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
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
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Ivan, Timmy
The biggest complain we had about the book was the way it was written: Dominic felt it was unlike the “Japanese style of writing”, comparing Mishima to Murakami. Raj thought the book was draggy, describing “mundane things in mundane ways.” Alexius did not like the ending and was left disappointed by the book. Timmy found it uninteresting as a whole.
For this discussion, we forewent our usual style and went through the book chapter by chapter.
Chapter One – which we deemed “Resurrection” because of an experience the narrator went through when he was four.
We started doubting the narrator’s credibility from the start of the book. Timmy thought it was all “fluff and bluff,” while Dominic opined that the book seemed like a semi-autobiography of the writer… a romanticized version of himself as the narrator.
Timmy was amazed by how well-read the narrator was, even questioning his accessibility to such literature at that age. Raj added on his penchant for changing the (fairy) tales that he read, which added (and accentuated) his morbid nature from that age onwards.
Donning the mask
According to Timmy, the turning point was when he started playing dress-up as Tenkatsu. This went on as he started being masculine in front of his cousins.
Obsession with death
“Maybe he finds life hopeless?” Alexius joked.
Joan of Arc
Raj noted the narrator’s disgust of Joan after finding out that the martyr was a she, declaring that incident as the “first disappointment of his life.” (Joan of Arc was Raj’s favourite of the book)
Chapter Two – “Boys with Toys,” because:
The matter of the narrator referring his penis as “the toy” was brought up. Timmy quipped that the narrator thought his penis had a mind of its own; Raj observed that he was very detached to his member despite being an adolescent in this chapter. Alexius offered that perhaps he was ashamed of his homosexuality.
From St. Joan to St. Sebastian
Raj made mention of the narrator moving on from one historical figure to another, noting his preference for “virile, lean (guys) with muscles and wearing very little,” adding that St. Sebastian may have been the narrator’s role model at that point of time. According to Timmy, this may also be a continuation of the narrator’s sexual awakening. (St. Sebastian was Dominic’s pick as favourite.)
Was he gay? Raj and Timmy said no, while Alexius said yes. (Both Alexius and Timmy picked Omi as their favourites.)
Delusions of grandeur, S&M, and armpits were also discussed during this chapter. Overall, we felt that this chapter did not make a lot of sense – just like an adolescent’s mind, according to Timmy – and contained “too much fantasizing,” according to Raj.
Chapter Three – for which we termed “Regressed Suppression” as the narrator did not face any pressures from external forces, only internal conflicts.
Raj found this chapter “bizarre,” which probably had to do with the myriad sub-topics we touched on but barely managed to delve deeper into:
Chapter Four – “The Beginning of the End”
A continuation from the previous chapter, where the narrator was labelled “the last virgin alive” by Raj and his desperation to have sex (“everybody’s doing [and done] it, so I should too.” – Timmy) despite ending up not doing it. We didn’t get the chance to discuss more about Sonoko and their relationship.
“So when did the mask come off?” asked Raj.
“It didn’t,” Timmy replied.
And that concluded our discussion, followed by an apology from Alexius who regretted recommending the book as well as did not find it as appealing upon second reading.
Thanks, Javin, for organizing this!
In general, we liked the coming-of-age film, portraying Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Lucien Carr. But Dominic and Aaron questioned the uneven style of the film: Dominic blamed the unevenness on the lighting, switching between a TV style and film, while Aaron thought the style was too “instagram-like,” with random, meaningless tilt-shift. Sharad said the film was fictionalized. Daniel found that the narrative wasn’t strong and was random. Like Daniel, Javin found the film was character-driven and could be more interesting if we were given perspectives from other characters. Javin also wanted a detailed explanation of the murder.
1. Desire: Daniel and Dominic noted what Eve Sedgwick called the “triangulation of desire,” in which the desires between two men were mediated by a woman, such as the blowjob in the library, and Jack Kerouac’s wife.
