Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The French in Tropic of Cancer

I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer last year. The book is set in France, mostly Paris. And, unsurprisingly, the text is frequently punctuated with French words, phrases, or more. I’ve never studied French. I’ve been exposed to it, yes, as here. But there’s plenty I don’t know, even basics. My usual strategy is to get what I can from context and what similarities to English exist. (Somewhat less helpful is trying to relate French to the Spanish & Portuguese I have studied.) Anyway, remembering that the web now has made simple translation available, I flipped back through Tropic of Cancer and typed up all the French I could find. I typed up some German too, I think, and maybe a thing or two else, who knows. Here’s the list:

les voies urinaires
avec des choses inouies
Comme un oeuf dansant sur un jet d’eau
comme d’habitude
Amer Picon
sans vin
dejeuner intime
Es war’ so shon gewesen
Zut alors!
Par ici, Madame. N’oubliez pas que les places numerotees sont reservees aux mutiles de la guerre.
vin de choix
voila quelque chose de beau
Tres lesbienne ici
idee fixe
Un acte gratuit pour vous, cher monsieur si bien coupe en tranches!
la belle boulangere
Le bel aujourd’hui!
Charmant poeme d’amour
Chez nous, c’est pour les chiens, les Quaker Oats. Ici pour le gentleman. Ca va.
le petit frere
femme de chambre
C’est moi … c’est moi, madame!
Il est mechant, celui-la.
Non, il n’est pas mechant, il est tres gentil.
Je le connais bien, ce type.
Tout compris.
Comme ca tout est regle …
Il ne faut jamais desesperer.
Defendez-vous contre la syphilis!
Ca y est maintenant! Ausgespielt!
Ecoute, cheri … sois raisonnable!
quand il n’y aura plus de temps
Vite, cheri! Oh, c’est bon!
Mais faites comme chez vous, cheri. Je reviens tout de suite.
Tout Va Bien
J’ai vu des arbres que ne retrouverait aucun botaniste, des animaux que Cuvier n’a jamais soupconnes et des hommes que vous seul avez pu creer.
Fay ce que vouldras! … fay ce que vouldras!
Salut au monde!
les surveillants
a partir de jeudi je ne parlerai plus de femmes
veilleur de nuit
Faites comme chez vous, cheri.
Mon Dieu, ne dites pas ca! Ne dites pas ca!
bal musette
Faut faire des economies!

I entered all that in Google Translate and got back this:

the urinary tract
with things unheard
As an egg dancing on a jet of water
as usual
Amer Picon
without wine
LUNCH intimate
Es war 'so shon gewesen
Zut alors!
Here, Madam. Remember that numbered seats are reserved maimed by the war.
wine of choice
voila something beautiful
Tres lesbian here
idee fixes
An act free for you, dear sir so cut into slices!
the beautiful baking
The beautiful today!
Charming love poem
For us, this is for dogs, Quaker Oats. Here for the gentleman. Ca va.
the little brother
That's me… c'est moi, madame!
It is wicked, one.
No, it is not bad, it is very nice.
I know well, this kind.
All inclusive.
So everything is rule…
We must never despair.
Defendez you against syphilis!
That's it now! Ausgespielt!
Look, cheri… be reasonable!
when there will be more time
Quick, Cheri! Oh, it's good!
But make yourself at home, cheri. I come back right away.
Any Va Bien
I saw that trees not found any botanist, animals that Cuvier never suspected and men that you only have been created.
Fay what vouldras! … Fay what vouldras!
Hi the World!
From Thursday I will speak more women
night watchman
Make yourself at home, cheri.
My God, do not say ca! Do not say ca!
bal musette
Should make savings!


I haven’t much faith in computer translation. Note the many words Google Translate just ignored. But what was almost opaque becomes a cracked window through which I can get a bit more of the scene.

I separated out one song Miller quotes:

L’autre soir l’idee m’est venue
Cre nom de Zeus d’enculer un pendu;
Le vent se leve sur la potence,
Voila mon pendu qui se balance,
J’ai du l’enculer en sautant,
Cre nom de Zeus, on est jamais content.

Baiser dans un con trop petit,
Cre nom de Zeus, on s’ecorche le vit;
Baiser dans un con trop large,
On ne sait pas ou l’on decharge;
Se branler etant bien emmerdant,
Cre nom de Zeus, on est jamais content.

