Over the weekend, still amazed that I had received the paper despite tropical storm Isaac passing through Miami, well almost, I read an interesting review of Ira Sachs's new movie, Keep the Lights On (An Affair to Remember, and Put on Screen).
"Those who know the back story, writes Nicolas Rapold in the NYT, will recognize the movie, set in Manhattan, as a refraction of Mr. Sachs’s past relationship with Bill Clegg, the literary agent who wrote of his struggles in Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man."
Bill Clegg is also rumored to be the man with whom New York editor Jonathan Galassi fell in love, and the subject of the book of poems the latter published this spring (Left-handed).
"While the film represents personal history, Mr. Sachs is also an enthusiastic student of film history, and Keep the Lights On takes a look at the history of gay cinema, especially in New York."
And Nicolas Rapold provides the reader with a few leads.
Last month, in an article (NewFest Is Coming Out of the Margins) by Stephen Holden on a gay film festival going on at the Lincoln Center in New York I found the following comments worth keeping in mind:
"These events would never have happened if movies with gay material hadn’t infiltrated independent film culture and even Hollywood (“Brokeback Mountain”), beginning two decades ago with what was labeled New Queer Cinema. Paradoxically, New Queer’s groundbreaking auteurs Todd Haynes (“Poison”), Tom Kalin (“Swoon”) and Gregg Araki (“The Living End”) had posited L.G.B.T. cinema as a defiant, outsider platform for deconstructing gender roles and sexuality without apology or shame. New Queer Cinema also reflected the militant spirit of Act Up, the AIDS protest organization born in 1987 whose history is told in two recent and essential documentaries: “How to Survive a Plague” and “United in Anger: A History of Act Up.” One thing that hasn’t changed about NewFest, however, is the centrality of sexuality in the work and the willingness to confront taboos without hysteria. That is certainly the case in “Four,” the opening-night film, directed by Joshua Sanchez. This screen adaptation of Christopher Shinn’s well-regarded play, first seen in New York in 2001, observes the mating rituals of two couples on a Fourth of July evening. One pair — Dexter (E. J. Bonilla) and Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) — is relatively conventional. The secret meeting of Abigayle’s married, closeted African-American father, Joe (powerfully embodied by Wendell Pierce of “The Wire” and “Treme”), and June (Emory Cohen), a much younger white teenager he meets on the Internet, is not. The film’s unblinking, nonjudgmental focus on this illegal relationship, and its extremely articulate and pointed dialogue, put it squarely in the post-New Queer Cinema tradition.Travis Mathews’s “I Want Your Love” blurs the line between narrative storytelling and pornography as thoroughly as any movie I’ve seen. The story focuses on a gay San Francisco artist in his 30s who is moving back to his Ohio hometown after a decade. At his farewell party he and his friends have casual, explicit sex, much of it filmed in close-up. “I Want Your Love” seems a conscious effort to take back gay sex on film from the pornography industry and show comfortable, nonperformance-oriented lovemaking among men who have genuine affection for one another."
A few days later Gore Vidal's obituary was published in the same paper:
"A classmate, the writer John Knowles, later used him as the model for Brinker Hadley, the know-it-all conspiracy theorist in 'A Separate Peace,' his Exceter-based novel."
About The City and the Pilar which was dedicated to J.T. (Jimmy Trimble, his ideal love, one of his High School's best athletes, who died prematurely during World War II) Charles McGrath writes:
"It is what would now be called a coming-out story, about a handsome, athletic young Virginia man who gradually discovers that he is homosexual. By today’s standards it is tame and discreet, but at the time it caused a scandal and was denounced as corrupt and pornographic. Mr. Vidal later claimed that the literary and critical establishment, The New York Times especially, had blacklisted him because of the book, and he may have been right."
A last quotation to end: "Jason Epstein, Mr. Vidal’s longtime editor at Random House, once admitted that he preferred the essays to the novels, calling Mr. Vidal 'an American version of Montaigne.'"
"They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives."
Adapted from '101/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said' by Charles Wheelan, to be published May 7 (in the WSJ this weekend).
In its obituary of Richard Descoings Le Monde, newly reserved, didn't come back on his outing in the newspaper's own pages only three months ago...
The Financial Times wrote this week-end (Iconoclast who fought to open up elite French education):
Detractors found him arrogant and overly ambitious, manipulative and obsessed with his own importance. As head of Sciences Po he unashamedly revealed at the start of the year that he was paid €24,000 net a month, vastly more than the average academic. His self-confidence was also on full display when “outed” in the media recently after suggestions that his marriage to Nadia Marik, his deputy at Sciences Po, was a marriage of convenience. “What am I to say? That I am not a homosexual?”, he said to a journalist from Libération.
The obituary is short and balanced. Read it.
Last January Le Monde published several articles on Richard Descoings. For the fourth time since 1996 Descoings was re-elected in April 2011 as the head of Science Po, a distinguished Paris University. He has been widely credited for transforming a prestigious but sleepy old institution into a modern powerhouse of French high education. In December Mediapart, a web-based news media, had created some turmoil by publishing details of the compensation of several top executive at Science Po, including Richard Descoings, well above the usual levels in France.
