I do not know how to give this book a number of stars...I am sure that somewhere, there is an audience for it. Certainly, it deeply affected me, although negatively, so does that make it worthy of recommendation? For me, it was two stars, I would not have picked it up had I known the content. However, for its target audience, it is probably 4 stars, since it is so complete an investigation of humiliation as to have served its purpose well.
Reading this book has become an exercise in humiliation for me. I feel like a voyeur observing the shame and bad behavior of others, and I feel as if I am expected to enjoy it. This is decidedly not my forte. I felt unable to give the last third of the book a thorough reading and instead skimmed quickly through it. Reading about the author's humiliating homosexual experiences, about Sylvia Plath's suffering, Susan Sontag's photograph in death, Holocaust survivors, Liza Minneli, Richard Nixon's fall from grace, the Guantanamo victims experience of shame, Harriet Jacobs, a former slave's degradation, misbehaving teachers and others, in positions of fame or authority, was like being forced to immerse myself into a reality TV show, watching the indignities of others against my will. Unlike the audience this book is geared to, I find I do not revel in schadenfreude or in watching the pain of others, in order to expiate my own. I am not released by reading about it, although I expect the author hoped to accomplish that, hoped that by swimming in humiliation we would become inured to it. The book is brief and I recommend it to those who enjoy reality TV and those able to find humor in situations where people are ridiculed, to those able to see and still ignore the suffering of others. I have never turned away from a friend in need, a sick relative or passed a suffering victim and been disinterested and not moved to some sort of action. If I am alone in this habit, then I will be happy to be lonely. I do not want to associate myself with that portion of the population that gets sexual and emotional satisfaction from watching the emotional or physical pain of others. We all have moments we wish never occurred but we are not, and should not be, condemned to relive them for the pleasure of others.
This may have been a cathartic memoir for the author, a highly educated and apparently brilliant persona, a graduate of Harvard and Princeton, a professor of English at Cuny, but he appears to be deeply troubled by his own past experiences, as well as the memory of others who have been humiliated, as he recalls and reviews his life in what he refers to as fugues. He has revealed most of his insecurities and oddities in this short diary-like expose. It made me worry about the influence he has on the young in college since he teaches them at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Yale School of Art.
This dissertation on humiliation may be food for thought for some; but it was not for me. I did not enjoy reading about excrement or the explanation that Jean Genet believed G-d dwelled close to the bowel. Also, Koestenbaum has exposed his typically academician's political views, as well as his sexual proclivities, in this brief quasi memoir. According to this author, it is through the art of humiliation, in its various forms, that we actually sail through life and become immune to it. In essence, it is through humiliation that we learn to live and perhaps to forgive, for he asks that we forgive the “humiliator” and the humiliated, depending on what situation we find them, for we lean in the direction of supporting the underdog, whether the victim or the victimiser, and we enjoy being voyeurs to their humiliation, ergo, the proliferation of reality TV, a veritable expose of humiliation in all its forms.