Category Archives: S/M

69th Discussion: Lydia Kwa’s Pulse

Moderator: Brian
Attendees: Alexius, Kenneth, Raj, Timmy

The idea of bondage in a predominantly Singaporean setting intrigued us to read the book, though not enough to sustain our interest in it – all of us disliked it, with Kenneth finding the novel “myopic” and not relatable, and Brian claiming “struggling” to finish the book, “paragraph by paragraph”.

THEMES
The usage of kabuki was questioned – why the Japanese term instead of bondage? Kenneth explained the difference between Japanese bondage (not a sexual fetish, more instinctive, cultured and all about aesthetics) and Western bondage. He further added that the ideology was only touched on a superficial level. Brian had hoped that there were more bondage scenes.

With reference to the above and sex, Raj opined that Natalie only did bondage and controlled sex because she has difficulty letting go and being free. Overall, we are in the belief that the book painted Singapore and Singaporeans as a repressive society.

Raj found the portrayal of mother figures in the novel stereotypical and delusional – far worse than the portrayal of gay men. Kenneth thought how the grandmother was written was a representation of her generation, while Alexius saw her as offering Natalie nothing much apart from “gambling her life away”. There also seemed to be a generational divide, with the old folks seeming guarded and the younger generation adopting a devil-may-care attitude.

Kenneth interpreted the use of fortune telling as an “informed way of looking at life”, though Alexius found it stereotypical in relation to race, preferring that tarot cards be used instead.

On the issues of race and racism, Raj described the book as “rojak gone wrong”, noted that Indian people were only featured in the book as an afterthought. Brian highlighted the anti-white sentiments. Alexius observed that the Peranakans were aggressive and quipped that “if Adam was an ang moh, he should have gone with a Malay boyfriend.”

There was also semi-political tones adopted throughout the book which, according to Alexius, alluded to the government’s relations with the Malay community. Brian, however, begged to differ, stating that the book tries to avoid being political.

CHARACTERS

None of us liked any of the characters, with Alexius deeming all of them as fakers.

Brian outright hated Natalie, while Raj found her to be full of herself.

Alexius felt that Selim sacrificing himself to be a stretch though Kenneth empathised with the character.

There were still a couple of things that we liked about the book: the romantic innocence and first loves (Raj) and an oddly “feel good book” as “other people have duller lives in comparison (Alexius). Brian liked a particularly paragraph in Chapter 5 which he thought went against the rest of the book. Raj was touched by the ending.

By the end of the discussion, we still stood firm in disliking the book. Brian deemed the book empty, while Raj thought it tried to cram in too many ideas and didn’t challenge anything. “Like a city bus,” he purred.

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Filed under Canada, Family, Lydia Kwa, Queer, S/M, Singapore

56th Discussion: Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Chason, Glenn, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

body farmOPENING

What did we dislike about the book? Everything about it.

Javin found the entire book “distracting” – from its style, to the proses and the subplots. The excessive subplots and red herrings also irked Timmy. Jiaqi thought the ending was too rushed and suggested that the book would have been more interesting if it talked of the motivation for the murder. Aaron deemed the book homophobic.

THEMES

Jiaqi felt that homosexuality and homosexuals were not dealt deeply with in the book, though he praised its fairly realistic portrayal. Javin found it erratic and the homosexuals were not painted in the most positive light. Aaron added on that no characters in the book were comfortable with homosexuals. Glenn opined that this may be a depiction of the author through the niece.

Conclusively, Jiaqi commented that the book was not written to portray understanding of the LGBT community.

Women were also not favourably portrayed; Aaron questioned whether this was done intentionally or otherwise. Jiaqi noted that there were zero positive relationships between women. Aaron found the relationship between Kay and Lucy to be “encouraging”, though later intuited the two as Cornwell’s personas (the Republican and the lesbian).

Despite this flaw, we noted that the female characters were written as strong, intelligent beings that were, unfortunately, often horny and lonely. This was likely attributed to the lack of strong male companions and thus, the males were often treated as sideshow sex toys. Glenn remarked that during the time the book was being written, society at large (and thus, its characters) was not ready for strong females. The lack of positive portrayal served as “social commentary” of those times.

