Attendees: Asy, Joyce, Rachel, Yi Sheng, Pamela, Timmy
All of us completed the required reading and were raring to go! Continue reading
Attendees: Asy, Joyce, Rachel, Yi Sheng, Pamela, Timmy
All of us completed the required reading and were raring to go! Continue reading
Attendees: Raj, Timmy, Asy, Fiona, Mya, Vicky, Reynard, Shawn, Aaron, Henry, Olivia.
We discussed The Chinese Botantist’s Daughters, directed and written by Dai Sijie, a French-Chinese, who writes in French, although he is a Chinese national. The themes that we talked about: nature/location, religion, music/soundtrack, rebellion, politics, race, and family.
In particular, we looked closely at the drug scene in the steamroom where hallucinogens are used to induce buried memories (of the Western mother), prompting Liming to cut her hair short and don a man’s uniform; why are drugs associated with homosexuality? And why does Liming fall into a heteronormative narrative of being a “man”?
We also talked about the phallic symbols in the movie and how male sexual desire needed to be extirpated in order for lesbian love to rise.
We also reached a conclusion that the rebellious actions are sometimes pointless and, coupled with the paradisal locale, the Western corruption into a carefully cultivated isle can be read allergically as serpent destroying Eden (Liming as the serpent, An as Eve, her brother as Adam, and the father who created the isle as God) or politically as Pro-China. The political aspects, we concluded, are so patent in the movie that we didn’t believe Dai Sijie when he claimed that his movies aren’t political.
Furthermore, in the last scene, which moved many of us, an educator and religious leaders support the lesbian couple; we read this as a form of resistance against the state laws. We thought the “Bury the Gays” theme deserves 10000 eye-roll, but, like all tragedies, their deaths make the movie more poignant.
Sappho’s Fables is a collection of three revisionist fairy tales (Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Greta) given a lesbian twist. Timmy, Shawn, Reynard, and Aaron thought that although it’s not written in a literary form, it is enjoyable. The authors have changed much details from the fairy tales, making it unexpected.
We talked about the sexualisation of the fairy tales and normalisation of sex, removing sex as taboo, providing a safe space in the fairy tales.
Most characters are complex without a clearcut morality. Shawn particularly disliked Greta who is a brat and couldn’t defend herself.
Like most lesbian novels, we wondered why men are portrayed as useless or evil. Perhaps, Shawn suggested, it is lesbians’ way to reclaim power. Seen in this light, the ragers with their physical prowess could be a symbol of hypermasculinity, threatening civilisation.
Interestingly, the stories could be read as the protagonists recovering from various medical conditions: schizophrenia a la Fight Club in Snow White; bipolarity and hallucinations in Rapunzel; paranoia, hysteria and eating disorder in Greta.
Zoe, Raj, and Aaron discussed Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, which is the second bestselling paperback in 1957. We discussed about the significance of the title, and how the three women, Emily, Beth, and Laura, are “odd” in their own ways.
Emily is a strong, loyal, independent friend who doesn’t deserve her ending. (Actually what is her ending? we pondered.)
Beth is sexually ambiguous. She is portrayed as a butch, attractive to both men and women, but she refuses to make any decisions about her life until the end. Although she is a “leader,” she is not a good friend to Emily, not advising her to stay away from Budd.
Regarding Laura: We questioned about the stereotypes of a possessive, jealous lesbian. We also talked about the circumstances of portraying a lesbian in the 50s: it was prohibited to have a happy ending for LGBTQ. But Bannon circumvented the censorship law by creating a strong and independent character in Laura, although how Laura grows out of her moroseness and morbidity is not clearly shown.
The character development of Laura is one of the many plot holes we found in the novel. Who sabotages Emily’s double stitching of bra? What happens to Emily in the end? How come the perspectives in the novel shift suddenly? These are some of the narrative weaknesses in the novel.
However, it’s refreshing to see a positive male character (Charlie) in a lesbian novel, a rare sighting among the lesbian novels we have read so far.
