I’m at the Beinecke library in New Haven, reading correspondence among many of the figures in the Lynes-Wescott-Wheeler circle. So many of the letters—in between discussions of current reading, lectures prepared, buildings designed, paintings made, etc—describe sexual encounters, letters to their lovers about other lovers. For example, a letter from architect David Leavitt to Monroe Wheeler (Sept 25, 1953) describes an encounter with ‘Mamoud’ in Beirut, describing a delicious evening in a ‘high ceilinged room overlooking a spectacular moonlit view of the Mediterranean,’ followed of course by sex. Several times. Leavitt writes: “the whole thing was Italian from beginning to end—the attitudes, the conversation, the enjoyment of sex for the sake of sex, masculine splendor unperturbed by puritanical or conventional restraints, yet full of feminine warmth and tenderness.” So many letters filled with accounts of conquests, failed and victorious, from and to current and former lovers, about past, current and future encounters…no mention of delicate feelings, jealousies, slights. Did they not exist? Just not discussed?
Ahh, but I am perhaps exaggerating, or not reading the right correspondence. Wescott, Lynes, Wheeler et al worked with Kinsey in the late 194os-early 1950s, and I’m now reading some correspondence from Wheeler to Kinsey. There’s one letter which is very graphic indeed about his threesome with R. Shaw and Bill [Miller?], which Kinsey observed (Aug 4, 1953). And in a letter of Sept 15, 1953, where he ruminates on gay marriage (he considered himself married to Monroe Wheeler—they were together for 65 years) and male sexuality. Wheeler describes younger gay men of the 1950s, and he encourages Kinsey to research the discrepancy between fantasies of domestic housekeeping and sex: “the substitutions for marriage and home life which so many homosexuals attempt, or at least keep thinking about or dreaming of—concepts so often incommensurate with actualities; ideals scarcely supported by disciplines; divided mind, not just hypocracy…it is noteworthy how the wild youngsters around us speak of it [his relationship with Wheeler] constantly, enviously…and unfulfilled romantic patterns in their lives are indicative of the same feeling—Michael’s rage to set up housekeeping with someone; Bill’s cult of Cesare (which he confides to me, because Monroe and Carey won’t hear of it); John’s postponement of almost every mature purpose until such a time as Prince Charming shall appear, with half a dozen partners or more a week quite blissfully meanwhile…
And Lynes, writing to Wheeler in 1934, is glum about what seems like utopian arrangements. He says: “I have wanted you desperately, wanted to make love to you, make love to you for hours on end….and Glen [Wheeler’s partner, and the person whom Lynes was in a ménage with], so proud and unlucky, so troubling, has announced he wants only you and Jacques [Guerin] and me. Obviously I do not want him to want you, and I dare say he cannot have Jaques. I cannot want him myself; I have tried, I even pretended,and one afternoon I even believed I did want him but I regretted it afterwards and not out of sentiment. It is no good. “
Congrats to Nick Matte, PhD candidate in History, University of Toronto. He gave a great interview on CTV news about Miss Universe contestant Jenna Talackova, who had been kicked off the contest for being a transwoman. Go, Nick!
Sitting in on a talk Ken is giving (chief acquisitions editor, Duke UP), and he offers some useful insights. To people writing academic books, including dissertation students:
Write as if you want people to actually get to the end. In a book, as opposed to a dissertation, no one actually has to read it. Back away from your evidence, and ask ‘what am I trying to convince somebody of?’ That’s key. Good examples: Said’s Orientalism and Anderson’s Imagined Communities: the second page you know what the argument is, but you are nonetheless drawn in, though pacing examples. The reader should know what the argument is.
What is it that I am arguing? That’s hard, of course. You have to take a position, and convince people. What do people need to read, in what order, to be convinced? Think of it as you have a bunch of footage: what’s the order, what’s the pacing, and how much evidence is enough? Do you really know the whole chapter on ‘Beloved?’ You almost need a screenplay treatment plotting it out. The best argument is one that goes well beyond the people who are usually interested in the topic, that offers stuff to other people besides your particular case study, etc. The argument is the meta-level thing that’s important, in his view. Narrative, good writing, and an argument is necessary.
In terms of writing, once you’ve got your evidence: start with the introduction, says Ken. It forces you to commit to what you plan to say. That’s unusual advice, but he recommends it.
Length: 200-300 pages, 4-5 chapters has been his recommendation, though now with the changes in publishing due to new media.
When approaching a publisher, start with the idea as soon as possible. Think about your version of your idea, and get that out there. Ken likes something that’s not predictable; he likes an unusual take. Here’s the topic; here’s what you’d expect; but see how it’s turned on its head. He actually likes the more interesting thing, even though predictability is what some other presses actually do want.
Duke often does 3 rounds of reviews: 1) at contract; 2) once you get that initial feedback from reviewers and send in a major revision that you may think is the last one; 3) goes back to reviewers and they usually have a final set of tweaks they want you to do.
The whole process, from first coffee/meet and greet to final book in hand can be 3-5 years in many cases. At UNC, in US history, the average time from completion of finished PhD published first book is: nine years. Really. [But of course this can be a problem, since most universities need a book for tenure.]
We’re heading to New York to meet with colleagues from the UK and the US, all of whom are part of the Affect, Photo, Politics grant. In between meetings at ICP, Aperture, and Photo VII, will visit Conde Nast archives and library, as well as visit pals Jeff and Juliet.
Am a commentor on the following this Thursday at Munk
Visual Regimes, Technologies, Genealogies
•The Aesthetics of Discrepant Globalization: Monumental Statues in Post-Liberalization India, Kajri Jain, Associate Professor, Visual Culture Studies UTM & Dept of Art
•Indian Painted Photographs through a Transnational Lens: reflections on the status of the photograph today, Deepali Dewan, Assistant Professor, Department of Fine Art; Associate Curator South Asian Art, Royal Ontario Museum
•Respondent: Elspeth Brown, Associate Professor, Department of History; Director, Centre for the Study of the United States
The Toronto Photography Seminar is currently revamping their website. For information regarding circulated readings, guest lecturers, and the forthcoming publication from Duke Press, Feeling Photography, please contact Dr. Thy Phu & Dr. Elspeth Brown.