Category Archives: Politics

96th Discussion: Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

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Attendees: Raj, Rachel, Maya, Asy, Vicky, Scott, Pierre, Timmy

Keeping in theme with the book, we had Mexican food to munch on as we animatedly discussed about the book. Continue reading

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Filed under Americas, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Bisexuality, Class, Family, Food, Gay, Love, Mexico, Politics, Queer, Race, Religion, Short Stories, USA, War

Movie Discussion: The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters (2006)

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/locationreligion, music/soundtrackrebellionpoliticsrace, 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.

 

 

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Filed under China, Dai Sijie, Ecology, Family, Lesbian, Politics, Race, Religion

Book Discussion: Homosexualities, Muslim Culture, and Modernity by Momin Rahman 

Attendees: Veronika, Jon Gary, Alexis, Pey, Colin, Edwina, Jun, Hui Qing (?), Raj, and Aaron.

Awesome discussion.

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Filed under Academic, Politics, Queer, Religion

65th Discussion: William Burroughs’s Queer & Allen Ginsberg’s Howl

queer.us.penguin.2010.200We started with Queer, and talked about how the introduction affected our reading (the murder of his second wife, and writing as inoculation).

Both Brian and Kelvin talked about space: Kelvin found it strange that Mexico is described as “oriental,” while Brian noted that it is an expat novel, happening in public, homosocial space with no sense of home. Signals of Lee’s status as an outsider abound.

We questioned on how to read the Arab human trafficking hallucination/fantasy (p. 67) and Lee’s predilection for the Aryan type: racism or the unreliability of narrator?

On the non-representation of women, we concluded there is an aversion of femininity and effeminacy in the novel. But strangely, when in general men overcompensate their insecurity and homosexuality by being hyper-masculine, we didn’t find it to be the case for Lee.

Aaron saw the two endings as hopelessness of human connection, and indicative of human isolation.

allenginsbergAs a transition to Howl, we talked about the similarities between the two books–drugs. Brian commented the Beat generation used drugs to alter consciousness as a way to overcome existential ennui, to rebel against the bourgeois and consumerism, to break away from the madness of monotony.

Kelvin saw Howl as a manifesto, as opposed to Queer as a quest. While Queer is pessimistic, Kelvin claimed there is hope in Howl. There is a representation of community in Howl.

We spiraled into a discussion of whether Howl is hopeful or not. We didn’t convinced Brian who argued that meeting Walt Whitman in a supermarket is how low America has fallen: Whitman’s fruits hanging on trees (nature) has become fruits in supermarket (consumerism). “It is,” Brian said, “potential we squandered.”

Thanks, Timmy and Jolynn, for beautifying Mcdonald’s.

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Classics, Love, Mexico, Poetry, Politics, Queer, Race, Religion, USA, William Burroughs

61st Discussion: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Dominic, Faizal, Hisham, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

mchugh, maureen - chinamountainzhangThis is one of the rare times that we decided to do a (gay) science fiction book. Everyone had something to pick on with the book – from its setting (Javin found it “unnecessary” and depressing, Dominic thought it was a dauntingly boring disturbia, Jiaqi didn’t think there was enough “sci-fi” and advanced technology to classify it as futuristic) to the writing style (Raj didn’t find it appealing, Timmy thought it was too static and sterile) and even to how prehistoric some concepts were (Aaron scoffed at the idea of cruising despite being set in the future).

THEMES
1. Structure: Jiaqi liked the diversity in showcasing the varied characters, which Javin disagreed with as he could not invest in them as much. Raj hated having to connect all the dots, which Aaron added made the book all the more messy and chaotic. Hisham felt that it could have been done better.

2. Homosexuality: Everyone agreed that homosexuals were stereotypically portrayed here, from the rich ang mohs to the Chinese gays with the inability to say no to everything. The happy ending that Zhang received drew ire from Aaron and Javin, who felt like it was forced, though Raj and Jiaqi thought otherwise, even if it was clichéd.

3. Women: Portrayed negatively except for the Korean woman (Jiaqi), and the doctor, who came across as domineering (Hisham).

4. Racism: Raj quipped that despite being set in the future, the only thing that was progressive was the food. Aaron pointed out that the Chinese characters suffered terrible fates, eliciting a rather long racism rant.

5. Relationships: The gay relationships featured came across as passive (Dominic) and devoid of love (Javin), to which Jiaqi vehemently opposed, commenting that it was filled with affection. Timmy noted that the heterosexual relationships showed the most growth throughout the book.

Dysfunctional, queer (Aaron) and atypical (Raj) were used to describe the familial relationships, though Jiaqi thought the families featured were portrayed normally.

CHARACTERS

1. Jiaqi didn’t think Angel was a fully developed character, and whose only sole purpose in the book was to be the information superhighway to Cinnabar, according to Dominic. Aaron saw her as a fag hag, to which Javin quipped that her being a fag hag gave her the opportunity to win races.

2. Everyone agreed that Peter was the most well-adjusted out of all: partly because he came off as relaxed and was able to come to terms with himself (Javin), and mainly because he was ang moh and didn’t worry about others’ opinions (Raj). Jiaqi deduced that Peter had it easier than Zhang. Peter is Javin’s favourite character.

3. Aaron thought that as a character, Cinnibar was not properly fleshed out.

4. Raj viewed Matador as another typical young gay boy who didn’t give a hoot about the world, to which Aaron concluded that he was another whiny bottom who just wanted to be taken care of.

5. Based on our observations, Hai Bao was set up as Zhang’s (life?) mentor. His suicide served as a milestone in Zhang’s life, causing him to “wake up” from his “catatonic” state.

6. We looked at Martine as a repressed being who had difficulty expressing her emotions. Timmy envisioned her to be like the ultimate on-screen ice queen, Tilda Swinton.

7. Aaron selected Zhang as his favourite character; citing his determination that gave everyone hope. Jiaqi liked that he was funny, relatable and sympathetic.

The question as to whether he was a depressed individual elicited two responses – Jiaqi, Dominic and Timmy didn’t think that he was ever in that state in the first place, while Raj and Aaron believed that he was.

We also questioned his decision/motive of revealing his sexual orientation to San Xiang at the end, and wrote it off as him finally accepting and being comfortable with himself.

In rounding up the discussion, everyone generally had nice things to say about the book – that it was interesting (Dominic), an “MRT-friendly” read (Raj), likeable and memorable characters (Jiaqi) and being enjoyable overall (Timmy). Aaron appreciated the literary values the book brought across, and being one of the only few books that saw the gay man eventually getting his happy ending (pun not intended). Hisham profoundly expressed that the book made our #firstworldproblems seem minute in comparison. Javin succinctly summed it up best: “It’s a gay book.”

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Filed under China, Class, Colonialism, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Maureen F. McHugh, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, S/F, Space, Technology, USA, War

58th Discussion: Annie Proulx’s Close Range

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Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Hayden, Jiaqi, Raj, Timmy

Thank you Raj for being the awesome host that you are as well as the food spread. (T: You stop traversing the world can?!)

OPENINGproulx, annie - Close-Range

Timmy made a sweeping statement in kicking off the discussion, proclaiming that Proulx should not be allowed to write. Raj thought the deaths were too gory (“everyone died horribly!”) and that Wyomingans were described like animals (“dangerous, horrible, uncultured”), which resonated with Alexius’ opinion that the characters were “dirty and unhygienic.”

THEMES

(Since most of us only read the minimum requirement (i.e. Brokeback Mountain), we focused our discussion on that short story.)

Is the book homophobic? From Raj’s POV, it was another stereotypical portrayal of homosexuals and how they do not end up together (like, ever), and how unsympathetic Jack’s death was…

…which led us to the question whether Jack’s cause of death was really as per what Lureen claimed, or was he (gay) bashed to death. Jiaqi didn’t think it was the latter, though he noted of the irony of his death involving a tire iron.

We talked about the Jack and Ennis brawl before their final parting, and inferred that that was their way of expressing their feelings since they did not know how to. Aaron viewed it as them loving each other, thus them fighting.

The inclusion of their confrontation scene was to depict conflict (Timmy) while, at the same time, showcase how homosexuality was seen during that time period (a “challenging environment,” according to Jiaqi).

In contrast with the abovementioned, we all agreed that the back hug displayed a tender emotion between Jack and Ennis, perhaps the only emotive act. To Aaron, the act itself was not based in sex and was the most normal, natural illustration of a relationship throughout the entire book.

The most crucial question was posed by Aaron: “why was the sex scene important?” Raj commented that it was a consummation of love, which was “hot, consensual and clearly not homophobic,” according to Aaron. Jiaqi saw it as a realistic portrayal of sex between two males.

We discussed about Brokeback Mountain itself, which the two did not revisit so that – according to Timmy – they could “shroud it in a happy memory”, and Mexico, which we deduced got Ennis jealous when he found out that Jack has been there multiple times to “sample other goods.”

Is Joe Aguirre gay? We pondered briefly on this, before Aaron finally said no. Timmy quipped that he may be voyeuristic though, with Raj following suit by pointing out the binoculars that he has on him.

Timmy went at length explaining his “closet theory”, in reference to Jack hanging Ennis’ shirt inside his shirt, sharing one hanger, in the closet, as a reaffirmation of his love for Ennis. Everyone agreed that this scene ended the book on a positive note.

CHARACTERS

Jiaqi picked both Jack and Ennis as his favourites, specifically the former for being ahead of his time (going to Mexico and subsequently wanting to move in with a new cowboy) and both overall because of their touching love story.

Inez from the Pair a Spurs short is Raj’s favourite, because she was daring, had wonderful spurs and beautiful shoes… basically full of attitude.

Aaron’s pick was the nameless narrator from the short story A Lonely Coast, describing her as contemplative.

Timmy jokingly cited Alma as his favourite, because of her ability to multitask (doing the dishes while questioning Ennis).

CONCLUSION

Ending the discussion on a positive note, Raj thought the Brokeback Mountain short was nice, just like its scenery, and that the portrayal of love in the story is poignant. He even declared that Proulx redeemed herself with that short story.

Jiaqi agreed with Raj, as well as thought that the story was vividly realistic.

Aaron enjoyed the beautiful prose Proulx employed as well as how she truly “trusts her readers” by allowing them to make connections throughout the entire book. He truly believes that the characters are alive to the author and that’s what made it all the more enjoyable for him.

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Filed under Annie Proulx, Class, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Race, Short Stories, USA

51st Discussion: Edward St Aubyn’s Never Mind

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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