Unfortunately the results are a mess:

The other night I got the idea
Cre name of Zeus enculer a hanged;
The wind gets up on the gallows,
This is my balance to be hanged,
I have the enculer jumping,
Cre name of Zeus, one is never content.

Kiss in a con too small,
Cre name of Zeus, the s'ecorche lives;
Kiss in a con too large,
It is not known or being unloaded;
With branler being well emmerdant,
Cre name of Zeus, one is never content.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Congressional Medal of Honor

In every naturalist’s book, after pages of beautiful pictures and chapters full of incident in which animals show off their fascinating personalities, the chapter comes, usually the final chapter, in which the naturalist, in ominous, regretful or worried tones, tells the reader that the natural world about which they have read so much, empathized with, thrilled to, is being destroyed. It won’t last the decade, the century, maybe not the month. And it’s because of People Like You, Dear Reader – Humans are bringing the world to the brink. Soon our impoverished, crippled, human-crowded world will wobble its lonesome big brain around a star indifferent to the cesspool its third planet has become. And then we, too, will destroy ourselves.

I always read that dang last chapter. I should just skip it.

In pop science books there’s typically a point at which the author declares Only Man Is Capable Of … you know, Only Man Can Cry, Only Man Can Sympathize, Only Man Can Laugh, Only Man Makes Tools, Only Man Prays to God, etc, & so on.

In an essay in In Search of Nature E.O. Wilson offers up one of the most qualified Only Man statements that I’ve seen:

“I doubt if any higher animal, such as a hawk or a baboon, has ever deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor according to the ennobling criteria used in our society.”

The Congressional Medal of Honor bit refers to the suicidal altruism of, say, the men who “threw themselves on top of grenades to shield comrades.” Now, it doesn’t seem likely that a baboon has ever thrown itself on a grenade for the benefit of anybody else, does it?

Considering how few people have thrown themselves on grenades for any reason – benefit of others, lark, loss of balance – one might suspect that the typical observer of human behavior wouldn’t be witness to that event either. Sure, we read about this sort of heroism in our newspapers (suicide bombers are not so dissimilar or that guy who throws himself into frigid water to save a drowning kid), but have you ever actually seen it?

Wilson’s assertion depends on generalizing from the observations of baboons (& hawks) we’ve been privileged to make ourselves (or read about). But observers, even trained ones, don’t always understand what they are seeing, so what they note may not be what’s really happening. And they leave shit out – there’s ample evidence for homosexual behavior (& other nonprocreative sex) among nonhuman animals but until recently you left it out of your paper, otherwise you threatened your career (only gays saw gay sex in the wild and gays didn’t get tenure).

But reading Wilson’s statement immediately brought to mind an instance of Congressional Medal of Honor worthy behavior by a baboon. Robert Sapolsky writes about it in his A Primate’s Memoir. Sapolsky was a naturalist who watched baboons in Africa. One day he saw something thrilling – it was, he emphasized, very unbaboonlike behavior. A lion caught the baboon troop with its guard down. Everybody bolted – every baboon for itself. Mamas, of course, grabbed their babies, but that was about it in the altruism department. Or that would be what Sapolsky usually saw. This time two youngsters too young to climb on their own were trapped at the foot of a tree while the lion closed in. All the adult baboons screamed from their perches. Then one adult male baboon, who, so far as Sapolsky knew, was not closely related to either of the babies, leapt in front of the lion, roaring, puffing himself up, throwing up dust, making himself as big and fierce-looking as he could. No match for a grown lion, but it did give the lion pause. Maybe, after all, the lion wasn’t that hungry. A nice snack of baboon baby, sure, but … something worth fighting over?

Everybody survived that encounter. But it’s probably not something you’re going to see again. Not because it will never happen again. But because nobody’s going to be watching.

Or because we’ll have wiped out all the baboons, I suppose. And the lions. Not to mention the hawks.

