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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


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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In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (In Search of Lost Time Vol. 2) – Marcel Proust

ITSOYGIF 2The narrator’s memories of Paris and the Normandy seaside, at the heart of the story lie his relationships with his grandmother and with the Swann family. A meditation on different forms of love.

Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory, in his novel À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). Proust did not have any psychological background, and worked primarily as a writer. He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past”, claiming that it was lacking from voluntary memory. In his novel, he describes an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake, and a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him. From this memory, he then proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself. This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding Proust of previous experiences. He dubbed these “involuntary memories”.

This insight has implications for the way we remember our past- it may be inaccurate, it also effects national memory – history, wars, religious beliefs (the Eucharist ‘in remembrance of…’) Once we create a memory, we, as it were, delete all other versions of an event.

Some members of our group found it ‘a lot of effort’ and not all finished it.

Yet one found it ‘sillier than expected…hilariously snobbish…a lot of energy.

Is the narrator neurotic?

The Narrator’s parents are inviting M. de Norpois, a diplomat colleague of the Narrator’s father, to dinner. With Norpois’s intervention, the Narrator is finally allowed to go see Berma perform in a play, but is disappointed by her acting. Afterwards, at dinner, he watches Norpois, who is extremely diplomatic and correct at all times, expound on society and art. The Narrator gives him a draft of his writing, but Norpois gently indicates it is not good. The Narrator continues to go to the Champs-Élysées and play with Gilberte. Her parents distrust him, so he writes to them in protest. He and Gilberte wrestle and he has an orgasm. Gilberte invites him to tea, and he becomes a regular at her house. He observes Mme Swann’s inferior social status, Swann’s lowered standards and indifference towards his wife, and Gilberte’s affection for her father. The Narrator contemplates how he has attained his wish to know the Swanns, and savours their unique style. At one of their parties he meets and befriends Bergotte, who gives his impressions of society figures and artists. But the Narrator is still unable to start writing seriously. His friend Bloch takes him to a brothel, where there is a Jewish prostitute named Rachel. He showers Mme Swann with flowers, being almost on better terms with her than with Gilberte. One day, he and Gilberte quarrel and he decides never to see her again. However, he continues to visit Mme Swann, who has become a popular hostess, with her guests including Mme Bontemps, who has a niece named Albertine. The Narrator hopes for a letter from Gilberte repairing their friendship, but gradually feels himself losing interest. He breaks down and plans to reconcile with her, but spies from afar someone resembling her walking with a boy and gives her up for good. He stops visiting her mother also, who is now a celebrated beauty admired by passersby, and years later he can recall the glamour she displayed then.

Two years later, the Narrator, his grandmother, and Françoise set out for the seaside town of Balbec. The Narrator is almost totally indifferent to Gilberte now. During the train ride, his grandmother, who only believes in proper books, lends him her favorite: the Letters of Mme de Sevigne. At Balbec, the Narrator is disappointed with the church and uncomfortable in his unfamiliar hotel room, but his grandmother comforts him. He admires the seascape, and learns about the colourful staff and customers around the hotel: Aime, the discreet headwaiter; the lift operator; M. de Stermaria and his beautiful young daughter; and M. de Cambremer and his wife, Legrandin’s sister. His grandmother encounters an old friend, the blue-blooded Mme de Villeparisis, and they renew their friendship. The three of them go for rides in the country, openly discussing art and politics. The Narrator longs for the country girls he sees alongside the roads, and has a strange feeling of unexplained memory while admiring a row of three trees. Mme de Villeparisis is joined by her glamorous great-nephew Robert de Saint-Loup, who is involved with an unsuitable woman. Despite initial awkwardness, the Narrator and his grandmother become good friends with him. Bloch, the childhood friend from Combray, turns up with his family, and acts in typically inappropriate fashion. Saint-Loup’s ultra-aristocratic and extremely rude uncle the Baron de Charlus arrives. The Narrator discovers Mme de Villeparisis, her nephew M. de Charlus, and his nephew Saint-Loup are all of the Guermantes family. Charlus ignores the Narrator, but later visits him in his room and lends him a book. The next day, the Baron speaks shockingly informally to him, then demands the book back. The Narrator ponders Saint-Loup’s attitude towards his aristocratic roots, and his relationship with his mistress, a mere actress whose recital bombed horribly with his family. One day, the Narrator sees a “little band” of teenage girls strolling beside the sea, and becomes infatuated with them, along with an unseen hotel guest named Mlle Simonet. He joins Saint-Loup for dinner and reflects on how drunkenness affects his perceptions. Later they meet the painter Elstir, and the Narrator visits his studio. The Narrator marvels at Elstir’s method of renewing impressions of ordinary things, as well as his connections with the Verdurins (he is “M. Biche”) and Mme Swann. He discovers the painter knows the teenage girls, particularly one dark-haired beauty who is Albertine Simonet. Elstir arranges an introduction, and the Narrator becomes friends with her, as well as her friends Andrée, Rosemonde, and Gisele. The group goes for picnics and tours the countryside, as well as playing games, while the Narrator reflects on the nature of love as he becomes attracted to Albertine. Despite her rejection, they become close, although he still feels attracted to the whole group. At summer’s end, the town closes up, and the Narrator is left with his image of first seeing the girls walking beside the sea.

Proust introduces some of his comic inventions, from the dull M. de Norpois to the enchanting Robert de Saint-Loup. It is memorable as well for the first appearance of the two figures who are to dominate the narrator’s life—the Baron de Charlus and the mysterious Albertine.

He is more concerned for the furniture than for the girls in a brothel.

Marcel makes quick work of Gilberte Swann. As with Swann before him, the more desperately he loves the girl, the less interest she displays in return. So he decides to put his love on ice, while maintaining his friendship with her parents.

Then, two years later, it’s off to Balbec. Marcel is now sixteen and still dependent on his mother and grandmother. He spends a seemingly endless summer at a grand hotel on the Normandy coast, watching strange places and people become familiar to him. He becomes a close friend of the Guermantes aristocrat, Robert de Saint-Loup, and of the painter Elstir (whom we met as a foolish young man belonging to Madame Verdurin’s “little clan” in Swann’s Way). He also meets the Baron de Charlus, who deigns to make a move on him, an overture which only mystifies Marcel.

More important than any of these is his acquaintance with the “little band” of girls whom he describes as adolescent, and who sometimes behave that way, but who surely are older. Indeed, two of them seem to be sitting for the bac or high-school leaving exam, which Proust passed — in economics and mathematics — just as he turned eighteen. (There is also the matter of the book’s title: some argue that “en fleur” is a reference to the menarche, which in 1900 was about fourteen for European and North American girls. Indeed, according to his grand-niece and biographer, that’s why Scott Moncrieff chose to bowdlerize Proust’s title for the book.)

Marcel focuses his adoration, first on one, then on another of these young women, but it is obvious to everyone except him that Albertine Simonet will be the love of his life.

One of Proust’s great themes and talents is showing character and how it may change over time. In this second volume he deals with friendship, including the curious sort of friendship that is carnal love. How do we bridge the gap between the stranger and the dear person he or she will become, as friend or lover? First,Gilberte Swann, whom Marcel first adores and then, after considerable pain, trains himself to ignore. Then there’s Robert de Saint-Loup then there is Albertine, the obsession toward which Marcel has been working all this time.

He is equally adept with the pretentious and social-climbing Bloch, whom we met in Swann’s Way  as a “precious youth,” greatly admired by the narrator. That admiration has now been qualified. Just as the homosexual Proust is often harsh in his treatment of “inverts,” so does he, the son of a Jewish mother, verge on anti-semitism in his ridicule of Bloch’s family, especially the uncle, Nissim Bernard. (Bloch’s first name is Albert, though I confess I had to look it up. Nor does he have much in the way of physical characteristics. He’s a year or two older than Marcel, though they were schoolmates at one time.)

As the title suggests, memory is a major theme of In Search of Lost Time. The author’s understanding of memory is clearly stated in this second volume, in the words of James Grieve for the Penguin Proust:

[T]he greater part of our memory lies outside us, in a dampish breeze, in the musty air of a bedroom or the smell of autumn’s first fires, things through which we can retrieve … last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears have dried, can make us weep again. Outside us? Inside us, more like, but stored away…. It is only because we have forgotten that we can now and then return to the person we once were, envisage things as that person did, be hurt again, because we are not ourselves anymore, but someone else, who once loved something that we no longer care about.

Cf. translations: Scott Moncrieff “Whoever she is,” he went on, “hearty congratulations; you can’t have been bored with her. I picked her up a few days before that on the Zone railway, where, speaking of zones, she was so kind as to undo hers for the benefit of your humble servant….”

