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3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  325 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Wayne Koestenbaum considers the meaning of humiliation in this eloquent work of cultural critique and personal reflection.

The lives of people both famous and obscure are filled with scarlet-letter moments when theirdirty laundry sees daylight. In these moments we not only witness the reversibility of “success,” of prominence, but also come to visceral terms with our own v
Paperback, 184 pages
Published August 2nd 2011 by Picador
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Mar 26, 2013 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-we-love
Lance Cleland (Editorial Assistant, Tin House Magazine): Maybe the subject matter just found me at the right moment, but Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation stayed with me longer than any other nonfiction piece this year. Hardly a page went by without me taking pause to write something down in my notebook. Intimate without being self-serving, Koestenbaum has taken on a subject that is increasingly part of our cultural narrative and attacked it from both personal and historical vantage points, result ...more
Nov 12, 2011 josh rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one. absolutely no one. not even my enemies.
Recommended to josh by: saw it on the shelf at the library
this was just awful... i'd give it negative stars if i could.

from a chat excerpt with a friend while i was about 20% into the book:

i find it hilarious that this is what i'm reading immediately after postman's "amusing ourselves to death"
this is written as individual paragraphs as their own "fugues" as he refers to them, without context or relation to the others, other than by the most tenuous of threads, and he keeps using obscure words unnecessarily (ex.: pilloried, traduced, sangfroid)

Mar 03, 2013 Dan added it
Shelves: 2013
this is an awful lot of fun for a book about things that aren't fun in the slightest. kind of a cross between roland barthes and john waters, veering back and forth from literature/philosophy to anecdotes about peeing your pants in elementary school. as you might imagine, some parts work better than others (i'm not sure a white guy needed to coin the phrase "jim crow gaze," for example), but there's something really approachable and forthcoming about it that evens out the rough edges.

Panio Gianopoulos
Mar 03, 2012 Panio Gianopoulos rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, intellectually playful, fearlessly self-incriminating meditation. Full of brilliant little asides and seductive meandering. And perhaps one of the best endings I've ever read.

"I'll hypothesize that, in general, identity germinates from humiliation's soil....Humiliation isn't merely the basement of a personality, or the scum pile on the stairway down. Humiliation is the earlier event that paves the way for 'self' to know it exists." - Wayne Koestenbaum
Dec 30, 2016 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays-theory
Koestenbaum's Humiliation is a reflection on shame and humiliation that takes the form of fragments (dedicated "to the daughter whose father kicked her ass at the airport on Easter Sunday" - pg. 184) divided into fugues ("I call these excursions 'fugues' not only because I want the rhetorical license offered by invoking counterpoint but because a 'fugue state' is a mentally unbalanced condition of dissociated wandering away from one's own identity" - pg. 4).
Koestenbaum's inspiration for writing
Patrick Gaughan
Aug 21, 2013 Patrick Gaughan rated it it was amazing
I was initially drawn to Koestenbaum's book because I'm drawing on similar subject matter (humiliation) and writing style (the sparse prose in vignette form) recently in my own work. The book quotes humiliated celebrities and politicians, meditating on humiliation via stardom, race, class, sex, and points to the possible land mines of humiliation present in every social interaction. He says humiliation needs three parties: a tyrant, a victim, and a witness (someone to inflict the humiliation, so ...more
Apr 12, 2016 Tosh rated it it was amazing
I don’t have many, but the few humiliations that I went through in my life I have totally erased them, except I do remember, but it’s so deep into my consciousness, it’s like a ghost thought. On the other hand, Wayne Koestenbaum faces up to his humiliations as well as pointing out other artists and public figures who experienced the terribleness of being exposed to the most fearful humiliation possible. I’m a fan of Koestenbaum’s writing, which is everywhere on the map of literature. His shot Pe ...more
Nov 06, 2011 Douglas rated it it was ok
I think this style of writing is not for me. The author believes he is doing deep reflection when it reads as just typing whatever comes to mind.

