Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond” edited by Mikko Tuhkanen— The Importance of Bersani

queer theory and beyond

Tuhkanen, Mikko (editor). “Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond”, SUNY Press, 2014.

The Importance of Bersani

Amos Lassen

Leo Bersani has been one of the major voices in literary criticism and theory for more than fifty years. He has challenged scholars in the fields of cultural studies, queer theory, psychoanalysis, and film and visual studies. This is the first book-length collection of writings about him and in the introduction we get a look at Bersani’s place in queer thought as well as a look at his complicated relationships with the fields of queer theory and psychoanalysis. Essays by scholars in the various fields show us how rich his work has been and we even the transcription of a new interview with him.

Bersani writes beautifully and he is provocative. The essays in the book give us important and unsettling insights into one of our thinkers who knows no fear. Below is the Table of Contents:

 Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

 Introduction

Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond, Mikko Tuhkanen

 Part I: Queer

 

  1. Bersani on Location, Heather Love

 

  1. Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption,  David Kurnick

 

  1. Queer Betrayals,  Jack Halbstam

 

Part II: Psychoanalytic

 

  1. Cinema a tergo: Shooting in Elephant, Ellis Hanson

 

  1. Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan, James Penney

 

  1. Addressing Oneself: Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation,  Patrick French

 

  1. Monadological Psychoanalysis: Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett,  Mikko Tuhkanen

 

Part III: Aesthetic

 

  1. Is the Rectangle a Grave?, Michael D. Snediker

 

  1. Proust, Shattering: Aesthetic Subjects and Metonymies of Desire
  2. L. McCallum

 

  1. A Future for Henry James, David McWhirter

 

  1. Extreme Style: Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions,  Kevin Ohi

 

Part IV: Interview

 

  1. Rigorously Speculating: An Interview with Leo Bersani, Mikko Tuhkanen

 Contributors

Index

“James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination” by Matt Brim— Looking at the Queer Baldwin

james bladwin

Brim, Matt. “James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination”; University of Michigan Press, 2014.

Looking at the Queer Baldwin

Amos Lassen

The single most important and central figure in black gay literary history is James Baldwin and he has become a familiar touchstone for queer scholarship in the academy. Matt Brim in this new study, examines both the contributions of queer theory and black queer studies to critically engage with and complicate the project of queering Baldwin and his work. Brim maintains that Baldwin “animates and, in contrast, disrupts both the black gay literary tradition and the queer theoretical enterprise that have claimed him.” Even when Baldwin’s fiction brilliantly succeeds in imagining queer intersections of race and sexuality, at the same time it shows striking queer failures, whether exploiting gay love or dealing with black lesbian desire. Brim therefore sees that Baldwin’s work “is deeply marked by ruptures of the “unqueer” into transcendent queer thought—and that readers must sustain rather than override this paradoxical dynamic within acts of queer imagination.”

Brim puts Baldwin at the center of his generation and in doing so upsets Baldwin’s place in both literary history and queer studies in very disturbing ways. ” He is a significant mid-twentieth century author who occupies a unique place in both of the literary traditions.

“Porn Archives” edited by Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky and David Squires— The Archive as Preserving a Distinct Genre

porn archives

Dean, Tim, Steven Ruszczycky and David Squires (editors). “Porn Archives”, Duke University Press Books, 2014.

The Archive as Preserving a Distinct Genre

Amos Lassen

Pornography is nothing new—sexually explicit writing and art have been around for millennia, pornography but looking at it as an aesthetic, moral, and juridical category is a modern invention. The contributors to “Porn Archives” look at how the production and proliferation of pornography has been alongside of “the emergence of the archive as a conceptual and physical site for preserving, cataloguing, and transmitting documents and artifacts. By segregating and regulating access to sexually explicit material, archives have helped constitute pornography as a distinct genre. As a result, porn has become a site for the production of knowledge, as well as the production of pleasure.”

 The essays in this collection deal with the historically and culturally varied interactions between porn and the archive. Topics range from library policies governing access to sexually explicit material to the growing digital archive of “war porn,” or eroticized combat imagery; and from same-sex amputee porn to gay black comic book superhero porn. Taken as a whole, “the pieces trace pornography as it crosses borders, transforms technologies, consolidates sexual identities, and challenges notions of what counts as legitimate forms of knowledge.” The collection concludes with a valuable resource for scholars: a list of pornography archives held by institutions around the world.