Grieve: “Well, anyway,” he said, “you deserve to be congratulated—she must have given you a nice time. I had just met her a few days before, you see, riding on the suburban line. She had no objection to yours truly, and so a nice ride was had by one and all….”

For  “ I had her pinned between my legs as though she was the bole of a little tree I was trying to climb. In the middle of my exertions, without my breathing being quickened much more than it already was by muscular exercise and the heat of the playful moment, like a few drops of sweat produced by the effort, I shed my pleasure…” (p.69) one of our members simply observed that “He came in his pants wrestling with that girl.”

When Marcel first enters the grand seaside hotel at Balbec, where he’ll meet those young girls in flower, he is awed by the majesty of the elevator boy. He tries to placate him with chatter, but “il ne me répondit pas.” Scott Moncrieff rendered this as “he vouchsafed no answer,” phrasing which appears unchanged in today’s Modern Library edition. Mr. Carter is more straightforward: “he did not answer me.” Just so!

He wrote this aged 48. Most sentences are over long.

Is there a double entendre in the scene with the lift boy: as he went on pushing and pulling the knobs and stops of his instrument.?

Like any extended summer holiday of youth, nothing really happens but it happens intensely. At first the narrator is unhappy and homesick. Later he makes a new friend and reencounters an older one, Bloch.

Bloch is a beautifully observed character. He is more worldly than the narrator (Bloch takes him to his first whorehouse, where the narrator loses his virginity), but less socially adept. Bloch is a good friend, but not a flawless one.

Bloch is Jewish. The narrator is not. The narrator thinks nothing of this difference, but others do and through their reactions and comments Proust makes apparent the casual and widespread anti-Semitism running through French life of this period. It’s a theme I understand the next book develops further.

The narrator falls in love with every girl he sees. The less he sees of her in fact, the more he falls in love. A glimpse of a woman from a moving carriage lets him fill in what he can’t see with imagination.

Although many of Proust’s close family and friends suspected that he was homosexual, Proust never admitted this. It was only after his death that André Gide, in his publication of correspondence with Proust, made public Proust’s homosexuality. In response to Gide’s criticism that he hid his actual sexuality within his novel, Proust told Gide that “one can say anything so long as one does not say ‘I’.”

In 1949, the critic Justin O’Brien published an article called “Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust’s Transposition of Sexes” which proposed that some female characters are best understood as actually referring to young men. Strip off the feminine ending of the names of the Narrator’s lovers—Albertine, Gilberte, Andrée—and one has their masculine counterpart. This theory has become known as the “transposition of sexes theory” in Proust criticism, which in turn has been challenged in Epistemology of the Closet (1990) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and in “Proust’s Lesbianism” (1999) by Elisabeth Ladenson. Feminized forms of masculine names were and are commonplace in French.

The author does say, however, that love is more important than who you love. (p. 343)

I had to look up zoophytic (p. 436) = An invertebrate animal, such as a sea anemone or a sponge, that superficially resembles a plant; and vetiver (p. 529) = heavy, earthy fragrance similar to patchouli

ITSOYGIF 7Quotations:

From the Translator’s  (Grieve) Introduction

To win the Goncourt prize seldom requires literary genius. Cronyism, Parisian faddery and petty intrigue usually weigh more.

Inclined to see this volume as a ‘listless interlude’, Proust was surprised that ‘everyone is reading it’.’

From the narrator’s encounters with these great enigmas and temptations, Proust distils his lengthy meditations, variations on some of the most structural themes of his novel: the disparities between cognition and thing, theory and practice, desire and discovery, appearance and truth, imagination and reality. For the narrator is now coming to an awareness of life as mystery, full of passions that baffle, appearances that conceal, illusions that seem to promise, impressions that tantalize.  He has inklings of  the sheer unpredictability of beauty, the inability of words and names to capture the essences of things, the contradictions with which life replaces expectations, the discrepancy between impression and memory, his own sentimental fatalism.

that impressions, our only access to these, are inadequate to their conscious capture, that they are individual, irreplaceable by any generality, untranslatable in any word, accessible only by a freak of memory or through art.

Proust was intermittently unsure whether he was writing an essay or a novel.

His composition was often not linear; he wrote in bits and pieces; transitions from one scene to another are sometimes awkward, clumsy even. He can make heavy weather of simple movements: characters get stood roughly into position so that

the next demonstration may take place; action must be performed perfunctorily, so that protracted analysis of it may ensue

The Dreyfus Affair is made much of by some commentators on In Search of Lost Time. In fact, Proust deals with it hardly at all (in the whole novel, the name of Dreyfus occurs less often than the head waiter’s, a very minor character) and then only in its most trivial repercussions in fashionable society, such as those reflected on p. 92. More important to the novel than Dreyfus is the virulence of the anti-Semitic prejudice generally shared by the fashionable characters, of the sort satirized on p. 344 in a speech by Charlus (and perceptible, if less virulent, in Proust’s own ambivalence towards the Blochs).

ITSOYGIFFrom the text:

 He strode rapidly across the whole width of the hotel, seeming to be in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like a butterfly.

As to the pretty girls who went past, from the day on which I had first known that their cheeks could be kissed. I became curious about their souls. And the universe became more interesting.

When Swann married Odette, he did not go through a process of renunciation of his former social ambitions — she had long since brought him to a state of detachment from them, in the spiritual sense of the word. And had he not been detached from them, it would have been all the more to his credit. In general, marriages which degrade one of the partners are the worthiest of all, because they entail the sacrifice of a more or less flattering situation to a purely private satisfaction — and, of course, marrying for money must be excluded from the notion of a degrading match, as no couple of whom one partner has been sold to the other has ever failed to be admitted in the end to good society, given the weight of tradition, the done thing and the need to avoid having double standards. In any case, the idea of engaging in one of those cross-breedings common to Mendelian experiments and Greek mythology, and of joining with a creature of a different race, an archduchess or a good-time girl, someone of blue blood or no blood at all, might well have titillated the artist, if not the pervert, in Swann. On the occasions when it occurred to him that he might one day marry Odette, there was only one person in society whose opinion he would have cared for, the Duchesse de Guermantes, and snobbery had nothing to do with this. Odette herself was all but indifferent to the Duchesse de Guermantes, thinking only of the people who were immediately above her, rather than of those who inhabited such a remote and exalted sphere. But at moments when Swann sat day-dreaming about what it might be like to be the husband of Odette, he always saw the moment when he would introduce her, and especially their daughter, to the Princesse des Laumes, or the Duchesse de Guermantes as she had become upon the death of her father-in-law. He had no desire to present them to anyone else; but as he imagined the Duchesse talking about him to Odette and Odette talking to Mme de Guermantes, and the tenderness the latter would show to Gilberte, making much of her, making him proud of his daughter, he could be so moved that he spoke aloud the words they would say.

My mother did not seem very happy that my father had given up all thought of a diplomatic career for me. I think she lived in the hope of seeing my nervous susceptibility subjected to the discipline of an ordered way of life, and that her real regret was not so much that I was abandoning diplomacy as that I was taking up literature. ‘Oh, look, give over,’ my father exclaimed. ‘The main thing is to enjoy what one does in life. He’s not a child any more, he knows what he likes, he’s probably not going to change, he’s old enough to know what’ll make him happy in life.’ These words of my father’s, though they granted me the freedom to be happy or not in life, made me very unhappy that evening. At each one of his unexpected moments of indulgence towards me, I had always wanted to kiss him on his florid cheeks, just above the beard-line; and the only thing that ever restrained me was the fear of annoying him. On this occasion, rather as an author, to whom his own conceptions seem to have little value, because he cannot think of them as separate from himself, may be alarmed at seeing his publishers putting themselves to the trouble of selecting an appropriate paper for them and setting them in a type-face which he may think too fine, I began to doubt whether my desire to write was a thing of sufficient importance for my father to lavish such kindness upon it. But it was especially what he said about my likings probably changing, and what would make me happy in life, that planted dreadful suspicions in my mind. The first was that, though I met new day with the thought that I was now on the threshold of life, still lay before me all unlived and was about to start the very day, not only had my life in fact begun, but the years to come and not be very different from the years already elapsed. The second, which was really only a variant of the first, was that I did not outside Time but was subject to its laws, as completely as the seasonal characters whose lives, for that very reason, had made me feel so sad when I read of them at Combray, sitting inside my wickerwork shelter. Theoretically we are aware that the earth is spinning, but in reality we do not notice it: the ground we walk on seems to be stationary and gives no cause for alarm. The same happens with Time. To make its passing perceptible, novelists, have to turn the hands of the clock at dizzying speed, to make the reader live through ten, twenty, thirty years in two minutes. At the top of a page, we have been with a lover full of hope; at the foot of the following one, we see him again, already an octogenarian, hobbling his painful daily way round the courtyard of an old people’s home, barely acknowledging greetings, remembering nothing of his past. When my father said, `He’s not a child any more, he’s not going to change his mind, etc.,’ he suddenly showed me myself living inside Time; and he filled me with sadness, as though I was not quite the senile inmate of the poorhouse, but one of those heroes dismissed by the writer in the final chapter with a turn of phrase that is cruel in its indifference: ‘He has taken to absenting himself less and less from the countryside. He has eventually settled down there for good, etc.’

