Wednesday, March 21, 2018

NO Bookmen meeting tonight (March 21)

I already notified current Bookmen of this via e-mail, but just in case anyone else out there was thinking of attending tonight's meeting, don't!  We'd love to have you join us, but our venue is in a municipal building that is closed due to the weather.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A "History" more Superficial than Graphic

Since I was unable to attend the discussion of Queer: A Graphic History, I wanted to offer a few comments here. It’s a topic I know a little bit about, since “queer theory” was coming into full bloom during the last decade of my academic career. I even knew some of the contemporary luminaries mentioned in the book, such as Teresa de Lauretis.

As valuable as this book may seem at first glance to the lay person, I am disappointed by the superficiality of its treatment of nearly everything. Perhaps the problem lies in the very concept, that complex theory might be summed up in cartoons and bubble blurbs. In cases such as Foucault or Judith Butler, this problem is particularly vexing. I was thinking all the time to myself that these treatments prove "a little learning is a dangerous thing."

I do not particularly like the outsized illustrations. Rather than illuminating the text, too often they drag it down. And those lead balloons capture little of what the theoreticians have propounded in detail. For example, the "social construction of gender," elaborated by Butler, is never spelled out. Related ideas, such as "performing gender," are similarly left murky.

Another troublingly superficial treatment is that of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, which the authors say "argues that we need to disentangle sexuality and gender, otherwise heteronormativity remains in place" (p. 94). This is certainly an underlying premise of Sedgwick's book, but it scarcely begins to suggest what the book is really about: how prominent authors like Henry James and Proust coded in their writing what at the time was considered deviant sexual object choice.

All that said, there are certainly values to this book. It acquaints the average reader with key names (from Kraft-Ebbing, Hirschfeld, Ellis to hooks and Sedgwick) and with a very general chronology from the late 19th century to the present. It introduces key concepts, such as heteronormativity and queer biology. It also includes a short list of further readings in queer theory. To the extent that it claims to be no more than introduction, the book succeeds.

But again, I'm troubled by the authors' throwing around of important concepts, only to move on to the next cartoon. For example, Foucault's "panopticon" is cursorily described as a prison with a central tower (it actually refers only to the tower) that presages a society, much like our own contemporary one, in which people might be watched at all times. Actually, the point is not to beware mass surveillance but rather to avoid the self-policing that such surveillance fosters.

Similar name-dropping occurs with the authors' desire to include every other contestatory movement of the last 75 years. We get a dash of existentialism, a splash of feminism (which of course is deeply embedded in early queer theory), references to poststructuralist and postcolonial theory, etc. I think this weakens the book. The suggestion that queer theory is actually linked to all these other modes of thought, if true, dilutes queerness itself.

This brings me to another concern: focus. I'm told the book is about queer theory; but, rather than providing a clear outline of that theory, the book regularly changes focus to talk about "queer" people and how gender and sexual categories are lived out in our society. The latter is a fine topic, but again it dilutes the idea of queer theory. There is a difference between talking about the performativity of gender and talking about the lives of Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein.

Anyway, for a short book with little print, I found it hard to slog through it. For those who can infer from a buzzword a fully elaborated theory, the book could be handy. For those seeking guidance in the study of queer theory, help must lie elsewhere.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Young John among the Fruit Trees

Thought this photo—a selfie avant la lettre—would be a welcome change from the old patriarch we've become so accustomed to in the last year. It's the cover of a biography we'll have a chance to vote on for the next list. Author Karin Roffman lists her "ten best" in an accompanying Publishers Weekly article.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A lovely reflection on "Angels in America"

We discussed Tony Kushner's masterpiece, "Angels in America," way back in 2002, but it has come up many times since then in other titles we've read. The latest entry in the crowded field of books on that topic is The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of "Angels in America," an oral history of the play by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois that came out last month.

With that in mind, I'm pleased to note that Alyssa Rosenberg's Act Four blog in the Washington Post features a thoughtful commentary on the book in which she reflects on the continuing significance of the play--which debuted about a quarter-century ago (depending on which production you use as your reference point).  I warmly commend it to you all.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gay Theater, in Three Acts

"On the return of

  The Boys
in the Band

and why it
matters more
than ever."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

When Bubbles Collide

1978 — on the Amtrak Colonial to Providence after two separately gay wild weekends in Manhattan: a 19 y.o. student pot-head and a 39 y.o. boozy actor … each with a past. No trigger warnings needed for this recent New Yorker story "Bronze" by Jeffrey Eugenides, whose sprawling Middlesex we read twelve years ago. Everyone comes out ahead in this tight little drama (though neither necessarily with the head they started in on). Eugene's little secret:

    He wanted to be beautiful. If that didn’t work, noticeable would do.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Who (or what) the heck is a Fupista?

The six of us present for last night's discussion of Luis Negron's Mundo Cruel all enjoyed the stories (to varying degrees, of course), and I warmly recommend the book.  Even if you don't "get" Negron's humor, there are also a couple of heartfelt selections, such as "The Garden," that pack a lot of emotion into a few pages.

Most of the stories don't require knowledge of Puerto Rican history or culture, but you will get more out of "La Edwin," in particular, if you at least skim Luis Orlando Gallardo Rivera's "Youth Sub-cultures of Puerto Rico, an Observation."  Here, for instance, is his explanation of what a Fupista is:

Fupistas – “Fupista” is a very uncommon term that I have only heard a few times, which literally translates into members of the FUPI, a pro-independence group that is quite popular within the public universities. The FUPI group has its own music tastes (ranging from reggae root to Latin American nueva trova) and its own clothing styles. Untrimmed beards and mustaches and at many times dread-locks or Che Guevara-style hair is common among males, while females usually will keep hair long and lose (sort of similar to the style commonly used by the last generation’s hippies) or in a bunion. Clothing might include camouflage or politically motivated shirts among males, long multi-colored dark-skirts for females, and leather-sandals for both sexes.

While this group is generally limited to the universities, they have a strong voice for they are the most active among Puerto Rican youth in political and social movements. Ideologies, both religious and political are generally more radical in this sect, ranging from communism to anarchy and Rastafarianism to atheism. Despite their social activeness and radical thought, this group tends to be the most non-violent (to other Puerto Ricans – it’s a different story with North Americans), healthiest, and even through many of their traits are imported, the most active in culture and the arts. Craft making, usually involving beads or hemp, is popular among females, who you can see during many sunny days sitting on colorful clothe sheets making bracelets and necklaces for sale. Incenses, Taino memorabilia, poetry and literature, protests (including plena music) and wide-scale reading are other common fupista pastimes.