Queer Beauty

Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond

Whitney Davis
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    Queer Beauty
    Book Description:

    The pioneering work of Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) identified a homoerotic appreciation of male beauty in classical Greek sculpture, a fascination that had endured in Western art since the Greeks. Yet after Winckelmann, the value (even the possibility) of art's queer beauty was often denied. Several theorists, notably the philosopher Immanuel Kant, broke sexual attraction and aesthetic appreciation into separate or dueling domains. In turn, sexual desire and aesthetic pleasure had to be profoundly rethought by later writers.

    Whitney Davis follows how such innovative thinkers as John Addington Symonds, Michel Foucault, and Richard Wollheim rejoined these two domains, reclaiming earlier insights about the mutual implication of sexuality and aesthetics. Addressing texts by Arthur Schopenhauer, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, and Sigmund Freud, among many others, Davis criticizes modern approaches, such as Kantian idealism, Darwinism, psychoanalysis, and analytic aesthetics, for either reducing aesthetics to a question of sexuality or for removing sexuality from the aesthetic field altogether. Despite these schematic reductions, sexuality always returns to aesthetics, and aesthetic considerations always recur in sexuality. Davis particularly emphasizes the way in which philosophies of art since the late eighteenth century have responded to nonstandard sexuality, especially homoeroticism, and how theories of nonstandard sexuality have drawn on aesthetics in significant ways.

    Many imaginative and penetrating critics have wrestled productively, though often inconclusively and "against themselves," with the aesthetic making of sexual life and new forms of art made from reconstituted sexualities. Through a critique that confronts history, philosophy, science, psychology, and dominant theories of art and sexuality, Davis challenges privileged types of sexual and aesthetic creation imagined in modern culture-and assumed today.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51955-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond
    (pp. 1-22)

    §1. In Drawing the Dream of the Wolves, published in 1996, I examined the visual evidence for the sexuality that had emerged between Sigmund Freud and his patient, Serge Pankejeff (known as der Wolfsmann, the Wolf Man), in a psychoanalysis that Freud conducted between 1910 and 1914. Like any human interaction, this encounter involved the exchange of many images: we learn to see the world as others see it by learning to understand their pictorial worlds, and therefore, as I argued in Replications, also published in 1996, we must all be—we must try to become—the historians of one...

  5. 1 Queer Beauty: Winckelmann and Kant on the Vicissitudes of the Ideal
    (pp. 23-50)

    §1. The history of modern and contemporary art provides many examples of the “queering” of cultural and social norms. It has been tempting to consider this process of subversion and transgression or “outlaw representation” (as Richard Meyer has called it), as well as related performances of “camp,” or otherwise gay-inflecting the dominant forms of representation, to be the most creative mode of queer cultural production.¹ Whether or not this view is correct when applied to the history of later nineteenth-and twentieth-century art, we can identify a historical process in modern culture that has worked in the opposite direction—namely, the...

  6. 2 The Universal Phallus: Hamilton, Knight, and the Wax Phalli of Isernia
    (pp. 51-82)

    §1. The collection of antiquities assembled by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s and 1930s included a number of phallic amulets made of bronze, ivory, and faience. Figurines that depicted Egyptian, Greco-Roman, and Asian divinities and mythological characters (personages such as Isis, Janus, and Eros) constituted the bulk of Freud’s specimens. Some of these artifacts were given to him by friends, colleagues, and patients; many can be seen in photographs of Freud’s consulting room in Vienna, in pictures of Freud at work, and now at the Freud Museum in Hampstead, London, the house to which Freud and his family relocated in...

  7. 3 Representative Representation: Schopenhauer’s Ontology of Art
    (pp. 83-98)

    §1. Arthur Schopenhauer integrated his special theory of art, “the representation independent of its sufficient idea,” into the general arguments of his magnum opus, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, published in 1819.¹ This treatise, Schopenhauer’s systematic metaphysics, was overlooked or neglected by his contemporaries in Europe, and especially by academic philosophers in Germany, until the publication of the second edition in 1844. After that, Schopenhauer’s ideas became all the rage, especially in “artistical” and avant-garde circles and when his complex doctrines could be reduced to the kind of pungent aphorism that Schopenhauer promoted in Über die Grundlage der Moral,...

