Sunday, December 7, 2008

Modernism: What the period tells us

The modernist period began in the 19th century and ended in the early 20th century. It is characterized as being a period where authors went outside of the normal boundaries of writing. Some of the characteristics that are known for the modernist writers are different kinds of subject matter and playing with the rules of language, making it much more difficult to understand. With what I have experienced thus far with modernist writers I have found that they all seem to be making statements about their ideas of life or critiquing the way that society is at the moment. They are using their voice to share with the readers what they feel about a certain subject, people or entire way of life. The way that they write makes finding their messages difficult, but challenging content is one of the characteristics. In Paris France by Gertrude Stein, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, Querelle by Jean Genet and Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust I have found that each of these writers is trying to send a message about something that they felt strongly about.

In Paris France Stein comes up with an interesting way to get the reader to see things differently. With her strong use of rhetorical strategies she is able to persuade the reader to look at war-time differently. Instead of from the battlefield she shifts it to the homes of the people going through the war. She used repetition in her novel and this was the way that she was able to get the reader to think differently. At the end of the novel she uses metaphors for the 19th and 20th century. She explains to the reader the significance of each century but because that is a difficult thing to grasp she compares them to a life. From childhood to death and the readers are able to more clearly see this idea.

Djuna Barnes is perhaps the most difficult writers of the four that I am experienced with but what I have found within her novel is a questioning of love. Throughout the novel one character named Robin goes from person to person without seeming to feel any emotion, but what is more interesting is that she goes from man to woman. Djuna Barnes had once had a lover who she claimed to be in love with but not to have been a lesbian. She simply said that she was in love with a woman and that was that. It seems as though with the character Robin she is defending the ability to be able to just love someone without having to change your sexual preference.

Jean Genet makes a huge statement in his novel Querelle by critiquing the importance of beauty in society. Throughout the entire novel there is an obsession placed on one physically perfect character who happens to also be a murderer. While reading this novel I found that Genet was trying to show the reader that society was wrapped around the idea of what is beautiful and by also using the self obsessed character of Querelle to show them that being so focused on your looks is an affect of the societal pressures to look good in order to fit in.

Lastly Proust makes what seems like fun of society people and almost creates a large section in the book to feel like a scene in a play. While watching these characters you find them to be almost fake or acting a part. I find that Proust is trying to show the readers what society has constructed us to do in certain social situations. He is showing us how we are all just actors in the same world and playing a part to get something or somewhere in life.

What all four of these authors have in common is a message that they are trying to send to their audience. Like most modernist writers their writing is difficult to get through and it breaks many rules of the language. I found it very interesting that within each of these novels is the author trying to reach out and tell the reader their truth about life. They are trying to help the problem and do their part by giving the audience the opportunity to see their truth. Modernist authors created a new way of writing and it gave the opportunity to voice their ideas and views within their stories. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Swann's Way (222-333)

 

In this section of the novel Swann attends the dinner parties held by Mme. Verdurin. Proust details the parties are we learn more about the budding relationship between Swann and Odette. At one point Odette insists on Swann coming to earlier to the dinner because he usually arrives after the meal. Swann declines and Odette suggests that they have dinner just the two of them. When Swann asks Odette what she will tell Mme. Verdurin if she does not attend Odette tells Swann that she can just lie. Right here is when Swann should have realized than Odette was not an honest person. When she showed him how swiftly she could make up a lie and say that she was or somewhere else or that she had other obligations. He should have realized sooner that all the times they were supposed to meet or she said she wasn’t home she could have, and probably did lie about it. This is an example of Swann’s ignorance. It seems so obvious to the reader that Odette is dishonest and is using Swann just for the salary that he gives her but he is unable to realize that.

            Later on in the text when Odette is knocked over by a scared horse Swann helps her readjust her rumpled dress. She was wearing Cattleyas on her dress and he asked her if he could fix them for her. He had to touch her bodice to fix the flower but was so awkward about it. He kept asking her a million questions like: Is this okay, is it uncomfortable, is it bothering you, can I do this, am I annoying you? Odette handled this awkward moment well by just smiling and politely shrugging her shoulders. In this scene Swann makes himself look insane and acts as if he has never touched or spoken to a women before. For a character that is notorious for being a bit of a ladies man, he sure seems to go about it like he has never done it before. He is awkward and continues to be awkward throughout the relationship.

            The rest of this section continues with dinner party conversation and then a private conversation about Swann, Forcheville and Odette that happens between Mme. Verdurin and her husband. M. Forcheville blatantly states that he thinks Swann is stupid. Mme. Verdurin chimes in that she thinks that Odette prefers Forcheville anyway and that he is a better choice for her. She says that Swann is not direct and is cunning. He is always between ideas and that is just the opposite of Forcheville, who is straightforward and tells you the truth.

            What is interesting to me is that Mme. Verdurin picks up on the image that Swann tries to create for himself. She can tell that he is looking to keep a name and impress people with what he does and who he knows. She refers to him as a society man and I feel the exact same way about him that she does. I can see right through Swann and I don’t know why more characters can’t.   

 

 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Swann's Way

This book begins in a really interesting way; Proust starts out by introducing the character in bed and describing sleep. He describes the darkness and how when he is awake he isn’t sure he is asleep. The way that he obsesses over it makes him seem a little compulsive in his thoughts. He begins to imagine his pillow turning into a woman and then the character starts to talk about how he longs for his mothers kiss. You don’t know right away that he is really a young boy until he begins to go on about his mother.

 For quite a while he describes his longing for his mothers kiss upon his cheek and how much he adores it. But because of his father and the way he frowns upon kissing his mother he is afraid of him. When reading I felt bad for the young boy and the fact that his father would not let him kiss his mother. It was really annoying and I didn’t see what the big deal was with him kissing her goodnight. What I did think was strange though was his obsession over it. The way he described his mothers kiss and his lips on his mother’s cheek totally crept me out. I felt like this little boy was obsessed with his mother in the way of Oedipus. I became clearer why the father had been so stern on him not kissing his mother because of this but he was only a little boy. Sometimes fathers try to make their boys grow up faster tot “protect” them from being too emotional but instead of protecting him he is straining their relationship.

I didn’t understand at all why the little boy could never join the family for dinner. The father would never let him join and purposely eat late so he had to miss out. I wasn’t sure if it was too late for him or not but I thought that this was odd. It reminded me again of the Oedipus story because they were competed for the attention. His father was shooing him off to bed, but the mother would sneak him kisses sometimes.

When Swann was introduced I was surprised by the way that he was described, not so fabulous in my opinion. I began reading the book thinking the young boy was Swann and was disappointed to find out he was not. It was an observation of Swann. I don’t feel very connected with Swann and feel like he is portrayed awkwardly. It may be just me but I don’t really like him at all and he kind makes me suspicious. I enjoy hearing more about the tales of the young boy than I do of Swann’s life. He seems like an odd sort of person. He is said to have money and seems well cultured and to have a very nice life. He is also very intelligent but they way I feel about him is he is one of those people that has things and does stuff to impress people, make “friends” and to preserve a status quo. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A biography of Stein

This is a good biography of Stein.

Irony

This is a blog...in plain English!



This is a movie about blogs from Youtube.

zizek

Paris, France: Gertrude Stein


Gertrude Stein was from a wealthy family; she was an art collector, an intellectual, hung around several extremely influential people such as Pablo Picasso and Victor Hugo and was also a huge literary figure in the modern era. She also happened to be a lesbian. Whether that affects a person’s writing or not she is classified as a modernist lesbian writer. There are very few well known female authors let alone homosexual female authors.

In Steins novel titled, Paris France there is a constant presence of frustration and confusion for the reader. Her constant stream of consciousness can become irritating when thoughts seem to be bouncing off the walls. Many people are guilty for speaking without thinking but I have yet to find an author who writes with what seams as a conscious thought. For example the introduction of the book speaks about Steins earliest memories of France she is describing her childhood and pulling you into the story when she breaks out of the description into a time when a cat jumped on her mothers back. This type of abstract thought seems to be what the entire book is made up of.

