Archive for C-D

Larchfield by Polly Clark

LFThis novel about loneliness, unacceptance, survival, outsiders and creativity was inspired by the author’s own plight when she moved to Helensburgh in Scotland and found a connection with Auden that was to change her life. It evokes a small community as claustrophobic and inhibiting as the characters themselves. Helensburgh, (“the Wimbledon of the north”, according to Cecil Day-Lewis), is portrayed as a town where curtains twitch and ‘outsiders’ are treated with suspicion.

Post natal depression is described well.

Child abuse lurks.

The relationship with difficult neighbours was vividly described and many could relate to that from their own experience.

Helensburgh is not as self-contained as the novel suggests: many commute to Glasgow. The local paper opined: The sad thing is that there is some decent writing here. A novel solely about a premature child and post-natal depression in a strange West Coast town might have been fine. A non-fiction book about a curious period in the life of Auden would have been interesting. Together, they are not. There is also a sour undercurrent. Dora’s dastardly neighbours are, of course, churchgoers. They are, of course, hypocrites. This presumption that the Kirk is a crucible of sourness is, in my experience, neither true nor fair. I doubt very much indeed if she would have written this novel with the nasty upstairs neighbours being of Islamic or Jewish faith.

A good read, well-written, said members. Beautiful language.

She took a risk when merging the two different times and characters.

One member said that the breakdown scene was so vivid that he had to stop reading.

“You seem awfully nice in person” Wystan is told at one party, “and I’m sure your next book will be much better”). There are moments of escape, and we follow him there too – to brief holidays with his Christopher Isherwood where he makes the most of the soon-to-vanish freedom of Berlin’s gay clubs, and into a love affair with a working-class lad back in Scotland.

 According to one critic: Barely a page goes by without some stale and threadbare language. Shocking is usually “deeply”; people hiss instead of whisper, the baby perpetually gurgles, cuts are always deep. Nobody speaks like a human being, not even the kind of human beings that inhabit soi-disant and pseudo-literary novels – “Jamie! Thank you ! I mustn’t be stung by a wasp. Dr Boyce said it could make me very ill indeed.” This is twinned with a kind of needless poeticism: “a nest of wire and tubes” referring to a complicated cot; “one creature-combination of mother and baby” to describe the simple act of holding a child. It also must be the winner of my novel of the year to overuse italics.

The author:

Clark is the literature director of Cove Park, a writer’s retreat near Helensburgh, where she has lived for the last four years, as well as in the surrounding area for a further seven. Ever since she arrived – like Dora and Auden, from Oxford, where she had worked for a publisher –  she had known about Helensburgh’s Auden connection, that the poet had taught at Larchfield for a couple of years and that his first major collection, The Orators, was written while he taught there. Her daughter is a pupil at Lomond School, which is on the site of Larchfield. “Although the building in which Auden lived while he was there has been converted to flats, the façade is exactly the same, and in the photographs I’ve got of him with the boys, the background hasn’t changed. Helensburgh hasn’t altered too much either. I really didn’t need that much imagination.”

“This was such a formative time in his life,” she says, “yet nobody has really written about him in Helensburgh. But I didn’t want to write a biography, so for years I didn’t have any kind of hook on which to hang my knowledge of him. I used to wish it had been a completely different poet, someone I could relate to more – like Ted Hughes, say – because I didn’t think I had anything in common with Auden. He’s posh, he’s gay, I didn’t like his work so much – though I do now. I just didn’t see any connection.”

“Then I realised we had everything in common. We were both outsiders. Neither of us could be ourselves any more, we were both hiding who we are.”  Or, as she explains on the proof (though not the finished) copy of the novel: “I seemed to ignite anti-English feeling wherever I went. I couldn’t drive and became very isolated. When I had a baby, my ruin was complete. That’s when I first read Auden’s The Orators. And its poems changed my life.”

