Archive for Book Reviews (by author)

Wings by Mikhail Kuzmin

A key text in the history of gay literature, Wings was published in 1906 to the scandalized reaction of contemporary society and the generations which followed.

The novel deals with teenager Vanya Smurov’s attachment to his older, urbane mentor, Larion Stroop, a pederast who initiates him into the world of early Renaissance, Classical and Romantic art. At the close of the first part, Vanya is shocked to learn that the object of his admiration frequents a gay bathhouse. In order to sort out his feelings, Vanya withdraws into the Volga countryside, but his sickening experience with rural women, whose call on him to enjoy his youth turns out to be an awkward attempt at seduction, induces Vanya to accept his Classics teacher’s proposal and accompany him in a journey to Italy. In the last part of the novel, Vanya and Stroop, who is also in Italy, are seen enjoying the smiling climate and stunning artworks of Florence and Rome, while Prince Orsini mentors the delicate youth in the art of hedonism.

The novel, partly based on Kuzmin’s experience of travelling to Italy in 1897, is full of conversation in the Platonic vein; the title itself alludes to Phaedrus. Although the book was competently written in an elegant style all its own, its reputation has been dogged by scandal.

Kuzmin was one of the first writers in modern Europe to argue that homosexuality “was not immoral or ungodly, but morally distinctive, ethically sanctioned, and even at times spiritually superior, a matter not of decadent immoralism but the personal creation of values”.

The central theme of aestheticized sensuality has spawned comparisons of Wings with contemporary works by Oscar Wilde and André Gide.

Wings is in three parts, set respectively in St Petersburg, on the Volga and in Rome, and it is told in myriad episodic scenes of perhaps 2-3 pages in length: a curious and intriguing structure. In his Introduction, Hugh Aplin compares this structure to cinematic montage, which seems a fair approximation. These scenes, often thematically linked (e.g. death by suicide appears in parts 1 and 2, and the ‘death’ of an artist in part 3), are like dots that the reader must join together. It comes across as a series of brush strokes. Like Chekov, it addresses people by different versions of their name and you overhear seemingly isolated snatches of conversation.

“Wings”, is a metaphor threaded throughout the novel for a whole host of things: for the culture and friendships which allow us to soar, for what we acquire when we are open to beauty and courageous in our love, and as an allusion, in the final pages, to Icarus and his brothers.

Poignantly, many of the young men at the baths, including the one with the large penis, will soon be conscripted to war.

I found the “story” hard to follow. It is more allusive than narrative and is becalmed with philosophical soliloquies about love. Indeed, was the philosophising trying to justify homosexuality? Too didactic? Too much lecturing?

It’s misogynistic: ‘She’s only a vile female.’ (which may be inevitable from gay men of a certain type) and a callousness in their treatment. They are dismissed as worthless – relationships between men and women are portrayed as base and coarse.

Kuzmin was lucky to die of natural causes in 1936; just two years later other gay artists were rounded up with and shot.

Relevant today, given Putin’s current crackdown. In 1928, at the invitation of students of the Russian Institute of Literature, Kuzmin gave the final public reading of his life. He assumed the event would be poorly attended; the once-great writer had been largely silenced and, he worried, forgotten. The reading was not advertised to the public and only students with tickets were allowed entrance. The director of the Institute feared that any reading by Kuzmin would attract a large contingent of homosexuals and thus the attention of the authorities.

The director was right in his fear. On the night of the reading there came a crush at the doors, the ticket system broke down, and gays crowded in among the students. Kuzmin’s reading electrified the audience — no surprise, as he read his poem The Trout Breaks the Ice, a staggering work swirling with autobiography and cultural allusions that is also an ode to the triumph of desire, a poem that maintains its electricity through translation and time. An ovation followed the reading and the gays pushed to the front, showering Kuzmin with flowers, bouquet upon bouquet landing at his feet. The director and student organizers quaked — they knew they would be called before authorities to account for the scandal (they narrowly escaped punishment, pleading ignorance) — but Kuzmin beamed.

Nothing like Wings had ever been published; not in the West and not in Russia. As print runs sold out the book was immediately reissued. Also difficult to fathom is the relative ease with which gay artists were allowed to live their lives and envision their possibilities in prerevolutionary Russia. With the crumbling of the czarist empire, before Soviet repression took hold, we see a flowering of artistic daring and a measure of sexual freedom. But even so, Kuzmin’s daring humbles this writer, and ought to inspire us all.

He was in the Old Believer tradition – having spent some years in defiantly Old Believer guise, including cap, tight-fitting coat, boots and beard, he switched abruptly to the mannered dandyism of the Russian admirers of Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde

Old Believers are Eastern Orthodox Christians who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they existed prior to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666. In 1652, Patriarch Nikon (1605–1681; Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1652 to 1658) introduced a number of ritual and textual revisions with the aim of achieving uniformity between the practices of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. The main objectives of reformers in the 16th century, many from the secular “white” clergy, were to outlaw pagan rituals and beliefs and to standardise the liturgy throughout the Muscovite realm. Old Believers use two fingers while making the Sign of the Cross while new-style Orthodoxy uses three fingers for the sign of cross (three fingers (including the thumb). Is there a degree of sending up Tolstoy with his seeming primitism?

It is salutary to reflect that Wings was first published in Russia in 1906, when Kuzmin was in his thirties. He had at last come to terms with his homosexuality, as Vanya Smurov is beginning to do in the closing paragraph of the book. That he was openly gay in the final years of Tsarist rule and the opening decade_of Soviet Communism almost defies credibility, particularly when one thinks of the agonies of mind and body Tchaikovsky was forced to endure.

They are relatively little known outside their homeland

He was a eading figure of what was, arguably, Russia’s most brilliant and he began studying in 1891 at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where his tutors included Rimsky­Korsakov, but he remained there for only three years. None­theless, music was to continue to play a very significant role and enabled him to form ties

Wings brought about a genuine furore in Russia’s literary world, the success of ‘Alexandrian Songs’ enabled him to become closely involved with many of the most prominent figures of the then dominant Russian Symbolist movement but he had artistic independence and produced an -ism of his own, in Russian `klarizm’, from the Latin ‘clarus’, signifying clarity or transparency, and the ‘beautiful clarity’ that was its essential feature was one of 1 the abiding elements in all Kuzmin’s writing during his most successful, pre-revolutionary years

Our broad-=ranging discussion even mentioned the Bhagavad Gita.

Despite the glossary, I had to look up anacreontic = (of a poem) written in the style of the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, known for his celebrations of love and wine.

Quotations:

It does sometimes happen too, they say, that a woman loves a woman and a man a man … And it’s not hard to believe it, is it not possible for God to put that thorn too into the human heart, then? And it’s hard, Vanya, to go against what been put in, and perhaps it’s sinful too.

“Love, whatever its nature, can never be depraved except in the eyes of a cynic.” 

“I was in that kind of terribly stupid but not unpleasant situation, when you know that both of you know something, but are keeping silent. He stared straight at me, motionless, with a kind of mermaid look, not quite drunkenly, not quite insanely, almost terrifyingly, but when he began to wash me there was no room for doubt.”

Eroticism there had been aplenty in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts, and gender ques­tions, particularly the role of women in society, had been under discussion for more than half a century; but serious mainstream works with sex, let alone homosexuality, as their primary subject were almost unknown

The youthful hero, Vanya Smurov, is shown in three novel, unorthodox and increasingly exotic settings. Newly orphaned, he is vulnerable and susceptible as a series of mentors introduce him to various possible approaches to life, and other characters, through differing experiences or parallel situations, suggest the fates that potentially await him, depending on the decisions he makes.

It was considered stylistically careless ­’all over the place, awkward phrases written any old how,’ commented Andrei Bely — and the mosaic-like structure, which may be a positive attraction to the modern reader accustomed to the frequent cutting of cinematic montage, was not deemed a success. Inevitably, however, it was the thematic nature of the work that drew most attention

the sense of the words, thinking how his mother had died, how the whole house had suddenly filled with old women of some sort who had previously been strangers and who now became extraordinarily close, recalling the fuss, the offices for the dead, the funeral and, after all of that, the sudden emptiness and desolation

the rotten smell of sour cabbage soup… mothballs…Stroop’s scent

think, Vanya,.how odd it is, that here you have another person entirely, and his legs are different, and skin, and his eyes — and he’s completely yours, completely, , you can look at, kiss and touch all of him; every le mark on his body, wherever it might be, the little golden hairs that grow on his arms, every little furrow and hollow of the skin that is loved much too much. And you know every­thing, the way he walks, eats, sleeps, the way the wrinkles spread across his face when he smiles, the way he thinks, the way his body smells. And then it’s as if you cease to be yourself, and it’s as though you and he are one and the same: your flesh, your skin cleaves to him, and in love, Vanya, there’s no greater happiness on earth, whereas without love it’s unbearable, unbearable! And what I would say, Vanya, is that it’s easier not to have while loving, than to have without loving. Marriage, marriage: the secret isn’t about the priest giving his blessing and children coming — look at a cat, it’s carrying as many as four times a year — but about a soul getting a burning desire to give itself to another and to take him completely, if only for a week, if only for a day, and if both of their souls are burning, then that means God has united them. It’s a sin to make love with a cold heart or for gain, but anyone who’s touched by the fiery finger, whatever he does, he remains pure before the Lord. Anyone who’s touched by the flaming spirit of love, whatever he’s done, it’s all forgiven him, because he’s no longer his own, in the spirit, in the rapture…’

`How are you to understand? I’ll say this: a husband lives with his wife, and a bachelor gets mixed up with a woman; someone might say that it’s all the same, but there’s a big differ­ence. What is it, one asks?’

