Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

On Mondays I'm Joe, the lorry driver, travelling from the UK to mainland Europe via Dover and writing a blog about my experiences on the road. On Tuesday I'm Robert, a bespectacled librarian who works at the British Library Museum and who loves misplacing books whilst checking people's reactions. I also have a cyber-space where I describe my activities. Then, on Wednesday I'm Leonard, a stroppy teenager who hates his name and calls himself Fido. Under this guise I like roaming the neighbourhood and scaring people with my zombie outfit. My online diary is full of funny entries, like the one about Mrs Waller and how she wet herself when I jumped on her from behind late one night when she was out walking her dog. The canine also made a little puddle itself. From Thursday to Saturday I'm Bruce Patel, the soft-hearted bouncer who works at an alternative Bollywood club. I even have a tilaka on my forehead. And, of course, I write a blog about what it's like to be a security guard at a nightclub. Burly, stocky and intimidating I may look, but, remember, I have a kind soul.

On Sundays I'm the Lesbian in Damascus.

Why should we be surprised that the Gay Girl who made the uprising in Syria feel much closer turned out to be an Edinburgh-based bloke originally from the States? After all we had already been warned, back in the early 90s that when it came to the world wide web "You can be anything you want to be/Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be/Be free with your tempo be free, be free/Surrender your ego, be free, be free to yourself!" ("Innuendo" by Queen). Of course, the British band were not singing about the multiple personality disorder that the net encourages in some people, but you could say their words were prescient.

Oh, the internet, don't you just love it? Whilst hundreds, if not thousands of people were out on the streets in Damascus, risking their lives to change the system and gays, especially, feared for their well-being, not just for daring to protest against the status quo, but also for their sexual orientation, a man amused himself by...

Enough! No, really, it's beyond the pale. The irony of it (if I can still muster a smile) is that this news came out a few days after VS Naipul let it be known that he found no woman writer his literary match. Sorry, did I just make you choke on your muesli? I beg your pardon. Please, sit down, because Laurel and Hardy are back, and this time they have teamed up with the Keystone Cops and the Marx Brothers. Oh, my sides!

According to V (I hope he doesn't mind me calling him that), "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." He went on to explain that this was because women, not being complete masters of a house, had a narrow view of the world. I think he might have got stuck in the 1860s, Victorian England. Time to drag him to my house where my wife would definitely give V a crash course on gender equality.

I admit that as a writer, I like Naipul. I read and intend to re-read In a Free State because of the sense of displacement it conveys and the loose narrative. Half a Life has a quasi-autobiographical feel to it. His novels don't follow a single structure; on the contrary, they're multilayered. In the same way that Alice Munro's writing is multilayered, or Zora Neale Hurston's. And they're female writers.

The problem with V is that he's chosen the wrong target. Writing has become so homogeneous that it's hard to tell male and female writers apart. The "lad culture" from the 90s gave way to the metrosexual movement from the early noughties. Same with women and the whole "ladette" malarkey. It was swiftly followed by the "Bridget Jones" brigade. Where and when the - literary - market calls the shots, writing is neither feminine nor masculine. As long as it sells a bloke in the Jeremy Clarkson mould could very well pen a novel that belongs in the chick-lit genre.

That's why I wasn't surprised to find out that the Gay Girl in Damascus blog was a hoax. A few times fellow cyber-diarists and readers have been surprised to learn that I'm actually a straight, black man from downtown Havana with an incurable reading habit (not that I'm looking to be "cured", either) and strong opinions. Blimey, I would have thought that my cynical and warped sense would have given the game away, exposing a blokeish streak. But no. Maybe it's to do with the way I write or the subjects I choose, but some of you have stencilled a skirt on me. So, VS Naipaul's theory doesn't apply. And why should it? Does the mention of midwives, children and marriage in books only apply to women? Hell, no. In Midnight's Children there's plenty of talk about marriage and children. Plus Rushdie really goes to town with emotions, one of the elements that is said to characterise women's writing.

