Monthly Archives: March 2020

“Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism” by Laurence A. Hoffman— A Defining Rite?

Hoffman, Laurence A. “Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism”, (Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism), University of Chicago Press, 1996.

A Defining Rite?

Amos Lassen

Circumcision is central to both biblical narrative and rabbinic commentary and it is a defining rite of Jewish identity; it is such a powerful symbol that to challenge it is considered to be taboo. In “Covenant of Blood”, Lawrence Hoffman looks at why circumcision holds such an important place in the Jewish psyche. He explores the symbolism of circumcision through Jewish history and examines its evolution as a symbol of the covenant in the post-exilic period of the Bible and its subsequent meaning in the formative era of Mishnah and Talmud.

I first heard about this book in a course on gender and sexuality in Judaism and realized how little I understood its importance as a symbol and as a rite.

Hoffman argues that in the rabbinic tradition and system, circumcision was not a birth ritual and neither was it the beginning of the human life cycle. It was a rite of covenantal initiation into a male “life line.” Even though the evolution circumcision was shaped by rabbinic debates with early Christianity, the Rabbis shared with the church the idea that blood provides salvation.

Hoffman examines the particular significance of circumcision blood, which, in addition to its role regarding salvation is contrasted with menstrual blood to symbolize the gender dichotomy within the rabbinic system. Analyzing the Rabbis’ views of circumcision and menstrual blood shows something about the marginalization of women in rabbinic law. Differentiating official mores about gender from actual practice, Hoffman gives us a survey of women’s spirituality within rabbinic society and examines the roles mothers played in their sons’ circumcisions until the medieval period when they were excluded from taking part.

By combining a close reading of rabbinic texts with an interdisciplinary method drawn from the human sciences, Hoffman makes an important contribution to Jewish studies and gender studies.

In “Covenant of Blood”, Hoffman shows his mastery of the subject and his fluency with traditional sources and scholars, and also has a solid grasp on related material from the whole non-Jewish and non-Judaist spectrum. Circumcision is an explosive topic and has been since Abraham and Hoffman really handles it well. He gives us what we  need to know about the key Biblical sacrament and how an inspired scholarly mind operates and explains.

I am fascinated by learning that circumcision became a part of Jewish history during and after the Babylonian Captivity (597-538 BCE) and only after the Persians allowed Cohanim to return to Palestine, where they imposed the ritual on their people. It was also during the Captivity that the entire story about the life of Abraham was inserted into the Biblical narrative. These facts make it possible to question the validity of every Biblical story as well as the entire historical basis for Judaism, as it now appears.

Hoffman begins by telling us: “If the physical act of circumcision is the cultural sign of Jewish existence, the cultural construction that it signifies is a covenant between the men being circumcised and God.” However, the cultural “sign” of Jewish existence is not the circumcision of men, but of infant boys— non-consenting boys, who are forced to endure the rite. This implies that the cultural sign of Jewish existence is the ritual mutilation by men of the genitals of someone who is too young to object in any way except by screaming, etc.

The claim is that circumcision was mandated by God, yet we learn here that is was the deliberate work of a few Jewish Priests and Scribes living in Babylon. Circumcision, Hoffman writes, has long been the sine qua non of Jewish identity. However, this simple statement is more complicated than it appears, both because obviously it does not speak to women’s Judaic status, and also because the state of one’s penis is technically irrelevant to one’s membership in the religion.

Hoffman, became so troubled by his findings that it took him eight years following his completion of his research to actually publish “Covenant of Blood”. His thesis is so profound and yet so simple that it is shocking that no one has spoken about it before he did: Circumcision symbolizes a covenant between the males being circumcised and God. The practice thereby expresses the truth that in traditional rabbinical thought, Judaism, despite its matrilineal passage of religious identity, equates “man” with “Jew,” allotting women in a second-thought role. Circumcision made possible and even embodied an analogy that Hoffman shows was implicit in Judaism: man was to woman as Jew was to non-Jew. A male Jew demonstrated that he belonged to Judaism and was part of the covenant by going under the knife.