 Quotations:

“His arms are huge, the arms of an ape, and he’s lighting a cigarette as he gets settled for the journey from Oxford to Glasgow. ……His left ear sticks out, the remains of the schoolboy. The impression made is one of pale, large fragility. It isn’t until he looks up that his attractiveness becomes apparent.”

“He does not know that he will be more alone than he has ever been, that he will love more deeply than he ever thought possible – and he will long for the consolations that poetry cannot give, at least not to the writer.”
“hammering the piano, her broad shoulders moving volubly beneath her navy jacket”

“His mother needed a quite different sort of partner, a Latin Lothario who would have dominated her and treated her badly but ravishingly; his father needed someone simple and happy, who could be satisfied.”

“Ma should have married a robust Italian who was very sexy … Pa should have married someone weaker than he and utterly devoted to him. But of course, if they had, I shouldn’t be here.”

“‘Do you know about poetry, Mr Wallace?’
‘I know enough to know that rugby is more important.'”
“A hotel? [the nurse] repeated, almost wonderingly, looking at Dora anew, as if perhaps she were Oliver Twist and had said, Please sir, can I have some more?”

“The mothers lining the walls raised their drooping heads like desiccated flowers suddenly given a drink. Dora hauled herself across the room, just a step ahead of the silence cresting behind her.”
“Dora suspected she had probably never belonged anywhere […] while many thought her shy and brainy to the point of passionlessness, they were wrong. There had been love affairs […] These had always fallen apart at the point where she was expected somehow to change, to accommodate them in some profound way. She never wanted to, enough, and they certainly seemed to have no notion of accommodating her, and her need to scribble and read.”

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Falconer by John Cheever

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

It can be grotesque yet funny at the same time.

There is an obsession with physical attraction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falc 2Quotations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He promised to wait for me.”

“The day was shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s online here

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Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the Nineteenth Century – H.G. Cocks

NO

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

I thought that this kind of love ‘date not speak its name’ because of the biblical injunction that ‘these things should not even be mentioned among you.’

Not so – it was kept quiet so as not to give the lower orders ideas to tempt them.

The latter part of this book, having dealt with rime and the courts, deals with mystical writings and sects.

There’s an odd (mis)understanding behind: The holy men Carpenter referred to were ‘bisexual’ in the sense of possessing both male and female characteristics

This book is a Ph.D. thesis so it’s a bit dense in places.

NO 2Quotations:

while adultery, fornication and other sexual infractions were gradually relegated to the realm of private morality over the course of the three centuries preceding 1800. Clearly, for most of Western history, sodomy was disdained by civil and religious authorities, and subject to severe penalties, but these were also very infrequently enforced.

The problem was that homosexuality was not distant and unknowable, and in the Warrington case and others was also described with surprise as an everyday, casual and widespread phenomenon.

I present it here as a digest of the available information, and as a guide to an overall impression of the law in this area. Some of the statistics, which are based on newspaper reports, tell us more about the public perception of offenders than they do about the majority of offenders. This information is nevertheless important in demonstrating how the image of the offender was made.

In spite of Labouchere’s claims, it is now clear that his efforts did not change the law in a dramatic fashion. As the case of the Rev Olive shows, it was possible to prosecute all kinds of homosexual behaviour, consenting or otherwise, in public as well as in private, long before 1885. This was possible because homosexual offences could be prosecuted under a law which predated Labouchere’s amendment by three centuries. This law, which outlawed all forms of sodomy, dated back to the reign of Henry VIII. His statute, passed in 1533, was adapted, probably during the eighteenth century, to outlaw all homosexual acts. Labouchere’s amendment, therefore, was not a radical break.

Some of the statistics, which are based on newspaper reports, tell us more about the public perception of offenders than they do about the majority of offenders. This information is nevertheless important in demonstrating how the image of the offender was made.

Louise Jackson, in an analysis of all kinds of sexual assaults prosecuted in nineteenth-century England, also concludes that most of these cases involved assaults on children.” Yet when we look at the age profile of the victims/sexual partners in homosexual offences reported in the press and in criminal petitions for the nineteenth century (Figure 3), we find that this is far from being the case.