`I wouldn’t know,’ responded Sergei, all eyes.

`Imagination. The first thing,’ said Prokhor Nikitich, as though searching not only for words, but for ideas too, ‘the first thing is: the married man has dealings with one woman — that’s one thing: the next thing is — they live quietly, peacefully, they’re used to one another, and the husband loves his wife in just the same way as he eats his porridge or curses the bailiffs, but the ers have nonsense on their minds all the time, it’s all fun and es, there’s no constancy, no steadiness; and that’s why the thing is lawful, and the other — fornication. The sin isn’t in act but in the application, how the thing’s applied to what.’

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The Friendly Ones by Philip Hensher

It’s a novel of reflections, also a novel for our times: In a Brexit world of increasingly closed boarders and fear of new arrivals, it emphasises the benefits and enrichment that our society has gained from those who come from outside (albeit posh, skilled ones).

Hensher states that he took his story from “The Winter’s Tale” and “Eugene Onegin” Though we did know these well, iy seemed that the unjust death of young prince Mamillius corresponds with the presumed death of Sharif’s brother taken away from the family home by the Pakistani military forces. This would haunt the family for generations to come. From Eugene Onegin, Tatyana’s love letter to Onegin baring her soul is also replicated and her letter is received and rejected in a similarly dismissive manner in Hensher’s novel. From both stories, long time-lapses and people trapped in the mores of their times.

Who are the friendly ones? The Bangladeshi freedom fighters, the ‘hosts’ to immigrants? Collaborators with the Pakistani regime in these evil days called themselves, like the Eumenides, ‘the Friendly Ones’.

That one character became an ‘extremist’ is topical but was it necessary?

I liked it where young Leo became randy aged between ages 15 – 19 – a dwarf claiming to be big

p. 89 all get prizes – the first newspaper article | read by him was obsessed by the seeming lack of competition in schools so he writes here, glowingly, of sports teams and youth orchestras.

He also writes about CUs but Oxbridge has OIKU and CICCUI instead.

I would have liked a map of Sheffield – as in ‘The Northern Clemency’.

One member read it twice and found it ‘superb’.

‘It does go on a bit. Needs editing’.

It started as a cohesive narrative but became ‘straggly’.

The Bangladeshis return home frequently to see their family whereas the British rarely undertake the smaller journey to do so. Some hardly ever go home.

The various mothers come across badly.

Scenes from Early Life was remarkable partly because it used the same method to bring 1970s Dhaka vividly to life, plunging the reader deeply into the quiddity of the objects that made up that world. When The Friendly Ones moves its action to “Bangla Desh” – the original name for the country – in the second half of the novel, the Dhanmondi home of Sharif and Nazia in the time leading up to independence felt familiar to those who’d read Hensher’s earlier book.

There is, at one level, something scattershot about the narrative structure. In the

I started to get bored about three-quarters of the way through when the action abruptly changes to Dacca.

p. 439 has a good description of children encountering and marvelling at aeroplane food for the first time.

There’s an odd masochism scene with Josh towards the end – out of the blue unless I’ve missed something.

Though it is symmetrical, starting and ending with a perty, it peters out

Do gluttons explode? cause one’s stomach to rupture, which has very unpleasant consequences. In real life chances of survival are 50-50, but in a fictional work it’s usually portrayed as being lethal.

I had to look up khitmatgar  = A male servant, with responsibility for waiting at table.

also ‘haslet’ or acelet +  a pork meatloaf with herbs, originally from Lincolnshire. The word is derived from the Old French hastilles meaning entrails.

also ‘moue’ = a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.

Quotations:

“A bird was singing in the elm tree, a loud, plangent, lovely note, as if asking a question of the garden”

“the lawn, the red box of the barbecue, the white-shirted help”.

“He would not know how to begin to forgive Sharif for being Sharif, for being humorous and singing about the place, an old Tagore song, a funny old song he had just heard.”

“A woman passing a remark and walking away… the gaze and the hidden opinion”.

‘very supercilious and angry’.

‘Short men,’ she adds dismissively, ‘… very difficult in my view.’

“This is my wife’s country. This is where we will live and where we will go on living. The sea, the houses, the shops, the English sky: this is part of our country, and we will walk through it.”

If I lived in a cave and you were my only visitor,
what would I tell you that the walls had told me?
That people are unfinished and are made between
each other …JACK UNDERWOOD,`Second’

`Why don’t you put in for Oxbridge?’ Leo said once, in the pub where they thought they could-get away with it. Pete was untidy, scowling, pugnacious, and he kept his hair in a short­back-and-sides: he didn’t hold with sideburns and big hair and anything that would come and go. It made him look older than he was, though not always old enough to get a drink. He could have been in employment, even.

‘I’d love to,’ Pete said. ‘But it’s not for me.’

`I don’t see that,’ Leo said. It’d be for you if you got in.’

`There’s no hills,’ Pete said. ‘I couldn’t be doing with no hills. Oxford – no hills. Cambridge – definitely no hills. It’s Leeds for me. That’ll suit me all right.’

‘I thought you said you needed to test yourself in life,’ Leo said.

`I’ve tested myself,’ Pete said. ‘I don’t need to test myself until I fail and then understand that I’ve failed. There’s a world out there. They’re just men and women, writing their tests and seeing if you’re going to fit in. You and Tom Dick.’

‘He’s all right, that Tom Dick,’ Leo said bravely.

The next Wednesday he drove into the car park with a firm idea in his mind. The children from Gower were there. He made a small performance of shyness as he got out of the car. They would not shout if they thought he was likely to turn round.

`There’s that fooking Paki,’ one cried out. Was it the same one every time? ‘Paki! You fooking Pala in your fooking shirt and tie! Fooking look at the little Paki!’

Sharif turned. His expression was forcibly mild. He walked up to the fence. The children stood- exactly where they were, not moving and not quailing. They had the right to this land: that was what was in their minds. He had not looked at them closely before now. There were seven of them. The one who, he thought, had shouted was short and sharp-featured, with very dark hair. that stuck up at the back and paper-white skin. They all wore shorts and T-shirts; one or two wore those drapes of wool around the ankle called legwarmers.

`Did you call me a Paid?’ he said.

Tald’s come over,’ the boy shouted, with something like affected glee. The others were less sure.

Did you call me a Paid?’ Sharif said again. ‘I am not a Paki. I am certainly not a Paid. If anything, I am a Bangi.’

`You’re a Paid,’ the boy said, but not shouting now, speaking with derisory contempt to Sharif on the other side of the fence. `Look at you in your shirt and tie.’

`That is because I teach at the university here,’ Sharif said. `And I am not a Paid. If I were. Pakistani, I could understand your shouting “Paki” at me. I would not like it, but I would understand it. Do you know what I am? My country was Bangladesh. I have more reasons to hate the Pakistanis than you They ruled my country for twenty-four years. They robbed . They forbade us to speak our own language. When we voted or one of us to run the country, they annulled the election. They murdered people I knew and loved, and they murdered my brother. How old are you?’

Taki’s asking how old we are,’ the sharp-featured boy said. He was intelligent-looking. He could have done well. The other children were dull in their faces. They had no spark,or interest; they could not even walk away through self-awareness. Towards them was coming a larger person, a grown man.

`It was only ten years ago,’ Sharifsaid. ‘You weren’t born then.’ Took off,’ the boy said, and some of his friends started to laugh. ‘I’m fooking fourteen, I am.’

‘I’m fifteen,’ another boy said, his hair almost white, his jaw square, like- a hero’s, his eyes empty of anything.

`There was a war,’ Sharif said. ‘I had a brother two years older than you. You would have called him a Paid too. But he wasn’t a Palti. He was fighting the Pakistanis and they took him away. We never saw him again. My mother never knew what had happened to him.’

`Ay, but if he were in war, fighting as soldier, like,’ a boy offered from the back.

-`They tortured him,’ Sharif said. ‘The Pakistanis tortured him and they killed him and he was much the same age as you are. So I am not a Paki. You can shout out at me and call me a Bangi. But do not call me a Paki. Do not call me a Paki.’

