Archive for M-P

MY CAT YUGOSLAVIA – PAJTIM STATOVCI

MCYPeople in our group were generally glad to have read it. It has fantastic episodes and intense descriptions of one’s inner life.

Here are also some loose ends – whom is the newe lover? How did he get here?

It’s essentially an allegory about identity, love, death, sex, and facing one’s fears, demons, and their past. It goes back and forth from the point of view of son, then mother, son, then mother, and by part 2, you somewhat lose whose voice is telling the rest of the story

It takes a while to work out who everybody is and how they are related to each other.

Despite a childhood history with ophidiophobic nightmares, he buys a boa constrictor and sets it loose in his apartment. The snake takes up residence under his sofa, driving away his few human visitors, and quickly adopts strangely companionable behaviors more befitting a dog than a reptile.

Emine is brought up in a quietly conservative village near the Kosovan capital of Pristina, she was married off to a man whose name, Bajram (“celebration”), belied his fierce temper, and it has taken her decades to pluck up the courage to leave him.

In the 18th and 19th century. British writer and Albanian advocate Edith Durham wrote High Albania in 1909, and described the customs she encountered amongst the Albanians of what is now northern Albania and Kosovo. The language she used to describe Albanians then calls to mind the trope of the noble savage today: men who kill for honour and women who spend their lives in childbirth or domestic servitude.

An urgent longing for love belies Bekim’s inscrutability. We find echoes of that same longing in Emine’s girlhood reminiscences. She is a fiercely intelligent daydreamer at odds with her strict and superstitious father. In one of the novel’s most affecting passages, she realizes that the objective of her education has always been to make her a more suitable wife.

There’s too much stereotyping – no Albanian man in My Cat Yugoslavia, apart from Bekim, is anything other than a rustic bigot, and no Albanian woman is anything other than a besieged housewife. The nuance and care afforded Bekim’s character doesn’t appear to be extended to his countrymen and women. It’s clear that Statovci means to depict the closed, conservative nature of Kosovar Albanian society when he describes Emine being sexually harassed in a marketplace and Bekim’s father beating his family

It’s a literal take on ‘crushing the serpent’s head’ in Christianity, though Islam doesn’t have a serpent in its fall myth.

The snake that Bekim brings into his apartment is both foreign and fear-inducing; most of his days he spends cooped up in a terrarium, just as many of the Kosovans in Finland felt penned in at their reception centres and gawped at when they stepped outside.

The pet serpent becomes a peculiar character in its own right, its reptilian coolness and shedding of skin reflecting Bekim’s progressive loss of his own warmth. The book’s most notable animal, however, is the one in the title: an anthropomorphic talking cat named Yugoslavia, whom Bekim meets at a gay club. The cat quickly charms Bekim, despite sharing so many of the hatreds that torment him: the cat is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and as selfish and abusive as Bekim’s father. Even so—and much as his mother did, for years, with his father—Bekim caters to Yugoslavia, bringing the cat home and attending to its every need.

Is the cat really aloof or is it afraid of exposing its neediness? There is more than one cat. The first cat talks. The second cat was abandoned, uncared for, unloved in the native country until rescued and restored to health. And finally, there is the black cat in a litter, “just normal, mongrel kittens,” in the author’s words, to distinguish them from the black and white cat who speaks, and the orange cat who doesn’t. The talking cat so full of himself could be the author himself, and the follow-on cats could be those who’d suffered during the war, coming finally to the children, those ‘normal’ integrated ‘mongrels’ who’d adjusted to their new environment in their adopted country and married with locals.

These relationships are as visceral – the boa constrictor’s intimacy crushes, almost asphyxiates – as those of family and home country. War destabilises and mangles identity – “We were vagrants,” Emine says. “We were stuck between the truth and the lies. We no longer knew what was real” – and it’s in these bizarre, intense interactions with animals that the reader gets a feel for the hybrid nature of migrant life.

In his History of Albanian Literature, linguist Robert Elsie describes the Albanian literary canon as lacking in eroticism. I would argue that this has changed over the past two to three decades, as more Albanian women have begun writing about love and sex (and writing novels, period).

Year after year, Kosovo is ranked as one of the most homophobic countries in Europe, which is why we need more protagonists like Bekim to normalise queerness and forms of love divorced from domination

However, somebody knowledgeable has pointed out: Kosovar Albanian characters inexplicably use phrases that belong to the Toske dialect of Albanian, which is not spoken anywhere in Kosovo. Someone else pointed out that those who left kept their language whilst those who stayed developed it.

The author: “When I told people where I come from, instead of interest, I many times received pity.”

This (the cat) unusual relationship, Statovci told me, may represent, for Bekim, “a different kind of love” from the others he has known, “stronger and more powerful, because it has crossed borders and walls. Maybe he thinks that if he can get someone like that to give him love and acceptance, he will be O.K.,” Statovci added. “Maybe he needs to feel that it is possible for people who think in a similar way the cat thinks to see him as more than a refugee or as a gay guy—to fall in love with him.”

Statovci has long been haunted, he told me, by George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” particularly the famous line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” which Statovci called “a beautiful analogy of the world we live in.” Yugoslavia the cat may also remind readers of Behemoth, the demonic feline in Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” who mixes his devilry with charm, though Yugoslavia seems more devil than charmer. And midway through Statovci’s novel Yugoslavia becomes a regular house cat, which Bekim carries around. The novel never explains how or why a talking cat existed or what to make of his disorienting return to ordinariness. Had Bekim imagined Yugoslavia into existence out of desperation? Had something in him shattered, and Yugoslavia emerged? The feline’s shift may contain a cultural metaphor: in Finland, Statovci told me, “cats are domesticated, whereas in Kosovo they are seen as dirty.” But this only says so much. Perhaps, the novel seems to suggest, this is how a mind can break, folding in on itself, elaborate as an origami swan, until it is torn apart.

My Cat Yugoslavia is a work of fiction – from start to finish, but I do make use of some autobiographical elements

I also wanted to show the different levels of discrimination and racism and how integral and automatic it often is, with characters that are guilty of doing it and with characters that are its victims and with characters that first suffer from violence and then act in a violent fashion. Bajram, who himself has suffered from racism, ends up acting racist towards Finns and being more and more violent towards his family. Bekim’s mother, Emine, who loathes working Finnish mothers, ends up landing a job herself. The cat in Bekim’s story is ruthless towards Bekim, at first for no apparent reason, but later on starts showing symptoms of being a victim of bigotry. It’s the saddest thing ever when people who have confronted intolerance and hatred end up being intolerant and hateful, but that’s how it goes. What hatred generates and what it calls upon is hate.