We briefly discussed the bathroom scene which included Chanel, which Alexius deemed as a “brand endorser.” Jiaqi found it to be a sympathetic scene, whereas Aaron quipped that even though Kay solves crimes, she still has to remain feminine and an elitist, i.e. maintain that “class factor.”

The topic of food was also touched on; according to Aaron, it appeared a lot throughout the book. “Why so specific?” he asked. Alexius joked that Cornwell was trying to be the next Martha Stewart. Javin viewed it as another way of conveying the “atas-ness” of the book and its lead character/s.

Aaron brought up the quote (“It seems this is all about people loving people who don’t love them back”), which he found poignant and stuck a chord with him. Both Glenn and him perceived it as describing of unrequited love.

Timmy questioned the inclusion of Psalm 107 (“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep”) and its significance. Everyone agreed that it is about looking beyond the surface.

CHARACTERS

Glenn picked Lucy the niece as his favourite character as she seemed the most realistic out of everyone. Kay was Jiaqi and Timmy’s favourite for being a nice, complex human and a strong female. Both Javin and Aaron had no favourites, though the latter shared his favourite quote (as previously mentioned).

CONCLUSION

Overall, we enjoyed the book: it had a nice story for its time (Javin); it was an entertaining page turner with a strong female lead, which was rare (Jiaqi); and it had good pacing, with something coming up at every chapter (Chason). Despite its “backwards”, conservative mindset, Aaron found it likable. Timmy quipped that the book felt like an episode of CSI – “the Las Vegas version, not the Miami one.”

The only opposing view was from Alexius, who had DNR stamped all over the book and thus, paid more attention to his phone and apps rather than to the discussion.

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Filed under Class, Crime, Family, Food, Lesbian, Love, Patricia Cornwell, S/F, S/M, Technology, USA

51st Discussion: Edward St Aubyn’s Never Mind

photo-1
Raj made quiches and bought eclairs.

WOO HOO! Ernest wrote this awesome piece.

GENERAL SENTIMENT OF THE BOOK

Javin did not like the book and felt that the book was uneventful.

Jia qi felt that the characters were nasty. Father was psychopathic. Friend Nicholas was bitchy

Raj felt that the book was a good portrayal of reality, and that every character had their own unique characteristic. Child was too intelligent and hence unrealistic portrayal (him knowing how to maneuver his way around adults).

Timmy felt that the book was monotonous, and that it simultaneously repulsed and fascinated him. Men were bitchier and women were more sophisticated and intelligent (even though all of them were american) It was like a car crash – you don’t want to watch, but you still have to slow down to watch. Something akin to Mrs Dallaway by Virginia Woolf.

Aaron felt that the book was awesome but was too patronizing towards the end. Towards the end, Ann and Victor left the party, which felt fake (it was a literary device to draw the distinction between the aristocrats and the rest). Aaron could not understand why Victor had to leave with Anne in the end when he spent his whole life sucking up to the aristocrats.

THEMES OF THE BOOK

(1) Sadomasochism

(2) Rape

(3) Sexuality, desire

(4) Race

RACE: Timmy felt that the Indian was the antithesis of Raj – for example, why did the Indian want to be like an aristocrat. Aaron agreed that the Indian was made into a grotesque caricature that everyone hated. Raj clarified that the Indians used to be the servants for the whites in Britain, even to date, and that racism was very much a part of the British culture. Anne hated the Indian because of his actions, and Jiaqi felt that the Indian was vulgar and crass (whereas the others were sarcastic but not crass). Perhaps he was hated because his actions did not conform to the social norms. His actions with relation to pornography was a mix of bestiality and Rihanna-ism according to Timmy. The aristocrats were hypocrites because they invited the Indian to the party, but they made it clear that they didn’t like him (perhaps because of his money). Jiaqi and Aaron were of the opinion that Victor was generally more accepted into the group because of his intelligence, whereas the Indian was despised because he was more explicit and less scheming in his climbing the social ladder.

According to Raj, Bridget was trying to socially exclude the Indian by supply supporting details, which unfortunately backfired, and aroused more curiosity in the social group. In fact, the Indian was disliked to the point that Anne made up 2 stories about him (long distance international phone calls vs finding objectionable porn). Perhaps in Anne’s mind, the other characters were probably sickos as well. Aaron continued by saying that perhaps she was testing waters to check whether the rest were sickos and that’s why she eventually left, once she’s ascertained their characters. Timmy continued then by saying that Anne was very smart, but acted as a puppet master.