The man was here. He was brisk and ginger and thirtyish; he looked as empty as the boys. His head was -shaved around -the back and sides and his shoulders bulged from the sleeveless T-shirt he wore. Are you talking to my boys?’ he said. ‘What do you want with them?’

`I am not talking to your boys, as you- call them,’ Sharif said. `They shouted inaccurate abuse at me and I was correcting their inaccurate misapprehension.’ –

`You little bastards,’ the man said, but affectionately. ‘What they bin shouting?’

`They called me a Paid; Sharif said. ‘I am not going to be insulted when I am parking my car at my place of work, and your boys —’

`They called you a Paki? It’s not exactly wrong, though, is it?’ the man said. Are you Pakistani? I don’t see there’s much wrong with —’

`I was explaining precisely what is wrong with what they were shouting,’ Sharif said.

‘If you called me a Brit —’

`I don’t care to be called what they called me,’ Sharif said, with a level gaze. If you are in charge here, you will see it doesn’t happen again.’

`I’ll see they don’t indulge their animal spirits in your direc­tion again,’ the man said un-seriously. ‘They’re good lads. This is our first team. They’ll be looking at trials for clubs in two years.’

`You should teach them how to read,’ Sharif said, walking away. He was not quite sure what the man meant. He understood that it was a world of no significance that he spoke about, in which his boys would in any case fail. ‘That,’ he turned his head, ‘would be of more benefit to them than the ball in the net.’

`Hey!’ the man was shouting, but Sharif went on walking, into the faculty. He walked with a certain buoyancy in his stride. Those children would dream of football and kick balls around until they could kick balls into nets six or seven times out of ten. Then they would fail in their dreamt endeavour and

would have to be sent off to learn how to read. Sharif knew that they could not read, or not much. No person who could read looked like that, so animal in the gaze, either docile or blankly raging. They didn’t know what they were here on earth to do. That was the future for the English.

There was ten minutes before his first student, and he could hear the shouting and whistling from the pitch behind the building. He picked up the telephone and dialled an internal number. In four minutes he had extracted a commitment from the registry that they would speak to the headmaster of Gower

I and extract a number of commitments in turn, before school was allowed to use the university facilities again. ‘f put the telephone down. He had ruined a child’s life – mewhere, one of those sharp-featured boys in the crowd had talent with the unlettered ball and an instinctive understand‑

of the spatial dimensions of a trajectory that needed no arks on paper. A dog could catch a thrown ball, after all. The brilliant moron, somewhere in that crowd, would have to do without the support of the university’s facilities, and he would fail in life because of it. Sharif was glad. And in a moment Mr Wentworth and Mr Tan knocked on his door, and he welcomed them in and began to explain, yet again, about ductile fracture equations.

There had been a note in his pigeon hole from Mr Ghosh, the manager of the hospice, asking if he would- come to see hi at the end of his shift. At first, long ago, these notes had ma him nervous. For along time now, however, they had appe when Mr Ghosh needed Leo’s help in a difficult matter. He worked there much longer than anyone else.

 

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Gay Life Stories by Robert Aldrich

(Only briefly discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This book gives a voice to more than eighty people from every major continent and from all walks of life and it includes poets and philosophers, rulers and spies, activists and artists. Alongside such celebrated figures as Michelangelo, Frederick the Great and Harvey Milk are lesser-known but no less surprising individuals: Dong Xian and the Chinese emperor Ai, whose passion flourished in the 1st century BC; the unfortunate Robert de Péronne, first to be burned at the stake for sodomy; Katharine Philips, writing proto-lesbian poetry in 17th-century England; and ‘Aimée’ and ‘Jaguar’, whose love defied the death camps of wartime Germany. With many striking illustrations – including paintings, drawings, photographs and archival documents – Gay Life Stories will entertain, give pause for thought, and ultimately celebrate the diversity of human history.

It takes an eclectic, multinational view of the subject which introduced many figures I had not heard of. It includes the female as well as male experience of gay life too. Some times the essays were just a little too condensed, leaving one wanting more

You can dip into this book anywhere – there are interesting thematic chapter divisions – but I found myself reading it cover to cover as if it was a cultural survey, and that’s testament to its sheer readability. Lovely book, brilliantly written, great illustrations, quality production values: a book to treasure.

Most gays live obscure, unreported lives: those which have been documented are exceptional. Nor should it surprise anyone that figures who have written about their sexuality predominate.

There is even room for the deeply unpleasant Ronnie Kray, a London gangster who could hardly be said to be a LGBT role model. Nonetheless, Kray’s story reveal something about “gay” life in London in the 1960s and Kray’s dealings with the decidedly dodgy Tory grandee Bob Boothby who stood uo for homosexual law reform).

I hope that when reading the book, readers take away several things. First of all, “we are everywhere,” to quote the gay liberation slogan. Though individuals and their societies have lived out their same-sex yearnings in very different ways, the ancestors of today’s gay men and lesbians were omnipresent. This doesn’t mean that antiquity’s “pederasts,” the early modern age’s “sodomites,” and today’s “homosexuals,” “gays,” and “queers” are all the same — far from it. And in the non-Western world, the profile of those with same-sex orientation is different again. I hope readers will learn about the diversity of gay lives.

Particularly interesting were:

Alair Gomes – the construction of this photographic world aimed to “transcend his personality,” creating a “proto-religious” state.

Image for The Genius of Donald Friend. Drawings from the Diaries 1942-1989Donald Friend – Born in Sydney, Friend grew up in the artistic circle of his bohemian mother and showed early talent both as an artist and a writer. Friend did not mince words about his sexual preferences, depicting himself as “a middle-aged pederast who’s going to seed” in his journal. His relationships were mostly with adolescent boys. For example, in the 1960s Friend wrote in his diary of a 10 year old boy: “[He] spent the night with me. I hope life will continue forever to offer me delicious surprises … and that I will always be delighted and surprised. He goes about the act of love with a charmingly self-possessed grace: gaily, affectionately, and enthusiastically. And in these matters he’s very inventive and not at all sentimental for all the caresses.” A few boys became his lifelong friends, particularly Attilio Guarracino, whom he met when Guarracino was 19 years old, however, in interviews with Kerry Negara, some of Friend’s former victims report being ashamed and traumatised by their childhood sexual experiences with him.

Especially interesting were:

Magnus Enckell – symbolist painter. “His love affairs with men have not been denied … Enckell’s naked men and boys are openly erotic and sensual.”

Eugene Jansson – a Swedish painter known for his night-time land- and cityscapes dominated by shades of blue. Towards the end of his life, from about 1904, he mainly painted male nudes. The earlier of these phases has caused him to sometimes be referred to as blåmålaren, “the blue-painter”.

Tannis Tsarouchis – filled his canvases with images of vulnerable men and (to a much lesser extent) strong women

Tamtsu Yatu  – Japanese photographer and occasional actor responsible for pioneering Japanese homoerotic photography and creating iconic black-and-white images of the Japanese male. He was a friend and collaborator of the writer Yukio Mishima

Lionel Wendt – a Ceylon pianist, photographer, literature collector, critic, and cinematographer.

”In some ways, a sex act is in most senses over and done with rather quickly. It may be public or private, it may be repeated or it may be casual. But it doesn’t so much undermine society as the idea of a continuing emotional relationship because that sort of relationship – love, if you like, or even a long-term partnership – tends to undermine the idea that homosexuality is a deviance, that it is something that is relegated to dark rooms and back streets.

”That then imposes questions, as we see today with discussions about gay marriage, about the normality of standard relationships … It also makes it more difficult for people to close their eyes to it.”

”As a historian, I’m fascinated at how, in a place like Colombo in the 1930s, there could be someone like him, whose sexuality was an open secret that didn’t seem to cause any problem.’And his artistic works combined many of these elements of Western and Eastern traditions in what we would today call cultural hybridity.”

”Even in our own liberal Western countries, we know there are lots of acts of violence against homosexuals; comments by political figures on the right wing about homosexuality,’

‘Some were ‘out and proud’ but some wouldn’t have known what that meant,’. Most of them have left some traces of their sexuality – those traces are in their art, writing, memoirs, and sometimes in the court records that are available, because they were arrested and tried for various crimes.””would no doubt have had sexual liaisons with young men” and, even in old age, was said to chase young fellows because Athenian mores ”not only tolerated but applauded emotional and sexual intercourse between men, though with certain caveats”.

