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The Mapping Brandeis Project

THE GENDERING OF MEN 1600-1750

Abstract

The Gendering of Men 1600-1750, vol. 1: The English Phallus (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).

The Gendering of Men 1600-1750, vol. 2: Queer Articulations (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008).

In the two volumes of The Gendering of Men 1600-1750, I trace paradigmatic practices in which early modern social actors put competing models of the sexed body and gendered personhood into play.  Where cultural studies scholars have developed Louis Althusser's account of the inscription of the subject, I have paid attention to the surfaces of the body as the scene of historical struggle.  The body is not fully inscribed, I show, but is the scene of the restoration and revision of prior practices of embodiment, that is, of performance.  How and to what extent the history of embodiment is represented in the theatrical archive (including oratory/rhetorical manuals encoding gestures, pointing, and intonation; courtesy and conduct literature; early dance notation; history painting and portraiture, along with manuals produced for visual artists but studied by performing artists; and theatrical memoirs and histories) and becomes available to us by studying that archive, is a central concern of The Gendering of Men.

Volume One, The English Phallus provides a theoretical account, supplemented by analyses of dramatic texts and other cultural artifacts, of the emergence of the "natural group" of masculinity in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England.  There I reconsider the male subject as an agent negotiating two competing economies of practices, which I call "residual pederasty" and "emergent privacy."  Gendered and sexual subjectivities emerged in the early modern period as vehicles of resistance to a traditional economy of corporeal subjection, such that men's love for women (as distinct from their patriarchal mastery over and erotic subordination of women, children, and male servants, apprentices, and other dependents) became a vehicle for the articulation of a new social ethics of privacy, replacing the pederastic and platonic rhetoric of love among men.  Men's struggles to claim an emergent and privatized masculinity against a residually public pederasty produced gender and sexuality as the corporeal scene of contestation over the membership of the modern liberal public sphere. 

My term "residual pederasty" signals the rhetorical, spatial, and corporeal eroticization of early modern subjection and thus its discontinuity from a modern economy of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual subjectivities, all of which I have located within the struggle to claim political and personal privacy.  It follows that gendered and sexual subjectivities, being performative vehicles for the production of modern, privatized subjects, cannot at the same time provide the terms for a historical analysis of pre- and early modern corporeal practices. 

Less attention has been paid to the theatre than to the novel in the history of modern subjectivity, probably because of a dominant assumption that modern privacy is opposed to publicity and is most apparent in, perhaps even derived from, reading practices carried on outside a public gaze in the space of domestic intimacy.  Against this alignment of citizenship, rationality, and domesticated reading practices, to display the self "theatrically" has been to bear the trace of the subjection—but also the residual fascination—of the courtly body.  By linking theatricality to the past regime of subjection and the public representativeness carried by sovereign and courtly bodies, eighteenth-century ideologues proposed that the liberal subject is not a theatrical one, generating a distinction between theatricality and authenticity that continues to underwrite modern philosophical, historical, and ethical theories. 

Queer Articulations, the second volume of The Gendering of Men, offers a performance-centered analysis of theatricality, effeminacy, and publicity as vehicles of queer agency.  I locate queerness not as a substance but as a set of practices through which theatricality, effeminacy, and publicity were both specified as queer and appropriated to queer agency.  I trace the specification of sodomy as both subjectivity and corporeal style through the displacement of problematic categories of theatricality, publicness, and queerness onto sodomites.  I develop a model of queerness as processual activity, situated in time and place but irreducible to the individual subject's identifications, desires, and motivations; I position queer bodies as performance spaces.  Performing gestures from the rhetorical vocabulary of the aristocratic stage, such as an arm set akimbo, an inflected lisp called a "court tune," raillery, and canting, both recalls the history of prior uses and enables future uses of those gestures.  Exploiting the contradictions produced by the transcoding of gestures—from courtly to effeminate to queer, from the residual status body to the body lacking privacy, from aristocrat to sodomite—queer men have foregrounded, contested, and coped with the processes by which a gendered ideology of privacy achieved hegemony by displacing onto certain bodies its own, disavowed history of pederastic subjection. 

Scholars and historians of performance might locate history in practices (performances) rather than in objects, events, or identities.  I understand categories of historical or ethnographic research—gender and sexuality, for example—as effects (or "traces") of agents' practices.  The meaning of an object or category does not reside, substantively and essentially, "in" the object or category but is constituted by the historical set of practices whereby social actors deploy that object or category in performance.  Interested in defamiliarizing categories of historical inquiry, I have wanted not only to rethink past practices but also to reconsider research, writing, and reading as performances productive of the kinds of questions that may be asked of history.  For example, my early essay "Reconstructing the First English Actresses" (1992) argued that the project of writing a history of "the actress" depends upon gendered assumptions about what an "actress" may be.  By looking at early histories of English actresses, written fifty years or more after their first appearance on the stage, I showed that historians deployed the concept of "the actress" to consolidate classed and gendered interests.  An important goal of The Gendering of Men, likewise, is to demonstrate how keywords common to recent social, political, and psychoanalytic theories—privacy, theatricality, authenticity, gender, subjectivity, castration, and so on—encode histories of agency. 

Specific chapters of The Gendering of Men complicate histories of the public sphere by rethinking the forms of embodiment through which the reciprocity of private and public life has been constructed; demonstrate how a rupture in the experience and practice of visual perception enabled the emergence of modern gender and sexual formations; provide political histories of such corporeal and vocal gestures as an arm set akimbo; and disclose the political and social history underlying theories of linguistic performativity (based on Lacanian theories of castration) by tracing the ways in which the castrated male singers popular in late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century operatic performance incited an expansion of writing.

You will find a more detailed summary of The Gendering of Men 1600-1750 in the published Preface to volume two, Queer Articulations.  I lay out my historicist method more fully in the Introduction to Volume Two, Queer Articulations.