Aristocracy: David was seen as a good match for Anne according to Aaron, as they were complementary.

In a way, everybody idolized David, because he could say whatever he wanted and get away with it, especially with his conviction that he is always right, according to Raj. Aaron mused as to why people tolerated this behavior of bullying. Jiaqi and Timmy suspected that this was also partly contributed by fear inspired and charisma of David. Jiaqi suspected that only Nicolas (who idolized David) and Victor wanted to suck up to David. People had difficulty rejecting him, and that he had power over people.

In the story, Nicolas David and Eleanor were aristocrats, while the rest were not. Aaron asked about the differentiating factors between aristocrats and non aristocrats. The dead man said that he pursued beauty wherever it elf him, even to unbeautiful places. Raj said that aristocrats were able to say whatever, whenever they want i.e. they were the big fucks. Jiaqi expressed that David accepted that the dead man, as an aristocrat, was able to pursue abstract ideas of beauty, which were beyond commoners. Aristocrats were sarcastic because there was a hidden meaning behind their sarcasm, which only the intelligent would understand. Aaron disagreed and said that DAvid would sometimes say things to the point which were hurtful, for example, who Eleanor’s pants matched her eyes. Raj opined that David’s tongue was akin to a sword, which kept him above criticism from the rest (by fear). Javin was curious as to why Eleanor still stuck by David when he dominated and humiliated her consistently.

Aristocrats were possibly sarcastic to each other because of their boredom, according to Aaron. They had difficulty finding meaning in their lives, according to Raj. Aaron affirmed that the aristocracy was otherwise dead and lacked vibrancy.

Nicholas, David and the dead man shared a common trait of being effeminate, as aristocrats e.g. David wanted to be a pianist, which was rejected by his father. Aristocracy were also sexually perverse, which may be associated with their boredom (e.g. Nicholas was found in bed with 2 other women by his wife, Nicholas sleeping with a young girl, David making his wife eat off the floor). Jiaqi felt that they were lecherous, but not perverse (as in, this was not deviant, as old men would want to sleep with younger women). Aaron/Timmy felt that that Nic was deviant, by choosing someone (Bridgit) much younger than him.

Eleanor submitted to David during her first date by eating off the floor in a way of SM. Aaron and Jiaqi opined that she despised convention, and therefore wanted to break convention. Raj agreed that she could do so because she could afford to a an aristocrat. Timmy opined that Eleanor was Rihanna and David was Chris Brown. Raj, Aaron: Her limit was reached at the time of the rape, but stayed on because of her son. Raj/Timmy/Javin had no sympathy or pity for Eleanor because they felt that she used the life she went through as a means of obtaining sympathy, especially since she enjoys her suffering (she feels noble suffering according to Javin). She did not stay in the abusive relationship because of her son, as evidenced by the fact that the son needed her during the meal, but she chose to stay on (although there was speculation that she did so because of fear of David). Jiaqi and Aaron felt sympathetic to Eleanor. David raped his son and Eleanor because of his disdain for societal norms.

Raj felt that the lack of graphic detail of the rape was made all the more real because rape victims would block out such details. All in all, everyone agreed the rape was described tastefully. In this way, the attention was still on the person, and not just on the act, according to Raj.

Another SM scene was between Bridget and David (scene with the knife, where David fed Bridget figs) and “she felt a punch in her womb”

Aaron liked the masturbation scene by Bridget because it addressed female sexuality (and indicated that Nicolas did not fulfill her sexually). Javin found it tastefully done.

CHARACTERS

Javin liked Bridget because she was white trash. and he adores the masturbation scene (and he wants to emulate the Bridget). Jiaqi liked Bridget because of her honesty and her un-sophistication. He also found her amusing.

 

Raj liked David, because his character was beautifully written, and how he was able to wield power over others. It was a powerful portrayal of how he was able to control his guests, wife, son (he knew where his son was hiding). Aaron’s favorite character was also David. The author actively tried to make the reader dislike David, even to the point of dehumanizing him by referring to him as the doctor initially without giving him a name. In a way, he was a victim because of disapproval by his father even though he was relatively talented. He was blue blood, but his father cut him off. And in the end, it was not clear what his sexuality was (his desire was everywhere). Perhaps he had no desire because he was emasculated by his father, and exerts his desire by emasculating others. He was the true victim.

