Saturday, July 30, 2011

White, Ashbery, Rimbaud and Verlaine

Earlier this year we discussed Edmund White's memoir City Boy. Next week (see sidebar) we'll be discussing his novel Caracole. This month Terry's post discussed White's short biography of Arthur Rimbaud, and last month Tom posted a translation of Rimbaud's poem "After the Flood" by John Ashbery. Now interested readers can see White's review of Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's Illluminations in the July 22, 2011 issue of the TLS (Times Literary Supplement).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

White on Rimbaud

I finished reading Edmund White's short biography of Rimbaud (Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel, 2008) while on a break in Cape Cod and found it worthy if dry. Rimbaud is an intriguing biographical subject because he is so obscure and obscurist -- for three or four years, plenty of intimate details and drama, then years without any information at all. A sudden burst of brilliance and then absolute silence except for nagging letters back home to his cold and abrupt (fed up?) mother during his ten-year period in Abyssinia. He was niggardly and friendless. I think White loved his rebelliousness and outrage and yet it seems to have been directed for naught. In the end, I felt White was distant and cool toward Rimbaud, perhaps unsympathetic. But then how could anyone have been? Yet he is considered the founder of modern French poetry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Just Say No

I'm not in favor of reading too much by any one author—there are so many we haven't read at all!—and we've read three already by Alan Hollinghurst. So, although I think The Swimming Pool Library is one of the two great gay novels and I will be sure to read his latest novel, The Stranger's Child, I quote the end of The Economist 's recent review to e x c i t e early opposition against it:

It is all beautifully controlled and mordantly funny, but devoid of warmth—a lot like the gilded, heartless people he is writing about.

a great darkening presence

What some of us missed in the acting edition and others informed us of from their reading edition:

(A great shadow, or darkening, fills the stage; it is the shadow of a great presence filling the room …

This stage direction continues for several more lines. A few more lines in both editions from Julian, and then a concluding stage direction that is ampler in the reading edition. Both editions are copyrighted 2001!

This discrepancy remains for me the greatest mystery involved in Tiny Alice. Even the hyena and the anus trail behind.

After our very good discussion of this play—I'm always amazed at how much more we uncover together—I re-read the third act. It's much more readable in the reading edition (of course) and I can appreciate better the themes others were talking about, but my opinion of the play as a whole remains unchanged. And I have to wonder how compelling even its fans find Julian's final speech—long(ish) and rambling (or so it seems to me … with no better memory from Gielgud's delivery forty-seven years ago).

I must confess, however, without having to look too deep into my own soul, that the topic of martyrs and martyrdom hold absolutely no interest for me ... more particularly the wish to be a martyr. Jesus didn't! (And let no one think the motes in his eyes will be any the safer after the parading of this beam in mine.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"tiny alice"

—nothing in Wayne Dyne's Homolexis. I tried to consult Bruce Rodgers' The Queen's Vernacular but my copy, in some fit of tidiness, seems to have been deaccessioned. The earliest reference I have found to a special meaning of "tiny alice" is in Morris Belsnick's letter of April 8, 1965, to The New York Review of Books, which begins

Philip Roth is correct about the underlying intentions of Tiny Alice, but why does he write as though it were a dirty little secret which Albee cannot face? The very title of the play itself is, within homosexual circles, a phrase for a masculine derrière.

Belsnick's letter is in response to Philip Roth's embarrassing review, "The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name," published in the February 8, 1954 issue.

The disaster of the play, however—its tediousness, its pretentiousness, its galling sophistication, its gratuitous and easy symbolizing, its ghastly pansy rhetoric and repartee—all of this can be traced to his own unwillingness or inability to put its real subject at the center of the action.

… which is of course homosexuality. A whole book, I am coming to believe, can be written about Homophobia v. Edward Albee, a substantial chapter of which would be centered on Tiny Alice. It's hard for people who didn't live through it to appreciate what a time of fearful orthodoxy the Fifties and Sixties were. People—readers, playgoers, moviegoers, critics, columnists etc—went crazy if they were presented with an experience without clear meaning. Behind much of that anxiety of intention lay the love that dare not speak its name, which is to say, the love that people dared not hear.

By the way, if you consult on "tiny alice" you will see that a thumbs up has been added to the previously reported three thumbs down. Pile on and vote! I've decided this one's a keeper. The biggest laugh in the gay male porn industry is how tops go on about loving a "tight ass" even though it's clear from their performance that many of them would benefit from an anus that's rather looser.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Homosexual Strains

There is, moreover, a homosexual strain running through Tiny Alice, but remaining just barely supraliminal …

So John Simon in The Hudson Review of the time. He mentions the lawyer-butler relationship, the lawyer-cardinal relationship, and a "suggestive waspishness that characterizes many homosexual relationships."

Is all this relevant to the main theme or not? Or is it, perhaps, the main theme? Is the whole play a piece of camp metaphysics or metaphysical camping?

Martin Gottfried writing for Women's Wear Daily was even more … waspish:

… Albee, once more blaming vicious womankind for murdering the tendereness of men [which] in this case is equated with homosexuality [which] the play is all about without once actually alluding to it.

All this, incidentally, a full year before Stanley Kauffmann's infamous "Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises" in The New York Times. (Malcolm had closed a few weeks earlier after Kauffmann's thumbs-down review a few weeks before that.)