I thoroughly enjoyed the chorus that knits together the narration of what would be a collection of disparate tales. I like the wryness of the collective “we” that comments on the next generation’s path. I do like. I can almost identify with these ancestor voices.
We taught you how to dance.
Full of metaphoric import with “dancing” as code for how to live. And some pages later the comment about limits. The identification grows stronger.
Not all songs need to be for dancing. There will always be the next song, to draw the dancers back.
It reminds me of the classic Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran where the dancers come and go but the dance itself continues. The comparison is not gratuitous. The voice of the chorus in David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing in some ways sounds like the older generation except for a very different take on the embracing of death. Levithan’s “we” cheers on the adolescents, it embraces a longing for life; all well and good for there is a valour in struggle. Yet for one who heard and read the Holleran generation there is a but a hint of the savvy sadness that imbued an attitude to life. It is an attitude that only occasionally comes to the fore in Levithan’s chorus. Take the edge in this remark:
It’s a highly deceptive world, one that constantly asks you to comment but doesn’t really care about what you have to say.
Glory and fame are now even more fleeting than the Warhol standard of 15 minutes. Attention and devotion are never total — as the characters in Levithan’s novel acknowledge. Self-reliance is necessary for mature relationships. All our characters seem to learn this except for one.
There is a radical tour de force in the scene where Cooper burns through his online contacts by a series of truth-telling comments that see him blocked or blocking all interested parties. Cooper is deeply depressed and isolated. This scene cements that fact.
He gets kicked out of every site he’s ever created a profile on. A block on each and every one. Stacked up, these blocks make a wall. Him on one side. The rest of the world on the other. It might be his most successful barrier yet.
Cooper in the course of the narrative is led to the brink. He is ready to jump off a bridge. At the last instant, he is tackled by a police officer. His parents are called. The suicide attempt is foiled. Should the author have been truthful to the darkness and killed off the character? Regardless how the narrative should unfold, there is a flaw in the narration. Our chorus, the generation who faced decimation by AIDS, would not look upon suicide as a bad thing. Choosing one’s exit is terribly important. Our chorus, comments “Cooper will live to meet his future self. / You should all live to meet your future selves”. The order needs some adjustment. All have a right to meet future selves. Cooper too. However, Cooper may yet meet more darkness. Given the depths of his depression, there is no guarantee that he would not seek oblivion again. His is the only character where their final appearance is not from the character’s point of view. It is from the outside. We do not have Cooper’s words. He becomes a cipher. He is brought back. He is an exception. The narration has a catalogue of suicides (with the odd addition in the middle of the catalogue of suicides of the mention of a brutal gay bashing death that alludes to the case of Matthew Shepard as if the murder victim died by his own hand). This catalogue recited by the chorus underscores the exceptional nature of Cooper’s case. The chorus flinches. Which is odd. The narrative can well foil the suicide attempt. It works as an acceptable plot device. But the narration suffers. The savvy chorus grows maudlin. In dreaming a chain of succession it does more than fail in acknowledging breaks and ruptures. It burdens the future. It becomes an oppressor. In a detour around loss, the chorus seems harmless in what it declares, yet its hope is lethal to clear-eyed attitude.
We saw our friends die. But we also see our friends live. So many of them live, and we often toast their long and full lives. They carry us on.
Never have my dead friends placed such a burden upon me. I was not to carry them on. I simply aim to carry on. They are gone. It is an irredeemable loss.
Two Boys Kissing is a novel of the 21st century where for some perhaps it is necessary to articulate a burden for the future to carry. Still it sounds vile. Nothing but a rigourous self-determination allowed us to struggle. That is what I hope to read in the novel’s closing injunction “Make more than dust” an echo of its peroration “Choose your actions wisely.” And your words too.
And so for day 1099
My comment from Giles Benaway’s blog. Giles author of Ceremonies for the Dead introduced me to this novel which has provided me with an opportunity to reflect upon questions of self-determination and debt.
The novel is terrific in displaying characters that come to realize that self-reliance is important to a mature relationship and that not all one’s self-worth is dervied from being a partner. Readers get to see most of the characters exercise self-determination with one notable exception we get to witness each’s own particular point of view as the novel moves to its denouement. The narration draws away from Cooper, the most troubled of the lot. There is for me, a very odd moment at the book’s conclusion where the collective “we” that chorus of voices from the AIDS crisis takes off on a life-affirming cresendo – which is good – but the chorus moves beyond a simple assertion that the living “carry us [dead] on” to an obligation implied in the injunction to make more than dust. There is a nuance between carrying on and carrying the dead on. I hope the sentiment that imbues relationship with the living – mutual and non-coercive relations – would animate relationships to the dead. The novel’s peroration implies a debt to the past and an obligation to the future. A type of emotional accounting displaces the discourse of self-determination. There is a lingering note of cognitive dissonance at the end of the novel. This reader for one resists the trip that is being laid on. In a fashion this resistance is a making more than dust. Something that is not countable but accountable i.e. the stuff of story.
This all reminds me of the notion of “metaphysical cannibalism” explicated by Ti-Grace Atkinson in Amazon Odyssey.