I’m actually just turning in my master’s thesis on animal representations in some selected short stories of Ernest Hemingway and Franz Kafka

MCY 2Quotations:

“Gays. I don’t much like gays… How repulsive. Men’s hands don’t move through the air like that, and men don’t talk the way women talk. And men don’t wear such tight tops and wiggle their bottoms like that – like a prostitute, a whore!”

“When people on the television talked about the disputes between the Albanians and the Serbs, I didn’t bother listening; the news anchor might as well have been speaking in Chinese.” (To suggest Emine would be unaware of the roots of the Albanian-Serb conflict in Kosovo is laughable.)

He starts to use false names, like Michael and John, simply to “avoid the next question, which is, ‘Where are you from?’ ” “It’s one thing to tell someone you are Swedish, German, or English,” Bekim says, “and quite another thing to say you are Turkish or Iranian. It’s only very rarely that someone’s home country is of no significance at all.”

“I noticed the cat across the dance floor”

I had never seen anything so enchanting, so alluring. He was a perfect cat” with gleaming fur and muscular back legs.

Then the cat noticed me; he started smiling at me and I started smiling at him, then he raised his front paw to the top button of his shirt, unbuttoned it, and began walking towards me.”

I didn’t answer. He glanced quickly out of the window where the evening was beginning to darken and turn red. What if I stopped loving him or what if he could no longer bring himself to say it, or what if he fell in love with someone else or got a job on the other side of the world? Anything could happen. He could die.

…“Don’t think too much. That’s your problem.”

He moved his hand on my stomach; his fingertips felt warm and soft and his skin smelled of sliced almonds.

Then I said it too, because it would have been sheer madness not to say those words to a man like that.

only pretty and good at housework, or so I’d been told,

never heard of a single female politician, a female teacher or lawyer.

All of a sudden tanks and soldiers were filling the streets. When Albanians started being systematically removed from their jobs, from positions in hospitals and the police, and when it became impossible to study in Albanian, the situation turned desperate. There was no room in the city to breathe. The caretaker in our apartment building didn’t bother to clean the floors with Albanian residents. The bosses at Bajram’s office were sacked and Serbs were appointed in their place, and eventually Bajram too lost his job. Local authorities gave Serb-owned businesses tax cuts while general taxation for Albanians was increased. Albanians had to study in basements and private apartments, in secret, and teachers caught teaching Albanians were routinely attacked, gas grenades were thrown into civilian apartments, and innocent people were beaten up in the streets.

The air became thick and damp, heavy with the smell of burning, because it was breathed in turn by the desperate and the insane. I worried that I would wake up to find our apartment building on fire or that my children and I would be kidnapped and taken away, that we’d never see one another again. How was it even possible to experience hatred to such a degree that you altogether lost your sense of right and wrong?

When war broke out in Bosnia and we heard about the bru­talities to which the Bosnians were subjected—they were driven out of their homes, their houses were bombed, pregnant women were tortured and raped and taken to concentration camps—I wondered what was happening to this planet. At what point had humans turned into beasts that mauled one another, that held their neighbors’ heads beneath the water?

“What? What did you say about religions?” he interrupted me angrily and slammed his coffee cup on the table.

“Yes, at school the children learn about all different reli­gions,” I said warily and breathed out as calmly as I could.

Bajram hit the table with his fist so hard that coffee spilled from the cup. He stood up and walked over to me. I didn’t dare look at him because I could feel his expression without looking. It was red-hot, like a ceramic burner turned on full.

“Why have you sent our children to a Sunday school?” he asked and hauled me to my feet.

“I haven’t done that,” I tried to assure him. “In schools here they teach children about all religions.”

I tried with all my might to calm him down, to escape the ensuing conversation. “It’s part of their basic education, part of their curriculum,” I said and tried to slip free from his hand.

Bajram looked at me for a moment with that same expres­sion on his face, that bloodthirsty expression, the kind of expres­sion you see only on the face of one who is about to exact the final, ultimate revenge. He held my shoulders with both hands, moved his right arm round my neck, and began to squeeze.

The very next day Bajram marched into the children’s school and forbade the teachers to teach them about religion. Accord­ing to Bajram, the teachers had stammered in response, trying to lie to him, and said that this was an optional course about life philosophy in which the students were encouraged to think about the world and its various phenomena, including religion. At first Bajram had scoffed at them, dug his fingers into his fore­head, and shaken his head as though he had a headache. Then he asked them why he hadn’t been told about this. Its as if you’re trying to steal my children from me, he said.

When he came home he told me how he had shown them what’s what. I couldn’t understand how he seriously imagined he would be able to change their ideas of life by talking to them about Islam. On some level I admired his determination and resolve. He blindly believed in his own world and trusted that his own faith would save him from all imaginable sins for which he feared divine retribution. It wasn’t a bad way to live your life.

The following month Bajrara lost his job. He was genuinely shocked at this—despite the fact that he knew his employers had found out that he had been deviating from the prescribed syl­labus. He had been talking to the.students about Islam and told them their life philosophy classes were a pack of lies.

He had been given two options: he could either resign or he would be fired. Upon realizing the difference between the two and the implications they might have, he took the former option. After this he seemed depressed for a long time because he truly loved his job and had wanted to do it full-time, not just in the afternoons and evenings.

His employment record arrived in the post. Bajram looked at it for a while and slipped it into his desk drawer. He took it out again, read it for a moment, then put it back in the drawer. He did this so often that one day, when he had gone out for a walk, I took out the sheet of paper and read it for myself.

Employment terminated at the employee’s behest due to dis­agreement over interpretation of the school’s aims and values regarding equality.

That’s what it said.

At times it seemed as though what we saw on television couldn’t really be happening. It was a mirage, an unreal reflec­tion of unreal events. But it was all truly happening, the lives of every single one of those people had ended, and I felt like a coward for refusing to die in the conflict. We will all die one day, I thought, and there will be nothing left of us. Wouldn’t it be nobler to die back home rather than to run away? To die in battle rather than of old age?

