Category Archives: Gore Vidal

Alexius’s Top 5 GLBTQ Books

Alexius

Alexius has been a longtime member of the book club and brings much joy to us, coining the phrase “This book is not MRT-friendly” and “the fried chicken theory.” His unique perspective on novels often tickles us and sheds new light. He blogs at Alexius Locker, with the subtitle “Never Think Too Literally”– or, in the case of our book club, never think too literarily.

1. The City and the Pillar (Gore Vidal)

This is the first homosexual book I read when I was about 14-15. The plot follows an idealized handsome youth, his journey around the gay circles and his life till the mid-twenties. He is not dead after that, but it got way depressing; something of which a quick and clean death would probably do some good to the ending. Although the closing is a little too abrupt and disappointing (”why the pillow got watery instead of somewhere else?”), nevertheless Jim Willard achieved his sexual endeavour from coast to coast, crossing between age groups to even different sexual orientations (Bob Ford). Gore Vidal must have a good time fantasizing when writing this novel. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting holiday read for me. [See our book club discussion on the novel.]

DG-10pvb522. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

Yet another book that contains a protagonist with sex appeal. It says a lot that good appearance bring many willing helpers, but can it bring everlasting happiness?

In Wilde’s novel, you can’t. Dorian Gray’s infectious pathological narcissism – a gulling need to consistently maintain his reputation and appearance – ultimately led to his demise, a topic seemingly relevant to today’s camwhoring society.

The unctuous writing style, coupled with random droppings of some philosophical sounding phrases every third line just make you feel more intelligent, even if you didn’t know what were the characters talking most of the time.

3. Confessions of a Mask (Yukio Mishima)

Although the paragraphing is quite cumbersome in modern standard, Yukio Mishima never fails to deliver a good read. Whether is it the sea trilogy or other of his works, you could just expect the sea waves, medical examinations, saltiness and the four seasons.

imgthe_jungle_book44. The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling)

Who could not help but like Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear? Both wild creatures acting as some sort of nanny and tutor to the wolf-boy Mowgli. When Mowgli is in danger, which in this book is more often than not, Bagheera and Baloo would risk their lives in order to whisk him away from danger.

5. Book of Han, chapter on Passions of the Cut Sleeve (Ban Gu)

The historical narrative of Emperor Ai and his lover Dong Xian in 23rd BC is too hard to miss. There is one account whereby King Ai, upon seeing that his boyfriend is still sleeping, decided to cut off part of his own long sleeve (which is stuck on Dong’s back) in order not to disturb him from bed when the King rose to meet the court. I find this an interesting read, and it is a good theme for a LGBT story.

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Filed under Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Top 5, Yukio Mishima

40th Discussion: Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (18th Oct)

On Alexius’s recommendation, we read the book, a source of escape for Alexius. Javin and Glenn started the book club by saying that Vidal set out to debunk stereotypes–ie gay=effeminate–but he ended up reinforcing them, creating a hierarchy among gay people. Sean, on the other hand, argued that perhaps Vidal’s purpose is just to observe and tell the truth, nothing more.

To investigate the motive of writing the book, we read, “we have all stolen pears; the mystery is why so few of us rate halos” (1). Sean and Raj claimed that “stolen pears” is a metaphor for sinning, which is in turn linked to homosexuality.

From the motive, from the top, we move to the ending, to the bottom. Rape of Bob is more powerful than the original ending of killing of Bob but we deviated and never quite mentioned why rape is more powerful. Ernest saw the ending as a cautionary tale of Paradise Lost: characters in the novel use people, not love people; they objectify people. There is a utopia that they could work towards but they don’t. Javin said up to before the rape, Jim is an ok character but the rape makes Jim unsympathetic. Ernest saw the rape as a birthing process of Jim entering another phase of his life.

After the rape, the last image of the moving river is poignant. Alexius saw the structure of the book as a sex act, culminating the rape as climax, and the moving river as regrets of sex. Glenn mentioned that if Jim becomes friends with Bob, the river image would represent a new phase, a happy ending. But the rape destroys all hope. Sean linked the river image at the end to the beginning of the novel where Bon and Jim meet at the river, symbolizing a kind of journey.

Aaron asked if the hetero sex acts display heterophobia as the hetero-sex acts are described in revolting terms whereas the homo-sex acts are more clinical and noticeably less obscene. No one agreed with Aaron.

One ways to debunk stereotypes of homosexuality is to present different sides of homosexuality but to this end, Vidal doesn’t seem to be successful. For instance, Ronald Shaw’s and Jim’s homosexuality seem to stem from a Freudian theory of absent father-overly loving mother; Sullivan’s and the literati’s notion is that homosexuals are smart, sensitive, handsome and narcissistic (another stereotype).

Regarding the incident where Jim fails to seduce Ken but the effeminate sergeant Kervinski succeeds, Aaron called on the bullshit of Vidal but Sean came to Vidal’s defense: since Jim is shaped by his experiences in Hollywood, that looks come first, it is little wonder why Jim would fail to see that love can exist between Ken-Kervinski.

Raj asked about the significance of the title. Alexius assumed that the city means the city of men and the pillar is the cock that the men want to mount. Sean said that if we apply the parable of not looking backwards, always looking forward, then the novel acts as a cautionary tale for all of us: Jim should have never looked back to Bob; he would have been much happier trying to make his relationships work.

No one has any particular strong liking for any characters because the characters are all hateful and unloveable. Aaron said that the negativity exuding from the book shows what sort of person Vidal was. If made to choose, Raj liked Mrs Willard because she’s a long-suffering wife; Alexius liked Jim because he has the courage to rape while Sean sympathized with Jim but empathized with Sullivan.

At the end of the discussion, the group was split into two camps. Those in favor of the book said that it is a cautionary tale (Ernest); that Jim is relatable because he is handsome (Alexius); and the fact that the novel arouses strong emotions means it is successful (Sean). Those who dislike the book say that it has no value-added (Raj); strengthens gay stereotype especially the stereotype that you’re unlovable as you grow older (Glenn); the novel has not enough sex and is not 50 Shades of Gay (Javin) and there is no compassion and kindness in the book, showing Vidal as a vile person (Aaron.)

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