On Saturday I visited ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Prison’, an exhibition cum art installation in Reading Gaol. Curated by Artangel it features the work of contemporary artists and …
On Saturday I visited ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Prison‘, an exhibition cum art installation in Reading Gaol. Curated by Artangel it features the work of contemporary artists and writers. Some of them have experienced prison themselves, either as detainees- such as the Chinese artists and activist, Ai Weiwei,who was held without formal charge for 81 days – or as the children of prisoners, as in the case of novelist Gillian Slovo whose parents were frequently arrested for their involvement in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Wilde in Gaol
What first brought the exhibition to my attention was that it includes the cell of Oscar Wilde, who famously spent two years of his life in Reading Gaol. From 1895 to 1897 he served a sentence of hard labour, following a conviction of ‘indecent conduct’ with other men. Wilde’s case is well known, not least because the furore around his trial prompted the first public debates about homosexuality in England. But the shockwaves caused by his arrest, sentencing, and untimely death in 1900 – Wilde’s health never recovered from the physical toll of his sentence – are somewhat less well documented.
In my work on the Berlin-based Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, I frequently found references to Wilde’s trial, which typically focused on legal issues. Hirschfeld, who had relationships with men and publicly campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, cited Wilde’s fate as an example of the cruelty of a law that condemned men simply on grounds of their sexuality. In one account, however, he mentioned how he once encountered a group of young male students who had decided to remember Wilde by symbolically pinning his prisoner number to their shirts and reciting his ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ together.
Hirschfeld’s encounter with these students reveals the emotional cost of Wilde’s persecution on men who identified with him. But it also demonstrates resistance in the face of attack, and the importance of literature and the arts in gathering collective strength. ‘Inside’ presents readings of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ each Sunday. Unlike the private gathering observed by Hirschfeld, they are public performances, featuring famous figures from across the arts whose connections to Wilde emphasise cultural, rather than necessarily queer allegiances across time.
The exhibition’s engagement with the impact of homosexual persecution specifically, in contrast, is both overt and more subtle. It includes an appearance by Hirschfeld, who in 1919 played a supporting role in the silent movie Anders als die Andern [Different from the Others]. Directed by Richard Oswald and released in mainstream German cinemas, the film is sometimes described as ‘the first homosexual movie’ because of its sympathetic portrayal of the plight of a pianist who ends up taking his own life when, after suffering attacks first of a blackmailer and then the law, it becomes clear that he would not be able to live freely as a homosexual man.
‘Inside’ shows the movie on a television screen in one of the cells in A Block, a part of the prison that had housed, amongst others, prisoners condemned to death. In the exhibition, many of the cells here focus on homosexuality including, for instance Marlene Dumas’ portrait of Wilde next to a photograph of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Nan Godin’s responses to Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, a film inspired by Genet’s own time in prison, which explores tough but tender male same-sex eroticism in a carceral context
Within this context, just as at the time of its production, Anders als die Andern serves an instructive function: it shows how the life of an decent, cultured man could be made unlivable simply because he desired other men. However, showing the film alongside Dumas’ and Godin’s work – which in different ways engages with base notes of sexual obsession including in relation to the lives of petty criminals and social outcasts – problematises such an idealised image of homosexual victimhood. It brings into view that people who make (it into) history are mostly those with certain privileges, education included.
Of course we should remember them. But we must also remain alert to the gaps in our knowledge about past lives, gaps that reflect long histories of social, racial and gender injustice and erasure.
Who is WoodFord of Soton?
The graffiti surrounding the television screening Anders als die Andern serves as a reminder that the lives of most of the men who spent their time in this cell are unknown. Who, for example, is WoodFord of Soton, whose handwriting remains inked onto the prison wall? Who are Saz & Gee, their names linked together by the swirl of the ampersand?