I really like the comics I dipped into. The way she captures every day politicising in the slice of life format is compelling for busy adults… I like the sustained way she did comic too! It’s not easy to create an appealing comic strip that panders exclusively to adult tastes. I mean, I usually associate comic strips to anthropomorphic animals or hyperbolic characters so at first flip it took a while for me to get used to reading unusually dense language for comic strips. I kinda see why XKCD strips the artwork to stick figures now, cause the dialogue is the focal point. For this, there were times when I felt a little too overwhelmed at the cramped drawings and dense text in the comics. Aaron did point me to a rather poignantly done comic strip in 2004 following the 9/11 event, and it was nice to see the art carry the weight of the message for once. I agreed with Aaron’s point that he finds the depiction of the fat or non-standard beautiful characters interesting. It adds to the raw, Real feel of the comics. Aaron thinks it is problematic that the text itself while promoting diversity, fails the inverse Bechdel test. However, I personally don’t think it’s problematic.
These are some of the discussion questions that I have prepared:
1. In our discussion on Fun Home, we didn’t like the narcissistic nature of the graphic novel. In the introduction of DTWOF, Bechdel confided that she submitted a manuscript of a novel to Adrienne Rich. Rich rejected to publish the novel because she, like us, found the storytelling narcissistic. But DTWOF comes in episodes, not a whole coherent narrative. Do you think DTWOF is narcissistic too? Or does the episodic form make the comics more inclusive and universal?
2. The Bechdel Test originated from DTWOF. Think of your favorite movie and apply it to the test. Do you think the test is accurate or reliable?
Now apply the inverse to DTWOF. Are there more than 2 male characters interacting with each other, talking about nonsexual topics? How are men generally portrayed in DTWOF?
3. In this interview, why did Bechdel feel uncomfortable about her characters being role models?
4. In the same interview, she stated that she stopped DTWOF after more than a decade because it was no longer profitable. Does this affect the artistic integrity or the advocacy element of the comics for you?
Also you may want to relate it to the characters in the comics who stick to their principles and those who don’t.
5. In the interview, what is the “homosexual agenda” according to Bechdel? How is it reflected in her comics?
6. Bechdel is constantly worrying about the homogenization of the world because big corporations are taking over the world. How does she negotiate that in her comics?
7. What are some of the things that shock you in the comics? If you’re a gay man, what is the difference between the lesbian scene and the gay?
8. Bechdel prides herself for being a feminist, which to her also means being antiestablishment. Is there a contradiction publishing things to make money?
9. Fat studies / disabled lesbians. Discuss.
We were a lively, loquacious bunch: Pierre, Mona, Liz, Sharad, Raj, Brian, Alex, Javin, Veronica, and Aaron.
We started the discussion with whether it’s better to watch the film first, or read the book first. S and B had different opinions. B found the space in the film important, especially the personal space the Grandma needs away from Jack.
P was insistent that Ma should have committed suicide before the birth of the child. Why wait till the hospital? B argued that Ma doesn’t commit suicide because of Jack; she has no existence before Jack. “Is this sexist to depict that a woman’s existence lies in her motherhood?” Almost everyone in the group replied negative, but Aa and P weren’t so sure it isn’t sexist.
When asked what we didn’t like about the novel: R, V, Aa, P, M all thought it was densely packed, full of many noun-things. Aa called the novel unimaginative and predictable, which V disagreed. B said that the brother is superfluous. V thought the breastfeeding should have been developed later in the novel. L commented the story is isolated in its world, divorced from other current events. Al thought it is the bestest book ever.
We talked a lot on fatherhood. B noted that fatherhood in Room is more complex than motherhood, because there are different types of fathers whereas mothers seem giving. V said that the Father’s rejection of Jack adds to Ma’s guilt. We also questioned why Ma doesn’t allow Jack to interact with his father, but S and B bored us and we didn’t pay attention. Something about attachment/abuse theory, Jack as a form of pure extension of Ma which she must keep sacred, but it seems going into the sexist rhetoric that a woman is unpure after rape.