There has been such a strong grasp on circumcision that opposition to it was considered heretical or a taboo. What is important is to realize that things were not this way from the beginning of Judaism. After examining confusing and sometimes conflicting ancient religious texts, Hoffman shows that circumcision has not always been considered an essential Jewish covenant, but rather was constructed as such a few centuries before the birth of Christ. This was at a time when animal sacrifice was on its way out as part of Judaism. The blood spilled during circumcision is essential to brit milah because it harks back to the brit’s ritual predecessor, animal sacrifice. At the same time, the blood represents the aspect of sacrifice that offers salvation. The penal foreskin is useless unless covered with circumcision blood causing to be redemptive. Menstrual blood, on the other hand, was considered a pollutant, demonstrating the exclusion and subordination of women. As part of this historical transition, women had to be displaced from the brit milah. In its original form, the ritual placed father, mother, and child at center stage. Later, the brit was reconceptualized to exclude all females including the mother and to emphasize its nature as “a male-only ritual, almost sacramental in both public and official meaning.”

In a fascinating three-way power struggle between the monarchy, the Jewish “priests” (as Hoffman names them), and the prophets, circumcision became a ritual of total importance. Hoffman shows that the redactor of the so-called “P text,” is the original promoter of the equation of Jewish identity and circumcision. This writer, it seems was obsessed by the need to ensure successful reproduction. He metaphorically associated this with images of horticulture, associated the need for circumcision as “pruning” to promote fertility. Circumcision came to be conceptualized as a ritual form of castration in which the elders’ power was publicly demonstrated and the son’s loyalty  was made clear by his submission to the circumciser’s knife.

Hoffman deconstructs the entire brit milah ritual in great detail, delving into the historical origins of each step, showing us how it developed through a combination of rabbinic authority and  popular interventions. The author convincingly demonstrates that the rite is “a ceremonial celebration of the obligation that binds men to each other in rabbinic culture.” Except for the mother, men alone are featured in all rabbinic stories about circumcision. Blood symbolizes the opposition between men and women; women are seen as dirty and as lacking control of their (menstrual) blood and thus of themselves, while men are portrayed as clean and as in control of their (circumcision) blood, thereby justifying their preferential entrustment with passing on religious doctrine.

The power of tradition, I understand,  almost stopped Hoffman from publishing his exploration of the role of circumcision in Judaism. He eventually, ten years later, felt that “it is better to come to terms with the crawly creatures in the basement than to pretend that they are not there.”

In tracing the rite of circumcision from its original textual origins in the story of Abraham, Hoffman combines close analysis of Jewish texts with anthropological theory (particularly the seminal and insightful writings of Mary Douglas and Claude Levi-Strauss) to demonstrate how circumcision evolved into a binary system that served to reinforce Jewish patriarchy while simultaneously marginalizing women. Hoffman demonstrates how the rabbinic system evolved in a manner that effectively excluded women from the religious culture of Judaism (while recognizing that the preserved rabbinic texts do not always reflect the reality of cultural practice). Hoffman summarizes why Jewish women were excluded from compliance with positive commandments dependent on time:

“[W]ith regard to gender, the rabbinic system presents a cultural diad of in control/out of control. Men are controlled, they learn the system of controls, and they exercise control to transform the environment; women are the opposite: they are out of control; they are nature; they are wild, loose, unable (by temperament) to master the application of those commandments that must be done precisely on time.' Therefore, the system necessarily exempts them from those commandments. In a word, men are nature transformed by culture; women are nature, dependent on culture, that is, on men. They enter men's domain at times like marriage (thus requiring one-sixth of the Mishnah to tell their men how to deal with them), but they are never fullyculturated.’ They do not learn Torah and are not obliged to affect Torah’s transformation of nature. Using Levi-Strauss’s celebrated categorization scheme loosely, we can say that men, as culture, are the cooked while women, as nature, are the raw.”

