Three Long-Term Projects: Amends/Forgiveness, Humiliation, Friendship & Homosexuality

Three Long-Term Projects: Amends/Forgiveness, Humiliation, Friendship & Homosexuality November 16, 2015

aka my to-do list, am I right?

Anyway, this is a request for help with three possible long-term projects. Email me at if you have any thoughts.

1. What are the best novels you’ve read with depictions of attempts to make amends, or attempts to extend forgiveness? I’m looking for everything–botched attempts, ill-conceived attempts, gritted-teeth attempts, attempts that succeed beyond the penitent’s wildest dreams, attempts whose success only creates new problems, etc etc. Send me whatever comes to mind.

An overlapping but slightly different question would be, What are the best novels you’ve read with depictions of penance?

2. I’m also looking for books on humiliation. Novels, theory, whatever. I’ve read Wayne Koestenbaum’s and it was not my thing. I’m specifically interested in ways humiliation differs from other forms of pain or punishment.

3. This is the one where I suspect a lot of good work has already been done. For a long time I’ve been so struck by the fact that John Cardinal Newman is the latest figure discussed in Alan Bray’s beautiful The Friend, on the history of English same-sex friendship, and the earliest figure discussed in Frederick S. Roden’s Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture. There’s a transformation that happens there, from a discourse of friendship to a discourse of sexual desire. It even sometimes seems, if you hold this thing up to the light, that what we call “homosexuality” is what’s left when a culture retreats from its previous practices of devoted and caregiving same-sex friendship: The people who still need and seek out that stuff are the people who may also have other motives. And so the retreat from friendship creates the necessary conditions for the emergence of “the homosexual” as a type of person–thus leading to the stigmatization of devoted same-sex friendship itself.

But I realize I pretty much only know about the English and American history, and I don’t know enough about that. The “homosexuality” discourse also emerged in Germany, yes?, and maybe elsewhere?, in that same tilting, duck-or-rabbit? 19th-century era.

Also, obviously, that big paragraph above is the kind of neat summary that never really fits the historical territory. So I guess what I’m asking is, What should I read if I want to understand the ways in which that “retreat from friendship -> emergence of ‘the homosexual'” narrative is true, and the ways in which it’s false?

Again, , throw me your thoughts. THANKS….

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