Chagrin d’Amour: Intimacy, Shame, and the Closet in Giovanni’s Room

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This essay’s close interrogation of James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room allows us to see one aspect of how sexual shame functions: it shows how shame exposes anxiety not only about the feminizing force of homosexuality but about how it is being the object of the gaze that is feminizing – and therefore shameful. It also shows that the paradigm of the closet is not the metaphor of privacy and enclosure on one hand and openness and liberation on the other that it is commonly known to be, but instead is a site of illusory control over whether one is available to be seen and therefore humiliated by being feminized. Further, the essay reveals the paradox of denial, where one must first know the thing that is at the same time being disavowed or denied. The narrative requirements of fiction such as Giovanni’s Room demonstrate this as it requires that the narrator both know, in order to narrate, and not know something at the same time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-84
Number of pages21
JournalJames Baldwin Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Silvan Tompkins, Queer literature, Gay literature, Effeminacy, Masculinity, Freud


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