This sample suggests that the largest group of victims/partners were adult men. This age group comprises a large number of assaults on soldiers, men in the street and policemen, whose age was either stated, or who can be expected to be at least in their twenties. The next largest groups were probably adolescent, given either their stated age or their description in press or case papers as ‘boys,’ ‘lads’ or ‘youths’ in the press. It also has to be borne in mind that the term lad or youth could describe a wide difference in age from early adolescence to early adulthood.

The preponderance of gentlemen and other professionals like clergymen teachers in press reports clearly reflects editorial decisions about w was likely to be of interest to a public fascinated by the transgressions the respectable. Also, the number of soldiers indicates that most press reports dealt with the concentration of cases in London.

The charge of indecent assault was often used retrospectively as a means to ensure that one o the partners could testify against the other, since if both had given consent their evidence would have require d further corroboration. I addition, the term ‘indecent assault’ was often used as a shorthand term in legal documents to connote consenting sex.

The greatest expansion in prosecutions for homosexual offences appe to have been driven by the private prosecutor, who was frequently of social status. These facts suggest that the provision of costs and expen must have had a major impact on the prosecution of these cases.

convictions in these cases were not easily obtained. Such prosecutions re risked scandal, threatening to bring sodomy to public attention without the certainty that a moral lesson might be transmitted.

The overall effect of these police practices, I suggest, was a policy of de facto toleration of private offences by the police. They would, of course, (still prosecute private offences if discovered by individual officers or prosecutors, but generally would not pursue these offences themselves

In addition, a poorly prepared police case would often attract criticism from magistrates for risking indecent publicity without the certainty of conviction. Therefore, although the police were increasingly involved in the prosecution of indecent assault, there were few sustained efforts on their part to raid the haunts of ‘sodomites’.

As we have seen, the rise in the level of committal for unnatural crimes which took place in London and Middlesex was part of a much wider increase in the level of prosecution for all offences. Rising numbers of offences were not necessarily the result of any sustained campaigns against ‘sodomites, or mollies then, but were incidental to other changes which altered the policing of public orderstreets, but this was often prohibitively expensive. gistrates sometimes sent the watch on raids against molly houses, t these expeditions seem to have been relatively rare. By the 1850s, the majority of all criminal cases were brought by the police, and the suspicion which had often fallen on private. Neither did the arrival of the Metropolitan Police mark a break with the ways in which same-sex desire was policed. Levels of crime, which appeared to be rising during the 1820s, were frequently interpreted as the result of improvements to the watch system instituted at a local level by vice and prosecution societies and parish authorities.’ The new police simply carried on this trend towards the control of public indecency and the implementation of new standards of public order.

those who frequented the parks knew how to escape the police, ‘whose duty it is to confine themselves to the roads or paths’.

The Home Office in 1830 argued that if sodomy were not a crime, it would not attract the publicity which caused it to spread among those of weak morals. If, for instance, ‘no notice were taken of this crime in our civil courts and newspapers’, it would probably ‘become less frequent, for thousands would never know the present existence of this unnatural offence, nor should we be shocked and disgusted by the frequent public allusion to it’.

The ambiguity of passing, impersonation and masquerade means that these terms are placed into just such a category of the obsolete, to be superseded by scientific discourses of the self such as transvestism and gender dysphoria.

In public performance, impersonation also took on a specific set of meanings. Peter Bailey has observed that the conventions of the music hall, in which many female and male impersonators appeared, encouraged a kind of knowing complicity in its audience. The audience inserted their own words and meanings into ‘indecent’ music hall songs, appropriated characters and plays and as such became used to ‘reading’ the spaces and gaps where sex I — which was otherwise unmentionable in a public theatre — might be placed. The theatricality of impersonation in this context, Bailey implies, represented a knowing ‘conspiracy of meaning’ between performer and audience about the incipient indecency of music hall.