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Murmur by Will Eaves

One said that it felt like a film. All agreed that it was well written.
Many enjoyed the science and realised that the author had done a lot of research (it took him seven years to write) while others found it baffling. Turing was prescient when he wondered about the existence of parallel universes.
The author experienced his grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s. Did this lead to his interests in the working of the mind?
I don’t agree where he says: The Church says: ‘People come in search of meaning, and to have their fears and anxieties allayed.’ But to think you can be finally satisfied on these points, or to imagine you can satisfy others, is the source of the misgiving. Churches, like Jesus, are supposed to respond to questions by asking further questions, going deeper.
I had to look up: truckle bed = a low bed on wheels that can be stored under a larger bed; volutes = a spiral or twisting turn, whorl; scrying = peeping
Are the phones in the canteen an anachronism or is he imagining the future?
It definitely would benefit from re-reading
Quotations:
Do I need to set down the circumstances? The results are in the papers, and for once in my life I am disinclined to “show my working”. It is strangely more instructive, for me, to imagine other conditions, other lives. But here they are, so that my friends, when they come to these few thoughts, may do likewise.
I had just finished a paper and decided to award myself a pick-up. I met the boy, Cyril, on the fairground. He seemed undernourished and shifty but not unengaging; living, he said, in a hostel, working casually. I bought him pie and chips on the grounds and invited him home for the weekend. He didn’t turn up, so I went back to Brooker’s, waited for the fair to close that night, and took him home soon after. He
was not unintelligent, I found – he’d liked the boys’ camp in the war, did some arithmetic there, and knew about Puzzles and Diversions. Cyril was, I’d say, the product of natural sensitivity, working-class starvation and nervous debility. He wouldn’t kiss. We treated ourselves to baths and listened to the late repeat of the Brains Trust programme on learning machines, with Julius Trentham opining, notimplausibly in my view, that the human ability to learn is determined by “appetites, desires, drives, instincts” and that a learning machine would require “something corresponding to a set of appetites”. And I said something like, “You see, what I find interesting about that is Julius’s suggestion that all these feelings and appetites, as he calls them, are causal, and programmable. Even these things, which we’re so sure, so instinctively certain, must be the preserve of freely choosing and desiring humans, may be isolated. They can be caused, and they have a cause.” And Cyril was fascinated. He was listening and nodding. I felt so happy and so peculiarly awful. We went to bed and in the morning I unthinkingly offered him some money. He was offended and left in a mood. I then discovered £3 missing from my wallet – he could have taken it at any time, I put nothing away – and I wrote to him at the hostel, calling things off. He turned up on the doorstep the next day, very indignant, making obscure threats which I did not take seriously. He mentioned an unlikely sounding suit hire debt, for £3 of course, and some other outstanding sums and then ended up asking for another £7, which I reluctantly gave him.“welter of connectedness, the phones and messages, commuters trailing wires, staring past bodies into space, the sound-image of ghostly callers in your head wherever you may be, whatever time it is”.

“The thirty lives in this cold room, seen from some distant vantage point, are like the hopeful lanterns of a struggling ferry.”

Fear of homosexuals is never far from the surface. The few people who have supported me after my conviction must be very strong-minded. I do not think most people are equipped to associate with pariahs. They have a shadowy sense of how frail they themselves would be in the face of institutional opposition and stigmatisation, how utterly cast down if they lost their jobs, if people they knew stopped serving them in shops or looked past them in the street. It is not hatred that turns the majority against the minority, but intuitive shame.

The King died in the early hours of the day on which two very kind police officers paid me a visit. Seven weeks after my arrest, I was found guilty of gross indecency with a male person and sentenced to receive a course of organo-therapy — hormone injections — to be delivered at the Royal Infirmary.

The world is not atomistic or random but made of forms that interlock and are always interlocking, like the elderly couple in Ovid who become trees.

Living on your own makes you more tolerant of people who say strange things.

You know your social life is in trouble when you spend the ‘ evening reading an -article on puzzles called ‘Recreational Topology’.

Dr Stallbrook encourages me to write. It is like making a will, he says — eminently sensible. If you’ve signed your papers and made a will, you know there will be an end.
You have already witnessed it, so to speak. And people who make this definite accommodation with their end, with the prospect of death — who get it in writing — live longer. He says this with a matter-of-factness I can’t help liking.
a process such as simple addition has human ‘meaning’ only because I am there to observe it and call it ‘addition’. And yet it certainly happens. Perhaps the larger process, too, is unmeaningful. If life works, it works. The character of physical law as it extends to biological material is that it should underpin the way cells and systems operate, and that is all.
‘I just don’t think you’d benefit from reading my notes. My job is to help you
encounter yourself.’
The observer is a participant, as the great revolution in quantum physics has taught us. Consider now that I am the set of notes that you wish to read. I might as well ask: how are you to benefit from reading me? Shall we condemn ourselves to solipsistic balance? The two sides of an equation must meet if they are to balance
nurse who injects me does it with a good will, because she has been told that it is her job. She doubtless thinks of herself as a freely choosing agent. She likes to think she does her job well, but at the same time she is just doing her job. (One hears this a lot.)
I said that I liked to trust people, which I do. Lying there, I seemed to float outside my
body and look down at us both.
feeling that marriage by and large has the most deplorably erosive effect on one’s
ability to think.
The ones that work, the marriages, are based on such tolerance, such frank distance, that one is bound to ask the point of them in the first place. The world’s opinion, I suppose, and maybe that’s a good enough reason.
Sex is a salve, partly mechanical, to join what can’t be joined.
Why are the intelligence services paranoid? Because they know you can’t force someone to conform, or learn the error of their ways. You can’t reach the inner life. I can’t be a model citizen — though, heaven knows, I’ve tried — because the menace lingers inside. You can’t simply change people, in other words, or double them, because you can’t know they’ve changed. Only they can know that. Only they know
what it’s like to be copied.
It is the evil of a certain social class, into which I was born, that its children are forever being told there are more valuable qualities which they do not have, and which, despite the expense and discomfort of their education, they must not imagine they could ever possess. That would be ‘getting ideas above one’s station’. Trentham is ambition, to Stallbrook’s cautionary counsel, d’you see? In any case, my response is:
getting ideas of any stripe would be a start. And in fact, what I honestly think, where children are concerned, is that they should be told that they are fine as they are,whatever that is or turns out to be.
Famously I have not had a child. But I have thought more about how I might bring one to some awareness of its value than many people who have.
Because child-rearing is a sympathetic calculation. If I arrange things in this fashion, the sum goes, my child will be clothed, fed and secure. The last element is the tricky one. It is the fairy tale of human existence, seen in my colleagues’ professional ambitions, in the ordinary person’s relationship to money, and especially in a parent’s hopes for his or her children: if I make a certain quantity of effort, a certain quality of life must result. But it will not. Actions have results and reactions, yes, but those
reactions repeat themselves and gain momentum in the stellar array of forces and contingencies beyond anything we might have conceived.
My own predicament — a mathematician and homosexual who has done serviceable work in logic and computational theory but who has run foul of an illogical system of justice — seems very unremarkable. Yes, there is distress. When I work back from it to the cause — a harmless exercise of sexual instinct by two male adults — my situation seems extraordinary, even to me. A walk down the same road five minutes later would have saved me. But that I should be surprised by a turn of events does not
in itself surprise me greatly.
I am sorrier for others. I feel sorry for my mother, who wanted success for me and cannot quite bring herself to believe in my fall, because it is evidence of her lack of control over her child’s future; of how nothing is guaranteed by education; nothing is assured; of how I am, and always was, alone, as she is. She, too, may find it interesting that she cares more about someone else’s aloneness than about her own.
I wonder, June, if you have ever experienced the following: sometimes, when I am doing a long and difficult calculation, which, after much tribulation, comes out right, I feel a sort of glow binding me to the work, in the calculation, in the latter stages when I can see things falling into place. The figures and symbols are so right that they seem to take on some of the self-conscious wonder of the person manipulating them.
They move towards their own awareness. They, and not I, seem to say: oh, but now I see. And when that happens it is like seeing a mind arise from matter to discover that it cannot go back to its former childlike state. It is matter transformed. It is responsible now.
We speak of realising something without seeing what that means. We are making something abstract real, an equation, say, and sending it out into the world. Our sum becomes a creation and it goes its own hectic way. It is a small thing, like a child, with untellable consequences. We can’t control it any more.
It should be a source of hope, this lack of control. It proves not that there is no influence over events or no free will but, rather, that influence — the sheer, startling happeningness of life — is promiscuous. We are both responsible and absolutely unable to make our responsibility stay the way it should.
June, dear friend, you can’t protect me. I can no longer protect you.
I think we are both making a long and difficult calculation. Mine is different from yours. But for both of us the light is coming — bleeding upwards from the horizon.There is no justice in the world and we are alone. The depressed are onto something.What they are apt to miss, thereby, is the spontaneous feeling that dawns all over the place — the aptness of a bird on just that branch and not another, the miniaturised sunin the drop of water on that leaf. Who could have foreseen them?
Misery is the broad river, but there are tributaries of joy and consolation. Writing to you has been one of them, and imagining that you write back another.
Ever,
Alec
Or a bit of a shock. When I heard that voice asking why I’d done whatever it is I’m supposed to have done, I had a strong memory of asking the fortune-teller if I would ever meet Christopher again, and she said yes, we are all made of the same materials, we are atoms, bits of Morse, and you are breathing him in even now. Her shawl smelled maternal — a hint of bergamot and talc — but her eyes were like
Indra’s net, inhumanly compound, and after that I must have passed out.
I came back from the station via the deep shelter, at the edge of the common’s south side, where I sometimes fancy the murmur has gone into hiding, along with the machines. They are down there, at the bottom of the spiral staircase, stuck in a loop, possessors of all the information they need to find out about the universe, but unable to sift any of it. Doubtless they find it unacceptable.
In the light of these winter afternoons, the eastern half of the entrance to the shelter stays white and frosty. The western section, caught by the sun, is like one of those bronze cauldrons the early Britons buried, not in fear of death, but to extend the feast of life. I had an impulse to go over and put my ear to the door.
There I stood, rattling the padlock like a madman. Stallbrook says that analysis is a little like the voyage of a shaman who goes down into middle earth to bring back the buried parts of a sick man’s soul, but I don’t know about that. One can have too much talk, which in any case tends to drive people away. It is better to listen. The machines are in council, down there, wherever they are, because they cannot decide on anything. That is why they suffer from a sense of persecution and abstraction. They
need a connection to something beyond themselves, which it may not be easy for them to achieve, or admit, given their prowess, but I’ve decided I’m willing to lend an ear. Before speech there was listening, and the dead rise with the love of it.
Time is the plane that reveals this interlocking, though time is not discrete. You cannot pin it down. Very often you cannot see the point at which things start to come together, the point at which cause generates effect, and this is a variant of the measurement problem. It must also be akin to asking at what point we begin to lose consciousness when we are given an anaesthetic, or at what point unconscious
material becomes conscious. Where does one cross over into the other? If the tessellation of forms is perfect, do they divide? Or are they one?
These are notes to pass the time, because I am in a certain amount of discomfort. I suppose it is fear, and keeping a partial journal distracts me. But I am also drawn to the pulse of that fear, a beat, an elevated heart rate – and something more than that, which comes through the thinking and is a sort of rhythmic description of my state of mind, like someone speaking quickly and urgently on the other side of a door.
I know that Pythagoras is said to have delivered his lectures from behind a screen. The separation of a voice from its origin gave him a wonder-inducing authority, apparently. Perhaps he was shy. Or ugly. Anyway, I’ve never had this experience before. This morning I could hear the inner murmuring accompanying trivial actions:
‘I’m up early, it’s dark outside, the path I laid haphazardly with my own hands is now