When the news reported the events in Ratak on January is, 1999, we began to question the existence of God. What had that woman, gunned down, ever done to the Serbs? What had that child done, what had those desperate men done, men who real­ized their village was surrounded by Serb troops? And when those men saw the soldiers shooting randomly at innocent peo­ple, where was God then? Where was he? When men who had been captured were suddenly told, Run away, and when those men ran away up the hill only to be cut down halfway there, where was he? And when after this skirmish they showed video footage of an orphaned little boy weeping, what did God do with that child?

I told the woman that I didn’t particularly care for cats either, I am like my son. They are too erratic, too quiet. I said I couldn’t understand why Finnish people kept them as pets because in Kosovo the cat is considered a dirty animal.

She was convinced that this was not about a fear of actual snakes but about things the boy associated with snakes, the images and memories he had of them.

She was convinced that this was not about a fear of actual snakes but about things the boy associated with snakes, the images and memories he had of them.

Bajram showed the imam into the apartment and the imam followed him after taking off his snakeskin shoes and leaving them in the hall. His socks, the same color as his suit, were damp at the toes.

All at once my cat started hissing. It had walked to the edge of the boulder, its teeth bared, and began to hiss at something moving around in the long grass below us. The cat was lean­ing forward—it looked almost as though it might topple off the edge of the boulder. Its fur had become bristled and restless, and its sharp shoulders stood unnaturally high and its mouth opened and now looked extraordinarily large compared to the rest of its body…..The snake was plump and must have been about a yard long. It was clearly a sand viper, Vipera ammodytes, the most poisonous viper in Europe.

“Wipe it away and you’re dead, they said, wipe it and you’re dead, you fucking parasite refugee.”

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

NO

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO 2Quotations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Beautiful Laundrette by Hanif Kureishi

We liked the feel-good, positive factor, some of us remembering the 1980s as a very bleak decade.

Some people belong nowhere and search for identity – the gay person as much as someone of an ethnic minority.

This film received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1984. This was the first British film to openly depict a gay romance.

It is set in London during the Thatcher era and focuses on Omar, a young Pakistani man living in London, and his reunion and eventual romance with his old friend, a named Johnny. The two become the caretakers and business managers of a launderette originally owned by Omar’s uncle Nasser.

The plot addresses several issues of the time, including homosexuality and racism, depicted within the social and economic climate of Thatcherism. Also alienation, exclusion, conflict and and sense of belonging.

Race: Omar’s achievements come despite his minority ethnic status in 1980s British society, striking a chord with the neoliberal ideal expressed by his uncle, Nasser, who states there’s “no such thing as race in the new enterprise society.” Yet the beating which Johnny, Omar and his Uncle Salim face at the hands of white nationalists suggests otherwise. The reality of Thatcherism, far from heralding the erasure of racial distinctions, was that of escalating racist violence, provoked by increasing economic inequality and symbolic legislation.

Throughout the film, the fascists reappear. In one scene before their attack, where they stand, armed and waiting, around the laundrette. Never assume that xenophobic nationalism will forever remain on the fringe.

At the climax, one of the fascists takes a metal bin and hurls it into Omar’s laundrette window. Though they had previously found employment there, it was of a menial nature, presumably low paid, and failed to mitigate their repulsion at working for a Pakistani who, as one of them articulates, “came over here to work for us.”

Sex: British Asians were popularly regarded as dowdy, puritanical and family-focussed rather than hedonistic. Yet here, Omar has a relationship with someone who’s not his fiancée, with a man rather than a woman, and with a poorly educated skinhead of the kind many immigrants would have feared and despised in equal measure. This same-sex relationship is depicted explicitly – at a time when much of the conservative establishment decried homosexuality in the name of Victorian values, and when the popular press used the AIDS epidemic as an excuse to castigate gay people. Though occasionally fraught, the leads’ romance is mostly fun, certainly not tragic.

Contrasts: The movie is not concerned with plot, but with giving us a feeling for the society its characters inhabit. Modern Britain is a study in contrasts, between rich and poor, between upper and lower classes, between native British and the various immigrant groups — some of which, such as the Pakistanis, have started to prosper. To this mixture, the movie adds the conflict between straight and gay.

A critique of postcolonial Britain is achieved through Kureishi’s battery of conflicts—between whites and Asians, between whites and whites, between the Asian and African diasporas, between Asian brother and brother, between Asian parents and their adult children, between men and women. The fact that Omar and Johnny’s sexual relationship is not a source of social conflict, unlike that of Nasser and Rachel, is significant. It’s a masterful stroke of gay-straight taboo reversal that proposes that behaviour conventional society has historically vilified may be the most likely to promote harmony.

The two men rekindle their teenage relationship when they are alone together in the laundrette. It is illustrative of how they escaped the ethical and moral boundaries that both society and Omar’s family had imposed on them. When they are left alone in the laundrette, they are able to surpass Omar’s family’s cultural expectation of a heterosexual arranged marriage between Omar and Tania. Similarly, Johnny is able to detach himself from his racist group of resentful white working class peers and form a relationship with the supposed “other”

Newly employed by Omar, he acquires a sense of self-worth and—if not quite a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis—swaps his too-long-lived-in tribal uniform for a brighter, cleaner look. Observed by Omar in the moments before the laundrette’s opening, he mounts the table where customers will fold their spin-dried clothes and stands there like an Adonis, the brief pose showing that the slumped, disconsolate figure he was at the start of the film has regenerated himself. He has also become the film’s moral centre, for he cautions Omar, who has “big plans” for taking over more laundrettes, not to become greedy. The film shares Hussein’s belief that, for the children of immigrants, education is the key to social enlightenment and integration.

Early images of Johnny reveal that he is a youth in transition—one who rejects the system crushing his generation by rejecting the street violence that results indirectly from Conservative policies. Newly employed by Omar, he acquires a sense of self-worth and—if not quite a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis—swaps his too-long-lived-in tribal uniform for a brighter, cleaner look. Observed by Omar in the moments before the laundrette’s opening, he mounts the table where customers will fold their spin-dried clothes and stands there like an Adonis, the brief pose showing that the slumped, disconsolate figure he was at the start of the film has regenerated himself. He has also become the film’s moral centre, for he cautions Omar, who has “big plans” for taking over more laundrettes, not to become greedy. The film shares Hussein’s belief that, for the children of immigrants, education is the key to social enlightenment and integration.