  8. 4 Double Mind: Hegel, Symonds, and Homoerotic Spirit in Renaissance Art
    (pp. 99-134)

    §1. Hegel’s philosophy was often identified with conservative cultural politics in its country of origin. But in the second half of the nineteenth century it also warranted art and social criticism that was identified with progressive cultural politics, especially in Britain. Indeed, Hegelian argumentation provided a specifically homoeroticist cultural politics with a way to regard itself as a more—even the most—advanced stage of modern consciousness. By the 1860s and seventies, the antiquarian outlook of Winckelmann (chapter 1) had become a liability for writers such as John Addington Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and Edward Carpenter. But late-nineteenth-century Hegelianism challenged Winckelmannian...

  9. 5 The Line of Death: Decadence and the Organic Metaphor
    (pp. 135-154)

    §1. Native to the montane rainforests and cloud forests of Trinidad, Surinam, the Guianas, Venezuela, and Brazil, Catasetum tridentatum, the Monk’s Head, must be counted as one of the most bizarre of all the tropical orchids. In the nineteenth century the flower was cultivated in the “Great Stove” at Kew, where the first Catasetums arrived in 1823 from Trinidad (it was first described in 1822). It featured in other European, colonial, and American botanical gardens and collections, such as the hothouses maintained by John Clowes at Manchester and by the sixth Duke of Bedford at Woburn (the latter’s collection was...

  10. 6 The Sense of Beauty: Homosexuality and Sexual Selection in Victorian Aesthetics
    (pp. 155-186)

    §1. From 1859 onward, many writers on history, culture, and art in Britain and North America addressed the ways in which aesthetic sense, even a “sense of beauty,” creates and relays sexual attractions in males and females of species. The males and females in question, however, were not always members of the human species. In 1859, Charles Darwin had published On the Origin of Species. In it he described what he called sexual selection, an evolutionary process that according to him runs in parallel and sometimes in interaction with natural selection (his primary topic in the book) and artificial selection...

  11. 7 The Aesthetogenesis of Sex: Narcissism in Freudian Theory and Homosexualist Culture, I
    (pp. 187-210)

    §1. The case history of the Wolf Man reminds us that some of Freud’s first male homosexual patients, who defined many of his views about homosexuality, were aesthetes if not “Decadents” in the sense explored in chapters 5 and 6. Some of them could virtually have been modeled on Duc Jean Floressas d’Esseintes, the protagonist of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À Rebours, the “Breviary of Decadence,” or on Lord Henry Wotton, the cynical aristocrat partly responsible for the moral corruption of Dorian in Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. The Wolf Man wrote essays on Hölderlin, Poe, and Baudelaire and on Aubrey...

  12. 8 Love All the Same: Narcissism in Freudian Theory and Homosexualist Culture, II
    (pp. 211-242)

    §1. In 1903, Lucien von Römer, a Dutch physician, theologian, historian, and humanitarian, published an astonishing monograph in Magnus Hirschfeld’s journal, the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen: Über die androgynische Idee des Lebens documented the representation of androgynous, hermaphroditic, and bi- or pansexual beings in ancient and Eastern arts and religious traditions. Von Römer presented Egyptian, Indian, and Japanese images and recalled that Greco-Roman culture had created popular icons of human sexual variations. From the point of view of modern observers, they were often strikingly obscene (I have considered aspects of this tradition in chapter 2); they were quite different from...

  13. 9 The Unbecoming: Michel Foucault and the Laboratories of Sexuality
    (pp. 243-270)

    §1. “In the case of the Military Academy,” Michel Foucault said in an interview conducted in 1977 and referring to the school built in Paris in 1751, “the battle against homosexuality and masturbation is spoken by the walls.”¹ Dite par les murs: such startling phrases summed Foucault’s work for me when I began reading it in college in the late 1970s. Starting in 1978 and every three or four weeks for the next eight years, I’d often pack a book by Foucault to occupy me on the train from Boston to New York City. New York often meant Studio 54,...

  14. 10 Fantasmatic Iconicity: Freudianism, Formalism, and Richard Wollheim
    (pp. 271-296)

    §1. Well summed in my epigraph, a single theme unites the several and somewhat disparate contributions made by Richard Wollheim to the theory of art and especially to the theory of painting. For lack of a better term, I might call these contributions technical. Typically they have been canvased in reviews of the elements of Wollheim’s philosophical aesthetics. These elements include his materialism, partly expressed in his doctrine of the identity of type and token in art, that is, of the identity of art and its objects, a term that had a triple meaning for Wollheim (though in Art and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 297-338)
  16. Index
    (pp. 339-354)