Where? CUNY Graduate Center, 34th and 5th Ave, across from Empire State building, Room 8201.01
When? January 30th, 4:00-6:00 PM
Professor of English and Director, Americanist Research Colloquium
The Literariness of Sexuality:
or, How to Do the (Literary) History of (American) Sexuality
Historians of sexuality rely heavily on literary evidence. Why should this be so? My argument is that sexuality is essentially a literary phenomenon. Following La Rochefoucauld’s maxim that “people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love” I contend that people would never have had sexualities if novelists and other hadn’t invented them. My evidence is drawn from American novels of the long nineteenth century, chiefly from Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799-1800 Memoirs of Stephen Calvert (in which the protagonist declares that reading a certain book made him what he is, “a thing of mere sex”) and from Charles Warren Stoddard’s 1903 For the Pleasure of His Company: A Tale of the Misty City, Thrice Told, which self-reflexively aligns literary innovation and sexual self-invention in multiple ways.