My father, in an attempt to forestall any criticism we might have to make about his guest, said to my mother:

`I must say old Norpois was rather “old hat”, as you two say. When he said it would “not have been seemly” to ask a question of the Comte de Paris, I was afraid you might burst out laughing.

— Not at all, my mother replied. I’m full of admiration for a man of his calibre and his age who hasn’t lost that simple touch. All it shows is a fundamental honesty and good breeding.

In fact, his wife had married him, against much opposition from within her family, because he was a ‘charmer’. The general effect of this person of superlative refinement may be judged from the fact that he had a silky fair beard, a pretty face, an adenoidal pronunciation, bad breath and a glass eye.

ITSOYG 4It must be supposed in many marriages, such subservience of the outstanding to the is the rule, for one need only think of the opposite case, that of “fled wives who smilingly defer to their crass boor of a husband crushes their nicest conceits, then gush with loving indulgence inept buffoonery which he thinks is humour.

I also went on telling myself that Gilberte did not love me, that I had known this for ages, that I could see her whenever I liked and that, if I preferred not to see her, I would eventually forget her. But these thoughts, like a medication which has no effect on certain disorders, were quite ineffectual against what came intermittently to my mind: those two close silhouettes of Gilberte and that young man, stepping slowly along -the avenue des Champs-Elysées. This was a new pain, but one which would eventually fade and disappear in its turn

she probably lived in ignorance of all the regrets I invented for her to feel, and thought not only much less about me than I about her, but much less than I pretended she thought about me in my moments of private communion with the fictitious Gilberte, when I longed to know her real intentions towards me and pictured her as spending her days doting on me.

in accordance with her pious expertise in the rites and liturgy of such things, Mme Swain’s ways of dressing were linked to the season and the time of day by a bond that was necessary and unique) the flowers on her soft straw hat and the little bows on her frock seemed a more natural product of May than any flowers cultivated in beds or growing wild in the woods; and to witness the thrilling onset of the new season, I needed to lift my eyes no higher than Mme Swann’s sunshade, opened now and stretched above me like a nearer, more temperate sky, full of its constantly changing blue. Though subordinate to none, these rites were honour-bound, as was consequently Mme Swann herself, to defer to the morning, the springtime and the sunshine, none of which I ever thought seemed flattered enough that such an elegant woman should make a point of respecting them, of choosing for their pleasure a frock in a brighter or lighter material, its lower neckline and looser sleeves suggesting the moist warmth of the throat and the wrists, that she should treat them as a great lady treats the common people whose invitation to visit them in the country she has cheerfully condescended to accept, and for whose special occasion,

if she unbuttoned or even took off and asked me to carry the jacket that she had originally meant to keep buttoned, I discovered in the blouse she wore under it a host of details of handiwork which might well never have been noticed, after the manner of those orchestral parts which the composer has worked with exquisite care, although no ears among the audience will ever hear them; or else in the sleeves folded over my arm I picked out and studied, for the pleasure of looking at them or for the pleasure of being pleasant, this or that tiny detail, a strip of cloth of a delightful shade, or a mauve satinet normally unseen by any eye, but just as delicately finished as any of the outer parts of the garment, like the fine Gothic stonework hidden eighty feet up a cathedral, on the inner face of a balustrade, just as perfectly executed as the low-relief statues in the main doorway, but which no one had ever set eyes on until an artist on a chance visit to the city asked to be allowed to climb up there, walk about at sky-level and survey a whole townscape from between the twin steeples.

ITSOYGIF 3The wife of an elderly banker, after hesitating between various possible exposures for her husband, had settled him in a deck-chair facing the esplanade, sheltered from wind and sun by the bandstand. Having seen him comfortably installed there, she had gone to buy a newspaper which she would read aloud to him by way of diversion, one of her little absences which she never prolonged for more than five minutes, which seemed to her quite long enough but which she repeated at fairly frequent intervals so that this old husband on whom she lavished an attention that she took care to conceal should have the impression that he was still quite alive and like other people and was in no need of protection.

… whenever society is momentarily stationary, the people who live in it imagine that no further change will occur, just as, in spite of having witnessed the birth of the telephone, they decline to believe in the aeroplane. Meanwhile the philosophers of journalism are at work castigating the preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it indulged, which seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even the work of its artists and philosophers, which have no longer the least value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the successive moods of fashionable frivolity. The one thing that does not change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been “great changes.”

Let but a single flash of reality – the glimpse of a woman from afar or from behind – enable us to project the image of Beauty before our eyes, and we imagine that we have recognised it, our hearts beat, and we will always remain half-persuaded that it was She, provided that the woman has vanished: it is only if we manage to overtake her that we realise our mistake.

… the interplay of their eyes, animated with self-assurance and the spirit of comradeship and lit up from one moment to the next either by the interest or the insolent indifference which shone from each of them according to whether her glance was directed at her friends or at passers-by, together with the consciousness of knowing one another intimately enough always to go about together in an exclusive “gang,” established between their independent and separate bodies, as they slowly advanced, an invisible but harmonious bond, like a single warm shadow, a single atmosphere, making of them a whole as homogenous in its parts as it was different from the crowd through which their procession gradually wound.

Our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we make it our duty to practise them that if we come to engage in an activity of a different kind, it catches us off guard and without the slightest awareness that it might involve the application of those very same virtues.

The idea that one has long held of a person is apt to stop one’s eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole years, had no more noticed the rouge with which one of her nieces used to paint her lips than if it had been wholly and invisibly dissolved in some liquid; until one day a streak too much, or possibly something else, brought about the phenomenon known as super-saturation; all the paint that had hitherto passed unperceived was now crystallized.

Fashions change, being themselves begotten of the desire for change.

Finally, if I went to see Berma in a new play, it would not be easy for me to assess her art and her diction, since I should not be able to differentiate between a text which was not already familiar and what she added to it by her intonations and gestures, an addition which would seem to me to be embodied in the play itself; whereas the old plays, the classics which I knew by heart, presented themselves to me as vast and empty walls, reserved and made ready for my inspection, on which I should be able to appreciate without restriction the devices by which Berma would cover them, as with frescoes, with the perpetually fresh treasures of her inspiration.

The doctor … advised my parents not to let me go to the theatre. … The fear of this might have availed to stop me, if what I had anticipated from such a spectacle had been only a pleasure which a subsequent pain could offset and annul. But what I demanded from this performance—as from the visit to Balbec and the visit to Venice for which I had so intensely longed—was something quite different from pleasure: verities pertaining to a world more real than that in which I lived, which, once acquired, could never be taken from me again by any trivial incident—even though it were to cause me bodily suffering—of my otiose existence. At most, the pleasure which I was to feel during the performance appeared to me as the perhaps necessary form of the perception of these truths.

Whereas I had hated them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which the purpose of life appears to me as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad.

Believing the language to be less rich in words than it is, and her own ears less trustworthy, the first time that she heard anyone mention York ham she had thought, no doubt,—feeling it to be hardly conceivable that the dictionary could be so prodigal as to include at once a ‘York’ and a ‘New York’—that she had misheard what was said, and that the ham was really called by the name already familiar to her.

All that I grasped was that to repeat what everybody else was thinking was, in politics, the mark not of an inferior but of a superior mind.

If one has lost sight for a score of years of all the people on whose account one would have liked to be elected to the Jockey Club or the Institute, the prospect of becoming a member of one or other of those corporations will have ceased to tempt one. Now fully as much as retirement, ill-health or religious conversion, protracted relations with a woman will substitute fresh visions for the old. There was not on Swann’s part, when he married Odette, any renunciation of his social ambitions, for from these ambitions Odette had long ago, in the spiritual sense of the word, detached him.

It is because they imply the sacrifice of a more or less advantageous position to a purely private happiness that, as a general rule, ‘impossible’ marriages are the happiest of all.

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In Love and War – Alex Preston

(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)INAW

Esmond Lowndes has been sent down from his Cambridge college after being caught in bed with another man. His father, a senior blackshirt, has found him a job establishing a fascist radio station in Italy. If the idea is to keep Esmond’s mind off hanky-panky, it doesn’t work. After walking in on his maid’s daughter naked, he ends up having nightly threesomes with her and her sometime boyfriend Gerald.

