The Freak-gardeExtraordinary Bodies and Revolutionary Art in America

The Freak-gardeExtraordinary Bodies and Revolutionary Art in America

Robin Blyn

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816678167

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Abstract

Since the 1890s, American artists have employed the arts of the freak show to envision radically different ways of being. The result is a rich avant-garde tradition that critiques and challenges capitalism from within. This book traces the arts of the freak show from P. T. Barnum to Matthew Barney and demonstrates how a form of mass culture entertainment became the basis for a distinctly American avant-garde tradition. Exploring a wide range of writers, filmmakers, photographers, and artists who have appropriated the arts of the freak show, the text exposes the disturbing power of human curiosities and the desires they unleash. Through a series of incisive and often startling readings, the book reveals how such figures as Mark Twain, Djuna Barnes, Tod Browning, Lon Chaney, Nathanael West, and Diane Arbus use these desires to propose alternatives to the autonomous and repressed subject of liberal capitalism. The book explains how, rather than grounding revolutionary subjectivities in imaginary realms innocent of capitalism, freak-garde works manufacture new subjectivities by exploiting potentials inherent to capitalism.