Timmy liked Anne (although he had a soft spot for Bridget). Anne was portrayed as a strong woman for that era. She was smart (although scheming), and had the feminine wiles.

SUMMARY

All the characters were bitchy in the book, according to Aaron (more bitchy than gay people).

Javin did not like the book because it had very limited drama (masturbation scene), and did not find it interesting.

Jiaqi enjoyed the book and felt that it was well written. He felt that the observations about people were sharp and the characters were true to life. It was also humorous.

Raj liked the book and felt that it was well written. The characters were bitchy, but intelligently bitchy (not stupid bitchy). The book managed to evoke strong emotions, which was praise worthy. Especially when one can relate to it in real life.

Timmy liked how the book was repulsive, but yet fascinating enough to make the reader want to read on. “There are such people who are perhaps both destructive and cruel towards to who are closest to them, often possess a vitality that makes other people seem dull by comparison”

Aaron liked that instead of going the Jodi Piccoult way (melodrama and writing herself into the book in a victimized way), the author did not cast himself as a victim. One sympathizes but does not pity him, because he is a strong, intelligent and driven character.

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Filed under Class, Edward St Aubyn, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Queer, Race, S/M, UK

35th Discussion: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (21 Jun)

The book club is extremely fortunate to have one of the awesomest host, Raj, to provide us with Swedish snacks to go with the Swedish novel: Ikea meatballs, Swedish potato chips and a roe-pate baguette. Thanks, Raj!

We started by saying we all liked the book because it is a pageturner and realistic.

We talked much about Salander as a character. Javin noted that although she is not a “perfect victim” as described by her guardian Bjurman–she fights back against her aggressors–she is a victim of the society she lives in; she can fight a person but not against the system. Raj explicated that there is no reasoning behind Salander; she is all id. She does what she wants; she’s amoral. While Aaron suggests that she is unethical; invades on others’ privacy; hurts people as much as Martin hurting the girls–Salander is not that different from Martin–; protects herself at all cost, even by risking Bloomkvist who needs to seek treatment for his shock at the brink of death, the rest still felt that her ends justify the means and her unethicality is forgiven because she’s cool.

On the other hand, Bloomkvist, Raj stated, is charming and has a code of ethnical conduct. Aaron brought up that despite all his positive traits, he makes a lousy parent–parenthood as a main theme in the book–as his daughter shares similar traits with Harriet, and he notices them himself, and yet he doesn’t salvage the situation.

If Bloomkvist were a stand-in for the journalist-novelist, as Gavin said, then there is a certain chauvinism about the book: all women who sleeps with Bloomkvist/Larsson falls in love with him. His chauvinism is especially apparent when the women blur into each other: Cecelia looks like Anita who looks like Harriet who is like Bloomkvist’s daughter.

But chauvinism seem to co-exist with a strong feminist message: women rule. Salander saves Bloomkvist in the end and she takes control of the situation from Frode the lawyer while Harriet runs the company.

While the book is feminist, Bloomkvist, though liberal, seems to try but fail to accept gay people and as a result, there are some homophobic stereotypes. For one, the art director–of course the gay guy has to be a designer–is said to be an “exhibitionist gay celebrity” and described to be flighty and unable to hold his own. A second homophobic stereotype is that Salander’s bisexuality itself is in question: she only sleeps with women because men are jerks; but if she has to choose, she’d still choose a man as evident that she chooses Bloomkvist. The description of the novel on her bisexuality itself seems homophobic in the sense, Raj and Gavin stated, that it claims sex with men to be carnal acts while sex with women is emotional: this binary is of course a negative stereotype.

Another point that may support the homophobia argument is that although a wide range of sexual acts is depicted (such as Bloomkvist’s and Berger’s open relationship; and pedophiliac and incestuous Bloomkvist sleeping with Salander who, he notes, can be his daughter and has a prepubescent body), it is the homo sex/anal sex that is demonized. The strongest evidence comes from Martin-Bloomkvist almost-sex scene. The threat of homo sex between the men is associated with death. Another example is that Salander is raped anally and she seeks her revenge by raping her rapist anally. There are many ways which Larsson could have depicted her pain and suffering–there are many ways of S&M–but yet he chooses the kind of sex that is associated with gay men. The third example is when Salander insinuates that Bloomkvist will be raped in jail. All these images of homo sex are negative.

