dimanche 30 décembre 2007

L'Enfer de la Bibliothèque and Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now.

For this last column of 2007, I would like to mention two current European exhibitions, restricted to adults.

The first,
Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now, opened October 12th at the Barbican Art Gallery (www.barbican.org.uk) in London and runs through January 27th. It explores the representation of sex in art through the ages thanks to over 300 works, including works from Nobuyoshi Araki, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt van Rijn and Andy Warhol. A cast of Michelangelo's David was to be shown to Queen Victoria: a stone fig leaf was added in front of the statue's privates parts to avoid shocking the monarch... Sketches from Turner's notebook reveal that the artist was not only interested in romantic scenery. Entrance is restricted to over 18s.

The second,
L'Enfer de la Bibliothèque, Eros au secret, opened December 4th at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (site François Mitterrand, www.bnf.fr) in Paris. With over 350 pieces the exhibition features the history and illustrates the content of the distinct and secretive section where books and documents deemed dangerous for the public eye were kept. In addition to Sade, several major writers are shown through their works: Guillaume Apollinaire, Pierre Louÿs, Georges Bataille, Pierre Guyotat, Jean Genet as well as unknown and anonymous authors who celebrated eroticism and sex. The exhibition runs through March 2nd and is restricted to over 16s.

And if you are in Rome before January 6th, visit, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni,
Mark Rothko, a survey of the career of the American painter through 70 paintings and a selection of works on paper (www.palaexpo.it). The exhibition ends with the black-on-grey canvasses painted before his death in 1970.


dimanche 23 décembre 2007

Best Books in 2007

Fiction: Call me by your name, André Aciman

Call me by your name (André Aciman, Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, January 2007) is a very well written novel, short and dense, about passion, love and the effect of time. I reviewed it in this column earlier this year. The book is having quite a success, it is ranked #3,140 at amazon.com which provides 63 customer reviews as of this week! I found the following review very good:

"The Beauty of Language,The Landscape of Mind (Review posted at amazon.com, by Amos Lassen from Little Rock, Arkansas on January 28, 2007)
Having just closed the covers of Andre Aciman's "Call Me By Your Name", I feel compelled to sit down and write what is going on in my mind. I am an avid reader and I have come across many books in my life yet the experience I had in readingAciman's book is like one seldom found in the printed word. The book is pure beauty. Aciman has managed to tackle all of the emotions and put them down in beautiful prose. As you read you feel as if you have been hit over the head and literally dragged into the pages of the novel. You will experience feelings that you had no idea you were capable of and you will look back at your own life and begin to view it as you have never done before.
I am in awe of the novel and the novelist. It is not often that a single book can awaken these emotions in me and I am so glad that I found one book that made me sit up and realize so much--about the world and about myself.
The theme of adolescent love has become a staple in the world of literature and unfortunately more often than not it becomes a tired subject.Aciman has taken the theme and breathed fresh life into it. Here we have a story of love and regret that once read will not be quickly forgotten.
The book is about a romance that blooms quite suddenly between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at the youth's parent's summer home on the Italian seaside. Neither is prepared what might happen as a result of mutual attraction so they each pretend to be indifferent to the other. As might be expected, as the days pass during that beautiful summer, passion is unbridled and they test their feelings for each other. In doing so obsession and fear as well as fascination and desire burst forth allowing hidden feelings to surface, sometimes quite erotically. They find themselves involved in a deep and meaningful romantic encounter which barely lasts six weeks but eaves an indelible mark on both of them, a mark they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. What they discover in their feelings for each other is a total intimacy that happens maybe once in a lifetime.
Aciman captures beautifully the psychological maneuverings of the boy and the man as he writes his lament about human passion. When the love of their dreams explodes into the reality of closeness, we get a sentence that reads, "I did not know where all this was leading, but I was surrendering to him, inch by inch, and he must have known it, for I sensed he still keeping a distance between us." This sense of love to come pervades the novel and when that love does come it is inclusive, it is beautiful and it is highly sensual.
Before that love shows its face there are games played--footsie at dinner, stares of lust and steel, long runs, mind games. Seventeen year oldElio , an Italian youth and Oliver, an American graduate student play the game of cat and mouse with ambiguity, hostility and, above all, attraction. We, the readers, see the story from inside Elio's mind and thoughts where everything has meaning.
What about the sex? Believe me, it is there and there is plenty of it. There are also elaborate erotic fantasies and what makes all of this so interesting is that Andre Aciman is a straight man writing about gay sex. What Aciman set out to do in his novel was to show us human intimacy in all its preciousness and in all of its idiosyncrasies. The beauty of the language and the descriptions make you want to hop into the pages and be there with the characters--not as a fly on the wall, but as an active participant. It would be a chance to see what true intimacy is all about.
Desire has always been a cornerstone of life but I can tell you the desire that you read about in the pages of this book is unlike any other you have had the experience to read about or even to know. The pain of love is hard to depict in words yet "Call Me By Your Name" is an achingly painful and beautiful tribute to desire and intimacy and one you will not likely walk away from and forget.
I have recommended many books and I will continue to do so but this book is so dear, so tender, so brutal and so beautiful that I say this to you--if you read no other book this year, read this one."

