Future Meetings in 2018

Contact us to join our future meetings: bristolbookclub@hotmail.co.uk

  1. January 18 Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett (We shall also new books) “““`(Bishopston Venue)
  2. February 20 Infidels by Abdellah Taia (HarboursideVenue)   We shall also arrange new dates
  3. March 20 (Bishopston Venue)

We have given birth or cloned ourselves – there is now a Gay Men’s book group in Bath. It is run by one of our long-standing members so it should be kosher

Advertisements

Comments (7)

About us

The group started off about ten years ago and has members from a mixture of ages and backgrounds. The turnout varies between six and fourteen people, though we have about forty people on  the list of members.  The books we read vary from ‘light’ to ‘heavy’, usually written either by or about gay men. Anyone is free to choose a book but they don’t necessarily have to introduce it themselves. Discussions are quite lively: we have one member (me) who loves virtually every book fairly uncritically and one who virtually savages every book (but he is quite gentle really!). We meet monthly, usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, at 7.30 for 8 in a member’s flat  on Bristol’s harbourside or at two members’ house in Birshopston and chat over a glass of wine, beer or cup of coffee. Some people turn up to every meeting; others choose which meetings to attend according to whichever book is being discussed at any given time. Either is fine Ffi: bristolbookclub@hotmail.co.uk

Leave a Comment

MY CAT YUGOSLAVIA – PAJTIM STATOVCI

MCYPeople in our group were generally glad to have read it. It has fantastic episodes and intense descriptions of one’s inner life.

Here are also some loose ends – whom is the newe lover? How did he get here?

It’s essentially an allegory about identity, love, death, sex, and facing one’s fears, demons, and their past. It goes back and forth from the point of view of son, then mother, son, then mother, and by part 2, you somewhat lose whose voice is telling the rest of the story

It takes a while to work out who everybody is and how they are related to each other.

Despite a childhood history with ophidiophobic nightmares, he buys a boa constrictor and sets it loose in his apartment. The snake takes up residence under his sofa, driving away his few human visitors, and quickly adopts strangely companionable behaviors more befitting a dog than a reptile.

Emine is brought up in a quietly conservative village near the Kosovan capital of Pristina, she was married off to a man whose name, Bajram (“celebration”), belied his fierce temper, and it has taken her decades to pluck up the courage to leave him.

In the 18th and 19th century. British writer and Albanian advocate Edith Durham wrote High Albania in 1909, and described the customs she encountered amongst the Albanians of what is now northern Albania and Kosovo. The language she used to describe Albanians then calls to mind the trope of the noble savage today: men who kill for honour and women who spend their lives in childbirth or domestic servitude.

An urgent longing for love belies Bekim’s inscrutability. We find echoes of that same longing in Emine’s girlhood reminiscences. She is a fiercely intelligent daydreamer at odds with her strict and superstitious father. In one of the novel’s most affecting passages, she realizes that the objective of her education has always been to make her a more suitable wife.

There’s too much stereotyping – no Albanian man in My Cat Yugoslavia, apart from Bekim, is anything other than a rustic bigot, and no Albanian woman is anything other than a besieged housewife. The nuance and care afforded Bekim’s character doesn’t appear to be extended to his countrymen and women. It’s clear that Statovci means to depict the closed, conservative nature of Kosovar Albanian society when he describes Emine being sexually harassed in a marketplace and Bekim’s father beating his family

It’s a literal take on ‘crushing the serpent’s head’ in Christianity, though Islam doesn’t have a serpent in its fall myth.

The snake that Bekim brings into his apartment is both foreign and fear-inducing; most of his days he spends cooped up in a terrarium, just as many of the Kosovans in Finland felt penned in at their reception centres and gawped at when they stepped outside.

The pet serpent becomes a peculiar character in its own right, its reptilian coolness and shedding of skin reflecting Bekim’s progressive loss of his own warmth. The book’s most notable animal, however, is the one in the title: an anthropomorphic talking cat named Yugoslavia, whom Bekim meets at a gay club. The cat quickly charms Bekim, despite sharing so many of the hatreds that torment him: the cat is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and as selfish and abusive as Bekim’s father. Even so—and much as his mother did, for years, with his father—Bekim caters to Yugoslavia, bringing the cat home and attending to its every need.

Is the cat really aloof or is it afraid of exposing its neediness? There is more than one cat. The first cat talks. The second cat was abandoned, uncared for, unloved in the native country until rescued and restored to health. And finally, there is the black cat in a litter, “just normal, mongrel kittens,” in the author’s words, to distinguish them from the black and white cat who speaks, and the orange cat who doesn’t. The talking cat so full of himself could be the author himself, and the follow-on cats could be those who’d suffered during the war, coming finally to the children, those ‘normal’ integrated ‘mongrels’ who’d adjusted to their new environment in their adopted country and married with locals.

These relationships are as visceral – the boa constrictor’s intimacy crushes, almost asphyxiates – as those of family and home country. War destabilises and mangles identity – “We were vagrants,” Emine says. “We were stuck between the truth and the lies. We no longer knew what was real” – and it’s in these bizarre, intense interactions with animals that the reader gets a feel for the hybrid nature of migrant life.

In his History of Albanian Literature, linguist Robert Elsie describes the Albanian literary canon as lacking in eroticism. I would argue that this has changed over the past two to three decades, as more Albanian women have begun writing about love and sex (and writing novels, period).

Year after year, Kosovo is ranked as one of the most homophobic countries in Europe, which is why we need more protagonists like Bekim to normalise queerness and forms of love divorced from domination

However, somebody knowledgeable has pointed out: Kosovar Albanian characters inexplicably use phrases that belong to the Toske dialect of Albanian, which is not spoken anywhere in Kosovo. Someone else pointed out that those who left kept their language whilst those who stayed developed it.

The author: “When I told people where I come from, instead of interest, I many times received pity.”

This (the cat) unusual relationship, Statovci told me, may represent, for Bekim, “a different kind of love” from the others he has known, “stronger and more powerful, because it has crossed borders and walls. Maybe he thinks that if he can get someone like that to give him love and acceptance, he will be O.K.,” Statovci added. “Maybe he needs to feel that it is possible for people who think in a similar way the cat thinks to see him as more than a refugee or as a gay guy—to fall in love with him.”

Statovci has long been haunted, he told me, by George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” particularly the famous line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” which Statovci called “a beautiful analogy of the world we live in.” Yugoslavia the cat may also remind readers of Behemoth, the demonic feline in Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” who mixes his devilry with charm, though Yugoslavia seems more devil than charmer. And midway through Statovci’s novel Yugoslavia becomes a regular house cat, which Bekim carries around. The novel never explains how or why a talking cat existed or what to make of his disorienting return to ordinariness. Had Bekim imagined Yugoslavia into existence out of desperation? Had something in him shattered, and Yugoslavia emerged? The feline’s shift may contain a cultural metaphor: in Finland, Statovci told me, “cats are domesticated, whereas in Kosovo they are seen as dirty.” But this only says so much. Perhaps, the novel seems to suggest, this is how a mind can break, folding in on itself, elaborate as an origami swan, until it is torn apart.

My Cat Yugoslavia is a work of fiction – from start to finish, but I do make use of some autobiographical elements

I also wanted to show the different levels of discrimination and racism and how integral and automatic it often is, with characters that are guilty of doing it and with characters that are its victims and with characters that first suffer from violence and then act in a violent fashion. Bajram, who himself has suffered from racism, ends up acting racist towards Finns and being more and more violent towards his family. Bekim’s mother, Emine, who loathes working Finnish mothers, ends up landing a job herself. The cat in Bekim’s story is ruthless towards Bekim, at first for no apparent reason, but later on starts showing symptoms of being a victim of bigotry. It’s the saddest thing ever when people who have confronted intolerance and hatred end up being intolerant and hateful, but that’s how it goes. What hatred generates and what it calls upon is hate.

I’m actually just turning in my master’s thesis on animal representations in some selected short stories of Ernest Hemingway and Franz Kafka

MCY 2Quotations:

“Gays. I don’t much like gays… How repulsive. Men’s hands don’t move through the air like that, and men don’t talk the way women talk. And men don’t wear such tight tops and wiggle their bottoms like that – like a prostitute, a whore!”

“When people on the television talked about the disputes between the Albanians and the Serbs, I didn’t bother listening; the news anchor might as well have been speaking in Chinese.” (To suggest Emine would be unaware of the roots of the Albanian-Serb conflict in Kosovo is laughable.)

He starts to use false names, like Michael and John, simply to “avoid the next question, which is, ‘Where are you from?’ ” “It’s one thing to tell someone you are Swedish, German, or English,” Bekim says, “and quite another thing to say you are Turkish or Iranian. It’s only very rarely that someone’s home country is of no significance at all.”

“I noticed the cat across the dance floor”

I had never seen anything so enchanting, so alluring. He was a perfect cat” with gleaming fur and muscular back legs.

Then the cat noticed me; he started smiling at me and I started smiling at him, then he raised his front paw to the top button of his shirt, unbuttoned it, and began walking towards me.”

I didn’t answer. He glanced quickly out of the window where the evening was beginning to darken and turn red. What if I stopped loving him or what if he could no longer bring himself to say it, or what if he fell in love with someone else or got a job on the other side of the world? Anything could happen. He could die.

…“Don’t think too much. That’s your problem.”

He moved his hand on my stomach; his fingertips felt warm and soft and his skin smelled of sliced almonds.

Then I said it too, because it would have been sheer madness not to say those words to a man like that.

only pretty and good at housework, or so I’d been told,

never heard of a single female politician, a female teacher or lawyer.

All of a sudden tanks and soldiers were filling the streets. When Albanians started being systematically removed from their jobs, from positions in hospitals and the police, and when it became impossible to study in Albanian, the situation turned desperate. There was no room in the city to breathe. The caretaker in our apartment building didn’t bother to clean the floors with Albanian residents. The bosses at Bajram’s office were sacked and Serbs were appointed in their place, and eventually Bajram too lost his job. Local authorities gave Serb-owned businesses tax cuts while general taxation for Albanians was increased. Albanians had to study in basements and private apartments, in secret, and teachers caught teaching Albanians were routinely attacked, gas grenades were thrown into civilian apartments, and innocent people were beaten up in the streets.

The air became thick and damp, heavy with the smell of burning, because it was breathed in turn by the desperate and the insane. I worried that I would wake up to find our apartment building on fire or that my children and I would be kidnapped and taken away, that we’d never see one another again. How was it even possible to experience hatred to such a degree that you altogether lost your sense of right and wrong?

When war broke out in Bosnia and we heard about the bru­talities to which the Bosnians were subjected—they were driven out of their homes, their houses were bombed, pregnant women were tortured and raped and taken to concentration camps—I wondered what was happening to this planet. At what point had humans turned into beasts that mauled one another, that held their neighbors’ heads beneath the water?

“What? What did you say about religions?” he interrupted me angrily and slammed his coffee cup on the table.

“Yes, at school the children learn about all different reli­gions,” I said warily and breathed out as calmly as I could.

Bajram hit the table with his fist so hard that coffee spilled from the cup. He stood up and walked over to me. I didn’t dare look at him because I could feel his expression without looking. It was red-hot, like a ceramic burner turned on full.

“Why have you sent our children to a Sunday school?” he asked and hauled me to my feet.

“I haven’t done that,” I tried to assure him. “In schools here they teach children about all religions.”

I tried with all my might to calm him down, to escape the ensuing conversation. “It’s part of their basic education, part of their curriculum,” I said and tried to slip free from his hand.

Bajram looked at me for a moment with that same expres­sion on his face, that bloodthirsty expression, the kind of expres­sion you see only on the face of one who is about to exact the final, ultimate revenge. He held my shoulders with both hands, moved his right arm round my neck, and began to squeeze.

The very next day Bajram marched into the children’s school and forbade the teachers to teach them about religion. Accord­ing to Bajram, the teachers had stammered in response, trying to lie to him, and said that this was an optional course about life philosophy in which the students were encouraged to think about the world and its various phenomena, including religion. At first Bajram had scoffed at them, dug his fingers into his fore­head, and shaken his head as though he had a headache. Then he asked them why he hadn’t been told about this. Its as if you’re trying to steal my children from me, he said.

When he came home he told me how he had shown them what’s what. I couldn’t understand how he seriously imagined he would be able to change their ideas of life by talking to them about Islam. On some level I admired his determination and resolve. He blindly believed in his own world and trusted that his own faith would save him from all imaginable sins for which he feared divine retribution. It wasn’t a bad way to live your life.

The following month Bajrara lost his job. He was genuinely shocked at this—despite the fact that he knew his employers had found out that he had been deviating from the prescribed syl­labus. He had been talking to the.students about Islam and told them their life philosophy classes were a pack of lies.

He had been given two options: he could either resign or he would be fired. Upon realizing the difference between the two and the implications they might have, he took the former option. After this he seemed depressed for a long time because he truly loved his job and had wanted to do it full-time, not just in the afternoons and evenings.

His employment record arrived in the post. Bajram looked at it for a while and slipped it into his desk drawer. He took it out again, read it for a moment, then put it back in the drawer. He did this so often that one day, when he had gone out for a walk, I took out the sheet of paper and read it for myself.

Employment terminated at the employee’s behest due to dis­agreement over interpretation of the school’s aims and values regarding equality.

That’s what it said.