Goad’s speech with frequent ‘Humm’ is infuriating.

I well remember the paintings in the Uffizi which he mentions.

The Anglican chaplaincy is unusually high church (though St. Mar’s Florence does advertise high mass nowadays) and mention of ‘The Peace’ is anachronistic. (Similar to his attempts in ‘The Revelations’)

And why would a Roman Catholic cardinal give an Anglican chaplain a role?

I had to look up ‘pelf’ = money, especially when gained in a dishonest or dishonourable way; puttees = strips of cloth, which were worn wrapped around the lower leg in a spiral pattern, from the ankle up to below the knee. They provide ankle support and prevent debris and water from entering the boots or pants; kepis = a French military cap with a horizontal peak.

Torture is graphically described – I don’t think I would have lasted hong.

The author: I did a lot of skinny dipping when researching In Love and War. There’s some skinny dipping in the novel but I probably did more than I needed to.


`I never show my work to anyone; Douglas says. Writing’s like shitting. If someone’s cheering you on, it’s hard to get going, but give it time and space and it’ll come. And by the way, if you don’t eat well, you won’t shit well: He pauses. ‘Did you love this chap?’

Esmond turns to look out over the river. It is past eleven. A gentle breeze is blowing, stirring the hillside and making tight waves on the surface of the water.

historian in The Spectator who has identified only twenty-nine years since the Roman Empire when a war wasn’t being fought somewhere in the world. We lurch from crisis to crisis and we learn nothing from history.

By the end of 1940, all Europe will be German, soon after, all of the globe will fly the Glorious Swastika. I burnt your degenerate books, your limp-wristed writing because I knew the risk they’d pose for you in the coming years. (I suggest you burn this letter, too.) We – the British Union, those of us who have remained faithful to the cause – will be at the forefront of Nazi Britain and we can’t have bad eggs amongst us. I hope you see that, Esmond.

Douglas was right: Fascism is just a refuge from the powerlessness of love.

The talk at the Berensons’ was all of the war, of how Italy won’t be ready for combat for at least another three years. No auto­motive industry, an agricultural economy. They’ll have to sit it out with the tea and oranges, as pa would say, as the north falls apart. It looks to be a lengthy thing, none of that Panglossian “It’ll be over by Christmas” stuff this time.

He said it was the writer’s duty to speak for those who couldn’t speak, who were trapped or overlooked or oppressed. He said, in times like these, novels should be written with broken fingers, and all poets’ eyes should – be black.

I have always loved beauty and the gender of those I love matters to me as little as their shoe size. It seems odd to me that so many humans limit themselves, slavishly. For now, it is Ada.

We only know ourselves, he’d said, in crisis. Character is theoretical until we act. I think today, Esmond, you beheld yourself Not quite the hero your father was, eh?

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Kiss of the Spider Woman (film)

kotsw-filmIncluded among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.

Having read the novel, we realized very little was omitted from the movie, though some say that it’s “not like the book.” It lacks the tenderness between the two men which occurs in the book. However, the camp and stylised ending is such as Molina would have loved.

We wondered if the movie was ‘real’. I wasn’t but was made for inserting into this film, as the age of its actors testify.

The film begins, not unlike Un Chant d’Amour (Jean Genet’s classic, homoerotic, 1950 prison short), with the camera fixed on the wall of their jailhouse cell. We hear Molina’s voice, rapturously describing the star of his movie. “She’s not a woman like all the others,” he utters, along with the assertion that she is waiting for a “real man” like none she has ever met before. A circular camera pan slowly reveals the setting; we see the prison bars, a clothesline with feminine garments, pictures of glamorous movie stars on the wall, and finally Molina – wrapping a towel around his head to suggest a turban. He is dressed in a kimono, his feet, lady-like, step gracefully across the floor as he mimes the heroine stepping into her bath. Molina is exotic and sensual, and completely out of place in the grim prison setting.

The film version is, in many ways, more accessible than the original novel. The film is more tightly constructed because Molina tells the stories of several different movies in the book, beginning with Val Lewton’s classic 1942 Cat People. Only one of these films was emphasized in the movie and that was the Nazi film, whose central theme of betrayal mirrors Molina and Valentin’s situation, making Spider Woman a model of effective film adaptation. It’s easy to lose interest in Molina’s long monologues when reading the book; in the film his monologues come to life when illustrated by those campy clips.

Hector Babenco agonized all through rehearsals over how William Hurt would ever find the gay character in himself. To help Hurt tackle the part, and because author Manuel Puig was not available, Babenco put him with Patricio Bisso, who was set to play the small role of Molina’s friend Greta and design the film’s costumes. Bisso is gay, had been in jail himself, and was close to his mother, like Molina in many ways. Hurt toured Sao Paulo with him, often visiting gay cinemas, looking for clues to the character. Bisso got fed up translating the films for him and started making up the stories instead. Bisso later said Hurt used him as a “sacrificial lamb” for his process, playing cat and mouse games with him to get a sense of how Molina would react in similar circumstances. During one such session, Hurt took Bisso to a nice restaurant, but Bisso couldn’t eat because Hurt’s prodding and game-playing had made him cry.

Vito Russo was very critical of Kiss Of The Spider Woman in The Celluloid Closet and so were many other queer reviewers. Most of their criticisms however aren’t valid unless, like them, you refuse to see the film as anything but just another portrayal of a stereotypical screaming queen who dies in the last reel. Yes, Molina does die at the end, in much the same way as the heroine of the Nazi film, but it is all too probable that he won’t be alone and that Valentin will share the same fate. For that reason, it’s unfair to lump Spider Woman in the same category as an overblown, homophobic melodrama like Reflections In A Golden Eye. Besides, don’t most of Shakespeare’s leading men bite the dust in the last act too?

Kiss Of The Spider Woman was a radical, almost subversive, film on its first release as it explored concepts of gender roles and the question of what it ultimately means to be a man during a time when Rambo was the established norm of hyper-masculinity on the silver screen. Ponder too what it was like to watch two men kiss – not a common sight in a mainstream film during the 1980s. Kiss Of The Spider Woman broke much new ground and it still holds up today as one queer cinema’s milestones.

The movie Kiss of the Spider Woman deviates from Manuel Puig’s book in some very important ways that change the entire feel of the story.  Firstly, in the movie it is initially obvious what the setting and the characters are because the viewer can see the jail cell and see Molina and Valentin talking.  There are even scenes outside the cell and also scenes where Molina and Valentin see other prisoners.  The book takes a far more subtle approach opening with a description of a movie, but the reader does not even know what is being described.  Nothing is outright said in the book until chapter eight when the format deviates from Molina and Valentin’s dialogue to prisoner descriptions.  Knowing and understanding what is going on from the outset in the movie changes the mystery and confusion and ultimately does not allow the viewer to understand Molina and Valentin’s emotions and motivations in the same way.

Another important deviation is that in the movie version Molina only tells one film to Valentin — the Nazi propaganda one.  In the book he tells Valentin around five.  The story of political violence seemed to strike a chord with Valentin which may explain why that story was the one told, but cutting out the panther woman story negatively affected Molina’s characterization.  The panther woman, and his identification with her, helps the reader understand who Molina is and without that his character development in the movie lacked.

The cell block scenes were filmed in a prison that had been shut down. Scenes outside the prison were filmed on location in Sao Paulo.

kotsw-film-2Luis Molina: The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.

[first lines] Luis Molina: She’s… well, she’s something a little strange. That’s what she noticed, that she’s not a woman like all the others. She seems all wrapped up in herself. Lost in a world she carries deep inside her.

[last lines]  Valentin Arregui: I love you so much. That’s the one thing I never said to you, because I was afraid of losing you forever.

Marta: That can never happen now. This dream is short, but this dream is happy.

Luis Molina: No matter how lonely she may be she keeps men at a distance.

Valentin Arregui: She’s probably got bad breath or something.

Valentine Arregui: You only know the reality that was stuck up your ass!

Luis Molina: Why should I think about reality in this stink hole? That’s like “Why should I get more depressed that I already am?”.

Valentine Arregui: You’re worse than I thought! Do you use these movies to jerk yourself off?

Luis Molina: [Crying] If you don’t stop, I will never speak to you again!

Valentin Arregui: Stop crying! You sound just like an old woman!

Luis Molina: [Whimpering] It’s what I am! It’s what I am!

Valentin Arregui: [Forcing Molina’s legs apart] What’s this between your legs, huh? Tell me, “lady”!

Luis Molina: It’s an accident. If I had the courage, I’d cut it off.


