Vancouver Unconventional Books Message Board › Loop-back to Brooklyn

Loop-back to Brooklyn

A former member
Post #: 2
Even as I forward to Titan, my mind slips back to Brooklyn (and I have yet to finish the tail of the Coda). I do see how the biblical epigrams can seem affected (as Ronnen points out), but for me, it gives me a much needed shield to dive into a tank full of cannibalistic squids ( I was a bit obsessed with reading up on squids at one point---they scare me and fascinate some people do) as I observe and sometimes get under the skins of these creatures that are my kin--- they become larger than life, like characters in the bible, making it easier "to go there" ( as Kelli can't, and I understand, Kelli). Like Jason and Sarah observed, the biblical epigrams elevate these characters, but for me, I don't think of them as "holy", rather profane (but squid and human). There is the sacred, as indicated by James and Jason--- there is Georgette, then I remember also Ada, in the Coda, as she welcomes Spring, soaks in the warmth of the sun, reminisce over times with her dead husband and dead son. The "Sex" leitmotif --insists Mike-- BANGS YA OVER AND OVER tempered by the sacred touch of Madonna, the feminine. Hmm, Mike is right, I think, tis only the women (and children) that have softness and have redeeming qualities. Interesting how the only men that have "hope" or any slice of "good", or maybe I should say, transcend/soar above the ugliness of Brooklyn, are the men that want to be women-- the transvestites, as such I don't think Selby is homophobic cos even with Harry (whom I utterly despise-- not because he is a closet homosexual, but for his other icky and sleazy ways), he only became likeable (or at least, I only felt sympathy for him) when he become soft for Regina ( or is it hard for Vagina-that-is-not?!--- sorry, I couldn't resist putting that in...oops, sorry again). Yeah, Brooklyn, I agree with James, is DEE story, DEE character, the force that shapes, cuts, wounds her inhabitants. "Exit"-- now that's a word that in this book plays on the idea of escape and NO escape.
A former member
Post #: 24
I think the Old Testament epigraphs which precede each section of Last Exit to Brooklyn -- ancient sacred Hebrew narratives retold in the elevated Shakespearean language of the King James Bible -- function as a kind of ironic, contrapuntal framing device for the unremittingly brutal, profane and hopeless lives of Selby's characters.

It is my opinion that Selby deliberately juxtaposes these biblical passages to underscore the bleak tragedy of lives that are absent of grace, wholeness and self-awareness. All the characters in the book seem to possess little or no insight into their own feelings, behaviours and misfortunes -- mainly because they lack any outside point of comparison -- and as a result, they derive no higher meaning from the terrible suffering which is inevitably visited upon them time and again. Much like Joyce in Dubliners, Selby illustrates the devastating consequences of chronic conditions of poverty, ignorance, violence, deprivation and misery -- and suggests how these commonplace evils feed upon themselves in vicious cycles, ultimately deforming and destroying the human character.*

It is worth noting the particular books of the Old Testament that Selby references -- Ecclesiastes, Genesis, Job (twice), the Song of Solomon, and Proverbs -- are all (with the exception of Genesis) known as "Wisdom Books", and are attributed to King Solomon. The Solomonic Wisdom Books are generally didactic in nature and consist of sage and profound sayings which address everyday human emotions and relate them to the qualities and rewards of virtue, godliness and a well-lived life. It may be that Selby purposefully cites the Wisdom Books as a means of investing the experiences of even his most debased and wretched characters with some semblance of spiritual significance.

