Tuesday, 07 July 2009

Rob Liefeld hates it when you gay up his straight characters... . . . but he doesn't help his cause when he makes arguments like this: He's a warrior, a Spartan, and not a gay one. The evidence that the actual Spartans were homosexual [thanks James] is scant and somewhat contradictory. In the most frequently cited classical source, "The Polity of the Lacedaemons," Xenephon insists that the Spartans were not homosexual in the manner of the Boetians and Eleians: I ought, as it seems to me, not to omit some remark on the subject of boy attachments, it being a topic in close connection with that of boyhood and the training of boys. We know that the rest of the Hellenes deal with this relationship in different ways, either after the manner of the Boeotians, where man and boy are intimately united by a bond like that of wedlock, or after the manner of the Eleians, where the fruition of beauty is an act of grace; whilst there are others who would absolutely debar the lover from all conversation and discourse with the beloved. Lycurgus adopted a system opposed to all of these alike. Given that some one, himself being all that a man ought to be, should in admiration of a boy's soul endeavour to discover in him a true friend without reproach, and to consort with him—this was a relationship which Lycurgus commended, and indeed regarded as the noblest type of bringing up. But if, as was evident, it was not an attachment to the soul, but a yearning merely towards the body, he stamped this thing as foul and horrible; and with this result, to the credit of Lycurgus be it said, that in Lacedaemon the relationship of lover and beloved is like that of parent and child or brother and brother where carnal appetite is in abeyance. (301, emphasis mine) Note that while there are no carnal relations allowed in Sparta, the male-male couple is still referred to as "lover and beloved," which leads me to believe this could be a rough Spartan equivalent of the Sacred Band of Thebes. The other most frequently cited ancient source cited on homosexuality in Sparta is Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgus," in which he describes the wedding night and connubial bliss of the married Spartan couple thus: Then the woman that had the direction of the wedding, cut the bride's hair close to the skin, dressed her in man's clothes, laid her upon a mattress, and left her in the dark. The bridegroom, neither oppressed with wine, nor enervated with luxury, but perfectly sober, as having always supped at the common table, went in privately, untied her girdle, and carried her to another bed. Having stayed there a short time, he modestly retired to his usual apartment, to sleep with the other young men; and he observed the same conduct afterwards, spending the day with his companions, and reposing himself with them in the night, nor even visiting his bride, but with great caution and apprehensions of being discovered by the...
The telos of the back cover I can imagine no more frustrating a reading experience than the one I just had with Iain M. Banks' Excession. Is it a great novel? I don't know. Is it a good novel? I don't know. Why don't I know? Because I didn't—because I couldn't—read the novel on its own terms. I spent the entire time awaiting the arrival of a plot that never materialized. Why did I do that? Because of the back cover: [Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been selected by the Culture to undertake a delicate and dangerous mission. The Department of Special Circumstances—the Culture's espionage and dirty tricks section—has sent him off to investigate a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star fifty times older than the universe itself. But in seeking the secret of the lost sun, Byr risks losing himself. There is only one way to break the silence of millennia: steal the soul of the long-dead starship captain who first encountered the star, and convince her to be reborn. And in accepting this mission, Byr will be swept into a vast conspiracy that could lead the universe into an age of peace . . . or to the brink of annihilation. ] It should go without saying by now that none of that actually happens in the novel. There is a conspiracy and the name is correct—although it refers to only one of the novel's many characters—but the plot points on the back cover all refer to a single dream that character had on pp. 389-391. In retrospect, I find it difficult not to filter the events of the novel back through that short passage, and it almost works: the consciousness of a character (Zreyn Tramow) who witnessed the disappearance of that sun 2,500 years ago is slipped into Byr Genar-Hofoen's dream by a Mind (Grey Area) that plans to make contact with an "Outside Context Problem" (the titular "excession") similar to the disappearance of that sun, and at the end of the novel Tramow herself is awakened from storage shortly after the Grey Area enters the excession, but these are minor plot points unworthy of even being labeled as spoilers.* Because of the teleology imposed upon the novel by the back cover, however, every other element of the novel is subsumed by this bit of narrative driftwood. That is not to say this subplot is unimportant, merely that it is the equivalent of this: Not that there might not be value to doing that—countless classic novels could be made greater by misdirection of this sort—but this mode of false advertising utterly alters the experience of reading the novel. Were you to read the version of Gravity's Rainbow above, you would spend the whole second half of the novel awaiting the return of the beach-terrorizing octopuses. The back-cover plot summary is as critical a heuristic as the title: we all remember that Introduction to Literature exercise in which the instructor asks you to imagine that the title of the book is Ahab or...

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