Following a scandal, an author ponders the connection between humiliation and the desire to write.
Humiliation (Big Ideas//Small Books)
by Wayne Koestenbaum
$14.00 List Price
Among the many sources of humiliation I either learned about or was forced to relive while reading Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation (Picador, $14): having a tiny penis or any form of smallness, soiling oneself or virtually any other physical process, writing or being written about, being jealous, being cheated on, being Googled, being mistaken for the wrong gender, being Michael Jackson, electroshock therapy, impotence, hair loss, inadvertent erections in awkward circumstances, smelling like liverwurst, vomiting onstage before a musical performance, voyeuristic curiosity about death, failing to visit a dying colleague in the hospital, and being photographed after you’re dead. The list, as you see, goes on indefinitely, with humiliation pursuing us even into the afterlife.
By a happy coincidence, just as I was savoring the humiliations in Humiliation, a colossal scene of actual humiliation was playing out on the front pages: A New York congressman named Anthony Weiner had been exposed doing something exceedingly peculiar and, many felt, perverse. He didn’t simply have an affair, as per the usual politician scandal. No, this was worse: He hadn’t had an affair. Instead, he’d sent a lewd photo of himself to a college student he’d never met, then committed the fatal error of lying about it to the press and his colleagues once the photo went public (as inevitably it would). It soon emerged that he’d been exchanging raunchy texts and e-mails and dirty pictures with at least six different women, for over three years, using his own name.
The word “humiliation” became a steady