“A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World” by R.B. Parkinson— Those Little Interesting Facts
Parkinson, R.B. “A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World”, British Museum Press, 2013.
Those Little Interesting Facts
There is history and there is history—one kind of history gives you the facts while the other gives you those little intimate details that make learning so much fun. Gay history has a little of those little details that we, up until now, did not find in gay history texts. Did you ever wonder when we had the first all male chat room or who was the first lesbian? How about, are all men who have sex with other gay? Parkinson finds those little special things and recounts them to us. We know that Shakespeare used men to play the roles of his women but was there any deeper meaning than that? The author has dug into our history to glean some wonderful details from as far back as ancient Egypt to the present. Parkinson looked at more than 40 artifacts and the issues behind them and he examined cultures all over the world. What he gives us is a concise book that is beautifully illustrated with objects from the British museum. This is an intriguing, fun and valuable look at how we can recognize love in history. We immediately become aware of the range, diversity and complexities of same-sex experiences.
I cannot imagine the amount of research that Parkinson conducted here. His home base was the British museum and what he found there were these 40 objects that illustrate same-sex desire, many of which had been previously censored or hidden from historians. They come from different civilizations and time periods and some are very clearly representations of same-sex activities. There are Grecian urns which are decorated with homoerotic scenes, with the poetry of Sappho and there are depictions of Hadian’s affair with Antinous.Other pieces are a bit more ambiguous; there are some that suggest homosexual love between Samurai warriors. There is an Egyptian tomb that seems to have been made for a same-sex couple and there are the sonnets of Shakespeare that seem to point to bisexuality if not gay love.
Parkison also gives us profiles of gay and lesbian artists such as Hedwig Marquardt and Augusta Kaiser as well as Virginia Woolf. What we see is interwoven with the history of intolerance and there are references to the persecution and execution of those who practiced sodomy (whatever that really means). This is our history and the history of man. Our love and desires have long been a part of it and should be respected and celebrated.
Erno, Jeff. “Dumb Jock” (Dumb Jock #1), Dreamspinner Press, 2013.
Jeff Irwin is not fond of sports and is one of “those students” who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. When he is asked to tutor Brett Wilson his life changes completely. Brett is the town football hero and he is everything that Jeff is not—popular, good looking and a jock. He just does not do well in English and if he fails it, he will be taken out of sports. The school coach asks Jeff to help Brett and as they work together they become fast friends and eventually lovers.
This is a story about relationships—Jeff and Brett, Jeff and his family, Jeff and his friends and Jeff and himself. Jeff does not have a good sense of self-esteem yet he shows strength. He is a high school freshman and has to deal with a series of events that can weaken even the strongest person. We watch him as he matures and becomes independent and as he does things get better for him.
The story is set in small town Michigan in the 1980’s; a time when being gay was a societal taboo. What makes it even more difficult is that Jeff lives in small town America where keeping a secret is almost impossible. He was surrounded by bigotry and hate and comparing it to the way we live today is like comparing apples and monkeys. Jeff Erno gives us a beautifully written sensitive story of Jeff finding his place in the world. He is almost nondescript—small and quiet. He keeps away from others but when the coach offers him an “A” in gym if he tutors Brett, we learn more about him. He has admired Brett from afar and he secretly wants to be like him. As they begin to work together, the preconceived notions each had about the other, begin to fall away. As the two discover their feelings for each other, both test everything they have ever known. Brett comes across as that typical jock who cannot stand feminine, nerdy types or so we are led to believe. We see that is not so true so even their friendship had to be secret. Their secret friendship soon becomes their secret love.