Another theme we talked about was media. Hey, wanna netflix and chill? Donoghue claims Room is part “a satire of modern mores and media.” We should have discussed more on it.
We also discussed a scene where a gay couple appear. S, P, and Aa thought it is a manipulative scene, bludgeoning our heads with the message that children know no sexuality and can love a boy or a girl. The other members protested, and called the trio cynical.
On favorite characters, everyone seemed to love the Grandma and the step granddad, except for Al. Al thought the grandma represents the normalizing, heteronormative force of society; she teaches Jack how to be normal. Gross, right? L and J liked the kid and mother. Aa liked the reporter but he was booed by everyone—we are a pretty “democratic” book club. Al liked Raja the dog and the Room as a character.
R claimed Ma uses Jack as a pawn to get Sunday treats. The rapist giving Sunday treats and not depicted as a complete villain: L said, “The worst kind of evil has some good in it.” She was on a roll and had several good epigrams that night.
V pointed that the rape is not dealt with directly and B said that circumventing the topic is a sophisticated way of dealing with the topic: it’s a traumatic experience, one of the worst things that can happen to a woman, but yet it’s not the be-all, and end-all of a person’s life.
On narrative structure, Aa asked if it is strange to have the climax of the story in the middle of the book, and V said it is more thrilling after the climax. V also liked the child narrator, arguing that it’s a convincing voice.
How about the ending? Is it a good ending? Ma and Jack treat the room differently; Ma hates it but it is Jack’s world. L wondered if it is an allegory for wanting to return to the mother’s womb.
S views the moral of the story differently. He sees J as a carte blanche using concepts to understand the world: he uses different concepts to deal with situations in the room and in the world. The message of the story is not to have a message.
V ended the discussion by aptly summing up: it’s a feel bad, feel good book, a book that makes you see how awful the world is so that you feel that you’re lucky.
These are some of the topics that Aa had on hand, but there was no chance to bring them up:
-Queerness of Jack
-Sexuality of mother
-why is Old Nick deliberately kept out of the picture?
-psychiatrist and nurse
-Universality of the experience?
-Donoghue says that Room is “a battle between Mary and Devil for young Jesus.” How so?
-Room is inspired by Austrian case of Josef Fritzl, who locked up his own daughter whose son escaped at age of 5. James Wood, New Yorker critic, said this adaptation is “exploitative and a little cheap.” “The real victim’s imaginings and anxieties,” Wood argues, “must have been abysmal, in the original sense (unimaginable, bottomless), and the novel’s sure-footed appropriation of this unknowability seems offensive precisely in its sure-footness.” Jack’s cheerfulness and charm “lend the book an inappropriate lightness.” Do you agree with him?
This discussion note is written by Brian (who blogs at Foreign Influence).
Attending: Raj, Alexius, Paul (a first-timer), Sharad, Brian, and Dominic
Bastard out of Carolina is a difficult book to finish. The Boatwright family in 1950s/1960s Greenville County, South Carolina—kinship, poverty, violence, abuse, humiliation, self medication, criminality, illegitimacy, and constant questions of beauty and ugliness. For some of us, the book was too traumatic to read without multiple breaks. For some, it was overly complicated or unnecessarily melodramatic in places. For others, the pace of the book was distracting: too many leaps or slow lags without a steady narrative. Even after some of us did manage to finish reading, we kept returning to questions of realism, silence, characterization, and the place of this book in American gay culture. The book did lead to some arguments—even about the weather in that part of the Southern United States.
Brian and Raj very much liked Bastard and the responses it evoked, even though Raj thought characters aged too quickly within the novel’s pace and Brian thought the novel could have developed some racial themes more fully.
Sharad and Dominic were generally positive, although more ambivalent toward the believability of the story and skeptical about the moral of the tale. Dominic summed the book’s message up as “Don’t be poor.” He didn’t like the presentation of that message.
