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.’

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,...

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