Among many other things, Le Monde wrote 'en passant' of Nadia Marik who was promoted in 2002 as Descoings's deputy: "Deux ans plus tard, à la surprise générale, elle l'épouse, lui qui n'avait jamais caché son homosexualité." (Two years later, surprising everybody, she marries him, although he had never hidden his homosexuality). I remember being surprised when I read the article...
In an interview in Libération published several days later it became clear that Le Monde had in fact outed Richard Descoings: "On a fait mon outing forcé dans les colonnes du Monde. Je ne vois pas ce que ma prétendue homosexualité a à voir. C’est en plus survenu à l’occasion de mon mariage. Que répondre ? Que je ne suis pas homosexuel ? Non, rien." (I have been outed by Le Monde. I don't see the relevance of my alleged homosexuality. And at the occasion of my marriage, for that matter. What should I answer? That I am not a homosexual? No, nothing.)
This week France was stunned when it was reported that Richard Descoings had been found dead in his hotel room in New York, apparently lying naked on his bed... He was attending a conference on education at Columbia University. Several other details are troublesome.
According to the New York Times whose first article on the subject was published this morning: Few Answers In the Death of a Scholar From France.
Seuls les enfants savent lire (Only Children Know How to Read) is a very personal memoir on the books he read when he was a child by Michel Zinc, the French scholar, chair of 'Littératures de la France médièvale' at the prestigious Collège de France. It was published in 2009. I was recently tidying up my bedroom in Paris when I found the book, unread, at the bottom of the pile by my bed. Before storing it in the library, I flipped through its pages and stumbled on this passage, dedicated to Un bon petit diable by the comtesse de Ségur, a book I was not insensitive to, when I was myself a child...
'Quand à Charles, "bon petit diable" qui ne mérite pas le fouet, il échappe, on le sait, à celui de Mme Mac'Miche grâce à l'ingéniosité de la bonne Betsy, qui rembourre son fond de culotte avec les visières du défunt cousin Mac'Miche, puis, le stratagème découvert et la culotte baisée (sic), colle sur son postérieur des images de diables qui effraient sa superstitieuse tortionnaire.' (p74)
Michel Zink, Seuls les enfants savent lire, Tallandier, 2009, 126p.
Adam Mars-Jones was recently awarded the very British Hatchet Job of the Year for his 'severely' negative review of By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham published last year in The Observer.
By Nightfall tells a story of midlife crisis averted, when Peter is sexually tempted by his brother-in-law (young and messed up, with a certain amount of bisexual history). Cunningham is a gay writer who wants, as so many of us do, to achieve a mainstream readership – he succeeded with The Hours – but here he stacks the odds against himself. Gay male readers tend to feel that their lives haven't been squeezed dry by novelists, not just yet, and may resist even a convincing portrait of a heterosexual man. Others may feel cheated when Peter finds he's not quite as straight as he thought.
... could very well apply to Edmund White's recent novel Jack Holmes and his Friends (Bloomsbury, 2012, 200p) which follows the lives of two men, Jack and Will, from their early twenties to their mid thirties in New York City. One is homosexual, the other heterosexual, lying at the opposite ends of Kinsey Scale...
Jack had never been in love with anyone except Will. He felt embarrassed by his passion for Will and winced when he remembered it. It seemed so self-hating and childish. Although Jack had no interest in gay liberation, which struck him as raucous and led by shaggy-haired leftists with smelly feet, nevertheless the movement had made him see how "unliberated" he'd been to fall for a straight man.
I have just finished the book and was disappointed, not just because I did not find Jack's attraction to Will convincing: le coeur a ses raisons...
In the first part, set in New York City in the early sixties, young Jack Holmes falls in love with Will, an heterosexual coworker his age, while discovering, and experimenting with, his own sexuality. The third-person narration is clearly presented from Jack's perspective. I was surprised by the repetitive use of the term gay, as well as by the term 'husband' to qualify a few same-sex partners, which sounds anachronistic...
Part II is a first-person account by Will. Nine years have 'gone by.' We are now in the second half of the seventies. Will is now married to Alexandra and they have two children. The story is centered on Will's affair with a young Italian-American, Pia. Part III is the continuation of the story, back to the third-person narrative. The end of the novel is brought forward by another anachronism, that I will not reveal. A huge one for that matter, unless I did not rightly get the chronology in the novel. I leave it to your judgement. Remember that we are at the end of the seventies...
City Boy, White's memoir of his life in New York during the period covered in the novel, was much better.
Antoine Deléry's biography of Peyrefitte (Roger Peyrefitte - Le sulfureux, H&O Éditions, 2011, 336p, in French) is not the most exciting book around. At least it's a quick read. One of its interests lies in the extensive quotations of Peyrefitte's public letter to François Mauriac after the famous columnist wrote a harsh paper on him after watching a documentary on the movie adaptation of Les amitiés particulières.
The Lettre ouverte à M. François Mauriac, prix Nobel, membre de l'Académie française, published by Arts on May 6th 1964, is nothing other than a public outing of Mauriac (as we would say today), supported by quite graphic allusions, like the mention of some love letters to Cocteau...