The disgruntled Tania (Rita Wolf), Nasser’s daughter, is the pivotal female character. Kureishi introduces her as the Ali family conscience and scold, who despises her father for cheating on her mother, Bilquis (Charu Bala Chokshi). She’s also a disruptive comic force. She flashes her breasts at Omar to distract him from listening to her father smugly hold forth to his well-heeled cronies in his den. In a temper, she upends on Bilquis’s lap the witch’s potion she’s concocting to poison Rachel. “I’d rather drink my own urine,” she tells Nasser when he presses her and Omar to get married. Tania is not about to become a submissive Pakistani wife like Bilquis, so she leaves home. When last seen, she is standing on a train station platform. A touch of magical realism removes her from patriarchal control.

The laundrette’s “Powders” neon sign, which makes its exterior resemble that of a small cinema. The interior is deep, as are those of many repertory theatres, and a “widescreen” window separates the washing, drying, and folding area (the space where the “action” takes place) from the back office (a darkened space from which the action can be viewed). Looking at—and through—the window, Omar admires Johnny doing his chores and standing on the table. As Johnny and Omar have sex in the back room before the opening, they become an audience watching Rachel and Nasser dancing in the front. The laundrette’s paying customers contribute to the notion of its being an emporium in which secrets are revealed, stories evolve, and events come to a head. This visual self-consciousness extends beyond the laundrette: at home or in cars, the characters frequently look at other characters through windows or at their own reflections. It’s a hall of mirrors for existential self-interrogation that demands the audience enter in.

The laundrette works as some kind of melting pot: a place where race, gender, and sexuality do not play a role, and where one has the opportunity to reinvent himself.

They chose blue to paint the facade: on the one hand this is the colour of hope, on the other hand, the fact they have chosen a pale version might not only underline their sexuality, but also the fact that there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and acceptance – especially considering that this peaceful atmosphere is only found inside the building. Outside it, there is still a multiethnic working-class structure which is completely fragmented, each element fighting against the others.

This simple laundrette in a shabby neighbourhood represents the rise, fall, and return to former ideals in one everyday place. It seems like the characters have literally washed their hands clean in the end, or, as Oliva describes, “the intelligent metaphor of the laundry seen as a means of cleaning up the dirt of filthy society”.

At the end, Britain’s rich are still getting richer and its poor are still getting poorer. The beautiful laundrette has been trashed, Nasser and Rachel have parted, and Tania has evaporated. Only Omar and Johnny’s unity is hopeful—they’re left flicking water at each other in a final positive image, the cares of the day forgotten with its soapsuds.

p. 85 Nasser thinks of becoming a sadhu – isn’t that Hindu and he’s a muslim?

Omar’s father and uncle do, as it seems, represent the two stages of the laundrette: the hardship and wasted potential

The uncle, Nasser, symbolizes the self-made man who took advantage of the situation and managed to establish a flourishing business, by “squeezing the tits of the system”. He is not entirely fond of Britain, but is, however, aware of the new possibilities that he knows how to use for himself in the “damn country which we hate and love.”

Omar’s father takes a rather different approach, having given up on finding a job in his original profession as a journalist, and now lives on welfare, which he hates so much. Having a Pakistani father and a white, British mother, who committed suicide, Omar’s mixed identity is determined from birth. Not only is he mixed in terms of race, but he is also confronted with two conflicting male role models and two very different cultures. As Pascual further states, the trains that pass outside the family’s window might symbolise the fluidity of Omar’s hybrid identity’

When the launderette has its grand opening, he shows up after everyone else has already left. For the left-wing socialist, who spends all his time in their dark apartment, this might be a moment of both: pride and sadness. One the one hand, he might be full of joy, seeing how well his son has adapted to life in Britain and how he has managed to build up a successful business; on the other hand, he might be sad to see how Omar has turned into a capitalist, making the most of Thatcher’s England.

…“never indulges in the kind of patronizing sentimentality that turns the Pakistanis into either social problems or mere victims of English racism.”

Kureishi’s work was heavily criticised, most notably by Ruvani Ranasinha, as approaching all issues from a male point of view, while he has been accused of mistreating his female characters

 Many black people and particularly Asians, hated it. The reason for this, I think, is because they refused to look at the film in any other way than as a piece of realism, that is to say, a film that attempted an accurate representation of its subject

One segment of the Asian community, however, had an overwhelmingly positive response to the film: gay South Asians throughout the diaspora. Trikone, a magazine for the South Asian queer diaspora, devoted almost an entire issue to the film in 2001 stating “the kiss between Johnny and Omar has, to many a queer South Asian, become the moment they came out to themselves”. In the same issue actor Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar, recounts how many gay South Asians have told him they identified with his character and were grateful for the film. In fact, gay communities internationally—South Asian and otherwise—responded positively to the film and it continues to be cited as a favorite gay romance. (In 2004, the Advocate named My Beautiful Laundrette one of the ten best gay or lesbian films of all time.) Part of this popularity results from the fact that rather than depicting its characters as conflicted over their sexual identities—as, for instance, the British film Victim (1961) did—the film shows Johnny and Omar simply as two men in love. Some viewers praised the film precisely because of this ease, while others objected, claiming it was unrealistic.

The film depicts gray streets, nearly empty businesses, and people wandering aimlessly. Nothing is growing or thriving in this environment. Kureishi and Frears’ vision of Thatcher’s England is one of economic devastation with little hope for change. Only one space stands out in this sea of gray: the transformed laundrette.

The conflicts between their respective communities are not healed via their romance—except symbolically inside the fantasy space of the laundrette. Thus, My Beautiful Laundrette avoids the traps some other national romances fall into and demonstrates the potential of the queer national romance to re-imagine the nation, a potential critics have not recognized. Insofar as the imagined community of the nation is itself a kind of collective fantasy, the film is able to do real work through its fantasy—even if the utopic space of the laundrette and the relationship it enables are ultimately unsustainable. The film uses its audience’s desire to see this fragile space survive to create an emotional investment in a new conception of Britishness.  Queer romances contest homophobic nationalisms as they revise imperial fantasies of domination, re-imagining citizenship in radical new ways.