a frosted curve. I put some crumbs down for the blackbird singing on my neighbour’s chimney pot. Beyond my garden gate a road, beyond that fields speeding away towards the tree-lined hills and crocus light. I wait beside a bare rowan, its berries taken by the blackbird and her brood, the wood pigeons and jays.’ And then again, moments later, when I caught myself looking back at the garden through the doorway: ‘He passes through the silent streets, across wet roofs and closed faces, deserted parks. He moves among the trees and waiting fairground furniture.’

The error is supposed to be ‘looking back’, isn’t it? Poor Orpheus, etc.

Of course, it has occurred to me that the balance of my mind is disturbed, just as it has occurred to me that I am reckoning with a deliberate retreat from the world, a passing out of sight into, well, invisibility. What lesson might that passage have for me? It is an extension of my preference for anonymity, I suppose. It is commonly said, or felt if it is not said, that people respect others of importance who have achieved things or held office; but it is a curious fact that self-respect is often found to exist in inverse proportion to public status. It has learned to pass nights alone. It does not seek approval because it knows that estimation has nothing to do with achievement.

The problem with disguising or encrypting is that the original still exists. One has doubled the information, not made it less sensitive. Something has happened to it, but the semantic loaf persists behind a mask, a veil, a foreign accent, new papers, breasts etc., and really the only thing to do about that, if you’re still anxious, is to remove both bits of information – the original and the encryption- altogether.

It strikes me that a mirror reflects, but that, geometrically speaking it transforms rather than translates. One is turned back on oneself and in the process one sees a second person, a new person who one does not fully recognise. Always uncanny, this about-facing, and not unrelated to the common fair of automation, which people assume to be a sort of coming doom. The fear of robots, I take it, is like the fear of prophecy, the essence of which is repetition: of you can be repeated, you can be replaced.

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The Sparsholt Affair -Alan Hollinghurst

I enjoyed this more than his previous books: maybe because it isn’t full of Tory ‘toffs’, though one in our group said it felt empty, pointless and though he’s a very good writer there are too many characters. Many chapters start with ‘HJe’ but uit can take you up to two pages to find out who ‘he’ is.

Maybe it’s because it’s the anniversary of the 1967 Act that he was asked to write something pan-generational, though he’s light on the 1960s (covered by The Line of Duty?)

There is a sense of movement from darkness (the blackouts etc.) to light – but is it a critique, rather than an endorsement, or 21st Century gay life?

Many thought that it was about one hundred pages too long: the middle section drugged. There was ‘testosterone coming out of every page for the first 150.’

He writes about death and bereavement very well.. The frame-making is beautifully described.

One member read of three times because some parts weren’t clear.

A young man looks at a red chalk drawing of a muscly torso, made years before. He registers the residual heat of homoerotic longing in this ‘ancient pornography’, but has no idea he’s looking at his own father’s flesh, captured in youth. Johnny Sparsholt is the gay son of a closeted father, David. He is growing up into relative freedom whereas his father was mired in a corruption scandal with a Tory MP and rent boys. The incident reverberates through other lives but Hollinghurst chooses not to bring this into clear focus, instead keeping it a matter of oblique glimpses and somewhat cryptic allusions.

How we view the past, and what we find in it, are questions at the heart of Alan Hollinghurst’s sixth novel; an evocation of time, loss and change, the social and sexual revolutions of the last 70 years.

Two generations of gay men in 5 interlinked sections:

section 1: about stunningly handsome, closeted David Sparsholt in 1942 WWII Oxford, England. ‘A New Man’, takes the form of a plummily written literary memoir by an Oxford contemporary of Sparsholt’s, Freddie Green, recording the young sportsman’s dazzling first appearance half-naked in a window just before blackout time, and the flutter of rivalrous longings set off in the various onlookers ogling him from Green’s rooms across the quad. Great use is made of these wartime blackouts, with much of the action occurring in a beautifully evoked pitch-black Oxford where submerged lusts bloom into furtive touches and brushes.

Sparsholt has a fiancee, Connie, and is already in trouble for the “rhythmical creaking” overheard while she was visiting. But his apparent heterosexuality only adds to his allure, especially when it transpires that he isn’t above being flattered by the admiring attentions of Green’s friends. It’s a variation on the classic erotic farce formula of virginal innocence besieged by cynical experience. Not that Sparsholt’s ultimate seducer, a sensitive aesthete named Evert Dax, is cynical in himself (he’s too ardent for that), but his success has as much to do with the awakening of mercenary tendencies in Sparsholt as it does with the gratifying of homoerotic ones, which doesn’t bode well for Sparsholt’s future.

The immediate fun of this section is largely in its reviving of a particular style of fine writing, in which the euphemism and indirectness about sexual matters still had a certain currency. It isn’t  quite pastiche, more a sort of dead-on rendition of how an old-school literatteur who also happens to be an old-school repressed homosexual (so repressed he remains comically unaware of his own infatuation with Sparsholt) might have written at that time; Henry James via Ronald Firbank, with a gravitation towards words such as “moue” and “tendresse”, lots of double entendres (“Where do you like to take her?”). There is also some complicated snobbish satire, much of it at the expense of Dax’s father, a famous but evidently awful novelist who embodies the vice that Hollinghurst’s own novels seem to despise above all others: bad art. (One enters his books nervous of being found guilty of some appalling error of taste; woe betide any admirer of Strauss reading The Line of Beauty, or of Chagall reading this one.)

sections 2-5: his gay son Johnny, living in his father’s notoriously “scandalous” shadow 1951-2012

In part two, set in 1965, Sparsholt, now a war hero and successful industrialist, has married Connie and the two have brought their son Johnny, an aspiring artist, on holiday to Cornwall (encroaching on Patrick Gale territory?) , along with his French exchange partner, Bastien. Johnny is besotted with Bastien, but the sexually precocious French boy has discovered girls  and Johnny spends his days in rebuffed longing. Another couple, the Haxbys, are also in Cornwall, and it becomes steadily apparent that a clandestine affair is going on. The section reformulates the pattern of pursuers and pursued from the first part, with Johnny in the lovelorn Dax’s role, Bastien reprising the role of freshly arrived young Adonis, a small yacht furnishing the same sexually charged atmosphere as the Oxford darkness, and so on.