Despite that, we still saw the novel as a powerful one as it brings new things to the detective genre: a Nazi history that is little known of Sweden (Isaac’s point); a journalistic style (Javin); and a Girl, Interrupted character as a detective (Raj).

As a closing thought, we mulled over the change of the Swedish title Men Who Hate Women to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Aaron thought the change in title signals the change from a sociological investigative novel into a novel of individuality, perhaps catering to North American readers. Isaac said that the image of the dragon is masculine, which contrasts with “girl,” breaking down stereotypes. Dragon tattoo, Raj claimed, has a mythic power, just like Salander, but the change of title has also to do with marketing: who wants to buy a book with the title MWHW?  The Swedish, naturally.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Crime, Family, Love, Queer, S/M, Stieg Larsson, Sweden

27th Discussion: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson’s Target (15 Dec)

Our general response to the book was dislike. Isaac thought it was too mild and full of stereotypes. Timmy, Raj and Roy thought it was too slow. In addition, Timmy didn’t feel for the character perhaps because, as Alexius suggested, the depression was exaggerated although Alex said, “But if I were raped by women, I would die.” The abrupt ending fueled Timmy, Alex and Glenn’s disapproval of the novel. In defense of the book, Roy said that the style is easy and immediate; Alex enjoyed it; Melissa felt the atmosphere is well-written, conjuring a raw and uncomfortable mood. Ernest and Teri came to lend their moral support.

Themes

1. Sexuality: Grady – Gay or Not? A few evidence that he is gay: he doesn’t retaliate in the rape (Alexius’s point) but perhaps Grady doesn’t want “his anus to be torn” (Timmy, 2011). Grady dreams of Fred (Roy’s point); Grady lets Mr Howell touch him (Alex). But he’s also not gay in the sense that he is always in love with women. Alex brought up an excellent point that perhaps the rape is too traumatic and Grady cannot reconcile that his (gay?) sexuality can be so monstrous. Alex also stated that Grady’s sexuality is ambiguous. Roy suggested that perhaps the author wants us to think through the ambiguity.

Aaron claimed that the novel precludes the possibility of Grady being bisexual. Why? Because, he further argued, the novel makes it very, very hard for us to see that gay is normal. Grady’s struggles are partly struggles over his sexuality; if he could think that it is alright to be gay, then he wouldn’t struggle so much. Grady is presented to the readers as a very “straight” teenager, always in love with girls, and it is the rape that screws him up. Only in homophobic societies is heterosexuality taken a criterion for normality. Aaron also brought up several examples of homophobia: no one who is homophobic is punished for it. For instance, the homophobic cop receives no censure. Grady’s parents are more worried about Grady’s sexuality than his well-being. Even Jess, who arguably is punished by getting into a fight with gay Fred, gets off rather lightly and is unrepentant of his homophobia. The rapists, who set out to punish “faggots,” get away. What are the rapists, anyway? If they are gay, isn’t it a homophobic  stereotype that gay people rape? If they are straight, the message behind the book seems to be, “Be homophobic anyway, you won’t get punished.”

The rest of the group disagreed. Melissa, Alex, Timmy, and Raj all voiced that the novel is a realistic portrayal of homophobic society in general. Isaac claimed that there is a positive portrayal of gay people (Fred). The reason why Aaron was ambivalent about the novel in the first place is the confused garble. What is the author trying to say? On the surface, there is positive portrayal but if you look deeper into the plot, homophobia surfaces: this is the same for issues of gender and race.

2. Gender: Aaron claimed that the major female characters in the book are colorless and known only for their beauty or art. Art for girls? That’s a stereotype. Melissa countered that it is because the girls are seen from Grady’s perspective. But, Aaron said, how does the fact change anything? The message seems to be that it is alright to objectify women. But the group disagreed.

3. Race: Timmy notes the stereotypical behavior of a fast-talking black boy is racist. Alexius notes that Jess may be putting on a brave front to hide his vulnerability.

