Sunday, October 7th 2007
Edmund White's last book is puzzling. Hotel de Dream (Ecco, 2007) narrates the last weeks in the life of the American writer Stephen Crane (not to be confused with the gay poet Hart Crane). Having retreated to England with his wife Cora, to avoid gossip about her past as owner of the Florida bordello which provides the title of the novel, he is dying from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. In his feverish state he remembers his days as a journalist in New York in the 1890s, when he met a boy prostitute who was been courted by a married man who ruined his life to wins the boy's love. He starts dictating a novel based on this story to Cora, The Painted Boy. This fictitious novel is the basis of a large part of White's book. Although the circumstances of Crane's last days are based on facts, the encounter with the boy prostitute and the dictation of the novel are invented, based on some very doubtful biographic details reported after his death, as Edmund White explains in a short postface. "Crane is one of the classic American authors of the nineteenth century, along with Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and James, but in many ways he remains one of the most mysterious. Of course this very obscurity has provided me with the space necessary to invent. I have tried to imagine in this book what 'Flowers of Asphalt' (the title of the book which would have been chosen by Crane, according to the posthumous doubtful biographic information) might have been like, though not one word of it is extant. How would a heterosexual man who had wide human sympathies, an affection for prostitutes, a keen, compassionate curiosity about the poor and downtrodden, a terminal disease - how would such a man have responded to male homosexuality if he was confronted with it? How would he have thought about it in a era when homosexuals themselves were groping for explanations of their proclivities?" The character of Theodore Koch, the married man, is not very credible, at least at first view, which is the major flaw of the book. Cora is very successfully depicted, together with "Crane's literary milieu, the urban gay subculture of his time, and the relationship of a writer's experience to his fiction", as reports the New Yorker.
Edmund Wilson, the great literary critic of the 20th century, suggested the idea of an American Pléiade, which the Library of America has embarked on. Coincidentaly, two volumes collecting his critics from the 20s through the 40s have just been published. Wilson did not have a high opinion of the post-Civil War literary world. During that period, he wrote, Stephen Crane "was a vortex of intensity in a generally stagnant sea."
Ahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, visiting New York last month for the United Nations General Assembly, was invited by Columbia University to give a speach and answer questions. The invitation generated a lot of controversy. In an unexpected turn around Newt Gringrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, became the most ardent defender of gays rights, stating that the head of a state which executed homosexuals should not be given the opportunity to talk! The issue was raised by the moderator during the debate. "We do not have homosexuals in Iran" did he answer most seriously, eliciting a big laughter from the attendance, "Where did you get that from?"
Certainly there are no Iranian bars among the world top 50 best gay bars listed by Out magazine (October). One is in New Haven (Gotham Citi). Paris (Okawa, Le Raidd, L'Insolite and Le Queen) and New York (Therapy, Cubby Hole, NK and Splash) both have 4 bars listed, the largest number of any other city.