I am reading male writers now. It’s for research. Cis men who are gay, bi, queer or straight. I’m trying to understand what literature can tell me about the performance of masculinity, or rather, how men think they are performing masculinity.
On Twitter I love to read tweets by Stephen Pham and Khalid Warsame. They take the excruciating minutiae of their daily experiences and turn it into beautiful prose exercises. Khalid once tweeted about all his memories of rabbits. Stephen moves seamlessly from growing plants to the injustices of capitalism. They write about driving, drawing lessons and leisure. They extrapolate their own lives, performing it through the digital arena, becoming these autobiographical simulacra of themselves. It makes me excited to read both their books when they come out.
My favourite writer on Facebook is Ramon Glazov. His latest publication was a complete translation of the cult Italian writer Giorgio De Marias’ The Twenty Days of Turin. On his personal account he is a deconstructionist and satirical polemicist. Publicly he shares a cheeky love of flame throwing the infirm and commentary on geopolitical matters that defy any ideological categorisation. In one of his latest screeds he wrote an earnest and well thought out post about how radical leftists think cognitive behavioural therapy is a reformist project and makes a case for it, despite its emphasis on adaptability to the system. Just darling, as long we don’t forget to do the Lacanian excavation and grab our guillotines.
I just read Vrasidas Karalis’ The Glebe Point Road Blues. It’s a book in prose and verse and a fantastical series of portraits of characters that appear on what he calls The Road. There is no way I can claim to understand it in its totality. I’m not that smart. Thematically I identify a consistent grief, links to the occult and the alienation of settlers from the landscape. The writers’ concept of the blues stands out to me. This form of blues is a uniquely Greek form of melancholia called Rebetika, a feeling that is manifest from the loss of a homeland. All the characters in this novel are out of place and have no link to the geography in which the reader encounters them.
When I first read his previous writing, I made a mistake and thought his style had a high camp cruelty under the disguise of postmodernism. Now as I discuss his work with other people, I am getting a more complex understanding of it as baroque. The ornate structure, themes of sensuality and metaphysics. There is no escaping that I read this fiction for wisdom. As a chance to refine my thoughts on art and practice. His story, ‘Ode to the New Millennium’ delivers this for me. It’s about a young man whose pig-headed emphasis on himself leads to shallow identity politics and destruction of himself as an artist. Because I know this person, I have met this person and I have been this person.
David Malouf’s book Ransom was released in 2009 and is basically a posh form of fan fiction about The Iliad. One of the best things in the whole world is when accomplished poets write prose. This lucky book shares both monikers of being one of his best and completely overlooked. Initially I was excited by the language that describes landscapes, the sea is described as a ‘lustrous silver-blue membrane. At its core it is about the homosocial bonds between fathers, sons, soulmates and enemies. There are queer childhood narratives in this book but ultimately its men and maleness, exploding during a time of war. It makes a case that real masculinity must be dethroned of all its decorations. Emotionally bare, gentle and vulnerable is the ultimate performance of male gender.
When I first read Ronnie Scott’s The Adversary, I saw it in the tradition of novels that are written about ornate social relations. Novels that centred a person’s character. These kinds of novels were written primarily by women in Britain during the nineteenth century and in my rudimentary experience, The Adversary falls into this tradition. When Coming Out and AIDS narratives are passé, being a white gay cis man is normalised. And with this normalisation, we get a different understanding of the concerns of gay men. These concerns are ultimately bourgeois despite the setting of the homosexual bohemia of parties, holiday homes, terrace houses and pubs. And it’s easy to barrack for our main character in this landscape. Our narrator is insufferable and adorable, as are the many people who are bound by social conventions.
The action of the book never veers into the overdramatic but stylistically the first-person voice is enchanting. Ronnie is a masterful ventriloquist of an early twenties foppish ingénue. It really is a triumph of playful writing, this emphasis on style mirrors the central action which hinges on a deception. Although the protagonist in this book has an acute understanding of gay politics and history there is effortless light-heartedness to the subject matter. What is so refreshing and exciting for me in this gay book, is that at its core it’s not about boys and sex. This is a book about platonic relationships and the mysterious desires for them, it’s about the kindness and curiosity it takes to search and maintain meaningful human contact. And isn’t this a better way to define a man, rather than who they fuck?
Peter Polites is a writer who lives in western Sydney. He has published two novels with Hachette, Down the Hume (2017) and The Pillars (2019).