Continuing this pattern of repetition with variation, part three brings back Dax, now the gay eminence of a bohemian household in the comparatively liberated London of 1974. Chance brings Johnny, at this point earning his living as an apprentice art restorer, into the household, where he duly assumes the role of flattered ingenu (“I like your trousers”). He is eager to be initiated into the mysteries of gay London but unaware of the connection between Dax and his father, and of the less than straightforward motives the men around him might have for taking him to bed. The three-day week, with its intermittent darknesses, nicely echoes the blackouts of the first part.

There is a layering of similar situations on top of each other like a series of transparencies that cumulatively portray a culture as it exists in time as well as in space, revolving the same constellation of longings and confusions, with the gradual relaxing of attitudes around sexuality operating as the principle of change.

In the 90s we get a lesbian couple’s invitation to “do a baby for us”  on into the present era of selfies, makeover TV and internet porn. Johnny, by now a successful portrait painter, carries the novel at this point. He’s a warmly sympathetic character to keep company with, whether he’s musing on portraiture, attending a funeral, suffering the indignities of a vegetarian in a carnivorous world, painting the arriviste (and viciously named) Miserden family, or finding new love at a club in autumnal middle age. An amazing amount of the passion and folly of the human comedy is woven into his modest life, all of it beautifully observed and memorably articulated.

The author:

“I wanted to create in the reader that sense of half-remembered details,”

“If you think about the Poulson scandal in the early 1970s [a property and corruption case that resulted in the resignation of the home secretary, Reginald Maudling] … the Profumo affair people remember a bit better, but actually, if we tested each other on it now, we’d probably be a bit rocky, and that was a very, very prominent scandal.”

“I can see that I keep going back to the periods when things were more difficult and clandestine, because they seem from a fictional point of view to be more rewarding.”

“It’s a funny thing; when you could openly have gay clubs after 1967, but they had all these complicated licensing laws, and one thing was that they had to serve a meal. You had to be a member, so you paid; I can remember when I first went to London gay clubs in the late 70s having to become a member, this ridiculous thing, and write down your address. And then you got this fucking salad!” (There is an additional twist of humour: Johnny’s salad includes a revolting knob of sweaty, gristly ham; he later becomes, like Hollinghurst, a committed vegetarian.)

“passing through a door, going down a staircase, into this magical other place where your desires can be made fresh”

“I did have that sense that I was very fortunate in a way, coming along just as gay lit as a genre was really coming into its own, and finding there was this whole fascinating, unexplored world to write about. But then of course that was in the wake of gay liberation and various social and political changes; and then of course the great crisis of Aids was the second stage of that – it gave gay writing a new, unanticipated subject.”

And what about now? “The distinctive purpose of gay writing, its political purpose or its novelty or its urgency have gone, and the gay world, as it changes, is perhaps not so stimulating to a fiction writer like me,” he says – although he’s careful to make clear he’s talking about his own writing rather than issuing blanket statements. “It doesn’t mean it can’t be written about.”

But Hollinghurst has never seen himself or wanted to be seen as a chronicler of gay life or “to claim to be a responsible historian of it; but of course I’m deeply interested in it and its effects on people’s lives, and the way that one’s telling a story that’s not over; it’s not a fixed thing that one’s writing about, but something that’s constantly changing.”

“I was once asked to contribute to a book of essays by writers about being only children, and actually I thought, I don’t want to examine too closely this thing which I just knew was actually rather fundamental to my psychology, to my whole being as a writer. That double sense of being an outsider, wanting to penetrate a world, but also having a sort of self-reliance that I think only children have. They’re very happy to be by themselves and quite a lot of their interesting life is happening when they’re by themselves.”

The business of ageing, he notices, has also led him to feel that in writing, “I’m constantly opening up a forgotten room in my past, as it were”. 

Portraits do interest me. I must say, when I’ve had some spare cash, I’ve found myself collecting them. Since I don’t have much space at home, they are rather small ones, and they tend to be of people I don’t know anything about, so everything is conjecture, really.

BOLLEN: You actually go to auction houses and hunt around the sales?

HOLLINGHURST: Well, I became really addicted about ten years ago, when I discovered that auction houses put all their catalogs online. People get addicted to various things online. My addiction is relatively harmless.

I usually end up giving just a few little physical details, which encourage the reader to make up the character themselves. You could have a sort of Dickensian approach, where you get almost grotesquely detailed with an exaggerated sense of someone’s physical appearance. But I think for a lot of the great fictional characters, you might only know roughly how tall they are or what color their hair is, or perhaps their eyes might be rather significant. Oddly, I think it’s the lesser characters that you might describe more vividly because they only get one moment in the spotlight. But I build a lot of characters more out of what they say and perhaps the way that they say it—the mannerisms and gestures associated with speech, as well as the tones. I’ve always been interested in analyzing the way people say things and what they’re not saying or trying to conceal.

I didn’t want to write an idealized version of Oxford, like a terrible, hackneyed kind of Brideshead Revisited. Those years seemed a fascinating moment when people of different backgrounds might have just been thrust together there in a new way.

BOLLEN: Especially when you’re facing possible doom for the first time. The idea that the world is blowing up and there might not be a future could perhaps symbolize everyone’s college years, but for these characters, they can actually see the bombs dropping on the horizon.

HOLLINGHURST: Normally, as an undergraduate at Oxford, you have this sense of three or four years of a leisurely stretch ahead of you, but back then most people knew they were going to go up for probably only a year before they were going to be drafted and sent to who knew where.

“in a way [scandals] make it possible to talk about things that we wouldn’t otherwise talk about – that was one of the things about the Wilde scandal I suppose, wasn’t it? That it made a shockingly public, unambiguous statement about this thing that was otherwise not talked about in polite society.”

Quotations:

“rhythmical shadow” leaping and shrinking “across the distant ceiling”

“It was that brief time between sunset and the blackout when you could see into other people’s rooms.”

“a figure in a gleaming singlet, steadily lifting and lowering a pair of hand-weights”.

“indiscriminate darkness”

“no place for polite indecision”

“claiming the full heterosexual allowance to carry on in public”

“It is hard to do justice to old pleasures that cannot be revived—we seem half to disown our youthful selves, who loved and treasured them.”

Evert’s stroke had had two main consequences — his short-term memory was impaired, leaving him sometimes at sea in the midst of a conversation started with a clear sense of purpose and subject. He said he saw soft white squares, where facts in the form of images, or images of words, should be, pale blanks that floated on his mind’s eye like the shape of a bright window. The other effect, somehow doubly surprising, was release from worry — not only the worry that pervaded decisions and plans, but the worry that was caused by not being able to remember. This felt like a blessing, but was also, Ivan felt, a bit worrying in itself.

There was a rather oppressive need to keep him focused — on day-to-day matters, and on the looming plans for the house. Victor was tidied up now, really for good. And all the things that had been put off until he was tidied up loomed much larger. The advance for the biography was £10,000, a much smaller figure when the book was delivered than it had been when the contract was signed. The work on the house might cost ten times as much. Besides which, Evert needed a new project. A proper memoir was the obvious idea; but it could be another art book, portraits of artists he had known over fifty years. Other­wise he was going to spend every day forgetting what he’d gone out for and picking up strangers in Marks and Spencer’s.

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Release –Patrick Ness

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. . It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe,  hope. Things go wrong.

Preacher’s son – gay, coming out.

In the interleaved story, an otherworldly Queen becomes entwined with the soul of a murdered girl, and moves through our reality, seeking answers and revenge, with a naked 7ft faun as her companion. These interwoven stories seem to be part of his style. In A Monster Calls, it was integral. Here, it doesn’t seem to be and is hard to understand, easy to skate past and ignore – for some, they will impart a sense of the extraordinary forces that might underlie the everyday; for others, they will distract from the “real” story of Adam.

Adam, nearly 18, lives in Frome, Washington. His dad is a minister and Adam considers himself completely under his dad’s Yoke while he still lives at home. Having homophobic, conservative parents means that Adam hides most of his true self from them. He’s gay and feels about one second away from them sending him to a conversion camp at any given point in time. But he has Angela, his very best friend, and Linus, his boyfriend whom he is trying really, really hard to give himself fully to (if only he could get over his lingering love for Enzo, his crappy ex-boyfriend). He also has a boss who sexually harasses him, a seemingly perfect older brother who is about to drop a shocking revelation on the family, and doesn’t know today is also the day he learns a secret from Angela that will throw him for a loop.

All of this is happening while the ghost of a local girl recently murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend is carrying out her own part of the story, one that involves a giant fawn, visits to familiar places, confrontations, and an unexpected path to release. In anyone else’s hands, I would probably be left thinking, Um, okay, what is this doing here? But it’s Ness. He’s brilliant. He makes these dual but mostly unrelated narratives both work exceptionally well.

‘Different than’ should be ‘different from’

Quotations:

“Adam would have to get the flowers himself.”