Unlike Wilde – or even the fictional pianist whose story is told in the film – the historical imprint of most of the inmates of Reading Gaol does not go deeper than the thin layer of ink graffitied onto their prison cells. Indeed, in the case of the nineteenth-century women inmates whose existence is documented in a collection of prison mugshots displayed in B Wing, even such superficial evidence of their own words has long been erased by the coats of cheap white paint that now cover the prison walls.
Perhaps it is this knowledge that gives A Wing a particularly haunting quality. Erasure in the form of death features prominently here via an installation by Doris Salcedo of cell-sized, upturned tables memorialising the anonymous men executed in the prison. The tables grow fragile leaves of grass, a feature reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s 1855 collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass. Much revised throughout his life, Whitman’s poems are an affirmation of democracy, (homoerotic) pleasure and male friendship. They became hugely influential in the emerging homosexual subcultures of the later nineteenth-century including Wilde’s circles.Yet the leaves of grass we find ‘Inside’ are no hopeful allusions to natural beauty and a book of life whose pages are yet to be filled. They are reminders of the dead whose life has been extinguished in Reading Gaol, and of those whose lives have vanished into obscurity. It is their lives, as much as the lives of Wilde and other famous prison inmates around world, that continue to raise questions about the role of prisons in society.
‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Gaol’ is open until 4 December 2016.
I’m delighted to be able to announce the following event:
In the Archive(s) of Sexuality:
Collections / Metaphors / Activism
Thursday, 19 May 2016, 6.00pm
Birkbeck, University of London, Bloomsbury (room tbc)
Book your place here
A panel discussion featuring
Heike Bauer (Birkbeck) – ‘A Queer Suicide Archive’
Howard Chiang (Warwick) – ‘Archiving Peripheral Taiwan’
Rohit K. Dasgupta (Southampton) – ‘No femmes and vernaculars: reading the digital archives of queer desire in India’
Monalesia Earle (Birkbeck) – ‘Narrating the Gaps: Queer Women of Colour Archives’
Lesley Hall (Wellcome Trust, London) – ‘The Work of the Archivist’
Followed at 7.30pm by a drinks reception to celebrate the launch of
Temple University Press, 2015
Edited by Heike Bauer
With contributions from Brian Baer, Heike Bauer, Howard Chiang, Peter Cryle, Kate Fisher, Jennifer Fraser, Jana Funke, Liat Kozma, Birgit Lang, Leon Rocha, Katie Sutton, Michiko Suzuki, James Wilper.
The event is part of Birkbeck Arts Week 2016.
Sponsored by Birkbeck Gender & Sexuality (BiGS) and Temple University Press.
Click the link for a flyer: Panel and Book Launch.flyer.compressed-3
Book your place here
Last week I published a post for Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality to mark the publication of a collection of essays I edited, Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World.
I had already briefly introduced the project here. However, the Notches post gave me an opportunity to reflect more fully on the project, and the contributions made by scholars working on sexuality in modern Austria, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Japan, Palestine, Peru and Russia. You can read the full post below.
It prompted a number of people to get in touch with me about their research and teaching diverse topics relating to modern sexual science, broadly conceived, in a wide range of geographical contexts including – and going beyond- the ones covered in the book.
I would love to hear about more of this work. So if you’re interested in sharing your research or teaching, send me an email: email@example.com
Found in Translation: How Sexual Debates Developed Across the Modern World
A new collection of essays I edited, Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World (Temple UP, 2015) shows that the emergence of modern sexuality was a global phenomenon.
The book examines the contemporaneous emergence of sexual science in Europe, Asia, Peru, and the Middle East between the later nineteenth century and the period leading up to World War II. It brings together literary and cultural scholars, historians, sociologists, and political scientists whose contributions cover topics ranging from the history of frigidity to ‘third sex’ culture in 1920s Berlin and the development of the sexual sciences in Russia.