Characters:

1. Timmy let out a high-pitched wheeee when talking about Fred.

2. Aaron felt very strongly that Jess has no redeemable qualities, a point the rest of the group disagreed. Aaron claimed that Jess’s sarcasm is overboard, unwarranted and hurtful. And, as Gwendolyn rightly points out, Jess is still homophobic and sexist despite his minority status.

3. Raj and Alex liked Pearl. Timmy asked, “Why? Is it because she’s a magician? Can wear 2 layers and not sweat?”

3. Timmy and Aaron had no sympathy for Grady who is like bad actress Joanne Peh and couldn’t decide what role he is: is he a rape victim or a nutcase? Alex found it interesting that most of us cannot stand Grady’s depression. Isaac claimed that it is because the rape scene is handled too mildly. If it’s more hardcore, we can feel more for Grady.

Literary

1. Ending (I): Alex elucidated that Grady’s breakthrough comes when he can reconcile the past and the future, to accept, confess and face the fact that he is raped. In a way, like gay people coming out, Grady is coming out as a rape victim. Aaron wondered whether this was patronizing, as if Grady is in AA’s 12-step recovery program.

2. Ending (II): Alexius had a unique interpretation of the ending. He claimed that Fred’s boyfriend may be one of the rapists. Aaron saw the usage of the word “shimmer” as homophobic–why couldn’t the author use “unfix” or “fluid” instead of such a disco-ball description?

3. Birds: What’s up with the ubiquitous bird metaphor? Roy claimed the bird may represent the mental trauma. Alex asked if there are birds during the rape. “Three,” Aaron answered.

4. Self-eroticizing: Why does Grady keep touching himself? Melissa said it’s a mental thing; Alex claimed it is the only comfort he has; touching himself is a blue blanket, commented Isaac.

5. Rape Divided: Roy asked why the rape is slowly flashed out throughout the book. Raj replied Grady doesn’t want to think about it but the memory keeps resurfacing.

6. Depth of character: We all found that there is no depth to the characters, even for Grady. Melissa explained that perhaps we are meant to read the novel as such, that Grady is distanced from the reader and this distance emphasizes the alienation he faces.

In the end, our opinions of the book remained unchanged. Alex still enjoyed the book although he admitted there are some stereotypes. Timmy was XXX Fred. Glenn felt for Grady. Roy said there is no plot. Ernest claimed it is Prozac Nation meets St Augustine and was glad he didn’t read this. He said, there are moments of beauty in our other book club books, but this one doesn’t. Aaron concluded that it seems that the author has good intentions and tries to be as generous and liberal as she can but her work cannot transcend the ideology she’s trapped in, showing slippages of homophobia, sexism and racism.

We’d like to thank Raj for hosting us and Timmy for helping us access the book.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, Queer, Race, S/M, USA, Young Adult

12th Discussion: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (19 Aug 2010)

A short discussion because we spent most of the time listening to the Book Launch. Isaac said more people would come if we wrote about our comments on the men at DYMK.

Boy, is the waiter cute! So earnest-looking and so anal, everything had to be straight and proper and fits into the color-scheme. He makes a good househusband someday. Whoever marries him is so lucky! And can the two uncles stop molesting him? Give us a chance to molest him too!

And that SPG, his rotund ass is so firm a dent following the curvature of his ass formed on the stool.

Ok, back to the book:

1. We talked mostly about the complex and complicated notions of gender in this novel, how men and women are not equal in that one has to be a master and the other a slave. The book is at the same time sexist and progressive, arguing for equality. “Woman’s character is characterlessness…” implies that woman’s will is subservient to man’s. But at the end of the novel, it says that she can only be his companion “when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work.”

2. The other theme we talked about is sexuality, how SM to the narrator is just a cover-up story for his homosexual desires. His admiration for the pretty Greek guy is erotically charged and his SM is “cured” when he comes in contact with the Greek’s “whip,” a loaded metaphor.

3. A “cure” also implies infection, disease – and it seems SM is transmitted and influenced all through art, paintings, statues, etc.

4. Woman in fur implies the animalistic instincts in women. Sexist?

5. The 3rd theme, besides gender and sexuality, is religion. Raj saw the novel as a critique of Christianity as Venus can be substituted by Mary. Isaac read the novel as martyrdom and pain in religion producing a great ecstasy. (See the paintings of St. Sebastian and St. Teresa sculpture).