For those who see Judaism as revealed religion, and Torah and its Talmudic elaborations as revealed texts, “Covenant of Blood” will appear as heresy. Similarly, for those who unquestioningly accept Judaic tradition and practice without regard to its origins and effects, there will continue to be a cultural, if not religious, imperative for circumcision, “the sine qua non of Jewish identity throughout time.” But for those willing to examine the religious ritual of circumcision in the light of reason, Hoffman has written a text that should be carefully considered.

We are given an understanding of the evolution of Rabbinic Judaism from a temple/priest centered religion and  the gradual exclusion of women from the practice of religion in the synagogue which is linked to changes in the circumcision ritual. While the book is of great depth, it is easy to read. I do not know if I agree with all that is here but we cannot ignore what Hoffman has to say.

 

 

“THE ETRUSCAN SMILE”— Reuniting

“THE ETRUSCAN SMILE”

Reuniting

Amos Lassen

In “The Etruscan Smile”, Brian Cox plays an ailing septuagenarian Scotsman who reunites with his estranged son. Cox plays Rory McNeil from a remote Hebrides island who travels to San Francisco to seek treatment for an undiagnosed but clearly serious medical condition. There, he’s reunited with his estranged son Ian (JJ Field) and meets his wealthy daughter-in-law, Emily (Thora Birch), and baby grandson, Jamie. Although all of his previous behavior leads you to think he would instantly drop-kick a baby across a room, Rory instead immediately melts at the sight of the toddler, whom he treats with total tenderness.

Rory is a fish-out-of-water in the cosmopolitan city. He doesn’t like his chef son’s cuisine. He loves to swim naked and this gets him in trouble with law enforcement when he tries it in San Francisco Bay. He wears a kilt to a fancy gala, disdaining the fancy drinks being served and telling the flustered bartender that he wants something that will burn his throat.

A little of this humor goes a long way and just as it threatens to become too much, the film moves into a touching storyline about the romance between Rory and museum curator Claudia (Rosanna Arquette). At first, Claudia ireacts quite coolly to his unconventional attempts at charm, but he eventually wins her over. Just as their relationship starts to heat up, Rory is given a devastating medical prognosis.

Despite such potentially interesting but undeveloped subplots such as Rory being the subject of a linguistics study involving his native Gaelic, the film is too familiar emotionally. Rory’s obsession with his grandson, whom at some point he encourages to climb out of his crib in dangerous fashion, is overdone and almost becomes creepy. Everyone eventually warms up to Rory despite his behavior  but this did not seem authentic to me. That does not mean it will seem that way to you.

Cox is charismatic and succeeds with the story aside from his romance with Claudia which I found hard to believe.  The film has a wonderful ensemble cast that includes  Treat Williams, Peter Coyote and Tim Matheson, who all bring admirable gravitas to their supporting roles.

” TheEtruscan Smile is based on José Luis Sampedro’s novel La Sonriser Etrusca, though nationalities and locations are changed. It is a moving, charming and self-contained film that follows a familiar trajectory, and highlights well-worn themes but Cox is wonderful, and takes the independent, frightened and rude Rory as far as a man like that would realistically go  without becoming a caricature.

Directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis resist the usual clichés where we’re expected to believe someone from a small place in Britain has never seen a lightbulb before. Rory’s health issues, once diagnosed, won’t come as a surprise to anyone used to family dramas about reconnecting before it’s too late.

Even though the story follows an expected path, the cast, make this so much more than a dull family drama.  Rory keeps some wholly unnecessary curmudgeon behavior almost to the very end but otherwise this film is a winner.

“The Ungodly Hour” by Laury Egan— Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Egan, Laury. “The Ungodly Hour”,  Interlude Press, 2020.

Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Amos Lassen

Dana Fox, a New York photographer, is leading a weeklong photography workshop on Mykonos. If you have ever been to the island, you will quickly understand why is so  entranced by the brilliant light of Mykonos. The dark beauty of Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman enchants her as well. However, what began as a wonderful vacation is upended when several of gruesome murders rock the town. Dana doesn’t pay attention to the possible dangers and continues to photograph, not realizing that the killer is moving closer to her as he seeks closure and the evidence that is unknowingly in Dana’s possession.

Dana is sure who she is sexually but Cybele who accepted a job on the local police department because she wanted to learn more about her sexuality. Mykonos has always been a gay destination so it seems that it is a perfect place for introspection and sexual decision making. One evening, Dana and Cybele see each other in a bar but it ended there or so it seemed.

However, the next day Dana’s apartment was broken into and when she calls the police, Cybele the following day, her apartment gets broken into and trashed and guess who visits when she calls the police Cybele answers.

At the same time Dana is visiting Mykonos, a gay man is murdered, a news reported is killed, a group of Christian-anti-gay-protesters is on the island and one of Dana’s student is dealing with an abusive boyfriend. There is a lot going on and we are left to wonder why her apartment was broken into.

After the phone call to the police, Dana and Cybele get along beautifully but we feel the tension on Mykonos. The plot keeps us reading as we try to tie everything together. While this is a mystery/thriller read, there is also a lot of romance here.

It seems that the murders have something to do with Dana’s photography workshop and it is possible that among Dana’s photos is one of the killer. When we finally learn who the murderer is, we see his reasons. It is interesting also that there is such homophobia in a place where gays are regular visitors and even residents. I do not want to say anymore about the plot because to do so would spoil the mystery. I prefer that you enjoy the read as much as I did. In fact, I bet it is that much better with a second read which I plan to do soon.

“MY FIONA”— A Tale of Grief and Love

“MY FIONA”

A Tale of Grief and Love

Amos Lassen

After her best friend commits suicide very suddenly, Jane has a hard time finding meaning in anything.  She agrees to babysit Fiona’s son while her wife is at work during the day.  This brings about an intimate relationship between the two women that could either help to heal them both or bring up old wounds that aren’t fully healed as well as create new ones.

This film is a close examination at the effects that grief can have on people.  At the beginning we see how awkward Jane is at the funeral, and that is such a relatable scene— funerals are awful events, no one knows what to say or how to act, and this film captures that amazingly.  It also has a great depiction of grief.  Everyone suffers grief differently and recovers from it differently.  Jane searches for answers.  She wants to know why it happened, and if there was something she could have done to prevent it. Fiona’s wife Gemma (Corbin Reid), throws herself back into work and tries to keep herself busy.

 The two women battle their way through grief.  Their relationship might  have been a terrible idea, but it was what they both needed at the time. Jeanette Maus is a powerhouse as Jane. She plays her with great emotion and we empathize with her. We feel her sense of loss in everything she does as well as her sense of confusion when she is explores the possibility that she might be a lesbian.  She just wants someone to tell her if that is normal or not and of course, no one has the answer to that.  Sexuality can’t be explained. labelled or diagnosed.

The story does almost solely focus on Jane and Gemma, and therefore there is no real focus on Fiona and the cause or reason for her suicide.  I wanted to know why she took her life but perhaps we don’t know because sometimes, when someone does this, the people left behind don’t know why it happened and have to find a way to move on with this gaping question staying with them.  I wanted more about Fiona’s story and how she arrived at the point that she did.

Director Kelly Walker frames the opening scene so that viewers realize that Jane’s life is about to be turned upside down before Jane realizes it herself. A painful emotional connection with A difficult protagonist is established before we even see the title of the film.

“My Fiona” struggles grapples with the fallout of suicide and the challenges of carving out new lives and loves in the shadow of loss. To complicate and confuse matters further for Jane, she cannot tell if the feelings she develops for Gemma are purely a result of their shared loss or a new revelation about her sexuality. The situation grows messy, but the direction keeps the situations believable through the use of tonal whiplash and darkest humor to show Jane’s inner state. Hers is a confident directorial voice, and her next feature should be eagerly anticipated.

