Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hanne Blank's "Straight"

Hanne Blank spends her time thinking, learning, writing, and speaking at the crossroads of bodies, self, and culture. Joyfully spanning the town/gown divide as well as the mind/body split, her books include the histories Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (Beacon Press, 2012) and Virgin: The Untouched History (Bloomsbury, 2007), the cult classic sex and body-acceptance book Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them) (Celestial Arts, 2011), and numerous others.

Blank applied the “Page 99 Test” to Straight and reported the following:
Fortuitously, Page 99 of Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality falls smack in the middle of my discussion of how the rise of the novel fueled the rise of romantic love in the West. Since the book as a whole is a survey of how we acquired our idea of what "heterosexual" is and how it works, and romantic love is a big part of how we think about and experience "heterosexual" in our culture, this is certainly a reasonably good snapshot of at least one facet of what the book is trying to do programmatically.

It also gives a fairly decent suggestion of what the book is like historiographically. The book is organized thematically, rather than chronologically, and one of the reasons behind this is so that I can better draw parallels between similar mechanisms and patterns at different historical moments. On Page 99, I write, for instance, "Moralists typically presumed that readers, particularly young women readers, had no critical faculties whatsoever and would passively internalize the unrealistic expectations of novelistic romance with dismal results. The family resemblance between the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel and the films of Walt Disney is thus not just about content. It is also about popularity, accessibility, and reception." Quite representative of my method, that, and also of the sorts of evidence I tend to discuss as my focus in this book, which has so much to do with the workings of culture and its production of "common knowledge."
Learn more about the book and author at Hanne Blank's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History.

--Marshal Zeringue