The majority of reported cases of extortion, as ‘homosexual’ blackmail known in the nineteenth century, occurred across class. The blackmailer who confronted a social superior faced the problem that a combination of wealth and respectability usually guaranteed that the right of the law was behind gentility. Not only did material wealth enable gentlemen to obtain expert legal advice, but also the benefit of y doubt was usually extended to men of good character and high social status.

For Acton, unnatural desire was the final stage in a process of decay which had begun in youth. Excessive sex at that stage polluted the body and the mind, producing a series of insatiable sexual impulses. Youthful indiscretion deadened the moral sense and weak the body, thereby opening the way to ever-greater debauchery as a means to raise a jaded desire. Adulthood, which usually provided the means the will to indulge a greater array of perversions, only made the condition worse. Variety and ‘local stimulants’ might satisfy these failing powers a while, but they were bound to fail.

The man would undoubtedly forfeit his £500 and ‘disappear from England’. This way of proceeding not only enabled the purchase of impunity but was nothing other than ‘a most obnoxious form of class legislation — a mode of exempting the rich from the real force of the laws by which the poor are unsparingly (and rightly) coerced’.

the newspaper coverage was beginning to escalate. Labouchere’s Truth harried the government at every turn. In particular, Labouchere alleged that a cover up had been perpetrated in I order to protect the aristocracy, and that the Tories were implicated

The College was also typical in other ways. Both Joy Dixon and Alex Owen have shown that the use of spirituality as a means to explain and ennoble sexual dissidence and personal radicalism was a common feature of the 1880s and 1890s.

The liturgy of the Labour churches, in so far as they had one, was a typically eclectic mixture of nonconformity and more unorthodox sources of spirituality. Whitman’s celebration of the common man and his demonstration of the labourer’s need for spiritual as well as material sustenance chimed perfectly with the spirit of socialist groups like the Labour Church.

Wallace similarly read in Calamus the association of death and desire. or him, however, Calamus suggested the death of selfish passion and e submerging of personal interest in the love of comrades, which itself as the only way to reach immortality. As Whitman put it in Scented Herbage of My Breast, a poem which celebrates the association of phallic desire with love and death: ‘I am not sure but the high soul of lovers welcomes death most.'”

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Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave

HTMPeople who like coming of age novels will love this book – and it was written a lot later than most books of this genre.

It’s really a eulogy to John and, as such, an idealised portrait. It oozes sentimentality.  Love came easily but the pleasant description made the ending all that more impacting.

One member of our group thought that the first chapter was incredibly badly written but most agreed that the book was readable on the whole.

The slang is of its time and place but it is easy to get the drift of what the words and phrases mean. Yet he’s writing about youngsters 15 younger than him self.

The protagonist doesn’t kid himself that it’s a phase.

He tells mother about his first wet dream – that seem very modern to me.

A smoking room at school – 1977–  such a thing happened in England around that time too.

Title from football, though not spelt out

He doesn’t pray even when John is injured. Nor is there any dramatic rejection of religion either, which you might expect, given the circumstances.

Many of us thought that Tim was callous in his putting aside of John when he wanted an open relationship and, later, when he moved away.

The advent of AIDs was distressing, the medical procedures close to the knuckle of those who have experienced them and the last rights was moving. I usually avoid any books with AIDs in them.

Someone who knows the people portrayed says that people have a misunderstanding of what the Caleos are like, based on how Tim painted them in the novel.

“But the Caleos aren’t actually like that … They were just middle class, salt-of-the-earth Australians, trapped in a time. At the end of the day they were there, with John Caleo, right at the end, supporting their son and loving their son.

“Yes, they didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave, but a lot of people didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave. He was hard work, and his friends would say that. As much as they loved him, sometimes he was hard work.”

The lovers have a 2 hour phone call – am I sexist in thinking of teenage girls as best friends?