The film looks at what it means to be okay when it is healthier and more honest to not be okay as it looks at the ugly and uncomfortable ways through mourning and self-discovery. We face death directly. Walker doesn’t beat around the bush— she takes on difficult ideas with confidence aided by the powerful performance by Maus. There is sense of realism despite the extremity of the plot and we sympathize with Jane even with her flaws.

The loss, anger and sadness that comes with being left behind is not an easy journey to navigate; feelings are confusing, especially since Jane has no ambitions or friends of her own to depend upon.

“The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel” by Oliver Clements— The Beginning

Clements, Oliver. “The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel (1)”,  (An Agents of the Crown Novel), Atria/Leopoldo & Co,, 2020.

The Beginning

Amos Lassen

Oliver Clement’s “The Eyes of the Queen” is  his first novel of the Agents of the Crown series in which a man who will become the original MI6 agent protects England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I from Spain’s nefarious plan to crush the Age of the Enlightenment. Here is a new look at history that is both a fun read and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you turn pages as quickly as possible.

Europe has finally emerged into the Age of Enlightenment after centuries of poverty, persecution, and barbarity. Scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets alike believe that new era of reason and hope for  and the  threat exists for all who dare to defy Catholic orthodoxy. There is only Britain who can fight this and Queen Elizabeth I knows that this is not a war that can be won by just the forces of war.

After Britain loses half of her military force and the treasury is almost empty, the Queen needs a new kind of weapon and the knowledge and secrecy necessary to win this. It is then that Her Majesty’s Secret Service is born and John Dee is its leader. Dee is charismatic and a scholar, a soldier, and an alchemist who is loyal only to the truth and to his Queen. Even though she is the woman he’s forbidden from loving, he is prepared to risk his life for her and for Britain.

I love historical fiction and I love thrillers. We get both in one book here and it swept me away. The prose is clean, the characterization is very real and the details are exceptional. Add to that there will be more in the series coming and we have a whole series to look forward to. You will have to wait until October to read this but it is worth the wait.

“Stay and Fight: A Novel” by Madeline fifth— Independence and Protest

Ffitch, Madeline. “Stay and Fight: A Novel”,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2019.

Independence and Protest

Amos Lassen

Madeline ffitch’s “Stay and Fight: A Novel” is a tribute to independence and a protest against the materialism in which we live today. We meet Helen who comes to Appalachian Ohio full of love and her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. However, with winter coming, he calls it quits. Rudy, Helen’s “government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss” and a neighbor couple, Karen and Lily, come to help and Helen makes it to spring. The neighbors are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust must end.

Helen invites the new family to move in with her and they split the work and the food, build a house, and build a sustaining for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school and Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. With that, the outside world then comes into their makeshift family.

The part of Ohio Set is known for its independent spirit and what occurs in the novel changes what it means to be a family, to live well, to work in nature and to make deals with the system. This is a protest novel that challenges how we think about effective action and it is a family novel that refuses to conform to the traditional definition of how we define the word and concept of family. We are challenged to reimagine Appalachia and the America that we think we know and gives us a new understanding of what it means to love and to be free.

Winter in Appalachian Ohio is rough and demands adequate preparation. For Helen, this meant bringing her recently displaced neighbors and their son to help create a homestead with her on 20 acres of land. By the time Perley says that he wants to leave their isolated existence to go to school, we have a different picture of this way of life with all of its problems and dangers— “sleeping with black rat snakes, minding the “humanure” pile, and foraging for dinner when the daily game of “survival dice” doesn’t win a trip to the grocery store.” When an innocent accident attracts the attention of Social Services, the family’s world faces change. Madeline ffitch’s takes us from family drama to a political one that threatens their way of life. The characterizations of the family, especially Perley, who is bonded to each member gives the motivation behind the  title of the book. This is celebration of family and what freedom means.