As the reader it is hard to find a pin point of what the book is really about. When asked by someone what how the book was I didn’t have a real answer, only a sense of confusion about how I felt about it. I am not entirely sure whether I loved it, like it, despised it or just didn’t care about it at all. Perhaps Steins purpose was to confuse the audience and to keep its meaning a mystery or maybe her writing is really that abstract.

As someone who is not too familiar with this style of writing I have nothing to compare it to but my own ideas of how I would write my own personal recollections, which would be very different from hers.

What kept me reading the book were the random and awkwardly placed lines that spoke to me that I found throughout the entire novel. While reading, there were several areas throughout the book that had pieces that I found meaningful, perhaps not to others but for me. The first time I read something meaningful was page two when Stein says that writers have two countries. The one where they belong to and the one in which they live. I felt that this was a very true statement. She continued with the second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real. When reading this passage I thought wow how insightful is that statement. I have always felt this admiration for writers but could never figure out why and as I was feeling connected with Steins words she finishes the thought with “…It is not real, but it is really there.” The last part of the sentence really threw me off and didn’t feel as beautiful. It forced me to ask what she was trying to say about writers. This statement most likely reflected some of her own personal feelings about writers because she was one herself and that she drew this idea from her feelings about her own life in another country. When she says that one is romantic and separate from them selves it made sense to me. Though I am not a writer I can connect with the idea of having two countries. Like Stein I am an American born citizen who is living in France due to a love of the country. This life that I live here is separate from my life at home; it feels like a fantasy, it is without responsibility. It is not real to me but it is really there for me. I was able to connect to that statement after carefully reading into each word and thinking about what other ways it could be interpreted.
Soon after finding meaning I realized that within this particular book finding insight was like finding the needle in the haystack, nearly impossible, exasperating and for some, not worth trying. Having been given a clue to finding insight within this book I was determined to do so. I realized in order to find the meaningful ideas, it was necessary to have to root through all the other random things she had to say (i.e the hay).

While discussing the book with other classmates it was unclear to all of us what the tone or the main theme of the book was. Found throughout the entire text were references to war, logic, civilization, fashion, and her description of mainly Parisian’s but other times the French culture as a whole, peaceful and exciting. The constant war references gave you the correct assumption that there was a war going on at that time of her life, but you don’t know exactly what part of the war they were in. The book was published in 1940 and although Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939 France did not get involved until 1940 which was during or shortly after the book was published. On pages 89-92 war is referenced 14 times. Each time it is used in a sentence describing war time. The novel gives the impression that Stein was very well involved and educated on war times but she also seems to give the reader that same feeling about several other statements she makes. One in particular was about the French being the only true remaining Latinist country and because of that they are the logical ones. To be Latin is to be civilized and to be civilized is also to be logical; therefore because French people are the only Latinists they are the only logical ones making them the only civilized people around. Statements and sweeping generalizations like that confused me throughout the book.

Campaign Trail!

A comedic view of the campaign trial

Cowboys

Eiffel tower

Eddie Izzard

Monday, May 19, 2008

well...

I wanted to thank everyone in the class for being so great! Sometimes I felt a little uninformed, but you were all patient and wonderful and I had such a good time. It's always good to learn about something new and our discussions (sometimes more like debates) were a blast.
I don't usually get to really explore things in depth in my classes because so much material was covered, and we did cover a lot, but it was nice having a small class and really getting to talk as a group and work through some ideas.
I appreciate all of you and what each of you added to my learning experience! I hope to see you all around from time to time.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

La Tour Eiffel en rouge et blanc.

For my cultural presentation in my Japanese class, I made a video on the construction of homosexuality in Japan from past to present. I was largely inspired by one of the discussions we had in class of what it means to be gay (during our section on Querelle de Brest). One of my primary sources was a great article called "Is there a Japanese 'gay identity'?" by Mark McLelland, which is short and concise (yet full of great information) and basically elaborates on everything I was trying to say about how there is really no such thing as gay or straight in Vietnamese culture (the philosophies and religions of ancient China having a profound effect on most of the east Asian countries, including Japan and Vietnam). I seem to remember reading somewhere that in all of recorded Japanese history, gay sex acts were only illegal for something like 11 years, and this was during the period that immediately followed Japan's opening up to (and rapid assimilation of) western values and technology after centuries of isolation. Anyway, I'd upload the video I made, but its terrible, weird, and in Japanese.

Instead, here's a link to the article:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3986702

My other primary source was a book called Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary Leupp. It's a great read too. Even though both deal specifically with Japan, I think they really help illustrate how sexuality is a social construct.

And if you wanna read a really fun book that picks up with French culture and history where we left off, I recommend Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture by Kristin Ross.

That's all! H.A.G.S. everybody!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Response to New Yorker Article

The photo of Sabrina Harman is of an average looking woman. She is not dressed in her military, but civilian clothes. The caption under the photograph reads: “Specialist Sabrina Harman took hundreds of pictures, she says, to “just show what was going on, what was allowed to be done.” While I feel that this is true, I think that she also took the photos to force herself into believing what was happening before her eyes. To the world, she is just an average American citizen, fulfilling her duty in Iraq, but to Sabrina, she was living a nightmare. People are looking down on her actions, but to her it was a way of coping, a way of making sense of her immediate reality.
Self-preservation seems to be an important theme in both Suite Francaise and the New Yorker article. The first four lines of Suite Francaise give the impression that the Parisians do not feel threatened by the war going on in the distance. “Hot thought the Parisians. The warm spring air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war was far away” (3). Though the war is ever-present, it is easier to focus on the hot night air than impending doom. It takes the Parisians being forced to flee their homes and their known world to make the war a reality. Likewise, it takes Sabrina Harman experiencing the worst in humanity in order to realize the brutality of war.
Sabrina Harman reminds me of one of the refugees despite being a soldier doing her job. Her living conditions and her work environment were the worst. She lived in constant fear of being shot at to the point that she didn’t shower. Her daily routine was disrupted, just like the Parisians lives were. The main difference between Sabrina and the Parisians was that she chose the life of a soldier and was not forced to flee in order to protect herself. However, her job was not the “glamorous” life of a soldier that she thought it would be. Just like the Parisians lives were motivated by the need to survive, Sabrina took pictures as a witness to herself. Suite Francaise demonstrates several ways that humans cope with crisis and Sabrina Harman’s story is another example of this. There are several ways of coping with disaster one is not better than the other.

(untitled)

I would have sworn I had already made two posts last week, but now they aren't on here, so I will try to repost approxamately what it is I said (atleast in the first one for now).
And now, of course, I can't find the sorce for what troubled me, but I will try my hardest to have this all make sense.
There was a line in the very beginning of the book that has stuck with me while I have continued reading. I feel that it shows how the author really viewed what was happening. We discussed that is class. Everyone who is rich doesn't seem to understand what is going on and they end up fine (atleast to the point that we were discussing). How could the author write something like that when she herself was hiding from the nazis? Well, near the beginning she described a scene in which "you" are dreaming. You are walking around in Paris, but it is all a dream. Nothing is real, and then you wake up, and you are in Hell. To me, that's what is happening to a lot of the people in this story. Nothing seems real, it's all just some bizzar dream, but when they wake up to reality....
I can't help but look back on that line everytime I pick up this book and read more, because I almost feel that it is a mini map of what is going on. It's like the key.
For me, it sheds a lot of light on the discussion we had in class Tuesday because, the more I think about it, the more I see how it fits into every aspect of the story.
It was such a small thing that it would have been easy to read past, and I can't even go back and find it, but it was so startling when I read it. Things in the story seemed almost pleasant up until that point and then to hear HELL so loud in my ear, I had to stop and reread and consider it repeatedly when I continued to read.
Hopefully this one posts, eh?
It is very interesting to me to see how well the author has managed to show so many different types of people and how they deal with such a tragic situation. The difference in thresholds of endurance that the different characters have (for instance Gabriel and Florence vs. the Pericands). One of the most interesting characters for me to follow is Hubert. One of the most amusing instances of Hubert was when during the church service for his brother and grandfather, he has this huge spiritual awakening and a new outlook on life. It's a very powerful moment for him and then after the funeral, on p. 154, the women only see his cheeks and baby fat and not that "he hasn't changed at all" (155). No one respects this guy at all but he seems to be the least selfless of all. Everyone does seem selfish though in their own way. It also seems the more selfish they are, the less they seem to be aware of it. The back to back war situation was put into perspective for me when men who had already fought in the first war in 1914 were seeing their sons go off and fight in the second war in 1940.