Quotations from the Introduction:

In 1967, Duncan Sandys said: ‘The breeding of millions of half-caste children would merely produce a generation of misfits d create national tensions.’

I wasn’t a misfit; I could join the elements of myself together. It s the others, they wanted misfits; they wanted you to embody within yourself their ambivalence.

I saw the taking up of Islam as an aberration, a desperate fantasy of world-wide black brotherhood; it was a symptom of extreme alienation. It was also an inability to seek a wider politi­1 view or cooperation with other oppressed groups– or with the working class as a whole — since alliance with white groups was necessarily out of the question.

therefore the fact that I couldn’t rightfully lay claim to either place.

This made me think about the close-bonding within the families and about the intimacy and interference of an extended family and a more public way of life. Was the extended family worse than the little nuclear family because there were more people to dislike? Or better because relationships were less intense?

I compared the collective hierarchy of the family and the permanence of my family’s circle, with my feckless, rather rootless life in London, in what was called ‘the inner city’. There I lived alone, and lacked any long connection with anything. I’d hardly known anyone for more than eight years, and certainly not their parents. People came and went. There was much false intimacy and forced friendship. People didn’t take responsibility for each other.

The great master as fallen. Now it was seen as strikebound, drug-ridden, riot­orn, inefficient, disunited, a society which had moved too suddenly from puritanism to hedonism and now loathed itself.

These were: the idea of secular institutions based on reason, not revelation or scripture; the idea that there were no final solutions to human problems; and the idea that the health and vigour of a society was bound up with its ability t tolerate and express a plurality of views on all issues, and tha these views would be welcomed

It was that the English misunderstood the Pakistanis because they saw only the poor people, those from the villages, the illiterates, the peasants, the Pakistanis who didn’t know how t use toilets, how to eat with knives and forks because they we poor. If the British could only see them, the rich, the educated the sophisticated, they wouldn’t be so hostile. They’d know what civilized people the Pakistanis really were. And then they’d like them.

Those Pakistanis who have worked hard to establish busines now vote Tory and give money to the Conservative Party. T interests are the same as those of middle-class business people

But what is the Conservative view of them? Roger Scruton in his book The Meaning Of Conservatism sets out the case against m respect and understanding.

Firstly he deplores all race relations legislation and tries to justify certain kinds of racism by making it seem a harmless preference certain kinds of people. He calls this preference a ‘natural off of allegiance.

The Labour Party has failed to show that it is serious about combating racism and serious in representing the black working class.

There is real defensiveness and insecurity, a Victorian fear of revealing so much as a genital of an idea, the nipple of a notion or the sex of a syllogism. Where sexual exhibitionism and the discus­sion of positions and emissions is fashionable, indeed orthodox, thinking and argument are avoided.

I would rather walk naked down the street than stand up for the National Anthem.

Two days after my return I took my washing to a laundrette and gave it to the attendant only to be told she didn’t touch the clothes of foreigners: she didn’t want me anywhere near her blasted laundrette

I was in a rage. I thought: who wants to be British anyway? Or as a black American writer said: who wants to be integrated into a burning house anyway?

In his 1941 essay ‘England Your England’ Orwell says: ‘the gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic’. He calls the country ‘a family with the wrong members in control’ and talks of the ‘soundness and homogenicity of England’.

Elsewhere he considers the Indian character. `maniacal suspiciousness’ which, agreeing, he claim Forster in A Passage To India, he calls ‘the be vice . . .’ But he has the grace to acknowledge in-] Counting Niggers’ that the overwhelming bulk 1 proletariat [lives] . . . in Asia and Africa’.

But this is niggardly. The main object of his praise is `tolerance’ and he writes of ‘their gentle manners’ that this aspect of England ‘is continuous, it sue future and the past, there is something in it that persists.

Tolerant, gentle British whites have no idea he tolerance is experienced by blacks here. No idea a hostility and contempt directed against black people state and individual alike in this land once describe being not one of ‘rubber truncheons’ or `Jew-baiters but of flower-lovers’ with ‘mild knobbly faces’. But in pm the flower-lovers are all gone, the rubber truncheons or Jew-baiters are at large, and if any real contemporary a given to Orwell’s blind social patriotism, then `tolerance’ must be seriously examined for depth substantial content.

In the meantime it must be made clear that black `tolerance’ in this particular condescending way It isn’t this particular paternal tyranny that is wanted, since ut is adjustments to British society that have to be made.

despite the efforts of touring companies and so failed to get its ideas beyond a small enthusiastic audience.

The film started off as an epic. It was to be like The Godfather, opening in the past with the arrival of an immigrant family in England and showing their progress to the present.

old shop we built a laundrette of such authenticity that  people came in off the street with their washing;

Quotations from the film:

 I don’t like to see one of our blokes [Johnny] grovelling to Pakis. Look they came over here to work for us. That’s why we brought them over, okay?

What chance would an Englishman give a leftist communist Pakistani on newspapers?”

“What chance a racist Englishman has given us that we haven’t taken it from him with our hands?”

“Families. I hate families.”

“And you must understand, we’re of different generations; different classes. Everything is waiting for you. The only thing that has ever waited for me, is your father.”

He adores you. I expect he wants you to take over the businesses. He wouldn’t think of asking me.”

“You tell him: you go to college. He must have knowledge. We all must, now. In order to see clearly what’s being done and to whom in this Country, right?”

Nasser: I thought you two were getting married.

Omar: Yes, any day now.

Tania: I’d rather drink my own urine.

Omar: I hear it can be quite tasty with a slice of lemon.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] In this damn country, which we hate and love, you can get anything you want. It’s all spread out and available. That’s why I believe in England. Only you need to know how to squeeze the tits of the system.

 

Nasser: [to Johnny] I’m a professional businessman not a professional Pakistani. And there is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.

 

Papa: You must be getting married. Why else would you be dressed like an undertaker on holiday?

Omar: Going to Uncle’s house, Papa. He’s given me a car.

Papa: What? The brakes must be faulty. Tell me one thing because there’s something I don’t understand, though it must be my fault. How is it that scrubbing cars can make a son of mine look so ecstatic?

Omar: It gets me out of the house.

Papa: Don’t get too involved with that crook. You’ve got to study. We are under siege by the white man. For us education is power. [Omar shakes his head at his father] Don’t let me down.