This book is filled with quick verbal exchanges banter and complicated, unforgettable characters. Here is a queer feminist pioneer novel and the story of a different America. It looks at central, tender, and violent conflicts of our time as we see through the family’s sadness and humor. The prose is fresh and evocative. Personalities are revealed through the eyes of others. Yet, everyone is an unreliable narrator towards their own life; they each see themselves as completely differently to how the other characters saw them making this an original way to tell a story. Everyone has the best intentions but nobody is totally sympathetic. It is up to us to decide how to see the characters thus involving us in what we read.”

“Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer” by M.Z. McDonnell— A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

McDonnell, M.Z. “Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer”, Moose Maple Press, 2019)’.

A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

Amos Lassen

“Long before history began, when Ireland was ruled by poets and tribal chieftains, the prophet Sinnach was the most powerful druid in the ancient province of Mumu. But before he was a prophet, before he was a poet, he was a just boy… a boy believed to be a girl.”

Unable to suppress his true nature, Sinnach could not suppress who he really was and  fled persecution by seeking refuge in the wilderness. Because of his talents, his unique nature and his oath to the goddess Ériu, Sinnach found his place in a world that was then filled with poetry, magic, and combat.

In trying to attain power, there are consequences for Sinnach who becomes enmeshed in the dangerous affairs of both men and Síd, the Faerie Folk. His travels into the Otherworld are dangerous and he has to deal with the conflicting passions of love, and the return of an old enemy who threatens to disclose his identity endangering him and the peace between the tribes, and peace between the worlds.

Writer McDonnell was inspired by the great mythological epics of ancient Ireland and brings us a new myth with very old truths “about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.” This is a fun read that also gives us a lot to think about especially in the way it looks at the experience of transgender people. Sinnach is a relatable character making this a relevant read and great historical fantasy. I was pulled in on the first page.

“Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)” by Hazel Jane Plante— Unrequited Love

Plante, Hazel Jane. “Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)”, Metonymy, 2019.

Unrequited Love

Amos Lassen

 Hazel Jane Plante’s “Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)” is the story of a queer trans woman’s unrequited love for her straight trans friend who died. In effect, it is a queer love letter filled with desire, grief, and delight and interspersed with encyclopedia entries about a fictional TV show set on an isolated island. We see how pop culture can help soothe and mend us as the story explores overlooked sources of pleasure such as karaoke, birding, and butt toys. More than that, it shows with wonderful detail and “emotional nuance the  straight trans woman (Vivian) the narrator loved, why she loved her, and the depths of what she has lost.”

This inventive novel is both very funny and sensitively moving. It has all of the oddities of “Twin Peaks” but without the menace. It is a look at grief but with a bit of humor and captures contemporary trans women’s communities fully. The narrator knows what it means to lose someone and writes about with skill.

We read of the relationship dynamics between a trans woman and a straight trans woman and it could have been so much sadder than it is. The story is tender and thoughtful as we get a picture of Vivian through a complex narrative that is unlike anything I have ever read before. Here is a world within a world within a world, a love letter within an encyclopedia and a journey toward healing. It’s not just a story about love, friendship, and loss– it’s about a relationship that is made so much more intimate because of a TV show that isn’t actually real.

“THE TASTE OF THE BETEL NUT”— Two Polyamorous Men

“THE TASTE OF THE BETEL NUT”

Two Polyamorous Men

Amos Lassen

“The Taste of Betel Nut” is a dialogue-free Chinese film that questions the status quo in this story of two polyamorous men in a relationship. They invite a woman to join them which changes their dynamics and lets the three of them thrive and receive criticism from everyone around them. Shen Shi Yu and Bingrui Zhao play Li Qi and Ren Yu, the two men. They decide to test the limits of the restrictive society that they live in when they become romantically involved with a young woman.

Li Qi works at a dolphin show and his friend Ren Yu runs a  popular mobile karaoke event. A young woman Bai Ling hooks up with both of them and they are all rocked to the very core of their beings.