Aside from this, Jeff faces other issues which have an effect on him and ultimately on Brett as well. With the amount of freedom that the LGBT community has to day, it is hard to remember how it was when there was so much discrimination against gay people. Dealing with homosexuality is difficult enough but there was a time when we had to deal with homophobia almost everywhere we turned from employment to housing. Jeff also has to deal with his parents divorcing and his feelings that he will lose their love and support and Brett has to deal with his school and teammates. Yes, this is a coming-out, coming-of-age story but it is so much more than that which is a credit to the author who made everything work. Jeff also had the self-worth, self-esteem issues that I mentioned earlier. In looking carefully at the text, I surmise that it is no coincidence that both the author and the main character share the same first name which leads me to believe that the story is somewhat autobiographical. This could very well be the reason that the book is such an emotional read. I first read this a couple of years ago when it was first published by a different press and I had forgotten how much it affected me then. This second reading reminded me of how much so many of us endured and the high price we paid to be who we are. If the same story was written about today, Jeff and Brett would have had an easier time but I am sure Jeff Erno wanted to remind us that life is not always easy and that we have to look back in order to really appreciate where we are.
An Assimilated Arab in Tel Aviv
Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is an Arab doctor living in Tel Aviv and is an important surgeon at Israel’s most important hospital. He is highly respected and has many friends. There is a suicide bombing in the city which killed seventeen people including eleven children and it turns out that the suicide bomber was the doctor’s own wife—something the doctor had never considered and which takes him to a place of denial. In the past we have heard of such bombers making their families proud by taking their own lives for what they refer to as “the cause”. However, I do not recall having heard a married couple being split over such an action (which of course does mean that it could never happen) especially when the doctor is such a respected member of the community. Writer/director Ziad Doueiri got this story from a novel by Yasmina Khadra but he changed an aspect of it to make it seem that the result of the bombing was not as dreadful for the families of the dead as it was for the doctor, himself. In the film Tel Aviv, the modern metropolis is seen as opposite to the town of Nablus, an Arab town which in no way has the modernity of Israel’s big cities.
As the film opens we might think that what Doueiri is doing is lauding the Jewish community in Tel Aviv for allowing an Arab doctor to receive the highest honor a doctor can receive but we soon realize that he has another plan up his sleeve. He show us what he thinks is on the minds of those who live on the West Bank—that they are being repressed by Israel and her government and thereby destroying their dignity.
The day after receiving an exceptionally high award in a large public ceremony, the doctor hears an explosion and is shocked when he is called to the morgue to identify the remains of his wife, Siham, whom he assumes had been killed in the terrorist attack when she stopped to have something to eat at the restaurant that was bombed. He was questioned by a Shin Bet officer after being incarcerated as a possible accessory to the bombing and he realized that his wife was not only responsible for the bombing but that she had a secret life and that she had been the leader of a radical group in Nablus along with a sheikh and two others that he would have suspected as revolutionaries.
A small group of his coworkers stand by him at the hospital while his home in the exclusive area of Herzliya is vandalized and covered with graffiti. He then went to Nablus to find out who had manipulated his wife and questions those who may have information but soon discovers that he is not welcome there even though his wife died as a martyr. It is felt that by moving to Tel Aviv and living and working among Israelis was abandonment of his Arab roots.
Suliman gives a perfect performance as the doctor and his story is heart wrenching. In flashback we see him courting his wife and we wonder how someone as innocent as she was could betray the man who gave her such love and comfort. I can only imagine how he felt when he realized that he did not know the women he loved and lived with for ten years of marriage. The doctor had been the pinnacle of secular Tel Aviv society. As far as he knew his wife was Christian and he does not understand why this beautiful intelligent woman could have done something like this. This is a sensitive and unsentimental exploration of what it is like to discover that someone you think you know and you love is a totally different person. Amin is a sane and secular man who wants the lifestyle of the West that Israel has. However, because of his name and nationality he must first gain the trust of the people he wants to be with especially referring to his professed liberal beliefs. He must prove them to be real and genuine and that they override any other loyalties. However, if he could not know his wife, how can he gain trust?
Director Doueiri depicts a society beset with a hopelessly tangled web of motivations, each rational individually but leading to madness in the aggregate. The film is sober and dispassionate except when considering Amin himself. The conclusions Amin ultimately reaches suggest that in this crisis, humane sanity can only leave you in a lonely no-man’s land — without a country, and without a home.
