Twentysix – Jonathan Kemp

26Nobody in our group (except one who didn’t attend the discussion, who said ‘think it’s quite imaginatively done, I’m not very good at working out this type of book ! a variety of sex acts, a variety of emotions and searching questions, perhaps he’s using the former to show the difficulty of explaining the latter….’) liked this book. One thought it was a curate’s egg of a book with some, especially the short, chapters poetic. But most found it ‘boring, boring, boring.’ There is some beautiful language but it deteriorates towards the end, as if he wanted to finish it quickly. How did he get away with it, we wondered? One member threw it across the room. Another said, ‘mildly titillating clichéd tosh’.

I didn’t find this book remotely erotic. However, the tale of the man in a sling, something that scares the pants off me, was lyrical. Also, the feeling of annihilation of all worries when cruising a dark room, intensely absorbed in the present moment, was true to experience. In an interview, the author spoke of ‘the spirituality of promiscuity’. He has a point.

There’s pretentiousness on p. 54 with the literary allusion ‘This is the way the world began….’

There’s something memorable about the phrase ‘dress to depress’

I am amused that there is a poppers salesman on hand at a cruising part but perturbed at cum being described as the release of white doves.

The loneliness that comes with ‘a promiscuous lifestyle’ is well portrayed.

There’s something very odd about the teenage boy who writes short stories about a serial killer who cuts off a finger of one of her fingers and uses it to masturbate.

Towards the end, we get an explanation of the ABC, as in ‘D for deeper’, which sent me scurrying back through the book trying to find a word beginning with the title letter for each encounter. P was for ‘piss’ I don’t know whether I succeeded of whether the suggestion was a red herring.

The author teaches creative writing, literature and queer theory. We’ve done other books by creative writing teachers than have also ‘bombed’. Maybe we should avoid such in future.

He claims to have been influences by John Rechy. Well, Rechy paints a far more atmospheric picture of seediness and raw sexual hunger.

One profundity:  the author, in an interview, spoke of ‘because it throws the body beyond the known parameters of sexual discourse. Almost like Freud’s death drive. I didn’t like Dean’s book because he seems to support the notion that barebacking is the pinnacle of masculinity, and sees that as radical because it fucks with traditional feminizations of gay sex. If so – it really confirms that masculinity is a kind of race poison……The human race, destroyed by a destructive discourse of masculine invincibility. Thinks itself superior to nature. A misguided belief that masculinity can and will dominate nature because it fears and loathes nature.’ He’s on to something there. For those who think that gay men are effeminate, the opposite is true. Devoid of civilising female influence, this is what it comes to.

In another interview, he said: pornography is hugely dull, I think, a lot of the time, because it relies on the quick arousal and nothing should get in the way of that. I was much more interested in putting things in the way of that, of playing around with the quick arousal, and also trying to find a different language to talk about body parts and sexual acts. Pornography is rather clichéd in that respect. So this idea of the interplay of language and sex became a dance between body parts and sexual acts and the language used to describe them, that language always being subconsciously aware of its own inability to adequately describe what is trying to be described.

Also: from Jacques Derrida. Because language is a choice, a selection of words to describe whatever it is you’re describing, whether it be sex, or a dream we have. In my writing classes I often talk about the subject of dreams. It’s a good example of what I’m trying to do in this book. In fact there are many dreams in the book. It is a book of dreams. When you try and describe a dream it betrays the reality of the dream, because the words that you choose fix it, but the dream itself is unfixable. So in terms of sex, there are many ways to describe it, whether comically or erotically, and each version betrays the truth of what happened. Every time we say something we’re betraying what we’re trying to articulate.

Well, I am sorry but this book doesn’t hack it.

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