At times it seemed as though what we saw on television couldn’t really be happening. It was a mirage, an unreal reflec­tion of unreal events. But it was all truly happening, the lives of every single one of those people had ended, and I felt like a coward for refusing to die in the conflict. We will all die one day, I thought, and there will be nothing left of us. Wouldn’t it be nobler to die back home rather than to run away? To die in battle rather than of old age?

When the news reported the events in Ratak on January is, 1999, we began to question the existence of God. What had that woman, gunned down, ever done to the Serbs? What had that child done, what had those desperate men done, men who real­ized their village was surrounded by Serb troops? And when those men saw the soldiers shooting randomly at innocent peo­ple, where was God then? Where was he? When men who had been captured were suddenly told, Run away, and when those men ran away up the hill only to be cut down halfway there, where was he? And when after this skirmish they showed video footage of an orphaned little boy weeping, what did God do with that child?

I told the woman that I didn’t particularly care for cats either, I am like my son. They are too erratic, too quiet. I said I couldn’t understand why Finnish people kept them as pets because in Kosovo the cat is considered a dirty animal.

She was convinced that this was not about a fear of actual snakes but about things the boy associated with snakes, the images and memories he had of them.

She was convinced that this was not about a fear of actual snakes but about things the boy associated with snakes, the images and memories he had of them.

Bajram showed the imam into the apartment and the imam followed him after taking off his snakeskin shoes and leaving them in the hall. His socks, the same color as his suit, were damp at the toes.

All at once my cat started hissing. It had walked to the edge of the boulder, its teeth bared, and began to hiss at something moving around in the long grass below us. The cat was lean­ing forward—it looked almost as though it might topple off the edge of the boulder. Its fur had become bristled and restless, and its sharp shoulders stood unnaturally high and its mouth opened and now looked extraordinarily large compared to the rest of its body…..The snake was plump and must have been about a yard long. It was clearly a sand viper, Vipera ammodytes, the most poisonous viper in Europe.

“Wipe it away and you’re dead, they said, wipe it and you’re dead, you fucking parasite refugee.”

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Forbidden Territory (Coto Vedado): The Memoirs of Juan Goytisolo

FT 2The author is a connoisseur of experience but not of commitment. He fantasises a lot.

In the light of current events in Catalonia, it is very relevant now. We wanted to know more about Franco’s Spain but it’s an interesting history of dissidents.

It might have been more interesting had we read some of his novels – he alludes to things and then says that he has dealt with them elsewhere, in such and such a book.

His name means “The Garden of Secrets.” At one stage, he describes himself as n extrovert but it is quite clear that his schoolboy behaviour was extremely introverted, bordering on Asperger’s Syndrome.

He one slept through a whole day, not sure whether it was 8.00 am or pm; an experience I have also had.

Spanish writers tended to censor personal failings – maybe as a result of the confessional which wipes the late clean.

The translator has done a good job at creating some evocative prose – particularly at the end of this volume. There are beautiful descriptions and he is good at putting across what a child might feel but his style is impenetrable in places. There are too many long sentences with lots of sub clauses.

Goytisolo is a ruthless critic of Spain and its upper classes and no less a ruthless critic of himself. He was struggling with the stranglehold of a family in a fallen and irrelevant aristocracy that welcomed Franco, with the emergence of his homosexuality in a culture rigidly opposed to any sign of it, to the censorship of books that were his lifeline to becoming a writer, to bad Argentine translations of American literature — so many things that say so much about Spain during that period.

He recalls a childhood that included the Civil War when his mother travelling into Barcelona and was killed by bombs from an air raid. Was it this blow or a combination of it and being molested by his grandfather that gave him such an entrenched feeling of not belonging? He shook off the influence of religion and Franco early on and eventually emigrated to France to write. He was a communist in spirit but never fully a member, became a long-time lover of a French woman despite knowing of his own latent homosexuality. Only in his 30s does he reconcile his sexuality and find a certain peace within himself.

It is in some sense very clinical, and the sense that Goytisolo may be a clinician studying Goytisolo, is emphasized by the occasional switching of tenses. Sometimes he speaks of Goytisolo in the third person, more often the second (addressing the actions of a “you” which is actually himself). In some passages this appears to be done as a way of taking a certain amount of distance from personal ownership of actions.

He deals with the complications and micropolitics surrounding the doomed journal Libération and those concerned with getting the records straight, family, relationships, consciousness-raising, and sexuality.

In 1963, Goytisolo was cited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as the Spanish author most translated into various languages, second only to Miguel Lopez de Cervantes. Some consider De Biedma to be a worthy heir to Federico Garcia Lorca. His new approach to writing poetry, influenced by T.S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, made him bridge the gap between the old Romanticist Spanish writers and the post-Franco avant-garde movement called the Movida, which he prefigured.

It is said that Goytisolo’s theme is moral decay and in a powerfully violent prose he conveys his belief that literature should be committed to social progress. Kessel Schwartz describes him: “A disoriented victim of his own idealism …, he denounces with nightmarish intensity the system which falls so much short of the impossible paradise he once visualized….”

FTQuotations:

spinster, who looked like a guardsman according to Leopoldo, surrounded by a small band of curates and canons. They accompanied her in her life of leisure and benefited from her generous charity. In decorative lapdog role, they would come to her society gatherings, her an arm when she crossed the street and obsequiously hold her sunshade. In this way, Uncle jokingly concluded, these pious leeches inherited all her wealth when she died.

A much-handled copy of a Prayers to St. Joseph, which I just happen to have with me as I write these lines, meticulously gathers er a series of miracles in which Divine Justice fulminates indiscrimi­nately against freethinkers, blasphemers, trade unionists, Repub­licans, masturbators, and enemies of the Pope: “In one town there was an ple of Heaven taking revenge. At about midday the priest was taking holy Communion to a sick man. After leaving the church he walked in front of an inn where there were three men seated at a table. Two got up and took their hats off as they saw the most holy sacrament. The third man, rather than imitating them, began to mock them, and, as an example of his courage and wit, he blasphemed horribly against Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Hardly had the wretched man uttered his blasphemy than he fell unconscious to the ground in the presence of his terrified companions. A doctor was called, so was the parish priest, but all to no avail: on three separate occasions the priest came to confess the dying man, but always in vain. That blasphemy was his last word on earth. He shook with horrible convulsions for ten hours; delirious, he cut his tongue with his own teeth and then expired. … Another individual who was very fond of reading immoral newspapers saw his daughter, dressed in white about to go to a neighboring village where the bishop was administering the sacrament of Confirmation; flew into such a rage that he tore off her veil, snatched away the bouquet she was carrying and shut her up in a room. After a few days a wild horse ran through the village without hurting anyone, went in the thoughtless father’s house, knocked him down, and stamped on him till he was dead.”

While the idea of the family has for years ceased to have any meaning for me, the strangeness of our surname and a purely atavistic reflex action can explain my mania for consulting the telephone directories of the cities I visit in the vague hope of happening upon a remote member of the clan. However, except for Mexico City and New York, I have never discovered any trace of distant relatives by this means.

My unhappy contribution to his second death fills me today with sadness and embarrassment. Little, very little, survives of the work of this rebel thrust by an untimely birth into a society traditionally hard on dissidents and whose harsh therapy in times of crisis would find an unfortunate complicity within the heart of his own family. His Notes poetiques, subtitled Poesia is llibertad, printed at the beginning of the century, have never reached my hands and I know nothing about them apart from the odd passing reference by his nephew, my mother’s first cousin, Professor Josep Calsamiglia. In spite of that, the few details I have to construct his history and character convert him into one of the few ancestors with whom I feel affinity and a moral closeness beyond the fortuitous, uncertain ties of blood, an affinity stained in his case with remorse and melancholy. The writing destroyed and torn to shreds by me as a child has perhaps unconsciously infected me and insi­diously emerged in all I have written and write. Whether true or not, the idea of that possible transmigration consoles me for my unredeemable action, which it transforms into a rebirth if not a gentle form of afterlife.

How could the second, hidden existence have tolerated the pedestrian, mediocre life of the first? The compromise between the two must have been real, since I can see nothing to indicate that she endured marriage and domestic life as an annoying burden. She had probably fashioned for herself an inner, spiritual life where she could take refuge through writing and reading. My father and the rest of us were no doubt the pillar of her life: but it was a life with its hiding places, havens for rest and meditation, pleasant, protective shade.

a priest came in civilian dress and, before celebrating mass and giving communion to the adults, he called me to his side and said he wished to hear me confess. Although I followed to the letter his instructions and searched out, bewildered and confused, anything that might give cause for reproach, I never conceived the idea of establishing a connection between that act and the nebulous notion of sin. I evoked or invented some theft or fib and received absolution from that man without feeling any emotion.

Ar times, with the help of the very few photos of the period, I have to reconstruct our busy day-to-day existence in those first squalid months. My brothers and I unfailingly appear badly dressed—I’m wearing castoffs—with my hair cut almost to nothing, dirty knees, in my shoes, a strange mixture of orphan and street urchin. Our status was confusing because of its ambiguous, imprecise character: were surrounded by pupils from bourgeois families but the experience, manners, and clothing of everyone else were clearly different from ours. Viladrau period—with the rather wild freedom we had got used to, a ferocious fondness for reading, a liking for solitary life, self-taught its—separated and would always separate me from the rest of my friends. Although the school life we were entering tended toward uni­formity and discipline, the centrifugal attraction of our tribal existence was more forceful and won out in the end.

I already felt the true harshness of life: their childishness, sociability, affected ways were totally incompatible with my love of solitude and wading contracted in Viladrau. Except for geography and history, in which I immediately shone to the point of correcting my teachers, at least mentally, my marks were usually average. At recess, I would retreat to some corner or hidden spot with a novel or an illustrated geography book. Efforts to make me play football always failed miserably. In the annual psychopedagogical reports they made to parents, the fathers would anxiously emphasize my isolation, lack of enthusiasm for games, disin­terest in my classmates, my furtive reading. My odd appearance, reserved character, and surliness did not help to integrate me into the class Referring to the excessively long sleeves of a jacket that was already quite old, one of these elegant, refined boys had remarked sarcastically: “You’re so young, are you already inheriting?” This comment left me with a feeling of humiliation and helplessness and intensified my misanthropy. The childish hobbies of my schoolmates, their social code, which I did not share, brought me back to my personal world: the house in Pablo Alcover,

a victim of my own timid, antisocial ways, I ingenuously sought out opportunities to astonish others with sudden demonstrations of largesse or daring. My grandmother used to leave her purse in her room while we were eating, and I would use any pretext to leave the table and casually pinch her money: first, five peseta notes; then, twenty-five peseta notes—a big amount in those days. With the fruit of my thefts, I used to walk up Calle Mayor in Sarria and go to the sweetshop that still belongs, I believe, to the Catalan poet I most admire today, the surrealist J.V. Foix. There, my grandmother’s notes were exchanged for big bags of sweets, which, once at school, I gave out condescendingly to my peers. This lavish generosity—highlighted by the fact that my own lack of pleasure in sweets kept me, scornfully, on the edge of the subsequent scramble—earned me interest and friends and flattered my feelings of vanity and revenge.

Any revelation of my religious agnosticism, Marxist ideas, sexual behavior would have been an unbearable blow to him. It would have been gratuitously cruel to lead the conversation around to any of these topics. Condemned to dis­simulation, I remained emotionally distanced from him, not worrying too much about his sad, frustrated life, mentally prepared for the time when t would disappear completely. Only after he was dead, after the unexpected meeting with him, alive, real, almost flesh and blood, the night I delirious after taking too much majoon, could I judge him more objectively.

One night, when the whole house was in darkness, I had a visitor. Grandfather, wearing his long white nightshirt, came up to the head of my bed and made himself comfortable on the edge. In a voice that was almost a whisper, he said he was going to tell me a story, but began straightaway to tickle me and cover me with kisses. I was surprised by this sudden apparition and above all by its furtive character. “Let’s play,”

Grandfather would say and, after putting out the bedside lamp by which I sometimes read before falling asleep, and which I had switched on upon hearing his footsteps, he stretched out by my side on the bed and gently slipped his hand down my pajamas until he touched my penis. His touch was upsetting but I was paralyzed by fear and confusion. I felt Grandfather leaning over my lap, first his fingers and then his lips, the viscous trickle of his saliva. When after several unending minutes he seemed to calm down and sat down again on the edge of the bed, my heart beat rapidly. What was the meaning of all this playing around? Why did he make a kind of groaning sound after fingering me? I had no answers and while the unwelcome visitor tiptoed back to the adjacent room where Grandmother was sleeping, I lay there for a while sunk in a state of anxious confusion.

