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"Have you read the new Leo Bersani??"
on May 5, 1999
Be warned: this is a seductive book. But, alas, it is not a very good one. No doubt many urban men interested in art and gay studies and aspiring to a certain intellectual milieu have already purchased it, and it is best kept in such circles. At most, one can say that it is compelling, provocative, but within the domain of art history, rather silly, and the arguments weak. As readers of this book will see, it has no base in history. If we want to know how Caravaggio's works were received by the culture of his time we must look elsewhere. If we want to know what was going on in his mind as he worked his canvases, we must look to diaries, documents, etc., and there are few. I would say Bersani and Dutoit's book is imaginative, creative, often-times shocking in its daring, but it is not art history. They do look closely. The strongest element of their argument is their description of the interplay of gazes, between the painted boys and the viewer, and between the figures in the pictorial realm. Their reading of the David and Goliath, and their theory of "between-ness," is interesting, but it is hard to believe that Caravaggio would have ascribed to such a way of thinking in his own time. For academic purposes, this book is best consulted for its sources cited, standards like Friedlander and Askew, and for its justifiably harsh criticism and commentary on Donald Posner's subversively homophobic article on "Caravaggio's Early Homoerotic works." But, in general, this book and its ideas are best kept on the coffee tables and peppered in the conversations of the work-a-days who meet for drinks at twilight: "Have you read the new Leo Bersani??"