem
   The Signifying Slummer
   Parties and Mixers
   Friendship beyond Understanding
   Nugent’s Shtick
   “Just a Case of Mixed Signs”

Chapter Four Antisapphic Modernism
   Les mystères de Djuna Barnes
   Looking for Bohemia
   Stephen Gordon’s Slumming Tour
   Lost in transition
   Watchman, What of the Night?
   Hidden from History
   The Obscure Life

Epilogue: Secrets of the African-American Bisexual Man; or, Double Lives on the Down Low
   Straight Outta Compton
   Never Apologize, Never Explain
   Undetectability
   Beyond Subcultural Studies: A Manifesto

Notes
Works Cited
Index

Editorial Reviews

“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.”