There seem to be a lot of war-like happenings within the setting of the larger war. The cat and its night hunt, Phillipe and his wards. The way they are written, the smaller battles seem almost more tragic than the larger war.

On page 160, Corte worries if his art will appeal to people now that their views of things may have changed since their experiences during wartime. This seems really funny to me since he seems to have no depth at all. How impacting could his work be to begin with? It reminds me of our shallow pop stars when they try to be political. Like Fergie who announced that to do her part for global warming she was going to sell (not keep it off the road) her Hummer and then donate the money to help global warming.

The women in this novel surprised me a couple of times. First, Mrs. Pericand with her traditional roles and the way she embraces those boundaries. It reminded me of my grandma and how she is always trying to get me to understand that men and women need to be married and follow the roles in place for them. She is really caught up in that but she always reminds me that some women don't mind and even embrace the idea of dedicating their lives to their husbands and children rather than finding their own talents and self. Mme. Madeleine another one. On page 133, she explains that she wants to be a nun unless a boy comes along. It's interesting that she sees these options as her only two.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gendered Characters?

In class on Thursday, we asked if this novel was gendered. On the surface it seems to be a pretty straight novel, there are no traces to homosexuality that I am aware of. However, there seems to be this weird role reversal in some characters.

Charles Langelet possesses this opposition to war that makes him girlish. If I am not mistaken, he is the one that packed up all of his precious statues and artistic pieces before leaving for Paris . His heart condition is what kept him from fighting in both wars. He is a creature of habit and therefore did not flee as early as he should have. Charles would not trade his “fragments of beauty” for a blood and death and incessant fighting. It seems to me that Charles Langelet runs from fighting in the way that a girl runs away in fear. He protects his statues by giving them the same attention a mother would give a child. Gabriel Corte is similar with his manuscript. He is a self-centered writer whose child is his manuscript. These two men bestow love and attention on inanimate objects.

Some of the orphans that Father Pericand takes to safety are described as having girlish features. They are small, which also implies a girlish physique.

Corbin’s dancer, despite being self-centered and a typical female gives what she has to Hubert at the motel. Her sacrifice is small, but she is transformed from this self-centered female character, to one that is able to give. (She retains her beauty despite the war going on with her American makeup. That is a bit farfetched, but perhaps in a perfect world.)

Madame Pericand takes on the saintly role of head of household as her family flees Paris. Since her husband is left behind, she is forced to take care of her father-in-law, her children, and her servants. You don’t see her breakdown until she has found out that she has lost two sons and her father-in-law to the war. It takes a multitude of disasters in order for her to let her emotions down—the news of three deaths.
The characters in Suite Francaise are gendered compared to characters in other books we have read this semester. The characters do not fall into this role reversal by their own choice, but rather by circumstances beyond their control. World War II had a way of changing people.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Too Perfect?

I am really enjoying Suite Fran├žaise. It is the perfect book to end the semester; an easy read. However, as I continue reading, I am wondering if this book is too perfect. It seems like most of our understanding of WWII is centered around concentration camps, namely Auschwitz. Nemirovsky has an unusual way of writing; she is able to capture various snapshots of the war without being bitter and full of resentment. This novel could have focused more on the negative aspects of war, death, Nazi invasion, walking from Paris to wherever in the June heat, etc. However, even though people die there is still a nice story underneath. Right before Father Pericand is killed by the orphans, he sees a world untouched by war.

“Philippe thought he had never heard so many vibrant, joyous songs nor seen so many swarms all around him. Hay, strawberries, blackcurrants, the little sweet-smelling flowers in the borders, each flower bed, each lawn, each blade of grass gave off a soft buzzing sound, like a spinning wheel. All these small plots had been tended with care; all of them had an archway covered with roses, a tunnel where you could still see the last lilacs of the season, two iron chairs, a bench in the sunshine” (138-139).

Even though Philippe is a man of God, he is still not free from the confines of war. Philippe is able to see the serene world around him, but he dies a death that is not noble by any means. In many regards, Philippe becomes a victim of war, the orphans representing the invasion that Philippe falls prey to.

I am most surprised with Irene Nemirovsky’s ability to see the world in such a serene way despite being Jewish. The fear that must have been felt trying to keep her family safe is not present in the novel. Rather than experiencing emotions that the general public felt during this terrifying time of invasion, Nemirovsky focuses on the most minute of details. For instance, the cat catching the bird and the feelings of the Michaud’s leaving their home with all of the memories still intact. No one seems to experience an extreme degree of emotion. Madame Pericand had placed her faith in God, Philippe is a man of God, Langlet is focused on himself and ignores the reality of the war. Every person has their own personal reasons for behaving the way that they do.

I can’t decide if I like that all of the characters become interwoven in the same fabric or if I think it is trite. It demonstrates that people experience the same threatening manner in similar ways although it may not be apparent to others at the time. However, it just seems to be kind of forced. I am beginning to think that Nemirovsky wrote this novel as a way of coping, I may not understand it, but it made sense to her. Suite Francaise is different from other WWII books, there is both triumph and tragedy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And the people were like cattle. And the cats were like cats. And the rich were, like, jerks.

Heheh, well. After reading something like Querelle, Suite Francaise is almost jarringly normal. The prose is simple without being oddly minimalistic or nebulous, but it's still descriptive.. more like something we'd expect from popular novels today? And it's about families during war, women thinking about their sons, young lads eager to fight for their country. The upper class bean mean. Cats catching birds. All that good stuff. I don't exactly hugely dislike this novel, but.... Well, part of it is I just tend to avoid war books/movies as I always expect just this sort of thing from them (in the case of stuff about civilians, anyway), and even if it IS well done I don't really want to hear it again (mind, really, that could be just an unjustified generalization based on insufficient information, as I've done well enough avoiding such stories that now that I think about it, my contact with them lies mostly in the form of history classes and movie previews). So it's partly just a matter of personal preference. And if it had been before Querelle, I would probably found it's normalcy a sort of blessing instead of a slight let down.


Still. I see “national bestseller” on the cover, and I wonder what the big deal is? The more compassionate/humane/moral poor, the more self centered/shallow/superficially kind rich. Boys wanting to fight. The good having to steal to survive. Don't we see this stuff a lot? Looking on imdb, it seems there's a movie in the works. Unsurprising. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was specifically made to be one. For a war story it's so...inoffensive? ...Mild? Nice for a dramatic but not-too-upsetting night at the movies. Oh, and the multiple stories that barely relate to each other? Gosh, people love those these days! Chapter from the point of view of a cat? Great! Nice change of pace!


Not everything has to be hard-hitting to be good or anything.. But I spent last semester in post-colonial lit, up to my back end in books about refugees. Not all those books were hard-hitters either, but they all did feel like they had something to add or say about this story. This one is just so tame and usual. The only really surprising thing, of course, was Huberts oddly homoerotic thoughts on men. I'm...wondering if these will be followed up by something or what...


(No, really, what the heck with the cat? Was that supposed to be funny? It felt kind of out of place to me. ...Maybe I just don't have the right sense of humor? ^_^;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

war novels

Looking at other novels published about world war 2, The thin red line, the bridge over the river kawi, good Shepard, from here to eternity- you find a lack of both female writing and female perceptive. Authors wants to write about heroes, and the easiest to portray this is though soldiers.


SF is important because it inverts the male authorship, but also because it highlights the role of families. I believe that it is easier to handle war when all you think about is battle. But when you start thinking about families, children etc, war becomes human.



Howard Zinn gave a speech in 2004 about World War 2



: "World War II is not simply and purely a 'good war.' It was accompanied by too many atrocities on our side--too many bombings of civilian populations. There were too many betrayals of the principles for which the war was supposed to have been fought.
"Yes, World War II had a strong moral aspect to it--the defeat of fascism. But I deeply resent the way the so-called good war has been used to cast its glow over all the immoral wars we have fought in the past fifty years: in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. I certainly don't want our government to use the triumphal excitement surrounding World War II to cover up the horrors now taking place in Iraq. : The Progressive


Does the American public like SF because of its sappy war time theme? In the book, Germans are really so bad, people can still go to spas, they can still have a loving relationship and the kindness of the human spirit perseveres . Does SF glorify World War 2 though its treatment of war? Is the novel helping making war.. permissible?