The film begins as classic crime story set by the seaside with the camera following a character who kills a bunch of gangsters. The entire movie is based on a retrospective that explains the initial slaughter of few bad guys who were just having dinner in a garage. The film seems to be an excuse to show the two main characters in action.

The story revolves around Li Qi, a young man who works with dolphins and seals at the ocean adventure park in Hainan Island. He and Ren Yu are roommates and part-time lovers. They have created their own private place, with makeshift porch by the water facing sandstone hills. From time to time the view is disrupted by a sudden explosion that piece-by-piece destroys the hills, as if there was some danger approaching the utopia, shaking it to the ground. As vacation starts, Li Qi and Ren Yu meet, Bai Ling, a young girl visiting family during the school break.

The three characters become more and more fascinated and drawn to each other. One night they try betel nut and it brings about sexual revolution and experimentation that leads to a tragic end. The young trio is bold and nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination. The film is rebellious with the body being objectified and sexualized in many scenes of peeping while Ren Yu takes a shower and with shots of overly tight underwear emphasized by the camera for no specific reason. Both situations don’t have any purpose in the narrative. It’s truly hard to take the eyes off of Ren Yu who builds up his own separate character in the most charismatic way – he portrays the provincial entertainer and gigolo, whose ambitions don’t match up with the reality surrounding him.

The location is just as important as characters. Hainan Island is promoted to be the “Hawaii of China”, the perfect summer resort with golf courses, sandy beaches, exclusive hotels and selected elites. Nevertheless, the postcard cannot look so flawless in China and that’s its beauty. Coastal areas are full of run down seafood restaurants, makeshift karaoke, illegal street food vendors, petty gangs and older ladies on holidays. Director  Hu Jia was trying to get into the spring breakers spirit and is very successfully especially in the scene, where trio goes up to the mountains to attend the wedding of a friend who comes from an ethnic minority. The direction gets inspiration from the location that seems to counter the homogenizing demands of consumerism but at the same time it promotes ethnic culture as a commodity that serves the industry of tourism and shows the betel nut as instant enlightenment and liberation.

Unfortunately, the editing needs work. Fading in and fading out to black screen creates disruptions in the narrative. Perhaps this was supposed to create the feeling of danger and uncertainty but it turned out pretentious, especially when looking at other editing tools that are used in a simplistic way like the cross-fade in the threesome scene.

Yet the film proves to be an interesting reflection on 90’s Chinese pop culture but pop cultural self-awareness and references to film history get lost. The movie is mostly quotidian atmosphere. We get few clues as to what is happening when. And why. Like what’s going on with the guy walking in the ocean? Periodically, we get underwater shots of his legs. Is something going to happen to him?

We see the back-and-forth of the love/sex triangle. Bai Ling wants to be Ren Yu’s girlfriend, he says no, she kisses Qi, then runs off and kisses Ren Yu passionately. She’s about to leave for school again when she and Ren Yu go missing. The cops show Qi footage from a security camera on a bridge: eight motorcyclists, including Blondie, force them to stop, beat Ren Yu unconscious, and take Bai Ling away. Ren Yu winds up in a coma; Bai Ling’s naked, bound and beaten body washes up on the beach. It’s horrifying. It’s suddenly just horrifying. But now we know why the blood at the beginning.

The ending is ambiguous. Qi is walking toward their rooftop apartment, through the billowing, drying sheets on the clothesline, and sees a young man with a shaved head (and scars there, as if beaten there) staring out at the water. The young man turns and smiles. It’s Ren Yu. Alive? Or is this just Qi’s wish? Or is Qi dead now, too, attacked by the gang after he killed Blondie, and this is a kind of wishful afterlife? Ren Yu is welcoming him to heaven. I could have done less mood and more about the characters and some dialogue. 

“The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games” by Bonnie Ruberg— Making and Playing the Game

Ruberg, Bonnie. “The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games”, Duke University Press, 2020.