“Blanched blond, tall, bulky in a way that might be handsome”

“You have no idea how hard I work to love you.”

“the funnest, funniest thing two people could do together”

“And two, I know what it is to be in love, Marty.”
“No, you don’t. Teenage love isn’t love. Especially if it’s…” He stopped.
“Especially if it’s what?” Adam leaned into the truck, raised his voice. “Especially if it’s what?”

He was different than Adam, is what Adam always told himself. Adam used words. Enzo used affection, didn’t he? And he had been affectionate. If he hadn’t said the words out loud much, he’d said them over and over again with a touch, with a kiss, with sex that was hardly just going in one direction.
“Why do we have to label it?” Enzo had asked, all along, it was true. “Why can’t we just be?”
And Adam had said, “Okay.” He’d said, “Okay.” He hadn’t even tried the it’s-not-a-label-it’s-a-map thing he’d sold to Angela. Why not? Why hadn’t he? Why the hell did he just take whatever Enzo offered? Without argument or demand. Without even apparent self-respect

 

“They’re your parents. They’re meant to love you because. Never in spite.”

“Maybe hearts don’t ever stop breaking once broken.”

“It was so much easier to be loved than to have to do any of the desperate work of loving.”

“Death is not the end.”

“Never pass up the chance to be kissing someone. It’s the worst kind of regret.”

“Blame is a human concept, one of its blackest and most selfish and self-binding.”

“Little girls aren’t naturally lost,” Karen said, frowning as she scanned saucepans. “Someone makes them that way.”

“It may cost you, my Queen. It may cost you dear.”
“All the best journeys do, faun.”

“Blame is something that is shared and denied in equal measures.”

“Marty: Dad’s right about you. You got lost on your journey somewhere.
Adam: That’s what everyone says who never bothered to go on a journey in the first place.”

“If you can’t pray it away, it’s not a real problem.”

“And there. The power of a word. The power of one word. That’s where it all changes.”

“Tread carefully, Marty. I mean it. The world has completely changed around you while you weren’t looking.”

“People with really stiff morals are easier to tip over.”

“Maybe there didn’t have to be any other reasons. Maybe love made you stupid. Maybe loneliness did.”

“Raising his eyes to look directly into Linus’s face was maybe the scariest thing he’d had to do all day long, but it was only the free-falling terror that always accompanied hope.”

“Every gay has to have their years in a huge coastal city. It’s like a law.”

“They’re your parents. They’re meant to love you because. Never in spite.”

“Upset isn’t the same as the world falling apart.”

“Adam’s stomach was tumbling with how much Linus knew and how he’d found it all out (it would turn out he knew as much as nearly everyone else in the school, which was a lot, but it also turned out that – in that unreachable, possible world – most of them actually liked Adam or at least didn’t actively wish him harm, so they’d given his sorrow some space; when Adam thought about it now, it still made his head swim, still made him blush, still made him wish he could crawl under a blanket and die there forever) – but looking at Linus, he saw no malice, no gossip, saw instead someone who might actually know.”

“She can smell him now, a smudge of unwashed skin, poverty, extreme loneliness. She takes the can, still holding his hand, unrolling it, running a finger across its weathered palm.”

“Why did everyone no longer a teenager automatically dismiss any feeling you had then? Who cared if he’d grow out of it? That didn’t make it any less true in those painful and euphoric days when it was happening.”

“If she needed him, he’d be there instantly, no questions asked, and he knew she’d do the same. She was here now. They had their bulgogi. This is what a family was. Or should be.”

“But here, now, again, this was more than the body, or the mind, or the personality. It wasn’t holy, that was a whole other mess, but it was something that could be touched only here.”

“But then she thinks, feels, reaches out, and knowing exactly what blame is – a human construct, one of its blackest and more selfish and self-blinding – she can find further strands of it, emanating in all directions, for blame is something that is shared but denied in equal measure.”

“an act that didn’t feel like penetration, but like combination”

“He had loved Enzo. Loved him. And who cared if it was the love of a fifteen – and then a sixteen-year-old. Why did that make any less? They were older than those two idiots in Romeo and Juliet. Why did everyone no longer a teenager automatically dismiss any feeling you had then? Who cared if he’d grow out of it? That didn’t make it any less true in those painful and euphoric days when it was happening. The truth was always now, even if you were young. Especially if you were young.”

“Physical beauty, of all the curses, was obviously the best you could get. It was still a curse though.”

“Well, Adam thought. I’ve had my mouth on his bare skin. That seemed to be effective.”

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After Queer Theory: The Limits of Sexual Politics – James Penney

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

After Queer Theory claims that queer theory has been made obsolete by the elaboration of its own logic within capitalism. James Penney argues that far from signalling the end of anti-homophobic criticism, however, the end of queer presents the occasion to rethink the relation between sexuality and politics. The question is, how straightforward can the language of sexual politics be? Is it all, as Foucault wrote, ‘an elaborate ruse designed to have us chatter endlessly about sex, all the while further tethering ourselves to the omnipotent forces of power’?

Through a critical return to Marxism and psychoanalysis (Freud and Lacan), Penney insists that the way to implant sexuality in the field of political antagonism is paradoxically to abandon the exhausted premise of a politicised sexuality.

After Queer Theory argues that it is necessary to wrest sexuality from the dead end of identity politics, opening it up to a universal emancipatory struggle beyond the reach of capitalism’s powers of commodification.

One chapter (‘The Sameness of Sexual Difference’) argues that each individual’s sexual preferences radically differ from everyone else’s. Penney wants to remind us that our idiosyncrasies should be kept in mind when linking sex with politics.  As strange as this sounds, queerness – or any sexual identity – should not be used as a starting point for political action, because otherwise we risk spreading divisive, over-militant or ‘identitarian’ sentiments. Sexual differences are ubiquitous and so ‘devoid of consequences for political thought’.

Penney examines many enlightening areas of sexual politics including perversion, sublimation, and family values

Like others of his ilk, he can’t write comprehensible English – he used adjectives as nouns., e.g.: problematic. The concluding chapter resumes where the first chapter leaves off: it examines one final thematic.

He’s certainly right that: ‘queer’ can sex up a philosophical tradition that makes for remarkably dry reading.

What planet does he inhabit when he claims: To be sure, there is no doubt that in the liberal and ‘post-oedipal’ global North, there are concrete material advantages to be gained from engaging in the queer lifestyle of which Morland and Willox speak. The queer is not only unburdened by conventional family obligations or the monogamous relationship. Also, the lifestyle values he or she embraces are inherently synchronous with the flexibility, mobility and precariousness on which contemporary capitalism so exploitatively thrives.

Some of his case studies are bizarre, though maybe I’ve lived a sheltered, vanilla life.

And what are we to make of ‘the phallus not as penis but as turd’?

However much of realty the ‘pink pound’ may be, there are young people begging on our streets after being thrown out by their parents because of their sexuality.

I had to look up: rhizomatic = an application of post-structural thought to education, it has more recently been identified as methodology for net-enabled education. In contrast to goal-directed and hierarchical theories of learning, it posits that learning is most effective when it allows participants to react to evolving circumstances, preserving lines of flight that allow a fluid and continually evolving redefinition of the task at hand

Also joissance – physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy

Introduction: After Queer Theory: Manifesto And Consequences
1: Currents Of Queer
2: The Universal Alternative
3: Is There A Queer Marxism?
4: Capitalism And Schizoanalysis
5: The Sameness Of Sexual Difference
6: From The Antisocial To The Immortal
Notes
Index

Quotations:

within groups such as ACT UP  familiar with then-emergent queer academic discourse, wasn’t especially conducive to the creative imagination of strategies for countering the effects of the deathly state-sanctioned public indifference to the crisis. As Sedgwick insightfully argues, this apparatus tended to produce a paranoid and abstract vision of power, which actually worked against the development of productive strategies of resistance. By emphasising the determinative impact of power over the creation ofpositive alternatives, the Foucaultian framework that worked against the negotiation of relations and alliances.

Unfortunately, Sedgwick’s t professed inability to imagine how her intellectual concerns might relate to dass struggle and colonial history tells us all we need to know about her deepest political convictions. In particular, her inability to see any relation between her own involvement in the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States and the obscene devastation inflicted by that same crisis, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is deeply objectionable to say the least. In fact, one begins to wonder if Klein’s writing proves so seductive for Sedgwick not because it allows her to work through or overcome the infantile affects that haunt her, but rather because it provides a sort of intellectual alibi for wallowing in them, sheltered from any reminder that they might in part be determined by forces outside the boundaries of her own limited and very bourgeois construction of her intellectual identity. In short, Klein allows Sedgwick to take the sense data of her feelings at face value, reneging on the political and analytic responsibility to question the ideological parameters that set the terms of her experience of them.