I don't know if "what makes all of this so interesting is that André Aciman is a straight man writing about gay sex." I rather think that it is very difficult to believe... and somewhat disappointing... This is by far the best gay novel of 2007.

Non-fiction: Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development, Richard A. Isay

Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development (Richard A. Isay, Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pages, 1989), my choice for this year was published many years ago... I just happened to read it this year and since this is a new column I feel free to talk about it. I wish I had read it when I was in my twenties, although I was probably not ready for that. It is one of the best books about homosexuality and how to come to terms with it, that was ever written. It is short, up to the point, and uses very straight (sorry) and simple language. The author is an American psychiatrist who went himself through a long journey of self-acceptance as a gay man in the seventies. The book is divided into nine chapters. The best are chapters 1 (What is Homosexuality), 4 (Adolescence and Young Adulthood of Gay Men), 6 (Lovers and Others: Gay Relationships). In a nutshell,Isay's thesis is that homosexuality is a natural variant of normal sexuality and is present since childhood. Because of the way it is generally portrayed in our society gay men often suffer from injuries to their self-esteem. The best way to repair this wound is through establishing relationships with other gay men, and more than anything else through intimacy: "Relationships that are mutual and loving, both sexual and nonsexual, are essential to the healthy integration of a homosexual identity, promoting a positive self-image."Isay also writes that he believes that similarities between two partners may prove a burden over a long period of time and that "the sexual and emotional interest simply wanes more rapidly in such relations because there is neither the tension that promotes sexual excitement nor room for emotional growth. Many successful gay relationships are based on a difference in the partners - a difference in age, race, social status, or personality that provides the complementarity that allows for the tension of sexual desire and also the emotional space for the couple to grow in." Food for thought.

Note: I have no special interest in Farrar, Straus and Giroux...


