Synopses & Reviews
In this innovative study, Benjamin Kahan traces the elusive history of modern celibacy. Arguing that celibacy is a distinct sexuality with its own practices and pleasures, Kahan shows it to be much more than the renunciation of sex or a cover for homosexuality. Celibacies focuses on a diverse group of authors, social activists, and artists, spanning from the suffragettes to Henry James, and from the Harlem Renaissance's Father Divine to Andy Warhol. This array of figures reveals the many varieties of celibacy that have until now escaped scholars of literary modernism and sexuality. Ultimately, this book wrests the discussion of celibacy and sexual restraint away from social and religious conservatism, resituating celibacy within a history of political protest and artistic experimentation. Celibacies offers an entirely new perspective on this little-understood sexual identity and initiates a profound reconsideration of the nature and constitution of sexuality.
andquot;This original and long-needed book on modern celibacy as a distinctive kind of sexualityandmdash;as opposed to the lack or negation of sexuality, or symptom of the repression of sexualityandmdash;holds true to its promise to show us just how richly varied celibacy can be, and how vital it in fact was to U.S. and British modernism. As Benjamin Kahan shows through insightful readings of texts by Henry James, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, Father Divine, and Andy Warhol, among others, modernist celibacies were secular as well as religious, collectivizing as well as individualizing, sensuous as well as ascetic; celibacies were also capable of being feminist, erotic, strategic, and episodic. Attentive to celibacy as both practice and identity, Celibacies will be indispensable reading for queer theory and modernist studies.andquot;andmdash;Sianne Ngai, author of Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting
andquot;When did celibacy become unfashionable? Why has queer studies colluded with its denigration? And what do the histories of celibacy, homosexuality, queerness, friendship, and the contemporary Asexuality Movement share? Benjamin Kahan's compassionate genealogy of an alternative modernism provides judicious answers to these questions, while theorizing celibacy's tenacious existence along the edge of the intelligible. Countering queer studies' infatuation with sex-as-visible-transgression and its willingness to cede abstinence's reformist energies to the political Right, Celibacies offers savvy inspiration for thinking sexuality without sex.andquot;andmdash;Valerie Traub, author of The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England
Kahan has written a book that is both interesting, well articulated, progressive, and perhaps for some, rather provoking. . . . The book is not only for those interested in the history of celibacy and sexuality, but also for those who work in the field of human sexuality. In Celibacies, Kahan has managed to offer a new perspective on celibacy without focusing on the politics of conservatism and religion, which is refreshing.andquot;
andldquo;andhellip;Celibacies in a truly innovating way expands the concept rendering it positively connoted and giving it a new lease on lifeandhellip;. the author has managed to aggrandize the concept giving it breadth and depth, a past and a future.andrdquo;and#160;
andldquo;This scholarly but accessible study turns our notions of celibacy on their headsandhellip;. The bookandrsquo;s power derives from Kahanandrsquo;s skill in making us reconceive sexual categories, particularly celibacy, which he argues convincingly is a positive way of choosing how to be in the world.andquot;and#160;
andldquo;Although abstinence does not exactly come off as sexy in Celibacies, Kahan succeeds in making it legible, visible and historically significant for a period that is more typically understood as one of sexual expression and revolution. Kahan does for abstinence what Rachel Whitereadandrsquo;s reverse castings do for negative space: both reveal the thrum of what is typically thought of as emptiness or lack.andrdquo;
andquot;Kahanandrsquo;s analysis intrigues as well as provokes, forcing us to ask new questions about how we define sexuality and understand its history.andquot;
andquot;Kahanandrsquo;s long-overdue consideration of celibacy as sexuality provides significant insights into nineteenth- and twentieth-century American formations of gender, politics, race, aging, citizenship, marriage, and popular culture. and#160;. . . Kahanandrsquo;s achievement lies not only in what it so effectively accomplishesandmdash;the resituation of celibacy within sexualityandmdash;but also in the many avenues of future inquiry it brings to view.andquot;
andldquo;More than simple erotophobia, celibacy in Kahanandrsquo;s hands yields nuanced literary readings of a range of queer writers and artists. . . . There is something wonderfully counterintuitive about Kahanandrsquo;s characterization of celibacy as a form of sexuality rather than the absence of one. andhellip; Celibacies is an impressive first book, thoroughly researched and elegantly written. . . .andrdquo;
Arguing that celibacy is a distinct sexuality with its own practices and pleasures, Benjamin Kahan shows it to be much more than the renunciation of sex or a cover for homosexuality.
About the Author
Benjamin Kahan is Assistant Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University.
Table of Contents
Introduction. The Expressive Hypothesis
1. The Longue Durand#233;e of Celibacy: Boston Marriage, Female Friendship, and the Invention of Homosexuality
2. Celibate Time
3. The Other Harlem Renaissance: Father Divine, Celibate Economics, and the Making of Black Sexuality
4. The Celibate American: Closetedness, Emigration, and Queer Citizenship before Stonewall
5. Philosophical Bachelorhood, Philosophical Spinsterhood, and Celibate Modernity