Mel Gordon’s Notes on Expressionism with 1917 clipping, Mel Gordon Collection, Box 12, Harry Ransom Center.
by MACAELLA GRAY
In 2018, The New York Times lauded historian, curator, and writer Mel Gordon as a “drama scholar of the fringe.”
At first glance, the so-called “fringe” certainly seems to find a home in the Mel Gordon Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, with materials ranging from anthologies on erotic dance to German and French adult magazines.
Mel Gordon earned his PhD at New York University in performance studies and taught popular classes on theater at UC Berkeley throughout the 1990s. Focusing on histories of 20th-century sex and eroticism, mysticism, horror, and spectacle, Gordon wrote Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin and Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920-1946—earning him a reputation as a “provocative, risqué storyteller.”
Based on his book titles alone, one can see how Gordon’s language tends to sensationalize 1920s Berlin and Paris—epochs often mythologized with tales of crazed sex and loose morals. However, at the heart of Gordon’s scholarship lies a contradiction: he challenges historical mythologies as much as he contributes to them. Gordon often questions the perceived marginality of the communities and figures he writes about, including the German silent film actress, dancer, and poet Anita Berber.