1b. Sexuality: Dominic noted the importance of sexuality in the Beat poets’ works. Daniel asked who the gay characters are. Perhaps they were all gay, bi, or straight. They seemed experimental, as like their works to break the mould, to kill the darlings of their literary ancestors.
2. Homophobia? While we thought the characters were portrayed negatively, they were also portrayed honestly, and in this sense, there was no homophobia. But the montage depicting the pit-bottom of the characters–Ginsberg’s anal sex with random stranger, Carr’s murder of David, Burroughs’ abuse of substance, and death of Kerouac’s friend–linked anal sex with other negative acts. “Is this scene homophobic?” Aaron asked. There were no easy answers, but Daniel noted that Ginsberg picked up a stranger who looked like Carr. Sharad observed that all four scenes involved penetration of some kind, and Dominic expanded, saying the penetration, the act of breaking skin represented breaking boundaries.
3. Failure: Daniel argued that the film suggested that to fail a person was to allow space for growth. Such as Ginsberg’ dad failing the mother, allowing her to grow; Ginsberg failing Carr, allowing his growth. Failure was neither positive nor negative.
4. Suicide. Perhaps linked with the theme of failure. The cat in oven was a reminder of Lucien’s failed attempted suicide to gas himself.
1. Lucien Carr: A fascinating character whose talent, Dominic said, laid in his manipulation. Because Carr had no literary talent. Sharad noted that Carr was complex because he manipulated others but needed them, couldn’t give them up. Daniel found that Lucien Carr was portrayed as a typical closet case that couldn’t come to terms with his sexuality. Whether Carr had loved Ginsberg or not was implied but not explicit.
1. Lucien Drowning David: A haunting and beautiful scene that suggested baptism and pieta.
2. David & Ginsberg: David was what Ginsberg might have become if he didn’t let Carr go. They were foils of each other.
Overall, there are many reasons to love this film. Javin had his favorite intense scenes. Daniel liked that the film gave an insight of homosexuality at that time. The film motivated Sharad and Dominic to read the Beat poets. Aaron thought it was a very tight, well-constructed film, very likable, toeing the line between commercial success and art.
Poor Raj! He set such a beautiful table, and no one came for the book club. Aaron had emailed Raj a list of questions beforehand to moderate the discussion, but since no one came, Raj decided to answer them.
Questions for Teahouse Fire:
Ichi-go ichi-e is linked with Zen Buddhism and concepts of transience, particularly depicted during the tea ceremony conducted in the style of famed tea master Sen no Rikyu where unique scrolls, tea bowls and flowers are set up in the tea room. In the context of tea ceremony, ichi-go ichi-e reminds participants that each tea meeting is unique. This is also true that there is has been no repetition of the set up for the varios tea ceremonies in the book. In each of the tea ceremony, the host and guest had one unique experience that lead to friendship or disaster
In a deeper sense, it is about Aurelia meeting Yukako in the teahouse that night of the fire – it is that one moment, one meeting that changed the courses of their lives. Towards the end, in the same tearoom, Aurelia kissed Yukako and again changed the course of their lives.
Mary vs Goddess of Mercy.
The status of fallen women is the same – Aurelia’s mom and Kenji’s girlfriend Aki – outcast.
Role of wife
Social order – Samurai, Traders and the untouchable working class
She prayed for her life to change and she rather not have the uncle with her – shown by her praying to change her life before the goddess and also her uncle only showed up in nightmares later in her life as Urako. Also, she never bothered to find if her uncle survived the fire at all.
I believe that she doesn’t know her father’s name and that name “Bernard” was given by her uncle. Hints that her mom could have been raped by a priest was suggested by both Aurelia and her mom when she said, “Aurelia Bernard. Who is this Bernard, tell me? The Church hates truth, and the nuns hate it most of all.”
She wanted someone who desire Yukako to desire her as well. Also she believes Yukako desires Nao instead of her and she wants to punish her.
