THE MYTHOLOGY OF TRANSGRESSION by Jamake Highwater

THE MYTHOLOGY OF TRANSGRESSION

Homosexuality as Metaphor
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The prolific Highwater (The Language of Vision, 1994; Myth and Sexuality, 1990; etc.) once again explores the foundations of mythological structures, this time with the purpose of determining why homosexuality has been singled out as culturally deviant in contemporary Western society. The result is a rambling but occasionally insightful discussion of the intersections of homosexuality with religion, science, and culture, which unfortunately loses its spirit halfway through. Highwater's argument rests on a redefinition of ``transgression,'' which society has traditionally rendered as sinful or inherently dangerous behavior. What we have missed, he claims, is the notion of transgression as a courageous testing of boundaries, a creative and ``rebellious act that breaks conceptual barriers.'' Homosexuality, he says, can be seen as a metaphor for such boundary intrusion. Highwater offers some (but not enough) examples of the hero's role in myths of adventure to demonstrate that boundary testing can be celebrated, not demonized, for heroes always trespass the perimeters of their culture and do the forbidden thing. Highwater has obviously read widely, which contributes to the depth of his argument but might confuse readers who are unaccustomed to hearing from Erich Fromm in one paragraph and Alice in Wonderland in the next. Highwater draws freely from the work of cultural anthropologists, such as Mary Douglas, whose work she quite adroitly uses to elucidate the cultural taboos of the margins. However, Highwater can't decide if he is directing the book at a popular or an academic audience; it begins in a very personal way (he is himself gay, as well as Native American) and becomes progressively more scholarly and detached. But when he relies more heavily on the work of others, the lack of citations becomes quite irritating. And toward the end Highwater loses the focus, falling into inchoate discussions of the more questionable ``mythologies'' of sensibility and culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-510180-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996




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