I began writing this book out of a desire to explore the extraordinary cre-
ativity and originality of gay men's contributions to modern culture at sev-
eral moments of the past century when gay identities were in particularly
volatile states of transformation. From its beginnings the project exerted a
shuttling motion that repeatedly led me back and forth between the turn of
the century and the 196os-both periods when gay lives and gay culture-
making were under especially intense pressure, equaled only by the impact
ofHIV/AIDS on us during the past two decades.
To my surprise, literary and theatrical performances of a wide range
of kinds from the early years of the century and from the sixties exhib-
ited certain consistencies and continuities as well as differences from each
other, illuminating each other in what often seemed to me to be rather
strange lights. What I saw as Nijinksy's resistance to the lethally oppres-
sive ways in which his dancing was gendered by his contemporaries helped
me understand how I could find the perversely withholding quality ofJack
Smith's performances in "underground" film of the 1960s a moving and
productive practice rather than merely a negative one. Similarly, analyzing
the highly ritualized beating scene in David Lynch's Blue Velvet made it pos-
sible for me to see how its fusion of elements of a children's game with
a performance of violent homoerotic desire between an older man and a
younger one made more salient and more comprehensible similar aspects
of E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman," Freud's essay on the uncanny,
which takes "The Sandman" as its principal text, and Henry James's "The
Pupil." By the time I came to study the art and writing ofJoseph Cornell,
his continual movement back and forth between his dual obsessions with
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