Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar by Culm Tóibín

LIADTWe like this author very much. Here, he looks at various authors and the various influences on their lives.

For Jorge Luis Borges being homosexual is like being Jewish, being in a ‘state of permanent niggerdom’. Those who came out of liberated concentration camps still wearing a pink triangle were rearrested and reincarcerated. Jews and Northern Irish Catholics have had a chance to work out the implications of their oppression but gays have no history. ‘Pathological and homosexual’ are almost synonyms. Kafka, a Jew in Prague, exhibited and hid.

Oscar Wilde was alone in prison 24 hours a day, not allowed to speak during exercise, had no writing paper, had problems with his ears and eyes. His plank bed induced insomnia and he could hardly escape becoming insane. In all this he played out the role of the tragic queer.

Roget Casement had read Heart of Darkness and wanted Conrad’s support. His diary mentioned the beauty of boys and he moved from pervert to invert, from using boys to getting them to use him. Conrad thought this was not in keeping with the aims of empire. After reading the Imitation of Christ he became a Roman Catholic and received his first communion on the day of his execution. It has been suggested that his enemies forged his diary to blacken his character.

Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull was homoerotic.  Homosexuality was part of his German heritage and his sons were more secure in their homosexuality than he was.

Bacon made no attempt to hide so people wrote about his unsatisfactory relationships (‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’), his unhappy childhood, his low-life friends, his masochism, how he was jealous of his nanny’s soldier boyfriend, that he was locked in cupboard and did not ask the mirror why he wasn’t normal.

Elizabeth Bishop thought she had to write ‘precious’ poetry, that it was risky to use a word like ‘heavens’ and that ‘Oxford graduates smell’

James Baldwin’s work is about more important things than age or race or sexuality. His ‘high-faggot style is a mixture of the King James Version of the Bible and African-American. His father died when he was 19, after chilling in the pulpit, being cruel at home. He threw jug of water at a waitress who said that ‘niggers are not served here’. He believed that only mass conversion can change things, that it is too subtle merely to be an angry black man, merely a negro writer. He castigated the dishonesty of Greenwich Village and Paris. His was dangerously explicit writing for 1951, where a black man hanged from tree and his genitals cut off. He was not at home in the Civil Rights movement as it was hostile to homosexuals.

 Pedro Almodovar is covered though I was disappointed that his films are not mentioned. Born in 1951, he enjoyed reading lives of saints and Gregorian chants but he disliked the priests’ Religious Education. In 1960s, people behaved as if Franco was already dead yet the film school was shut down, Military service was a nightmare and he spoke to nobody for 12 months. His long hair was considered scandalous.  He loves managing chaos as long as he can control it.

Mary Kenny has lived in London for 20 years so she is out of touch with Ireland. She mentions a Roman Catholic priest who dies in gay sauna – another two priests were there to give him the last rites.

This book is well worth reading though those who know more literature than I will get more out of it than I did.

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