Luis Molina: This girl’s finished.

Valentin Arregui: What girl?

Luis Molina: Me, stupid!

Valentin Arregui: Molina, you would never understand.

Luis Molina: What I understand is me offering you a bit of my lovely avocado and you throw it back in my face.

Valentin Arregui: Don’t talk like that! You’re just like a…

Luis Molina: A what? Go on, say it. [Arregui pauses]

Valentin Arregui: [to Molina] Shaddap! You damn faggot!

Valentin: ”Your life is as trivial as your movies”

Molina: ”Unless you have the keys to that door, I will escape in my own way, thank you.”

Valentin: ”I can’t afford to get spoiled.”

Molina: ”What kind of a cause is that, a cause that won’t let you eat an avocado?”-

You’re not cold taking your clothes off?

– How good you look . . .

– Ah . . .

– Molina . . .

– What?

– Nothing . . . I’m not hurting you?

– No . . . Ow yes, that way, yes.

Secret Policeman: [to Molina] You faggot piece of shit! You fell in love with that bastard?

Valentin Arregui: [Violently separating Molina’s legs] What’s this between your legs, eh? Tell me, “lady”!

Luis Molina: It’s an accident. If I had the courage I’d cut it off.

Valentin Arregui: You’d still be a man. A MAN! A man in prison! Just like the faggots the Nazis shoved in the ovens!

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Kiss Of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig


One member described the book as having four layers which all wove together: the dialogue between the two main characters; the films; the amusing sections in italics and the accompanying footnotes.

Some members had read the book before and / or had seen the film adaption. One of these members commented that, on second reading and knowing the ‘surprise’, the book doesn’t have the same impact as it had on the initial read. However another member had forgotten about the twist and was pleasantly surprised by it, despite having read the book before.

Another added that this time round they struggled with the novel and another that they were ‘conscious’ they had to finish the book whilst reading it. Yet another didn’t think they were going to reach the end of the novel and another still commented that they were engaged with the story initially, but that their engagement wore off as the story progressed.

Having seen and loved the film, but not having read the book, One member found the first half of the book hard going, but was struck by the skilful evocation of the novel, the power of its storytelling and noted its political angle. Another, who had neither read the book nor seen the film, stated that they found it difficult to perceive the novel as a film.

Two of the stylistic devices employed by the author, the inclusion of numerous explanatory footnotes and the lengthy retelling of film plots, prompted a lot of discussion; both seemed to divide the group.

Whilst one member felt that the lengthy film plots partially eclipsed the narrative of the main story, with another stating that the ‘films’ “didn’t half go on”, another, being a film lover, really enjoyed the inclusion of the film plots, especially the different things picked up from the films by Molina.

It was noted that the stories told by Molina were taken from real films and the plots were supposedly pertinent to the main narrative of the novel, however, this was not understood or appreciated in full by the group.

One member claimed to have been made really angry by the footnotes, feeling they were wasting their time by reading them and gave up. Another member quickly realised they didn’t add much to the story and didn’t bother reading them. Conversely, another member found them to be a playful literary device, that they were fun.

It was revealed part way through the discussion, to some surprise, that, whilst some of the notes were factual, others were just made up. Most of the group had trusted the footnotes and had believed them to be as factually sound as they appeared. Indeed it was felt that the content of the footnotes would have easily duped the Argentinian readers of the time, due to the predominant culture, who would have believed every word of them. One member wondered how much the author himself believed the footnotes.

A member asked whether the footnotes matched the story in some way and questioned whether the story drove the footnotes, or whether it was the other way round.

Referencing the American novelist John Foster Wallace, a member suggested Puig employed this literary trope in order to convey a number of intertwined things, without detracting from the novel itself.

As far as the overall style of the book was concerned; one member expressed their annoyance of the italicised passages, the stream of conscious narrative and the repetitive use of nouns, such as ‘the mother’ and ‘the man’.

The novel was summed up by a member who claimed that the author was trying to be too clever in the novel. Another countered that this attempt wasn’t very effective as most of the group didn’t understand it.

There was a lot of interest in the relationship between the two main characters, with one member commenting that they were really interested in the dialogue between them. Other members found the relationship touching and moving, that their care for each other, dealing with shit, willingly suggests a great deal of affection or love between the two.

It was thought that the conflict between the characters got in the way of their relationship and the emotions they felt about each other. Yet another opinion was that it easy to get caught up in the polarity of the betrayal and the love the characters had for each other, but these things are just the nature of humanity.

The reason for Molina’s incarceration was raised and it was felt that he was imprisoned on trumped up charges, as he doesn’t seem the kind to go for minors (the start/stop relationship with the waiter Molina periodically references indicates this). It was also noted that he didn’t protest his innocence throughout the novel, nor show any anger about the charge or punishment.

Valentine was considered by some to be a vessel for political change; however, Valentin’s ability to look after and to have sex with Molina was his opportunity to transcend his political stance. One member added that the ‘gay man’ of the novel is far more revolutionary than the revolutionary prisoner. Another mentioned the exchanges between the characters towards the end of the novel, noting that Valentin was exploiting the situation just as much as Molina; that the political end was more important than his own feelings towards Molina.

It was however concluded that both characters were shafted by the system. One member added that the monitoring report was sinister, yet funny, that everything was written factually as if they had no idea what was going on.

We also saw the film.


She has her legs crossed, her shoes are black, thick high heels, open toed, with dark-polished toenails sticking out. Her stockings glitter, that kind they turned inside out when the sheen went out of style, her legs look flushed and silky

“Your reality, isn’t restricted by this cell we live in. If you read something, if you study something, you transcend any cell you’re inside of”

“The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.”
“- But you have to reason it out then and convince yourself.
– Yes, but there are reasons of the heart that reason doesn’t encompass.”
“–And the good thing about feeling happy, you know, Valentin? …It’s that you think it’s forever, that one’s never ever going to feel unhappy again.”
“- And what’s so bad about being soft like a woman? Why is it men or whoever, some poor bastard, some queen, can’t be sensitive too, if he’s got a mind to?

– But if men acted like women there wouldn’t be anymore torturers.”
“Say it, like a woman, that’s what you were going to say”

kotsw“I think that I have to know more about you, that’s what, in order to understand you better. If we’re going to be in this cell together like this, we ought to understand one another better, and I know very little about people with your type of inclination”

“Valentin, I’m telling you. I don’t want to hear a word of it. Not where they are, not who they are, nothing!”

“Marta, how much I wish it with all my heart, let’s hope that he may have died happily”

“the only one who knows for sure is him, if he was sad or happy to die that way, sacrificing himself for a just cause, because he’s the only one who will ever have known”

Yes, and I don’t care if you laugh… makes people laugh to say it, but what’s got to happen more than anything…is change in the world.”

. and I fought, from the moment I possessed a little understanding of things . . . fought against the exploitation of my fellow man . . . And I’ve always cursed all religions, because they simply confuse people and prevent them from fighting for any kind of equality . . . but now I find myself thirsting for some kind of justice . . . divine justice. I’m asking that there be a God . . . Write it with a capital G, Molina, please . . .

. . . a God who sees me, and helps me, because I want to be able, someday, to walk down streets again, and I want that day to come soon, and I don’t want to die.

kotsw3Valentin on embroidering

“If you can embroider, why can’t I too?”

Molina on the cold/prison

“The cold wakes her up. Just like us”

Valentin’s Marxist-feminist view on Irena’s mother

“I see her as impeccably attired…she has that…little touch of coquetishness”

Molina on escapism/forgetting about the cell

“until you brought this up I was feeling fabulous, I’d forgotten about this filthy cell”

Molina’s post-modernist awareness on fiction/cliff-hangers

“you have to do it that way with the public otherwise they’re not satisfied. On the radio they always used to do that to you. And now on the TV soaps”

Valentin’s dedication to the political struggle

“there’s no way I can live for the moment, because my life is dedicated to the political struggle”

Molina on feminimity

“and what’s so bad about being soft like a woman?”

Warden’s enquiry about Valentin

“Have we softened him up a little?”

Valentin finally softening up a little

“I want you to…give me…some word of comfort”

Molina on the two roles switching in love-making scene

“Or like I wasn’t me anymore. As if now…I were you”

Molina on ebroidering

“well, to some extent I have to embroider a little”

Molina’s femininity in reference to he and his friends


Valentin’s masculinity

“Don’t call me Valentina, I’m no woman”

Molina’s highly romanticized description

“he caressed the lettuce leaves, and the tomatoes, but nothing softly about it- how can I put it? They were such powerful moment, and so elegant and soft, and masculine at the same time”

Valentin on Molina as the spider woman

“You, you’re the spider woman that traps men in her web”

Police document on Molina

“Of the wounded, Molina expired”

Valentin’s final thoughts

“This dream is short but this dream is happy”

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The Confessions of AUBREY BEARDSLEY: A Novel by DONALD S. OLSON

tcab2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

How self-indulgent. If I was his priest I’d insist ion a maximum of one side of A4.