HTM bkQuotations:

We sat cuddling over the phone.

I felt used

‘I reached out and touched his hair. He turned and kissed my hand. I moved closer until we were standing against each other. He smelt like soap and clean clothes. Gentle. Just holding and kissing gently. If this had been it, if I had died then, I would have said it was enough’

“You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly. Ci vedremo lassu, angelo.”

“I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned.”

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Specimen Days – Michael Cunningham

sd2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Three stories, past, present and future, depict three central, semi-consistent character-types: a young boy, a man, and a woman. Walt Whitman’s poetry is also a common thread in each of the three stories, and the title is from Whitman’s own prose works.

In the Machine“, set in mid-to-late 19th Century New York, begins in the aftermath of a wake. Simon, a young man working in a factory had been accidentally sucked into a factory machine which crushed him to death. Due to the poverty present in the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution, Simon’s family sends Lucas, Simon’s disfigured younger brother, to work at the factory in Simon’s place.

Lucas has a strange affliction in which he intermittently and uncontrollably spouts the poetry of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ (Lucas’ favourite book). Walt Whitman was a contemporary of the time and Lucas meets him during the course of the story. Lucas is also concerned Simon has become a ghost and inhabits not only the machine that killed him but all the machines that are becoming commonplace in the city as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

This concern leads Lucas to fear for the life of Catherine, Simon’s bereaved girlfriend. Lucas believes Simon’s ghost may try to inhabit the machines at the factory where Catherine works as a seamstress with a view to take Catherine to the afterlife by killing her through the machine’s function. Lucas embarks on a mission to save Catherine by preventing her from going to work. .

Lucas’ fear of Simon’s ghost is, at the same time, a fear of the Machine and, on a larger scale, the Industrial Revolution in New York City itself. The machines replace humans, even kill them, and the industrial revolution has demeaned the importance of each human individual with its positioning of people as cogs in its own giant machine. In this light, Lucas’ fears and Whitman’s transcendental poetry represent the affirmation of humanity and each individual’s importance.

“The Children’s Crusade” takes place in post-9/11 Manhattan, where Cat, a hardboiled police psychologist who deals with cranks and wannabe assassins, is horrified to discover a secret “family” of pre-teen suicide-bombers. The children blow up their victims at random, using Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as their rationale. When Cat bonds with a 12-year-old bomber who reminds her of her own lost son, Luke, her shallow relationship with futures trader Simon is undermined by yearnings for a pre-industrial utopia.

“Like Beauty” takes place in a post-nuclear future, when New York has been turned into a tawdry theme park. Simon, an android whose programming makes him recite Whitman whenever he’s in danger of feeling human emotion, goes on the run with Catareen, a reptilian alien. Teamed up with Luke, a 12-year-old street kid, they are finally offered escape to a paradisal new planet, but Simon risks losing his place in the spaceship to stay with the woman – or lizard – he loves.

Certain themes recur in each of the three stories in “Specimen Days”: class differences, the difficulty of feeling authentically, quasi-Buddhist notions of rebirth and the afterlife, the exhilarating nightmare of New York City, the dream of escaping New York City.

DonaldTrump is mentioned  – this was written in 2005 before most of us had ever heard of him.

sdQuotations:

Fear not O Muse! truly new ways and days receive, surround you,

I candidly confess a queer, queer race, of novel fashion,

And yet the same old human race, the same within, without,

Faces and hearts the same, feelings the same, yearning the same,

The same old love, beauty and use the same. —Walt Whitman

“Only at these subdued moments could you truly comprehend that this glittering, blighted city was part of a slumbering continent; a vastness where headlights answered the constellations; a fertile black roll of field and woods dotted by the arctic brightness of gas stations and all-night diners, town after shuttered town strung with streetlights, sparsely attended by the members of the night shifts, the wanderers who scavenged in the dark, the insomniacs with their reading lights, the mothers trying to console colicky babies, the waitresses and gas-pump guys, the bakers and the lunatics.”