Sunday, April 13, 2008

gay or not?

Well, Is Querelle gay?
(Does it really matter?)
I like what Peele said in class one day when he described Querelle as a sexual opportunist. I think that is probably the most accurate description of his sexuality. I don't know that it matters to the story that much if he is gay or straight. He wants intimacy and he enjoys sex. Does it make a difference who he is going to to find these desires fulfilled?
I think most people watch Scrubs, so I will relay a portion of one episode to you all. Todd is a sleezy surgeon that hits on all the girls. A couple of the girls deside maybe he is doing this because he is gay and uncomfortable with it. There is much situational comedy throughout the rest of the episode, but it ends with him hitting on the girls, then them walking away discusted and the janitor walks up in time to see this followed by him checking out a male nurse. Janitor asks him what exactly he is (being that he is checking out male and female employees) and he simply says "I'm the Todd."
That's kinda like Querelle, in distant yet distinct ways. If sex feels good, why not get it from whereever you can? Don't limit yourself.
I guess the more I think about Querelle, I think that his preference doesn't matter as much as the fact that he seems to be trying to fill some void. We focus so much on labels and catagories that we miss the big picture, or what is really behind people's actions.
Is Querelle gay or not? I don't know. I have an opinion, but I don't know for sure. In fact, I don't think it really matters. A lot of people struggle with the question of whether they are gay or not, but it doesn't change who they are or what they want out of life. The sudden realisation that your sexuality is not what you assumed it was, does not instantaniously change the fundamentals of who a person is or what they want/represent.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

presentation


Not 10 mins coming from the archivist presentation.. and remembering all the b/w pictures of boys teams.. this was posted to my Facebook.
A very different take of what
consists men in sports.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I always have to start with stories...

When I was younger I went hog wild with my hair, I've done so many things to it I couldn't begin to name them all, but I've done cute little pixie cuts and I've had 3 and 4 different non-natural hued colors in it at a time. The summer before my brother went into the military he dyed his hair bright pink. My mom never cared. She always said it was just hair, and it would grow out or grow back.
I also played soccer growing up. I'm sure you can imagine how much of a hassle long hair can be while playing. It keeps the heat in and it can get in your face. One season, I stopped to admire a player who had a buzz cut. My mom also noticed the player but had different feelings about it. I was so impressed at how brave this girl was to shave off all her hair. She must really not care what people thought. I wished I were so bold. My mom made a comment on how ashamed this girls mother must be and how horrible a thing that would be to do. When I started to question her and point out the benefits, she forbade me from ever doing that to myself. This, comming from the woman who said it was just hair and let my show up for school pictures with a blue and purple hair.
I never quite understood that. I never thought of hair as a symbol of much. I thought it looked cool in certain styles or colors, but more than anything, it was a burden.

I don't know if I think homosexuality is genetic or a choice. If it is genetic, then homophobia is kinda like racism, which I never understood either. Why get mad at someone for something that is out of their control? It's not like they can change because you don't like it.
I don't go around always being conscious of the fact that I am white or that I am straight. I am made up of so many other things that those two just kinda fall in the background.

I was playing soccer today and commented to my husband while on the side line how much I wish I could just shave my head like he does. He doesn't like girls to have short hair because then they look gay. This always reminds me of my previously told story. I don't know if that girl was gay or not. I don't care. I don't know what her hair has to do with it. I don't know why something as stupid as hair should be a symbol of some other part of us. People are always looking for a way to read or understand people. I think you should just get to know then, and if you have no interest in doing that, just ask then outright whatever it is you are questioning. Are you gay? Are you a hard worker? Are you a Christian? Are you a parent? You can't look at me and know any of that stuff. My hair doesn't tell you that I'm straight and my clothes don't tell you that I'm lazy.

Well, to bring this back to Querelle... (and I know I've strayed a bit, but I tend to rant and rave)
some things are just out of our control. Some things can't be determined by looking at someone or judging their mannerisms.
I keep being struck, while reading Querelle, by how it seems that his way of standing and dressing symbolize his criminal qualities. Also, he seems to be able to just look at someone and know if they are gay (which is always the case). I think I really hate this about the book. It is not real at all. I can't look at someone and know if they are gay. I can make a guess, and in my experience I'm not too far off in most cases, but there have been times when someone has seemed soooo gay, and they aren't. Or, the other way around where no one can tell, and it's not because they are hiding it, they just don't act "gay". And as far as looking at the way someone wears their clothes and knowing them in depth, that's just crap. So Querelle wears his berret to the back of his head and so what if he props up his collor. Oh, that must mean he is a murderer and a drug dealer. Or, he could just be more comfortable that way.

I guess when you are struggling with some of these things in yourself, like your sexuality or you desires to kill, yeah, it will be on the forefront of your brain, but is that normal for most people? I'm not always walking around thinking about how straight everyone around me is. I don't understand this about the book. Aside from my issues with "judging a book by it's cover" (which I actually do for my reading material) I find this constant thought and actions dealing with sexuality to be over done and unbelievable.

Well, that is my rant for the night. Sorry to go on so long, but there are just some things I don't understand and it helps to get them out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Faggot, what's a faggot?

Querelle ponders over the meaning of the word "faggot" after he calls the lieutenant one in his mind. "Faggot, what's a faggot? One who lets other guys screw him in the ass?" (88). He arrives at the conclusion that he is one himself. The word pops up more and more in these pages. We give the label of "homosexual" to all the characters who populate this fictive rendering of Brest, which is only natural for us because of how our particular culture chooses to define sexuality... the biological sex of the object(s) of our desire (or of the act itself, if you like). All these (mostly violent) masculine power struggles are overtly eroticized and then we have the men who participate in these struggles who are openly talking about s*cking and f*cking each other all the time. Yet at the same time they are all worried of being labeled a "faggot" or a "fairy" and sodomy even appears to be a punishable offense (another crime to add to our growing list: prostitution, drug trafficking, theft & murder). I admit I don't know if France still had sodomy laws at the time, or if they would apply in this fictive world even if she did... but given the lieutenant's fear of being discovered by Mario when he is being questioned about Vic's murder, and Robert's reaction to hearing his brother gave himself willingly to Nono or Momo or whatever his name is... I have a hard time believing some of the very frank, sexy stuff going on here... like Gil presenting his anus to the masons and then screaming at them to f*ck him even though he's got hemorrhoids. Crazy. I really have to give it to Genet. The image he puts in my head right there is one that probably won't quit me for a while.

I like how the woman, Paulette, enters into the story only in a fantasy of Gils... and then only because he is terrified of being penetrated by Theo. In revenge he shouts: "Me, I'm a man... ... I shove it up other guys! I'll screw you too!" (109). Theo then turns into Robert. I don't know what thats about... but what's interesting to me is that masculinity here is linked directly to sex with other men (as long as one is the giver and not the receiver). There is another good part on the bottom of page 116 where it talks about passive/active roles in sex, this time talking about fellatio (where the passive/active roles are reversed).

One last thing I will point out this morning: the text specifically says that the fight between Querelle and his brother is a "lovers' quarrel" and that "rather than trying to destroy one another they seemed to want to become united, to fuse into what would surely be, given these two specimens, an even rarer animal" (123). Aside from the suggestion of incest, we return here to this eroticization of male power struggles, but perhaps laced a bit with sadness, because the fusion of these two men can (probably) never be complete. Is that all men really need, to feel connected to other men? Les pauvres. *sniff*

yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi

Hehe. I have to admit I'm finding all the exclamations of how gay this book is a little surprising. I realized some of my lack of surprise may have come because I was expecting something of this nature since when I was researching books for the final essay, I came across another by this author that sounded just as...interesting. If not...more so. ^_^ (Actually I found the description rather amusing and was thinking about doing it till I realized we were already reading a book by this author and that might get a little tiring.) Still, even accounting for that, I still find myself a little...unsettled somehow? Certainly the book is more up front and...excessive in the area of anything relating to sex than we are used to in books we read in lit class (and for most of us anything we read out of class as well? ^_^). Surely that warrants a few utterances of surprise...