Alexius and Paul didn’t like the book. Alexius thought Bone—the main character—never said or did anything; she never developed as a character. Paul thought the book tried to develop too many themes; it had little emotional depth. He asserted that his standard for gay and lesbian literature is Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, and that Bastard did not match up.
After a long discussion of the poverty and violence in the novel in general, we talked about its portrayal of crime and incarceration. Going to jail makes these men adults, and you can beat someone in a fair fight or out of justified revenge as long as you don’t kill them. We noted that girls become women by having babies and boys become men by committing crimes.
(Bone is close to her Uncle Earle—the only (?) likeable male character in the book—and commits a crime with her cousin Grey. Does this put her between the men and women in the novel, like her Aunt Raylene, who late in the book describes her love for another woman?)
Then, we discussed the theme of fire. Many things and people burn in this book, and fire is always mentioned around Bone’s encounters with other girls she seems drawn toward—such as the Black girl in the apartment and the Albino friend Shannon.
We also discussed race, skin tone, and hair in relation to questions of being pretty or ugly. Being pretty is a constant obsession in the novel. Everyone worries about it, and it is always related to being fairskinned and blond haired. Brian pointed out that the characters tease any children with curly hair, saying they are “from the wrong side of the family,” and Raj raised this question of the “curse” some children hinted at. Alexius linked this curse to themes of “destiny” in the book—to the idea that there is no way out of the cycles portrayed.
Raj brought up questions of the power of “unconditional love,” of course.
We discussed Anney in detail. Her jobs and economic situations. We discussed her relations with Bone’s unnamed father, her husband Lyle—who dies soon after their marriage—and her second husband Glen, the man-child prone to violent outbursts—who abuses Bone. Anney is a mother, a housewife, a waitress, and a mill worker. Always barely making ends meet. The ambiguity of one of the economic arrangements in the book led us to ask if Anney might have engaged in sex work of one sort or another once.
Considering themes of humiliation and legitimacy, we considered why Anney is so concerned about Bone’s birth certificate—even though no one else appears to be. Sharad thought it was a point of pride. Paul suggested it was a matter of social stigma. Dominic asserted that if being poor was bad, being poor and a bastard was even worse, and Anney wanted to keep Bone from that double humiliation.
We discussed whether or not Shannon’s immolation was a suicide or an accident. Raj and Dominic said, “Yes.” Sharad hedged. Paul said the scene was emblematic of being consumed by religion. Brian thought maybe. Alexius asked, “Who is Shannon?”
The religious/gospel singing passages were interesting but didn’t garner much of our interest.
It seemed as if the book was introducing many homosocial/homosexual moments involving Bone: Bone’s links to Granny at first, the exchange of looks with the Black girl, Shannon, and then the “queer utopia” (???) of Aunt Raylene’s home. (Raylene who ran away with a woman once and now lives alone is also called “Ray.”) We debated if Raylene might be the moral voice of the novel but could not decide. Brian invested a lot in Raylene’s statement to Bone that, “‘People are the same,’ she said in a whisper. ‘Everybody just does the best they can’” and tried to find some morality in it.
We asked about the book’s portrayal of straight culture. Paul thought it was stereotypical. Raj thought the story was biased against everyone. No one does well in this environment. Dominic reminded us that Anney and Lyle are a positive couple. But, Lyle dies right away, for no apparent reason. Sharad brought up ideas of toxic masculinity and constant economic dependency. Alexius mumbled something.
In closing, we brought out our favorite characters:
Raj: Granny doesn’t move! There’s stability to parts of this culture.
Dominic: Serving it real! There is so much food in the book, and Anney serves it all.
Sharad: You can’t get more right than the Boatwrights! The whole family is engrossing.
Paul: I didn’t like anyone.
Alexius: I liked the weather.
Brian: Raylene! Who doesn’t want to live alone at a bend in the river?