Strange Gourmets

Sophistication, Theory, and the Novel

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: September 1997

Author: Joseph Litvak

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

Theoretically sophisticated: How often has this term been used to distinguish a work of contemporary criticism, and what, exactly, does it mean? In Strange Gourmets, Joseph Litvak reclaims sophistication from its negative connotations and turns the spotlight on those who, even as they demonize sophistication, surreptitiously and extensively use it.
Though commonly thought of as a kind of worldliness at its best and an elitist snobbery at its worst, sophistication, Litvak reminds us, remains tied to its earlier, if forgotten, meaning of "perversion"—a perversion whose avatars are the homosexual and the intellectual. Proceeding with his investigations from a specifically gay academic perspective, Litvak presents thoroughly inventive readings of novels by Austen, Thackeray, and Proust, and of theoretical works by Adorno and Barthes, each text epitomizing sophistication in one of its more familiar modes. Among the issues he explores are the ways in which these texts teach sophistication, the embarrassment that sophistication causes the sophisticated, and how the class politics of sophistication are inseparable from its sexual politics. Helping gay, queer, feminist, and other provocative critics to make the most of their bad publicity, Litvak mindfully celebrates sophistication’s economy of taste and pleasure.


Strange Gourmets explores, performatively and with relish, the avowedly perverse pleasures of thinking through sophistication. . . . The subject of sophistication is explored through intimate (not just close) readings of two Austen novels, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Proust, and two critical theorists of mass culture, Adorno and Barthes. . . . What makes Strange Gourmets wonderfully queer (not just gay) criticism is the multiplicity of its identifications as well as their expeditious crossings. ‘Gay,’ ‘Jewish,’ ‘intellectual’ are not simply terminal points in a self-confirming argument about identity politics but transfer stations relaying and relating a critical mind to different bodies of writing—to the world of the novels taken as imaginary versions of our own; to Barthes, gay critic of mass culture (and passionate reader of Proust); to Adorno, Jewish critic of mass culture (and passionate reader of Proust). As one might expect, this procedure finds its fullest expression in the chapter on Marcel Proust, the gay Jewish intellectual novelist who, perhaps more than any other writer, epitomizes sophistication in its most accomplished and enviable form.” — Leland Monk, Novel

“Litvak has taken taste out of the closet and shows us why so many—especially those who consider themselves to be centered in cultural studies—do not like the taste of taste. This book is as smart as it is strangely delicious.” — Carol Mavor, author of Pleasures Taken

"One can hardly call Strange Gourmets a sophisticated book, since on the embarrassing subject of itself sophistication has always been too cool for words. No, one must call it a wildly sophisticated book, uncultivated enough, for all its fine intelligence, to speak whereof it knows. Like some brilliant chef who incorporates weeds into highly composed salads, the author means not to disown, but to parade the intimacy between sophistication (his own included) and rawer forms of taste, disgust, perversity. If his richly inventive cookery is more satisfying than sociological unmaskings that are as endless as they are futile, this is not least because, unlike them, it accords sophistication the respect owed to an appetite." — D. A. Miller


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

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