Humiliation is one of the books in Picador's "Big Ideas small books" series of "provocative short books inviting us to rethink our biggest ideas."
Nice idea. The books entitled Violence and Time fit well into this framework. Yes, violence and time are both pretty big ideas. Who decided that humiliation was a Big Idea? Hmm. Maybe an editor who said something like, "Wayne, write about whatever you like." Wayne Koestenbaum likes humiliation, and so it's a Big Idea.
Humiliation (the book) may be provocative, but it is nothing more than that. Koestenbaum wrote the very good "The Queen's Throat," but Humiliation reads like the sleepy self-indulgent musings of a horny voyeur with no action at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. There's some clever turns of phrase, but it's all so much ado about nothing much at all, indeed one very small idea that, at nearly 200 pages, is much too long indeed.
This review, written by a non-writer with a bad toothache, is about as intellectual and well composed as the book. This book deserves no more than that, for frankly, this kind of sloppy, snarky writing is tired. It's also tiring.
Frightening the horses has been done to death. I'm not shocked by this book, for I've read Genet, Dennis Cooper, and DeSade. Our cultural propensity for enjoying both our own and other people's public humiliation and redemption from it is an interesting topic (though is it Big?) It would have been far more interesting, however, and truly provocative, if Koestenbaum actually answered some of the questions he asked, such as why he enjoys reading the desperate pleas for sexual humiliation on Craigslist. But no, he merely observes from a distance, as if languidly exposing himself and others for their transgressions means something. It does not. He only begs the question, "Why was this book published?" and "Is this the state of intellectual inquiry in 2011?"
Lastly, Buddha's first noble truth was not humiliation. To turn Buddhism into yet another piece of evidence of the majesty or essential nature of humiliation is sheer silliness; nothing intellectual or even clever about it.
On second thought, there may be a bit of merit in this book insofar as it caused me to ask myself the questions that went unanswered. Should I amend my review? No. I can't recommend paying for Koestenbaum's lazy writing nor Picador's extensive marketing. Skim the book at a bookstore. If this topic interests you, read Genet, DeSade, Cooper, and yes, even Craiglist. I'm sure your own musings will be at least as interesting than Mr. Koestenbaum's (though John Waters will not congratulate you on them).