Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strange Male Porn

I wrote an earlier post on what seems to me a queer (as in weird!) phenomenon, the man-2-man pornographic romance novel written by women for women. My head gets a little twisted just thinking about it. This is strange male porn, indeed.

The latest novel I've read in this genre is Caught Running, Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux, Dreamspinner Press, 2007. It is the story of two baseball coaches in a high school in Georgia, one a jock, the other a nerd. Add a lot of sensitive introspection, a huge dose of male insecurity and 107 pages of narrative before the first kiss, and you have a romance novel. The first sex scene starts on page 120.

But the sex is not something either John Preston or Bob Vickery would write, or even Victor J. Banis. The scene is very long (one page of foreplay, four pages of "sex," and three pages of afterglow). The writing isn't particularly hot, but very mutual, caring, and supportive - not at all like gay porn. Do women really read this? I read some of the reviews on Amazon, and the ladies evidently eat this up. Even some of the gay guys ate it up, although the most literary gay review made the point that the book was obviously not written by a gay man, and the book truly is a romance and written for women.

This really is strange male porn. The men have feelings as well as penises. They fall in love, rather than lust. The sex, while being rather complete in description does not for the most part consist of hard, throbbing members and tight white-hot holes. And that's just the way the ladies want it.

Bronski Buzzkill

I'm reading another (old) anthology, Flashpoint: Gay Male Sexual Writing, edited by Michael Bronski. Bronski is one of my favorite gay social critics. His introduction writes about the nuances of the categories of sexual literature - smut, porn, and erotica. All have become value-laden terms, and he uses "sexual writing," instead.

Bronski focuses on sexual writing as an opening to understanding our own sexual fantasies, longings, and behavior. He challenges the reader to get beyond the jerk-off nature of the porn tale, and test how the writing resonates in our own minds and cultural context. Bronski is simply one of the best social commentators

And that's the buzzkill. I'm reading a hot story, but carefully thinking about its characters. Is that me on that bed? Am I really making a shopping list while we're having sex? Why am I enjoying this scene? And if I think about sexual writing, I lose my erection, because thought requires a lot of blood in my brain, and something in my physiology has to fail when I think and analyze my sexual behavior, played out on a page.

Sexual writing gives me a palpable thrill, until I think about it. Some of the writing is very good, and most is not. A strange paradox for me is that the trashy, steamy stuff, written simply to get me off without thinking is more satisfying than the more literary sexual writing (I do have a brain!). I want sex to take me into the realm of suspended thinking, a place of hormonally crazed action and pleasure. And if I have to think about that, I get a headache.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The real missing text in Brideshead Revisited

More so than whether the two boys were … or what they did … or whether they did, I would have liked to have read about Sebastian's tutorials—what they were like: did he bring Aloysius with him, did he and Aloysius talk about how tiresome their tutor became when he "pressed" a point, how Sebastian (with or without teddy) might have fared against the likes of Butley (to mix ages and genres) and so forth. Waugh could have stolen a march on Kingsley Amis and given us a lead into the academic novel. More realistically, perhaps, I do regret Waugh's not having given us that scene when Charles forbade Sebastian his rooms at the end of their first summer term so that he might stay up late, cramming himself with neglected texts, in order to pass his first schools. I miss it (and conceivably Waugh didn't write it) because I can't imagine it, there's no other conversation that Waugh presents that gives me an ear for it. By contrast, what don't we see of Falstaff? Well, supposedly Falstaff in love (as Her Majesty is reported to have said). If King George had been more of a reader, we might have had The Merry Laddies of Oxenford.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Companion to Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited"

Greetings, Fellow Bookmen--

While searching online for the definition of a particularly obscure (to me, anyway) reference in our current novel, I found a "m-m-m-most m-m-m-marvelous site"--as dear Anthony Blanche might describe it, though of course he would never need it! Anyway, I commend it to you all:

http://www.abbotshill.freeserve.co.uk/AmContents.html by David Cliffe

You can even search the British and American editions (which I haven't done yet, but one day hope to do).

Cheers, Steve

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Last of the Wine

Mounting the Acropolis for the first time last month, it occurred to me to reread Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine. I'd read all of her historical novels and this had always remained in my memory as her best. It was her first (historical novel), written in 1956, after her initial six lesbian/hospital series, and immediately after her unique contemporary gay novel, The Charioteer (which we read some years ago). It covers the last thirteen years of the Peloponnesian War and the full run of the pederastic relationship of the narrator Alexias, from boyhood to manhood. "Gay" characters (I of course use the term loosely) occur in all her historical novels but this is the only one that centers on a relationship of classical pederasty.

What I particularly like about Renault's historical novels is that they are not costume dramas. Her characters are not Englishmen traipsing about in sandals and chitons. Her historical novels read as though that bourgeois concoction was in use some 2200 years before its invention in the eighteenth-century. Her style can seem elusive, even cryptic, but that's usually because of her fidelity to her characters' mentality and times. Some things are glossed over because any contemporaneous reader would need no explanation; others are touched on only lighty because none would be wanted. Additionally, Renault herself often writes allusively and laconically. An incident briefly mentioned on one page can be significantly alluded to a hundred pages later. One has to be attentive.

Looming behind the historical events in Athens and the fictive stories of Alexias and his lover Lysis is the figure of Socrates and the themes of courage and virtue. It is no sin for Lysis and Alexias to have sex (and you might not even realize they have when you read about it) but it's a falling off from their ideal, like going on a bender when you only meant to go out for a drink.

Part of the pleasure of reading a historical novel is being put into the mindset of another age. Another part, if one knows the details of that age, is simply (simple-mindedly?) checking them off as one comes upon them, somewhat akin to one's experience in reading a novel that takes place in a city one knows well ("oh yes, there's such and such and a few blocks on they come to that infamous locale" etc). I'm sorry not to recommend The Last of the Wine for group discussion (we've already read two Renault's, The Charioteer, and the weak middle of the Alexander triology), for I would like to hear, among other things, how well others who are not so familiar with the period enjoyed reading it as a novel. Purists of the old school could get quite persnicketty about these extra-literary elements but like the paradox of the heap the line dividing the literary from the extra- can be arbitrary or vague. If you know the extra-literary elements, your enjoyment of the work may be enhanced, and if others know them and enjoy them as well, you have a community of readers.

For the record I might state that the one competitor for Renault's best historical novel might be Fire from Heaven ... but I'll have to wait till I've visited Pella to reread that.