*FOOTNOTE: Joyce's "An Encounter" contains suggestions of homosexuality, sadomasochism, and pedophilia, and as such, it anticipates Selby's own sordid sexual realism; Selby's prostitute/petty con artist Tralala who seduces and robs naive sailors on the Brooklyn waterfront has something in common with Joyce's Corley, one of the "Two Gallants", who seduces and swindles a young chambermaid in Baggot Street; the notion of marriage as a trap, which is a theme in Joyce's "The Boarding House" and "A Little Cloud", is similarly evoked in Selby's "And Baby Makes Three"; also, Selby's Harry Black in "Strike" reminds me somewhat of Joyce's Farrington in "Counterparts" -- i.e., both stories focus on men who are deeply insecure in their masculine identity, and who thus vent their frustrations in violent outbursts; and likewise, the corrupt and opportunistic nature of the labour union in "Strike" mirrors, to some extent, the self-seeking and hypocritical behaviour of the political campaign workers in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room".
A former member
Post #: 3
Agree, Jason---re. ironic and contrapuntal use of biblical epigraphs. At the same time, I think it also creates a parallel with biblical stories-- it makes a statement, "see, this is just as shocking as stories in the bible that you Christians revere so much." I guess it is no surprise that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind: Transvestites // ANGELS in disguise ( "Angels can't reproduce" as Rumfoord reminds us in The Sirens of Titan) --> the beautiful angels sheltering at Lot's whom the men of Sodom wanted so. Certainly the role of the transvestite seems manifold in Brooklyn, and an interesting one to explore.

Sal, Vinnie & co. also play angels in their role of executioners of "justice"-- I see some kind of climb to the top of their game: from the play fight -->beating the crap out of the sailor (or was it a doggie?)--> destroying the trucks --> killing (?) of Harry.

Thanks, Jason, enjoyed your insights.
Oh it's a sunny day today, tra la la, I'm off to punish myself at the gym!
A former member
Post #: 25
"see, this is just as shocking as stories in the bible that you Christians revere so much."

I don't know if I quite agree with that statement since all of Selby's biblical epigraphs are taken from the Hebrew Old Testament (and as I previously mentioned, 5 out of 6 are from the "Wisdom Books" of Solomon), rather than the later Hellenisitic Greek Gospels or the Pauline Epistles -- i.e., the books and letters comprising the bulk of the New Testament, which is in fact the Scripture that Christians actually revere.

However, the Old Testament does indeed contain copious subject matter that is just as shocking and unpleasant as anything in Last Exit to Brooklyn.

I'm not sure if I really see Sal, Vinnie & co. as executioners of "justice" either: after all, the drunken redneck sailors deliberately provoked the fight with Vinnie and his cohort from the Greeks, and it seems that Harry Black was found out and ritually crucified for his sins against the masculine code and sexual normalcy (and for misusing union funds to indulge his deviancy). Harry's fate could also be taken as fulfillment of a violent masochistic homosexual catharsis that he had been secretly desiring and hurtling towards all along, especially after he had been spurned by Regina.

Are transvestites really angels in disguise? Do angels have sexes? In Pasolini's The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, the Archangel Gabriel is played by a woman.
A former member
Post #: 4
Now, I think that certain Christian denominations may stress the New Testament, however, I believe that many Christians study and revere the Old Testament as well -- here, I think of my own Christian upbringing where we delved in the Old and the New Testaments. I think also of the 18th century bourgeois, like the ones who were shocked at the production of Bizet's Carmen though they had been bringing their unmarried daughters to watch Grand Opera mired in violence and sex courtesy of the bible (and history and mythology).

Re. Sal, Vinnie & co. -- the "justice" I speak of really is a matter of perspective, dontya think?... As in I/m givinid taya cos ya deserved id -- that kind jof justice. Also, I see this gang more like unwitting executioners of "justice"--- instruments of a higher/external force--- I guess that's what I also mean when I think of them as angels ( I didn't mention this in my last posting, but sort of alluded to that at our discussion) -- not the kind that bring Good Tidings of course, but the judgement-meting kind, again judgement here is a matter of perspective. Another thought that came to me was how it can be possibly seen that all their acts of "punishments" were play and practice, leading them up to the big one, the torture and crucifixion of Harry Black.