The incident with grandfather and the reaction it aroused in the family certainly had a traumatic effect upon me. My father’s visceral hatred of homosexuals—Grandfather provided the nearest loathsome example—sometimes reached morbid extremes. He once related with great satis­faction to Jose Agustin—who wasted no time in repeating to me—that Mussolini ordered the summary execution of “all queers.” Although at that time I had not the slightest idea about my future sexuality, the news, rather than exciting me, filled me with unease. Of course, I thought that Grandfather’s behavior toward me was reprehensible; but  his punishment, cheerfully trumpeted around the house, awoke my sense of injustice and earned my condemnation. Mussolini’s crude therapy must have been mentioned by my father, just as a simple piece of information, in the presence of my grandfather, who accepted it without protest—as usual. His submission to other people’s judgments, his passive acceptance of his pariah state as natural, his inability to react against the attacks he continuously suffered much later provoked in me tremendous pity for him. His compulsive pederasty, shamefully hidden for decades, had been lived out as a secret tragedy: a vice condemned by the religion he believed in and the society that surrounded him Since he did not have the moral temper necessary to control it, he had no choice but to offer his head to the executioner’s axe each time he had the misfortune to give in to it and was then exposed to public pillorying. The memory of this self-contempt resulting from the scorn of others, of the shame that was accepted and transmuted into inner guilt, weighed very heavily in my decision to affirm my destiny whatever the cost, and to set everything out clearly for myself and others. When Monique published her first novel, entitled Les poissons-chats—a work that describes the love of the heroine for a homosexual—Grandfather Ricardo read it, two or three years before he died, and was terribly shocked. Luis told me how he had explained in tears that the passions explored in the book were a hateful sin, that he had suffered from them throughout his life, and that whenever he yielded to them he had most deeply offended God. The idea that I might follow in his tracks, that I too might resign myself to a miserable, broken existence was the best antidote for my doubts and hesitations when, not entirely surprisingly, I found myself in the con­tradictory position of enjoying an intense emotional relationship with Monique and discovering the physical happiness I had not felt till then with a Moroccan construction worker living temporarily in France. With wise timing, death saved my father from this final cruel blow: the rea­lization of his secret fears, perhaps his darkest forebodings, had finally been expressed in me.

My sister used to buy the film magazines of the time and to ‘d the tiresome, annoying business of describing characters, I got the of cutting out photos from them and sticking them on the pages of my exercise book with simple captions indicating their identities. This vice—the discovery and use of which would no doubt have modified the novelistic art of such conscientious authors with an eye for detail as Balzac and Galdos—allowed me to get on with the ins-and-outs of the exploration of the Amazon, which I was describing, without worrying about useless character sketches or tedious particulars. I was a most pre­cocious author of photo-novels and was also pioneering a way into that soon-to-be-fashionable world of behaviorist narrative. No commentaries or digressions—straight to the point! With a similar facility and enthusiasm, I wrote a sentimental novel about Joan of Arc and introduced some anachronisms into it. I am unsure if they were unconscious or not but they would now no doubt be greeted by the most prominent critics as examples of a daring, outspoken desire to innovate: rather than die on Bishop Cauchon’s bonfire, she died on Robespierre’s guillotine after a dramatic confrontation with him I have a much vaguer memory of my other fifteen­year-old creations: I think there was one about the French Resistance to the Nazis, another with new scenes in the life of Kit Carson, in an episode of my own making. The films shown in the two Sarria cinemas that I visited regularly with Luis were a source of second-rate ideas, characters, and settings for the proliferation of plots. Fortunately any notion of originality and plagiarism was not yet part of my personal literary baggage.

Not one of my teachers or masters played a role in the development of the literary tastes I have just mentioned. My reading evolved exclusively within the family, without the slightest connection with what they taught or tried to teach us at school. The idea of giving us texts of the classics to read rather than stuffing our heads with dates of births and deaths and the titles of their many works had not yet even penetrated the brains of the ignorant, small-minded priests in charge of our literature classes. The only book that deserved the honor of being read in class throughout my secondary school life was a volume of Father Coloma’s stories, in my last year with the Jesuits. We didn’t even get that at the Bonanova school: the good brothers of the Christian Doctrine referred body and soul to the learned critical judgments and proven knowledge in the subject of Guillermo Diaz Plaja. Considering the educational system we suffered, it is not surprising that my love and interest in literature derived from other sources: first, Uncle Luis’s advice and then my mother’s library. Self-taught like almost all the men and women of my generation, my culture, which was tentatively shaped, would for a long time retain the mark of the prejudices, gaps, and insufficiencies of barren, sunbaked Spain choked by the censorship and rigors of oppressive regime. It is very significant that the books I would soon upon would be almost without exception by foreign authors. I read novels that I devoured between eighteen and twenty-five either in French or in the second-rate translations that were smuggled in from Buenos Aires.

When I began to masturbate at the onset of puberty, the incredible new pleasure casually discovered on a summer’s day became one of the centers,’ if not the epicenter, of my life. This potential for enjoyment sited in my body overwhelmed at once, with raw strength, the religious or moral speeches that stigmatized it. In bed, in the bath, at Torrentb6, I regularly surrendered to respect for a material law that, for the space of a few seconds, confirmed me in my isolated, private existence, my irreducible separation from the rest of the world. However, I do not mean that traditional Catholic doctrine on sex, which was drummed into us in classrooms, confessionals, pulpits, religious manuals, made no impression on me. The idea of sin—of mortal sin with its hair-raising consequences—tortured me for several years. Dozens of times, kneeling opposite one of the local parish or church priests, I confessed my guilt and tried to reform myself. I knew full well that hours or days later that vital source of energy bursting out of me would impose its law and would imperiously destroy the fragile framework of precepts that condemned it in vain. Aware of this I escaped the reproaches of the same confessor or spiritual director by regularly changing my church and confessional in a kind of hide-and-seek, the absurdity of which was only too obvious.

It is only the content of books that attracts me, they are an object for immediate consumption: once read they get in my way and I’m happy to get rid of them provided I can buy them again whenever I may need them.

I feared, quite rightly, that wretched time in the lecture theatres might make me hate what I made for, the precious field of my future vocation and inclinations.

As bitter as crab apple: that’s how the boy defines his own region, the boy who, lying on the sand next to you, vaguely flourishes his arm toward the harsh, burnt countryside, the beach blurred by the mist, the plain, white town sunk in the lethargic depths of the siesta: ravaged, bloodless land, abandoned mines, ruined chimneys, blackish profusion of stag: evidence of past euphoria aggravating the unwelcoming impression of poverty: horizontal lives, yawning caves, calcareous desolation, ancestral stubbornness: women in mourning, prematurely worn out, laden with pitchers next to the freshet: sleepwalking peasants, strings of mules, sad, silent men peacefully sheltering under a sunshade: no change nor likelihood of change: solitude, repetition, monotony, desire to escape, to throw the dust off the soles of their shoes: emigration to Madrid, Barcelona, France, wherever: the price of a bus ticket and a suitcase with their only inheritance: their brutal life-sentence and also their hope.

A drowsy, decrepit, colonial city: police dressed in drill and wearing white tropical hats: horse-drawn carriages sway indolently: the marketplace bustles pro­miscuously: the Hotel Simon with its ancient rooms.

Discovery of rhythms, smells, voices, sweet apprenticeship in idleness: tentative exploration of the urban scene, horror and fascination intermingle, inner civil war, insoluble contradiction: plurality, alternating current: creative, spermal spark, product of a simultaneous collision: an exercise in ecstatic contemplation of a world that in another way wounds your defenseless moral sensibility.

The harsh, guttural or singsong accent of the south, through which your love for your language will perhaps mysteriously be filtered: territory conquered inch by inch, listening to the dull tones of resignation and poverty, gradual dual appre­hension of a possible belonging and of the uncertain, chance nature of the doubtful identity granted to you.

Your indifference to Spain—that incomplete, fragmentary entity, which is sometimes obtuse and pigheaded, at other times brutal and tyrannical—in whose negligent bosom you have grown, will suffer the impact of the brief fruitful trip through the region of Almeria: to your youthful tiredness with the pobre, brut, trist, dissortat native town beautifully evoked by Espriu, and to the dreams of escaping to some place in the north where the people are neta i noble, culta, rica, lliure, desvetllada i felic will be counterposed henceforth to the image of a radiant, captive landscape whose power of attraction will divert your compass and draw it toward the tormented configuration of its tracks, hills, and steppes: your first holidays with Monique, on the eve of your journey to Paris, will thus be cause for an unforeseen, fertile combination: source and subject of nostalgia, compensatory vision of a frustrated homeland, glimpse, hint, forerunner of a world that is still fantastic but already present in your mind, silent, near, lying in wait for you.

You can download it from here

See also

Return to the home page

 

Comments (1)

Realms of Strife (En los Reinos de Taifa): The Memoirs of Juan Goytisolo

FT 3For Spain to join the EU, despite the latter being a capitalist club, would be a socialist move in that trade union would have to be recognised.

A lot of it is tedious name-dropping, with the exception of the long section on Genet.

The subtitle misleadingly suggest that the memoirs cover the period 1957 to 1982 in Goytisolo’s life. In fact, this volume deals almost solely with the 1960s and early 1970s, only briefly touching on later times.

Goytisolo’s approach is also different from that in Forbidden Territory. Neatly divided into longer chapters (seven of them), Goytisolo offers chunks of his life, focussing around specific events and people.

Living mainly in Paris with long-time companion Monique, Goytisolo achieved quick critical success with his first novel. Though Goytisolo mentions his books at various points, in particular to point out what life-experiences later influenced his work, he writes surprisingly little about the success and reaction to the various books, acknowledging only that his first book was the only one that was practically universally acclaimed. He is surprised by his initial success — which was indeed fairly impressive: My name appeared after Cervantes in the list of most-translated Spanish writers published under the auspices of UNESCO in an annual survey of world literary activity relating to 1963.

He acknowledges that “The phenomenon entirely omitted specific literary factors: it developed exclusively from the world of publishing.” Nevertheless, it made him a man of note in the literary world in which he then moved.

Much of Goytisolo’s early time in Paris was centred around the French publishing house, Gallimard, where Monique worked and where he also was involved in finding Spanish authors and books to translate. Goytisolo moved in illustrious literary circles, including Sartre and de Beauvoir.

Trips abroad to Cuba and later the Soviet Union are among the more significant events offered. Goytisolo remained a soft sort of Marxist, critical but supportive. He had disappointments in Cuba, but seemed genuinely taken by the Soviet Union.

Politics play a large role. One longer section on the troubles surrounding the magazine Libre may be of literary-historical interest but, to those not familiar with Spanish and Latin American literary and political concerns around 1970 and the petty (and not so petty) infighting among the various characters, it is largely baffling and boring.

Goytisolo also continues to move towards acknowledging his sexual inclinations. He and Monique (and her daughter) live together as a nice little family, but Goytisolo finds that he is irresistibly drawn to a certain type of young Arab male. He finally admits his yearnings (and that he acted on them) to Monique in a letter, most of which he prints here verbatim. Monique isn’t too shocked and they continued to live happily together, finally getting married in 1978, fourteen years after he revealed his secret lustings. (Goytisolo explains a lot regarding his sexual preferences, but it does not seem quite enough.)

There is a fair amount of introspection — especially regarding sexual preferences, but also about having children (Goytisolo adamantly refuses to have any), and his own stature and place as a writer. Though not necessarily honest, Goytisolo is certainly brutally frank, especially towards himself.

Goytisolo’s adventures in what he calls the ” Sotadic zone,” or the world of macho Arabs who swing both ways. The term seems top have been coined by Richard Burton, who asserted that there exists a geographic zone in which homosexuality (referred to by Burton as “pederasty”, at the time a synonym) is prevalent and celebrated among the indigenous inhabitants. The name derives from Sotades, a 3rd-century BC Greek poet who was the chief representative of a group of writers of obscene, and sometimes pederastic, satirical poetry.

Realms of Strife is an interesting document, though it lacks the power of the first volume of his memoirs. The shifting foci makes for a more episodic read. The details are good and well-presented, but they do not fit together to provide the big picture. Gaps remain.

Quotations:

As far as I am concerned, the mismatch between life and writing was not resolved till some years later, when hand-to-hand combat with the latter, the exploration of new areas of expression and conquest of sub­jective authenticity, gradually integrated the former in a universe of text: the world conceived as a book ceaselessly written and rewritten, rebel­liousness, struggle, excitement fused in life and script as I was consumed by the delights, white heat, torments of the composition of Don Julian.

Seven months later I embarked with Monique on the visit to Almeria, postponed because of Octavio Pellissa’s arrest; we left her daughter in the Valencian village of Beniarjo and paid a return visit to our friends in the pension Zamora in Garrucha. In – a small four-horsepower Renault we drove round the villages and communities of the area: Huercal Overa, Cuevas de Almanzora, Mojacar, Palomares, and Villaricos. Monique was deeply impressed by the forlorn poverty we saw: she did not share the personal motivation nor secret affinities which drew me to that land, and she was horrified by the idea of vacationing, sunbathing, enjoying life with the reptilian indifference of a Swedish blonde in a landscape that was luminous and beautiful while harsh and poverty stricken. That was the starting point for our frequent discussions of the subject: Monique would reproach me from then on for my aesthetic fascination for places, regions, and landscapes where living conditions inevitably offended anyone with a minimum of social awareness. I was more hardened than she to the spectacle of poverty and strangely attracted by human qualities and fea­tures that have been inexorably swept away by the leveling commercia­lization of progress: my attitude was indeed ambiguous

The attacks directed at a writer are very often the proof that his work exists, that it wounds the moral or aesthetic convictions of the reader-critic and, subsequently, they provoke his reaction: in short, they enter a dynamic relationship with him: you yourself see them usually as a paying of respects and, fortunately, there is no lack of professional swashbucklers: an innovative work stirs up a defensive response from those who feel threatened or under attack from its power or novelty: the phenomenon is as real today as in the day of Gongora.

