Nietzsche's Knights, the Third Sex, and Other Inventions

Dissertation, University of Virginia (1995)
The way a society speaks about its different groups and sub-groups determines its general behavior toward them. Discriminated minorities oftentimes suffer from humiliating descriptions, and part of their project to change societal attitudes will evolve around the attempt to redescribe themselves in terms more acceptable to them. ;Advancing from these considerations, I examine the rhetoric of the emerging discourse of homosexuality between 1880 and 1920. During this time period the homosexual was invented as a new personality type, a being almost totally determined in all of his expressions by his sexual desire. Different professions like law, medicine, sociology, psychiatry, literature, and philosophy attempted to define this novel species. And they all converged in one aspect, namely in their rhetorical attitude. The writings of people like Nietzsche, Krafft-Ebing, Proust, Symonds, Gide, and Mann share the common feature of diagnosing a vital and important difference between the homosexual person and her heterosexual fellow citizen. This rhetoric of emphasizing the dividing features between desires I call maximalism. The invention of the homosexual as a person occurred under the reign of maximalizing ways of writing. It was, however, widely disputed where exactly the relevant difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals was to be located, whether in anatomico-biological variations, in an overabundance or lack of masculine determinants, in psychological dispositions, or an exceeding portion of courage, intelligence, and creativity. Equally problematic was the valuation of this difference. But one thing was easily agreed upon: the description of the homosexual had to follow a maximalizing pattern. ;I trace this pattern from its first precursory appearance in the Marquis de Sade to its breakdown in the psychoanalytic texts by Sigmund Freud. The shattering of this mode of thinking, though, has not been final, since in some of the rhetoric of "Queer Studies" it has reemerged. Family resemblances often appear most striking when one looks back past the parents. Our contemporaries bear their grandparents' smile
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