What should have really happened is that someone should have given the Gay Girl in Damascus blog to V to read. And then sit on a corner quietly whilst the author of A House for Mr Biswas analysed and digested the information in front of him before pronouncing on the gender of the writer. How to interpret a passage like this one: "What a time to be in Syria! What a time to be an Arab! What a time to be alive! These are the thoughts flashing through my mind right now … I want to rush out in the street and celebrate (and will as soon as I finish writing this) …" For the life of me I cannot see evidence of vaginal or penile influence in the excerpt above. Can you, my dear peeps?

It's time to realise, and accept, too, that when it comes to writing online and adopting an identity to go with it, Margritte's famous caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" is given a modern makeover along the lines of "Ceci n'est pas un homme, mais n'est pas une femme nonplus". Enough to shock even Jean Baudrillard.

© 2011

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 29th June at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read that quote from Naipul. Unbelievable. Who can reason with absurd opinions like that?

    But it doesn't really say much about literature. Instead, it says a great deal about him and his arrogance. It's a shame, really.

    There are plenty of writers out there who are simply that - writers. Whether they are women or men is immaterial because it's their words that matter.

    And no, there is no indication in that last quote you gave from Gay Girl that the writer was a woman or man. Why should there be? Only people like Naipul would worry about it.


  2. No!
    No way!
    How dare they?
    The audacity of some people, the blogger who fakes his identity, the famous writer who puts both feet in his mouth.
    Go on, Cuban, tell us more.

  3. I read about Naipul's recent expressions in a local newspaper a few weeks back. My first reaction was of disbelief. And then, I was amused. I have respected him as a writer, but his latest comments force me to think of him as gender-biased arrogance personified at the worst, and senility starting to show, at the least.

  4. Believe it not, the word that came to mind as I read this post was compassion. That surprised me until I realized that it was the lack of compassion that marks both the hoaxer and Naipul. And then in a very Zen-like way, I thought, how is that they, who seem so undeserving, need compassion too? Well, I don't have answers, but thank you for making me think of something which is important, and that is the exercise of compassion. Your new blog look is smashing, by the way.

  5. Thank you all for your kind words.

    Judith, that was one element I had not thought about: compassion. Many thanks.

    SG, you might be right. In V's case, senile dementia might have started to show its first symptoms. It's not the first time he picks fights out of the blue.

    Jai, I agree with you. V's comments have more to do with a certain snobbish, literary attitude than with writing.

    Greetings from London.

  6. And I forgot to say that my new blog look and especially the quote are dedicated to my hay fever. :-) I just thought I wouldn't include it in the actual header as it would detract from Angelou's powerful message.

    Runny nose, still I rise!
    Constant sneezing, still I rise!
    Watery eyes, still I rise!
    Itchy throat, still I rise, I rise, I rise! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  7. Cuban, I feel so ashamed when people who are called writers (thereby leaving most of us with the assumption that they are... hopefully... cultured) think in such linear terms. I like Naipul, too. Or rather, shall I say liked? I have to admit that after reading this comment from him, my reading of his work will forever be tainted by the memory of the emotion the comment evoked in me. And that is... if I ever read him again. I think I'm holding a non-forgiving grudge, at this point. But... Naipul aside... life goes on in the real world, does it not?

    It's refreshing to be reading you, Cuban! As it always has been... :-)


  8. Silly thing for him to say. Very silly. And unnecessary. His early novels were fine, but since becoming a grand old man of letters his writing has collapsed and his opinions clearly tend to the haywire.
    Love the personae in your first bit, all very tempting.
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Weird that 2 of you come from E's piece in Guardian (in March?) and arrive in an old blog (July) within hours of each other. Most odd. Anyway, delighted you clickrf.

  9. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Nevine, welcome back! :-)

    Milla, welcome! :-D

    Greetings from London.

  10. Looove your new blog image. I think Naipul has always been a tad off, dementia or not.

  11. i sensed you were a straight male from your name a cuban in london with big ben as your profile picture.

    if i had to determine if gay girl damascus was male or female, the phrase "what a time to be arab" was very male to me, while the rest of the exclamation was very gay male.

    i think we could tell a person aplenty from the way he or she writes just like you can tell aplenty from the look of a car and the way the driver drives. i can spot a female driver before i could see she is female. but of course, it is possible that i could be wrong (although i am yet to experience that).

    your blog header picture is a BIG wow. absolute beauty.



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