The novel that avoids the easy well-trodden paths inevitably creates a tension, collides against the unformulated expectations of readers: the latter are suddenly faced with a code they are not used to, and this code poses a challenge: if that is accepted and the reader penetrates the meaning of the new artistic system, the victorious hand-to-hand combat-with the text is itself the prize: the reader’s active enjoyment.

If your books were one day welcomed with unanimous praise, that would show they had become harmless, facile, and anodyne, very quickly they would have lost their power to repel and their vitality.

an unsettling sense of alienation and detachment in respect to our milieu: a furtive awareness of being an impostor, a result of not matching up to the role you were playing; the tedium of nighttime living, only tolerable thanks to the use and abuse of alcohol. My recent political disappoint­ments and the bitter certainty that I had created a work that had perhaps satisfied my civic responsibilities but fell totally outside that dense, purifying, initiatory zone forged by literature was now joined by the sudden realization of my homosexuality and the distressing clandestine nature of relationships, which I will describe later. The combined essence of all this could be summed up in one word: weariness. Weariness with the bustle of literary publishing,- political militancy, functional writing, my ambiguous image and usurped respectability. So I felt more and more sharply and clearly the need to concentrate my physical, intellectual, and emotional energies in those areas I deemed vital and to throw all else overboard.

Journal du voleur, which a friend had lent me two years before on my first brief stay in Paris. The reading of that book had an enormous moral and literary effect on me. The author’s strange, per­sonal, fascinating style accompanied an introduction to a world totally unknown to me; something I had sensed darkly from adolescence but that my upbringing and prejudices had prevented me from verifying. I can remember the person who gave me the grubby copy of the work once pointing out an individual in his thirties, looking defiant and insolent, heading for the cafe terrace exactly, opposite ours—it was called and I think it’s still called La Pergola, next to the Mabillon metro station—and muttering knowingly: “That’s Genet’s friend.” Days later, when I returned the book, he asked me whether I had masturbated as I read it. I said I hadn’t, and he looked taken aback, a mixture of disappointment and incredulity. He said, “I did dozens of times. Every time I read it, I jerk myself off.”

I have never liked this kind of confidence and I cut short the con­versation. As Genet told me years afterwards, he found nothing more irritating than the inopportune homage to the pornographic virtues of his work: he gave no credit to the opinion of homosexuals and appreciated only the praise of those outside the ghetto described by him, who took his novels for what they were, that is, an autonomous world, a language, a voice. As for the so-called friend singled out by my initiator into the novels, it must have been Java or Rene, considering the date. “But neither of them used to go around Saint-Germain-des-Pres,” Genet observed when I mentioned the incident to him, “both of them were pimping in Montmartre or robbing queers in lavatories or in the Bois de Boulogne.

on social inequality a very similar role in the interplay of the complementary and opposites to that normally played by difference of sex, would later deepen, become sexual, as it reached out and went beyond the limits of my language and culture into the incandescent brilliance of Sir Richard Burton’s Sotadic Zone. But at that stage it represented only a strange trait perceived by some third person as a whim or eccentricity.

Monique was passionately drawn to the world of masculine friendships: to the extent that she did not feel rejected, she was attracted by my ambiguity. On the beach at Peiliscola she had once seen me tipsily caress or let myself be caressed by one of our fisherman-friends who had stretched out next to me by the side of the boats, and the spectacle really stirred her up: it didn’t go any further and I made love to her in the hotel—still smelling of him, she said—while my friends drank and dived in darkness, drunk and naked. The Sunday meals in Rueil-Malmaison went on for some months: once or twice, in response to our friends’ invitations, we invited them to the rue Poissonniere. Monique’s diary for 2 December 1956 pinpoints a detail: seventeen Spaniards in the house! Vicenta and Antonio prepared paella for everybody, and the banquet went on till very late, much to the excitement and happiness of Carole, spoiled and entertained by those nostalgic expatriates separated from wives and children.

Along with this chance invasion by Jose’s worker-friends began another, slower, more furtive, and interstitial: Vicenta’s brothers, sisters, and relatives gradually disembarked in Paris, appearing at our flat with their bags and big old suitcases. We had to help find them jobs and accommodations and, through Jadraque and Monique’s friends, we managed to salvage some of them. The fresh migrants from Beniarjo trundled leisurely along from the rue Poissonniere to the Piles bar and from there to the vast pavements of the rue de la Pompe. Sometimes, Vicenta extended the sphere of her recommendations to other villages in the region: the girl dressed in mourning who came to our flat asking after her, she’s from Benifla, Vicenta said, but she’s a good soul. After a time, we had combed the entire field of our friends and acquaintances, and closed down our free employment agency with a feeling of relief. The untimely appearances and visits became less frequent. We had been drained by those months of intense Spanification and, as we admitted to each other, laughing at the end of a particularly hectic, rowdy day, we’d about had enough of it.

Your immense vitality allowed you to ride roughshod over the needs of sleep, take on the boreal rhythm of arctic nights: writing a novel or following the timetable at the publishers, reading for pleasure or out of duty, chatting at length after supper, drinking calvados in your favorite bars, going to transvestite haunts, getting drunk and making love. While you devoted the weekends to visiting Rueil-Malmaison or towns on the Normandy coast with Carole, you finished off your respective days with a tour of the cabarets on the rue de Lappe, next to the hotel where Genet was then staying, or with dinner in one of those modest Vietnamese eating-houses in the environs of the Gare de Lyon. Then night seemed young and somnambular, and you did not notice the first signs of aging and wrinkles till the early morning. Your body obeyed every caprice and decision without rejecting any, as if it were a mere appendage or instrument of your will. There was no such thing as tiredness, and you bravely fought off the impact of alcohol with Alka-Seltzer in the course of the long evenings. At that time Monique professed a real worship of queens. Guided by her cousin Frederic, you began to explore their lairs and hiding places: you sometimes went to dine at Narcisse, a restaurant where you joined in an extravagant reveillon with streamers, confetti, and hysterical shouts from a group of Spanish males decked out in mantillas and combs, as if on the lookout for the hero of Sangre y arena or some remote, improbable Escamillo; at other times, you dropped in on the dance at the Montagne de Sainte-Genevieve, where a huge, brazen queer, also from your country, performed a number of acts with a profusion of obscene gestures, propelling, whirring his tongue round as fast as an electric fan. Genet later told you that the most audacious, provocative queens he came across in his wanderings and stays in the prisons and red light districts of Europe were always Spanish. Whether beautiful repellent, pathetic or derisory, their rejection of any notion of decency, their defiance of all norms and good manners, the waggles and grimaces their laboriously recreated bodies endowed them with an exemplary moral hue. The fact that Spain forged and exported the most outrageous specimens was no product of chance: it revealed the great power of the social stigma that marked them. Their excessive response was directly related to that excessive rejection. Unlike the Sotadic Zone; where extended, diffuse bisexuality erases and removes the frontiers of illicit and becomes secretly and implicitly integrated in the marrow of society, the gravitational pull of the Hispanic canon determines existence of centrifugal, extreme, disproportionate reactions. The plentiful numbers and aggression of the queens, Genet explained to you, response to the oppressive atmosphere that shaped them: it was the of constrained official machismo, its lower, lunar, cleft face, its visage.

In the company of Frederic and Violette Leduc, who had been discharged from the sanatorium where she had been held, you the rather sordid haunts by the Gare de Lyon or Montmartre

unable to take reality by the horns, I sought refuge in militancy as if in a protective religious order: but neither Marx nor Lenin nor the working class had anything to do with my real worries. In truth, my case was quite similar to those middle-class youths who, as Octavio Paz would later write, “transformed their personal dreams and obsessions into ideological fantasies in which the end of the world takes on the paradoxical form of a proletarian revolution without a proletariat.”

My previous homosexual experiences were negative, and from the time we started to live together up to a year ago, I had no relationships with men, nor did I even contemplate one except fleetingly. Your love had inspired me with a self-confidence that I lacked, and for a long time I thought my homosexuality was a thing of the past. You attracted me physically and I felt secure in myself. Things began turning sour when  came by, when my cycles of depression and impotence started as a result of my jealousy and loss of that previous certainty—in spite of the ephemeral nature of your adventures and my conviction that you preferred me to everybody else. Consequently, I lived through some difficult years and, on the rebound, I made you suffer them too. Don’t think I attribute to you the least responsibility for what then happened: circumstances, as I see now, only contributed to showing the precariousness of my physical relationship with women. You should think rather that without you I would probably never have known a female love that was requited. There were many ups and downs, periods of calm and relapses. The jealousy got worse in my case because after the first cycle of depression I again fucked women but with difficulty, and two out of three times I was impotent. For months, as you know, I went to bed with whores from Saint-Denis until repeated failures made me bring the experiment to an end. In those circumstances, the feeling you were in love, even only transitorily, with other men was unbearable for me. I seriously contemplated suicide and loathed myself for not having the courage to go through with it. Afterwards there was Cuba, the need to hold on to something, to find another door. With_____, I reached a point of intense jealousy, depression, desire to throw everything overboard. I had no release with women and lost control of my actions: the only things I am ashamed in my life are a product of this phase; I was not responsible for myself yet was nevertheless aware of the moral degradation. Then, gradually, I had the impression I had touched rock bottom, realizing that henceforth I could not jealous of you. The day I saw Luis, I explained the situation to him and told him the only possible way out was some kind of homosexual life. It was then that spoke to you, and you mentioned the conversation to me, but I was still probing was unable to respond with any certainty.

It must be about a year ago that I started to go out with Arabs and I ne few weeks to recognize the evidence: I did recover my equilibrium and coal with you once again; but I also discovered that I was totally, definitively, vocably homosexual. From then on, as you must have realized, our relationship improved; although differently, I began to love you more than before and reached a kind of happiness that I had not attained in the past. I felt at peace, pl share life with you, to have you and Carole at my side. As you can imagine, I wanted to tell you what had happened; but our well-being seemed so fragile was afraid of undermining it. Then there was your need to leave Galli write about your mother: I wanted to support you on both fronts, not to decision that was central to your future. Despite my secret, life in 1964 was happy the year when our relations firmed up and I recovered my lost peace of mind decided to keep my silence, to help you cut loose from Paris and the to support you as you support me. I went to Saint-Tropez prepared to the new life I had discovered, content to dedicate myself to the novel, you, Carole. The months we have spent together have shown me how far I feel ly and emotionally united to both of you.  But they have also shown me I cannot do without real homosexual life. The (ambiguous) friendships I have are not enough and, although I am happy in your company, I am choked by chastity toward my own sex. In Paris I could have kept my secret without creating suspicion; in Saint-Tropez it is impossible, and if at times I wanted to go with _____, I put the idea to one side because of you, your status in the the possible scandal that could flare up, the gossip. The reality of life there rendered impossible the dual sexual life I was leading and confronted me with need to confess the truth to you fully. 1

I could not care less about what others think. Since I have been sure of my homosexuality, the only problem worrying me is in relation to you and Carole—the damaging impact that its discovery would now have on her. I am the opposite of an exhibitionist, and my sense of shame and attachment to secrecy are deeply rooted; but I am not afraid of the truth, and the few people I can rely on are you, Carole, and Luis. I told him all about this on my last trip. It remained only to tell you.

This letter explains my anxiety. I know too well what effect it will have on you, and yet I am forced to write it even with the risk. I am thirty-four, I love you, and I love Carole, I cannot live without you, I feel a boundless affection for you. What should I do? The void that life alone would be terrifies me, but I will accept it if that is what you decide. I would have wished from deep down that things could have been different, that my deviation had not happened but what I know of myself now is eating me away and, surrounded by our Saint-Tropez friends, I am suddenly aware that I am a usurper, that our friendliness is fictitious and based on deceit, that I must cast off the esteem of those who would be disgusted if they knew the truth. How often I have wanted to walk out slamming the door behind me when they were talking about me as if I were one of them, toclear off and live friendless in a country where no one understands me, in total isolation. I am obsessed by the destiny of Jean (Genet). Sometimes when I wake up at night I want to shout out. I then say to myself that this is my truth, that all the rest is fabrication, facile deceit. That if I am to do anything morally valid, I should make a clean break with everything. I am now on a knife-edge. I can suggest nothing, promise nothing at all. Your reaction fills me with anguish, but secretly I want to know. I realize I am destroying my happiness close to you, yours when you are close to me, which I feel to be so strong. I have begun the letter time and again with a timid heart. I pray you do not see it as a breakup although I am powerless if you do. I am afraid of life without you: your face, your capacity for love, your eyes, your affection. I have never been closer to anyone than I have to you.

“Which country are you from?”

“From Spain.”

“Where did you say?”

“Spain.”

“Spain, Spain .. Whereabouts is that in the Soviet Union?”

One observation that will interest you: while European homosexuals usually reveal themselves by imitating women, here, in contrast, they take on an extra layer of exaggerated virility. That’s what attracts me to them and helps me to distinguish them without fail, since naturally there are plenty who aren’t.

You can download it from here

Return to the home page

 

 

Comments (1)

Call Me By Your Name (movie)

CMBYN anoterAlthough we didn’t do a group ‘outing’ may of us saw this  separately and discussed it recently. The book wasn’t popular with us.

Set in the sun-drenched, picture postcard northern Italy of 1983, it’s the sensual story of Elio, 17-year-old son of a Jewish professor, who falls for Oliver, one of his father’s research assistants, during a sultry summer at the family’s luxurious villa. Festival reviews have generally been ecstatic, though a few eyebrows were raised at Guadagnino’s decision to cast straight actors in gay roles and to tell such a passionate story with no explicit sex scenes. In revising Ivory’s draft of the script, Guadagnino took out a considerable amount of nudity. He described Ivory’s version as “a much more costly [and] different film” which could not have been made because of “market realities.”