As for Transvestites = angels in disguise, I refer to a) angels = sacred/spiritual beings ∴ // Georgette and some of the other transvestites who are able to appreciate Beauty, b) angels in disguise: here I allude to the angels in the story of Sodom & Gomorrah who were in disguise as men, so the // to the transvestites = appearances vs what is-- they are donning women's apparel, and also, their wanting to be what they are not to be what they are (does that make sense??). As for Angels having sexes, I think, that the bible describes them as sexless or asexual (there is a diff between the two, I think, need to look that up... maybe biological/physiological/psychological diffs), well anyways, that angels are not male or female, both sexless and asexual, maybe. I think I'll need to quote scripture here, let me get back to you on this, or perhaps, Jason, you could tell me. Forgive my meandering thoughts, let's see where was I? Ok, now I am unfamiliar with Pasolini, so more for me to look up.

I get you re. Harry's crucifixion for his sins, and how his fate may also be viewed as a [perverse] fulfillment of a "violent masochistic homosexual catharsis."
Many views, truths (?)--- let's meet in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum! Gotta go check on my bread in the oven now. Ciao!
A former member
Post #: 26
The Hebrew Old Testament is indeed part of the Christian Bible. However, Christians view it as merely a long prelude to the fulfillment of messianic prophesies in the New Testament. Even the terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament" imply that the ancient Hebrew Tanakh is a Scripture that has since been superseded by the later Hellenistic Greek Christian texts (canonized as the "New Testament" by St. Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century).

Of course, opera takes its subject matter from history, mythology, literature and Bible. However, forgive me for being insufferably pedantic, but Bizet's Carmen is in fact a 19th-century opéra comique (not a grand opera) based on an 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, which has nothing at all to do with the Bible. Although I'm sure it did scandalize the bourgeoisie of the time.

In my opinion, the "scandal" of Selby framing each of his six narratives in Last Exit to Brooklyn with an Old Testament epigraph is due to its radical juxtaposing of the sacred with the profane -- almost like a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt that obliges us to examine and consider everything more critically, or in a different light, than we otherwise might. Although it is worth noting that many Modernist authors (such as T. S. Eliot) deliberately framed their texts with earlier canonical epigraphs in this same manner.

I don't know if Sal, Vinnie & co. are avenging angels who were unwittingly administering justice on behalf of a higher force, and I'm a little uncomfortable with that notion. It seems to me that, among other things, Harry had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although the peculiar sado-sexual nature of his violent end does seem to take on a kind of symbolic significance.

(By the way, Pasolini was a controversial homosexual Italian author/filmmaker/poet/social critic who was violently murdered, apparently by Roman street hooligans, in Ostia in the early morning hours of November 2, 1975. To some, his fate seemed a realization of the desperate homoerotic violence depicted in many of his works: as Antonioni said at the time, "Pasolini was killed by his own characters".)

I don't quite follow your line of thinking about angels and transvestites. Are you suggesting that the angels who protected Abraham and Lot in the Cities of the Plain were in fact transvestites? Or that they disguised themselves as transvestites? I think it is perhaps a crass received notion to imagine that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were all debauched homosexuals and cross-dressers destroyed in a hail of fire and brimstone merely on account of their rampant sexual deviancy. Or was YHWH offended by all the benzedrine and the spangled red g-strings?

I don't really know enough about the subject to comment with any fluency, but I remember reading somewhere that the rites of certain ancient cults (such as the Anatolian worshipers of the Phrygian goddess Cybele) involved transvestite priests and eunuch mendicants. Some sources (e.g., Herodotus) indicate that the Babylonian worship of Ishtar involved ritual prostitution, and there is similar evidence to suggest that child sacrifice was offered to Canaanite gods like Baal and Moloch in a brass furnace shaped like a bull.

