Tag Archives: history

Suicide and Queer History

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.

Suicide History

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.

Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern (1919)

Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern (1919)

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.

New book! Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World

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.

2363_reg

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.
284 pp
paper: 978-1-43991-249-2
cloth: 978-1-43991-248-5
ebook 978-1-43991-250-8

CONTENTS

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

6 May 1933: Thinking through History (before the General Election)

On this day in 1933, a group of Nazi students stormed the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin. Leaving a trail of destruction, they removed most of the Institute’s library and a bust of its founder, Magnus Hirschfeld. A few days later, on 10 May, these materials would be set alight on Berlin’s Opernplatz – the opera square –  an event that marks the beginning of the infamous Nazi book burnings (for more information click here).

“Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14597, Berlin, Opernplatz, Bücherverbrennung” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.

In his diary – or what he calls in German his Testament, a word used to refer both to a person’s will and their legacy – Hirschfeld writes about the deep distress he felt when his lifework was set alight on a Scheiterhaufen. The English translation ‘pyre’ does not fully capture the strong associations of the German term with the early modern witch hunts. Yet Hirschfeld clearly drew on this difficult history to articulate his own experience of persecution and terror.

It is not uncommon that discussions of collective oppression and injury turn to ‘history’ to make oversimplified comparisons between distinct kinds of experience and circumstance. While we should be critical of such approaches – it is important, for instance, to recognise the distinct histories of antisemitism and homophobia that informed the Nazi attack on the Institute – remembering certain moments in history at certain points in the present nevertheless has its uses.

Eighty-two years after the events of May 1933, Hirschfeld’s tragic fate has itself come to stand for past injustice including in relation to the horrific acts perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and how they are remembered. It took until December 2003, for instance, before the German government agreed to a memorial dedicated to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust.

Thinking with and through this history remains an urgent task – especially perhaps today, on the eve of the UK general election when right-wing voices are heard so loudly across the country. This is not to draw a correlation between events of 1933 in Germany and British politics in 2015. But remembering the destruction of Hirschfeld and his Institute nevertheless serves as a poignant reminder that lives are easily turned into targets whose very existence is attacked and denied because their apparent ‘difference’ or ‘otherness’ from an imaginary norm is proclaimed problematic for the nation.

24 July 2014. A New Institute of Sexology?

The Wellcome Collection has announced a forthcoming exhibition and series of events entitled “The Institute of Sexology”. It covers materials “from Alfred Kinsey’s complex questionnaires to the contemporary National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal)” and explores  “pathologies of perversion and contested ideas of normality” to show “how sex has been observed, analysed and questioned from the late 19th century to the present day.”

The exhibition coincides with my own current work on Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin. Founded in 1919 as the first of its kind, the Institute was a place for research and social reform. Its activities included next to homosexual rights activism for example demands for women’s equality and birth control. These wide-ranging reform efforts and the practical services provided by the Institute –which covered issues as diverse as councelling for queer and trans people to marital advice – attracted many visitors, both from Berlin’s and from placed around the world.

BBonfire05ut the success of these activities, together with the fact that the Institute was home to Jewish and homosexual practitioners such as Hirschfeld himself, was not well received by the conservative establishment and the National Socialists. In May 1933, it became the first target in a series of Nazi offensives that led to the infamous ‘book burnings’. These events, which are well documented in surviving texts, photographs and films from the time, show that in the early twentieth-century the business of sex research could be a dangerous undertaking.

We know today that the attempts of early sexologists to challenge narrow assumptions about how bodies should look like or how sexual desire should be expressed sometimes resulted in the production of damaging new norms. My project further turns attention to the attacks on both individual sex researchers and the emerging discipline of sexology. For these attacks show that real and symbolic violence played a crucial role in the emergence of contemporary sex research.

It will be interesting to see how the Wellcome sexology season engages with this complicated history.

