Books by Wayne Koestenbaum

FIGURE IT OUT by Wayne Koestenbaum
Released: May 5, 2020

" A little Koestenbaum goes a long way—best taken in small bites.
Writer, musician, and cultural critic Koestenbaum (English, French, and Comparative Literature/CUNY Graduate Center; Camp Marmalade, 2018, etc.) offers up another batch of personal essays published in a variety of venues.Read full book review >
MY 1980S AND OTHER ESSAYS by Wayne Koestenbaum
Released: Aug. 13, 2013

"A challenging, rich, aesthetic autobiography and intellectual high-wire act that rarely falters."
Critical and personal essays from noted poet and cultural critic Koestenbaum (English/CUNY Graduate Center; The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, 2012, etc.). Read full book review >
HUMILIATION by Wayne Koestenbaum
Released: Aug. 2, 2011

"Insightful and blissfully free of jargon, Humiliation may not be the last word on the subject, but it's an accessible introduction."
A series of meditations on the concept of humiliation. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

"Koestenbaum may be reaching to combine the mad genius of Pale Fire with the florid outlaw sexuality of Jean Genet, but his narrator has neither the wit of the former nor the nuance of the latter."
From poet and cultural critic Koestenbaum (The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire, 1993, etc.), a first novel made up of the lunatic rantings of ailing concert pianist Theo Mangrove. Read full book review >
JACKIE UNDER MY SKIN by Wayne Koestenbaum
Released: May 1, 1995

The author of National Book Critics Circle Awardwinning The Queen's Throat (1993) embarks on another self-indulgent adventure in cultural criticism. Koestenbaum takes for his subject ``the allure of icon Jackie,'' as opposed to the actual Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In lieu of an organizing thesis, he presents highly subjective flights of interpretive fancy about the images and themes that identify Jackie's ``iconicity.'' In 40 short, impressively opaque chapters, the author spins out free-associative essays about ``Jackie's Hairdos,'' ``Jackie and Ordinary Objects,'' and ``Jackie versus Maria Callas'' (the table of contents is the most enjoyable portion of the book). His vision of icon Jackie is assembled from public artifacts, mainly tabloid and movie-magazine headlines, paparazzi and news photographs, and stray gossip, as well as the detritus of his own imagination, which finds Jackie metaphorically lurking in such unlikely places as Elizabeth Taylor's portrayal of Cleopatra. ``Symbolically,'' he ventures elsewhere, ``she wore sunglasses because she'd been wounded by JFK's assassination: she'd seen the sun implode, and, blinded, traumatized, could never again face light. Maybe she had no eyes!'' Koestenbaum seems to take rapturous, solitary delight in his own cleverness. The impulse to read the book as parody or as campy fluff is thwarted by its obsessive tone and by the profligate use of pseudo-critical language: ``Her unreality was touching, poignant; because we felt sorry for simulacral Jackie, isolated from experience and sensation, her unreality became the badge of her pathetic authenticity.'' Whether rhapsodizing about the size of Jackie's head or sharing the reasons Jackie reminds him of Chiclets, Koestenbaum makes connections so personal that they provoke nothing more than wonder that an associate professor at Yale has so much time on his hands. (photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 18, 1993

A wildly idiosyncratic attempt by Koestenbaum (English/Yale), who's gay, to establish opera as a paradigm of homosexuality. ``I hypothesize that opera's hypnotic hold over modern gay audiences has some connection to the erotic interlocking of words and music, two contrary symbolic systems with gendered attributes,'' Koestenbaum says. But he fails to make clear exactly what, if anything, differentiates gay and straight audiences' respective responses to opera; and, more importantly, he fails to demonstrate that gay audiences are by nature predisposed to operatic conventions. Too often, Koestenbaum moves from the personal to the general in his eagerness to do for gay opera-lovers what Harvey Fierstein did for drag queens. Much of the author's creative energy is taken up with backstage gossip about divas past and present (male singers receive short shrift here). He frequently strains analogies to the point of parody—for example, musing about the erotic implications of the spindle hole in operatic recordings: ``It has always spoken to me of the the center of a listener's life and the ambiguities in any sexual body, including a homosexual body, concerning the proper and improper function of orifices.'' Also noted: 12 lengthily detailed reasons why Maria Callas is a gay (or ``queer,'' as the radicalized Koestenbaum prefers) operatic icon. The author concludes with extended descriptions of famous arias, analyzed in terms of homosexuality. These exegeses are as murky and unsupported as his previous arguments. Out of the closet and off the wall. Read full book review >