After my reading other books of simple peasants in China being paraded through town on their way to public execution. Or horrible tales of Iranian teenagers being raped, tortured by having their legs rotated 360 degrees and then killed, it's hard to feel for the examples he belabors.

Most of his anecdotes seemed taken from transitory headlines - an embar
Sep 30, 2011 SmarterLilac rated it it was ok
A lengthy, snotty, loosely constructed (read: disorganized) diatribe on the topic of humiliation. I think the author was trying to go for an experimental style, but the net effect of the 'structure' of this book read to me like the work of a clueless undergraduate too lazy to put together a coherent, meaningful discussion on this subject.
Dec 29, 2011 Alejandro rated it it was amazing


Um . . .

. . . well, this just kicked me in the nuts over and over. Beautifully written fugues on the subject of shame and humiliation--personal and public and political. It's a testament to this book that I became anxious and nauseated while reading it.
Aug 01, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Series of very short essays (that's probably not a good description of the form, but it's the closest I can come) about . . . well, you can probably figure that out from the title.

A bit dense and perhaps a little self-indulgent in spots, but interesting, especially in the last 25 pages or so.
Christina Rau
Feb 06, 2016 Christina Rau rated it did not like it
Very stream-of-consciousness style broken up into Fugues, but the Fugues didn't seem to have cohesion within. This seems like the kind of book that someone will dig with all their soul or simply will not like at all.
Anna Tatelman
Sep 21, 2011 Anna Tatelman rated it really liked it
Really gritty and frank, but simultaneously fascinating. I'm in awe of how honest this guy was able to be, and how well he managed to thread together so many different events, people, and ideas. Even when things didn't initially seem to be connecting, they always were.
Apr 25, 2012 Brad rated it liked it
I wanted to like this more than I did. I wish he'd erred on the side of his stylized prose, rather than on pop cultural references (Michael Jackson, American Idol, etc.) which will needlessly date what should've been a timeless book.
Nov 22, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
Insightful and nuanced investigation of humiliation in its numerous forms. The structure of the book really becomes addictive to read. Not for the faint of heart.
Apr 02, 2014 Meg rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 28, 2011 thewanderingjew rated it it was ok
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 f
Apr 04, 2016 Jules rated it really liked it
Shelves: humiliation
I would feel humiliated writing such a book, but one could not write a book like this without humiliation. Does this make the book good? Is humiliation ever good? We all humiliate ourselves and others, think back to moments in our lives where we felt intense shame. Our society now relishes this, with sites like FML and reality television and fail videos on YouTube; we want to see others disgraced, fallen, pathetic, embarrassed. It makes us feel better. The writer is brave to expose his most humi ...more
Kirk Johnson
Feb 08, 2016 Kirk Johnson rated it really liked it
i've given this book several false starts over the last year and finally read it through this week. it's a difficult read, not in how it's written, but in its content, which - at least for - brings up all sorts of dark passengers from the memory. written in a series of short fugues, by the end it's hard to imagine the subject being approached any other way, and this segmental approach makes the writing both bearable and powerful. some of the fugues are pure magic, written beautifully, and all of ...more
James Payne
Jul 18, 2014 James Payne rated it really liked it
After reading this book I began to see humiliation's prominence in culture in a way I had never even considered previous to this book.

Koestenbaum's stylistic choices are weirdly reminiscent of how I wrote during undergrad when I wasn't writing for class: idiosyncratically structured, associative, polemical for no reason. It's definitely the defining characteristic of the book. I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing. It must be intentional, but often feels like it was simply the easiest way
Nov 02, 2011 Matt rated it liked it
Koestenbaum's use of humiliation as a unifier of all those within the human condition (all of us) is a fine one and he's a beautiful writer of harsh lyricism. It's not an easy read due to subject matter, of course, but also because the text cycles back on itself in a bit of redundancy near the midway point. That said, it served as a harsh and necessary reminder of the ways in which we all deal humiliations throughout our day, whether we realize it or not. Koestenbaum seems to argue this is a nec ...more
Sep 05, 2012 M. rated it liked it
this book was frustrating. lots of forced connections, a lot of grandstanding and a lot of unconvincing pop psych and pop phil assertions. read a lot like ARE YOU MY MOTHER -- i wanted to like it, there's a lot to like about it, but the queasily ponderous writing style ("funny fact:" there's a website called -- gee whiz!) was obstructive, as was the lack of real wisdom. and omg so many assumptions about and projections onto unwitting bystanders.

