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Risposta di G. Dall'Orto

As for point 1.

''Homosexuality, a research guide'', Bibliografia di studi gay di Wayne DynesYes, Wayne Dynes was "a sort of mentor" for me, in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when nobody else, in Italy, would care about a queer kid interested in queer history. And when books about gay history were scanty, hard to find, often amateurish... and very expensive.
More than once, to locate an Italian text, I had to resort to Wayne to have photocopies sent by him from the Usa. Not to mention books he mailed me, in an age when Amazon.com did not exist yet and buying books abroad was a (costly) nightmare.
I was even his guest in his Manhattan flat for one month...

Although our political ideas did not (and still don't :-) ) match at all, we found out that our ideal of what history ought to be about matched very well.
We both thought, and think, that making history is about digging documents, and only afterwards making one's mind about their meaning to us and out society and give our interpretation.
We agreed about the fact that every new idea we had, was to be cross-checked against documents and rooted in them.
Therefore, we both strongly felt the need to collect and to make available documents, of any sort (which this site is still doing, after such a long time...).

When the twin monsters, Boswell and Social Constructionism, made their coming out at the ball to the tiny gay history scene, Wayne and me were both appalled.
Although social / historical constructionists (H.C.) love to lump together anybody who disagrees with their historical non-method, and although Boswell and me (and Wayne) disagree with them, Boswell and the rwo of us never shared the same, purported "essentialist" (as they say) bed.


To me Boswell (and the so-called "Essentialism") is but the other face of the Constructionist coin. Both are very American points of view.

Both in fact take the Urban American gay subculture of the Seventies/Eighties as the yardstick for gay human history. Anything that does not match it, cannot be called "gay" or "homosexual".

The difference between them is that while both of them feel, for instance, that gay baths are pivotal for the existence of a gay culture, they differ in this: H.C.s would say that since there were no gay baths in the past there could be no gay culture (they were no "Modern" homosexuals, such as we are - ha ha!); whereas Boswell would look for, and actually find (no matter how, he would twist documents to get it!) gay saunas in, say 13th century Paris...

Neither would even imagine that lifestyles different from the American lifestyle can exist and could have existed in the past... even without baths.
Either "it's not like in Texas, therefore it is not the real thing" or "It was always and everywhere just like in Texas". Full stop. Neither would accept that "there was (gay) life before St. Mark's baths".

Wayne and his friends who could read languages and had travelled and lived abroad, never fell in this trap. This is why I (and John Lauritsen, who was a leftist too) could get along with such a bunch of rabid anti-communists :-) as some among them were. They accepted the idea that different lifestyles could exist. And even co-exist.


Another difference between the twin monsters was in methodology. Whereas H.C. would simply skip and ignore any document that did not match their own very convolute dogmas, Boswell would read the document, then mistranslate and misquote it.

As you, I checked every single reference in his magnum opus. I ended with a huge pile of documents (something we all must be grateful to Boswell for - although his most important ones come from Bailey, which he never acknowledges - typical of him), but totally appalled from what I had found.

[By the way, you are right and I agree: Bailey writes from a very old, pre-Stonewall perspective, and sometimes he is plainly boring, but apart for this, his work is flawless and sound. Although I disagree with his interpretation about how nice the Church had always been towards gays, his was, at least, clearly an interpretation. After all, he was a campaigner. Yet his research is still sound and reliable].

Boswell made every single mistake a junior student is warned against: from quoting second hand without saying it, to translating from translations without warning (Warren even located some French translations that were the actual text for some of his "original translation" from... Greek: lacunas and mistakes matched), to "dropping" "inconvenient" words, to... name it.

My conclusion was that Boswell actually wrote the book, but that it was not him who put together the documentation, therefore he could not fully understand what he had in his hands - hence the bizarre mistakes he made. You don't expect from somebody who shows he can muster 6 or 7 languages, plus palaeography of several ages, that he can made basic mistakes we were warned against at 12. Yet he did. Which was appalling indeed: Jeckill and Hyde, perhaps?

My guess was that some very learned (and practising homosexual) Catholic theologian had collected for a whole life an enormous documentation, but he could not write himself the apologetic book he planned to write, to avoid retaliation. Therefore he handed everything to Boswell to do the risky trick.

