Cultures of Darkness

Cultures of Darkness : Night Travels in the Histories of Transgression

3.97 (39 ratings by Goodreads)
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Peasants, religious heretics, witches, pirates, runaway slaves, prostitutes and pornographers, frequenters of taverns and fraternal society lodge rooms, revolutionaries, blues and jazz musicians, beats, and contemporary youth gangs--those who defied authority, choosing to live outside the defining cultural dominions of early insurgent and, later, dominant capitalism are what Bryan D. Palmer calls people of the night. These lives of opposition, or otherness, were seen by the powerful as deviant, rejecting authority, and consequently threatening to the established order.

Constructing a rich historical tapestry of example and experience spanning eight centuries, Palmer details lives of exclusion and challenge, as the "night travels" of the transgressors clash repeatedly with the powerful conventions of their times. Nights of liberation and exhilarating desire--sexual and social--are at the heart of this study. But so too are the dangers of darkness, as marginality is coerced into corners of pressured confinement, or the night is used as a cover for brutalizing terror, as was the case in Nazi Germany or the lynching of African Americans.

Making extensive use of the interdisciplinary literature of marginality found in scholarly work in history, sociology, cultural studies, literature, anthropology, and politics, Palmer takes an unflinching look at the rise and transformation of capitalism as it was lived by the dispossessed and those stamped with the mark of otherness.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 416 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 35.05mm | 907g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1583670270
  • 9781583670279
  • 753,873

Review quote

An] enthralling and important trans-historical study... Palmer's canvas is ranges from an analysis of early modern witch culture (which he connects to the later development of Puritanism) to the emergence of 19th-century semisecret fraternal orders such as the Oddfellows, the vibrant 20th-century gay male cultures of drag and sadomasochism, and the emergence of a U.S. jazz and blues culture...yet he manages to bring these diverse topics together in a cohesive and astute analysis. Integrating unusual details and artful nuances (from the specifics of 18th-century pirate executions to the links between the Rosenberg trial and the novels of Micky Spillane), Palmer creates a multilayered but seamless portrait of four centuries of Western culture. The underlying theme here is not simply that night offers the occasional transgressive respite from the orderly civilization of day, but that these alternative social, political and artistic spaces are often where the impetus for social change begins. Palmer's bold theme is sustained by his ability to communicate his in-depth, far-ranging scholarship with a broad political vision... and by his accessible and highly entertaining writing style.

-- Publishers Weekly

An unusual work of historical scholarship, a highly readable yet deeply learned history...

-- Choice

A truly breathtaking book, whose richness of interpretation as well as documentation is nothing short of remarkable.

-- Leo Panitch, Against The Current

A rare achievement, a triumph of engaged left scholarship, truly a book of our times...

-- Left History
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About Bryan D. Palmer

BRYAN D. PALMER is Professor of History at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario. He is the author of several books including Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History, Objections and Oppressions: The Histories and Politics of E.P. Thompson, and Goodyear Invades the Backcountry: The Corporate Takeover of a Rural Town.
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Rating details

39 ratings
3.97 out of 5 stars
5 31% (12)
4 44% (17)
3 18% (7)
2 8% (3)
1 0% (0)
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