Guadagnino has described Call Me By Your Name as a family-oriented film for the purpose of “transmission of knowledge and hope that people of different generations come to see the film together.” He never saw it as a “gay” movie, but rather calls it a film about the “beauty of the newborn idea of desire, unbiased and uncynical,” and reflects his motto of living “with a sense of joie de vivre.” The director attempted to avoid the flaws he had seen in most coming-of-age films, in which growth is often portrayed as a result of resolving certain preconceived dilemmas, like choosing between two lovers. He also wanted the story to follow two people in the moment, rather than focus on an antagonist or a tragedy, a specific approach inspired by À Nos Amours (1983), directed by Maurice Pialat. As someone who considers sex in film a representation of the characters’ behaviour and identity, Guadagnino wasn’t interested in including explicit sex scenes in the film, in order to keep the tone as planned, saying, “I wanted the audience to completely rely on the emotional travel of these people and feel first love […] It was important to me to create this powerful universality, because the whole idea of the movie is that the other person makes you beautiful — enlightens you, elevates you.”

And: I remember the script was pretty graphic in the description of the first time they make love. I was struggling with that because coming from someone who debuted in 1993 with a short film that was pretty out there, called Here, I think I’m interested in the representation of sex between people if that is in an insight about their behavior and who they are. But if it’s an illustration or transition, I just don’t care. I think we had everything we needed in the movie about their intimacy, about the necessity of attraction to one another. I found it erotic when they put their feet on top of the other’s feet. That moment is so strong and so powerful because it dictates an urgency of intimacy. What would we have gained in seeing the actual physical act between the two of them? I think not much. I also like the idea that we gaze toward the window and to the trees like a McCarthy-era movie. We were free to show everything and we decided not to. And in a way it was a very liberating experience.

 The film has a number of differences compared to the source material. While the novel serves as a memory-piece from Elio’s perspective, the filmmakers behind Call Me by Your Name chose to set the movie entirely in the present time, a “much more efficient” solution to help the audience understand the characters and “reflect the essence of the book.”

 The screenplay was approved by Aciman, who commended the adaptation as “direct, and so real and persuasive.” He added, “as the writer I found myself saying, ‘Wow, they’ve done better than the book.'”

But it’s very self-indulgent* – despite the camera lingering ion beautiful, scenic countryside, it’s 45 minutes too long.

The characters of the college girls are undeveloped and Oliver is rude and unlikeable.

But, as a Guardian reviewer says: This film stays with you long after you leave the cinema,

CMBYN* but in the director’s view: A good example of Guadagnino’s approach is a scene where Elio and Oliver stop for a drink of water while they are out biking. As this serves no obvious narrative purpose, it is the kind of sequence a different filmmaker might have cut. “This was one of our favorite scenes,” says editor and longtime Guadagnino collaborator Walter Fasano. “First, because it evoked the typical lounging and easy and lazy feeling of old summers in the 80s. And second, that particular moment reminded us of moments in Bertolucci’s “1900,” which was shot in the same geographical area.

But why leave out the ending? (Twenty years after their first meeting and one year before the narrator’s present, Oliver visits Elio’s family home in Italy. They recall their time together; Elio informs Oliver that his father has died, and that he has spread his ashes all over the world. The novel concludes with Elio, as the narrator, remarking to the reader that if Oliver ever really loved him and remembered everything as he says he did, he should once more “look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.”)

Oliver: Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.

“Jews of discretion”

“If you only knew how little I know about things that matter.”
Oliver: “What things that matter?”

Mr. Perlman: Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30.”

Return to the home page

 

Comments (2)

The Sins of Jack Saul – The True Story of Dublin Jack and The Cleveland Street Scandal by Glenn Chandler

Our group was disappointed in its written style – it’s tabloidy, sensationalist and even judgmental in places – and found lots of misprints and misspellings. Lots of material is crammed in which should have gone in footnotes. It needed a good editor? Was it vanity publishing?

The author seems to be obsessed by his subject and even fantasizes about how he feels – in the absence of diaries, how could he know?

And why a dark-haired model on the front when we’re told that Jack was fair?

Despite all this, many found it to be an enjoyable read and were particularly engaged with the meticulous research towards the end as to how people turned out and what happened top them.

The name entered the public consciousness through the libel trial that came about as a result of the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 at which a man calling himself Jack Saul turned witness for the prosecution and his theatrical performance on the stand shocked sensibilities with its unapologetic self-incrimination. Saul’s outspoken testimony, and the subsequent failure of prosecuting Saul for any of it, is something that scholars are still trying to wrap their heads around.

The judge and barristers running the trials seemed more intent on humiliating the accused by making jokes at their expense.

Little is known about John (Jack) Saul except that he was supposedly a male prostitute in London originally from Ireland known as ‘Dublin Jack’ and that he was admittedly involved in at least two scandals involving male homosexuality and prostitution in the late nineteenth century. The first such case was the Dublin Castle Scandal of 1884 which involved “rumours of a homosexual ‘ring’ in Dublin Castle, the centre of power of the [English] colonial administration [in Ireland]” brought about by two Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament who ran a libellous story in the militant nationalist journal United Ireland accusing other officials of indecent acts. Because of the accusations made by the members, Saul was brought to Dublin from London to testify for the Crown in the libel case that ensued against United Ireland. The allegations of the scandal came to involve high-ranking individuals from the Irish Parliament but “none of the evidence was published either in the Irish or English newspapers, and…all court records were destroyed in the Irish civil war” so no record of the allegations or Saul’s testimony survives except in brief allusions from his future testimony in the second, and much more widely reported, scandal five years later in London’s West End at a male brothel located at 19 Cleveland Street. It became known in the British media as the West End Scandal and is better known historically as the Cleveland Street Scandal. Like its Dublin Castle precursor, the Cleveland Street Scandal involved various high-ranking gentlemen caught up in male prostitution and Saul turned witness for the Crown testifying in a libel suit brought about by one of the alleged clients, Earl of Euston, against a newspaper that accused him of having patronized the brothel. This time, however, the testimony has been largely preserved and Saul is on record as admitting to living the “same kind of immoral life in London as he had previously done in Dublin”. The Earl of Euston won his libel suit even though Saul, an avowed prostitute at Cleveland Street and other bawdy houses, admitted to being party to a number of incriminating acts with the Earl. Saul’s openness in testifying to these acts left him open for prosecution, though he was never charged, much less prosecuted, to the chagrin of Henry Labouchere, of the Labouchere Amendment that convicted Wilde. It is entirely plausible that Saul’s admissions were so shocking and new that lawmakers were simply overwhelmed or felt that Saul, the common prostitute, would not make a good example of the new Criminal Law Amendment Act. This was, of course, left to the prosecution of Wilde five years later.

Mention is made of a ‘Mr. Dolling’. Nobody who knows his stuff would refer to the Irish and infamous Fr. Dollling of Mile End Road thus. He kept ‘open house’ for sailors and ‘rough lads’.

There is a reference, at the end, to an early form of hospice.

The author: I became intrigued by Jack.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  How old was he really?  And what happened to him afterwards?  During the writing of Cleveland Street The Musical, I came across his infamous memoir, written eight years before the scandal broke, called The Sins of the Cities of the Plain.  It was basically pornography, but how much of it was pornography and how much autobiography?  Was any of it reliable?  And how did he come to write it, if indeed he did?  On page five he introduced himself to the reader.  Jack Saul of Lisle Street, Leicester Square.  Ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.  Most people now associate the Jack Saul of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain with the Jack Saul of the Cleveland Street scandal.  But I was determined to find out for certain.  Could the name of the author possibly have been a pseudonym, adopted by some later rent boy at the Cleveland Street trial who did not want his real name known?  Many people involved in selling sex used aliases.  Saul never revealed his age, or address, or anything about himself other than that he had a mother in Ireland.  After stepping out of the dock, he vanished, never to be heard of again.

My fascination with Jack was re-kindled when I wrote the musical Fanny and Stella, The Shocking True Story.  This was about the Victorian transvestites Boulton and Park, otherwise known as Fanny and Stella, who were put on trial in 1871 for conspiracy to commit sodomy.  Jack wrote about them in The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, ten years after the event.  He had known them intimately and described riotous sexual encounters with them.  He knew Boulton’s lover and ‘husband’ Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, and described being taken to a garden party by Lord Arthur where he was briefly introduced to the Prince of Wales.   Infact, Jack was the first person, other than the newspapers, to write about Boulton and Park.  Jack would go on to meet a number of aristocrats in his ‘professional’ life.

Using my skills as a genealogist, and putting together all that I knew about Jack Saul from the existing records, I determined to track down the real person.  This took me to Ireland, from the east coast to the west coast, from Dublin and the gentle slopes of the Wicklow mountains to the wilds of County Galway.  Jack Saul may have been an enigma, a mystery, but he did leave one or two footprints in the sand, clues to who he really was and where he came from.  And just as importantly, what happened to him.  The answers reveal much that is new about his part in the Cleveland Street affair and throw a new light on his involvement with the writing of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain.

Quotations:

The clients of the brothel at 19 Cleveland Street included Members of Parliament and the House of Lords, wealthy bankers, high-ranking figures in the military, and very possibly the grandson of Queen Victoria and Heir Presumptive to the throne, Prince Albert Victor Edward, Duke of Clarence. Prince Eddy’s role was never proven, but the merest hint of the involvement of the son of the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne elevated the affair into the major sex scandal of Victoria’s reign.

The other factor, which made the brothel infamous, was that telegraph messenger boys from the General Post Office were recruited to sell their bodies to supplement their wages.

That case was the first in a twenty-five year period of Victoria’s reign, which culminated in the trial of Oscar Wilde and his imprisonment in Reading Gaol. Between them, in the course of that quarter century, lay the so-called Dublin felonies, during which a number of men had their lives laid bare and ruined

Jack’s story is also the story of Charles Hammond, with whose life his became inextricably intertwined, the wily, unscrupulous, money-grabbing pimp and brothel owner about whom it is impossible to say anything very kind. Except perhaps that he too, like Jack, had a family he loved and was a survivor. Many monstrous men love their families. Had he lived today Hammond would have been branded a paedophile. His crimes however were of their time and while it is no excuse to say that in Victorian London child prostitution was rife, he was certainly not the most guilty of the guilty. Which is more and landed gentry who used his services.

 

Nothing much, it seems, changes. At the time of writing, the British media is obsessed with the subject of VIP sexual abuse of minors.

for research purposes, I had pho­tocopied a police statement signed by Jack from our own National Archives, and subsequently filed it away. I still had it. I dug it out and looked at Jack’s signature. The signatures on the police statement and the much later householder’s census form were unmistakably those of the same person

James took care with the horse. The hooves tended to slide on the paving stones between the tramlines, which the Tramways Company once spread with sand in the days when they were horse-pulled. Since electrical traction had been introduced, the company had neglected the roads. The jarveys who drove the horse-drawn cabs were the casualties of that neglect. There had been numerous court cases involving injuries to horse and driver, but the Dublin roads remained in a dreadful condition.

At Harold’s Cross, Jack Saul had plenty of time now to look back on a life that had been described in court as one of ‘infamy’. He knew that in the great reckoning — he had been a Catholic all his life if not a good one ­he hadn’t been completely bad, even if his family con­sidered him to be so. He had at least done one good thing, had stood up to the establishment and to the foreign occupier of his country of Ireland no less, in order to prevent an injustice. Was one good thing enough to balance the books?

Jack’s parents could not afford a doctor. Such gentle­men were expensive and indeed beyond the pockets of most slum dwellers. The stigma of poverty was attached to those who were forced to attend the infir­mary, and many used it as a last resort. Everyone became their own chemist, mothers and aunts and grans in particular dispensing homemade ointments and herbal medicines.

It was a Trojan undertaking for a family to lift itself out of the Dublin slums, and it took much more than the money earned by a cabdriver to do it. The most it anyone could hope for was a change of address, which frequently meant flitting from one hovel to another, often with the purpose of escaping a grasping landlord and escaping a demand for rent.

Grafton Street itself was like a lady in a beautiful skirt. Lift the hem and the vermin and filth were just inches from her dainty feet.

There was a system of National Schools in Ireland decades before they appeared in England. Jack’s educa­tion was strictly denominational. The State had created them in the hope that they would unite Catholic and Protestant children, but by the time Jack went to school (possibly the one in Mill Street) they had become, after strong intervention by the respective churches, strictly segregated. No Irish was taught. Jack learned English, and anyway, it was the language that you needed if you ever decided to emigrate, as hundreds of thousands did.

As a Catholic Jack was taught about Heaven and Purgatory. It did not matter how poor people were or how grim the living conditions, there was always a picture or a small statue of Our Lady lit by a votive candle in the corner of the room. Jack knelt down and prayed that someone so young as William might go straight to Heaven, for how could the soul of his little brother not be cleansed enough of sin so that he might go immediately to Heaven and sit with the angels? And while God and the Virgin were at it, could he please have another brother instead of more sisters?

