Abstract
A number of histories of circumcision have recently been written and in them the case of A. E. Housman, along with a number of others, has acquired a certain prominence. This paper will reconsider the existing evidence regarding Housman’s circumcision and the various interpretations of it in the secondary literature before going on to examine a number of overlooked sources. While this writing around Housman’s circumcision is not without positive results, it will be suggested via a consideration of Jacques Derrida’s testimony regarding his own circumcision that the historian of sexuality needs also to contend with an inherent negativity and loss. The testimony provided by a recently uncovered poem on circumcision will prompt the suggestion that we should be wary of overemphasizing the individual example. In conclusion, the paper will argue that the problematic of Housman’s particular case has pertinence because in regard to individual experience we can only ever write around the history of circumcision.
Keywords Testimony  Secret  Derrida  A.E. Housman  History of sexuality  Samuel Elsworth Cottam
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