 Here is a list of contributors to the book: Jennifer Burns Bright, Eugenie Brinkema, Joseph Bristow, Robert Caserio, Ronan Crowley, Tim Dean, Robert Dewhurst, Lisa Downing, Frances Ferguson, Loren Glass, Harri Kahla, Marcia Klotz, Prabha Manuratne, Mireille Miller-Young, Nguyen Tan Hoang, John Paul Ricco, Steven Ruszczycky, Melissa Schindler, Darieck Scott, Caitlin Shanley, Ramon Soto-Crespo, David Squires, Linda Williams.

With its publication, this book will be the place to go for research on porn. It is important to emphasize that is a scholarly study and it has been written for important study and research. “It is an important book, notable for its compelling argument, stellar roster of contributors, intellectual heft, and broad theoretical scope. It is the most exacting and exciting statement about porn studies to date.”

Many see porn is private, ephemeral, and stigmatized, yet the archive makes permanent and publicly accessible officially approved records. But, as the contributors to this volume persuasively demonstrate, pornography, since the discovery of Pompeii, is archival. It has been sequestered and preserved and considered to be ‘archival dirt.’ After reading this, porn will never be looked at in the same way. “The many brilliant essays collected here, written by distinguished scholars from many disciplines that film, literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, law will quickly be recognized as constituting an indispensable text in cultural history and theory.”

“In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight” by Lisa Tillman— Being an Ally

in solidarity

Tillman, Lisa. “In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight”, Routledge ,2015 .

Being an Ally

Amos Lassen

“In Solidarity: Friendship, Family, and Activism Beyond Gay and Straight” we see what being an ally in this case to LGBTQ+ persons and communities requires, means, and does. This is shown to us in various ways— through prose, poetry, performance text, and film. As we read we are taken inside relationships across sexual orientation and see activist scholarship. The book makes a unique and compelling contribution to courses on LGBTQ+ studies, sexualities, gender, identity, relationships, or the family.

The book in, in fact, a call to be an ally in the struggle that the LGBT community faces with regard to racial, class, national, religious, “ableist”, gender and queer equality. It is a valuable resource for teachers, students, and activists in Communication, LGBTQ+ , Gender, and Women’s Studies, Cultural Studies and embodies the personal, relational, and political commitment to social justice that it seeks to inspire in us all.

We get explanations of qualitative methods such as autoethnography, interviewing, and participant observation. We are provided with compelling examples of each as well as cutting edge looks at poetry, friendship as method, and collaborative and activist scholarship. Qualitative research comes alive as we are taken into the author’s life and scholarship.

Tillmann’s focus is on the personal, familial, and cultural injustices that many LGBQ persons encounter in everyday life. Tillmann invites readers into the lives of actual families, friends, and romantic partners living the personal and political challenges of relationships spanning sexual orientations. She serves “a narrator, poet, character and fellow traveler, a vulnerable target of others’ responses, a partner, friend, diligent questioner, and always a reflective guide”. We see what it means to be a compassionate researcher and a cultural critic, and to maintain a solid and unwavering commitment to the struggle for social justice for LGBT people.

Below is a copy of the table of contents:

Part I: Going Home: Gay Men’s Identities, Families, and Communities

1: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Coming Out in an Alcoholic Family

2: Father’s Blessing: Ethnographic Drama, Poetry, and Prose

3: Passings

4: Revisiting Don/ovan

Part II: Loving Friends, Just Friends: Emotions, Ethics, and Politics of Ally-LGBTQ+ Relationships

5: Remembering a Cool September: Pain, Prejudice, and Patriotism

6: State of Unions: Politics and Poetics of Performance

7: Deadline: Ethics and the Ethnographic Divorce

8: Build a Bridge Out of Her

9: Wedding Album: An Anti-Heterosexist Performance Text

10: In Solidarity: Collaborations in LGBTQ+ Activism, co-authored with Kathryn L. Norsworthy

“As Kinky as You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane and Smart BDSM” by Shanna Germain— Kinky and Fun

as kinky as you wanna be

Germain, Shanna. “As Kinky as You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane and Smart BDSM”, Cleis Press, 2014.