To some extent surely I'm just desensitized. (I read manga, so sometimes I trade manga with a friend of mine, but unfortunately most of what she has is yaoi and shoujo, which I, depending on my mood, am either taking just to read the same things as her so we have similar reading experiences to talk about, or, just to be polite. ^^ ...Currently I'm in possession of one apparently about a goldfish that turns into an effeminate man and then has sex with its male owner. *sigh* I just...haven't been able to bring myself to read it.) But I dunno. If this were a book about lesbians constantly having sex I'm sure I'd be more uncomfortable, but...


Glancing through posts again, I guess the main thing is the excessiveness and the unrealistic, er, ratio of gay men? (The connection to immorality, too, of course, but it seems like comments related to that have been...separate from the general, “Wow, this is gay!” remarks. Even if there was no murder in the book, you guys would still be saying that, right?) ...I think MAAAAYBE (I really, really don't know. Shot kind of in the dark here.) I'm getting a vibe that these exclamations of how gay it is and how many phallic symbols there are etc are being stated like the very fact they are there has some sort of inherent meaning. Like...for a random and not exactly equivalent example from another class...I read a transcript of an interview a professor did with a girl about 'dealing' with non native English speakers. The girl started one of her stories with something like, “My friend works at this hospital. It's like...the poor hospital in town.” And then just went on with her story not staying what she meant by that. Because what she meant, of course, is that 'the poor hospital is where the non-native English speakers go.' But she said 'poor hospital' unconsciously assuming people would make the connection. If you asked her she might have told you she was just giving background, but it was pretty clear. Saying 'this novel is really gay' ... I don't think it's anywhere near as extreme as the example, but I still get that feeling of 'poor hospital = non-native English speakers,' like 'really gay novel = ..???' I don't know what the “???” is, but I think it's something kind of negative. It seems...belittling?


I may be getting a little defensive since I read fantasy novels, and while I'll agree that most I've read are...sadly less than engaging/intellectually stimulating, being a fantasy novel does not make a novel inherently insubstantial. And a book being full of sex and sexual descriptions of men and buildings does not make it inherently insubstantial either. All of you acknowledge that in your posts I think (and the kind of person who would take this class would probably anyway, right? ^_^), but I also wanted to say that if a book that is in either of these categories IS 'literary'/substantial, it is also not necessarily 'substantial DESPITE being Xunrespectable thingX,' either. A book having lots of gay sex in it is a book with lots of gay sex in it. (By the way, how do you think everyone would react if it was straight sex?) While that might often come with empty/bad writing, that's just a correlation, and not something inherent in writing about gay sex as talking about it in that way might imply.


And maybe I'm just misunderstanding the cause of my uneasiness, or understanding your statements wrong. Seeing what is easiest for me to see, etc. ...But we DO do some interesting accidental things with our carefree, late night, spring-break-has-almost-started-and-I'm-not-in-the-mood-for-this-now language use. ^_^


To a certain extent, I really believe that the excessive sexual stuff is just for the author's own fun, but I think they're also doing something with it in a literary/meaningful way, helpless as I feel to figure out what that is at this point or possibly ever. ^_^ I mean, my friends and I for a time would pick up trashy romance novels from library giveaways or other such things and leave them in the cars so on long drives we could read them aloud to one another. (Count the times the word 'ivory' was used.) I know the writing style of the time period factors in, but... Pure trashy porn really, really doesn't sound like this, does it? Plus, hasn't this section we read for today been little more...uh...normal? ^_^;


And I suppose a quick bit on today's reading since I haven't mentioned that at all, but I'll keep it simple since I read it half asleep and had to rush through so Brother could start:


Opinions of Gil? I'd certainly be wary of making friends with the guy, but I find him a sympathetic character. So we've got two gay murderers (but of course, everyone is gay ^_^), but Gil is portrayed differently than Querelle. Has it effected anyone's opinion of how they feel the book is portraying homosexuality?


Mario and the lieutenant feel rather...impotent people? ^_^; Mario's a cop, and the police force in general kind of seems to feel that way as well... and the Lt... at first I was thinking the more morally tied down people were the more 'impotent' ones, but... none of them are HORRIBLY moral. But...maybe by comparison to others, heheh?


Reading quickly was possibly part of the problem (Normally I read slower than.....I'm just too sleepy to be thinking of creative ends to sentences right now.) but there were some whole sections I just didn't get. The looong paragraph about the prisoners? Page 118 with the...I don't even know how to describe that. And while I get what literally happened with Querelle and his brother, obviously the author is trying to say something with all this talk of joining or whatever it was. Bah, I wish I wasn't reading this for school. Trying to understand that guy's sections is just cognitively overwhelming, and you still barely get anywhere. I kind of wish it was more predominantly the other characters, even if I do have difficulty understanding their motivations as well sometimes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Not being in class...

I have gone through and read what people have posted so far and I find it so interesting how there might be a slight reference to whatever post came previous to yours, they are all focused on different things. In class, one person starts the conversation and it can gradually change, but it isn't really like these very separate speaches. I think that is good in some ways because it can allow us to express our opinions without softening them for people who are looking right at us or to have to stay on a topic when we would much rather talk about something else. On the other hand, I can read Mike's post about how gay the book is and want to know other people's opinions, but no one else really brought it out into the open like that. It does give everyone the oportunity to tal about what interests tham and it is great that we can all notice different things and point them out to each other, but I also like the immediate response given in a class toward someone's opinion.

That said, I'm going to use my post to talk about what some of my classmates already said. Yes, holy cow, this is a gay book. I would be very interested to know how it was recieved durring the time. It is so blunt and really just puts everything out there. It is almost shocking. I don't even know that I would call it literature, more like verbal porn for people who have a murder fettish. BUT what we are studying in this class has some focus on French gay writing durring the time period it was written.
I find it very interesting that there are so many gay people. It seems like just about every main character is gay. I'm not sure if that is because of the area this takes place, because it works for the plotline or just because that's what the author wanted, but it seems almost unbelievable to me. Everywhere you turn, there is someone who is gay and most likely hiding it. I don't know the ratio of gay to straight in real life, but this seems far fetched.

Now, as for gays in the Navy. Um, a tiny bit overdone nowadays (think The Village People), but I'm sure at the time it wasn't quite such a stereotype. I think there is something to be said just for the fact that these men are on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no women around. I wouldn't say that maeks them turn gay, I wouldn't say that doesn't cause people to experiment, but it does seem like a likely time for something like that to come out in the open.
Now what happens on shore is a completely different story. I think that if I wre in that position I would avoid my boat mates while I was on shore. I'm sure you've all bonded while out together, but I'd need a break from the other guys I've seen 24/7. I am amazed that these sailors don' really seem to have lives outside of each other.
The barret I will wait to comment on until I have read more about it. RIght now I am just so confused that I couldn't even venture a guess. I get mixed and faint signals and can't seem to make sense of them.

WOW! Falic symbols! Um, I looked online and saw a poster fromt he 1980-something movie and there is a guy leaning up against a tower that is clearly shaped like a penis with balls and a head and everything! I wouldn't think they'd have been able to put a poster like that up in public. Um, wow, there are some words I never thought I was going to say in a literature class, but my God I think all of them will be said by the time we are done with this book.
Stiff collar, I didn't see as a symbal of anything sexual or man-part oriented, but now that it has been pointed out, um, well.... There is a real sense of power and manipulation in this book, which in some circles can hint at sex as well.

There has been so much to take in and sort through in that last 140-odd pages that I'm worried when we get to meet in class and actually talk about it we wont have enough time! I think even the quiet ones will have something to say about this!

a kiss is just a kiss

The role of intimacy in Querelle


In Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts talks of the credo "No kissing" This is explained in the movie, that kissing equals intimacy. Sex is allowed but its not linked to intimacy.

I found the same strains of discorded intimacy in Querelle. "No kissing thats for sure" p 70. and later " Nor would it ever entered his head that a man could kiss another"
Kissing is intimate, its affection. At the heart of the sexual interaction in Querelle is a power struggle. The sex is a manifestation of a power struggle, not a symbol of intimacy.
So does Genet help perpetrate the stereotype that sex between men is about power, not intimacy, or by highlighitng this detial is he mocking the idea?

