Beginning with the bold claim, "There can be no culture without the transvestite," Marjorie Garber explores the nature and significance of cross-dressing and of the West's recurring fascination with it. Rich in anecdote and insight, Vested Interests offers a provocative and entertaining view of our ongoing obsession with dressing up--and with the power of clothes.
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Director of the Humanities Center at HarvardFrom Kirkus Reviews:
An elaborate theory by Garber (English/Harvard), insisting that the transvestite is at the elusive heart of Western culture. In a century-sweeping book, Garber applies current critical thought to the phenomenon of ``cross-dressing'' in fact and fiction, high culture and low. Arguing that gender is culturally constructed, she contends that cross-dressing challenges the binary categories of male and female as well as the concept of category itself. It signals ``cultural, social or aesthetic dissonances.'' Garber argues that critics have looked ``through,'' not ``at,'' the transvestite, failing to see what is a Freudian ``primal scene.'' Defined here again and again, the transvestite is ``the space of desire,'' ``a space of possibility,'' a ``third.'' Garber plays out her theory in detailed analyses of countless transvestite figures- -Shakespearean heroines, Tootsie, Lawrence of Arabia, M. Butterfly, Madonna, and Laurence Olivier (here portrayed at death as ``the triumphant transvestite''). There is no shortage of provocative speculation and information, some worth considering and some--like that about transvestite magazines and the politics of transsexual surgery--not. Unfortunately, the sub-flooring of French critical terms sets Garber's argument on a slippery slope ending up too often in a theoretical mire where ``the transvestite is both a signifier and that which signifies the undecidability of signification.'' A discussion of Elizabethan dress codes and costuming concludes with the typically reductive claim that ``there is no ground of Shakespeare that is not already cross-dressed.'' Also, when critical terms are rampantly applied--Elvis and Liberace, for instance, labeled, like Peter Pan, ``changeling boys''--they quickly lose impact. Bound for controversy, this study admirably attempts to cross from the academy to popular culture, but theory here acts less as a window onto cultural evolution than as a screen drawing attention its own overwrought, repetitive pattern. (Color and b&w illustrations--150--some seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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