“I feel like there’s something terrible and wonderful and amazing that’s just beyond my grasp. I have dreams about it. I do dream, by the way. It hovers over me at odd moments. And then it’s gone. I feel like I’m always on the brink of something that never arrives. I want to either have it or be free of it.”

“He wanted to tell her that he was inspired and vigilant and recklessly alone, that his body contained his unsteady heart and something else, something he felt but could not describe: porous and spiky, shifting with flecks of thought, with urge and memory; salted with brightness, flickerings of white and green and pale gold; something that loved stars because it was made of the same substance.”
“She’s had a long life. Now she’s going to the Lord.”
“Frankly it creeps me out a little when you say things like that,” Simon said.
“It shouldn’t. If you don’t like ‘Lord,’ pick another word. She’s going home. She’s going back to the party. Whatever you like.”
“I suppose you have some definite ideas about an afterlife.”
“Sure. We get reabsorbed into the earthly and celestial mechanism.”
“No heaven?”
“That’s heaven.”
“What about realms of glory? What about walking around in golden slippers?”
“We abandon consciousness as if we were waking from a bad dream. We throw it off like clothes that never fit us right. It’s an ecstatic release we’re physically unable to apprehend while we’re in our bodies. Orgasm is our best hint, but it’s crude and minor by comparison.”
sd-3“Catherine thought Simon was in the locket, and in heaven, and with them still. Lucas hoped she didn’t expect him to be happy about having so many Simons to contend with.”
“A sensation rose in him, a high tingling of his blood. There came a wave, a wind that recognized him, that did not love him or hate him. He felt what he knew as the rising of his self, the shifting innerness that yearned and feared, that was more familiar to him than anything could ever be. He knew that an answering substance gathered around him, emanating from the trees and the stars.

He stood staring at the constellations. Walt had sent him here, to find this, and he understood. He thought he understood. This was his heaven. It was not Broadway or the horse on wheels. It was grass and silence; it was a field of stars. It was what the book told him, night after night. When he died he would leave his defective body and turn into grass. He would be here like this, forever. There was no reason to fear it, because it was part of him. What he’d thought of as his emptiness, his absence of soul, was only a yearning for this.”
“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end. But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”
“In heaven, Lucas would be beautiful. He’d speak a language everyone understood.”
“She’d never been religious. She hadn’t allowed grief to send her crawling to the church.”

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Lifted by the Great Nothing by Karim Dimechkie

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

Another group, one of whose members is Lebanese, recommended this.

I found it difficult to ‘get into’ this book until page 158 – over half way through.

There are oddly short chapters interspersing normal length chapters.

I found it rather creepy that a grown woman spooned an under-age teenage boy in bed and offered to teach him how to masturbate.

The book covers homosexuality, racism, identity politics, and immigration.

Max can’t be made happy by the treehouse and musical instruments his father offers, he recognises his father’s need and assures him – as sincerely as he is able – that he is indeed happy.

There’s lots of escapism: filled with scenes of drunkenness—Rodney and Kelly both precipitate confrontations while drunk, and young Max cultivates a secret taste for vodka.

Throughout “Lifted by the Great Nothing,” which follows Max’s adolescence, father and son are engaged in “this very awkward negotiation of how to be kind to each other,” Dimechkie said, leading them to lie to one another. “This book kind of deals with the question of when is a lie morally acceptable,” he added, and the damage even well-intentioned deception can leave behind. “When you realize you’ve been lied to it totally creates this bifurcated recollection of the past,” Dimechkie said. “It completely undercuts your memory. Something very precious is being taken from you — your personal narrative is being completely edited by the imposition of what was really going on that the time. So your memory gets sort of corrupted, it’s a very violating thing.”

For his own part, Dimechkie “discovered lying,” he said, around the age at which Max’s story begins. “Because I had a clean record up until then, I could just make stuff up and people would believe me. It was like a power I discovered,” he went on. “This might have gotten me into fiction, in some kind of indirect way.”

