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Shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Assocation Book Prize
Statue-fondlers, wanderlusters, sex magicians, and nymphomaniacs: the story of these forgotten sexualities—what Michel Foucault deemed “minor perverts”—has never before been told. In The Book of Minor Perverts, Benjamin Kahan sets out to chart the proliferation of sexual classification that arose with the advent of nineteenth-century sexology. The book narrates the shift from Foucault’s “thousand aberrant sexualities” to one: homosexuality. The focus here is less on the effects of queer identity and more on the lines of causation behind a surprising array of minor perverts who refuse to fit neatly into our familiar sexual frameworks. The result stands at the intersection of history, queer studies, and the medical humanities to offer us a new way of feeling our way into the past.
About the Author
Benjamin Kahan is associate professor of English and women’s and gender studies at Louisiana State University.
“Recommended. . . Encyclopedic references to scholars and sources ranging from the seventeeth century to the present day make this highly theoretical yet very readable book nothing short of fascinating.”
“Brief but ambitious. . . Supported by immense erudition and scholarly chops. . . This is a necessary, field-changing book that should be read by anyone interested in sexuality in any academic field or historical period. . . Vital to anyone who works on the history of sexuality and/or queer studies. The new paradigm Kahan gives us for understanding the relevance of supposedly superannuated sexual etiologies opens up an exciting new archive for scholars to explore.”
— Modern Philology
“Is heterosexuality congenital or acquired? Is sexuality inborn or socially constructed? Or, according to the mushy middle model, is sexuality a bit inborn, a bit constructed? The loaded theories of sexuality’s origin get a much needed historical look-see in Kahan’s valuable, thought provoking book.”
— Jonathan Ned Katz, author of The Invention of Heterosexuality
“The Book of Minor Perverts remakes the history of sexuality. Kahan illuminates what is missing: the stories told since the eighteenth century, and peaking during the Modernist period, about how people become homosexual. This is brilliant, upending, field-changing work, which will take its place beside groundbreaking projects from major historians of sexuality such as Michel Foucault and David Halperin, and leading LGBTQ literary critics such as Eve Sedgwick and Valerie Traub.”
— Elizabeth Freeman, author of Time Binds
“Reading The Book of Minor Perverts is like trying to see new colors for the first time, like trying to remember the scenes of feeling that exceed the frames of scrapbook photographs. Kahan invites us to linger with history’s book of minor so-called perverts and their thousands of so-called perversions in order to recover the erased, ignored, or forgotten sexualities that they embody.”
— The Rambling
“I cannot help but admire the ambition of The Book of Minor Perverts. . . The real strength of this work resides in its thorough research, which allows for a broad range of examples without sacrificing the specific nuances of any one case. If this had been all The Book of Minor Perverts had accomplished, it would already be a valuable contribution to thinking about sexuality, literary methodologies, and modern literature. However, the study is framed by a further, complicating, and considerably more ambitious argument. Kahan links the congenital theory of sexuality—ascendant in the twentieth century, and the position opposed to the one he’s attempting to recover—with an epistemological position.”
— The New Rambler Review
“An intelligent, sharp, and exciting book. . . The Book of Minor Perverts contributes a range of exciting new findings to the study of historical sexology and the history of sexuality more broadly.”
— Affirmations: of the Modern
“From sex magic to economic influences, the reader is exposed to a world of forgotten sexual etiologies. . . Kahan’s effort toward building an inclusive sexual historiography is an exciting move to broaden our perception of human sexuality, helping us rethink what we presuppose about sexual identity.“
— Art Discourse
"In this book Benjamin Kahan reviews the classic sexological literature to identify the historical etiologies of the “minor perverts” that he claims were foreclosed by “the biological simplification and division of bodies into homo and hetero”. He hopes to recapture the complexity and ambiguity of nosologies of sexual aberration in the era before the “great paradigm shift” of the late nineteenth century, which created two categories of beings based on sexual object choice that have dominated our understandings of sexuality to this day."
— Robert A. Nye