 

Johnny: [driving Cherry and Salim home, Omar stops by a bunch of street kids, one of whom is Johnny. Omar gets out of the car to talk to Johnny] [indicating his friends] Like me friends?

Omar: Ring us then.

Johnny: I will. [indicates the car where Cherry is getting very angry] Leave ’em there. We can do something. Now. Just us.

 

Omar: I’m being promoted. To Uncle’s laundrette.

Papa: [throwing a pair of socks to Omar] Illustrate your washing methods!

 

Johnny: [Omar is showing Johnny round the laundrette] I’m dead impressed by all this.

Omar: You were the one at school. The one I liked.

Johnny: [sarcastically] All the Pakis liked me.

 

Nasser: [Nasser bursts into the room where Johnny and Omar made love just moments before] What the hell are you doing? Sunbathing?

Omar: Asleep, Uncle. We were shagged out.

 

Salim: I want to talk to Omar about business.

Johnny: I dunno where he is.

Salim: Is it worth waiting?

Johnny: In my experience, it’s always worth waiting for Omo.

 

Johnny: Fuck me! What’s she doing with that mouse?

 

Nasser: [whilst having sex with his lover] Christ, you move like a liner.

 

Nasser: Yes… But first we must marry Omar off. [Cut to Omar and Johnny making love in the back room]

 

Johnny: Ain’t nothing I can say to make it up to you. There’s only things I can do to show you… That I am with you.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Nothing but a toilet and a youth club. A constant boil on my bum.

 

Papa: [to Omar] Work now till you go back to college. And I’m fixing you up with a job with your uncle.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Okay, I charge you basic rent. The key you keep.

 

Papa: [on the phone] Oh, one thing more, try to fix him up with a nice girl. I’m not sure his penis is in full working order.

 

Johnny: [to Omar] A laundrette as big as the Ritz. Oh yes.

 

Nasser: What are you doing, boy?

Omar: It will be going into profit any day now. Partly because I hired a bloke of astounding competence and strength of body and mind.

 

Gang Member: Why are you working for these people? Pakis.

Johnny: It’s work, that’s why.

 

Nasser: Where are those two buggers?

 

Papa: [to Omar] I don’t want my son in this underpants cleaning condition.

 

[first lines] Johnny: We’re moving house.

 

[last lines]  Johnny: Don’t you be touching me!

 

Omar: What are you going to do with me?

Nasser: What am I going to do with you? Turn you into something damn good.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] On the other hand a little water on the brain might clear your thoughts.

 

Salim: [to Omar] You’re one of us now Omar.

 

Nasser: What bloke?

Omar: He’s called Johnny.

 

Johnny: Today has been the best day.

Omar: Yeah, almost the best day.

 

Nasser: [to Omar] Bring Tania over here. Marry her. Well, what’s wrong with her? When I say marry her, you damn well do it. Be nice to her, pressure off my fucking head. Your penis works doesn’t it? Get going!

 

Omar: It took you a while to get onto us.

Salim: Wanted to see what you’d do. How’s your Papa? So many books written and read. Politicians sought him out. Bhutto was his close friend. But we’re nothing in England without money.

 

Papa: This damn country has done us in. That’s why I’m like this. We should be there. Home.

Nasser: But that country’s been sodomised by religion. It’s beginning to interfere with the making of money. Compared with everywhere… it’s a little heaven, here.

 

Johnny: We’ll just have to do a job to get the money.

Omar: I don’t want you going back to all that!

Johnny: Just to get us through, Omo. We’re going to go on. You want that, don’t you?

Omar: Yeah. I want you.

 

Omar: You know who I saw today? Johnny. Johnny!

Papa: The boy who came here dressed as a fascist with a quarter-inch of hair?

Omar: He was a friend once, for years.

Papa: There were times when he didn’t deserve your admiration so much.

Omar: Christ, I’ve known him since I was five!

Papa: He went too far.

 

Omar: Where did you go? You just disappeared.

Johnny: Drinking, I went. With my old mates. It ain’t illegal.

Omar: Of course it is, laundrettes are a big commitment. Why aren’t you at work?

Johnny: It’ll be closing time soon. You’ll be locking the place up, and coming to bed.

Omar: No, it never closes. One of us has got to be there. That way, we begin to make money.

Johnny: You’re getting greedy.

Omar: I want big money. I’m not going to be beat down by this country.

 

Salim: There’s some things between them I’m looking into.

 

Tania: I’m going. You can come.

Johnny: No good jobs like this around.

Tania: Omar just runs you around everywhere, like a servant.

Johnny: I’ll stay here with my friend and fight it out.

Tania: My family, Salim and all… will swallow you up like a little kebab.

Johnny: I couldn’t leave him. Not now. Don’t ask me to. You ever touched him?

 

 

Omar: When we were in school, you and your friends were kicking me around the place. And what are you doing now? Washing my floor and that’s how I like it.

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No Night Is Too Long by Barbara Vine

(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.)

“My life is a dull one,” says Tim Cornish.

Set in Alaska and Suffolk, this story is written in three first-person narrations, the first and longest of which is the memoir-confession of Tim Cornish. Tim, a would-be novelist of twenty-four, has just received his master’s degree. He travels to Alaska for a nature-exploration cruise with his somewhat older male lover, Ivo, a paleontologist who will be lecturing during the cruise. Tim has been living with and supported by Ivo, but, since Ivo’s recent declaration of love, Tim has tired of him. Ashore in Juneau while Ivo is elsewhere, Tim meets Isabel, an unhappily married, somewhat older woman, with whom Tim immediately falls in love, and he promises to meet her in Seattle in ten days after breaking up with Ivo (who he pretends is a woman). When Tim tells Ivo their relationship is over, Ivo refuses to accept it. On an excursion to an uninhabited island, the two men tussle; Tim strikes Ivo, who then strikes his head against a tree and moves no more. Leaving Ivo for dead, Tim flees the island and rejoins the cruise, saying nothing of what has happened. He helps himself to the cash and credit card Ivo left behind and flies to Seattle, hoping to find Isabel, but his guilt causes him to abandon that plan and he returns to the UK, where he settles into an unchallenging job in his hometown and lives alone in his parents’ house. As there has been no word of a police inquiry, no report of the finding of Ivo’s body, Tim seems to have committed the perfect crime, though he is increasingly haunted by what he has done, believing he sees Ivo everywhere. Then he begins to receive a series of anonymous letters, each of which describes the island ordeal—and rescue—of a castaway. Someone knows what he did.