By the way, in the essay E.O. Wilson goes on to describe frequently observed suicidal altruism in colony insects (ants, bees). Maybe we’re more like ants than like baboons, anyway.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


word of the day: joss

context: Our narrator is visiting “friend Chang [in] San Francisco …

He lit a joss-stick long and black.
Then the proud gray joss in the corner stirred …

The great gray joss on the rustic shelf,
Rakish and shrewd, with his collar awry,
Sang impolitely, as though by himself …
‘Back through a hundred, hundred years
Hear the waves as they climb the piers,
Hear the howl of the silver seas,
Hear the thunder!
Hear the gongs of holy China …’”

definitions: “an image or statue representing a Chinese deity” – MS Word dictionary

“In the European view of Chinese mythology, Joss is a household deity and his cult image, which the Portuguese and other Europeans called an ‘idol’. Joss is not Chinese, but originates from the Portuguese word deos ‘god’.” -- Wikipedia

joss stick “incense in the form of a stick of dried paste” – MS Word dictionary

source: Vachel Lindsay’s “The Chinese Nightingale”, Prize Poems, 1913-1929 (1930) edited by Charles A. Wagner; Bonibooks

Monday, July 21, 2008

“AFTERNOON”, by Emma Rossi


Once an imaginary friend lied to me.
We were drinking tea with skim milk.
I don’t know.
The opal fog, a harp.
I was trying to tell imaginary right
from imaginary wrong.
It took more than a quote on a keepsake pillow.
I’m really opening up here.
She said she didn’t care.
The sun deceived me too,
gave me a throbbing headache
and a funny idea.
I lay down for a nap
knowing it would last until morning.
Way to go.

-- Emma Rossi

I discovered this one in the new issue of 6X6. Why do I like it so much? I like drinking tea in poems. And headaches. So it’s got that going for it. I like the odd proposition: “Once an imaginary friend lied to me.” The poem’s images are almost all domestic – tea, keepsake pillow, nap. Even “opal fog, a harp” have a flipped-open-book-on-coffee-table feel about them, the book next to the tea tray maybe. There’s that faux naif feel to the poem. Unlike the poem(s) by children I’ve lately quoted the speaker offers up her propositions without authority. “I don’t know” … “The sun deceived me too, / gave me … a funny idea.” “I was trying to …” The speaker sounds oppressed, weary, but plonks down a phrase from a pep talk (“Way to go”; “I’m really opening up here”) as though to ward off the fixer, the advice-giver, the one who would poke a nose in with an unwelcome: “Snap out of it!” No, says the poem. Talk to the pillow.

source: 6X6, issue 15, Spring 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

gay machete sex

“For the single male traveler, homosexual come-ons are, like delays at JFK and overpriced hotel food, a part of the process to which one grows accustomed. I’ve been pick-up quarry in the United States, Japan, Palau, and several other ports of call. In Lecois, Brazil, a chatty American tourist sitting next to me at a hotel bar broached the subject by saying, ‘Well, I guess you know why I’ve taken such an interest in talking with you.’ I told him I didn’t, he explained, I said there had been some sort of misunderstanding, he apologized, bought me a beer, and we ended up talking for another hour.”

Chuck Thompson gives us this paragraph after a few pages recounting an experience he had in the Philippines. He is riding in a bus deep into the countryside. Night. The bus stops. The busdriver says, You have to get off here. You transfer to another bus. Chuck squints out at the unlit roadside. Reluctantly he steps out into the middle of nowhere and watches the bus disappear down the highway.

Standing there, not sure where he is or when or if another bus will come, Chuck hears a rustling in the roadside bushes. Young men emerge, a couple of them carrying machetes. Machetes, Chuck assures us, are standard equipment for Filipino farmers. But, not similarly equipped and with no option but to wait and find out what happens next, Chuck is, needless to say, a mite nervous.

They surround him. “’You shouldn’t travel alone at night,’ [the one Thompson calls] Rivera told me. ‘Foreigners are often kidnapped in these mountains.’”

Not the sort of statement that would put one at ease, Chuck thinks.

Rivera invites Chuck back to his place. “’I don’t think the bus will be come soon.’ Rivera brushed my forearm with his fingertips.”

Indeed, the bus seems in no hurry to get there.

“’Chuck, tell me something,’ he said. ‘Have you ever had sex with a gay man?’”

Oh. That’s what it is. This is an atmosphere charged with eros, not … uh … fear.

Chuck handles his brush with “gay machete sex” about as well as can be expected, I guess. Not interested! Thanks anyway! Great country you got here! That bus will be along any minute! Any minute, yessir!

Chuck Thompson’s perspective reminds me of that of the single female traveler. The come-on is “part of the process.” The single male’s experience as “pick-up quarry” for men is going to be a tenth that of a single female’s, yet, though he doesn’t explicitly compare the two perspectives, Thompson seems to have picked up a skill essential to the single female traveler: how to say no. Gracefully even?

source: Smile When You’re Lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer, by Chuck Thompson

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“CRAB”, by Abilash Munnangi


The dead crab lies still
limp on the dry sand All
strength to crawl Gone
from his hard shell
But he keeps a shape
of old anger
Curved along his claws

-- Abilash Munnangi

Abilash Munnangi was in third grade, Parkmont Elementary, Alameda County when the poem was written.

