Gay Life is a Shark Pool
In Lambda Literary we read: “Deep into Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda (Hogarth), Danny, the novel’s angry gay protagonist, returns to his native Australia and has a conversation with his brother. “I could have had a future,” he tells Theo as he looks back at his young life. The words could have been an apt subtitle to the book: Barracuda; or I Could Have Had a Future. Yet in the end, the novelist isn’t quite as pessimistic as it might originally seem. While there is no false optimism as we are pulled through Danny’s bleak adolescence into his early adulthood, Tsiolkas does offer a quiet yet clear redemption. Hope is earned, even if in a minor key.
Danny Kelley is born into an Australian working class family from which he longs to escape. It is his need to make something of himself that propels much of the novel, which follows him for about two decades, from 1993 to 2010. (Tsiolkas sets Barracuda in the context of real events of the period: the deaths of Kurt Cobain in 1993 and Nina Simone in 2003 are central to two of the novel’s scenes.) Danny is an enormously gifted swimmer, and earns an athletic scholarship to a private school, where bigotry and cruelty are pervasive. In one early exchange, Danny’s wealthy classmate Martin invites him to his house. As they stand on a rear balcony, Martin explains that most of the houses below “are owned by Jews” and that his father didn’t want them to live on “Jew Street,” so he “spent almost as much money as it cost to buy the place knocking down the original walls” in order to put the front entrance on the other side of the house, away from their Jewish neighbors.
There is (to quote Audre Lorde) “no hierarchy of oppression” at the school: anyone who is not “a golden boy” is suspect. Danny’s alienation is telegraphed from his arrival:
Boys were pushing past him and around him andin front of him and behind him, and they had the clearest skin he had ever seen and the best cut hair and the whitest and most perfect teeth. He felt dirty and ugly and was conscious of the pimples on his brow, the chain of them on his chin, the ugly red welt of them around his neck.
While Danny’s status as an outsider only deepens in this brutally homophobic and misogynistic culture, it is class difference that Danny feels most acutely. He is aware that one wrong move, one inappropriate word, can ruin him. Again, from his visit with Martin and his family:
It was exhausting being at the table, having to take note of where everyone was placing their drink, having to follow which piece of cutlery to use for each course, and having to remind himself not to put his elbows on the table. He watched and he followed, but he was always the first to finish his course – it seemed like an age for the others to lift that final spoonful to their lips, and he had to tell himself not to fidget, to stay still.
Holy. Fuck. No. Really. No. Shit. Fuck…Wow.
(Now we must turn away, our eyes are so burned by this godling.)
Homo Nerds In Love Across the Ages: “The Symposium Model”
Homo: part of our Underground Way of Life is the transfer of our secret knowledge from an older generation to the next. All this naturally takes place deep below the earth’s crust, in the Secret Caves dug out by the Fathers.
The Groundlings (Straight Philistines, approximately 97.86% of them anyway) reduce this Tradition to pedophilia in order to mark us as monsters. Pedophiles are a category of mentally disordered individuals, the vast majority of whom are straight. Pedophilia has nothing to do with Our Love. Full stop. No, the Unspeakable Vice of the Greeks, the Old Way, is Other. This is why it causes the Hets such bafflement. For one thing, it never involves children. Only when one enters Youth is one ready to begin one’s noviciate. The ideal couple of this Way is Socrates and Alcibiades, a love carnally unconsummated (much to the young man’s frustration), but this is the nature of being Atopos, that is what we are and always wish to be.
The Tribe of the Pig People that so hates us (Provincial and Bourgeois Heteros and Homos) would degrade our Platonic love into mere lust, since they have no such tradition and they only understand debased affection that yields biological progeny. They worship at the Altar of The Child. This is no place for any Homo with any self-respect. What they don’t understand is that desire is only the start of our Dark Education. Despite this repression, perhaps because of it, this Deeper Love still thrives, despite the lacuna of the AIDS Catastrophe that is only now being broached.
Sans Everything elaborates: “I did a series of tweets about Leo Strauss, homosociality and homoeroticism. Because people expressed interest in seeing them in one place, I’ve reprinted them (in slightly edited form) below:
1. Trigger warning. I’m starting a twitter-essay on the sexual politics of Leo Strauss.
2. Impossible to fully understand the Strauss without grasping that his pedagogy existed in the zone between the homosocial & the homoerotic.