Picano, Felice. “Like People in History, Viking Press, 1995.
Gay men like all others want their history recorded and it is important to know that we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. During the last few years, gay history has changed drastically and in a relatively short period of time. There are times that I have to pinch myself when I hear gay marriage as a platform in a presidential election and realizing something like this shows just how important recording our history is. Felice Picano’s “Like People in History” does not make it to the present time but that’s fine too—his history is a novelization of gay life from the 50’s through the late 90s and he gives it to us as seen through the eyes of two men who are cousins—Roger and Alistair. They began a lifelong friendship when they first met as boys in 1954 and we are with them as they discover their sexualities and traverse 20th century gay culture.
I read this book when it was first published in 1995 but since my book club is reading it, I decided to have another look. So much of my life has changed as well and I felt it was important to see if I felt any different reading the book in Boston where gay liberation is everywhere. Picano takes on the history of the gay community and creates characters who are part of it. As we read about them, we read about ourselves and see that examining the past makes us look to the future.
The dialogue in the book is the key and through it we see the changes that took place in gay sensibility and how both tragedy and happiness were part of our lives. The story begins in New York in 1991 and we meet Roger Sansarc and his boyfriend as they celebrate the 45th birthday of cousin Alistair Dodge. Alistair has AIDS and is suffering and Roger brings pills to help him. Then we quickly go back in time to 1954 when the cousins first met as fourth graders. We bounce back and forth in time as Roger and Alistair grow up and experience some of the major happenings of the time in which they lived. Here is gay American culture presented to us in stylish prose by one who lied through it.
Roger and Alistair live through the major cultural events of the latter part of the twentieth century—San Francisco with Harvey Milk, Woodstock, Fire Island, AIDS and its activism, gay militancy and of course, Stonewall. They each had fascinating lives and finances were no worry to them. They shopped and ate well and inherited a lot of money, they were writers and body “queens” and extravagant to excess yet they were not as shallow as they could have been. The cousins were there for fifty years, five decades of turbulence, a half-century of self-confidence and defiance. They loved and they envied and seemed to be wherever something was happening but it is more about us than it is about them. The difference is that they experienced things live and we experience the results. The book is about change—change over time, change with age, cultural change and maturation and adaptation.
I have long been a fan of Picano and even though this is not his best work, it is a very important piece of literature. Picano excels at telling stories and since this story is the story of our culture, we feel his love for our community. The problems that the characters in the book face and the problems that so many of us have faced—we are “like people in history”.
I have read other reviews where people claim that the characters are too conceited and too egotistical but there was a time when gay men assumed these characteristics as a means of defense against a world that did not want them around. By allowing ourselves to feel superior, we could create a superior world where only others like us were allowed to dwell. Picano moves us with his words and he felt that this was the best way to show gay life. Sure, his characters might do implausible acts but don’t we all? Sure his characters might seem to be pretentious but haven’t we all behaved that way some time?
I also like the voyeuristic feeling I got as I read. I was reminded of when I was young and wanted to be accepted in the “A” group only to discover that once I finally got there that there was an “A+” group. Here I was again wanting to have all that Alistair and Roger had—they were beautiful people—or so they thought but sometimes we forget that the beautiful people also sit on the toilet and blow their noses and have illnesses the same as we do. In reality, the guys here were not very smart intellectually and we really do not know how they dealt with emotional issues. Nonetheless, I loved this book just as I have loved almost everything Picano has written and I love Picano for bringing us stories of who we are.
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. “Why Arendt Matters” (Why X Matters Series), Yale University Press, 2006.
