Wayne Koestenbaum

Wayne Koestenbaum has published 12 books of poetry, criticism and fiction, including Bestselling Jewish Porn Films, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, Andy Warhol and Cleavage. His newest is Hotel Theory.

Dishevelled: Tennessee Williams

Wayne Koestenbaum, 4 October 2007

One event dominated Tennessee Williams’s life: his sister Rose’s bilateral prefrontal lobotomy, performed on 13 January 1943, two years before The Glass Menagerie, the play he forged from her condition, was first produced. He rarely mentions the lobotomy in his private notebooks, the fragmented daybooks which he kept for much of his life, and which have now been edited, with...

Rudolph Valentino, according to his first-rate biographer, Emily Leider, who has already distinguished herself by writing the definitive book on Mae West, had a ‘slightly cauliflowered’ left ear. Most photographs hide this ear, as did his protective cinematographers, so I must struggle to imagine it. If I were to write a brief memoir about my relation to Valentino or to his...

Audrey and Her Sisters

Wayne Koestenbaum, 18 September 1997

I read star biographies to find out how stars see themselves and how they see each other. Though I am interested in their behaviour, I am more interested in the curves and austerities of their cognition. Huge gulfs divide a star in daily life from a star on screen; the style in which a star executes an action (film role, household chore, errand, ambassadorial mission) is not the style in which she secretly contemplates her colleagues. Few writers have tried to describe ineffable instances of stars perceiving other stars and stars perceiving their own stardom. Such moments dominate a certain 20th century, and so it is a mistake to consider a star biography as merely the linear tale of a performing life’s progress. Rather, we may use star chronicles as springboards for philosophical investigations, however careless and impromptu, into our own sightlines.

The Pink Hotel

Wayne Koestenbaum, 3 April 1997

I began this feuilleton in a hotel room, the Hyatt Regency in Houston, Texas: a Didionesque locale. (Caryl Phillips once told me that he liked to write his books in faraway hotel rooms. I admire that. It brings to mind Janet Flanner at the Ritz and James Schuyler at the Chelsea.) Joan Didion has often noted transiency’s allure, a writer’s necessary alienation from fixed address. My favourite Didion passage of all time, from The White Album, typifies what I will call ‘hotel prose’:

Asking to Be Looked at

Wayne Koestenbaum, 25 January 1996

New York’s Guggenheim Museum contains in an annex a covert Robert Mapplethorpe gallery, a sober exhibition space which, like the masterpieces of its namesake, seems consecrated to the unusual and the mortifying. The current show – Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs of corpses, amputees and hermaphrodites – holds a grotesqueness sufficient to remind the visitor of how sweet, how antique already, the infamous Mapplethorpe images have become. At least his models were alive.’

Mimmi’s Story

Wayne Koestenbaum, 11 May 1995

I have no special love for the voice of Enrico Caruso, perhaps because it does not need me to rescue it; classic, impervious, it awaits eternity – it has already arrived at eternity – and demands no fan, no patient posthumous acolyte, to alchemise it. The Caruso voice, as his son describes it, in Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family, a story as pathetic, plodding and perverse as any I have read, is a pure column of air; without flaw, it assails low and high notes alike with plump machismo, sometimes sobbing, sometimes finishing off the breath with a punctuating snarl. When impersonating a Jew (La Juive), the voice might feign abjectness, but it is always confidently public – aimed toward the receiving phonographic horn rather than toward a frailty-seeking inward ear. Therefore I need the son’s sad tale so that I might re-imagine the Caruso voice as also bearing a freight of pathos and want; so that I might pretend to be Enrico Caruso Jr, who, learning of his father’s death, and separated from him by an ocean, listened mournfully to records of the great man, just as we now are listening to them; so that I might hear Caruso as his son heard him, and thereby reconstitute ‘Caruso’ as an erotically alienated source. This biography, by situating the legendary voice within a maelstrom of father/son desire, suggests that a proper or theoretically rewarding posture from which to audit the Caruso soundwaves is the melancholy son’s.’

Andy Paperbag: Andy Warhol

Hal Foster, 21 March 2002

In his account of late capitalism Fredric Jameson describes its cultural logic as if it were a schizophrenic – broken in language, amnesiac about history, in thrall to glossy images,...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences