Category Archives: Religion

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

Dunno What Nth Discussion: Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On

simon-bazDunno what nth discussion because someone hasn’t written the past discussions yet. *passive aggressive mode on* Just kidding.

It’s back to the good old days, with Raj, Timmy and Aaron, like we were at the start of the book club 5 years ago. The book is a fan-fic of a queer Harry Potter—queer because he likes the person, not the sex—and a gay Edward Cullum.

static1.squarespaceThese are some of the things we talk about:

  1. Shallow and superficial: Simon wishes father is a footballer, mom is a model (8). All along, Agatha is trying to break out of the “blond cheerleader” typecast, yet at the end, she becomes the damsel-in-distress, and doesn’t even fight to save her life. She wishes she has nicer clothes so that she can die pretty (465). WTH.
  2. All characters are queer but with limited character development: Agatha seems to be the most interesting character because she tries to break out of her mold; none of the other protagonists does it. Simon plays his Chosen One role; Penny plays the Hermione role dutifully, and Baz the anti-hero.But Agatha struggles with her emotions, fakes her emotions (9, 74, 75), and claims “we are all monsters” (14), a deep thought coming from a putative “bimbo.” Unfortunately, the damsel-in-distress part is a big gaping plot hole.
  3. Treatment of LBGTQ characters: These characters are not human. Baz is a vampire, Simon becomes a dragon/devil caricature; and Trixie is half pixie. There is something homophobic in that.

    That is not to say this book isn’t a book with good intentions. Baz’s difficulty of admitting he’s a vampire (262) mirrors the difficult coming out. His dad, preferring him to be Undead than to be queer, is heartbreaking (215, 279).

    Futhermore, there are two gay sex scenes between the homos, and gay sex scenes are always good, even if they are encoded. First scene: Baz and Simon’s fight scene with the dragon is written in erotic terms: “I did something I’ve never done before—something I probably wouldn’t try with anyone I was scared of hurting. [anal sex hurts.] I push I just push it into Baz” (239). “His arm straightens like a rodI push a little more magic. I worry that it’s too much… His shoulder is rock hard… it’s jerking itself…I stop pushing… letting Baz draw on my magic” (240).

    The second scene is more subtle (391).

  4. Sexism: No strong male characters, only strong female ones, like Fiona, Baz’s mother, etc.

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  5. Magic as metaphors:
    1. Class: The powerful magicians are always depicted as “rich and powerful,” kept within old families. Magic is also seen as hereditary, which reeks of biological essentialism; we can never transcend our DNA, which means the novel advocates a racist, sexist, homophobic philosophy.

      In a way, The Mage, wanting to liberate magic so that even people with a smidgeon of magic can go to Watsford, and eradicating school fees, can be seen as democratic.

      But Mitali, Penny’s mom, an Indian woman, who calls The Mage sexist for no apparent reason, wants a traditional Watsford, keeping magic for the best students. She also thinks that they are better than Normals (111, 261, 401). In a way, Mitali is supporting the system that oppresses her. Raj thinks that Mitali and Penny are portrayed as a stereotypical Indian family, which makes the novel racist.

      Unfortunately, the death of The Mage, especially at the hands of Baz from an Old Family and Penny, Mitali’s daughter, implies that Mage’s democratic ways are wrong; they revert to the old traditional methods.

      One could argue, as Raj did, that the Mage represents extreme democracy, ie, he is an extremist that he must be destroy. After all, in the end, he wants to be the most powerful magician of all time.

    2. Magic as Commodity: Magic is often viewed as something to be conserved and not to “waste” (38, 78, 186, 187); it is also seen as something to be “eaten” and consumed (47). We didn’t appreciate this cultivation of materialism.
    3. Magic as Objectification: Simon is often objectified because of his magic; he’s “power” (67), a “vessel” (123), “element” (181), “nuclear” (181, 242),  “generator” (258). Simon even objectifies himself, calling himself a “current” (337), and “I am magic” (455). Ebb is also a “generator” (284). Baz is used as a “wand” (254). Penny’s dad is a “book of footnotes” (247). Like the message of magic as a commodity, this sends the wrong message.
    4. Magic as ozone layer: Magic leaves holes, unfortunately, this is not explored further in the book.
    5. Magic as finding the right words (107)
    6. Magic as texture: Different people’s magic feels differently. An interesting concept that isn’t explored in the novel.
    7. Magic as Religion (197): If magic is seen as a religion, it would explain why Agatha finds it so hard to walk away from the magic community; to become a Normal is to be outcast.

      The theme of outcast recurs in the book, not just gay people—a vampire and a demon—are outcasts. Ebb’s brother, who chooses to leave the world of living to become a vampire, is ostracized by the magic community, and by Baz, Simon, and Penny who need his help badly, bearing in mind that Baz himself is a vampire and that Ebb’s brother is very powerful. Even the outcasts can outcast others.

      Ebb’s death can also be read as her rejection of her power. Because she rejects her immense power, because she lacks the training, she dies at the hands of The Mage.

      Superficially, this book seems to be a message of inclusion, but at a deeper level, the prejudice of the book shows. If you don’t want to be in the magic/religious community, you will be outcast and we will never accept you back, regardless of the direst situation. If you don’t practice your magic/religion, you’ll be punished, and in Ebb’s case, her punishment is death.