It’s a fine piece of work. I even like the idiosyncratic capitals. The description is plain but precise. And that ending! “old anger / Curved along his claws” … Though the poem is ostensibly about a crab, it’s really about us, our old angers, the ones that become hardened into shell. Hollow inside? Empty of what originally made them grow? What old angers outlive us?

source: My Song Is the Light: California Poets in the Schools Statewide Anthology 2007, edited by Mary Lee Gowland

UPDATE: Figuring “Abilash Munnangi” would not return many hits I ran the name in Google. “Abilash Munnangi” returned precisely one hit. Dare I Read. But Google asks, “Do you mean Abhilash Munnangi”? I doublechecked the spelling in the CPITS anthology and the way I wrote it is the way it is written in the anthology, but seeing if I really meant “Abhilash Munnangi” I let Google tell me that there is an Abhilash who is a student at Parkmont Elementary. He placed in the California Classic Scholastic Championships: K-3.

Somewhat disturbingly -- to me at least – I ran the search again just now and found that Dare I Read does not appear among the search results. Is DIR suddenly invisible to Google? That would be too bad.

… Uh-oh. I just found something new to disturb me. Curious how invisible DIR is to Google I ran a search for lines from “Crab.” Again DIR does not appear. However, the poem does. Follow that link to Miss Maggie's and you'll find "Crab" attributed to Valerie Worth. Apparently it was published in Worth's All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. How unfortunate for the young master Munnangi. A plagiarist?

This is the poem as it appears at Miss Maggie’s:


The dead crab
Lies still,
limp on the dry sand,

All strength to crawl
Gone from his
Hard shell-

But he keeps a shape
Of old anger
Curved along his claws.


So much for the “idiosyncratic capitals”, eh? Should I tell someone? Or just let it go? It’s not like Abhilash got any money out of it. Still, it grinds me that he got a place in the statewide anthology that could have gone to someone who actually wrote her own poem.

I like Valerie Worth’s original, though it loses a bit of its naïve charm when I know it was written by an adult. I see through a bit of research that Worth died in 1994.

Well. Hm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

“Deep Eyes”, by Darlyn Avina

Deep Eyes

Eyes are like a hole,
a hole with a sparkle that shines.
Once you’re cursed with it in your life
there is no way out of that curse of a hole.
It feels so bad that you think your eyes
are falling into the moisture in your head.
Once that hole shines again it’s made into a shape.
Its background is white with a color in the middle.
Remember that curse you will see with for the rest of your life.
But after all that pain you will see everything.

-- Darlyn Avina

Last month at Poetry & Pizza we had a crew of poet teachers from California Poets in the Schools. I got from them last year’s CPITS anthology and started reading it on the BART ride home.

Children’s poetry. You know, I find I can like it as well as poetry by grown-ups.

Darlyn Avina was in second grade (Millview Elementary School, Madera County) when “Deep Eyes” was written.

The poem reminds me of certain translations; I’m thinking of ones I’ve read from Eastern Europe, or early French surrealists or dadaists. Also some primitive poetry – shaman songs. When I say the poem seems translated, I mean that it seems to carry over a strangeness from another language, a way of speaking that is taken for granted in that other language but which in English seems nonnative. I suspect English is Alvina’s native tongue.

The poem proposes things you probably hadn’t considered – your eyes are a curse? – but which, once suggested, seem peculiarly reasonable. Well, yeah, the eyes can be a curse sometimes. Eyes are holes? Holes. Windows is the usual metaphor, but, you know, I can grok holes. The poet speaks with authority, no hesitation about it, no I think maybe.

“But after all that pain you will see everything.” And that’s … a good thing?

source: My Song Is the Light: California Poets in the Schools Statewide Anthology 2007, edited by Mary Lee Gowland

Monday, July 14, 2008

exposed to the outside world

I’ve heard before that the sense of smell, unlike other senses -- vision, hearing, etc. -- is a sense operated directly by the brain. Not that I understood what that meant. Says Lewis Thomas in The Youngest Sciences: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher: “The olfactory receptor cells were known to be bona fide brain cells, the only proper neurones in the brain that are exposed to the outside world and act as their own receptors of information from the environment. … [T]he olfactory neurones [are always] replicating and replacing themselves in their positions at the surface of the olfactory mucosa, high up in the back of the nose. No other brain neurones have the property of multiplying or regenerating; once in place the neurones of the rest of the brain are there for the duration of life, and those which age and die off are not replaced.”