Isabel’s own brief memoir, in the form of a letter of sorts to Ivo, and a concluding letter to his wife by a schoolboy friend of Tim’s who becomes Tim’s solicitor, complete the book, which explores questions of sexual identity, fidelity, and guilt.

I had to look up half-hunter = pocket watch; geode = geological secondary structures which occur in certain sedimentary and volcanic rocks.

She uses the term ‘part of the gay scene’ oddly to mean a way of talking rather than places.

Ok, so the protagonist is going to creative writing classes but would anyone, ever, write: But I felt as Orpheus must have when pursued by Maenads?

There’s a vivid sense of place.

The twist towards the end takes a while before you put the pieces together.

What a superb form of revenge – to send so much material to a fax machine that it devours several rolls of paper.

It’s about obsession, with sexual passion supposedly its linchpin. Yet the characters are as chilly as the Alaskan seascape in which much of its action takes place. Rendell is not an author one associates with coyness, yet the sexual acts, straight and gay alike, are described through the standard evasions of women’s magazine fiction: ‘Her back arched and her body reached for me and she wasn’t silent any more, her gasps – or mine, they were indistinguishable – were as eloquent as the rushing water.’

It’s been accused of being homophobic: the true homosexual is murdererd which enables the bisexual boyfriend to live happy ever after with his girlfriend.

Quotations:

“Without me, without me,
Everyday’s misery.
But with me – am I wrong?
No night is too long!”
“Why do you always wear black?”
She delighted me with her answer, the correct, the only, answer. “I’m in mourning for my life. I’m unhappy.”
“Lean on me,” someone says in Jane Austen to a woman he scarcely knows, and there’s no question but that she will, that she takes it for granted.”
“Ivo had grown more and more like one of those characters in his books who are always groaning about their miserable fate in helplessly loving someone unworthy of their love. Maugham never says much about what that’s like for the poor old unworthy object. I could have told him. It’s not exactly uplifting for the self-image.”

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La Symphonie Pastorale and Isabelle – Andre Gide

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

A country priest takes into his home a blind orphan with the purpose of educating her, but develops a deep love for her.

The title refers to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (also known as the Pastoral Symphony) which the pastor takes Gertrude to hear. It also refers to the pastor’s own symphony with Gertrude. His wife, Amélie, resents Gertrude because the pastor dedicates more attention to Gertrude than to their five children. She tries to prompt him to a recognition of the true nature of his feelings for the young woman in his care. Her ability to “see” is contrasted with the “blindness” of the pastor in this regard and the reader is invited to judge him on his intellectual dishonesty. The pastor takes the Bible very seriously and tries to preserve Gertrude’s innocence by protecting her from the concept of sin.

Because the pastor is really the main character in Gertrude’s limited world, she feels herself to be in love with him and to some extent he has similar feelings toward her. When his eldest son Jacques, who is about the same age as Gertrude, asks to marry her the pastor becomes jealous and refuses despite the fact that Jacques is obviously in love with her.

Gertrude eventually gets an operation to repair her eyesight and, having gained the ability to see, realizes that she loves Jacques and not the pastor. However, Jacques has renounced his love for her, converted to Catholicism and become a monk. She attempts suicide by jumping into a river, but is rescued and contracts pneumonia. She realizes that the pastor is an old man, and the man she pictured when she was blind was Jacques. She tells the pastor this shortly before her death.

lsp-2Isabelle is the tale of a young man whose studies take him to the remote country home of an eccentric family, where he falls in love with a portrait of their absent daughter. As he unravels the mystery of her absence, he is forced to abandon his passionate ideal.

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My Father and Myself – J. R. Ackerley

MFAM(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.)

In this memoir, which one reviewer termed the “mystery” of the son on the track of his father, Ackerley speculated that his father had some homosexual experiences as a young guardsman, but never proved it. In trying to understand his father’s life, he grappled with his own.

This posthumously published autobiography was written in his last depressing years and concentrates more upon his lack of fulfilment than the humorous enjoyment of experience that was typical of most of his life.

Joe Randolph “J. R.” Ackerley (4 November 1896 – 4 June 1967) was a British writer and editor. Starting with the BBC the year after its founding in 1927, he was promoted to literary editor of The Listener, its weekly magazine, where he served for more than two decades. He published many emerging poets and writers who became influential in Great Britain. He was openly gay, a rarity in his time when homosexuality was illegal and socially ostracized.

His memoir serves as a guide to the sexuality of a gay man of Ackerley’s generation. W. H. Auden, in his review of My Father and Myself, speculates that Ackerley enjoyed the “brotherly” sexual act of mutual masturbation rather than penetration. Ackerley described himself as “quite impenetrable.”

 He met E. M. Forster, though strangely he never mentions him, but was lonely despite numerous sexual partners. With his play, The Prisoners of War,  having trouble finding a producer, and feeling generally adrift and distant from his family, Ackerley turned to Forster for guidance. Forster, who he knew from writing A Passage to India, arranged a position as secretary to the Maharaja of Chhatarpur.

In his introduction, W. H. Auden makes some strange observations (though they reflect the views of his time):

Mr. Ackerley strictly limits himself to two areas of his life, his relations with his family and his sex-life. His account of the latter, except for its happy ending, is very sad reading indeed. Few, if any, ho­mosexuals can honestly boast that their sex-life has been happy, but Mr. Ackerley seems to have been exceptionally unfortunate.

any permanent relationship demands interests in common. However their tastes and tempera­ments may initially differ, a husband and wife acquire a common concern as parents. This experience is denied homosexuals. Consequently, it is very rare for a homo­sexual to remain faithful to one person for long and, rather curiously, the intellectual older one is more likely to be promiscuous than his working-class friend. The brutal truth, though he often refuses to admit it, is that he gets bored more quickly.

It doesn’t really get going until you’re 94 pages in.

It isn’t mentioned in this book, though J. R. aye that he saw it when he was ill, but Wendy Moffatt, in her life of E. M. Forster, says that Ackerley’s farher had a twelve inch penis – though with his blood pressure at around 300, I doubt it would have reached its full potential very often. Did the son inherit this or was his from his maternal grandfather?