Kinky and Fun

Amos Lassen

In “As Kinky as You Wanna Be” Shanna Germain does not teach us how to tie up our lovers. What she does is teach us how to become kinky and at the same time to enjoy safe and sane sexual experiences (that we have all thought about but usually never try). She gives us a quick tour of the various sexual activities that comprise BDSM and as we read we learn how to be kinky in the bedroom. We learn of tips and techniques about BDSM as we read.

The book contains interviews with experts in BDSM and there are stories throughout from writers of erotica. Unlike other self-help books this is more of a guide of safe and sane activities. We learn how to “discover new pleasures, talk about kink with our partner, and/or doctor, stay physically and mentally safe, handle the rough terrain of fears and concerns, and put kinky dreams into practice”.  Having the book is akin to having a mentor who is both a confidant and an expert.

One of the ways that makes this book so interesting and fun to read is the way that are stories are used to illustrate activities. The topics of bondage, submission, dominance, pain and pleasure are just a bit of what you will find here and it is really all you need to get started on new sexual adventures.

“Grace and Demion: A Fable for Victims of Biblical Intolerance” by Mel White— God Loves Us

grace and demon

White, Mel. “Grace and Demion: A Fable for Victims of Biblical Intolerance”, Lethe Press, 2014.

God Loves Us

Amos Lassen

So many of my Christian friends have told me horror stories about how they were raised in semi-religious homes by folks who misused the concepts of heaven and hell to scare them into believing that God will only love them if they are straight. Ideas like this get my blood pressure going because I came from a religious home (Jewish) where I was accepted and my parents never tried to scare me with religion.

In this book author Mel White is equally determined to use heaven and hell with the characters Grace and Demion to show the world that God loves people exactly as they are. He gives us a modern parable that reinforces love and self-esteem.

White is a LGBT activist, a theologian and his own story is amazing. He is a brave man to tackle an idea like this but he, like so many others, want to make sure that we are safe. It is hard to read this book without weeping but it indeed does give us a connection to God, a God who loves us all. Mel White brings welcome news to many wounded Christians.

Author Toby Johnson tells us “Gay people are not given myths through traditional culture with which we can explain our experience to ourselves. We have to create our own myths. Stories like Mel White’s Grace and Demion (which I had the blessed opportunity to assist with editing) is a delightful and wise example of how to rearrange the old stories in order to create deeply meaningful, satisfying and revelatory personal myths.”

This is a book that touches the heart in a wonderful way and to those that are struggling with this, it gives a sense of hope. “Every mother, father and gay person would be thoroughly blessed by reading this. It is worth it at any price and should be in every home”.

White gives us an important message via fable to both those who have been harmed by spiritual violence and those who may have been responsible for doing so.

 

A Personal Note: Some of you have remarked that I have not been reviewing books from Lethe Press and that is true, I have not. The reason is simple. I asked the owner of the press just to let me know that he had received copies of my reviews and I asked several times. When I was ignored, I sent him a letter saying that if that was the case, I would no longer be reviewing books by Lethe. His response was curt and short with them telling me that I wanted was to be thanked. At that point he unfriended me on Facebook and I did not hear from him again. Lethe was one of the first presses that I worked with when I began reviewing and I actually thought that the owner was a friend. I backed in many arguments that he was involved in and I reviewed almost every book in Lethe’s catalog. I have never once asked to be thanked—I do what I do out of love for our literature. I will not be maligned and I will not stay quiet. It has already been two years and I have friends who write for Lethe and I will not deprive them of my writing a review of their work.

“I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” by Julia Mendenhall— A Videotaped Confession

ive heard the mermaids

Mendenhall, Julia. “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing”, (A Queer Film Classic), Arsenal Pulp, 2014.