all that said, the last fu
This is fun to read at night before sleep after a miserable, shameful day.
It's a collection of aphorisms exploring a theme, not a junior college thesis, so folks who approach it expecting it to read like a student essay are probly gonna be bummed :-(
To me, the format works well for what Koestenbaum's doing.

There are some really good bits scattered here & there.
While aspects have dated quickly, it still feels timely overall, especially in light of how our lives are now almost fully filtere
Feb 04, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it
i love this book. it's so smart and funny and he writes so well. it's basically a meditation on humiliation in which he considers stuff including abu ghraib, his virtual relationships with porn models, michael jackson, liza minelli, antonin artaud, his own humiliating anecdotes--it's sort of a perfect book actually. he meanders into shame which he sees as a subcategory of humiliation. he writes so beautifully, and uses language so precisely, is so funny, it's really hard not to love this book... ...more
May 06, 2013 Ariel rated it really liked it
I adored this book. Is it weird to adore a book called Humiliation? Wayne Koestenbaum would have answered this question with fervor as he explores humiliation's myriad facets, incarnations, and impacts to thrilling, revelatory result.

"Humiliation is worthy not because it is good, or enjoyable, or desirable; humiliation may be execrable and unendurable, but it is also genuine. And in a world that seems increasingly filled with fakeness (is this an age-old complaint against incursions of the New?)
Jaredjosephjaredjoseph harveyharveyharveyharvey
History hangs together in baffling clusters, like swollen grapes, but without beauty, and without the possibility of offering nourishment...We have an obligation to keep asking questions about experiences that are not our own, experiences that are worse than our own will ever be - or that is what we pray, we pray that our experience will never grow so catastrophic as to encompass the lowest points in recorded history.
Denise Gelberg
Jul 31, 2013 Denise Gelberg rated it liked it
A tough subject. I'm intrigued by the author's fascination with humiliation. He's a fine writer, but this is not an easy book to read. Definitely not a book for anyone feeling down, as Koestenbaum gives example after example of the types of horrible humiliation we can and do suffer. His empathy, however, for the victims of humiliation, i.e., that would be all of us at one time or another, is touching.
Victoria Weinstein
May 30, 2012 Victoria Weinstein rated it liked it
First chapters start out promising, insightful and challenging. Later chapters devolve into self-indulgent crap. Oh, Koestenbaum, how you needed an editor who wasn't in love with every one of your sentences.
Feb 01, 2012 Katie rated it liked it
Some of this is insightful and moving, other parts seem pretentious and forced. A lot of it is uncomfortable, so I guess the point is made. I did not expect this type of writing. It's kind of a series of meditations.
May 05, 2014 Maria rated it really liked it
This one is deep... I first had to get past the ugly connotations of the word "humiliation". As a study on the Human Condition, WOW... Absolutely mind blowing... My thoughts have been stretched over undiscovered territory ...
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readers advisory ...: Intelligent literature, thought provoking 1 56 Oct 19, 2011 09:28AM  
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In addition to Hotel Theory (Soft Skull, 2007), Wayne Koestenbaum has published five books of nonfiction prose: Andy Warhol, Cleavage, Jackie Under My Skin, The Queens Throat (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Double Talk. He has also published a novel, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, and five books of poetry: Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, Model Homes, The Milk of Inquiry, Rhapso ...more
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