Another point I wanted to bring up was the idea of the amount of gay men in the book. While is disproportionate,.(I am deriving my information form the 1948 Kinsey report, which states 10% of the population is gay) think about your life for a moment. Who surrounds you? More than likely people of the same race, sexual orientation,and political leanings.
Genet could have been reflecting his world on to the pages of Querelle. I know if I were to write down the cast of characters in my life, they would not reflect the US Census Bureau, or the Kinsey Report.
The first section of the book seemed to read better than the second section. I am still enjoying it but it seems to have sunk into an even darker state of being. I really feel like this book is condemning a man for being gay and correlating its negativity with that of murder. It seems like this book has more political commentary that I am aware of than past books we have read, then again, I could just be reading things into it.

I am not really sure what to say about this section…

I guess to start off, I will expand on what DJ said. I think it is important to note that Querelle wore his beret differently than you were supposed to and when he found another sailor wearing his beret in the same fashion, Querelle got really angry. Despite that fact that he is dressed the same as every other man, Querelle seems to have a sense of identity, and identity that is not meant to be copied in any way shape or form. I think from the beginning of the book, even before you get a physical description, a reader realizes that there is something about Querelle that sets him apart from everybody else. It is a sense you get that you realize more from his actions and demeanor than you do any descriptions of him.
What is most interesting to me is that despite Querelle’s supposed confidence, underneath his clothes he seems to be a very insecure man. Does he kill in order to define himself or does he kill as a way of making himself more confident?

One more thing, does the attention paid to clothes, like the stiff collar, correspond with the attention Querelle gives to killing someone. For Querelle, killing is a science that he puts a lot of thought into, and though he wears the same clothes every day, he places the same kind of attention into the position of his beret , and the placement of his collar.
I think the parts of the book I like the most are the incomplete thoughts—the shorter paragraphs that seem to have no connection to one another and yet they do.

“In French, the sinking of a ship is somberer. Somberly” (142).

“The Sailor is the one love of my life” (142).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Okay, so when I started this book, I was really excited that it was set in the Navy. I was thinking "gays in the Navy...I know about that." But there is so much gay man sex, it is disturbing. Initially, I was thinking that Querelle was a sort of a Billy Budd character with all of his beauty and the LT being in obsessed with him. All of his talk about relieving his wad or whatever (excuse me while I vomit) along with the killing and the constant obsession with his penis pretty much takes that away.
The idea of Querelle "feeling safe in his uniform" (33) was really interesting to me. I was thinking back to my time in the Navy and I think I felt just the opposite. Whenever you are in uniform, you have to really watch what you are doing because of what you are representing. I take joy in things like walking on the wrong side of the street and cutting through grass because I wasn't allowed to for so long. The scene on page 34 with the other sailor wearing his hat like Querelle and Querelle telling him to "put it on straight" because it was his signature style was really interesting to me. The whole idea of a uniform is to unify people. The fact that Querelle has a lot of serious things he is trying to hide (murder, drugs, his sexuality) makes it even more ironic that he feels the need to separate himself by any means possible. I would expect him to not try to stand out so much. Genet even says that the sailor's outfit is a disguise. Maybe that's the whole point. By making an effort to seem almost rebellious or dangerous, perhaps is Querelle's way of seeming as if he has nothing to hide.
The whole relationship between Querelle and the Navy uniform is very interesting. Things like "the stiff collar of the pea coat, which he felt protected his neck like armor" (31) and the way "Vic had the collar of his pea coat turned up, the blood, instead of spurting over Querelle, rand down the inside of his coat and over his jersey"(61). The uniform is its own character, protecting Querelle, keeping his secrets.
The "couples" on the ship amused me. The older higher ranking men paired with young, new sailors. The way that Querelle and Lt. Seblon interact rang true to me that constant fogging of boundaries: the way an officer will sexually harass the hell out of you one minute and then check to make sure you maintain absolute respect for him the next.
There were a couple of things that struck me as probably significant but I didn't figure out yet why it is they might be: mouths and doors. The status of Querelle's mouth being half way open is mentioned a lot as well as opening and closing of doors. I am pretty sure this is eluding to more man sex stuff and well...yes I'm sure that it is. On that note, I found it interesting that each time Querelle witnesses his shipmates being flirtatious with each other (namely when he sees Gil and Roger together on page 13 and the un-named couple on page 15), he gets "an air of amused sarcasm." With the amount of obvious sexual tension among these men, I am surprised Querelle denies his homosexuality to the extent that he does.

Holy Homosexuality

Geez, this book couldn't get any more gay could it? I mean just the imagery alone forces me to consider it in a homosexuality slant. We get so many phallic symbols. The knife, the boat, the opium. We get so many power trips too. The Captain, The Sailor, The cop. Through out this entire reading we are inundated with images that deal with dominate and submissive men and who put them on edge and who shames who. And that doesn't even count the pages dedicated to the description of COCK!

"He was free to leave his body, that audacious scaffolding for his balls. Their weight and beauty he knew" (P. 59) He we are getting literal description of someone's testicles in a fashion that is meant to turn them into a metaphor, and a naughty one at that. It makes me blush it does, and I can not lie. "WIth a light and calm touch he liberated his prick from hsi underpants and helf it for a moment, heavy and extended in his hand... ... resting his hand on his prick." (p73) I am disappointed on some level that I Am confined to only talking about the first 78 pages, and that leaves me unable to discuss the more erotic elements of this piece. But oh well, I will make due with this quote that gives us a rather vivid image of his cock and him man handling it. Very homo erotic imagery it would seem, and imagery of power as well. It goes to show that homosexuals view the cock as a symbol of power.

"He pushed in further, very carefully, the better to savor his pleasure and his strength" (P. 74) Here we get a clear notion that being on top and penetrating a bottom is a position of pleasure and of power. It gives the top control it seems, but for the bottom it seems to give a sense of shame. "At the first thrust, so strong it almost killed him, Querelle whimpered quietly, then more loudly, until he was moaning without restraint or shame" (P. 75) So we have this powerful character that murders, and when he murders he feels this sense of shame, he puts himself through trial in his mind. This act, as he mentions is his final judgement, a means of atoning. Isn't it odd that he needs to have sex to free himself from shame and restraint and to set him free from guilt as well. Odd, that is.

I get the feeling that the Lieutenant is kind of a dandy in this book. We get the notion that he has a rather romantic obsession with Querelle and writes about it in his journal. Through out his journal he is writing a literary sketch of Querelle, as it to draw a picture of someone he doesn't know, someone he can't know due to his situation. Even once he mentions how he envies the admiral who has a 20 year old marine following him around as a body guard. I don't remember the page exactly, but I remember that the lieutenant was mildly aroused at the notion of having such a strapping young around who would willingly go down on knees for you and perform fellatio. This man, while very prim and proper, seems to be very horny and repressed.

If one considers it carefully we are getting the sense that every character in this book is gay. I mean call me silly, but The Cop has Dede, The Hotel Keeper has Querelle, Gib and Theo are together, but Gib also loves someone else because he felt like he was bought off by Theo. Gasp, drama. We have the lieutenant who is obsessed with Querelle, and Querelle seems to know this is and is amused by this on some level. He remembers leaving his hankerchief in the lieutenants office and it disappeared. If he has searched further he would have found it encrusted with other bodily fluids. But thankfully the Lieutenant is a good man! He gave Querelle one of his monogrammed one. Nice!

Overall I find this book to be a great read, if overtly homo erotic. Definetely much more open and in the clear about this rather than having it as a subtle under tone as we are use to. It makes me wonder what the novels to come will be like, and if it gets even raunchier than that. I guess time will tell, but until then, I Shall return to my strapping seamen and sailors, pimps and cops who all love cock!

Wars, inverts, and a giant stone phallus...

