Empire and Underworld
Miranda Frances Spieler Harvard University Press, 2011 Library of Congress F2462.S69 2011 | Dewey Decimal 988.2
The French Revolution invented the notion of the citizen, but it also invented the noncitizen—the person whose rights were nonexistent. The South American outpost of Guiana became a depository for these outcasts of the new French citizenry, and an experimental space for the exercise of new kinds of power and violence against marginal groups.
At the start of the twentieth century, tales of “how the other half lives” experienced a surge in popularity. People looking to go slumming without leaving home turned to these narratives for spectacular revelations of the underworld and sordid details about the deviants who populated it.
In this major rethinking of American literature and culture, Scott Herring explores how a key group of authors manipulated this genre to paradoxically evade the confines of sexual identification. Queering the Underworld examines a range of writers, from Jane Addams and Willa Cather to Carl Van Vechten and Djuna Barnes, revealing how they fulfilled the conventions of slumming literature but undermined its goals, and in the process, queered the genre itself. Their work frustrated the reader’s desire for sexual knowledge, restored the inscrutability of sexual identity, and cast doubt on the value of a homosexual subculture made visible and therefore subject to official control.
Herring is persuasive and polemical in connecting these writers to ongoing debates about lesbian and gay history and politics, and Queering the Underworld will be widely read by students and scholars of literature, history, and sexuality.
When people go looking for hell, they go underground. Dante, Aeneas, and Odysseus all journeyed beneath the earth to find the underworld, a place where the dead are tortured according to their sins. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had to deal with a huge underground pit infested with demons below her high school called the Hellmouth. And when Homer Simpson ate the forbidden donut for which he’d sold his soul to the devil, he was sucked through a fiery hole in the ground. Though humans actually haven’t gone more than 7.5 miles into the earth, we associate this mysterious underground realm with darkness and death, and the depths of the earth’s interior remain an inspiration for writers and artists trying to imagine hell.
Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur uses subterranean mythology as a point of departure to explore the vast world that lies beneath our feet. Geologist Salomon Kroonenberg takes us on an expedition that begins in Dante’s Inferno and continues through Virgil, Da Vinci, Descartes, and Jules Verne. He investigates the nine circles of hell, searches a lake near Naples for the gates of hell used by Aeneas, and turns a scientific spotlight on the many myths of the underworld. He uncovers the layers of the earth’s interior one by one, describing the variety of gasses, ores, liquids, and metals that add to the immense variety of color that can be found below us. Kroonenberg views the inside of the earth as a living ecosystem whose riches we are only beginning to discover, and he warns against our thirst for natural resources exhausting the earth.
From the underground rivers and lakes that have never seen the light of day to the story of Saint Barbara—the patron saint of mineworkers—Kroonenberg’s pursuit of the geological foundations of hell is a fascinating journey to the center of the earth.