More recent research suggests this is not as uniformly true as Lewis makes out, that is, some other brain cells do regenerate.

“Another peculiarity … is that despite their exposure to the outside, and their location in a region of the air passages which is especially rich in bacteria and viruses of all sorts, the tissues in which they reside do not become infected. … It is now believed that the cells are somehow protected by the antimicrobial property of the mucus which is always present as a thin layer covering the cells.”

Didn’t the Egyptian embalmers pull the brain out through the nose? Maybe they knew it was already kinda sticking out there.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

a profoundly ignorant occupation

In his memoir The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher, Lewis Thomas talks about training to be a medical doctor in 1933:

“It gradually dawned on us that we didn’t know much that was really useful, that we could do nothing to change the course of the great majority of the diseases we were so busy analyzing, that medicine, for all its façade as a learned profession, was in real life a profoundly ignorant occupation.”

Years of increasing success “in diagnosis and prognosis were regarded as the triumph of medical science, and so they were. It had taken long decades of careful, painstaking observation of many patients; the publication of countless papers describing the detailed aspects of one clinical syndrome after another … By the 1930s we thought we knew as much as could ever be known about the dominant clinical problems of the time: syphilis, tuberculosis, lobar pneumonia, typhoid, rheumatic fever …” Except, that is, how to “change the course of the great majority”; cure was up to patient’s immune system.

“The treatment of disease was the most minor part of the curiculum, almost left out altogether.” Sure, they were taught about “the mode of action of a handful of everyday drugs: aspirin, morphine, various cathartics, bromides, barbituates, digitalis, a few others.” But these primarily treated symptoms. They weren’t curatives.

Mostly what doctors did, Thomas says, at least when we’re talking patient care, was listen, hold your hand and act as though they were responsible for you. They were living breathing walking authoritative placebos – not much different from shamans.

Patients these days miss that kind of doctor, the handholder, the man with the bedside manner. But, says Thomas, though he understands and sympathizes, he wouldn’t trade the many actual cures we now have for a kindly smile.

Friday, July 11, 2008


word of the day: cotta

context: Dave “had visited this very church, St. Matthias, as a chorister. He had owned a clear, sweet soprano voice in those days and, in a red cassock and starchy white lace-trimmed cotta, with his blond hair he’d looked angelic. He hadn’t been angelic, but that was another story.”

definition: a short surplice reaching to just above the waist, worn by clergy, acolytes and choristers, in the Roman Catholic Church and in some Anglican and Lutheran churches -- MS Word Dictionary

source: The Little Dog Laughed: a Dave Brandstetter mystery, by Joseph Hansen

Thursday, July 10, 2008


word of the day: deodar

context: “The woman … looked at him with frightened eyes through a screen door of bright new aluminum that contrasted with the weathered shingle siding of the house. The house crouched under gloomy deodars behind a shingle-sided church.”

definition: a Himalayan cedar with dark blue-green leaves and drooping branches, that is highly valued as a timber tree in India. Latin name: Cedrus deodara -- MS Word Dictionary

source: The Little Dog Laughed: a Dave Brandstetter mystery, by Joseph Hansen

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


word of the day: sprechstimme

context: “’Foundations’ … begins with a crackling solo piano figure, expands into the sound of a full band, and barrels into a chorus in which [Kate] Nash abandons her habitual sprechstimme for clearly melodic singing.”

definitions: the voice used to sing; see also sprechgesang -- MS Word dictionary
Sprechgesang and Sprechstimme (German for spoken-song and spoken-voice) are musical terms used to refer to an expressionist vocal technique that falls between singing and speaking. -- Wikipedia
A form of dramatic declamation between singing and speaking, in which the speaker uses lilt and rhythm but not precise pitches. -- American Heritage Dictionary online

source: The New Yorker, January 14, 2008 issue

Friday, July 04, 2008

each of the state’s 550,043 lucky residents

I was born in Alaska. Though my parents divorced and my mother brought me and my brother with her to California (her home state), her love affair with Alaska continued. Mom had a whole kit of Alaska materials (walrus tusks, Eskimo crafts, postcards) that she would take with her on teaching jobs. By the time I was paying attention to politics Alaska seemed to be deeply Republican. I assumed it had always been so. Sure, my family is liberal – even the ones still up there – but isn’t that stereotype about rural people being Republican true enough? Most of Alaska is decidedly rural.

