Wayne Koestenbaum (born 1958) is an American poet and cultural critic. He received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. Currently, he lives in New York City, where he is Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
Koestenbaum's work, both in poetry and nonfiction, has explored the social and mental life of American queer intellectuals. He is openly gay and sometimes refers to his experiences as a gay man. His best-known critical book, The Queen's Throat, is a rigorous exploration of a phenomenon frequently discussed casually but seldom considered from a scholarly viewpoint: the predilection of gay men for opera. Koestenbaum's claim is that opera derives its power from a kind of physical sympathy between singer and audience that has as much to do with desire as with hearing. He says of the act of listening:
- The dance of sound waves on the tympanum, and the sigh I exhale in sympathy with the singer, persuade me that I have a body—if only by analogy, if only a second-best copy of the singer's body. I'm a lemming, imprinted by the soprano, my existence an aftereffect of her crescendo. (42)
Koestenbaum's conclusion is that gay men's affinity for opera tells us as much about opera and its inherent questions about masculinity as it does about homosexuality.
In Hotel Theory, a critical discussion of the meaning of hotel life, and the aesthetic implications of such isolation, runs concurrently with a fictionalised account of a hotel encounter between Liberace and Lana Turner.
Humiliation, Koestenbaum's critically acclaimed disquisition on the meaning of humiliation (both personal and universal) was praised by John Waters as "the funniest, smartest, most heartbreaking yet powerful book I've read in a long time." Koestenbaum starred in a web series in support of this book, "Dear Wayne, I've Been Humiliated...", which was dubbed "the mother of all book trailers" by The New York Observer.
Koestenbaum’s 2012 book The Anatomy of Harpo Marx met with mixed reviews. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Saul Austerlitz suggested that Koestenbaum "sexualizes Harpo beyond all recognition, creating a figure about whom the author can say, in all seriousness, that 'courtesy of the anus, we can imagine, Marxist-style, a path away from family and state.'" And Joe Queenan, citing Koestenbaum’s claim that Harpo Marx “has many vaginas,” wrote that Koestenbaum “peppers his story with just enough tidbits of fascinating information that readers may fleetingly overlook the fact that his theories are barmy.”
Koestenbaum's poetry is often more measured than his criticism. It frequently comments on itself—on the disorderly process of poetry—as in "Men I Led Astray" (from The Milk of Inquiry):
- I haven't said enough about the ragged sun,
its satisfaction in being the one to bind my life—
to bring the filthy pieces together,
on its way to more important tasks.
- Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems (Persea, 1990).
- Rhapsodies of A Repeat Offender (Persea, 1994).
- The Milk of Inquiry (Persea, 1999).
- Model Homes (BOA Editions, 2004).
- Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (Turtle Point Press, 2006).
- Blue Stranger With Mosaic Background (Turle Point, 2012).
- Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration (Routledge, 1989).
- The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire (Poseidon, 1993).
- Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting An Icon (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995).
- Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics (Ballantine Books, 2000).
- Andy Warhol (Lipper/Viking, 2001).
- Humiliation (Picador, 2011).
- The Anatomy of Harpo Marx (University of California Press, 2012).
- My 1980s and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013)
- Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes (Soft Skull, 2004).
- Hotel Theory (Soft Skull Press, 2007).
Notes and references
- Lauerman, Kerry (July 31, 2011). "The many faces of "Humiliation": A culture critic flashes the world his own personal shame -- and gives us a good look at our own". Salon. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Waters, John. "Praise for Humiliation". Macmillan Web Site. Picador. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- Miller, Michael (11 July 2011). "Wayne Koestenbaum Will Help You Cope with Your Humiliation". The New York Observer. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- Faculty page at CUNY
- Interview with Index Magazine
- Interview with Bidoun
- Wayne Koestenbaum - Notes on Affinity (Villa Gillet / Clé des langues)
- "Outside In" via Triple Canopy (online magazine)
- Dear Wayne: I've Been Humiliated (Web Series)
- Interview with American Poetry Review