 

 

 

1 May 2014: Homophobia Rewritten programme out now!

IMG_1437 - Version 2This update is no longer accurate. Due to venue constraints we had to limit attendance to speakers only. I have updated the post accordingly. HB

 I’m really pleased to announce that the programme for the Homophobia Rewritten symposium I’m organising at Birkbeck is now available. The line-up of speakers includes a fantastic mix of literary and cultural critics, historians and gender studies scholars – and, of course, the brilliant Alison Donnell, who will present the keynote.

******

HOMOPHOBIA REWRITTEN: 

New Literary and Cultural Perspectives on Violence and Sexuality

 Friday, 13 June 2014

Birkbeck, University of London

 ******

PROGRAMME 

9.30: Welcome & Introduction

         Heike Bauer (Birkbeck): Dead Queer.

 9.45 – 10.45: Dead Ends

Conny Wächter (Paderborn), ‘Internalised Heteronormativity

and Suicide in E.M. Forster and Victoria Cross’.

Lucy Iwamoto (Roehampton), ‘Hate and Homotopias: Young Adult Fiction,

Before, During and After Section 28’.

 11.00 – 12.30: Questionable Visibilities

David R. Sorensen (St Joseph’s University), ‘“An Unnamable Object”:

                     Carlyle, Frederick the Great and the Love that Dared not

Speak Its Name’.

Dominic Janes (Birkbeck), ‘Caricature and Images of Same-Sex Desire

Before the Trials of Oscar Wilde’.

Caroline Walters (Middlesex), ‘Femme Anthologies: Making Femme

Identities Visible’. 

1.30-3.00: Popular Injury

Katherine Hubbard (Surrey), ‘Psychology, Homosexuality and the Graphic

Novels of Alan Moore’.

Monalesia Earle (Birkbeck), ‘”Gutter”: Gloria Naylor’s The Women of

Brewster Place (1982)’.

Harriet King (Nottingham), “A Special King of Suffering”: First Nations

    Sexuality, Gothic Tradition and Trauma Theory in Tomson

      Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen’.

3.15- 4.45: Present Tensions

Churnjeet Mahn (Surrey) & Diane Watt (Surrey), ‘Incendiary Sexualities:

Setting Light to Lesbian Bodies in Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996)’.

Howard Chiang (Warwick), ‘2013: Queering Marriage in Sinophone Communitiies’

Benjamin Eveslage (SOAS), ‘Contemporary Politicisation of

Homosexuality: Presidential Narratives in Sub-Saharan Africa’

 5.00 – 6.00: Keynote   

Alison Donnell (Reading),

Caribbean Queer: Impossibility or Inevitability

*******

The symposium is supported by the

AHRC, BIGS & the Department of English & Humanities, Birkbeck

Contact: h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk                                               

25 Feb. 2014. ‘Play Hunger Monkey Mayhem’: Alice Herz-Sommer and Living History

Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, died on Sunday morning in London at the age of 110. Born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, she survived two years in Terezin/Theresienstadt, the infamous concentration camp were so many tens of thousand people died.

ImageAs a trained pianist, Herz-Sommer became a member of the concentration camp orchestra, performing more than a 100 concerts during her time in the camp. A documentary of her extraordinary life, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” (dir. Malcolm Clarke) has just been nominated for an Oscar. When I clicked on the video link to the documentary trailer embedded in Herz-Sommer’s obituary in The Guardian online, I was shocked to be confronted with an advert inviting me to ‘Play Hunger Monkey Mayhem’. While advertising and related finance clearly rule the media today, it is sickening to come across such a brash display of unthinking commercialism in the account of Herz-Sommer’s deeply traumatic yet always forward looking life.

I did not linger to find out what ‘Hunger Monkey Mayhem’ entails, but clearly this game is part of a twenty-first century commercial imagination that has no sense of, or need for, individual histories.

Yet Alice Herz-Sommer’s life story is one of many that have indelibly shaped the present. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the graphic account of the Holocaust survival of his father, Vladek, has shown that history is mediated by memory and feelings in ways that complicate our understanding of the affective legacies of the past. Vladek too survived Terezin/Theresienstadt, but his story differs considerably from that of Alice Herz-Sommer – not least because in Vladek’s account, the orchestra that helped sustain Alice does not exist.