dimanche 16 décembre 2007

Mike Jones is back

Mike Jones became relatively famous last year when he outed Ted Haggard, the founder and leader of the New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a married man, father of five. Jones a former Denver escort revealed that he had had regular sexual encounters with Haggard over a period of 3 years.
Jones made a reappearance in the news last week when the
Idaho Statesman published a story about several men who claimed they had sexual encounters with Larry Craig, the senior US Senator of Idaho. "Jones said a man phoned to make an appointment, not giving his name. The man, whom Jones later recognized as Craig, then arrived at a studio apartment on Sherman Street in downtown Denver. Craig asked whether Jones followed politics but then quickly changed the subject. "When I said, 'Yes,' he said, 'Oh, gee, it's cold outside.'" Jones said he immediately deduced from his client's odd response that he was servicing a politician. Craig removed his coat and dress shirt, leaving his T-shirt, slacks and shoes on when he climbed onto Jones' massage table. Craig asked that Jones be naked. Craig undid his own zipper and masturbated while performing oral sex on Jones. When Craig finished, he paid Jones $200 in cash and left." Craig's staff released a statement saying that Jones was only trying to push the sales of the book about his experience with Haggard. I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall was published in June and ranks #236,532 in Amazon.com books. But nothing can push the book sales...
I Had to Say Something contains a lot of interesting insider information on the activities of male escorts, and on their clients. But when Jones starts to make assumptions as to what his clients are feeling, or thinking, etc. the narrative becomes dull: "Ever since high school, I could tell what a man's story was just by looking in his eyes." "I guess I was still trying to bring him out of his shell. Even though I new that might never happen, I thought I could still make him feel like the sexiest man on earth."
The outing of Haggard is totally unacceptable, whatever the reasons he gave to justify it. It is not by outing shameful homosexuals that the cause of gays will be advanced. The fact that Ted Haggard is a very unattractive individual does not make Mike Jones any better. It is wrong morally because no one has the right to judge how someone is living his homosexuality, even if there is a total hypocrisy between his actions and his discourse. "Ted was not like my other clients. Many, if not most, were hypocrites to some degree. We can all be hypocritical, if you think about it. The difference for me was that Ted was a very powerful hypocrite." And it is wrong professionally, but of course at 49, his career as an escort was behind him. It is disgusting, and one wonders who is the most hypocritical.

Which brings me to two discoveries I made recently through the reading of the
New York Times. Two casual examples of hypocrisy and stupidity.

The Boys Scouts of America prohibits membership by anyone who is openly homosexual.

The US is still (since 1987) one of only 13 countries that bans HIV-positive individuals from entering the country. The other countries are Armenia, Brunei, China, Iraq, Qatar, South Korea, Libya, Moldova, Oman, The Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Nice company! A new regulation for the HIV-positive individuals who wish to apply for a waiver has been recently proposed by the Department of Homeland Security. It would make waives more difficult to obtain.


dimanche 9 décembre 2007

The hetero-friendly trend, and tabloid stuff

The Abbey, which is West Hollywood's best known gay bar and restaurant (a Southern California Legend, says John Duran, the city's mayor) has been sold by its owner to SBE Entertainment Group. SBE is owned by an Iranian billionaire, Sam Nazarian, a straight film producer and nightlife entrepreneur, who plans to open Abbeys in cities across the country. David Cooley, the former owner and founder of Abbey, is scouting for the best locations. "The gay nightlife industry seems to be in steep decline. During the past year, clubs such as New York's Roxy and Boston's Avalon have closed. Bar owners say the Internet is slowly killing their business as cruising continues its migration to the virtual realm; and a new generation, coming out to an increasingly accepting - or at least (in marketing terms) 'gay-friendly' - world seems neither to need nor want to socialize primarily at gay bars. Cooley believes the Abbey, as a national brand, could reinvigorate gay nightlife - and his strategy for doing so appears to involve toning down the avowedly gay part of that experience. But how straight-acting does gay nightlife need to be in order to survive?" asks the author of the article in Out magazine which features the story. He seems to bring a rather ambiguous answer when he concludes the article: "Cooley shows up for dinner at the Abbey at 8 p.m. one night, accompanied by Felix, and undergraduate from Frankfurt, Germany, now studying at a Christian college in Orange County on a tennis scholarship. 'Felix is straight,' David says. Under the table, his hand is on Felix's knee. Felix affirms in a choppy German accent, 'Yes, I am straight. I come to the Abbey with all my straight friends. It is not just a gay bar.' When Felix excuses himself for a cigarette, Cooley's eyes follow the young man across the bar. There is no way not to ask: Um David? Felix is... straight? Flashing a smile almost as bright as the German's, Cooley says, 'We have our fun'."

