Beginning with the bold claim, "There can be no culture without the transvestite," Marjorie Garber explores the nature and significance of cross-dressing and of the West's recurring fascination with it.
Vested Interests is a tour de force of cultural criticism: its investigations range across history, literature, film, photography, and popular and mass culture, from Shakespeare to Mark Twain, from Oscar Wilde to Peter Pan, from transsexual surgery and transvestite "sororities" to Madonna, Flip Wilson, Rudolph Valentino and Elvis Presley. What, Garber asks, does clothing have to do with sexuality? How do dress codes contribute to the organization of society? How is passing as a man or a woman related to racial passing? Is transvestitism a sign of homosexuality? What are the politics of drag? Why are cross-dressing rituals so commonly a part of the male power elite? How do transvestites appear--and disappear--in detective fiction? Is religious costume a kind of cross-dressing? Why is Peter Pan played by a woman?
The books fifteen chapters include "Cross-Dressing for Success," "Fetish Envy," The Chic of Araby," "Phantoms of the Opera," "Black and White TV" (on transvestitism in African-American literature and culture), Spare Parts" (on transsexual surgery, the surgical construction of gender) and "Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in Bed."
Rich in anecdote and insight, Vested Interests offers a provocative and entertaining view of our ongoing obsession with dressing up--and with the power of clothes.
From the ``transvestite theatre'' of Shakespearean England and Japan's kabuki to Peter Pan, Boy George and female Elvis impersonators, cross-dressing is a pervasive social phenomenon, claims Garber, director of Harvard's Center of Literary and Cultural Studies. She states that ``there can be no culture without the transvestite,'' who, she argues, calls attention to cultural, social or aesthetic dissonances. The weight of her thesis is carried by such figures as Liberace, Divine, Oscar Wilde and David Bowie, yet her witty, consistently provocative study demonstrates effectively how cross-dressing is wrapped up with recognition of the power of women, androgyny, responses to gay identity and anxiety over economic or cultural dislocations. Garber also looks at transsexuals, drag performances, plays and movies. Photos. (Dec.)