William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies Harvard University
Vice Versa: Bisexualtiy and the Eroticism of Everyday Life
In this landmark study, Marjorie Garber takes a long – and long overdue – look at bisexuality. The capacity to be attracted, and attractive, to people of both sexes is something we take for granted in the famous and infamous (rock stars and other celebrities); in the unfamous we tend to ignore it or to dismiss it as a confusion or lack of self-knowledge.
Yet bisexuality shows up everywhere once we open our eyes – in our daily lives, in our childhoods, in books, movies, art, and popular culture. As part of our contemporary obsession with categories and identities, we use marriage and other institutions, homosexual as well as heterosexual, to pigeonhole sexuality. But why should we? We live long sexual lives, in the sense that between birth and death we form many intense and varied personal attachments. We tend to select few of those attachments and derive from them a label, “straight” or “gay,” for our “sexual identity.” The rest – an adolescent “crush,” for example, or the passion a favorite teacher inspired – we write off as “phases” or footnotes. But, as Garber reveals, this pruning away of our sexual lives cuts us off from many deep and important feelings.
Garber argues that erotic life is, by nature, politically incorrect and unpredictable. This unpredictability locates bisexuality not between heterosexuality and homosexuality but beyond them. Gathering evidence from art, literature, film, pop culture, advertising, science, and psychology, Garber documents how, both for cultures and for individuals, circumstance, accident, and inclination produce a rich and complicated history of emotion and experience over time.
Provocative, enlightening, and exhilarating, Vice Versa invites us to test the limits that sexual labels impose on all that we have been and might become.
“In her excellent study Vice Versa Marjorie Garber argues that bisexuality isn’t a third category but a category that undoes identity categories, and that sexuality itself is ‘a narrative that changes over time rather than a fixed identity, however complex.’ ”
– The New York Times
“Dazzling and provocative ... Garber’s playfulness with language, concepts, and scandals make this both delightfully entertaining and a formidably important work of cultural criticism. A whirling wonder of history, analysis, and wit, and a serious contribution to burning issues of sexual identity and politics.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Vice Versa is about three centuries overdue (of course, had it been published three centuries ago it would have been banned in Boston and its author tried at Salem); nevertheless, here it is: a learned, witty study of how our curious culture has managed to get everything wrong about sex. Happily, a reading of Garber could – must – set us right, as well as eliminating obesity and Rush Limbaugh.”
– Gore Vidal
“I am personally charmed by Garber’s in-gathering of ancient and modern ancestral bi’s – as quirky and amusing, often, as it is daring and self-defined.”
– Alice Walker
“Vice Versa uncovers a subject long buried deep within the closet of America’s cultural unconscious. Garber’s capacities as a cultural commentator – delivered here in funny, witty, and sexy prose – are quite dazzling. A tour de force of social criticism, Vice Versa is in itself a cultural event.”
– Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“A marvelous, witty, learned, and sexy book. Vice Versa is destined for landmark status – no one who reads its bold, persuasive argument will ever think the same way about sex.”
– Diane Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton
“Marjorie Garber’s sensationally diverting and illuminating book will significantly alter the perimeters of contemporary debate on sexual identity.”
– Wayne Koestenbaum, author of The Queen’s Throat
“Bisexuality receives its first serious treatment in years in this boldly imaginative and hugely entertaining book. Marjorie Garber challenges the bland certainties of our sexual taxonomies in an ambitious and animated study that will intoxicate with its frankness and impress with its intelligence. A spirited, engrossing, exuberant book.”
– Diana Fuss, author of Identification Papers
“This learned, yet humorous book should lay to rest any notion that our sexuality is determined by our biological equipment.”