I think it's worth pointing out that the historic port city of Brest where Genet's novel is (possibly, maybe) set was pretty thoroughly wiped off the face of the planet during the Battle of Normandy (a mere three years before Querelle de Brest would be published). Of course many other French cities suffered a similar fate during WWII, but I think Brest is at least fairly unique in the awesome and total destruction it suffered. What I have a hard time deciphering is when the action of the story takes place. Perhaps I am missing some obvious clue, some revealing statement from the text like: "It was the summer of 1910, most definitely before the Battle of Normandy," but I just have no idea. The Brest in the novel came across to me as fairly detached somehow from history and the physical world. It might as well be sitting in the middle of an ocean of seamen.

(Maybe it isn't the town, but the characters that are giving me this impression?)

Still, it's interesting that Genet chose a city that was so heavily affected by the war. Somewhere around the time of the Franco-Prussian war saw the emergence in France and elsewhere the concept of sexual inversion, which became important to France in the wake of their humiliating defeat. Virility became a national obsession and this relates to male inverts as they were generally seen as not being very virile. Here we have a book written more than a half-century later, and the word pops up fairly often. These men do not appear to me to be your run-of-the-mill sexual inverts. If I'm remembering right from a class I took a long, long time ago, it was scandals that erupted after WWI that infused in our public consciousness what we think happens whenever you stick a bunch of men in close quarters for too long. Ironically, in trying to re-establish its virility as a nation, France helped introduce the possibility that all men, even the virile ones, could potentially be capable of the same actions as the non-virile, isolated inverts. Oh, and then there was WWII. Not exactly a high point for that country. I'm not sure where I'm going with this anymore, so let's come back to our sheep.

Lieutenant Seblon writes in his journal about "having been so overwhelmed by the loneliness to which [his] inversion condemns [him]" (8). He is, I believe, the only character to identify himself as an invert and I think the journal entries that break up the text highlight his loneliness and his separation from the other men. Seblon is the "pederast" of ancient greek tradition who wishes to posses the men he loves. Here we have Querelle going pee:

"It was a feeling of both power and the lack of it: of pride, in the first place, to know that such a tall tower could be the symbol of his own virility, to the extent that when he stood at the base of it, legs apart, taking a piss, he could think of it as his own prick... ...But when he was by himself, at night or during the day, opening or buttoning his fly, his fingers felt they were capturing, with the greatest care, the treasure- the very soul – of this giant prick; he imagined that his own virility emanated from the stone phallus, while feeling quietly humble in the presence of the unruffled and incomparable power of that unimaginably huge male" (40).

The statement "it was a feeling of both power and the lack of it" sums up perfectly, for me, masculine identity in our culture as it exists today, which is basically: realizing, and being proud of the fact that one belongs to a privileged group, being in awe of this masculine ideal, yet in constant struggle with other men to embody that ideal (which can only be obtained by conquering other men). There's also, and possibly most importantly, the constant threat of being conquered oneself, emasculated, and turned into a "fairy". Querelle comes across in this first part of the book as an extreme example of this struggle. On the one hand he worships this giant, erect penis (that he wishes were his), and on the other he murders a fellow sailor. A struggle that for most men eventually becomes a source of pain and isolation appears to be a real rush for Querelle. He seems to revel in his own manhood.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I win.

(Look, I wrote my own novel!!! Probably not as fun to read as this book, though. Sorry. Also, crap, it looks like Mel posted while I was writing this and we say the same thing. ^__^ But....I WIN CAUSE I SAY IT A LOT WORDIER!!!! I almost wrote “What the hell!?” too, actually.)


With such interesting material in plot and characters I feel a little lame talking about pronouns, but why fight yourself? ^_^ So... The narrator's use of “we” confused me at first. I wasn't sure if this was the “I, the narrator and you, the reader/society” “we” or what, especially when he uses “you” as well, but looking back through it must be a reader-not-included “we” since it talks about “when we decided to write this story” on page 17. ...Only, wait, then later that paragraph I could swear the usage changes. No perceptible point, but “we want him to become the Hero” sounds to me like it's including the reader. Ah, and “we shall see how he lends himself to this.” The narrator/writer “we” can't be the one there, the writer can't “shall” see, they already know the story. (Haha, I wonder if there are writing teachers who would slash those pronouns to bits if they saw such a mobile “we” in just a single page, but a single paragraph ^_^)


Who the heck is this “we,” anyway? Maybe they'll be revealed later, maybe we'll never find out... They certainly have a voice... I wonder do they have a personality? I've actually been wondering similar things about Querelle as well (I'll get to that later, but to me some of the things that make a Character-with-a-capital-C are...MIGHT be absent in him). And then it talks in that paragraph about him being “already contained in our flesh,” “beginning to grow in our soul,” and about “our despair at not being in any way inside him, while having him inside of ourselves.” And then about “the event which revealed Querelle to us” on 18. I toyed for a moment (jokingly, jokingly! ^_^) with the idea that “we” was a person with multiple personalities, with this Querelle being one that surfaced after the others, heheh.


As for Querelle seeming un-character-esque to me... It may be just because I find such a ...being...so un-human that I can't see him as a, er...true character? (Mind, if you're wondering, I'm not even sure myself what I mean by “true character.” But...well, you (we? Heheh) might understand more what I mean from the rest of this...) Still, I think it's more than him being too inhuman/unfeeling to be human. He barely seems to have personality beyond the awful things he does and his sexual desires. Things like the imaginary trial...at first I think, “Well, that's...eccentric. If he can be eccentric...that must be personality, right?” But this trial he creates...has no, er, personality whatsoever. It's full of the obligatory steps of the courtroom drama, complete with a courtroom 'incident.' It's extremely trite. And I think it mentions him going through an imaginary cemetery after the first murder as well, right? There it explicitly called the thing 'trite.' Quirky though the activity of these...hallucinations of a sort may seem, they've got no quirk to them at all.


My thought was that thinking about the consequences is of murder is rather a...necessary/unavoidable step after the act. This trial is a way of him doing that while at the same time leaving character/personal stuff out of it. I mean a trial? If you murdered someone, you might think about the trial, but you'd also think about...I don't know, the family/friends/people's reactions (even if you were evil and didn't feel guilty about it, you'd probably still THINK about it more), getting arrested, jail? But Querelle does the trial, the part of the whole process that to me seems the most disconnected from personal character. It might come into play in them sometimes, but mostly they're about motivation (of which he has none) and facts, right?


It's a shame the multiple personality thing doesn't work (or is it? Wow, that would be a horrible ending ^_^), because Querelle could be the....personification (...if that's an appropriate use of that verb? ) of....immorality of man? Baseness? Not that he has to be a multiple personality to be such a thing, of course. Anyway, it makes sense kind of, because he is therefore in us but us not in him, he has no character because while you may or may not agree it's probably arguable that baseness has no character, while at the same time consequences is an un-detachable part of doing immoral things, so they must be dealt with (as in the trial), but our immorality isn't the part of us that feels shame or adds...our own personal quirks to the dealing with of these consequences. If Immorality-the-Person had to deal with it...It probably couldn't give a crap. ...And actually I'd forgotten this but looking at the “we” stuff again I saw this on page 18: “To become visible to you, to become a character in a novel, Querelle must be shown apart form ourselves.” I think the first time I saw that I read it as the narrator talking about Querelle as a real person (as he is in the narrator's world) and was talking about the process of taking a real person and turning them into a character in a novel.....The last part I just plum didn't understand, in that kind of reading. Makes sense this way, though....


....Much as it sounds like I'm building a case for some big theory I'm fixed on or something, though, really it's just been stuff I'm considering as I read... I wouldn't be horribly surprised if Querelle just needed more time to become a character to me than 70 pages (...This novel of course brings to mind Dostoevsky, which brings to mind The Brothers Karamazov, another novel you should probably not judge too much by its first 80 pages. Blech. ^_^; Gets better, honest). Then everything you just read goes out the window. Haha, what a waste of time you just spent reading that. I bet you're almost as annoyed as we will be when we get to the end and find out Querelle is a multiple personality of The Floating We.

