The Angry Peace

HOMOSEXUAL: Oppression and Liberation, by Dennis Altman. Angus & Robertson £2.50.

I believe I am right in suggesting that this is the first book on homosexuality to be published in this country that is the work of an insider. Our bibliographies have tended to begin with Bryan Mageee and D.J. West who. inevitably, took the view of outsiders not so much looking in (such empathy is beyond them) but rather, subjecting homosexuality and the homosexual to the sort of detached examination that reinforces divisions whereby the homosexual is seen as abnormal. There are other books, essays, papers. But always written from a standpoint that sets the homosexual against the writer’s accepted values which, when not psychiatric, tend to be the product of a male-dominated, heterosexual-emphasised culture.

So the first thing to enjoy (and I do mean enjoy: it strikes me as a very joyful book) is Altman’s tone. His natural acceptance of himself and of all gay people is refreshing. This sense of liberation informs all he has to say: for him the homosexual needs no justification, no excuse and of course, no special pleading – that besetting sin of most British writers, straight and gay, on the subject.

So to say that Altman has written a book “on homosexuality” is inexact. In the course of it he examines theories of causation and related attitudes, but this is a part only of a much larger intention which is to define the new self-awareness of homosexuals and to discuss its implications both for gays themselves and for society as a whole. His own experience has been predominantly in America so it is in that context he writes: but it is clear that the pressures on gay people and the resultant secretive, straight-gay scene there is not so very different from that here. It does seem though, that the gay liberation movements in America are far more together, and far more potent (both internally and externally) than those in this country.

Dennis Altman is 27; he graduated from the University of Tasmania, became a lecturer at New York University and is now a lecturer on American politics at the University of Sydney. “Bring an academic and a movement together and one produces a book”, he comments in the introduction.

Academic disciplines are apparent in every paragraph; not merely in the tremendous range of Altman’s reading (there is a most useful bibliography), but in his ability to extrapolate and bring together information and facts from disparate sources, and in his general cool which results in a rational, firm, but never overstated approach. And the bleaker side of academic writing is missing; the dryness, the dullness, the arrogance, the lack of humour. If nothing else (and its a lot else) this book is always an entertaining, enticing read.

I think this is because a lot of experiential autobiography is present. Altman seems continually to be testing his information against himself and his own experience. This means no dogmatic statements and a touching honesty when he comes up against something he hasn’t quite got himself tv gether on. Were the book an attempt to make a massive, final statement this would be a weakness. As it is, it’s a strength. Dennis Altman doesn’t quite know yet how to relate to transvestites and transsexuals; so instead of blundering along he draws on statements from STAR and Red Butterfly and adds his own tentative ideas. This has the important effect of throwing the issue back at the reader, thus making him work too.

It is not my intention here to placate the lazy by digesting Dennis Altman’s thesis and trying to encapsulate his ideas. For this is a book which must be read by everybody. And I hope it will not be read only by those who have already talked, thought and absorbed a lot on the subject of homosexual liberation. Because to them quite a lot of the book, especially the opening phases, is going to come like old news. Altman’s analysis of oppression and detail of the schizophrenic life-style foisted on gays has been made before. What is new, and good news, is that here it is followed to its ultimate conclusion and stated in full without the aggression of a manifesto.

I was looking for something to quote. I have pencilled some fifty-five passages. Here’s one:

The essence of gay liberation is that it enables us to come out… Those who are touched by the new affirmation discover a new perception of how they have been oppressed by society and social norms, and out of this realisation comes both peace with oneself and anger at the victimisation that we and others have suffered… For the homosexual, the new affirmation involves breaking away from the gay world as it has traditionally existed and transforming the pseudo-community of secrecy and sexual objectification into a genuine community of sister/brotherhood…”

Which comes from the conclusion in which Altman posits the end of the homosexual. In essence I think it sums up the tone, the attitude and the message of this excellent piece of work.

Inside The Outsider

ORDER OF ASSASSINS (The Psychology of Murder) by Colin Wilson. Published by Rupert Hart-Davis, £2.25.

Completing Colin Wilson’s ‘murder trilogy’ is Order Of Assassins. The earlier two works were An Encyclopedia of Murder and A Casebook Of Murder. This new volume examines ‘motiveless’ murder, as opposed to the ones committed for economic, passionate or some other definable reason.

Wilson convincingly argues that ‘murder committed for its own sake’ is very much a phenomenon related to the individual’s lack of self-fulfillment and to frustration due to low self-esteem, as well as the obvious tendencies to space-age living to take away any possible ‘adventure’ out of life. The author believes that the ‘will-drive’ is the most important potential force in a man or woman and when this is frustrated it deprives the individual of needed self-expansion and drive.

He notes too that psychotic violence is swiftly becoming one of the most terrifying problems of our age. As the people of the ‘developed’ countries progress from the basic problems of having to gather in the material necessities of life, this leaves the average person with more time to explore his or her own areas of existence and development. To some, the lack of material problems, the banality of urban living, the need to create — amongst other functions – helps decidedly to turn some individuals into walking death machines, capable of the most horrific and violent crimes imaginable.

