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A former member
Post #: 2
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 #: 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 #: 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 #: 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 #: 28
Cocteau, Genet, and Pasolini are actually from three different generations: Cocteau was born in 1889; Genet in 1910; Pasolini in 1922. All three could be considered avant-garde artists of a highly individualistic sort.

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) came from a socially prominent family and was a Bohemian artist in Paris during the 1920s and '30s, where he had a wide circle friends and acquaintances who were the greatest poets, painters, writers, musicians, actors and filmmakers of that era. Cocteau is most famous for his short novel, Les Enfants Terribles (1929), about a brother and sister who have an incestuous relationship when their mother dies (Ian McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden, is essentially an update/ripoff of Les Enfants Terribles), as well as for his Surrealist films, Le Sang d'un Poète (1930), La Belle et la Bête (1946), and Orphée (1949), among others. Cocteau died on the exact same day as his friend, Édith Piaf: October 11, 1963.

Jean Genet (1910-1986) was the son of a prostitute who came from a provincial town in central France; he was adopted and raised by a foster family, but took to petty crime and vagrancy early on. As a teenager, he was sent to a reformatory (his experiences there formed the basis of his second novel, Miracle de la Rose) and subsequently joined the Foreign Legion (but was later kicked out for making homosexual advances toward other enlistees). Throughout the 1930s, he spent several years in jail for various offenses, such as prostitution and burglary. During his time in prison, he wrote his first novel, Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs (1943), about the life and death of a tubercular drag queen in the Parisian criminal underworld, and eventually approached Cocteau with the manuscript. Cocteau was favourably impressed and used his connections to get it published.

In 1949, other friends of Cocteau, like Picasso and Sartre, successfully petitioned to have Genet released from prison, after he was threatened with a life sentence for having received ten convictions. By this time, Genet had already written and published his five radical existentialist novels (Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, Miracle de la Rose, Pompes Funèbres, Querelle de Brest, and Journal du Voleur). By 1961, he had written and staged his five Theatre of Cruelty plays (Les Bonnes, Haute Surveillance, Le Balcon, Les Nègres, and Les Paravents). In 1950, he made the homoerotic short film, Un Chant d'Amour, which had a notable influence on Andy Warhol.

In 1952, Jean-Paul Sartre published a very long appreciation/exegesis/psychobiography/ha­giography of Genet's life and work called Saint Genet, Comédien et Martyr, in which he argued that Genet invented his own genius from the desperate circumstances of his life. Genet eventually abandoned literature for political activism in the 1960s, which included involvement with the Black Panthers, the student movement, and the Palestinian cause.

Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was the son of a lieutenant of the Italian Army, Carlo Alberto Pasolini, who became famous for saving Benito Mussolini's life during an assassination attempt. His mother, Susanna Colussi, was a peasant woman from Friuli (an area in the northeast of Italy near Croatia), who worked as a schoolteacher. Growing up, Pasolini identified with his mother's peasant culture and rejected his father's bourgeois Fascist affiliations (this intra-family conflict is addressed, somewhat obliquely, in his 1967 film, Edipo Re; ironically, in 1941, Pasolini dedicated his first volume of poetry, written in Friulian -- the language of his mother -- to his detested father!).

Pasolini read extensively and wrote poetry from a young age, studied philology and Renaissance painting at the University of Bologna (the oldest university in Europe, in the city of his birth), and was influenced by ideas of the Italian populist-Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci (who was jailed by Mussolini and died in captivity in 1937). He was also deeply affected by the violent death of his older brother, Guido, in February 1945, who had been killed in an ambush while fighting with the Italian Partisans.

In 1949, a homosexual indiscretion ended Pasolini's early career as a schoolteacher and likewise got him expelled from the Italian Communist Party. The following year, he moved to Rome with his mother. For about a decade, he lived on the impoverished outskirts of the city among the Roman subproletariate -- it was a class of people with whom he came to identify passionately, and it was about them that he wrote his two novels, Ragazzi di Vita (1955) and Una Vita Violenta (1959). By the late 1950s, Pasolini had become friends with the famed Italian existentialist novelist, Alberto Moravia, and made contacts within the Italian film industry. Rossellini's Neorealist films made a particularly strong impression on him, and he later was hired to write gritty Roman street dialogue for Fellini. Pasolini eventually struck out on his own and made his first feature film, Accattone, in 1961, which caused a sensation at film festivals across Europe.

During the last fifteen years of his life, up until his mysterious and shocking murder in Ostia in 1975, Pasolini was a very prolific and highly controversial figure in Italian film and letters. His work was marked by a great love and reverence for the rural Italian peasantry and urban subproletariate, as well as an intense, almost hysterical, hatred of modern consumer capitalism, which he felt was bringing about the irrevocable and catastrophic destruction of the authentic traditional Italian way of life by turning everyone into a smug, shallow, materialistic petit bourgeois hedonist. In his shocking allegorical film, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975), completed only a few months before his death, Pasolini explicitly addressed the anthropological degradation of young Italians by the brutal and depraved "fascistic" forces of rampant neocapitalism.

FOOTNOTE: In a way, Pasolini also reminds me a lot of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), another famed gay novelist, considered one of the greatest Japanese literary stylists of the postwar era, who advocated for a political and cultural restoration of the power of the Japanese emperor and bushido, the code of the samurai. He eventually committed public seppuku in 1970, when his glorious and nostalgic vision for Japan did not come to pass.
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