Symbolism and subtle messages are very much a cultured Japanese behaviour – the book is full of hidden messages just like Urako’s closeted sexuality – classic example of her dress handing in the alcove.
Yukako’s marketing of the tea sets made them more of a commercial item rather than “ichigo ichie”- “one moment, one meeting”.
Yukako’s way of atoning for her mistake – she will never be able to host another tea ceremony in Baishian again – again on the theme of Ichigo Ichie.
You need fire and water to make tea – its sweet irony. Also Aurelia had a fire after a long journey over sea into Japan and after another fire she sails away from Japan.
Yukako did it for other reasons rather than the fact that she is a half sister. Yukako , according to the book, has been key reason for women to learn tea. She also introduced this to the Geisha world through Koito. But whether she has a right – it all depends on who’s perspective you want to look from.
Yukako’s acceptance of the western influence into their lives. Also Urako is her first student.
Maybe her real father had blond hair??
Author wants to show the historic importance of Singapore as a port as well of the fact that Japan owned Singapore at one time.
Its common in those days – people don’t get out of their circle and houses too much
Fantasy – Fetish – every man wants a virtuous wife who is a whore in bed!
Yukako – Tai – positive
Tai – Tsuko – positive
There is a lot of brotherly love and jealousy by Nao to Hiro and Akio. Hierarchy in the teahouse is one the reason for this and class status.
Didn’t help when he married an untouchable gal !!
Different sort of love – Yukako is a sort of motherly-sisterly love – whereas Inko was more of her equal. Inko loves Urako more that Urako loves her while Urako love Yukako more than Yukako love her.
Really? Why??? There is too many female characters in this book!!!!
There was no real great male characters , but at the same time there is no real male bashing. There are more mean gals depicted in this book than lame men. This book centres on women rather than men.
Attendees: Dominic, Faizal, Hisham, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy
This 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).
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.
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.”
A great attendance: Suffian, Timmy, Har, Sam, Lydia, Gabriel and Aaron.
Our initial reactions to the book:
Timmy and Sam found it long-winded, beating around the bush, although Suffian and Aaron defended the winding style to mirror the plot of returning to Catholicism. Strangely, Har felt the opposite of Timmy and Sam, calling the novel the Twilight of its time.
Suffian pointed out the autobiographical nature of the book while Gabriel lamented on the practicality of book sales.
1. Catholicism: Lydia questioned if the book is pro-religion since everyone suffers under it, but Aaron cited the positive ending as pro-religion. We talked about the significance of the name Brideshead and linked it to John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” which is often analyzed as the narrator being a bride of God. “God’s Bride” can also be the Church itself. Whichever the case, it is clear that Brideshead is a symbol of Catholicism, and eventually, the occupants return to the house, ie, Catholicism.
Everyone was bored by religious talk–Gabriel said “religion” is a word so often used it loses its meaning–so we moved on.
2. Men Desiring Men: Gabriel cautioned us on ahistoricity and said that the characters cannot be considered “gay” as it is a neologism. The characters should be known as men-desiring-men. And all men who desire men in the novel have to suppress their desires or face dire consequences. Lydia and Tim brought up the child-like nature of Sebastian, whose teddy bear is both a longing for his sexless childhood and a chastity ring for his budding desire for men. Suffian noted that the sexlessness in the novel paralleled Waugh’s own life when he was in the Oxford’s “Hypocrites”.
We also talked about Catholic guilt being sublimated in various ways, such as alcoholism, and post-coital cigarettes: you use one sin to substitute the other.
Besides Sebastian, Lord Marchmain‘s desire causes him to be a pariah among his children and people; Anthony Blanche is portrayed negatively as a “queeny gay” (Timmy’s words); and, Aaron argued, even Charles has to transfer his love for Sebastian onto Julia, settling for a substitute.
