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"This original and long-needed book on modern celibacy as a distinctive kind of sexuality—as opposed to the lack or negation of sexuality, or symptom of the repression of sexuality—holds true to its promise to show us just how richly varied celibacy can be, and how vital it in fact was to U.S. and British modernism. As Benjamin Kahan shows through insightful readings of texts by Henry James, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, Father Divine, and Andy Warhol, among others, modernist celibacies were secular as well as religious, collectivizing as well as individualizing, sensuous as well as ascetic; celibacies were also capable of being feminist, erotic, strategic, and episodic. Attentive to celibacy as both practice and identity, Celibacies will be indispensable reading for queer theory and modernist studies."—Sianne Ngai, author of Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting
"When did celibacy become unfashionable? Why has queer studies colluded with its denigration? And what do the histories of celibacy, homosexuality, queerness, friendship, and the contemporary Asexuality Movement share? Benjamin Kahan's compassionate genealogy of an alternative modernism provides judicious answers to these questions, while theorizing celibacy's tenacious existence along the edge of the intelligible. Countering queer studies' infatuation with sex-as-visible-transgression and its willingness to cede abstinence's reformist energies to the political Right, Celibacies offers savvy inspiration for thinking sexuality without sex."—Valerie Traub, author of The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England
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In this innovative study, Benjamin Kahan traces the elusive history of modern celibacy. Arguing that celibacy is a distinct sexuality with its own practices and pleasures, Kahan shows it to be much more than the renunciation of sex or a cover for homosexuality. Celibacies focuses on a diverse group of authors, social activists, and artists, spanning from the suffragettes to Henry James, and from the Harlem Renaissance's Father Divine to Andy Warhol. This array of figures reveals the many varieties of celibacy that have until now escaped scholars of literary modernism and sexuality. Ultimately, this book wrests the discussion of celibacy and sexual restraint away from social and religious conservatism, resituating celibacy within a history of political protest and artistic experimentation. Celibacies offers an entirely new perspective on this little-understood sexual identity and initiates a profound reconsideration of the nature and constitution of sexuality.