Many of the contributors first met at an international, Wellcome Trust funded symposium I organized in 2012. The event was prompted by the realization that while we know that many of the founding texts of the sexual science in nineteenth-century Europe were multilingual as well highly intertextual, we still know relatively little about the global travels of ideas and people that shaped modern sexual debates.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The campaign, which originates in the United States, aims to raise awareness specifically about suicide prevention. However, it also speaks to broader efforts of activists who seek to de-stigmatize mental health issues and campaign against the taboo and silence that has historically surrounded them.
That suicide has a social dimension was first explored over the course of the nineteenth-century when a new band of psychiatrists and social researchers began to ask questions about what caused a person to take their own life. Writing in the 1840s Karl Marx, for instance, considered suicide part of the wider social struggle. In contrast, by the time Émile Durkheim published his study of Le Suicide (1897), the subject had already lost some of its revolutionary interest as scientists began to study it from a more clinical and social research perspectives.
One of the researchers who resisted the move towards a more apolitical science – even as he claimed that science would bring truth – was Magnus Hirschfeld. By his own account, the trained doctor was prompted to switch from general medical practice to sexology after the death of one of his patients, a young man who shot himself on the eve of his marriage and left Hirschfeld a note in which he explained that he was unable to speak about – and live with – his desire for other men.
The exact nature of the event is critically disputed, but what is clear is that Hirschfeld considered suicide a real, and potentially deadly, concern for women and men whose bodies and desires did not fit narrow social norms and expectations. Working at a time when the homosexual rights movement started to garner more widespread support, and when same-sex cultures were thriving in many urban centres, Hirschfeld realised that despite the social gains, could people feel their lives were unlivable because of same-sex attraction. In a bid to raise awareness and work towards what we would now call suicide prevention, Hirschfeld collected statistical data about homosexual women and men who killed themselves. He disseminated some of the insights gained via cultural activities such as a collaboration on Anders als die Andern [different from the others] (1919), a silent movie which problematizes the criminalization of homosexuality. The film’s main character kills himself as a result of the acts of a blackmailer.
Ultimately, it might be impossible to explain why someone takes their life while someone else lives in circumstance that appear akin. But Hirschfeld’s suicide archive nevertheless suggests that a sense of unlivability can develop not only from persecution, but also from a sense that one’s desires and bodies are unspeakable, shameful and ostracized.
A Queer Concern
From out vantage point today, in an age of discursive explosions around difficult events and a new digital culture that has normalised the public expression of feelings, it can be easy to forget the pernicious nature of the ‘hidden’ silences in public discourse. If Hirschfeld’s archive poses certain critical difficulties, not least because of the danger that the accounts of despair and misery might feed pernicious anti-queer stereotyping, there is nevertheless still much to be learned from – and about – the history of queer suicide.
For better or worse suicide and queer existence have a shared history. Understanding what this might mean is part of the ongoing task of challenging the silencing of lives and feelings that are deemed difficult, embarrassing – or simply different from social norms and expectations.
For a fuller discussion see my chapter ‘Suicidal Subjects: Translation and the Affective Foundations of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sexology, in Heike Bauer (ed.), Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World (Temple University Press, 2015), pp. 233-252.
I’m very happy to announce this collection of essays, which will be published in October.
Orders placed before 1 October will get money off with this promo code: T20P.
Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World, edited by Heike Bauer.
Sexuality Studies Series, edited by Janice Irvince and Regina Kuenzel.
Temple University Press.