A Videotaped Confession

Amos Lassen

Patricia Rozema’s “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” became an instant LGBT classic film. It had its premiere at Cannes and won its Prix de la jeunesse. It was presented as a “videotaped confession that tells the story of Polly Vandersma, an unpretentious and introverted young woman who takes photographs as a hobby and works as a personal assistant to an elegant and sophisticated, but unsatisfied, art gallery director, Gabrielle St. Peres, whom she worships and adores. Author Julia Mendenhall presents a new close textual analysis of Mermaids that places this complex yet teachable film unquestionably within the global queer film canon while uncovering many of its complexities. The film has appeared on the Maclean’s “Top 10 Films of the 20th Century” and Toronto International Film Festival’s Best 10 Canadian Films of All Time.

Julia Mendenhall, a longtime fan of the film, places it in the context of the director’s life experiences and her filmic oeuvre, the production and reception history of the film within the mid to late 1980s and the 1990s era of “outing,” and the development of queer theory.

QUEER FILM CLASSICS is a critically acclaimed book series that launched in 2009, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays, covering some of the most important and influential films about and/or by LBTQ people made between 1950 and 2005, and written by leading LGBTQ film scholars and critics.

“L.A. Plays Itself/Boys in the Sand” by Cindy Patton— Two Groundbreaking Gay Films

la plays itself

Patton, Cindy. “L.A. Plays Itself/Boys in the Sand”, (A Queer Film Classic), Arsenal Pulp, 2014.

Two Groundbreaking Gay Films

Amos Lassen

 “L.A. Plays Itself” and “Boys in the Sand” are two groundbreaking gay films from the early 1970s, both of which exemplify the growing liberalization of social attitudes toward sex and homosexuality in post-Stonewall America. They were both gay art house porn films released within months of each other at a theatre in New York in 1972. L.A. Plays Itself, directed by Fred Halsted, is a dark look at violence and urban squalor featuring hustlers and vagrants that shows the City of Angels’ dark side; Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand, meanwhile, is its sunny flipside, about a young man’s sexual adventures at a gay beach resort community. What makes them important is that both films represent particular, polarizing moments in the early history of the gay movement.

Author Cindy Patton discusses the historical context of these films and their legal and social ramifications, as well as other films that were produced during this crucial period in cinematic history. She tells the story of 1970s gay pornography on its own terms, arguing that the tendency to look back on these works as an archive of sex without condoms is to miss what is most interesting about them. There is something more than sex to be seen in the films (even though the sex looks very good). She sees both films as aesthetic experiments and as communiqués about changing sexual mores. She urges contemporary readers not to look back on the pre-AIDS era as a time when “sex was not risky” but rather as “that actual time when gay men defined for themselves what risk is and how it should be addressed.

The films actually provide the backdrop of gay sexual culture in the 70s. In the early 1970s when queers were really queer — when sex involved a wider range of acts and roles, homosexuals understood that being an outlaw might also mean being free, cruising was exciting and risk more pleasurable. It was a time when porn was experimental, hot and just bizarre. We can never return to how it once was but we can learn about it and this little book teaches us a good deal. We read of a time when sex was inventive.

Patton gives us her original analyses that are revelatory and counterintuitive and in doing so she rewrites the history of film and sex. Today if we want to see porn we can do so easily (even on our phones) and the turning point that allowed that to happen came when these two films were released.

They brought us a new form of gay erotic visibility that was influenced by gay liberation as we found our ways through a tough social and legal context. We’re reminded that the periodicals and porn of that era represent powerful ideas that have not been erased by the requirements of equality.

 QUEER FILM CLASSICS is a critically acclaimed book series that launched in 2009, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays, covering some of the most important and influential films about and/or by LBTQ people made between 1950 and 2005, and written by leading LGBTQ film scholars and critics.

“Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity” by John A. Weafer— Thirty-three Priests

thirty-three good men

Weafer, John A. “Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity”, Columba, 2014

Thirty-three Priests

Amos Lassen

John Weafer looks at the lives of thirty-three Irish Catholic diocesan priests and former priests during a period of significant change in the Irish Church and Irish society, 1960-2010. He focuses on the way Irish diocesan priests understand and experience celibacy and obedience in modern Ireland, and how they understand their evolving identity as priests. The book explores other related topics too, such as the current crisis in priesthood.