Personally, I've always thought that angels had more in common with castrato singers than transvestites.
A former member
Post #: 5
Egad!-- with Carmen, I did mean to say 19th century! (That's what I get for trying to write while watching Merlin with the spouse, keeping an eye on bread baking in the oven, imbibing [a lovely BC Malbec], all the while trying to tune out the meows of my cat begging for treats.) Okay, I brought up Carmen (which I am more inclined to call a lyric opera rather than opera comique) cos the realism factor in its libretto did create a scandal in the opera scene (and the librettists had created a tamer version of Mérimée's novella), and not because the opera goers of that time weren't used to watching opera with sex + violence, after all they were immersed in the Grand Opera tradition orredy. So when reading about the scandal around the Last Exit to Brooklyn, I just saw some similarities: how some people can handle certain topics when it is put in a certain context/medium, but not when it is presented as a slice of reality with a capital R. So nothing profound here, it was just a fleeting thought, the connection between Carmen and Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Yes, I do see what you mean about the "radical juxtaposing of the sacred with the profane" in the set up of the biblical epigraphs against the stories of Brooklyn. What I find more interesting is how these at first seeming opposites (sacred vs profane) then come together, then separate, then meld in the Brooklyn stories-- I guess that is the V-effekt at work.

As for Sal, Vinnie & co., how about Hells Angels then? If I were to do a movie on this book, I think that's how I'll play them. Yes, I do take much liberty and credit it to a febrile imagination.

Re. Pasolini: goodness gracious, that's an interesting tidbit. I must confess to enjoying a good bit of gossip. Sigh, just like poor Bizet--- was it a swimming competition between Bizet and his son that set him up for the the heart attack? Murder? Suicide? --- a "gunshot wound" on the left side of his neck which was then dismissed as a lymph node that swelled and perforated. Overwork and depression from the debut and production of his opera, Carmen?--he died exactly three months after Carmen's first performance. The wife did it?? (well indirectly)--Bizet died on his sixth wedding anniversary.

Re. Angels & Tranvestites: No, no, no, I 'm not suggesting that the angels who protected Abraham and Lot in the Cities of the Plain were in fact transvestites---now that, however, may be an interesting angle for a play production of S&G! All I am saying is that the setting of the Last Exit to Brooklyn along with the Biblical epigraphs made me recall the story of S&G. Hmmm, crass and ass feature much in my mother's bible, along with fire & brimstone. Butt seriously, back to the Angels and Transvestites (uh oh, I fear I'm gonna get censored soon, sorry, it's just comic distancing kicking in)--- all I meant to say was that the whole bible quoting business in Last Exit to Brooklyn, makes one see other biblical references and connections (the bennies are kicking in!)-- I'll leave it as that for now. Oh but wait, just to make it clear, I am not saying that this is my 4ever-take: angels <=> transvestites --- only in Brooklyn, and I mean Selby's Brooklyn.

Sigh, you wax eloquent, I just ooze ADD.
A former member
Post #: 27
I'm not sure if the Hells Angels had a chapter in New York back in those days. As far as I can tell, they began in 1948 and were mainly active in California during their early years. Although faintly homoerotic movies like The Wild One (1953) and Jean Cocteau's Orphée (1949) seem to indicate that there were probably other similar biker gangs active at the time. Cocteau's bikers could serve as avenging angels, or at least "angels of the underworld".

And Tralala kind of reminds me a little bit of Jean Genet's Querelle de Brest, seducing and betraying sailors on the waterfront.

By the way, here is a picture of Pasolini's body when it was found:

And, if you're interested, here is a link to Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die, a great hour-long documentary about Pasolini's life and work with particular emphasis on the mysterious and troubling circumstances surrounding his murder:­

Hmmm...Cocteau, Genet, I see a pattern emerging? Three celebrated European gay writers/filmmakers obsessed with lyrical images of death and homoerotic violence.
A former member
Post #: 6
Thanks for the link, Jason. I viewed the documentary earlier this evening--it was intriguing though rather disturbing to say the least. This reminds me (though not near as gruesome as Pasolini's end) of the mysterious death of Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II-- I learnt about her when visited the Nanjing Massacre Museum last year.

"Sex+Death"--Bento Box Combo--what's up with that? I get how one can see affinities between sex and death, but how far does an artist go to prove a point? When does it just become sensationalism or just plain wrong or just a perv working out his/her own issues in his/her art then trying to make sacred what is profane?
A former member
Post #: 7
And in our world today, is everything sacred??? And if so, then is nothing sacred anymore???
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