The Title Says It All
When Hannah Arendt published “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in 1951, she found instant fame. Her reputation as a major political analyst seemed sealed and over the following 25 years she wrote ten more books and she developed ideas and theories that deeply influenced the way America and Europe dealt with the major questions and dilemmas of the Second World War She formulated ideas about totalitarianism, justice, terrorism, globalization, war and evil. It is through her writings that many have been able to deal with ideas that perplex the world. Elizabeth Young-Bruehl was a student and friend of Arendt and here she brings Arendt’s work to a new generation. Young-Bruehl was Arendt’s doctoral student in the early 70s and in 1982 she wrote the definitive biography of her mentor. With this book she revisits Arendt’s major works and ideas. She looks at what Arendt can teach us about our own time and how the way she understood political action is connected to forgiveness and moving ahead. As we see Arendt’s ideas in the context of today’s political scene, we realize the immediacy and importance of what she wrote.
Whether we agree with what she had to say or not, it is generally agreed that Arendt was passionate and lucid about what she believed. That passion holds over today and there is much to be learned from what she wrote. Having already written the definitive biography of Hannah Arendt, Young-Bruehl now takes on Arendt’s ideas—on the way she conceived totalitarianism, on the value of action in the world and on the importance of thought. She does this wonderfully and provides us with the significance and meaning that Arendt’s work has on the rest of the world. Her legacy includes the classic “The Origins of Totalitarianism” which is really an example of her genius. She dealt with the destructive forces of the 20th century and concluded that despite outward differences Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia were profoundly similar and shows that to us. The totalitarianism they shared was something totally and completely new.
One of the most interesting issues in the book is the exception that Young-Bruehl takes with the term that seems to define Arendt, “the banality of evil” which she claims has been misused. However the writer does not answer the charge placed on Arendt by Holocaust survivors who feel that the term demeans and diminishes the horrors that they were forced to experience. Yet the author defends Arendt’s affair with Martin Heidegger and says that the two were equal and that Arendt was not servile to the man who became a Nazi. Like Heidegger, Arendt placed great emphasis on her philosophy and especially on her uncompleted work, “The Life of the Mind” which had been useful only to scholars.
For those who have not yet read Arendt, this is an ideal place to start and it does intellectually challenge the mind because of the frameworks that Arendt proposes. I found Young-Bruehl easier to understand linguistically than Arendt. We feel the love that the author had and still has for her mentor
“Even if nobody else cares at this late date, Young-Bruehl will not hear a word said again her idol”. She brilliantly explains Arendt’s opposition of power to violence, shading all its implications and “carefully, calmly, guides us through the myriad qualifications of her mind”. Paradox was Arendt’s strong suit and, as is argued here; it is only through this prism that it can be said that Arendt matters to us at all. In Arendt’s terms,” she writes, “the power most likely to be lasting, the one that can best preserve the actors’ humanity is the power that arises from nonviolent action.”
Nonetheless, Arendt considered unconditional forgiveness to be not a factor in political conditions, for the unconditional love on which it depends is so rare as to be non-existent in the lives of most people (therefore, in the lives of nations). Arendt still matters even of many left her side. Minds like her are hard to come by.
Calling the Railroad Home
“Lucky Express” is a feature length documentary about the poor and destitute children of India who have made the Indian railroad system their home. We see and hear their life stories and their fears, hopes and dreams in this film directed by Anna Fischer. The children we see here are disowned and abandoned who let Lucky, a former train station vagrant play a part in their lives. It is through Lucky that we feel the connection with the children who deal with trafficking, molestation, drugs and poverty every day of their lives. The Indian railroads have almost 40,000 miles of tracks, 15,000 trains, 11 million daily passengers, 1.6 million employees and more than 7,000 depots. Lucky takes across India and as far away as Nepal to the foothills of the Himalayas.
There is no way to count the number of children who have been abandoned and abused and forced, after running away, to live their lives in the train stations of India. It is estimated that as many as 200 come to the stations everyday ad UNICEF claims that there are approximately 11,000,000 children who are runaways in India and that more than 70% are less than 14 years old—some as young as just 3.