I liked the idea hat he took up drawing as it was subversive his aunt’s puritanism.

But did they have polytechnics in those days?


Mother is merciless. ‘You gave up a headmistress-ship at the Polytechnic ?????

…was our time for fanciful reverie; finally we would see the red-tiled spire of our beloved church high on the hill, and sometimes would even run there.

Yes, there was something slightly illicit about the Annunciation, which of course only added to its charm. Though it was very High Anglican, it reverberated with that quite peculiar and almost aristocratic sympathy one associates with English Roman Catholics.

One felt almost an outlaw going there — an impression heightened by the situation of the church: it was built into a road of small brick and flint houses, and one entered directly from the street, without the hallowing prelude of a porch. The noticeboard outside had for me the glamour of a theatre bill; it listed all the mysterious ceremonies that took place within — nones, compline, confessions.

A sense of renegade superiority reigned within. The church was not old, but the steady chant of an ancient liturgy made it seem so. Architecturally it was eccentric, with a heavy wooden roof like an inverted ship’s hull, and exposed beams and plastered walls that betrayed affinities with the Aesthetic Movement of the sixties and seventies. We loved it, I’m sure, for its beauty — or what we saw as beauty then. The Pre-Raphaelites had left the artistic stamp of their respectability in the east window, where a dusky blue panel of the Annunciation by Rossetti was flanked by a couple of Burne-Jones designs executed by William Morris. I would direct my gaze towards those panels with their lead outlines and stare until I seemed to merge myself with them. Father Chapman considered the windows as ‘necessary luxuries’, splendid examples of Art serving the greater glory of God.

Father George Chapman, now deceased, was the Annunciation’s priest-in-charge, and there was some quality in him that drew people to the confessional like bees to honey. He was a tall gaunt man, who looked as though he were being consumed by his own spiritual fervour; his pale eyes had the feverish sparkle of a confirmed  …, and one believed him to be party to those secrets whispered only between the dying man and his God.

Mabel and I longed to go to confession. It was too tantalizing, the sight of all those people entering a mysterious cupboard where the sins of the world were whispered, revealed and absolved. I’d watch, fascinated, as the sweetest-looking people in Brighton made their way to that dark closet of repentance. What had they done that was wrong? Why did they feel compelled to confess? I wonder if there may not be something in the determinedly bluff and unemotional English character that secretly craves the luxurious darkness of a confessional, and the voluptuous comfort that comes from admitting guilt and casting off an accumulated load of sin.

You may not have known, Father, that Brighton was the home of the Catholic Revival in England. Yes, in churches throughout the town the oath of Royal Supremacy was being questioned and gorgeous Eucharistic vestments flaunted. The more daring churches even adopted the Eastward Position. Low churches, such as Aunt Pitt attended, were appalled, indignant and intolerant of anything that even suggested that Scarlet Whore, Rome, with all her pomp and finery. The converts to Catholicism were called perverts. Fierce words and fulminations on the subject of Popery were hurled from many a pulpit. But there in the Annunciation we would sit, Mabel and I, for hours on end, morning and evening, intoxicated by the solemn mystical odour of frankincense, the chanted refrains of ancient Latin texts, the intricate rituals of the Mass, and Father Chapman himself, who was publicly dying.

Aunt Pitt, as I have already mentioned, did not permit reading unless it was edifying or instructional. Novels and poetry were incomprehensible to her; for us, they were life, and we were aghast to think that from now on we would be without them. Of course, she was perfectly furious when she discovered that I was hiding a novel that Father Chapman had given me to read, and I had a lot to do to convince her of the story’s elevated moral tone

tcoabthat area between the Strand and Regent sing Soho, St James’s and Whitehall, that most at of our dear British Empire, was in fact nothing more than a walking whorehouse. Men, women, children: everyone was openly for sale.

The strange thing about it was not that it existed, but that it was never. talked about, never written about, and never shown in modern pictures. It did not conform to the Official Version of English Life as seen on the walls of the Royal Academy, and so it was ignored as the material of art. Yet there it was, not so far from the sacred portals of the RA itself: filthy, glamorous, lewd, pestilential, flea-bitten, pox-ridden, utterly criminal; an unseen obscene London that set my pulse hammering and my cock throbbing in nervous sympathetic excitement.

Those teeming London pavements, filled with their sweet, stink­ing, garish assortment of human characters, all going about the business of making money and spending it — all of us living in what Shelley called ‘the dream of life’! Those filthy streets, churned to mud by the incessant crush of omnibuses, drays, cabriolets, broughams, landaus, hansom cabs, fire wagons, funeral carriages; whose crossings were swept by wretched ragged children; whose edges were so variously crowded with men wearing shiny top-hats and costermongers hawking their wares; with rich elegant women unable to dress themselves without a servant’s help sweeping past shivering penniless flower-girls; where clergymen encased in starch and broadcloth rubbed shoulders with ruffians wearing moleskin waistcoats! How I loved the stew of London!

My eyes would meet other eyes — those of a smiling child-minx, no more than ten, yet powdered and rouged like a seasoned whore

— ‘Wanting a bit of company, sir?’; those of a drunken gap-toothed harridan, whispering that she’d lift her skirts in a nearby alley for a glass of gin; those of a half-starved seamstress, whose feverish orbs hopelessly cried out, ‘Save me!’; those of a clever unscrupulous maid, searching restlessly for a male conspirator.

I looked, but never bought, storing up memories to fuel my nocturnal cock-chafings. Yes, there in Pimlico, too, urged on by my friend the Fever, surrounded by my family, I continued my copious outpouring of seed; visions of whores and pretty girls from the halls danced in my head as I pounded my insatiable organ to the spurting froth of its inevitable conclusion.

We chose St Barnabas as our church in Pimlico, not because of its convenience, but because it was the most ritualistic and fashion­able Anglo-Catholic church in the metropolis. St Barnabas, where the ethereal tones of ancient Gregorian chants were heard through a fragrant cloud of incense, provided Mother with a tie to Brighton in the person of the Reverend Alfred Gurney, a former curate at one of her favourite churches there.

I suspect Mother was a little bit in love with Alfred Gurney, the vicar of St Barnabas, but who could blame her? He had a long cleft beard, tender blue eyes, and was immensely rich. He was a man of strong and sudden contrasts, a scholar in church ritual who wore riding breeches under his cassock so that he could take a quick canter in the park whenever the mood struck. He was a spiritualist, an occasional poet, a collector of drawings, and a music-lover who could describe a Wagner concert conducted by Richter with the kind of enthusiastic passion that women found irresistible. He also had the great grace to include us — Mother, Mabel and me — as guests at his sumptuous Sunday luncheon-parties. The Reverend Alfred Gurney’s luncheons were far more inspiring, I must say, than his sermons.

These feasts were held in the Clergy House next door to the church after the late service, and provided us with our first entree into London society. The other guests, all relatives or artistic friends of Mr Gurney, might include his brother Willie, his sister-in-law, his niece, the textile Halifaxes, the Reverend Gerald Sampson and his younger brother Julian, an art dilettante. Since these were all potential patrons, I began to carry with me a portfolio of my latest drawings.

One afternoon the talk at the luncheon-table turned to Rossetti, a collection of whose drawings Mr Gurney owned and proudly displayed on his walls. In years gone by, the Reverend had come to know the Pre-Raphaelite artist and his poetic sister; and that afternoon he began to tell us stories of Rossetti’s last hours — how Rossetti’s lifelong fear of being alone, for instance, was exacerbated in his final illness to the point where he would keep a friend with HIm all through the night, begging him not to leave until dawn, when finally he would be able to sleep; and how even in his last days, unable to rise from his couch, he would feebly stretch out his brush and touch a canvas with it. The luncheon guests reverentially murmured ‘How beautiful!’ to every anecdote, but my secret response was quite different. None of it sounded the least bit beautiful to me; awful, rather, pathetic and terrifying. Where healthy people get the idea that death is beautiful and ennobling, I shall never know.

Afterwards Julian Sampson sidled up to me and asked if I would show him the contents of my portfolio. ‘With pleasure,’ I said, and we found a spot some way off from the others.