Chuck Thompson was born in Juneau (he has quite an attitude about my native Anchorage), and in his book Smile When You’re Lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer Thompson pinpoints the Republicanizing of Alaska:

“1982, with Alaska dripping in crude, the first Permanent Fund Dividend checks were issued by the state government to all Alaskans -- $1,000 given away to each of the state’s 550,043 lucky residents, every penny based on investments made with oil revenues. A pittance for corporate oil even then, but a $6,000 payout for families with four kids, like mine, was big money. Some call the Permanent Fund Dividends pseudosocialism, but the truth is less complex: they’re a bribe. Alaska’s once-liberal voters haven’t sent a non-Republican to Washington since the day that first check was issued. Alaska today isn’t so much a GOP stronghold as it is an oil fiefdom.”

The Republicanized Alaska proudly ties on his ideological mask – “self-sufficiency and rugged individualism” – but behind the mask those squishy individuals glue their lips to the tit of the state. Thompson, wryly, concludes, “The importance of independence myths is inversely proportional to the degree to which any society has surrendered its sovereignty.”

Thursday, July 03, 2008

outright lovers

I’d heard that there was a gay element to the close friendship between Gilgamesh the king and Enkidu the wildman. But when I read translations I didn’t come across much evidence. Sure, they were buddies, but we’re all familiar with the ultra-het buddy flick, right?

David Damrosch gives some backup to the homoerotic rumors:

“[Gilgamesh’s mother, the goddess] Ninsun [predicts] that Gilgamesh will ‘caress and embrace’ Enkidu like a wife, using the same verbs that described Enkidu’s lovemaking with Shamhat.” Shamhat was the (female) temple prostitute sent to tame the wildman who was running around the forest freaking everybody out. She was quite good at her job. “Ninsun’s language suggests that Gilgamesh and Enkidu have [an] intimate relationship, and [Ninsun’s interpretations of Gilgamesh’s dreams] slyly insinuate that they may be outright lovers. This hint is given by the choice of objects that Gilgamesh starts to love and caress in his dreams: the words for ‘meteor’ and ‘ax,’ kisru and hassinnu, strongly suggest two sexually loaded terms: kezru, a male prostitute, and assinnu, a eunuch who would take the female role in sexual rituals at Ishtar’s temple.”

source: The Buried Book: the loss and rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh, by David Damrosch

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

chasing his laughing partner through the house at dawn

Though he occasionally apologizes for it, sheepishly confessing to a paucity of wisdom, Edmund White, even when writing nonfiction, often makes use of the tools of fiction. In the passage below he employs a narrator’s omniscience to peel back the façade:

“Today I saw two men walking along Eighth Avenue in New York, holding hands absentmindedly. They were both in their forties, one badly scarred from an ancient case of acne, both a bit Neanderthalish from their hours at the gym. Their eyes scanned their path like minesweepers. The one on the right had the overly male, deeply unpopular look of a double-X chromosome – I’m sure he had anger management ‘issues.’ The other one seemed happy to have a lover-friend all in one person. He didn’t seem proud or possessive but just relieved. He was no beauty. And yet I could never imagine them flirting with each other or the double-X chasing his laughing partner through the house at dawn. Maybe flirtation would have made them snicker with evil embarrassment like Beavis and Butt-head. Maybe they were too unevolved from their primitive masculinity to live with women.”

It sounds like he knows them. He doesn’t. White doesn’t get the genetics right, for one thing (does he mean double-Y? the extra masculine man? an XXY is not known for looking “overly male” but rather for feminine characteristics, like breast development). The idea that one could have “a lover-friend all in one person” seems foreign to White. Really? White casts his speculations in a maybe or two, but he speaks with authorial authority – the sort of authority I readily grant a fictional narrator but one of which I am deeply suspicious in writing presented as non-imaginary.

Early on in my gay reading life I took a dislike to Edmund White because he has the habit of pronouncement. He tells us what gay men are like, what gay men do. As my feelings often ran counter to the White-ian ur gay, I stopped reading him. These days his testimony doesn’t bother me so much, partly because there are plenty of other gay perspectives available, partly because I don’t need him to tell me anything, and partly because his prose style is finely crafted and interesting whatever the substance of the remarks.

source: My Lives: an autobiography, by Edmund White