His prayers were answered nine months later when James was born. Like Jack, James would survive into manhood. From an early age, Jack was raised with a second brother, Edward. There appears to be no baptism at Duke Lane for Edward Saul. He may have been adopted, though there was no official adoption in those days. When relatives or close neighbours died and young children were left orphaned, they would often be taken in by other members of the family.

What Jack didn’t see were the ravaged bodies of young abandoned country girls, thrown out of their families because of unwanted pregnancies, who would end up in the notorious Lock Hospital dying of venereal disease, some reputedly smothered to death out of kindness by nurses when they were past all hope. What price a wealthy admirer then? Of wealth in Dublin, Jack glimpsed a great deal. But it was all Protestant wealth. As a Catholic boy growing up he was made acutely aware of being a second-class citizen.

intercourse itself carried a penalty of life imprisonment, which in real terms meant a period of incarceration for not less than ten years. So foreplay was okay, oral inter­course had been deemed not to constitute buggery, but any movement towards anal intercourse could be inter­preted as attempted buggery, which was also a crime.

The taboo against such social classes mixing was almost as great as that against homosexual acts, if not actually greater…. What his parents would think of him even stalking to a soldier, seen as a tool of the British occupa­tion of their country, let alone becoming romantically involved with one, he didn’t care to think about.

The loss of the breadwinner was the worst thing that could happen to a family. There was no pension, no insurance. Widows were expected to work if their husbands died and that meant only one thing — charring or taking in laundry. There were no jobs better than that for a forty-year-old woman who could neither read nor write.

Jack’s new friend did not want a depressing tale of boys going hungry on the streets, bodies in dark alleyways, encountering violence, catching disease, visiting hospitals for doses of mercury. It wasn’t to be a story of raw survival shortened lives…. There is no hint of Irish famine here or potato blight. Everyone in the farm of Jack’s imagination is plump and well fed and monstrously virile.

 

They went to a Dublin clergyman they knew, a Mr Dolling, who was working in the East End of London helping the poor of Mile End and begged him to give them the money to go home. Mr Dolling knew nothing of their circumstances. He gave them the money and they escaped briefly

The reader from another planet, assuming he had learned English, might have thought it was a criminal offence to ride around in cabs, visit botanic gardens, play music, buy presents, go to balls, write letters and act in amateur dramatics. He might have come to the conclusion that to wear a check suit was an indication of guilt. Thirteen years earlier, at the trial of Boulton and Park, while The Times duly told its readers that certain evidence was unfit to print, Reynolds News was not afraid to refer to dilated anuses and the insertion of foreign bodies into those orifices.

Medical examinations in such cases were fraught with controversy, and there were some very weird deeply held convictions. (A doctor in the Boulton and Park case had stated that abnormal penis size was indicative of sodomitical activities, and given evidence in court that their sphincters were much dilated

James was not quite old enough to make sense of the exotic, effeminate Jack with his theatrical airs who had disgraced the family by ending up in court twice and who admitted to being a sodomite and a criminal, who moved within outlawed circles in London, who slept with soldiers and sold his body for money. Brother

Jack was truly beyond the pale.

Edward was old enough. The money Jack sent ho in regular postal orders was tainted, and he knew it.

As for Eliza Saul, mothers are, after all, mothers a Jack was possibly still the good Irish son who had j fallen in with the wrong people. He would find a job in London, another position as a valet in a respectable house, mend his ways and get married.

The Crown simply didn’t have the stomach to see eminent, respectable citizens and army officers given life sentences for such unmentionable crimes.

In the end, an elderly grocer and two lowly brothel keepers had received prison sentences while the more eminently respectable Captain Kirwan, Gustavus Cornwall and Surgeon Major Fernandez walked free.

Heat and light came from a single candle. Most of the time prisoners just sat in the cold and dark. A visit to Kilmainham Gaol today is a sobering experience that makes one feel almost ashamed to be British.

though it wouldn’t stop Jack giving his name to the police.

One of the more bizarre characters who drifted in and out of the house was The ‘Reverend’ George Daniel Veck, forty years old and the son of a publican from Alverstoke in Hampshire. Veck was not there to give the boys religious instruction. Far from it. He had been a telegraph clerk with the Eastern District Post Office until he was sacked for improper conduct with messen­gers. He had then become a student of theology, or at least professed to have been one, though the descrip­tion may well have been as fanciful as the title Reverend. As far as anyone knew, he had never taken holy orders.

Dressing as a man of the cloth gave him power, and limitless opportunities to pick wayward youths off the street to give them a bed for the night. He anticipated the notorious Roger Deakes, the self-styled Bishop of Rochester, who decades later in the ‘sixties was part of a gang who collected runaway boys at railway stations, recounted in the book Johnny Come Home.

There was always a room for Mr Veck and a youth at 19 Cleveland Street.

Hammond had met Veck in Gravesend where the latter had run a hotel and tavern, the Terrace, just a few yards up the hill from the pub outside which Hammond’s father had drowned. Veck’s charm had worked on Hammond’s mother and brother Ted, where he was a welcome guest. Who would not welcome a man of such religious convictions? Unfortunately his convictions did not run to paying what he owed. His house in south London had been repossessed after The Midland Railway Company who owned the property threw him out and took him to court for arrears of rent. He also absconded from Gravesend, for non-payment of rates.

But the Lord looked after those who looked after themselves. At Cleveland Street, Veck became inordinately fond of the young GPO clerk Henry Newlove and charmed his way into his home to meet his mother. It might not be an exaggeration to say that he fell madly in love with him.

Mrs Newlove was delighted that her son, already in la coveted position with the Post Office, should be keeping company with a man of the church. What could possibly go wrong with such a friendship? It could only be to Henry’s good. The boy had been without a father almost since the time he was born, and I she had worried about the influences on his life. She need not have. Veck became such a regular caller at the house that Mrs Newlove began to recognise his knock and would answer the door instantly before immediately putting the kettle on.

The Duke made it clear that he did not indulge in sodomy, at least with young men. That was no problem. Not everyone was a sodomite, as Jack from experience well knew, though the popular conception regarding men who had sex with other men was that they were. The same misconception holds true today.

What the Duke wanted was foreplay. Jack undressed, lay on the silk sheets, and duly obliged

It would be many years before the law caught up with Andrew Grant, but at some point in his illustrious criminal career he lost an eye, which was presumably put out by somebody. For the rest of his life, he wore an artifi­cial eye in the right socket and a scar on the right side of his nose. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

Abberline at this point must have realised that this s a case which could elevate his reputation after drubbing it had got during the hunt for Jack the pper. For here were real names, real identities, no fleeting chimeras around the back alleys of Whitechapel but men of flesh and blood who had addresses. And pretty respectable addresses too.

Lord Salisbury. Such matter wouldn’t normally bother the head of state, but with names like Lord Arthur Somerset and his links to the Royal Family, one couldn’t be too careful.

Peers of the realm, Members of Parliament, high-ranking members of the military establishment ­all were involved. Abberline was not too far off retire­ment. Would this make his career or break it? It was a serious consideration.

Jack was a walking Debrett’s.

the initials PAV might of interest…. He realised of course that PAV stood for Prince Albert Victor.

The letter mentioning PAV resides in the files of the Director of Public Prosecutions kept at the National Archives in Kew. DPP 1/95/1-7

Just to make matters quite plain and to give them the Royal seal of approval, the Prince of Wales wrote Lord Salisbury the Prime Minister expressing his great satisfaction with the way things had been handled.

The editor desperately needed someone to help him in his defence, which was to be one of justification. Parke was intending to say that essentially the libel as true and that Lord Euston had been a visitor to 19 Cleveland Street, as the newspaper had implied. Jack was someone who had actually taken his Lordship back to the brothel and had sex with him. Would Jack get up in court and say so? Or put another way, would Jack stand up in court and admit to crimes that might end up in him going to prison himself?

Jack said he would do it. They had something in common, Jack and Mr Parke. The unlucky young editor had been screwing the establishment just a few months. Jack had been doing it for years.

But Jack, while having Oscar’s bravery and some of his vanity, did not have his wit and self-assurance. He felt morally obliged to talk of his life of shame, to agree with the makers of the law that their intimacy was criminal. As he truly knew and believed it was.

`No proceedings should at present be commenced against Saul. As regards perjury, I see no means by which sufficient evidence can be produced to prove the offence of perjury. As regards sodomy, it would be both unprofitable and in my opinion improper to try Saul for the offence, the only evidence against him being his  own confession contained in his statement.’ Unprofitable. Indeed it was. Improper. Of course it would be. Nobody wanted to sully their hands any further with this dreadful business. No one knew what else he might say in court in his defence.

An editorial in Labouchere’s Truth demonstrated just how lucky Jack had been. It was taken up verbatim by number of provincial papers and was unflatteringly headed, THE “CREATURE” SAUL

To be trusted again was important to Jack after what he had been through. No one ever officially informed him that he was not to be prosecuted after giving his evidence in the Parke trial. As far as he knew, it was still hanging over him.

The Attorney General had written that at present no proceedings should be commenced. Had Jack known, it would have concerned him even more. The police had been severely criticised for letting him carry on unmo­lested picking up men around the West End. Inspector Abberline had been mauled for not acting on his state­ment. At any moment, now that the dust had settled, the police could come for him. There were scores of people who would not bat an eyelid at giving evidence against Jack if it meant saving their own skins.

Jack worked, and waited. Perhaps if they came now they would find him in a respectable place with respect­able people, just like Mr Violet had been. Jack always wanted to be among respectable people.

He was also claiming to be thirty-two whereas he was actually forty-three. While vanity obviously once again played a part, the Irish traditionally used the Government census as a way of getting one over their English rulers by lying through their teeth every opportunity.

The Sisters knew how the dying wanted to die. They could not be treated as ordinary patients but had to have a better diet than would be offered in any hospital. Tubercular patients tended to have increased appetites so the food bill was high. Charitable bequests made up a substantial portion of their funds.

Jack was well fed for the remaining weeks of his life. (Which would probably have annoyed hanging Judge Hawkins if he had known). The ward into which Jack

was placed was kept as cheery as possible by the Sisters. The four poster beds were covered by pink and white dimity curtains, and there was an open fire with a singing kettle for constant hot water and soothing drinks at any time of the day. One nun with one maid ran each ward.

When not in bed, Jack had the use of a large sitting room, and for fresh air — regarded as essential for tubercular patients — there was a balcony at the back of the hospice. In the grounds was a smoking pavilion. If one did not wish to smoke, one could walk in the rose garden.

Not all of the patients with whom Jack shared Our Lady’s Hospice were poor. Nor were they all Catholics, for the Sisters did not make any division between t religions. Protestants, doctors, solicitors, soldiers,

None of those mentioned in Jack’s statement or by Hammond’s boys were ever prosecuted. Of the occupants of the house, the self-styled Reverend George Daniel Veck was perhaps proof of the adage that God pays his debts without money. Although he lived to the ripest old age, it was certainly not the happiest. He became a doctor’s assistant but, by his late sixties, he was destitute, an inmate of St Marylebone Workhouse. Veck lingered on for another three decades until 1937 when he died ‘of no fixed abode’ and in extremely bad health at the age of ninety-eight.

There is no Jack Saul industry to erect a stone in Glasnevin Cemetery. The plot of neat, green grass across the Irish sea will likely remain such for a very long time, unvisited and largely unknown.

We lose touch with our past at our peril. Pendulums swing, and swing back again. What was a dreadful unmentionable sin then is no more, at least in the eyes of the law. Others see it differently. There will always be others.

In the course of his sins, Jack Saul undoubtedly gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. I only hope he got some in return.

There are two websites dedicated to his memory:

Victorian Pornography Part IV: Jack Saul

and specifically about this book

 

 

Leave a Comment

The Sins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul

Written 12 years before Teleny, The Sins of the Cities of the Plain purports to be the memoirs of Jack Saul, a young rentboy or “Mary-Ann”. In the book Saul is picked up on the street by a Mr. Cambon. After they have dinner, Chambon invites Saul to recount his life story.

While some have accepted it as a genuine account, it is more likely to be an early form of the non-fiction novel. It is certainly pornography and even praises pederasty.

John Saul, also known as Dublin Jack, certainly existed. Although he managed to by-pass involvement in the trial of Fanny and Stella, he featured in two of the other major gay sex scandals of the Victorian era, the Dublin Castle and Cleveland Street affairs. The Cleveland Street scandal involved telegraph boys engaging in extra-curricular activities and at one of the ensuing trials in which the Earl of Euston sued a newspaper editor for libel, Jack’s testimony against his lordship was so frank as to be deemed “not fit to print” by the Times. Not surprisingly the jury preferred the word of a peer of the realm over that of a self-confessed and very cocky rentboy and the editor got jailed. Jack was lucky to escape prosecution himself but perhaps this was because he knew too much about the sexual peccadilloes of those in high places. In his memoirs Jack seems to be having a whale of a time relieving toffs and aristos of £50 notes and enjoying a champagne lifestyle. But his testimony at the Cleveland Street trial, which took place about ten years after the publication of Sins, suggests a somewhat harsher reality – £8 from his punters in a good week and at the time of the trial a mere ten shillings a week pocket money from a detective agency (presumably for agreeing to spill the beans about Lord Euston) which he was sending to his mum in Ireland. By then Jack would have been about 36 and was perhaps starting to lose his boyish looks.

Gamahuche = To perform oral sex, especially cunnilingus

Quotations:

it appeared as if a tremendous length of sausage had been stuffed down along the thigh of his right leg’ and ‘was it natural or made up by some artificial means?’

“ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.”

“On 19 August, the police burst into a house at 2 Howland Street just off the Tottenham Court Road, hoping to find George Daniel Veck. The self-proclaimed Reverend gentleman was not at home, but his ‘secretary’, seventeen-year-old George Barber, was lying in bed. Interrogated, Barber said that his employer was in Portsmouth, where Veck had probably been visiting his family. The police went to Waterloo Station and arrested Veck when he came off the train.

In his possession were various documents including letters from Algernon Allies, asking for money and mentioning a ‘Mr Brown’. This was the youth whom Lord Arthur Somerset had taken under his wing after the burglary at his club (or at the residence of Lord Colville of Culross, whichever one prefers) and put up at 19 Cleveland Street. Allies was much addicted to writing letters asking for money.”

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Falconer by John Cheever

Falc 3There is no emotional involvement – is he deliberately detached? Or is this like a dream because of the methadone?

It can be grotesque yet funny at the same time.

There is an obsession with physical attraction.

There is denial of homosexuality yet he misses Jody. We don’t even hear about Jody until half way through – is this an example of the closet case withholding information?

The author has spent his life in institutions: the army, the Church, marriage, prison.

The prison seems better than today’s US prisons –rooms rather than cages.

Those who have read it twice say that it’s definitely worth re-reading.

Some say that “Falconer” is a prison novel only in the sense that Falconer is a metaphor for the life of a closeted homosexual. Others think of it as the Great American Novel, with all the ambiguities of American life – attention to the surface nor what lies underneath, pleading innocence, ‘saving the world’ rather than imperialism (after all, it was written at the end of Vietnam), alienation, coming down from the high of the Summer of Love.

Cheever was a lifelong Episcopalian, so it it about fall and redemption, the tension between flesh and spirit, and the movement from suffering to joy?

 The management of the prison behaves like any that of any other institution. The inmates relate to the warders much like pupils to teachers.

The Latin on  pp. 118-9 is not that of the Mass. Nor would communicants receive the wine (p. 131).

Prison is one of those places for going mad or getting philosophical; occupations which are not always mutually exclusive.  It’s an institution where brutal, Darwinian order reigns and the embodied nature of existence asserts itself relentlessly as an inescapable truth. In amongst this malodorous, piss-filled world, sexual drives continue unabated and are in fact heightened – assuming a primary value as a commodity to trade and as a means of control and release. This dictatorship of the flesh and of regimen has of course knock-on effects in the minds of its inhabitants, giving flight to fantastical imaginings, postcard memories and studied delusions – all of which feature prominently in Falconer.

The story goes that John Cheever started his days by dressing for work; putting on his good suit, his felt hat and taking the elevator down with all the other men of a certain class on their way to the office. But from the lobby of his New York apartment building he would take the stairs to a windowless storage room in the basement. He would hang up his hat take off the suit and sit, in his underwear, typing until lunch time when he’d get dressed again and rise to the surface.

It was written after the author spent a month getting sober at the infamous Smithers Treatment Center in New York City, a facility that Truman Capote once described as Devil’s Island.  In her family memoir Home Before Dark, Susan Cheever writes of her father when he was sober, saying that it was like having back the man she remembered from her childhood, humorous, tender, engaged. After his time at Smithers, Cheever never drank again.

Falconer’s protagonist is Ezekiel Farragut; a college professor and heroin addict who is sentenced to prison at the Falconer State Penitentiary for killing his brother Eben. Ezekiel is married to Marcia with whom he shares a child, Peter.  To say the marriage is strained is an understatement, but not simply because of the position Ezekiel’s fratricidal outburst has put his wife in. As Cheever makes clear early on when flashing back to their pre-prison relationship, Marcia has frustrated lesbian interests while Ezekiel has a latent, bisexual inclination and as such their marriage has become largely asexual. Outside the significant sexual issues, Marcia also blames Ezekiel for her failed artistic career and sub-par material surrounds, all of which manifest in her adopting a maudlin, pernickety disposition.

 One review makes exaggerated claims regarding redemption for Ezekiel from his unhappy marriage based on an affair he will have with a fellow prisoner, Jody, but in fact this affair is an episodic event, not the fulcrum of the novel.  While the affair lasts, it lasts, but when Ezekiel’s lover Jody escapes in a daring enterprise involving a cardinal and a helicopter, Ezekiel doesn’t pine for long.

 When Ezekiel dreams in jail about his family, despite the fact they are well-to-do and engaged in philanthropic projects, he always envisions them in his dreams as highly-strung, petulant, never finishing things, always leaving somewhere in indignation. The Farragut family donate skinny chickens to poor people in tenements and read George Eliot to blind, snoring octogenarians – foisting their benevolence on a needy that don’t need – but at home, in their private moments rather than in their public displays, it’s misery. The father goes to the local amusement park “pretending to drink from an empty bottle” and making very public suicidal gestures before being bought home by a teenage Ezekiel. Eben is an alcoholic who is involved in an intense and miserable marriage, with a son in jail for anti-war protests and a daughter who has attempted suicide multiple times.  Ezekiel’s mother is cavalier about her broken relationship with her husband, an open family fact about which there is no attempt at concealment or resolution. Things are broken in the Farragut family but no decisions are made, no-one exercises their agency and things roll along with missing wheels and broken spokes into a black oblivion into which everyone is dragged. Instead of that common motif in literature of individuals suffering as a result of their isolation, each member of the Farragut family draws other members into their pathologies, and so Ezekiel’s alienation is inseparable from and a result of being enmeshed with others (family, prison inmates) to which he has no connection other than the geographical and physical.

Its beginnings lie in the writing class that Cheever taught at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in the early ’70s. (As Cheever biographer Blake Bailey notes: “Almost every set piece in Falconer—almost every detail—appears somewhere in Cheever’s journal entries about Sing Sing.”)  At a meeting with the inmates there, one said, “You told a lot of the stories of this place in your book,” he said. “You told the story of the C.O., Tiny, who went crazy, pissed off, and killed all of the cats we had around here. You got that one right,” he added. “We all know that one. But what about what you got wrong? You wrote that scene—that scene about jerking off? Mr. Cheever, you wrote a group jerkoff in the urinals. If that scene was the truth, we’d all be animals,” he said. “We’d be dogs, not human beings. You know what I mean? We’d be eating dog food out of bowls.”

Cheever finally looked up. His jauntiness was gone. He spoke slowly. “I’m sorry. I wish I had never written that scene,” he said. “I would change it if I could.”

Escape and freedom are recurrent themes in the novel. Ezekiel – reflecting perhaps the views of Cheever who felt himself somewhat sequestered in a heterosexual marriage and addiction to alcohol – pursues a sort of negative rather than positive liberty; a freedom from rather than a freedom to. The heroin addiction acts as a sort of bridgehead from misery to…anywhere else.

We learn that Ezekiel started receiving a ‘yellow cough syrup’ in the war, which allowed men to enter into battle at peace. From there he graduated to Benzedrine and beer and from Benzedrine to heroin. Yet there’s no sense here of a tragic fall, Cheever states quite clearly that heroin gave Ezekiel a broader view of the human condition. “

Cheever depicts Ezekiel’s addiction in its full scope, convulsions in jail as he goes through a methadone program, but also the attractions. He would shoot up before lectures and marvel at the post war world; bridges he drove across like ‘mechanical Holy Ghosts’, the planes he flew on which ‘arced luxuriously’ across rarefied air. Ezekiel saw his addiction as elevating, indeed “a life without drugs seemed in fact and in spirit a remote and despicable point in his past.”

Tiny asks, “Why is you an addict?” It is precisely that basic question that Ezekiel spends the novel trying to answer. At the end, he is redeemed from his literal drug addiction even as he is redeemed within himself from the disgust and destruction that he had both caused and accepted for himself.

Fairly frequently in this novel, Cheever extends the terms of tradition and heritage far beyond the simplistic child-psychology talk that is used to explain the way some of the characters behave. Ezekiel’s aristocratic New England background is mirrored in the age of the prison, whose name has been changed several times over many years, reflecting the shifts in penological and judicial fashions.

Cats are important to the prisoners, as are plants. Even Tiny, who tears off the head of one cat, keeps plants as an antidote to loneliness. The portrayal of the Falconer prisoners tends toward tolerance, to see these people as worthy of tolerant love, of dignity, even though they are hopelessly fallen. That effect is partly accomplished by Cheever’s not lingering over the well-documented sorts of violence, racism, and terror that pervade prisons.

Although Ezekiel does not express regret or remorse about his homosexuality, he often speaks of his penis as an uncontrollable, separate entity, an independent member of some community with him only part of it: “What he saw, what he felt, was the utter poverty of erotic reasonableness.”.

The (sparing) detail of Ezekiel murdering his brother Eben does not feature until the end of the novel but not in order to give us some clarifying motive. After a fight in which Eben states that their father organised a doctor to have Ezekiel aborted, Ezekiel strikes his brother with a fire iron and kills him. However the effect of this abortion ‘revelation’ is muted, tired – not some critical piece of information which stirs Ezekiel’s passions. The abortion story is a known fact in the family and to Ezekiel and the reader already and thus the murder is described in sparse, cursory detail.

Time has marked the prison guards’ faces more severely than the captives, The world of the prison is evidently not a place of redemption, it’s a terminus from which Ezekiel’s lover Jody, and eventually Ezekiel himself, escapes and it houses the occasional petty tyrants you’d expect to inhabit such a place.

‘But they look so nice,’ someone says… as the newly arrived felons march quickstep across the yard of Falconer Prison, which was recently and briefly renamed Daybreak House. Throughout the author artfully plays the comic and tragic off each other, relieving the burden of his true depth with a laugh.

At the end of Chapter One, Chicken Number Two, a fellow prisoner, tells Farragut, ‘There has to be something good at the end of every journey’ and that he will have thousands of visitors, including his wife, ‘She’ll have to come and visit you. She ain’t going to be able to divorce you unless you sign the papers and she’ll have to bring them here herself. So all I wanted to tell you, is what you already knew—it’s all a big mistake, a terrible mistake.’

Cheever is acknowledging the divide, the deeply dangerous gap between a man’s public self, his projected image versus his true self, how he is experienced or experiences himself from the inside out. Appearances mean everything to Cheever; his men want to be read as successful, they want to have the right wives, children, careers, they are terrified of their impulses, their rage, the prospect of age, of literally and figuratively losing their hard-on for life, for slipping in one way or another and yet they are human—all too human. While in solitary confinement, Farragut crafts letters to his governor, his bishop and his girl, a stiff starched sheet with a stolen pen. These letters are incredibly eloquent, lush, graceful, filled with a heady heightened prose that hovers on the precipice of the hallucinatory.

Cheever takes the mythic, the biblical, the Cain and Abel of it all, and weaves a story of how one brother, Ezekiel (Farragut), was pushed to murder the other, Eben. It was in fact Eben who always wanted Farragut dead and who goes so far as to remind Farragut that their father called the abortionist to come and get rid of him before he ever came to life, and who in a subtle attempt to kill his brother, encourages him to swim in unsafe waters.

Falc 2Quotations:

The main entrance to Falconer — the only entrance for convicts, their visitors and the staff — was crowned by an esutcheon representing Liberty, Justice and, between the two, the soverieng power of government. Liberty wore a mobcap and carried a pike. Government was the federal Eagle holding an olive branch and armed with hunting arrows. Justice was conventional; blinded, vaguely erotic in her clinging robes and armed with a headsman’s sword

[On arrival, he is escorted to cellblock F.] “F,” said Tiny the warden, “stands for … freaks, fools, fruits, first-timers, fat-asses like me, phantoms, funnies, fanatics, feebies, fences and farts. There’s more, but I forget it. The guy who made it up is dead.”

Falc3“The bars had been enameled white many years ago, but the enamel had been worn back to iron at the chest level, where men instinctively held them.”

The accident or what they called the murder had taken place, Farragut thought, because of the fact that whenever he remembered or dreamed about his family he always saw them from the back. They were always stamping indignantly out of concert halls, theaters, sports arenas and restaurants, and he, as the youngest, was always in the rear. “If Koussevitzky thinks I’ll listen to that . . .” “That umpire is crooked.” “This play is degenerate.” “I don’t like the way that waiter looked at me.” “That clerk was impudent.” And so on. They saw almost nothing to its completion, and that’s the way he remembered them, heading, for some reason in wet raincoats, for the exit. It had occurred to him that they may have suffered terribly from claustrophobia and disguised this weakness as moral indignation.

Farragut was a drug addict and felt that the consciousness of the opium eater was much broader, more vast and representative of the human condition than the consciousness of someone who had never experienced addiction.

Your sentence would be lighter were you a less fortunate man,” said the judge, “but society has lavished and wasted her riches upon you and utterly failed to provoke in you that conscience that is the stamp of an educated and civilized human being and a useful member of society.

She had an authenticated beauty. Several photographers had asked her to model, although her breasts, marvelous for nursing and love, were a little too big for that line of work…”You know,” [Farragut’s] son had said, “I can’t talk to Mummy when there’s a mirror in the room. She’s really balmy about her looks.” Narcissus was a man and he couldn’t make the switch, but she had, maybe twelve or fourteen times, stood in front of the full-length mirror in their bedroom and asked him, “Is there another woman of my age in this country who is as beautiful as I?” She had been naked, overwhelmingly so, and he had thought this an invitation, but when he touched her she said, “Stop fussing with my breasts. I’m beautiful.”