Recently I heard rumours that Julian Sampson has fallen prey to one of the many devilish cults that seem to be springing up, as the century wanes, like fetid fungi on the trunk of a decaying tree; even then, eight years ago, he evinced a fascinated interest in a sub rosa world that one could only whisper about at Gurneyesque luncheon-parties. A middle-sized man of great elegance, Julian would have been remarkably good-looking were it not for the slightly degenerate Hanoverian cast to his features. The pampered son of a rich colonel and the grandson of the Comte de Meric de St-Martin, his life had been dedicated to useless pleasures of all sorts. He had studied art, and occasionally wrote on the subject, so I was honoured when he directed his gaze at my drawings.

Thanks to Mr Gurney’s collection of Rossettis, my drawings at that time showed signs of incipient Pre-Raphaelitism, and were mostly concerned with beatific subjects — at least, those drawings that I brought with me to the Clergy House. Other subjects, such as the courtesan Manon Lescaut, and the adulteress Emma Bovary, culled from my secret reading, never accompanied me.

`You have a clever hand,’ said Julian, as he examined my various celestial beings strumming lutes and bearing lilies. ‘I wonder . . He pursed his lips thoughtfully. ‘I wonder if you would be interested in a small commission from me — to do a drawing — but not of any heavenly creature.’ He laughed softly at some private joke. ‘Heavens, no, not heavenly — classical, rather.’

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Queens by Pickles

QPAnyone who was ‘on the scene’ in the mid 1980s will recognise these (stereo)types, like the leather queen who carries a motorcycle helmet but travels by taxi to The Colerherne, the vicar who justifies visiting gay bars as being an opportunity for pastoral work.

One of our members said: I enjoyed Queens in a voyeuristic sort of way and as an historical record of an era. My memories of living in Lambeth predate the time Pickles was writing, being the early 1970s, when my haunts and hunting ground
centred on Kings Road and Vauxhall, but also included The Salisbury in St Martins Lane where much of Queens is based. Such a Grand gay meeting place for intellectual, theatre, church, opera, suited and booted Queens in those days, as well as working class lads and 6th Formers on a day trip to London. There was a wider spread of social and economic class than you could find anywhere else in London.
Members of Parliament, priests of all denominations and lawyers chatting with  builders and soldiers (always lots of soldiers) without any judgement or malice. We were all there for the same reason and it felt safe……but with just a hint of risk.

The descriptions of behaviour and language – high camp as much as Polari – are accurate and bring back wonderful memories. There was an excitement about crossing the threshold of the Salisbury – like emerging from the back of the Wardrobe into another world.
Queens is a surface description of a very special time, after the decriminalization of homosexuality and before AIDS.  The Law had changed, but public opinion was lagging behind. We were free, but still sought the Sanctuary of safe havens (or even Heaven).This book features a diary, some descriptions and some dramatisation of dialogues.

There’s Kevin from Leeds who dislikes London- having lived in Leeds I agree with him.

It was “lambasted by the gay press for its allegedly ‘negative’ portrayal of London’s gay community”. Part of the controversy was due to the depiction of characters in the novel. Many are lonely, bored or superficial. The author’s own interviews contributed to the controversy, both for his insistence that he needn’t present an affirmative picture of gay life in London and also for his unwillingness to publicly come out.

The novel has been described as “a funny, and kind of mean, taxonomy, of gay types in London in the Thatcher years.” Instead of names, the author often refers to characters by their position in gay life: Clone, Opera Queen, Northern Queen, Leather Queen, City Queen, Rent Boy, Insidious Queen. The author also accepts the names that gay men use for each other: Doris Mavis, Gloria.

As our member, above said: The reaction against the book came from the newly politicized wing of the Gay movement – the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) who sought to paint a different public image of homosexuals.  CHE meetings were not meant to be about sex or finding a fuck; they were sometimes quite serious; a sort of WI for Puffs,   The agendas were about Campaigning and Politics, but there was also a fair smattering of exchanging knitting patterns and cooking recipes, CHE resented Pickles picture of homosexuality based 100% on sex,

Queens is an important social history; a Picture Post painting; an accurate record of a small centre of homosexual life in London at the time. In the rest of the country. there was no Salisbury and cottaging was the easiest way to meet and to pick up guys,
It does not matter that Pickles avoids any deep analysis or intellectual debate.
Enjoy it for what it is. I did.

However, not all ‘Opera queens’ are Tories – one of our former members was rabidly socialist. Mind you, he did claim that ‘Opera is the highest art form.’ (Elsewhere, the author wrote: Opera lovers are to opera what rioting football fans are to the Cup Final: an undesirable element. Almost all of them are boring to distraction, bourgeois vultures so utterly sedentary in their theatrical tastes that it is not surprising to hear their unconsidered applause acknowledging the most dreadful performances. An evening at the opera is still regarded as a special treat, something to do whether informed about it or not. Thus it is that the audience presents a bizarre conjunction of total ignorance and programmed knowledge: the young merchant bankers striving to impress some pale English virgin, as if Covent Garden were on the same circuit as Ascot and the fourth of June; old Tory crows, bejewelled as if it were an official reception or exclusive fascist function.)

It’s relentlessly ‘vinegary’, insidiously snide and I didn’t care much for ‘the plates’ – pictures.

Most of the pubs described have gone. Maybe there should be pink plaques.

Despite the many desperate people described, we get a happy ending. However, although Ben’s diaries started well we can predict that it will become depressing f his romance breaks up and he goes back on the scene.

Jonathan Black wrote: Stephen Pickles keeps on cropping up in my life. When I arrived in Oxford he was already a star. Out of all the scores of dandified young men milling around the Radcliffe Camera and the King’s Arms, trying to draw attention to themselves and to promote themselves as the new Brian Howard – model for Anthony Blanche, the flamboyant one in Brideshead Revisited – Pickles was IT. Very handsome in an Italian sort of way with a great leonine mane, he was decidedly glamorous and very famous – known always as just ‘Pickles’. His waspish witticisms were widely repeated and it was rumored that he’s already designed the sets for an opera in London. I hardly dared speak to him.

Years later we’d see each other in Soho. We shared a fascination for Soho and Fitzrovia bohemianism – Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Derek Jarman, Julian Mclaren-Ross – the model for Xavier Trapnel in Dance to the Music of Time – Dan Farson and Jeffrey and Bruce Bernard. Pickles was right at the centre of this – he had a flat above a delicatessen in Old Compton St and a regular seat at the right end of the bar in the Coach and Horses while I was the  boy from the provinces with his nose up against the window. – though I did get some kind of foothold when I became Farson’s publisher.

Pickles then published a book, a book of conversations overheard in pubs, called Queens. It showed an ear for dialogue like, say, Michael Frayn, Julian Mclaren-Ross or Alan Bennett. It’s a kind of masterpiece. (That’s a phrase Colin Wilson used of my own book. I don’t know if he meant to damn with faint praise, but that’s not what I mean – merely that Queens is unclassifiable. It’s not clear what kind of book it is at all.)

Georgia de Chamberet wrote: When I changed jobs, Pickles became my boss. He was a tough but inspirational teacher, and a perfectionist when it came to editing. ickles was divinely charming and witty — and fiercely protective of his privacy. His wickedly funny book, Queens, published in 1984 by Quartet, featured a photo of him on the cover as a wildly handsome young man. I remember a bleak period when Pickles lost friends to AIDS. Derek Jarman came to visit once or twice; he had incredibly clear, almost electric blue eyes, and was beautiful and gaunt like an effigy on a tomb. Pickles was a Soho man, and a regular at the Coach and Horses pub, immortalised in the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

QP2 Quotations:

 Young queens have a special affection for these visits, using the loo as a convenient meeting place where they can lisp and giggle while helping their friends with cosmetic advice. It is also the centre of operations for many queens, a place to review tactics and commiserate over failures. In the queen’s world the lavatory is no mere convenience: it is almost a shrine.

Queens have become so used to standing around that the shock of a verbal approach finds them with only one idea they can articulate — sex. Queens who want to talk have something wrong with them, and it is probably that they are attempting to give casual sex a little more significance.

 OPERA QUEEN. You like Wagner! What a surprise. I thought you’d prefer disco music, actually. From your appearance, that is. Appearances can be very deceiving though, can’t they?

Have you seen The Ring?

If he asks where the bike is, I’ll say it’s at the garage, or I had a bad smash-up!

Beer guts or pigeon chests — who would want to go to bed with that? What’s the point of being gay if you’re ugly?

At other times they linger beneath fluorescent light, thinking it makes them look tanned and glamorous — especially if they are wearing white. These areas are avoided by queens with dandruff. Otherwise they would have to endure remarks like ‘Is it snowing outside?’