My family is good at telling lies too but this novel left me feeling dissatisfied.

LBTGN 2Quotations:

“Rasheed was a fixed entity, an unchanging, finished, permanent person, and the thought of teaching him anything was as unthinkable as training a turtle to sing. Turtles cannot sing and fathers cannot change. Neither fact demands alteration.”

“Her breath smelled of a mixture of white wine, rot, and babies’ heads.”

“The sun opened its eye and shot a beam across Beirut”

“cycle: everything at once and then great nothingness. All of life, and then all of death”

“On what standards did he base all his complicated lying?”

“Everyone in Lebanon has at least one maid,”

“Kelly was wise and sensitive only when it came to large groups of people or subjects”

“We don’t need culture or religion or things like this”?

understood that he had no choice but to be a boy,” especially in the eyes of women.

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German Democratic Republic: Politics, Economics and Society – Mike Dennis

GDR

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

The Head of German in the school where I last taught was somewhat of an expert in East Germany and he devised teaching schemes for schoolchildren there. From him I gained an interest in the GDP.

I was very surprised that homosexuality isn’t mentioned in this book despite its account of the general liberalisation in attitudes towards sexual behaviour. East Germany inherited the law Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modeling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. However, the law was reverted to the version found in the 1925 criminal code, which was considerably milder than the version adopted in 1935 under Nazi rule. In the five years following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the GDR government instituted a program of “moral reform” to build a solid foundation for the new socialist republic, in which masculinity and the traditional family were championed while homosexuality, seen to contravene “healthy mores of the working people”, continued to be prosecuted under Paragraph 175. Same sex activity was “alternatively viewed as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation.”

In East Germany, Paragraph 175 ceased to be enforced in 1957 but remained on the books until 1968. According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gays in East Germany to establish a visible community were “thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party.” She wrote: Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.

Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities.

Towards the end of the 1980s however, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On 11 August 1987 the East German Supreme Court affirmed that “homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behaviour. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.”

The author is Professor of Modern German History at the University of Wolverhampton.

Quotations:

With about one-third of all marriages ending in divorce, GDR has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. And women are far likely than men to institute an action for divorce. The increasing number of mothers and some young couples’ preference for free association (Lebensg testify to the questioning of marriage as a ‘part of the good life’. Another sign changing pattern of the relationship is the increase in the proportion of live unmarried mothers from 17.3 per cent in 1978 to 32 per cent in 1983.

Despite the rejection of the institution of marriage by some Marxists, the GDR has always recognized the value of both marriage and the family The GDR family continues to perform the basic functions of reproduction, the socialization of children, and economic and emotional support for its members. Marriage is proclaimed by the 1966 Family Code as a union for life based on mutual love, respect and faithfulness, understanding and trust, and unselfish help for one another. The founders of the GDR sought, however, to modify the traditional relationship between the sexes. For example, the 1950 Law on the Protection of Mother and Child replaced the previous right of the husband alone to make decisions on all marital matters by the joint decision-making right of both partners. In addition, women’s employment was regarded as the key to their equality and a ‘higher’ form of family life. After much delay, a new family model emerged in 1966 with the promulgation of the Family Code.

The code defines the family as the smallest cell in society and proclaims that only socialism, which is allegedly free from the exploitation and material insecurity of bourgeois society, can provide the necessary conditions for family relations of a new and lasting kind. Children receive a good deal of attention in the code. The most important task and duty of parents, to be undertaken jointly, is the upbringing of the children in, it is hoped, a stable and happy environment. The socialization of children and young people is not envisaged as the prerogative of parents but as a cooperative effort between parents, school and state organizations such as the Thalmann Pioneers and the Free German Youth.

The SED target of two to three children per family is not easily reconciled with the burdens arising from the full-time employment of a high proportion of women and with the liberal abortion legislation.

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