New and Noteworthy
- Stan Persky (Author)
Autobiography of a Tattoo. New Star Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Janice L. Ristock (Editor) and Catherine G. Taylor (Editor)
Inside the Academy and Out: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Studies and Social Action. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- James C. Johnstone (Editor) and Karen X. Tuchinsky (Editor)
Queer View Mirror 2: Lesbian and Gay Short Short Fiction. Arsenal Pulp Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Stephen Guy-Bray
These three books have little in common, but they could be used to demonstrate the variety of books which get published now under the rubric of queer studies and literature. Queer View Mirror 2 is part of a mini-boom in publishing: the anthology of gay or lesbian stories, of which the most famous is probably the Men on Men series (now at number seven). These anthologies are rather a mixed blessing. Although they do introduce the public to new gay writers, they tend to satisfy this demand, with the result that there is still not much of a market for novels or collections of stories by a single writer. The emerging Queer View Mirror series is different from most of these anthologies in two ways: there are stories about lesbians and about gay men and the stories are very short. Most of the selections in this anthology are two or three pages. The sheer number of contributors means that the editors have been able to get a much more varied range of contributors than is usual in anthologies. Not all of these writers are able to deal well with the short format, but there are some notable successes. I felt that there were slightly more misses than hits, but it hardly matters here as you’re on to the next story in no time. This is the perfect book to take on a flight or a train journey.
Janice L. Ristock and Catherine G. Taylor, the editors of Inside the Academy and Out, hope that their collection of essays will help to bridge the gap between what queer scholars do in their research and teaching and what they do as social activists. To a greater or lesser extent, we all have an interest in bridging this gap, but I’m not sure that this is the book to do it. By dividing the book into two parts—Part I: Pedagogy and Research and Part II: Spheres of Action—Ristock and Taylor would appear to be conceding defeat at the outset. Furthermore, most of the essays are firmly on one side of the divide between the two parts. What would have helped, I think, is a greater awareness of pedagogy as itself a form of social action.
One of the major problems with this book is its use of theory. Most of the contributors are ambivalent about the rise of queer theory and regard it as insufficiently political. They blame this lack on queer theorists in the humanities. For instance, Namaste says that "Critics of queer theory charge that it ignores social scientific contributions to studies of sexuality." Namaste’s essay relies heavily on the rather tired binary between the humanities and the social sciences, as do several of the other contributors. What she and several of the other contributors need to realize is that there is no reason for humanists to do queer theory in the same way as social scientists. We should instead try to encourage the development of different kinds of queer theory. Unfortunately, most of the contributors here appeal to queer theory without engaging with it at all. There are exceptions, of course, and in particular I would like to mention Deborah P. Britzman, who uses queer theory in order to construct a very interesting discussion which could even be useful in the classroom.
The other contributions in the first section of the book vary greatly in quality and usefulness. Namaste’s essay is the weakest in the book, while Margot Francis’s was apparently written for people who have very little knowledge of any kind of theory. Both editors have interesting essays in this section: Taylor writes a good introduction to the book, while Ristock provides thoughtful reflections on her own research. Although I ultimately found Didi Khayatt’s essay unconvincing, I enjoyed reading it. Khayatt’s main point—that we should not assume that it is always best for everyone if we come out in the classroom—is an interesting one. It was good to be reminded that this issue is more complex than we think.
The second section also contains some good essays, particulary the ones by Diana Majury, on legal battles in Canada, and by Kristin Esterberg and Jeffrey Longhofer, on researching the Christian right in the United States. Jean Noble’s essay—really two essays pasted together with lots of Freud, whom she paraphrases at considerable length—has many interesting parts, but its connection to social action of any kind is not clear to me. I thought the majority of the essays in the second section had this problem. Perhaps the editors would have done better not to divide the book into sections at all. On the whole, this is an interesting book which contains enough good essays to make it worthwhile, although the relentless use of the binary between theory and action wore on me, as did the long explanations of theory and theorists. Aren’t we beyond that now? I feel obliged to add that the level of proofreading is shockingly low. There are numerous mistakes with spelling, grammar, and format. The book is simply not in publishable condition.
Stan Persky’s Autobiography of a Tattoo is a very thoughtful reflection on a number of big topics like sex, politics, education. What makes the book unusual (at least for those who are not familiar with Persky’s work) is that it is written in the form of a memoir. Chronologically, Persky moves between his early years, especially the ones he spent in the U.S. army, and the summer of 1996, in which he, now a middle-aged professor of philosophy in Vancouver, goes to Berlin to see old friends and buy sex. In subject matter, Persky moves between philosophical debates with himself or his friends on the big topics and his own sex life and his attitudes towards it.
The point is, of course, that the paraphrase I have provided does not really work. In the end, Persky makes it impossible to separate the past from the present or the philosophical from the personal. This is one of the main strengths of this book. Writing in the philosophical tradition that goes back to Plato’s dialogues, Persky creates a fascinating narrative which is also a stimulating philosphical text. And a political one: although most of Persky’s text is not explicitly political, I felt that the resonance between his first trip to Europe as a soldier in the American army and this trip, as a well-off North American academic buying sex from a variety of more or less indigent German and Eastern European prostitutes, in itself set up an interesting political discourse. Autobiography of a Tattoo is a sophisticated and thought-provoking book which will continue to make you think long after you finish it.
- A Store of Fragments by Michael Fralic
Books reviewed: Diaries of Girls and Women: A Midwestern American Sampler by Suzanne L. Bunkers and The Farm on the North Talbot Road by Allan G. Bogue
- Me. Again. by Katja Lee
Books reviewed: Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau and Eastern Passage by Farley Mowat
- Less is More by Robert Amussen
Books reviewed: Country of Cold by Kevin Patterson and Fidelity by Michael Redhill
- Meetings by Jon Kertzer
Books reviewed: The Almost Meeting and Other Stories by Henry Kreisel and Lola By Night by Norman Ravvin
- Chaucer's Dreams by Stephen Guy-Bray
Books reviewed: Chaucer's Queer Poetics: Rereading the Dream Trio by Susan Schibanoff
MLA: Guy-Bray, Stephen. New and Noteworthy. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #172 (Spring 2002), Auto / biography. (pg. 183 - 184)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.