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Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety
"Likely to prove the landmark book on gender in our time." - Bay Area Reporter
In this groundbreaking book, Marjorie Garber explores the nature and significance of cross-dressing and our recurring fascination with it. Vested Interests is a tour de force of cultural criticism; its investigations range across history, literature, film, photography, and popular and mass culture, from Shakespeare to Mark Twain, from Oscar Wilde to Peter Pan, from transsexual surgery and transvestite sororities to Madonna and Flip Wilson, Valentino and Elvis. Vested Interests offers a provocative argument about our ongoing obsession with dressing up - and the power of clothes.
"An extraordinarily rich study which will redefine current debates about the construction of sex and gender. It is also very funny, moving, and powerful. Anyone interested in sexual difference - and who is not? - will want to read Vested Interests." - Women's Review of Books
"A fascinating compendium of cross-dressing . . . and a provocative piece of cultural criticism." - New York Times.
"A big book in every sense, ebullient and alive with insight and imagination. Garber has produced a TV guide for our time, exploring the cultural conundrums of cross-dressing with unflagging intelligence and a rich sense of irony." - Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"An absolutely fascinating look at gender-bending in the arts and everyday life . . . . Well-researched and wonderfully illustrated . . . Garber's work is scholarly, witty, perceptive, and provocative - a sheer delight to read, consider and discuss. It's one of the best works of cultural criticism around - absolutely first rate." - Booklist
"Vested Interests is the crossover hit of the season." - Village Voice
"Bound to become the new, comprehensive bible on the subject." - The Nation
Marjorie Garber is Professor of English and Director of the Center for Literary Cultural Studies at Harvard. She is the author of three books on Shakespeare.
Introduction: Clothes Make the Man
I. Transvestite Logics
II. Transvestite Effects
Conclusion a tergo: Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed
After reading the first third of this book, I skimmed the rest until the last section. I quote the last paragraph of the book below, whose language is indicative of the rest of the text and whose content conveys the primary interest on crossdressing in literature and theater. " I began this book by noting how frequently the phenomenon of cross-dressing, or transvestism, is looked through rather than at in critical and cultural analyses - how often, indeed how insistently, cultural observers have tried to make it mean something,anything, other than itself. If cross-dressing is, in fact, a primal scene, that which is not only constitutive of culture but also, by the same repressive mechanism, a deferral and a displacement, in Lacan's terms 'a unique and decisive revelation of the subject, in which an indefinite something that is unsayable is concentrated, in which the subject is lost for a moment, blown up' - if, that is to say, cross-dressing is not only found in representations of the primal scene, but also itself represents a primal scene, then the secondary revision of commentators upon this phenomenon can be regarded as part of the mechanism. Cross-dressing is about gender confusion. Cross-dressing is about the phallus as constitutively veiled. Cross-dressing is about the power of women. Cross-dressing is about the emergence of gay identity. Cross-dressing is about the anxiety of economic or cultural dislocation, the anticipation or recognition of "otherness" as loss. All true, all partial truths, all powerful metaphors. But the compelling force of transvestism in literature and culture comes not, or not only, from these effects, but also from its instatement of metaphor itself, not as that for which a literal meaning must be found, but precisely as that without which there would be no such thing as meaning in the first place."