In fact, someone who quotes a Latin inscription from the Corpus inscriptionum latinarum as "piidicarii volo" instead of "pedicare volo", is someone who simply did not read through the Corpus, but rather someone who got from someone else the exact reference number to it... and did not realise, after reading a page or two, that "ii" was nothing but "e", written the Latin cursive way.
And someone who translates Dante the way Boswell did, not only has no knowledge of Italian (although in his book he posed as he could read it), but he did not even bother to read an English commentary to Dante (after all, Dante is difficult...) to get enlightenment about it.
Boswell's treatment of Dante's Purgatorio is mere science-fiction. Any 16 year old Italian classical student could show where Boswell misunderstood what Dante was saying.
Therefore, ex uno disce omnes. After I realised how Boswell worked, I become highly sceptical. Quite as Wayne Dynes and his circle of friends had.


I just mentioned a circle. Yes, for a while, I was and I felt a part of a not so huge but very close circle of historians interested in gay history all over the world (Aids would eventually silence many among the best of them, such as Alan Bray or Michel Rey): it was Wayne who introduced me to most of them, including the sparkling Lou Crompton. There were so few of us then that for the most part we knew each other (yet from my Italian perspective, they looked like  a crowd!).

I met both the late, eccentric "Warren Johansson" (one of the most incredibly learned men I ever knew, who could master an impressive array of tongues - although he was sternly anti-communist and "shocked and awed" me with his nonsensical (to me) obsessive tirade about gay people having to demonstrate they could be as "patriotic" as heterosexual people).

John LauritsenAnd John Lauritsen, a calm, helpful, bright person, whose first book was soooo important in Italy in showing (to me, too) that yes there was a gay history indeed (it was translated twice, which did not happen to any other gay history book afterwards). To me, he was already a myth, when I first met him...

As a twenty-something person surrounded by people who behaved that way, I ended taking for granted that it was natural that gay people interested in history should share their discoveries, their documents, their skills to build up a new, shared, common knowledge where there had been none before.
We helped each other in locating new documents, to understand better and better what had happened in the past...

Of course there were also the usual feuds and quarrels and guerrillas, as always happens among very principled and very opinionated people (e.g. to me Claude Courouve was particularly unbearable: he despised Italy as a totally uninteresting place, the only interesting three places being France, France again, and a bit of Usa - yet Wayne could mysteriously get along with him: miracles happen!), but I am talking about human beings, not about saints.

While writing this, I realise how strongly "felt" are the things I am writings - yet I could not write them in another way. So I suppose I was mercurial (or lunatic?) as everybody else, then.
But it was a positive experience nevertheless, and I built and learned and discovered more in those few intense years than in the rest of my subsequent life. When I look among my old photocopies, I find out that then we even swapped microfilm prints from unpublished ancient manuscripts!


In later years I had to calm down, when one by one all the magazines where I could publish closed, or become off-limits to any non-H.C., as I was and am.
In fact, with the triumph of H.C. (I first met it at the "Among men among women" conference in Amsterdam... was it 1983? or 4?) and his scion, "Queer studies", in just a few years documents were no longer important, and those obsessed with them were completely "out". So I was "out".

Now interpretations, "discourses", commentaries based upon the same ten obscure, jargon-laden books become the only thing that counted.
The only documents that count are those produced by "Power discourses", i.e. normative and prescriptive ones: law and theology books, but no poetry, no journals, no letters, no chronicles, no real life, no nothing we had been researching about and collecting.
A new generation of historians had come, closer to mine in age, but far from me for their way of making history. After so many years, I still firmly believe that interpretation must follow research for documents, and in no case should be a substitute for it. But I belong to a minority, I know. Now interpretation, "discourses", is all that counts.
Terribly frustrating.

This is why I produced this web site. :-)

Now I adopted the same attitude Wayne taught me, towards any new young gay historian who contacts me in Italy. I wish I could be to them what he was to me. Time will say whether I succeeded or not.


Eventually, you ask for my opinion about "Lauritsen's mea culpa".
Well, I never met Boswell myself. Nor did I feel the need to write him: the documentation he offered us was great, simply great: he put us all at work for five more years. From this point of view, his book was and is a landmark.
But interpretation... well, it sucks. I had nothing to discuss about with somebody who takes a document by X (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) who says: "Someone says that so and so is not a sin but a nice thing, but I tell you it is, and it is a terrible one and a deadly one too!" and quotes it this way: "X  says: "so and so is not a sin but a nice thing".

Furthermore, I wanted to stay away from the feud that I was seeing from outside and from abroad. Giants were fighting, I was just a mere bit more than a kid, I'd better stay out from the trajectories. :-)
This is why I have nothing to tell you about Boswell, but only about the book, which is all I know about him.

Whereas I disagree with some political perspective of some of the things contained in the pamphlet you quote (guess which ones) I agree with their conclusion: Boswell work is: great job, & very poor scholarship.

[Back, to question #2]