6. We talked about the over-the-top campy writing style. For instance, “I am not writing with ordinary ink, but with red blood that drips from my heart.” We thought the campy writing works very well with the novel. It seems as if the author is making fun of the writing style prominent of that period: “Why talk in superlatives, as if something that is beautiful could be surpassed?”

7. Other non-conclusive things: a. his childhood encounter with his aunt: Freudian? B. the emphasis on the contract C. the “negresses” in the novel – merely to add to the exoticness? D. What is the Plato’s rooster?

8. We all love the book very very much and we are glad we read it.

ps: who has the waiter’s number?

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Filed under Austria, Classics, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Queer, S/M

6th Discussion: J. G. Ballard’s Crash (18 Feb 2010)

The discussion opens with Timmy and Aaron vehemently disliking the book while Isaac defending it, arguing that it has historical value; the novel was written in a time when automobiles were fetishized.

Characters

1. James Ballard: Two questions remain unresolved regarding the character, James Ballard: Why is James the top when Vaughan is clearly the leader? And why does the author use his name for this character? Aaron argues that the author clearly cannot envision his namesake being a bottom and his namesake can only have (homo)sex only on the brink of death as if homosexuality is the limit of human sexuality—a lot of heterosexual masculine pride (homphobia?) at work here—although Timmy and Isaac claim that top/bottom is merely a power play.

Aaron notes the amazing olfactory organ of the narrator as he can even smell his wife’s “rectal mucus.” Isaac says, “After a long day at work, maybe there is a musky smell.” The point of bringing up the narrator’s super ability to sniff his wife’s muff is that the solipsistic projection of the first-person narrator makes him a horrible person, disregarding the feelings of others, including his wife.

2. Vaughan: Timmy points out that Vaughan uses his charisma to manipulate. Isaac notes that he is a messiah, “like Jesus walking out of a car wreak.” (Isaac goes on to list the commonality of Crash with Ballard’s other work: a cult-like following, a messiah, and sex.) Aaron says that it is unclear how Vaughan looks like, sometimes a “handsome actor,” “with pockmarked and scarred face” although Isaac claims that the same person may be viewed differently at different times, depending on our emotions for the person. Aaron further notes the voyeuristic description on Vaughan’s body and Isaac deciphers that Vaughan’s body is an extension of the vehicle: hard buttocks and metallic sheen to his skin.

3. Seagrave: Crash and burn.

4. Catherine, Vera, Helen and Gabriella: The failure of the writer is his inability to tackle the psychology of women; they are either dutiful wives or aggressive whores. (Theme: Gender/Women)

Themes

5. Lesbianism: Examining a passage where the narrator observes his wife looking at a nurse, we see that the narrator is projecting his fantasy of two women making out. Ignorant prick.

6. Male Homosexuality: Aaron argues that for all the liberalism and queerness and perversity of the novel, the author could not imagine how men have sex with men. When James thinks of sodomizing Vaughan, the fantasy is often mediated through a third party, usually a woman or machine. When in the end the act is carried out, James has to think of Vaughan as a trans-sexual with a failed operation. Aaron wonders how radical the novel is, and whether the author is a homophobe.

7. Sexuality: Other aspects of sexuality includes fantasizing incestuous acts with his mother (p. 180) and his wife becoming his sister (p. 217). Aaron concludes that we couldn’t make more out of this because the author was high on LSD when he wrote it.

8. Technology: Timmy says that the novel is born out of paranoia of technology while Aaron claims that it is a fetishization of it, reminding Aaron of www.guyswithiphones.com, a site which boys pose with their toys. Isaac further enhances the argument by saying that the characteristics of technology are transferred to the owners. For example, if iphones signify coolness—do the youth still use “cool”?—then the person who owns it is seen as cool.

9. Death: obviously links with sexuality and life (signified by semen). Isaac thinks that the novel romanticizes death as the ultimate pleasure while Aaron picks on the irony that once you’re dead, there can be no more pleasure. Dead men have no sex.

Style

10. The in-depth description of EVERYTHING (except for the gay sex) is frustrating to both Aaron and Timmy although Isaac notes the style parallels the obsessive nature of the narrator.

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Filed under J. G. Ballard, Queer, S/M, UK, USA