You may wonder why they these children go to train stations. It is because they have access to toilets, water and leftover food as well as opportunities to make money with so many traveling by rail. They also have chances to beg, work, perform, etc. They are also able to make a little money by bottle collection which allows them to earn $3 (150 rupees) a day, which while not a long of money, it seems as if it is to those who have nothing. Any money made goes directly for food because they can’t save it and whatever is not spent is stolen by others, gang members or pimps. It is estimated that 90% of the children have some form of substance abuse.
These children live in constant danger. Estimates show that it takes about twenty minutes after a child arrives at a station that he/she is approached by sexual predators or is offered drugs in exchange for sex. Some become prostitutes for gang members just so that they will have a safe place to spend the night. Every day is a struggle for these children and as they get older, the only change for survival is by joining a gang.
The film reminds us all the way through that these are children who face more serious problems than most adults ever have to face.
Christian, M. “Running Dry”, Sizzler Reprint, 2013.
154 and in Los Angeles
Ernst Doud is non-human and 154 years young. He lives quietly in Los Angeles and all was fine until he got a letter from a lover he has not seen since 1913 and it was then that he killed him. Now that is a way to start a story as you soon realize that you are reading about the undead. Most of us love a good vampire story and I have often wondered why that is true. I suspect that there are two major reasons and a bunch of lesser ones. Vampires are very sexy and mysterious; they are dark and live forever.
This is a vampire story without all of the “vamping”. M. Christian writes stories that are quite far out yet maintain a sense of truth. This is his way of showing that our worlds can come together. We tend to fear that which we do not know and here is where vampires gain ground. We have never seen a vampire but he has a sense of mystery which is exciting and sexy. In this story we see the themes of vengeance, loyalty and “the humanity of the inhuman”. I believe vampires made a comeback with the AIDS epidemic when gay men’s lives depended on blood tests. The fact that blood is so essential in vampire lore has been a conundrum and an enigma for me especially when you consider the importance of blood in Christian religions and in Roman Catholicism when at the act of transubstantiation, wine turns into blood. Yet it is those very same religions that condemn vampires because of the emphasis on something that is so integral to what their members and religious leaders believe.
Unlike other vampire stories, here is one that will get the reader to think. This in one of those stories in which sex is not important but thoughts are. M. Christian is known as an erotic writer but this time he chose to forego sex and concentrate on the mind. Instead of using his literary skills to write vivid sex scenes, he chose not to write about sex this time and develop characters who not just sexual beings but who have minds with which to think. Instead of a lot of sex, we get a lot of adventure so this is not like other books in this genre. It may just be that M. Christian has begun an entirely new genre but I guess we may have to wait awhile to see if that is true. In the meantime there are many other opportunities to read M. Christian. He is always new and never bores.
Arendt, Hannah. “Eichmann and the Holocaust”, Penguin, 2003.
An Excerpt from “Eichmann in Jerusalem”
While reading Hannah Arendt, I find myself asking if evil can be banal as she says. She developed the idea of the “banality of evil” when she was covering the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker Magazine and she shocked the world with what she wrote. Penguin books has taken the core of the Eichmann book and released it as “Eichmann and the Holocaust” and contains Arendt’s exploration of Nazi Germany’s moral blindness and the insistence of Adolf Eichmann that he was not guilty of crimes against humanity and that he was just following orders.
This small volume of 130 pages (the original has 312 pages) focuses on why Eichmann was the person guilty of genocide. It is an in depth study that looks at the specifics of the Holocaust, its organization by Jews, the normalcy of those prosecuted at the end of the war and Eichmann’s arrogant demeanor at trial. We can see how Arendt arrived at her conclusions and while this book is interesting, I would rather have the complete writings as they appear in the larger volume. This book contains Arendt’s main points of Arendt’s perspectives on the nature of evil and is perfectly handled when looking quickly for something. Now that the movie about Hannah Arendt is being shown, I suspect that there will be a resurgence of her writings.