Qui êtes-vous mon cher maître? Un écrivain que nous admirons, mais un homme que nous ne pouvons plus supporter. Vous vous êtes impatronisé du rôle officiel de moralisateur, beaucoup moins pour défendre la morale que pour vous punir, aux dépends d’autrui, de votre pendant irresistible à l’immoralité. (Who are you my dear Master? A writer we admire, but a man that we can no longer stand. You have endorsed yourself with the official role of moralizing, much less to defend morality than to punish you, at the expense of others, for your irresistible inclination to immorality.)
Among the abundant book production of Peyrefitte chronicled in the biography, L'exilé de Capri, his fictionalized biography of Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen, the founder of Akademos, the first homosexual journal in France, stands out. After a scandal involving boys in 1903 Fersen has to flee Paris for Capri where he lived until his death in 1923. A sad life. Apparently Peyrefitte's book includes an interesting painting of homosexual Paris in the early 20th century. Deléry claims that after L'exilé Peyrefitte's style will never again display the 'joyous irony and the cheerfulness' that characterized his earlier production.
The last part of the biography is dominated by what Deléry describes as the great love of Peyrefitte's life: Alain-Philippe, a young actor, had a minor role in the movie Les amitiés particulières. They met during a visit of the author to the shooting location. Alain-Philippe was 12 years old. Peyrefitte 57. Irronically, when Alain-Philippe grew up, after causing the financial ruin of Peyrefitte through dubious investments in the show business, he will marry Amanda Lear... Another sad story.
Philippe Jullian's biography of Oscar Wilde, first published in 1961 and recently reissued (Éditions Bartillat, 2011, 430p, in French), is another story. It is not as definitive as Richard Ellman's Oscar Wilde, nor as crisp as Neil McKenna's The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. A very pleasant read, though, with a lively and mastered style. It made me want to read again The Portrait of Dorian Gray, especially in the scholarly edition recently provided by Nicholas Frankel (Harvard University Press, 2011, 296p), which features for the first time Wilde's original text, more explicit on the gay context than the previously known editions... According to Jullian,
Dorian Gray est, en somme, le premier roman pédérastique écrit depuis le Satiricon (...). Il faudra attendre vingts ans, avec la Mort à Venise, de Thomas Mann, pour trouver un beau livre aussi complètement homosexuel. (Dorian Gray is, in short, the first gay novel written since the Satyricon (...). It will take twenty years, with Death in Venise by Thomas Mann, to get a beautiful book, so thoroughly homosexual.)
A Box of Darkness - The Story of a Marriage by Sally Ryder Brady (St. Martin's Press, 2011, 240p) is a strange, fascinating, book. And sad.
Sally and Upton have been married for 46 years when Upton suddenly dies. In the aftermath of his death Sally finds gay porn magazines and videos in his belongings... She is transported many years back, when, after 8 years of marriage and four children, one morning, after a night of heavy drinking and spending the night at a friend's place, Upton confessed that he had had sex with his friend, Edward.
After a lot of self-questioning and doubts, Sally ends up putting the incident on account of 'Edward drunken seduction,' and after Upton proclaiming: 'I give you my promise, it will never happen again. Never. I give you my word,' she seems to have forgotten it. Not to say that the marriage went uneventful. Upton, although charming and brilliant, was subject to temper tantrums and was an alcoholic, absorbed in his work, leaving Sally very much in charge of the family.
When she discovers the gay porn material, she writes,
I surrender to a flow of sorrows - first the self-pitying sorrow of a spurned lover; then the sorrow for the sex we'd only rarely shared the last fifteen years; and finally sorrow for Upton and the great burden of his secret. How could I have not known he was gay? Or did I know? What did I know? What did I know that I didn't know I knew until this minute?
But it is not simple. In writing her memoir Sally Ryder Brady tries to understand what her marriage meant. In the end, a futile exercise:
I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand Upton. But who among us can truly know what is in another's heart?
Sad finding, but so true... She nevertheless adds:
What I know is that Upton chose me and that he loved me. I think that is enough.
Isn't that a wise conclusion, after all?
Peter Parker is, also, very positive in his review of Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, concluding: 'Beautifully written, ambitious in its scope and structure, confident in its execution, The Stranger's Child is a masterclass in the art of the novel.' (TLS, July 1) While The Band of Thebes writes: 'I've read the Hollinghurst, to be released here in October, and while you'll want to too, it is not so magnificent that you need to import it immediately from the UK.'
And Edmund White contrasts Verlaine’s with Rimbaud's recent translations: Poems Under Saturn (Poème saturniens, translated by Karl Kirchwey, Princeton University Press) from the former, Illuminations (translated by John Ashbery, Norton) from the latter, in the July 22 edition of the TLS. Of Illuminations, he writes: 'No one is better suited to translating this poetry than John Ashbery.' He concludes by using the words 'deft, accurate and above all beautiful.'
Maybe the FT weekend edition is not that indispensable after all, even if Rowley Leigh’s recipe of Spelt spaghetti with prawns, in the last issue, is rather inspiring...