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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 43a - On the Shelf for February 2020 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2020/02/01 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for February 2020.

While proofreading this entry before posting, I found myself thinking about the question of "what are identity categories anyway?" This also comes from the book that I was writing up an entry for last night (which won't post for quite some time), which talked a lot about the difference between "modern sexual identities" versus "pre-modern sexual tastes." Thinking from my own personal experience of "sexual identity," it sometimes feels like even "modern sexual identities" is an invented construct rather than an objective phenomenon.

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 42d - Iphis and Ianthe - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/01/25 - listen here)


Articles that are not about history, but rather are about how we think about history don't have the same "zing" and "pop" as facts-on-the-ground articles, but especially once one gets past marveling at the incoherent wealth of primary evidence that historians are presenting to us, it becomes more and more important to think about how we think. This article is the sort of general talk that is typical of opening a conference roundtable.

Given that I'm posting this last installment on Boswell's Same-Sex Unions at the same time as I'm reading and writing up Foucault's History of Sexuality, I can't help but make some comparisons between the two presentations. In both cases, the authors are presenting a specific take on a field of historic study that is susceptible of widely varied interpretations. Boswell is a historian while Foucault is a philosopher, but both purport to be dealing with historic observations and practices in their analysis.

One of the fascinating aspects of the development of (western) marriage as a socio-religious-legal structure is the extent to which it derived legitimacy from symbolic performative acts by the parties to the marriage. (Those parties might be only the two people getting married, or their families might be considered "parties to the marriage" with required actions. It depended.) If the correct set of things were said and done (with "the correct set" altering over time and by local culture) then one was married.

In chapter 4, the polemical nature of this book becomes most evident. In tracing the development of Christian attitudes toward--and forms of--marriage, Boswell’s through-line is that there is no logical way to integrate Christian approaches to heterosexual marriage with a blanket prohibition on same-sex marriage. Some of the criticism of both this book and CST&H are that both books feel too much like a supplicant begging for acceptance, thinking that if only the right logical argument were offered, Christianity would suddenly realize, “OMG, we’ve been wrong all along! We’re so sorry!

While re-reading this chapter for the blog, I had a lot of flashbacks to the period after 2008 when California (my home state) first legalized same-sex marriage, then took it away under a ballot proposition, then ruled against the results of the proposition in the state supreme court, then waited for the parallel US Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the USA. The fight isn't over--we are seeing how easy it is for rights to be eroded, roadblocked, or de facto reversed under a hostile regime.

Like Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, I read this book back when it first came out and had not yet generated the intense discussion that marked its reception. (In fact, on checking the publication information, I appear to have picked up a first edition of the original hardcover.) Looking back in the context of this re-read, two things come back to me that still hold.

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 42c - Book Appreciation with Kate Heartfield - transcript pending

(Originally aired 2020/01/18 - listen here)


Books mentioned


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