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BOOK REVIEWS would like to conclude with a brief comment which might add one further twist to an already complex argument. Singer relates to the "Formalist aesthetics" of Bell, Beardsley and others, but makes no extensive reference to the Russian Formalists, whose aesthetics revolve on the concept of "defamiliarization" or making-strange (ostranenie), coined by Victor Shklovsky. Literary language, Shkolvsky argues, does not function as a "practical" automatic and transparent vehicle of communication , but obliquely, in tortuous, attenuated ways, which disrupt our automatic, mechanical, or habitual perceptions of semantic meaning , of sound, texture, and imagery. But the aesthetic effect is profoundly ethical: "habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife, the fear of war.... And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony." Translated into Singer's terms, this formalist concept of aesthetic defamiliarization seems to tally with the call he makes for a "freeing of recognition" and narrows the gap between poetics and politics. One may speculate that it is precisely this potential of ideological subversion —rather than the ostensibly bourgeois decadent and disinterested spirit of the Formalist project—which was perceived as a potential threat by the Stalinist regime under the label of ideological deviation. If the conflation of aestheticism and aesthetics is enabled by the belief in the autonomy and perfection of the artwork and its transcendence of the world of politics, action and choice, what the Russian Formalists advocated was the very opposite of that; while aestheticism embraces the view of art as escape and thereby colludes in a form of ideological anesthesia , the Russian Formalists were looking for the moment of awakening . DAPHNA EBDINAST-VULCAN Haifa University, Israel Revising Gay Histories H. G. Cocks. Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. London: I. B. Taurus, 2003. xi + 258 pp. $59.50 Matt Cook. London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xiv + 223 pp. $65.00 ONE of the major reasons for the recent resurgence of academic interest in the fin de siècle in the last decade or so is the importance of the era to the formation of modern sexuality, and particularly same-sex identity. After Michel Foucault's polemical contention that the homosexual was created as a type of being in 1869 and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's 209 ELT 48 : 2 2005 focus on "homosexual panic" in late-Victorian literature, Queer Theory has consistently turned to the 1880s and 1890s as perhaps the crucial moment of same-sex identity construction. Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet (1990) produced an avalanche of criticism that focused on the trial and martyrdom of Oscar Wilde, the "homosexual" subtext of Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and reinvented Henry James as a polymorphously perverse writer. The exciting thing about both books under review is the extent to which their historical scholarship forces a reassessment of some of the shibboleths of the Queer Theory reading of the late-Victorian period. H. G. Cocks's Nameless Offences is much the more explicit in stating its revisionist intent. Cocks bases his book on extensive archival work in police and court records, constructing a body of nearly 1000 cases involving the arrests, committal papers, trial transcripts, press reports or prisoner petitions for men accused of indecent assault or sodomy in the nineteenth century. Cocks brings a sophisticated, critical awareness to this empirical work, since it is fraught with difficulties as "sodomitical acts" were frequently tried under very different charges, such as common assault and vagrancy, where standards of proof were lower and punishments lesser and more immediate. The body of evidence Cocks constructs leads him to a number of fascinating conclusions. He suggests that "sodomy" was not the unnameable heart of a language of evasion or concealment, but "was named openly, publicly, and repeatedly." It was not a rare, occasional charge, dealt with through spectacular trials, but was "sustained, unspectacular and even familiar" from about 1780 onwards, peaking in the 1840s when police, rather than private, prosecutions became the norm. There was no notable increase in the policing of same-sex offences in the late...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 209-214
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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