1. Timmy’s favorite character is Cara for her insightfulness and willingness to accept Lord Marchmain for who he is. Timmy cited extensively on Cara’s thoughts on homosexual love:
“It is a kind of love that comes to children before they its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that. It is better to have that kind of love for another boy than for a girl… When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating. Alex is hating all the illusions of boyhood–innocence, God, hope.” (pp. 102-3)
2. We all had a soft spot for Sebastian whose struggles gay people can identify with. Timmy thought Alexius is rather like Sebastian.
3. Lydia read against the grain, liking Anthony Blanche, who dares to live his life, but Timmy hated the one-dimensional depiction. Lydia both despised and empathized with the Julia-Charles relationship.
4. Lady Marchmain is an enigmatic character, manipulative but, according to Lydia, this is how Lady M is brought up and how she shows her love.
5. Rex isn’t a complete being because, Lydia and Har claimed, that there is some form of xenophobia at work, and because Rex is nouveau riche, his pursuits are with money, not his life.
Both Gabriel and Suffian liked all characters, as Suffian reminded us that even though the characters are flawed, all of them are very realistic.
Sam and Har didn’t change their minds about the novel after the discussion. Aaron said there are some hilarious parts in the books (Charles and his father; and the dinner scene onboard with Julia). Timmy and Aaron felt the book was beautifully written. This is Aaron’s favorite passage when Charles’s cousin chides him for hanging out with “Anglo-Catholics, who are all sodomites” and Charles defends himself:
“I like this bad set and I like getting drunk at luncheon”; that was enough then. Is more needed more?
Looking back, now, after twenty years, there is little I would have left undone or done otherwise… I could tell my cousin that all the wickedness of that time was like the spirit they mix with the pure grape of the Douro, heady stuff full of dark ingredients; it at once enriched and retarded the whole process of adolescence as the spirit checks the fermentation of the wine, renders it undrinkable, so that it must lie in the dark, year in, year out, until it is brought up at last fit for the table. (p. 45)
Aaron interpreted this paragraph as when one endures the years of pain and suffering, the pain and suffering will be useful one day. One day, all that darkness can be used as bursts of sunshine.
Lydia chimed, “So it basically means what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”
Attendees: Alexius, Amit, Har, Jiaqi, Luke, Raj, Timmy
The general consensus was that we did not like this book. Raj did not manage to finish the book (a first time for everything!) and felt that it was draggy, which Aaron and Alexius agreed. The latter also felt that the drama was outdated, with the scenes being too long and equated it as a “Hong Kong TVB drama.” Jiaqi felt that the book was a tough read, to which Har agreed, saying that it was not an immediate appreciation. Aaron further added that the storyline felt childish and amateurish.
THEMES AND CHARACTERS
Aaron brought up the quote by Aunt Nancy: “All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness.” Timmy philosophized that despite the war, humans are still capable to love, whereas Jiaqi thought the quote as just another quote. Aaron opined that it tied in with the theme of story – of love, humanity and tenderness. Raj equated Aldershot (taking the first letters) as a gay town.
We talked about Mr Mack, whom Raj thought of as an opportunist, leeching off the aunt. Both Har and Jiaqi shared a love-hate relationship with the character, not liking him because he was a control freak but subsequently liking him when he started showing sympathy and understanding towards Jim. Alexius viewed him as “a big strategist,” while Aaron thought of Mr Mack as a comical character.
In comparing Jim & Doyler’s relationship and Mr Mack & Doyler’s relationship, Alexius commented that “Jim was not his father” and thus, their relationships were dissimilar. The biggest difference between the two was that Jim and Doyler had sex with each other, while Mr Mack and Doyler’s maintained only friendly decorum. Aaron then asked whether was it better to be in first generation (Mr Mack & D’s father = friends) or the second generation (J & D = fucking), to which Raj answered the second gen, while Har felt the first gen had the better ending.