3. The model for the student/teacher relationship in Strauss is of course in the ancients: Socrates and Alcibiades.
4. Exchange between teacher & student: teacher (older man) offers wisdom, student in return offers pleasure of company with beautiful youth.
5. Greek homosexuality, as Foucault rightly taught us, had different social dynamic than modern one. Mentoring relationship was key.
6. Friendship, in the Straussian model, is the key philosophic relationship, much more than any family relationship.
7. For philosophy to occur, the young must leave their family and seek the company of the philosopher. See opening of Plato’s Republic.
8. The family is the enemy of philosophy. Must be tolerated for prudential reasons but real relationship is friends/philosophers.
9. The philosopher is the mid-wife to friendship. The friends formed in the seminar will go on to be allies in political life, some as teachers, some as statesmen.
10. To a startling degree Strauss replicated this platonic model in midcentury America.
11. Almost all of Strauss’s most devote students were men. These men formed intense friendships with each other.
12. Did sex occur? Not always or even often but still, it was a homosocial milieu that verged on the homoerotic.
13. Strauss’ teaching about esoteric fit nicely with a cover sexual politics. Esoteric = the closet. Exoteric = being outed.
14. Let’s get a bunch of young guys together, get them reading the Greeks, tell them their friendships are more important than family. See what happens.
15. The scandal of Allan Bloom was that although he was closeted, there were enough rumors to compromise the whole enterprise.
16. Consider the fractured friendship between Allan Bloom and Harry Jaffa.
17. Bloom and Jaffa collaborated on a book called Shakespeare’s Politics, dedicated “to Leo Strauss our teacher”
18. Bloom and Jaffa had a falling out circa 1970s. Jaffa started writing essays denouncing Bloom for not being anti-sodomy.
19. Jaffa was (is!) a homophobe but a complicated one.
20. Read Jaffa’s long dedication to his book Condition of Freedom (1975) here.
21. Excerpt from Jaffa’s dedication: “Billy Pedersen was one of my students at Claremont Men’s College. We had formed a friendship of the kind that young men and older ones sometimes do form when they are fellow hobbyists or fellow enthusiasts of a sport (bicycling in our case). Many mornings saw the two of us, before dawn, wheeling eastward through the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
When the pace slackened, and when the ride was over, we talked constantly of a wide variety of subjects, most of them political…. Billy Pedersen was a scholar, an athlete, an officer, and a gentleman. He was one of those “golden lads” of whom A. E. Housman wrote, who went to war, not gaily, but without a doubt that freedom and duty spoke with a single voice.”
22. It’s interesting to “read between the lines” of that Jaffa dedication. What is unsaid is also important.
23. To repeat: the homosocial overlaps with the homoerotic but is not identical with it. Not all desires are acted on.
24. Indeed for someone like Jaffa it could be that Bloom debased Platonic love by acting on it. The truest love is just wistful sighing.
25. Bloom endangered the Straussian enterprise by making the esoteric exoteric, by opening the door of the philosophic closet.
26. My old essay on the Classics and the Closet relevant for thinking of Strauss & homosocial/homoerotic axis:http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2007/10/26/the-end-of-the-closet-the-end-of-the-classics/ …
27. Harry Jaffa 1. broke with his closeted gay friend Allan Bloom 2. fulminated against “sodomy” 3. had intense friendship with male student
28. Hey, @willwilkinson is working on a novel that will flesh out my Leo Strauss tweets: See here: https://twitter.com/willwilkinson/status/442826672811671552 …
29. As @willwilkinson notes, it’s great that Jaffa’s beloved student was named “Billy Pedersen”
30. “Billy Pedersen”: no novelist could get away with a name like that.
31. Straussian Harvey Mansfield was very close to Bloom. Years after Bloom’s death said he thinks about him every day.
32. Mansfield also testified gay rights in Colorado case in early 1990s, saying anti-gay position could be defended on philosophic grounds.
33. Straussian position sometimes seems to be: we can’t have open gay rights, that’ll destroy pleasures of our private homoerotic club
34. There’s a Werner Dannhauser essay on the erotics of education that seems relevant to all this. Can’t find it now
35. Dannhauser’s argument was that it’s teachers duty to make knowledge sexy. There’s an erotics to education.
36. Alan Keyes is a huge homophobe. In 1970s when Allan Bloom went to Paris, Keyes followed him there.
37. One of Bloom’s students became a Catholic priest. As priest he kept a photo of bloom in his office, only image he’d allow himself.”