In MetaMaus, the account of the making of Maus, Spiegelman records what happened when he asked his father about the camp’s orchestra: Vladek insisted that he ‘remember[s] only marching, not any orchestras’. As a result, notes Spiegelman, while he knew from his own  research that the orchestra had existed, ‘I have the orchestra being blotted out [in Maus] by the people marching because that’s all [Vladek] remembers’.

Image

From: See Art Spiegelman’s discussion in MetaMaus (2011)

Spiegelman’s ‘blotting out’ is not a denial or negation of the past but a conscious rendering of individual experience and its memory. The comics format allows him to document this process, making sure that Vladek’s narrative is told alongside – and as part of – other historical accounts of Terezin/Theresienstadt. In my own project, I am similarly trying to get a sense of a larger historical moment by focusing on the experiences and ideas of Magnus Hirschfeld and considering what they can tell us about the beginnings of a collective queer identity and politics in the early twentieth-century.

This research is as much about evaluating sources than it is about discovering new archives. For how a story is told is crucial for understanding what is said and why. The inclusion of ‘Hunger Monkey Mayhem’ in Alice Herz-Sommer’s extraordinary life story serves no useful narrative function. It is a crass reminder of the precariousness of individual lives in the grand narratives of high capitalism where human value is a monetary unit.

 

6 Feb. 2014: Nazi Laws and Public Feelings

I’m currently grappling with the question of how to attend to the relationship between law, politics and everyday lives and feelings in the past?

There now exists a considerable amount of cultural and critical scholarship on the shape and shaping of ‘public feelings‘, especially in the present-day U.S., and about what Sara Ahmed has called the Cultural Politics of Emotions. These insights, in different ways, follow in the feminist tradition of challenging the divide between the public and private, the personal and the political.

Photo-0525This article on the ‘Nazi murder law that still exists‘ indicates the importance of such modes of inquiry even as it shows that the law can provoke public feelings that do not address the full extent of systemic injustices. The broad content of the article – that some of the legislation introduced by the Nazis has never been revoked – was not new to me. However, I had previously only looked at the legal history of Paragraph 175 and its variations, which criminalised homosexuality and remained in West Germany’s Criminal Code until unification in 1994 (I’m showing a movie from 1919 about the impact of this law next week. For more info click here).

It is disturbing that  – so many years after Nazi rule has come to an end – people who are tried for murder in the German courts are still subjected to laws that were introduced by a regime which actively pursued hate, discrimination and inequality, and which killed millions of people. Stephen Evans, the author of the piece, points out the gendered effects of the Nazi murder laws, which distinguish ‘murder’ from ‘manslaughter’ via a definition of ‘the murderer’ ‘as someone who killed “treacherously” or “sneakily” (“heimtueckisch” in German):

‘This means that a man who beats his wife over many years, finally killing her, is less likely to be convicted of murder, with a mandatory life sentence, than to be convicted of manslaughter, which may mean only five years in jail. The argument is that there was nothing “sneaky” or “treacherous” about the killing – it was frontal and direct and might have been expected.’

The article gives examples of how some convictions under this law caused public outrage in Germany, but it appears that these public debates largely focused on the individual cases rather than the fact that Nazi laws remain in place in contemporary Germany.

Aside from drawing attention to the very real legacies of Nazism and its twenty-first century presence – how can a state work through its past if its institutions retain the values of an atrocious regime? – these debates also raise questions about the role of the law in historical research. In the history of same-sex sexuality, which is the concern of my current project, changes in legislation – such as the introduction of Paragraph 175 in the newly formed German Empire or the Labouchere Amendment in Britain – clearly impact on individual lives. But my work on Hirschfeld’s private papers and public work has already taught me that the relationship between legal and political developments and ‘felt experience’ is fraught. For laws, while helping to define the conditions of possibility for individual and collective existence, only ever tell part of the story of what it feels like to live at certain moments in time.

This is why, for me, the tools of literary analysis and cultural criticism are so important. As verbal and visual representations are our bridge between the imagined and the real, paying attention to the narratives that shape a historical archive provides access to the lives and feelings of the women and men who inhabit it.

Photo-0556