MacMurrough the schizophrenic was then discussed. Alexius viewed him as a lonely person who created the imaginary friend as his companion. Jiaqi disagreed, as he felt that MacMurrough could differentiate and instead perceived him as a conflicted character who struggled with being gay. Aaron brought up about the voices that disappeared in the second half of the book, which he observed as MacMurrough’s transformation from self-hatred to love, thanks to Jim. Har thought that the voices were akin to his subconscious.
Everyone had differing views of MacMurrough’s relationships with Jim and Doyler. Jiaqi reckoned that MacMurrough loved J and wanted him to be happy, while being physically attracted to D. Aaron viewed M and J’s relationship as one of pure love, while D has a lot of sex with him. At the other end of the spectrum, Har felt that the relationship with J was purely platonic, while it was romantic when he was with D.
Doyler’s rape was brought up as well as what happened that made MacMurrough feel that he was not in control. Timmy quipped that it was because D was a power bottom, while Jiaqi opined that M needed D more than vice-versa.
We also discussed at length MacMurrough’s encounters with his 10-year-old self.
Everyone gushed about the washerwoman, and her initial introduction in the book. Unanimously, everyone agreed that she symbolized Ireland – the motherland that nurtures you (Jiaqi) and someone who is associated with patriotism, land and nature (Aaron). Raj saw her as a simple country folk who enjoy the simple things in life.
Aaron then brought specific examples (the 300 Spartans, the Irish Oscar Wilde exchange, Jim’s internalization of the soldier’s speech as his love for Doyler) and suggested that the author was trying to associate Ireland with homosexuality, which drew a negative reaction from Jiaqi, who felt that it was more about identity as opposed to homosexuality, and zero responses from the rest.
The women characters were then brought up. Har saw Eva as a revolutionist; an independent and modern character who embodied the fighting spirit, though ultimately she was forgettable. Aaron felt that she was the weakest character and was written as a fag hag, while Alexius imagined her as a “menopausal butch who transformed into Mother Theresa” towards the end of the book. Jiaqi was favourable towards her, who thought that she was well portrayed and had a few funny moments. Raj thought of her as elite
As for Nancy, Jiaqi felt that she was only a minor character in the book, while Aaron saw her as a motherly figure who was nurturing towards everyone.
And none for Sawney.
When asked whether the book was reductive towards the other gender, Har succinctly described that the book was not a feminist book.
We talked about the ending and questioned whether it was a happy or sad one. Both Har and Alexius viewed it as a happy ending, because “they finally met in the end” (Har) and “(the book) finally ended” (Alexius). Jiaqi, however, thought it was a sad ending as the main characters died. Amit thought it was a predictable end, as “everyone knows there won’t be a happy ending” whereas Aaron felt that the ending was “appropriate.”
Raj liked Sawney, the insightful butch with a beard.
Alex picked Gordie, whom he viewed as not a minor character.
Jiaqi and Aaron had their JLo references, with the former’s favourite character being Doyler as he “felt like a real person” while the latter selected MacMurrough due to his struggles in defining himself.
Alexius thought there were no memorable scenes in the book, though he brought up the one of the priest molesting Jim.
Jiaqi, Raj and Aaron were unanimous in picking the realization that MacMurrough’s washerwoman was Doyler’s mother as their favourite scene(s), with Raj describing it as funny and one that is of “self-irony.”
In rounding up the discussion, we went around asking for something positive of the book. Raj promised to finish reading it, even though the pdf version gave him headaches. Amit thought it was romantic of the author to continue working on the book to 600+ pages, as opposed to taking the quick way out and cut it short. Jiaqi thought it was a good book and themes were very well done. Har, probably the only fanboy of the book, said that it was touching and “made him cry a lot.” He also commented that the writing technique was “very Irish and filled with proses.”
Alex commented that given the size of the book, one can use it to train the bicep. He further added that the author’s sleeve photo portrayed him accurately (read: a psychopath). Timmy added on to Alex’s quip by joking that the book can also be used as paperweight and/or killer litter.