The Axel Hotel, which opened last November in Buenos Aires, is the first Latin America luxury hotel built with gay customers in mind. The capital of Argentina has become probably the most gay-friendly city in Latin America, since the social mores started loosening in the 90s. "After Argentina plunged into economic chaos in late 2001, discrimination based on sexual orientation seemed to many like a petty concern. 'When people are eating out of garbage cans it really doesn't matter if you are gay or not,' says Osvaldo Bazan, a journalist and the author of
History of Homosexuality in Argentina From the Conquest of America to the 21st Century," reports the New York Times, without convincing me. The hotel was built by Juan Julia, an entrepreneur from Barcelona where the first Axel Hotel opened three years ago. It is self-billed as 'hetero-friendly', reflecting the new trend in gay entertainment.

In its last Sunday edition the
Idaho Statesman published an article providing a detailed account of the sexual encounters between Larry Craig and several men, one of which dates to his college days. Craig is the senior senator from Idaho who said last August that he was not gay and had never been gay, after Roll Call, a Washington newspaper, unveiled that he had been arrested in June by an undercover police officer for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. The Idaho Statesman article is quite fascinating because it gives a precise and unusual description of casual encounters between men who seek sex with men.

In the same order of things, and also fascinating, is the story published this week in the
New York Times business section, of a 44 year old Hedge Fund manager Seth Tobias, who was found dead in the pool of his West Palm Beach home last September. Initially the police concluded to a heart attack. Now, in a nasty dispute over his estate, the Tobias brothers are accusing Seth's wife of murdering him: she would have drugged him and lured him into the pool by promising him sex with a male go-go dancer, nick-named Tiger, he presumably met at Cupids, a gay bar he secretly frequented with his wife in West Palm Beach. Worth reading! I will try to keep you posted.


dimanche 2 décembre 2007

The Indian Clerk

Each time David Leavitt publishes a new book I look eagerly for the joy I had when I read While England Sleeps, a few years ago. For many months the book rested on my bedside table and I would read excerpts every night before switching the lamp off. Happiness and quiet intimacy exuded from it, at least this is how I remember it some fifteen years later. The novel was inspired by the true love story between a young working-class Welshman, Jimmy Younger, and Stephen Spender in the 30's. After Spender sued the publisher, an out of court settlement led to stopping the printing in the US (where 30,000 hard-copies had already been distributed) and destroying the undistributed copies in the UK. While England Sleeps was republished in 1995 after major changes were made. Leavitt was traumatized by the experience. It is said that he never really recuperated and his works have not come back to their previous qualities. Sadly this seems to be true.

The Indian Clerk (Bloomsbury, 2007), his latest book, is well written, and thoroughly researched, but moves slowly, seems long. The bulk of the book relates the life of the famous British mathematician, G. H. Hardy, and his relationship with Ramanujan, a young Indian mathematician prodigy he attracted to England. It is set mainly in Cambridge during the years surrounding the Great War. The Sources and Acknowledgements pages at the end of the book review the different materials that Leavitt used. If I were really interested in Hardy's life I would certainly have been tempted by one of the books listed in these pages. But the truth is that I am not. I don't find he is a very likable character, even if Graham Greene highly recommends his small autobiography, A Mathematician's apology, published in 1940 and still available from Cambridge University Press. More than anything else, he appears as a sad lonely man, unable to love, and unable to question himself. Of notable interest, in the end pages on his sources, Leavitt writes that "it was from a sequence of novels - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road, all published by Plume) - that I got the most vivid sense of the ways in which homosexual love was expressed, exploited, and manipulated in England during the Great War."

Unfortunately, the fictional parts of the novel are a little bit lost in the almost 500 pages thick volume. They shine like small jewels, though. Young Thayer whom Hardy meets by chance in the hospital facilities built on the cricket grounds at Cambridge during the war, reminds young Edward Phelan from
While England Sleeps. I enjoyed a lot the few pages where this fictional character appears, just to regret there were so few. Because of these pages, and because it is a rich, well constructed book, I still highly recommend The Indian Clerk.