05 September 2011

Book Review: Nationalism and Sexuality

George Mosse was a German-American professor of history (Bascom Professor) at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He also taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

This was one of the first books I read in what I would consider studies in sexuality and sexual orientation. In a bend to history, I read it not because of an interest in sexuality but because someone had told me its central thesis was that institutional attempts at bowdlerization always preceded systemic fascist violence.

As I waded through Mosse's prose, much of it was confusing. I read it with Norbert Elias's Civilizing Process. Looking back, its funny how these kinds of text which are seemingly meaningless to youthful eyes could be so impactful in terms of theoretical orientation.

In essence, Mosse demonstrated in this book that understandings of sexuality constantly threatened European bourgeois sensibilities and ended up forging an alliance with nationalism that insisted on controlling sexuality as a form of proper sensibility and proper functioning of the state. Through this arrangement, controlled sexuality came to define and haunt bourgeois society's very existence.

Mosse moves deliberately and carefully through the maze of historical evidence to show how masculinity and abnormality came to characterize a set of outsiders who had to be controlled and then, eventually, sent to the death camps.

The version I read was a 232 page hardcover published by Howard Fertig (first edition) (May 1985), ISBN-13:978-0865273504. I would look for the paperback version though as it was cheaper and readily available. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com for the paperback version.

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