Wilson also argues that to describe, or categorise, tha deeds of the ‘Moors’ killer, Ian Brady, the novels and ‘fantasies’ of de Sade, as well as the Manson ‘family’ slayings, as being just sadistic, or fulfilling a sexual perversion, is to miss the point. It is in fact all too easy to dismiss these crimes with these labels. The author insists that these fantasies and murders are the perpetrator’s attempts at self-assertation, due – as said earlier – to the frustration of the ‘will-drive’. Whereas an artist can satisfy his/her inbuilt creativity by painting, this new type of killer has no such outlet. He/she is aware of their own ability to create – to assert – but cannot find the medium through which to express the ‘will-drive’.

Throughout the book, Wilson illustrates his arguments and ideas with numerous examples of ‘motiveless’ murder, each adding to the pattern of events which leads him to suppose that this problem needs serious investigating and re-thinking before society can attempt to check the growth of the ‘new assassins’.

An example of what I understand Wilson to be getting at is possibly what the alleged killer of Sarah Gibson, who was murdered at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London, last July, wrote anonymously to the police. He said: “I found a strange sense of power in depriving a body of life”. Surely a sex-killer would have just gloated over the sexual outrages he committed on the lifeless body. It seems as if the real motive for the unnecessary killing by the alleged murderer David Froom, was an act of self-assertion — a destructive act of creation to satisfy an inner craving.

Order Of Assassins is a powerfully relevant book by one of the most important ‘thinkers’ writing today. Colin Wilson’s message is more than just a warning, for it is also an indictment of twentieth century life and its lack of creative evolution.

The answer is certainly not what happened to the corpse of the rooftop gunman in New Orleans recently. After killing the assassin with armour piercing bullets, the lifeless body was riddled with more shells of the type mentioned for another three or four minutes, till it resembled a refugee from a butcher’s shop rather than a dead human being. The question is, why did this 23-year-old man invite death and why did he decide to kill as many others as possible before he met what almost certainly was his inevitable fate? ‘Motiveless’ murder?

The Other Love

HERa novel by Anonymous. Calder & Boyars, £2.50.

I shouldn’t say it but at first I wasn’t especially attracted to this heterosexual pornographic novel, that is a best-seller in the States and written by a “world-famous” author into the bargain. In short, I expected the worst kind of sexist prose when starting to read Her, rather reluctantly.

But the atmosphere of the novel caught my attention from the very beginning and the very brilliant style encouraged me to carry on further than the third page.

The story begins (and ends, like all good cliches do) exactly like a Hollywood musical. Somewhat like the worst of Jacques Demy’s heart-breaking stories. The scenario is carefully undated because, I imagine, of the eternal language of love, and the social context — a small college town in the south of the United States. This places the intrigue on the right level. There is nothing extraordinary or unreal about the two heroes, both of them are middle-aged and free from any emotional ties. They try to forget the social frustrations they have in common by intense sexual activity.

Just a word about Anonymous, whoever he is. For there is never any doubt that the author is a man. And the story’s narrator, who is allegedly a fictional character, is a good old-fashioned male chauvinist all through the novel. Fortunately he is gifted with sensitivity, which allows me to feel some sympathy for him, as well as fascination. Of the female — sorry, the woman – we don’t know very much, except that she has “very good legs” and has a lot of trouble in reaching “real” orgasms. And as she’s forty-two, I found it surprising that she hadn’t tried it with a girl, but she definitely “loves” her lover’s penis, deliciously calling it “Irving”. Her own sex she simply calls “Matilda”.

Despite its limitations, the book is a very complete sexology manual and dictionary. The descriptions are numerous, precise and accurate. Anonymous allows himself several pleasant fantasies about sodomy, neatly packaged and not too kinky.

In fact there is nothing very disturbing in Her. It is only a few hours of pink-jacketed titillation, for everything is very conventional. It’s a lot better than David Reuben’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex and there is a good deal of celluloid romance too.

It Came From The Bog, Honest

THE WILD NIGHT COMPANY (Irish Tales of Terror) Edited by Peter Haining. Introduced by Ray Bradbury. Sphere, 40p.

This collection of horror/ghost stories certainly lives up to its description on the book’s cover.

And as the sub-title states, all the contents are set in, or connected to, Ireland. Also the contributors are either Irish or writers inspired by the supernatural in the ‘Emerald Isle’.

The tales range from traditional winter’s night ghost stories, through to macabre haunting terror produced by the pen of a writer such as H. P. Lovecraft. Magic, mystery and folklore also turn up amongst the 317 pages of the book.

In all there are 22 short stories. Amongst the writers contributing, apart from the one already mentioned, are Daniel Defoe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, William Hope Hodgson, Lady Wilde. W. B. Yeats and Ray Bradbury.

The Wild Night Company is an extremely fine collection for the connoisseur of horror, fantasy and the supernatural.