 

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Food, Love, Queer, Race, Rainbow Rowell, Religion, UK, Young Adult

67th Discussion: Eyes Wide Open (2009, dir. Haim Tabakman)

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Kueh lapis, truffle chips, and beer – not very kosher.

You can watch the entire movie here:

eyes wide openSeveral of us found part of the movie melodramatic; the stationary, long takes slow; and homosexual relationship is depicted as physical lust, sinful and destructive to everyday life, not emotionally connected. Daniel also noted that despite the story being set in an orthodox Jewish community, the plot is cliché: a boy comes into a man’s family, destroys his way of living, and eventually they break up.

Themes
1. Religion/Sin: In a rather sadist scene where the Rabbi interprets abstinence as sinful, that we should give into our impulses, but Reb Aaron argues that restraint is a challenge god gives us to feel closer to him, Vishakah cleverly called on the catch-22 situation: there is no way you cannot not be a sinner.

 
a. Violence as fanaticism: The patriarch Rabbi stops the gay bashing of what might have been construed as violence, bordering on fantaticism.

 
b. Homosexuality and Judaism: Reb Aaron claims that being with Ezri brings him closer to god, making him more alive than he has ever felt. In one sense, homosexuality isn’t incompatible with Judaism because the more alive an individual feels, the closer she or he is to god.

 
2. Food: Daniel brought up using food as a form of communication. Raj pointed out that, within the limited power a woman has in the orthodox Jewish community, the Wife uses food to punish the Reb Aaron.

 
3. Water: extensive use of water as motif: spring, rain, burst pipe, etc. Dominic hawk-eyedly observed that the parallels and differences in the two scenes of Reb Aaron at the spring: on the second time, Reb Aaron has changed and comes to accept himself as depicted by his nudity.

 
4. Love: Victoria expounded that the type of love Reb Aaron has has his self-interest at heart.

 
5. Gender: Although the interaction of men with women is minimal, and although, as Vishakah pointed out that women have little rights within the community, Raj argued that even within the limited rights, the Wife is a powerful figure, in charge of the household and when they should have sex. The scene where she holds him like in a pieta demonstrates her power. Even her wig, as part of the mise en scene, allows her space to portray her progressiveness and femininity.

Style:
1. Camera Angles: Vishakah noted the camera acts like we are spying into someone’s world, waiting for something to happen (on that note, read D. A. Miller’s “Anal Rope,” about the camerawork in Hitchcock’s Rope acting as survelliance.).

 
2. Music: Victoria observed that both pauses and music create tension and discomfort, especially the music that is eerie at times, almost like a horror movie.

 
In the end, Dominic drew parallels between the movie and the newly liberated gay men he knows. Victoria and Timmy lauded the realistic and intimate depiction of an orthodox Jewish community. Aaron thought while the ending appears conservative—husband goes back to wife, gay man expelled from community—the movie is in fact subversive, telling the viewers that orthodoxy has but one heteronormative way of life, and doesn’t allow expression of selfhood. You feel for the characters: Sara who marries a man she doesn’t love, the Wife who is stuck in a passionless marriage, Ezri and Reb Aaron who couldn’t feel alive more. Living a life like that is wasted, the film advocates. In this way, the director is very smart, getting funding from Israeli government, and getting away with a subversive message

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Filed under Family, Food, Gay, Israel, Love, Religion

66th Discussion: Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching

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Instead of chalk, plastic and dirt, Raj graciously provided cheese, nuts, and charcuterie. Thanks!

As for flaws, Raj felt that there wasn’t character development for some of the auxiliary figures. Daniel disliked the self-centeredness of Miranda. And Brian couldn’t get into the book until the second half where male characters are eliminated from the narrative. The novel, he noted, could be funnier. Aaron argued that Oyeyemi is trapped in a bind: she wants to write on women oppression but it is almost impossible to write “pure” feminist texts, like Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper,” that claim patriarchy drives women mad since the 21st century isn’t a patriarchal system anymore for UK where the book is set. In the end, Aaron claimed that there is no message in the novel, a beautiful nothing.

6277227-1Although this was a fruitful discussion, we couldn’t phantom (PUN!) several things, such as the metaphorical possibilities of the house, the ghosts, the eating disorder, soucouyant, and goodlady; the use of different narrators; the style of using one word to connect the passages.

But Brian suggested that pica, domesticity of women, and circularity of narratives stem from the inescapability of structural patriarchy. Raj added that perhaps stopping reproduction is to stop the cycle of oppression of women.

Brian alerted us about the title and house as an allegory of British immigration laws, keeping black people out.

Strong woman characters are always a favorite: Raj liked Sade, a strong black independent oracle woman, while Brian, Ore, a well-rounded character with surprises. Daniel observed that the strong female characters are blacks.

We ended with nice words for the book: it makes a good movie (Raj); the kissing scene is well-written (Brian); pica is a fascinating topic (Daniel); and it is poetic (Aaron.)

 

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Filed under Family, Food, Helen Oyeyemi, Lesbian, Love, Race, Religion, UK

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