MIDLIFE QUEER by Martin Duberman


Autobiography of a Decade, 1971-1981
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 Duberman (History/CUNY) follows up his widely admired Stonewall (1993) with a sequence of gripe-filled autobiographical essays about the decade after the Stonewall riots. In a preface, Duberman says he wanted to intermingle passages from his '70s diary with essays about the time, identifying and amplifying thematic connections between public and private life in order to ``lay bare the limits of reliable historical memory.'' The method fails. Duberman was a leader in gay-rights organizations and campaigned hard for gay visibility in academia for much of the decade, but the conflicts between radical leftists and conservative reformers in the gay movement have been detailed elsewhere, far more cogently and without the obsessive gnawing at old grievances that suffuses the first half of this book. The author quotes from his own articles, diaries, and letters, but he seems to be not so much assembling different perspectives as combing his past writings for showy one-liners. He attempts to persuade us that his playwriting career was thwarted by a homophobic conspiracy of producers and influential critics, but the discussion comes off as self-serving. Having portrayed a public atmosphere bereft of intellectual vigor and full of petty procedural squabbles, Duberman takes up his private life in several comparatively straightforward chapters about emotional crises. When he delves into the protoNew Age forms of psychotherapy he pursued, he occasionally captures his own odd moods and those of the decade with genuine resonance. But the real-world details that vivify a memoir elude Duberman: his relationships and ``sexual adventuring'' are described almost entirely as abstract concepts, and though he taught college and lived in New York for the entire period under discussion, the details of his nonpolitical, nonacademic interests--home, friends, ordinary routine--remain ciphers. Duberman talks about his habit of overrationalizing, which often made him miss out on full understanding of his emotional experiences. His book is crippled by the same flaw.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81836-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


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