“The Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal” (“Un spécialiste, portrait d’un criminel moderne”)
The Eichmann Trial
In 1961 Adolf Eichmann was tried for crimes against humanity in Jerusalem, Israel. He was accused of being the chief engineer of “The Final Solution”, the forced emigration of Jews to Nazi death camps. As he stood trial he sat in a bulletproof glass booth especially constructed so that harm would come his way before the trial ended. Yet when we see him in this documentary of his trial, he seems thin, wearing glasses and sitting in the booth and hardly looks like a man of terror or an image of evil. Yet there is a chilling disparity between his placid outer appearance and the testimony of the atrocities he committed.
The film consists entirely of actual trial footage taken from the over 500 hours of original videotape. As the trial continued, the Israeli government allowed Leo Hurwitz, an American documentarian to use four cameras to film the proceedings. Sometime after the trial, the footage was found uncatalogued and in poor condition with one third of it unusable for any purpose. Director Eyal Sivan and Rony Brauman then pieced together a non-sequential series of events to capture the highlights of the trial which also provide an account of the workings of the Nazi regime. A great deal of paperwork that was incriminating was found and used to accuse Eichmann and to show the world “the banality of evil”, the term Hannah Arendt coined to describe the man. However those in the courtroom that day did see Eichmann as banal but as the man who was responsible in part for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Arendt’s interpretation of Eichmann as a pencil pushing bureaucrat did not take hold among Jews and especially among Holocaust survivors. Prosecutor Gideon Hausner bombarded Eichmann with damning questions and witness gave heartbreaking testimonies but Eichmann could reply that he was following orders. He “pretended” not to know where the death trains went and he seems to have pat answers for every query. But then there was one important moment when an Israeli judge spoke to him in German for the first time and asks, “Did you feel any crisis of conscience?” That moment captured the truth not found in any of the trial transcripts—Eichmann was totally bewildered and did not understand the question even though it was in his own language. I think what bothers me so much in watching this and other films about the trial is that Eichmann looks like a car salesman or a librarian—a neat, well-mannered man with total confidence that he had committed no crime and merely followed orders. It is also here that we see how Arendt reached her conclusion that Eichmann was too weak a man to be guilty, by himself, of such crimes and that she maintained this idea and lost so much because of it.
Director Sivan was inspired by Hannah Arendt’s writing, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” and gained permission to go through the tapes so that he could form a concentrated portrait of Eichmann and his trial. We see Eichmann looking meek and scary especially when he snaps to attention to answer every question. We hear “I had to obey…I was a soldier” many times and it became his mantra. It was Eichmann himself who gave us the portrait of the bureaucrat who was totally efficient. He claims the “I” in the above statement was not for Eichmann but for any of Hitler’s henchmen. Eichmann displays no emotion except for the pride in his meticulous service to Nazi Germany. He explains that he was never reprimanded.
Sivan made this film by compiling it from video recordings and he found some very haunting images. We see Eichmann staring blankly as witnesses recount the atrocities they experienced. There is one scene in which we see the tattooed number on the arm of someone and it says so much, unlike Eichmann who sits and stares blindly. We see in him “the banality of evil” and it is terrifying.
This is a fine film both technically and artistically and what it really does is flesh out Arendt’s thesis that the Nazis were simply a machine, a mechanized bureaucratic approach to genocide and that was what was responsible for a new type of evil. Eichmann here does not do evil in order to further his personal motives or hatreds but as just a part of a larger machine which he did not design. This machine could diffuse responsibility and along with it guilt, remorse, moral understanding and feelings. He was, according to this theory, a desk-job murderer who can only think and perform narrowly and whose tasks must be done in the name of duty and honor. Arendt felt that is was absurd and ridiculous for Israeli prosecutors to make Eichmann out to be a monster who was responsible for perpetuating the Holocaust.