I had to look up ‘cascaras’ = a fruit with a thick shell

MFAM 3Quotations

“I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.”

“I was now on the sexual map and proud of my place on it. I did not care for the word ‘homosexual’ or any label, but I stood among the men, not among the women. Girls I despised; vain, silly creatures, how could their smooth soft, bulbous bodies compare in attraction with the muscular beauty of men? Their place was the harem, from which they should never have been released; true love, equal and understanding love, occurred only between men. I saw myself therefore in the tradition of the Classic Greeks, surrounded and supported by all the famous homosexuals of history—one soon sorted them out—and in time I became something of a publicist for the rights of that love that dare not speak its name”

“Oh, lord, you’ll be the death of me! I think he did once say he’d had some sport with him [Count de Gallatin]. But me memory’s like a saucer with the bottom out”

“I am not going to make any excuses, old man. I have done my duty towards everybody as far as my nature would allow and I hope people generally will be kind to my memory. All my men pals know of my second family and of their mother, so you won’t find it difficult to get on their track.”

In spite of such adventures, if anyone had asked me what I was doing, I doubt if I should have replied that I was diverting myself. I think I should have said that I was looking for the Ideal Friend. Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous. It was all a run of bad luck…What I meant by the Ideal Friend I doubt if I ever formulated, but now, looking back, I think I can put him together in a negative way by listing some of his disqualifications. He should not be effeminate, indeed preferably normal: I did not exclude education, but did not want it, I could supply all that myself and in the loved one it always seemed to get in the way; he should admit me but no one else; he should be physically attractive to me and younger than myself—the younger the better, as closer to innocence; finally he should be on the small side, lusty, circumcised, physically healthy and clean: no phimosis, halitosis, bromidrosis…. The Ideal Friend was always somewhere else and might have been found if only I had turned a different way. The buses that passed my own bus seemed always to contain those charming boys who were absent from mine; the ascending escalators in the tubes fiendishly carried them past me as I sank helplessly into hell…. In the “thirties” I found myself concentrating my attention more and more upon a particular society of young men in the metropolis which I had tapped before and which, it seemed to me, might yield, without further loss of time, what I required. His Majesty’s Brigade of Guards had a long history in homosexual prostitution. Perpetually short of cash, beer, and leisure occupations, they were easily to be found of an evening in their red tunics standing about in the various pubs they frequented, over the only half-pint they could afford or some “quids-in” mate had stood them. Though generally larger than I liked, they were young, they were normal, they were working-class, they were drilled to obedience; though not innocent for long, the new recruit might be found before someone else got at him; if grubby they could be bathed, and if civility and consideration, with which they did not always meet in their liaisons, were extended to them, one might gain their affection.

in the matter of sex there was nothing he had not done, no experience he had not

“I’ve got something to tell you, Dad. I lied to you about Weybridge. I didn’t go there at all.”
“I know, old boy. I knew you were lying directly I asked you about the floods.”
“I went to Turin.”
“Turin, eh? That’s rather farther. I’m very sorry to have mucked up your plans.”
“I’m very sorry to have lied to you. I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t once said something about me and my waiter friends. But I don’t mind telling you. I went to meet a sailor friend.”
“It’s all right, old boy. I prefer not to know. So long as you enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing.”

(About his dog, Tulip): She offered me what I had never found in my sexual life, constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncrit­ical devotion. She placed herself entirely under my control. From the moment she established herself in my heart and my home, my obsession with sex fell wholly away from me. The pubs I had spent so much of my time in were never revisited, my single desire was to get back to her, to her waiting love and unstaling welcome. I sang with joy at the thought of seeing her. I never prowled the London streets again, nor had the slightest inclination to do so. On the contrary, whenever I thought of it, I was posi­tively thankful to be rid of it all, the anxieties, the frustrations, the wastage of time and spirit. The fif­teen years she lived with me were the happiest of my life.

MFAM 2 Did I tell you that story Bilson told me the other day? There was a fellow walking down the street when he saw a pretty girl—Ah! damn you! Why can’t you let up?—in a very short dress bending down to adjust her garter. So as he passed he put his hand up under her skirt between her legs. She was furious at this. “How dare you!” she said, but he passed on with a—Crikey! ­a smile. So she called a policeman. “Constable!” she said. “Arrest that man! He’s insulted me!” “What’s he done?” asked the policeman. She told him “Well,” said the policeman, “I’m afraid the evidence isn’t sufficient. You’ll—Oh, drat the thing!—You’ll have to come back with me to the station so that I can photograph the finger-prints.” Te-he-he. . . .

Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous but monogamous, it was all a run of bad luck, and I became ever more serious over this as time went on.

some time in the ‘thirties, a friend asked me if I had any notion how many boys I’d taken to bed, I was astonished to find that those I managed to rec­ollect got into three figures, for I never had any sense of riches, only of poverty, and at last of dire poverty.

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The Milkman’s on his Way – David Rees

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

This was written for gay teens and caused quite a stir when it was published. The controversy led to some councils and local political parties adopting gay-positive policies including commitments to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians and to the Tory government seeking to ban such things..

I was privileged to meet the author once. He’d taught English in a comprehensive and later went on to train teachers in Exeter, so he knows how to write. His literary output, mainly aimed at young people, was prolific.

The stages of Rees’s writing career corresponded with his own personal development. Rees didn’t fully come to terms with his homosexuality until relatively late in life (after marriage and fatherhood). ‘I came out when I was 37 and had my first novel accepted for publication that year. The two things are inextricably bound up together, there’s no doubt about it.’

This novel sold in excess of 25,000 copies and is probably the most successful British gay novel to have appeared from a small, specialist press, helped perhaps by the controversy surrounding it during the passage of Clause into Section 28.

Ewan Macrea is a 14 year old, living by the seaside in Bude. He’s a surfer and is having difficulties dealing with his lack of interest in girls and his growing fascination with his best mate Leslie.

TMOHW 2 Quotations:

Growing up gay, beginning as a teenager, to realize what you are: that’s when you start to suffer. Just when everyone else is becoming involved with the opposite sex, you’re alone in having to hide your feelings. Impossible to talk to anybody. It’s not something you want to blurt out to your parents, obviously. Or to your teachers, Or to the boy you fancy: He’d jeer at you or hit you.The only salvation is to find people like yourself. And that’s a big step. A very big step.

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