The one thing that all these men share in common is the fact that they are all men. Otherwise, this group is totally diverse regarding backgrounds, personalities, behaviors and attitudes. Most of the thirty-three are active priests in good standing with the church but there are those who have left the priesthood. Some of the priests we meet here are young but the majority are either middle-aged or elderly. Most are heterosexual; some are homosexual and most live celibate lives yet there are others who are sexually active. Most of the priests hold orthodox Catholic beliefs while others are liberal regarding some of the teachings of the church. Some are very enthusiastic about their career as priests yet there are those who have become disillusioned. What is interesting about the above facts is that we see the priesthood with the same varieties that we see modern society. We can also be fairly sure that those who deviate even an iota from the traditional Catholic way that we look at priests, do so in secret.

One of the facts we get here is that there is a strong gay scene among priests in the Irish Catholic Church. What the author learned about the priests’ views on sexuality came out of a series of interviews that he conducted. Weafer, himself was once a priest, is now married and a father. Weafer analyses priests’ views on sexuality based on a series of interviews that he conducted. Weafer, who is now married with children.

One of the men interviewed admits that it was only after he was ordained in the 1990s that he ended up having sex with another priest. It was then that he discovered a “strong clerical gay scene in Ireland.” He added that there are “quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood” and on one occasion he recognized at least nine priests when he visited a gay bar in Ireland.

According to Weafer, the church hierarchy in Ireland would not be shocked by such revelations because there is an awareness of what is going on. He claims that “as long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest” the church turns a blind eye. Yet the church is quick to condemn homosexuals who are not part of the church hierarchy. It is even more interesting that Pope Francis recently came under attack from conservative bishops following attempts to introduce language to Catholic doctrine that is more accepting of gay people.

It will also be interesting to see the results of Ireland’s coming referendum on same-sex marriage. Last year, Italian news outlets claimed to have uncovered a hook-up site for gay priests  and recently, Catholic bishops released a document explaining the church’s opposition to extending marriage rights to gay couples. Is there not hypocrisy here? There is still a great deal to learn about the Catholic Church and this book is just a beginning.

 

“Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family and Themselves” edited by Mitch Kellaway and Zander Keig— Female to Male

manning up

Kellaway, Mitch and Zander Keig (editors). “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family and Themselves”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Female to Male

Amos Lassen

“Manning Up” looks at twenty-seven men who transitioned from female to male who discuss their places and their roles as male members of a community be they fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, friends, and/or mentors. What we see here are thorough and sensitive explorations of manhood, masculinity, and male embodiment and even more than that is the great diversity of voices represented. The contributors offer an incredible range of cultural, class, ethnic, spiritual, and generational backgrounds on such topics as birthing and raising children, gay male sexuality, facing racism, and finding solace in deeply held religious beliefs. We have established writers represented as well as new voices that have something to say.

Many trans men search for answers to questions that have haunted them my entire life and until relatively late, there had been no role models who were ready to answer questions of this kind. In fact, as I write this I am trying to be very careful on how I say things so as not to offend anyone. That comes from the very fact that my nephew is a trans man.

I certainly see why this book has been so needed and so well received. It provides a sense of brotherhood with other trans men and we read of their transitions and what they have had to face, we begin to understand them better. I felt as if a window to a new world has been opened for me and I do not recall having learned so much at one time from one book before. That probably has something to do with the veil of secrecy around the trans community.

One reviewer that I read waxed ecstatic about what he found here and shared that he had been a trans man for eighteen years and that this book so many of his thoughts down in print. He further said that, “There have always been men like myself searching for ways to live their lives authentically, and that gives me courage to continue and “man up” to the challenges I will face ahead”. I have always considered myself to be something of a gay activist and I admit clearly that I have understood trans men less than any other group in the LGBT community and this may be surprising since I do have one in my family.

The concept of manning up was somewhat foreign to me (although I have heard gay men say that they need to “man up” but it seemed to be a negative to me. If one is born male, I see no reason why he cannot be who he is without having to “man up” to prove himself to others (and sometimes to himself). Does not “manning up” have something to do with men feeling they have to raise themselves above those who are not male? Is it also a way to claim one’s masculinity? Is a man who is not masculine not still a man?

 Once I began reading the individual stories started, everything was honest and fell into place. I finally believe that I understand how important it is to be oneself and to show this publicly. This is not a book just for trans men but everyone on the face of the planet. Learning to understand is a big part of learning. Learning to accept and to love is even bigger.