‘And I remember when we first met, and I am today and will be forever astonished at the perspicacity with which a man can, in a glimpse, judge the scope and beauty of a woman’s memory, her tastes in color, food, climate and language, the precise clinical dimensions of her visceral, cranial and reproductive tracts, the condition of her teeth, hair, skin, toenails, eyesight and bronchial tree, that he can, in a second, exalted by the diagnostics of love, seize on the fact that she is meant for him….I can remember this and I can remember the sailboat race too, but it is getting dark here now, it is too dark for me to write anymore.’

Marcia walked down the hall to their bedroom and slammed the door. The sound was like an explosion to him. In case he had missed this, she opened the door and slammed it again. He became faint and in the distance heard Marcia ask: “Is there anything I can get you?” Her tone was murderous.

“Some sort of kindness,” he had said. “A little kindness.”

“Kindness?” she asked. “Do you expect kindness from me at a time like this? What have you ever done to deserve kindness? What have you ever given me? Drudgery. Dust. Cobwebs. Cars and cigarette lighters that don’t work. Bathtub rings, unflushed toilets, clinical alcoholism, drug addiction … and now a massive attack of heart failure. That’s what you have given me to live with, and you expect kindness.”

We have either missed the train or there is no train or the train is late. I don’t remember… All I really remember is a sense of your company and a sense of physical contentment.

FalcHe had desired and pursued women who charmed him with their lies and enchanted him with their absolute irresponsibility. When he bought diamond earrings he had deliberately judged the sexual mileage he could expect from these jewels.

Yesterday was the day of anxiety, the age of the fish and today, his day, his morning, was the mysterious and adventurous age of the needle.”

But each day Farragut must wake and must search for the image, whether it be a man in prison grays feeding bread crusts to a dozen pigeons or whether it be the actions of visitors to Falconer .

And indeed how unappreciative of freedom these people were – the visitors.

They were free free to run, jump … drink, book a seat on the Tokyo plane. They were free and yet they moved so casually through this precious element that it seemed wasted on them.

As the last of the visitors departs, he feels like crying and howling for he is among the living dead. Even a simple activity like jogging gives him an illusion of freedom. So he jogs to the mess hall, to the bath house and around the yard.

“Sometime in April, twelve years ago, I was diag­nosed as a chronic drug addict by Drs. Lemuel Brown, Rodney Coburn and Henry Mills. These men were graduates of Cornell, the Albany Medical School and Harvard University, respectively. Their position as healers was established by the state and the federal governments and the organizations of their colleagues. Surely, when they spoke, their expressed medical opin­ion was the voice of the commonwealth. On Thursday, the eighteenth of July, this unassailable opinion was contravened by Deputy Warden Chisholm. I have checked on Chisholm’s background. Chisholm dropped out of high school in his junior year, bought the an­swers to a civil service test for correctional employees for twelve dollars and was given a position by the De­partment of Correction with monarchal dominion over my constitutional rights. At 9 A.M. on the morning of the eighteenth, Chisholm capriciously chose to over­throw the laws of the state, the federal government and the ethics of the medical profession, a profession that is surely a critical part of our social keystone. Chisholm decided to deny me the healing medicine had determined was my right. Is this no treachery, is this not high treason when the Constitution are overthrown at the whim of one single, uneducated man? Is this not an offense punishable by death—or in some states by life imprisonment? Is this not more far-reaching in its destructive pecedents than some miscarried assassination attempt? Does it not strike more murderously at the heart of our hard-earned and ancient philosophy of than rape or homicide?

“The rightness of the doctors’ diagnosis was, of course, proven. The pain I suffered upon withdrawal of that medicine granted to me by authority in the land was mortal. When Deputy Warden Chisholm saw me attempt to leave my cell to go to the infirmary he tried to kill me with a chair twenty-two sutures in my skull and I will be crippled for life. Are our institutions of penology, correction and rehabilitation to be excluded from the laws kind has considered to be just and urgently to the continuation of life on this continent a this planet? You may wonder what I am prison and I will be very happy to inform thought it my duty to first inform you of the criminal treason that eats at the heart of your administration.”

“As Your Grace well knows, the most universal image of mankind is not love or death; it is Judgment

Day. One sees this in the cave paintings in the Dor­dogne, in the tombs of Egypt, in the temples of Asia and Byzantium, in Renaissance Europe, England, Rus­sia and the Golden Horn. Here the Divinity sifts out the souls of men, granting to the truly pure infinite serenity and sentencing the sinners to fire, ice and sometimes piss and shit. Social custom is never in force where one finds this vision, and one finds it everywhere. Even in Egypt the candidates for immortality include souls who could be bought and sold in the world of the living. The Divinity is the flame, the heart of this vision. A queue approaches the Divinity, always from the right; it doesn’t matter what country, age or century from which the vision is reported. On the left, then, one sees the forfeits and the rewards. Forfeiture and torment are, even in the earliest reports, much more passion­ately painted than eternal peace. Men thirsted, burned and took it up the ass with much more force and passion than they played their harps and flew. The presence of God binds the world together. His force, His essence, is Judgment.

“Everyone knows that the only sacraments are bread and water. The hymeneal veil and the golden ring came in only yesterday, and as an incarnation of the vision of love, Holy Matrimony is only a taste of the hellish consequences involved in claiming that a vision can be represented by thought, word and deed. Here, in my cell, is what one sees in the caves, the tombs of the kings, the temples and churches all over the planet being performed by men, by any kind of men the last century might have bred. Stars, dumbbells, hacks and boobs—it is they who have constructed these caverns of hell and, with a familiar diminishment of passion, the fields of paradise on the other side of the wall. This is the obscenity, this is the unspeakable obscenity, this stupid pageantry of judgment that, finer than air or gas, fills these cells with the reek of men slaughtering one another for no real reason to speak of. Denounce this cardinal blasphemy, Your Grace, from the back of your broad-winged eagle.”

“an escutcheon representing Liberty, Justice and, between the two, the sovereign power of government.”

“And I never got laid free, never once. I paid anywhere from fifty cents to fifty dollars, but I never once shot a lump for free … I just wish I had it free, once.”

“Long ago when they first invented the atomic bomb people used to worry about its going off and killing everybody, but they didn’t know that mankind has enough dynamite right in his guts to tear the fucking planet to pieces. Me, I know.”

‘I’m so glad you ain’t homosexual,’ Jody kept saying when he caressed Farragut’s hair.”

“He promised to wait for me.”

“The day was shit.”

Considering the fact that the cock is the most criti­cal link in our chain of survival, the variety of shapes, colors, sizes, characteristics, dispositions and responses found in this rudimentary tool are much greater than those shown by any other organ of the body. They were black, white, red, yellow, lavender, brown, warty, wrinkled, comely and silken, and they seemed, like any crowd of men on a street at closing time, to represent youth, age, victory, disaster, laughter and tears. There were the frenzied and compulsive pumpers, the long-timers who caressed themselves for half an hour, there were the groaners and the ones who sighed, and most of the men, when their trigger was pulled and the fusillade began, would shake, buck, catch their breath and make weeping sounds, sounds of grief, of joy, and sometimes death rattles. There was some rightness in having the images of the lovers around them opaque. They were universal, they were phantoms, and any skin sores, or signs of cruelty, ugliness, stupidity or beauty, could not be seen. Farragut went here regularly after Jody was gone.

When Farragut arced or pumped his rocks into the trough he endured no true sadness—mostly some slight disenchantment at having spilled his energy onto iron. Walking away from the trough, he felt that he had missed the train, the plane, the boat. He had missed it. He experienced some marked physical relief or improvement: the shots cleared his brain. Shame and remorse had nothing to do with what he felt, walking away from the trough. What he felt, what he saw as the utter poverty of erotic reasonableness. That as how he missed the target and the target was the mysteriousness of the bonded spirit and the flesh. He knew it well. Fitness and beauty had a rim. Fitness and beauty had a dimension, had a floor, even as the oceans haye a floor, and he had committed a trespass. It was unforgivable—a venal trespass—but he was reproa­ched by the majesty of the realm. It was majestic; in prison he knew the world to be majestic. He had taken a pebble out of his shoe in the middle of mass. He remembered the panic he had experienced as boy when he found his trousers, his hands and his coattails soaked with crystallizing gism. He had learned from the Boy Scout Handbook that his prick would grow as long and thin as a shoelace, and that the juice that had poured out of his crack was the cream of his brain power. This miserable wetness proved that he would fail his College Board exams and have to attend a broken-down agricultural college somewhere in the Middle West. . .

Marshack…was very useful. He was indispensable at greasing machinery and splicing BX cables and he would be a courageous and fierce mercenary in some border skirmish if someone more sophisticated gave the order to attack. There would be some universal goodness in the man – he would give you a match for your cigarette and save you a seat at the movies – but there was no universality to his lack of intelligence. Marshack might respond to the sovereignty of love, but he could not master geometry and he should not be asked to. Farragut put him down as a killer.

Farragut walked to the front of the bus and got off at the next stop. Stepping onto the street he saw he had lost his fear of falling (he had forgotten how to walk as a free man). He held his head high, his back straight and walk along nicely. Rejoice, he thought. Rejoice.

“Who would want to riot in order to get out of a nice place like this? In the paper now you read there’s unemployment everywhere. That’s why the lieutenant governor is in here. He can’t get no job outside. Even famous movie stars with formerly millions is standing in line with their coat collars turned up around their necks waiting for a handout, waiting for a bowl of that watery bean soup that don’t keep you from feeling hungry and makes you fart. Out in the street everybody’s poor, everybody’s out of work and it rains all the time. They mug one another for a crust of bread. You have to stand in line for a week just to be told you ain’t got no job. We stand in line three times a day to get our nice minimal-nutritional hot meal, but out in the street they stand in line for eight hours, twenty-four hours, some­times they stand in line for a lifetime. Who wants to get out of a nice place like this and stand in line in the rain? And when they ain’t standing in line in the rain they worry about atomic war. Sometimes they do both. I mean they stand in line in the rain and worry about atomic war because if there’s an atomic war they’ll all be killed and find themselves standing in line at the gates of hell. That’s not for us, men. In case of an atomic war we’ll be the first to be saved. They got bomb shelters for us criminals all over the world. They don’t want us loose in the community. I mean they’ll let the community burn before they’ll set us free, and that will be our salvation, friends. They’d rather burn than have us running around the streets, because everybody knows that we eat babies, fuck old women up the ass and burn down hospitals full of helpless cripples. Who would ever want to get out of a nice place like this?”

the Cuckold cleared his throat and said, “If you was to ask my advice about marriage, I would advise you not to put too much attention on fucking. I guess I married her because she was a great fuck—I mean she was my size, she came at the right time, it was great there for years. But then when she started fucking everybody, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get any advice from the church and all I could get out of the law was that I should divorce her, but what about the kids? They didn’t want me to go, even when they knew what she was doing. She even talked with me about it. When I complained about her screwing everybody, she gave me this lecture about how it wasn’t an easy life. She said sucking every cock on the street was a very lonely and dangerous way to live. She told me it took courage. She did, really. She gave me this lecture. She said that in the movies and in the books you read it’s a very nice and easy thing, but she’d had to face all sorts of problems. She told me about this time when I was on the road and she went to this bar and restaurant for dinner with some friends. In North Dakota we have these food divorcement laws where you eat in one place and drink in another, and she had moved from the drinking place to the eating place. But at the bar there was this very, very beautiful man. She gave him the horny eye through the doorway and he gave it right back to her. You know what I mean. The horny eye?

“So then she told me that she told her friends, very loudly, that she wasn’t going to have any dessert, that she was going to drive home to her empty house and read a book. She said all this so he could hear her and would know that there wasn’t going to be any husband or kids around. She knew the bartender and the bar­tender would give him her address. So she went home and put on a wrapper and then the doorbell rang and there he was. So right in the hallway he began to kiss her and put her hand on his cock and drop his pants, right in the front hallway, and at about discovered that while he was very beat also very dirty. She told me that he could bath in a month. As soon as she got a whiff of him she cooled off and began to figure out how him into a shower. So he went on kissing her and getting out of his clothes and smelling worse and then she suggested that maybe he bath. So then he suddenly got angry and said that he was looking for a cunt, not a mother, that his mother told him when he needed a bath, that around looking for sluts in saloons in or when he needed a bath and when to get and when to brush his teeth. So he got went away and she told me this to illustrate how a round heels takes all kinds of courage.

“But I did lousy things too. When I road once I said hello and went upstairs to take a crap and while I was sitting there I noticed this big pile of hunting and fishing magazines besides the toilet. So then I finished and pulled and came out shouting about this constipated man she was fucking. I yelled and yelled. I said it was just her speed to pick up with a boob who a fly or take a shit. I said I could imagine him sitting  there, his face all red, reading about catching the gamy  muskallonge in stormy northern waters. I just what she deserved, that just by lool could tell it was her destiny to get ream those pimply gas pumpers who do they magazines and can’t cut a turd. So she cried and about an hour later I remembered that I had subscribed to all these hunting and fishing magazines and when I said that I was sorry she really didn’t care and I felt shitty.” Farragut said nothing—he seldom said anything to the Cuckold—and the Cuckold went back to his cell and turned up his radio.

It’s online here

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »