Cases in Point

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Queer StreetQueer Street: The Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947–1985
by James McCourt
Norton. 577 pages, $29.95

 

“I  CAN imagine a book made up entirely of examples,” wrote the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. This is the first of many quotes that James McCourt uses as a chapter heading in his new book, Queer Street, and it’s a revealing one. In Wittgenstein’s compact but monumental Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), he comes close to producing just such a book of “examples.” The Tractatus is a series of “propositions” that, especially in the beginning, reads almost like prose poetry. It’s worth thinking about Wittgenstein because he, a gay man who was arguably the 20th century’s greatest philosopher, is one of the many ghosts who haunts McCourt’s Queer Street and who seems to have inspired its uncommon, arresting structure.

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