Introduction: Translation and the Global Histories of Sexuality
• Heike Bauer 1
Part I. Conceptualizations
1 Translation as Lexical Invention: An Intellectual History
of Frigiditas and Anaphrodisia • Peter Cryle 19
2 Translation as Transposition: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch,
Darwinian Thought, and the Concept of Love in German
Sexual Modernity • Birgit Lang 37
3 Representing the “Third Sex”: Cultural Translations
of the Sexological Encounter in Early Twentieth-Century
Germany • Katie Sutton 53
4 Data of Desire: Translating (Homo)Sexology in Republican China
• Howard Chiang 72
Part II. Formations
5 British Sexual Science beyond the Medical: Cross-Disciplinary,
Cross-Historical, and Cross-Cultural Translations
• Kate Fisher and Jana Funke 95
6 Translating Sexology in Late-Tsarist and Early-Soviet Russia:
Politics, Literature, and the Science of Sex
• Brian James Baer 115
7 Translating Sexology, Writing the Nation: Sexual Discourse and
Practice in Hebrew and Arabic in the 1930s • Liat Kozma 135
8 Translation and Two “Chinese Sexologies”: Double Plum and
Sex Histories • Leon Antonio Rocha 154
Part III. Dis/Identifications
9 Novel Translations of the Scientific Subject: Clorinda Matto
de Turner, Margarita Práxedes Muñoz, and the Gendered
Shaping of Discourses of Desire in Nineteenth-Century Peru
• Jennifer Fraser 179
10 The Translation of Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate
Sex in Early Twentieth-Century Japan • Michiko Suzuki 197
11 Translation and the Construction of a “Uranian” Identity:
Edward Prime-Stevenson’s [Xavier Mayne’s] The Intersexes
(1908) • James P. Wilper 216
12 Suicidal Subjects: Translation and the Affective Foundations
of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sexology • Heike Bauer 233
Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World can be pre-ordered from Temple University Press http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2363_reg.html
The remains of 86 Jewish Holocaust victims have been found at a forensic medicine institute in Strasbourg. Reports vary as to the state of the remains. Some say that fragmented pieces of skin are all that is left of some of the dead, while others claim that in some cases the bodies are physically intact. If is difficult to imagine how these remains could lie undiscovered at the institute for more than seventy years, we know that there is a long history of using human bodies in scientific research including forensic work.
The 86 people were killed during experiments conducted by the Nazi anatomist August Hirst and moved to the institute by him, possibly to be put on display. According to recent reports a forensic professor at the institute, Camille Simonin, in 1945 decided to keep the remains so that they could be used as evidence in the prosecution of Hirst. However, Hirst committed suicide and it seems that the existence of the 86 bodies was somehow ‘forgotten’ in the confusion of the immediate postwar years.
It was historian Raphael Toledano who discovered a reference to these remains in a letter by Simonin, and, following it up, found them at the institute earlier this month. That they were recovered via a paper trail is a reminder of the importance of historical research and the work of progressive museums, archivists and activists who challenge the display of human remains.
It is also a reminder that other human exhibits and research specimens may be hidden from view in the storage spaces of institutions that have lost of track of their possessions and histories.
As part of my Hirschfeld project I have been reading up on the Herero genocide, a brutal episode in Germany’s colonial history, which according to some historians paved the way for the atrocities of the Nazi regime. In 1904 German colonial forces in southwest Africa responded to an uprising by the local Herero and Nama people with extreme violence – commander Lothar von Trotha ordered a war of annihilation – and imprisoned the survivors in a concentration camp where they were subjected to forced labour, violence, random killings and medical experiments.
In 1908 Eugen Fischer, who would later gain infamy as a Nazi anatomist, visited the camp and conducted experiments upon the prisoners, which led him to formulate a spurious but influential theory about ’white’ European supremacy. The skulls and some skeletons were then sent to Germany for use at institutions such as the Institute for Pathology in Berlin and the city’s Charité hospital, which is where Hirschfeld had completed his medical training a decade earlier. In 2011, twenty skulls found in the Charité archive were returned to Namibia.
The uncovering in the twenty-first century of human remains in the archives and store rooms of major research organisations rightly makes headlines. If it sometimes enables the identification of the dead, and their burial under their own name, finding a material presence of lives extinguished so brutally can hardly be described in terms of closure. Perhaps more accurately the work of uncovering, rediscovery and research is a process of opening: of prising apart the ‘hidden’ doors behind which lie the dead we have yet to find.