No concerted effort was made to document the candidates’ perspectives on any other issue: gun control, education, the death penalty, taxation, foreign policy or health care (generally speaking, that is beyond the specific concerns related to HIV/AIDS and reproductive rights). Only policies obviously related to civil rights for non-heterosexual citizens were meaningfully broached. This briefest of summaries makes the leaflet’s general strategy quite patent. But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. The Agenda’s members made their endorsements on the basis of results from a questionnaire circulated to New York state queers. Questions covered ‘the following topics: comprehensive civil rights protections; protecting students from anti-gay harassment in schools; funding for our health and human service needs; anti-discrimination protections in the issuing of insurance policies; funeral and bereavement leave for same-sex partners; opposition to the state anti-gay marriage bill; No concerted effort was made to document the candidates’ perspectives on any other issue: gun control, education, the death penalty, taxation, foreign policy or health care (generally speaking, that is beyond the specific concerns related to HIV/AIDS and reproductive rights). Only policies obviously related to civil rights for non-heterosexual citizens were meaningfully broached. This briefest of summaries makes the leaflet’s general strategy quite patent. But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. The Agenda’s members made their endorsements on the basis of results from a questionnaire circulated to New York state queers. Questions covered ‘the following topics: comprehensive civil rights protections; protecting students from anti-gay harassment in schools; funding for our health and human service needs; anti-discrimination protections in the issuing of insurance policies; funeral and bereavement leave for same-sex partners; opposition to the state anti-gay marriage bill; support of multicultural curriculum in our schools; age-appropriate sex education; HIV transmission prevention and counselling for the seropositive; and recognition of our relationships through domestic partnership, civil union, and/or same-sex marriage legislation’. Bear in mind for the upcoming discussion that several topics on this list express interests that extend beyond the queer community strictly speaking, however one may wish to define it, to include the citizenry or people in general: health care, women’s reproductive rights, multicultural and sex education, in particular.

On the level of its address, however, the pamphlet presupposed a specific, clearly delimited community subtracted from the whole. The members of this community expressed the interests of an explicit `we’. The issues of health care and health insurance, for instance, were approached not as concerns that raise the general question of each and every citizen’s access to the benefits they provide, but rather as a question of ‘our’ specific needs and right to protection from discrimination.

To be perfectly explicit, the health care system’s status quo is left entirely unquestioned; the frame is limited to the ambition of preventing discrimination against queers in the system as it currently stands.

The interest of the pamphlet lies in the sort of political subject it presupposes. Scandalised, I realised that it enjoined me implicitly to vote for the fiscally conservative homosexual or queer-friendly Republican (rare, but not non-existent) in favour of capital punishment and low corporate taxes, instead of the Democrat pushing for a patients’ bill of rights and the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, but who may have spoken out against gay marriage.

In sum, since the dawn of queer theory, non-libertarian and non-or post-liberal — not to mention explicitly Marxist — approaches to homosexuality have been extremely rare. Certainly, classical Marxism itself hasn’t helped matters. With the exception of a smattering of quite banal, decidedly unscientific, homophobic comments in their correspondence, Marx and Engels themselves were significantly unconcerned with homosexuality. The historical record shows that this oversight has since led many major Marxist strategists and theorists to the silly conclusion that homosexuality as such is objectively reactionary or bourgeois.

even in its most post-liberal strains, queer theory has been overwhelmingly confined within a narrow political horizon which fails to recognise how sexual rights and freedoms, not to mention the critique of this discourse of rights and freedoms, never appear at the top of the list of priorities of the most concretely disenfranchised the world over, queer and straight and everything in between.

Unjust and subtly devastating though it can surely be, the kind of homophobia queer theory talks about is a quite refined form of oppression — one that develops in comparatively benign social formations, from which the more physical forms of sexualised violence, from rape to excision to the proliferating forms of torture, have ceased to police and deform sexual relations in the widest sense.” Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, homophobia becomes part and parcel of a more generalised masculine sexual violence, which perverts the entire field of sexual relations, targeting primarily the sexual expression of women. Here, in Salafist Islam for example, it’s less a question of the direct oppressive targeting of homosexuality, however prominently this features in the programme, than .a masculine-perverse protest against the very libidinal conditions of human life as such.

consider the circumstances of a ‘badly’ educated, working-class lesbian toiling away at several part-time jobs to support her family. Or those of a young, crypto-gay Iranian man contemplating a sex-change operation so he can envision a sexual relationship without either violating religious principles he may in fact hold dear, or risk execution at the hands of the state. That either of these subjects should experience a spontaneous frisson of solidarity with a bourgeois and staunchly secularist queer movement is not nearly as obvious a contention as we might wish to think.

we agreed to allow the master signifier ‘capitalism’, with its indelible tie to Marxist economic historicisation, to be replaced by another, insidiously naturalising, term: ‘the market’. We have allowed this signifier to impose itself as an objective description of a natural law, one that conveys a direct knowledge of the economic real as such.

Certainly, there’s nothing novel today in asserting a link between the proliferation of sexual identities during the twentieth century and the expansion and globalisation of capitalist relations

the absorption by consumer society or libidinal satisfaction.’

in other words, social shame accompanied the admission in polite company of an inappropriate sexual dalliance, today shame accrues if one admits to not being interested in sexual (and back then, political) transgression; if one confesses that one’s sexual experience has never quite extended to flavours beyond vanilla.

homosexuality threatened the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie because the prospect of sexual enjoyment outside the confines of the heterosexual family unit threatened to sabotage the bourgeois state’s project to assign responsibility for the provision of social services to the private sphere, organised around the unstable institution of the patriarchal nuclear family. The Victorian working-class man had no choice but to adopt the protestant work ethic because he had a wife and family to take care- of at home, knowing full well that the state would decline to take over responsibility for the family should he prove unwilling or unable to do so himself. Bluntly, if the father is busy cruising men at the public toilets, it’s not dear who’s going to be bringing home the bacon. Properly socialist pressure on the state to provide public services then threatens to emerge.

the so-called linguistic turn of semiotics and structuralism, for Morton, is a symptom of critical theory’s regression back from historical materialist analysis. The growing emphasis on language in twentieth-century thought, on the construction and deconstruction of signification or meaning, is to be understood as part and parcel of the increasing hegemony and widening globalisation of capitalist logic. Capital superimposes an obfuscating but profit-generating cloak of empty value on the material conditions of production. Analogously, linguistic, textual and discursive modes of analysis introduce a distracting emphasis on rhetoric and representation into the more concrete political and historical problem of human need’s satisfaction.

Over a century of psychoanalytic experience provides inconvenient but overwhelming evidence that even at its basest or barest, human life can only fail to limit itself to the dimension of biological or physiological need. The argument that psychoanalytic experience shows this because it’s only the bourgeoisie who ever get analysed fails, unfortunately, to convince.

Here is the basic lesson of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1922): the essence of human life is its own excess over itself; an inhuman and immortal drive which, zombie-like, persists beyond mere biological death.’ Similarly, as Lacan argued in the aftermath of the socio-political tumult of the late 1960s, surplus value, which he translated into the neologism plus-de-jouir (surplus enjoyment), survives the socialist revolution. As impractical and politically irritating as the statement surely is, Baudrillard is entirely correct

 

The radical queer millionaire Internet pornographer who organises ‘sex-positive’ sex toy parties in his spare time (the new Tupperware?) has become one of the best emblems of contemporary capitalism.

These are the formidable forces that see us purchase that bottle of perfume or cologne despite the fact that we know better, that we’re not quite sure we even enjoy the scent. If the old project of so-called Freudo-Marxism ever had a point to make, it was perhaps that the two agendas, viewed on this level, are one and the same. Taking the literary cue from Freud, Lacan tied the destiny of the desiring subject to the vicissitudes of the tragic genre, from the desire of the destitute Oedipus ‘never to have been born’, through Antigone’s uncompromising perseverance at the limits of ate, to Sygne de Coiffontaine’s pathetic and suicidal facial tic. This tic indexes a pure negativity, an absolute ‘no’, whose possibility is carved out by the signifier, according to Lacan, in Paul Claudel’s dramaturgical trilogy. But, as Alenka Zupana’ insightfully argues, desire also belongs to the realm of comedy, here understood as the generic mode that exposes the difference between the lofty and otherworldly ambitions of desire and the inadequate objects that fail to satisfy it. This is the desire not to desire; the desire whose aim is to sabotage its own realisation, whose modus operandi is precisely to repress the knowledge of its own impossibility.

This desire is to be distinguished from what Lacan called desire’s real — the drive, that is — which does in fact deliver satisfaction. But we can only experience this satisfaction at the ego’s expense, as a consequence of the ego’s fleeting collapse.

Beyond Freud’s pleasure principle, in other words, there lies not the nihilistic negation of any future for humanity whatsoever, but rather the emancipatory affirmation of humanity’s excess over itself, an excess that is properly eternal in nature. If there’s no future, in other words, it’s because this future is not merely already (potentially) here, but also always has been, and always will be.

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