Making and Playing the Game

Amos Lassen

Bonnie Ruberg’s “The Queer Games” gives us twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video game developers. Their radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is bringing about a shift in the medium of video games.  They speak with insight and candor about their creative practices and their politics and passions, telling stories about their lives and inspirations, the challenges they face, and how they understand their places within video game culture. What they have to say goes beyond typical conversations about LGBTQ representation in video games or how to improve “diversity” in digital media. Rather, “they explore queer game-making practices, the politics of queer independent video games, how queerness can be expressed as an aesthetic practice, the influence of feminist art on their work, and the future of queer video games and technology.” Their conversations give us a look at an influential community that is changing and redefining video games by “placing queerness front and center.”

The interviewees include Ryan Rose Aceae, Avery Alder, Jimmy Andrews, Santo Aveiro-Ojeda, Aevee Bee, Tonia B******, Mattie Brice, Nicky Case, Naomi Clark, Mo Cohen, Heather Flowers, Nina Freeman, Jerome Hagen, Kat Jones, Jess Marcotte, Andi McClure, Llaura McGee, Seanna Musgrave, Liz Ryerson, Elizabeth Sampat, Loren Schmidt, Sarah Schoemann, Dietrich Squinkifer, Kara Stone, Emilia Yang, Robert Yang

The queer games avant-garde not only change the boundaries of gaming, it’s shows what games can be and that  we can all play.

Table of Contents: 

Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Reimagining the Medium of Video Games  1
Part I. Queer People, Queer Desires, Queer Games
1. Dietrich Squinkifer: Nonbinary Characters, Asexuality, and Game Design as Joyful Resistance  33
2. Robert Yang: The Politics and Pleasures of Representing Sex between Men  42
3. Aevee Bee: On Designing for Queer Players and Remaking Autobiographical Truth  51
Part II. Queerness as a Mode of Game-Making
4. Llaura McGee: Leaving Space for Messiness, Complexity, and Chance  63
5. Andi McClure: Algorithms, Accidents, and the Queerness of Abstraction  73
6. Liz Ryerson: Resisting Empathy and Rewriting the Rules of Game Design  81
Part III. Designing Queer Intimacy in Games
7. Jimmy Andrews + Loren Schmidt: Queer Body Physics, Awkwardness as Emotional Realism, and the Challenge of Designing Consent  93
8. Naomi Clark: Disrupting Norms and Critiquing Systems through “Good, Nice Sex with a Tentacle Monster”  102
9. Elizabeth Sampat: Safe Spaces for Queerness and Games against Suffering  113
Part IV. The Legacy of Feminist Performance Art in Queer Games
10. Kara Stone: Softness, Strength, and Danger in Games about Mental Health and Healing  125
11. Mattie Brice: Radical Play through Vulnerability  134
12. Seanna Musgrave: “Touchy-Feely” Virtual Reality and Reclaiming the Trans Body  143
Part V. Intersectional Perspectives in/on Queer Games
13. Tonia B****** + Emilia Yang: Making Games about Queer Women of Color by Queer Women of Color  153
14. Nicky Case: Playable Politics and Interactivity for Understanding  162
15. Nina Freeman: More Than Just “the Women Who Make Sex Games”  171
Part VI. Analog Games: Exploreing Queerness Through Non-Digital Play
16. Avery Alder: Queer Storytelling and the Mechanics of Desire  183
17. Kat Jones: Bisexuality, Latina Identity, and the Power of Physical Presence  192
Part VII. Making Queer Games, Queer Change, and Queer Community
18. Mo Cohen: On Self-Care, Funding, and Other Advice for Aspiring Queer Indie Game Makers  205
19. Jerome Hagan: Are Queer Games Bringing “Diversity” to Mainstream Industry?  215
20. Sarah Schoemann: The Power of Community Organizing  223
Afterword. The Future of the Queer Games Avant-Garde  233
Appendix. Queer Indie Games to Play at Home or in the Classroom  245
Notes  257
Bibliography  265
Index  271