Arendt’s arguments have caused a furor sine first they were published but Sivan (as is true of other young Israelis) has bought into her theses. Eichmann has had time to prepare for his day in court and he must have that he knew that day would eventually come. He certainly had time to make sure that he responded perfectly to questions with answers such as “I only organized the transports; I did not do the killing upon arrival of the transports at the camps!” Of course, he downplays several very important facts, namely that he knew all along what the fate of his “cargo” would be, and that he never expressed publicly or privately any misgivings with the Nazis’ extermination plans (of which he was a vital element). “Indeed, the testimony of his closest associates conclusively establishes that Eichmann was, contrary to Arendt’s thesis, a willing and enthusiastic participant in the genocide — among other details, there is his boast near the end of the war that he did not fear capture by the Allies, but would instead “jump happily into [his] grave, with the knowledge that [he] was responsible for exterminating 5 million Jews!” These are not the words of a banal and detached person.
Ultimately it makes no difference as to how we view what Arendt said—that either Eichmann was a chillingly amoral man who willingly and knowingly played a part in the genocide of European Jewry or that he was an inconceivably evil monster who was responsible for the murder of the Jews and then formed a defense that would allow him to live knowing he committed the crimes. Some feel that this is what fooled Arendt but never mind—the film is still valuable as a window into an individual who, while appearing quite normal, was completely horrible.
In the end, it doesn’t much matter how you view Arendt’s thesis — either Eichmann is a chillingly amoral man who willingly played a major role in facilitating the Holocaust, or he is an inconceivably evil monster who happily did his most to bring about the extermination of European Jewry — and then crafted a defense (possibly as a self-defense to allow him to live with the knowledge of his crimes) good enough to fool one of the 20th century’s most brilliant philosophers. Either way, this film is an invaluable window into a thoroughly terrible — though hauntingly “normal”-appearing — individual.
I have been doing a lot of research lately on Hannah Arendt for three courses I will be teaching in the fall and it is really interesting to see a renewed interest in her now which I am sure is due to the new movie biography about her. I am still not sure what I believe but I do know that Adolf Eichmann is frightening to behold in this fascinating documentary, both because of his tidy, mild-mannered appearance (think a mid-career insurance salesman) and seemingly unshakeable confidence that he committed no crime and merely fulfilled his duty as a soldier. “Given the mad trial rantings of other war criminals, Eichmann’s imperturbable performance is a perfect illustration of Hannah Arendt’s notion of “the banality of evil.” See “The Specialist” for a reminder of how barbarity can be experienced at the wrong end of a rubber stamp”.
Nikolopoulos, Angelo. “Obscenely Yours”, Alice James Books, 2013.
A Poetic Probing of Sexual Identity
Hidden desire and vulnerability are the major themes of Angelo Nikolopoulos’s “Obscenely Yours”, his debut collection of poetry that is lyrical and passionate as it shows us the delicateness and intimacy of shame and beauty. He is obsessed with the body as well as the shame of the way he feels and he shares that with his readers. This is a collection of poetry that is very sexy and talks about “the spirit and hope, terror and boredom, the elation and shame and beauty of the thing itself”. We also see desire with a bit of violence like to it. The poems slap you across the face as they explore the nature of desire from both intelligent and scandalous points of view.
There is a kind of static here that combines tenderness and sensitivity with minimalism and ribaldry. The poems seem to live somewhere in that area between quietude and loudness. Nikolopoulos writes of the boy—its pride and its shame and what the poet is obsessed with. He releases the boy and lets it speak and at the same time he deals with the nature of love. The poet celebrates love and homosexuality. They are erotic and erudite. He is the observer and the participant in what he writes. He sees sex has appealing yet necessary. We see who he as we read his meticulously chosen words. He writes of serious topics and adds his tongue-in-cheek humor. We see this in the titles of some of his poems—“Self Suck”, “Take the Body Out” and “Anonymous Creampies”. His attitude toward sex is not new—many of us have felt what he felt when he wrote the poems and therefore the poems allow us to look at ourselves in other ways than the usual. For him, sex is magic and fun. Nothing here is obscene unless the reader is a prude and cannot deal with the reality of sex. The poems go beyond obscenity as social norms are defied passionately and show us the union of beauty and shame.
This is such a powerful debut, I find myself wondering how Nikolopoulos will be able to follow it up. Bravo! Bravo!