I didn't want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them

My first concern is with the narrator. Page 17 reads, “Little by little we saw how Querelle-already contained in our flesh-was beginning to grow in our soul to feed on what is best in us, above all in our despair of not being in any way inside him, while having him inside ourselves.” The narrator continues on in this dramatic fashion. I suppose I am wondering first off if it's the royal “we” being used. Secondly, I wonder if the narrator will exist later then as a character, or if he already is. Thirdly, I am trying to avoid simply typing “what the hell?” But seriously, what the hell?!? I'm trying to figure out all the relationships because, really, the writing is so personal and in these little asides to the reader, we no longer have that perfect omniscient narrator. The writing just feels strange to me.


I had some confusion with the characters that, upon a second look, I think I'm starting to sort out. In my defense, it does seem all the characters are living multiple lives. Querelle in particular is described almost as two separate beings, Querelle and The Murderer. “No longer was any part of Querelle present within his body. It was empty. Facing Vic, there was no one.” It seems logical that he would disconnect himself from this deed, yet at the same time he seems to really accept what he has done. There doesn't appear to be any shame even knowing he is both himself and the murderer that resides within. In addition, there is Mario who, though a cop, seems to prefer the company of criminals. In fact, I would say every character thus far mentioned has contradicting personalities especially where their sexuality is concerned.


I've read many serial killer manifestos and the like in my youth, and Querelle seems very typical in his detached demeanor. He reminded me a lot of Denis Nilsen (a serial killer in the early 1980's) who, being highly sexually confused, would pick up younger men, engage in sexual activity with them, and then flush their skin down his toilet. While there are some obvious differences, denying one's self can have disastrous effects including depression, isolation, and increased aggression and defensiveness. Yikes!

In summation, this book is highly disturbing and Querelle's not nearly as charming as Dexter.

Clothing as safety for Querelle and the Narrator

OK, I'm sure we've all noticed it... there is a lot of mention of clothing, and in quite detail as well.

The line that I thinks sums it all up goes something like, "He had on;y to give the slightest turn of the head, to the left or right, to feel his cheek rub against the stiff, upturned collar of his peacoat. This contact reassured him. By it, he knew himself to be clothed, marvelously clothed" (15).

I think this really gets at something about the clothes. They really sem to be a reasuring thing for both Querelle and the narrator. Querelle notices the clothes that people are wearing with great detail, and the narrator notices Querelle noticing and notices himslelf, atleast enough to comment onit.

Let's go on a quick trip... we wont go for the whole ride, just a short part of it to show you what I mean...

Pg 3- "the man who dons a sailor's outfit" (line 9)
"His disguise" (line 10)
Pg 4- "in the tight fit of his sweater, in the amplitude of his bell-bottoms." (lines 11-12)
Pg 7- "cotton clothes- open shirt and denims" (line 2)
"their wide collars, the pompoms on their hats" (lines 13-14)
Pg 12- "pair of gloves" (line 14 of section 2)
"the blue denim pants" (line 1 section 3)
"highly polished black shoes" (lines 3-4 section 3)
"turtleneck jersey of white" (line6 section 3)
Pg 13- "the other remaining in the pocket of his peacoat" (5th and 6th lines from the bottom)
Pg 14- "buttoning his peacoat, turning up the collar." (lines 11-12)
"train of a robe, adorned with lace, with crests" (lines23-24)
Pg 15- previously quoted end of first paragraph
"taking off his shoes" (line 14)
"his socks" (line 25)
"a slip, a bra, shoelaces, a hankerchief" (line 30)
Pg 16- "full-dress gaiters" (line 2)
"elegant but poorly tailored pants" (lines 3-4)
"a filthy handkerchief; socks with holes in them" (lines 4-5)
"his other sock" (line 16)

I'm going to say that is enough for now...
I hope you got the point. There hasn't been too much reference to clothing in the works we have read so far. There has been tiny bits here and there, but certainly not like this.

It is also stated clearly that Querelle feels safe knowing that his clothes are on, and not just any clothes, but good clothes that fit well, make him look nice and belonged to a sailor?
AND, I must point out that the momento he took after each murder was an item of clothing. It is listed that it was always something that the victim was wearing and could easily incriminate him.

Now, for my next topic (and you thought I was done, hah):
The narrator seems to switch back and forth the way he talks about Querelle. Sometimes he refers to him by his name, sometimes he says "the sailor" and sometimes he says the man.
What are we supposed to take from this change? I would like to have something insightful to insist this means, but I really have no idea. Maybe it is the translation and maybe it will become clear as we read further on, but if anyone has any ideas, please do share.


 

The seventy-four pages went by amazingly fast. I would read this book in a non-academic setting. However, since this a setting, I found a couple of themes in it.


 

The first section (pages 1-22) dealt with the sea and sailor imagery in a unique way. It is odd to look back and glimpse the creation of a gay archetype. In Querelle Genet shed some light as to why gay men flocked to the seas.

" …it allows him to assume dark continents where the sun sets and rises , where the moon sanctions murder under roofs of bamboo… it gives him the opportunity to act within the illusion of a mirage,,," p4


 

Genet is discussing when the criminal wears a sailor suit, allowing him to pass as a sailor.

The idea of passing as someone else reoccurs. That even if you are gay you can pass as straight by subjugating women. The coupling of these two ideas is found is the interaction between Roger and Gilbert

"She gives you the hots eh?

-a couple lines later

Gil turned to face the boy and forced him to retreat into the recess in the stone wall.


 

This idea is repeated on pages 59 and 60. This is where the game is introduced, later it is explained as a sexual dice game.

That if you win you can have sex with the Madam, if you lose you have to have sex with Nono first.


 

Another theme or question that came to mind.. Is the link between Querelles sexuality and deviant behavior. He is smuggler, a thief , a murder. Does an audience lump in his homosexual behavior in with these traits?

We, as modern readers in a Gay French Lit class can easily separate his sexuality from his behavior, we do not see the causation effect, but did readers in 1948? Did they link homosexuality with drugs, theft and murder?

The logic is

If gay sailors are criminals, and being a sailor is not criminal in nature, there for being gay is.


 


 

Zotero info

http://digitalhistory.concordia.ca/vertov/

this might help if you are using video/audio for your final!

Things that Stand Out

So far, I am really enjoying Querelle.

There are several things that stand out to me in this first section of Querelle. The first few sentences on the opening page, struck me as…

“The notion of murder often brings to mind the notion of sea and sailors. Sea and sailors do not, at first, appear as a definite image—it is rather that “murder” starts up a feeling of waves. If one considers that seaports are the scene of frequent crimes, the association seems self-explanatory; but there are numerous stories from which we learn that the murderer was a man of the sea—either a real one, or a fake one—and if the latter is the case, the crime will be even more closely connected to the sea.”

It is such a startling statement. Furthermore, when I think of murder I don’t associate them with the sea and sailors. I think of war, school shootings, gang related crime, The Game of Clue, etc. I even think of Cindy Sherman’s self-portrait of a dead girl. I like this technique for beginning a story because readers usually have expectations and to begin with a statement seems to imply that although a reader will have his or her own ideas, this is my idea, the writer’s idea is the one that matters. From the first page, I was hooked.

“It is astonishing that turning criminals into sailors used to be regarded as a form of punishment” (8). Is this supposed to be a generalized statement towards all sailors and the irony of giving them a freedom of sorts when they ought to be behind bars or is it specific to Querelle who is able to continue on with his serial killer tendencies?

“Vic most probably wasn’t used to being murdered” (60). Although perhaps a bit forced, this statement is hilarious to me. There is a lot of dry humor in this book which makes it more entertaining to read than past books we have read. (That is not to say that they weren’t good, but this one has something that the others did not.)

On page 62, after Querelle has killed Vic (which is an interesting scene in and of itself) Querelle
seems to try and justify the crime he has just committed. “That the criminal at the instant of committing his crime believes that he’ll never be caught is a mistaken assumption. He refuses, no doubt, to see the terrible consequences of his act at all clearly, and yet he knows that the act does condemn him to death. We find the word “analysis” a little embarrassing.” The fact that the criminal is aware that he can be condemned to death seems to ease the reader’s mind. Now that I think it more, I think that Querelle and Vic can be related to Bebert and Emile. However, I do not think that Bebert is as exacting as Querelle. Bebert commits crimes of passions, while Querelle’s are more thought out. To say that the word analysis is embarrassing seems to show weakness on the part of the serial killer. For a man who has planned a crime like this he needs to appear strong as killing is a part of his identity.