Barmen are the most popular queens in Heaven, and their queenery knows no bounds. Like all people in a position to serve, they can choose to oblige or not, as the mood takes them. It is this aspect of the job which they relish. The slightest offence may be taken, whether it be at your waving a twenty-pound note, or informing him that you have been waiting ten minutes and the guy he is serving has just walked in. The fact that the lucky guy is some American porn star’s double explains but does not help matters. Nostrils flaring, your public servant will either make very heavy weather of slamming down a can of Colt, or simply never look in your direction again and go about his chores. These involve emptying ashtrays and wiping down the counter, neither of which is done too frequently, unless he likes domestic order. Some barmen are trained little housewives, some are not. But if their lacking efficiency does not commend them, which is quite unlikely since they all turn into efficiency queens, their looks cannot fail. Almost all the barmen are handsome, chunky or cute. It is a prerequisite, and accounts for some of their arrogance. If you are going to trap a few individuals behind a bar knowing that everybody is going to have to look at them at least once in a night, it shows impeccable taste and good business sense to employ attractive men and boys. Given the amount of attention they receive, it is hardly surprising that it goes to their heads, along with the power they wield. Most of them would gladly wear T-shirts bearing the slogan: ‘If I’m not perfect, throw me away’ — some with more justification than others.

I wish Sam or somebody would turn up. Heaven’s such hell when there’s no one to talk to.

KATE. They’re foreigners, from America. Here to see the sights.
BLANCHE. Well, they haven’t seen me yet, dear.

KATE. I said the sights, love. Not the ruins!

But I just couldn’t have done it! So we got up quite early, because he had to do some work, and went out for breakfast to a cafe in Soho. I must say I don’t like them cwasson things. French rubbish. There’s nowt like jam on toast, is there?!! It was full of trendy types, right stuck up. I can live without all that at nine in the morning!

GEOFFREY. Oh! That fairy thing — Undine, wasn’t it?

OPERA QUEEN. ‘Undone’, more like. Appalling! All those old bags rolling about on Bakofoil, with bits of tinsel in their wigs, trying to be water-nymphs! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!.

GEOFFREY. Wasn’t the hero called Hildebrand, or something? I can remember the bit where she goes to the wedding.

OPERA QUEEN. It was a few tatty banners and shields, wasn’t it?

GEOFFREY. And he turns into ice — do you remember? That heap of see-through plastic was thrown over him when the lights went out, and when they came on we were supposed to know he’d turned into ice! Talk about tat!

They have a shop in the West End, but keep a lot of stuff at home. So it’s a bit like a shop, really. At the weekends they toddle off to their country cottage — well, not cottage, but converted church or something. Very House and Garden, dear!

GEOFFREY. I’ve never liked antique dealers. There’s something vulgar about them, isn’t there? And they always think they’re a cut above everybody else. They’re only shopkeepers, when all’s said and done!

It all looks so bleak when the lights go up, and everybody ages about twenty years!

THOMAS. Good evening!


THOMAS. May I join you? You look rather alone, and out of place here.

CHRISTOPHER. I was just finishing my drink. I wouldn’t say you had a great deal in common with the clientele. It’s not exactly a synod, is it?

THOMAS. Ah! Now there you’d be correct. You’re obviously an educated sort of man. A teacher? Or perhaps a journalist, I’d say!

CHRISTOPHER. Quite close, really. And yourself?

THOMAS. The church!


THOMAS. You sound surprised. I suppose it is rather odd, meeting a cleric in here, but I duck in occasionally for a G and T.

CHRISTOPHER. You’ve been here before, then?

THOMAS. Heavens, yes! It’s one of my little haunts, after choir practice, you see!


THOMAS. Do you sing? You look very musical, I don’t know why — but you do.

CHRISTOPHER. At university I did.

THOMAS. Ah! A choral scholar, eh? Cambridge, or Oxford? I’d say Cam!


THOMAS. And King’s, was it? The school for spies!

CHRISTOPHER. I’m afraid so. Although it’s quite some time ago now.

THOMAS. Well, well! You are in a different world, here. I know it’s naughty, but I can’t help thinking you’re a happily married man. Am I right?

CHRISTOPHER. Well — yes, as a matter of fact I am.

THOMAS. I get a little forward after two of these, I’m afraid. So you’ll have to forgive me. I wonder what brings you here, then. Eh?

CHRISTOPHER. I already told you — I was having a drink before dinner.

THOMAS. Ah, yes! So am I. But we both know what sort of person comes here, don’t we? I mean, the sort of person you are perhaps struggling against becoming. Forgive my being so presumptuous, dear chap.

CHRISTOPHER. I’m not sure it’s any of your business, actually.

THOMAS. Come, come. We can be friends, can’t we? I went to Durham, actually. I suppose that’s a touch redbrick for you, but if you count the Venerable Bede, I think we go quite far back. One doesn’t often find someone in here one can make conversation with. Have the boys left, do you know?


THOMAS. Oh, you won’t have missed them if they were here. And they always are. Rather an effeminate lot, and always talking dirty and swearing too much. But actually they’re quite amusing. They call me Mother Teresa!

CHRISTOPHER. I see. Well, actually, some young men answering to that description have just left.

THOMAS. What a pity! Never mind, though. You’re here. My name’s Thomas. And yours?

CHRISTOPHER. Christopher.

THOMAS. Like the saint! A charming name. I can just see you wading through water! That’s a very elegant tweed suit, Christopher. Rather posh for this place. What do you make of the gay boys, then? Very sweet, some of them, don’t you think?

CHRISTOPHER. I think they’re rather a miserable lot. I was just thinking what a profound waste of time, actually.

THOMAS. And I came and rescued you from disillusionment. The good Samaritan!

CHRISTOPHER. I wouldn’t say it was an act of rescue.

THOMAS. Well, pity perhaps. I know how hard it is, you see. When you’re not on the scene, I mean. This is what they call the ‘scene’, you know.


THOMAS. Well, it is, Christopher. This is a way of life for most of the people here. Every night, most of them. It’s a little overwhelming the first time, isn’t it? I remember how I felt ­lonely and out of place. Then someone came up and spoke, and it was like unlocking a grand piano — Chekhov, you know. And now I’m speaking to you.

CHRISTOPHER. Actually, I don’t feel at all like a grand piano ­locked or otherwise. I feel mildly sick, if you really want to know.

THOMAS. Understandable. I understand, Christopher. You mustn’t worry about it, dear chap. It must be very hard, leading a secret life. Do you suffer from feelings of guilt and anguish? That’s very common among people of our kind, you know. It takes such courage to break out, doesn’t it. To find the places to go, and dare to walk through the awesome portals, in search of unnatural love. Oh, I know what it’s like, Christopher!

CHRISTOPHER. I’m not sure that you do. I mean, you appear to be quite a celebrity here — Mother Teresa, and all that! You’re not exactly an outsider, are you? I think it’s rather disgusting, considering what you do! It’s just the sort of seedy involvement I couldn’t bear.

THOMAS. Dear, dear! We are in a prickly mood, aren’t we? You’re just struggling to find your real voice, Christopher. I’ve seen it all before. You’re happy with your family, but you want something more — something forbidden. And I can help you. Make no mistake, dear chap — what you need is help!

CHRISTOPHER. Can you stop talking to me as if I were some kind of patient! I find it utterly ridiculous. We’ve only just met, and you’re engaging in some ludicrous in-depth analysis. I was perfectly happy standing on my own, thank you.

THOMAS. But you weren’t, now were you? What you must do is give up struggling and start to live! Let things happen, if they’re going to. Don’t resist, or you’ll be unfulfilled for the rest of your life.

CHRISTOPHER. I can’t believe it!! Do you talk to everyone in this extraordinary way? Have you tried listening to yourself? It’s appalling!

THOMAS. I’ve listened to my heart, Christopher. And I’ve taken my questions to God. And He answered. And now I am hearing what your heart is trying to tell you. And I’m trying to give some help.

CHRISTOPHER. But you’re wrong. I’m not like that — like these people. Like you! I’m just curious, that’s all. Just curious!

THOMAS. And have you wondered why, Christopher? You’re alone, like most of these people! All, all alone. And I am extending the hand of friendship. Are you going to brush it away — you, a choral scholar with an unsung song? I want you to sing, Christopher. I want us to sing together!

CHRISTOPHER. Look! — Oh, what’s the use! Perhaps you’d like a drink?

THOMAS. Another G and T would be awfully nice! And then we can talk about the organ stops at King’s. Ah! That glorious Great Swell! What majesty! We have so much in common, you and I, Christopher. We have so much to talk about. Who would have thought it possible that we might meet here, in

this den of iniquity?

CHRISTOPHER. Who indeed? It’s a pity I have to dash, but

otherwise I’ll be late for dinner. Still, I’ll get your G and T. THOMAS. It really doesn’t matter, thank you. Not if you’re going.

CHRISTOPHER. Oh, I am. I must!

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