Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Return to the transgressive 1980s

Out There

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The 1980s turned out to be a seminal period in gay literature. Mega-successful gay authors like Edmund White , Alan Hollinghurst , and David Leavitt were following in the footsteps of pioneering gay writers like Gore Vidal, John Rechy and Andrew Holleran , writing novels exploring their own culture, and getting mainstream attention for it. Gay publishers, media and bookstores were experiencing a bit of a boom. Our gentle subculture was suddenly front-and-center in the larger monoculture.

Meanwhile, those of us who were lucky enough to be here in the Bay Area in the 1980s knew there was a real creative ferment going on right around us. Writers like Robert Gluck, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy and Sam D'Allesandro were developing their own styles and fictive strategies in what would become known as the New Narrative movement. They were part of a loose network of transgressive, non-traditional scribes that included Dennis Cooper in LA, Gary Indiana in NYC, and writers following their inspiration all over the place such as Eileen Myles , Bruce Benderson and David Wojnarowicz .

Add in a sudden pandemic of a potentially fatal STD, a reactionary federal government impervious to our plight, the ACT UP movement and other gay responses, and you have the ingredients for a true cultural moment. All of this is explored in The Soho Press Book of 80s Short Fiction, a new collection of gay and other stories edited by Dale Peck (Soho Press). As Peck writes in the book's introduction, "Perhaps the only feeling more persuasive than alienation from the revanchist ethos of Reagan's 80s was the refusal to succumb to it, to validate it or accept its judgments. Writers found strength in the very traits that had been used to vilify them, and fertilized by desire and fear and determination, a new literature flourished in the tiny spaces between courage and despair." Peck describes the parameters of his collection's fictive universe as beginning with the first line of Brad Gooch's story "Spring," "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there," and ending with the last line of Wojnarowicz's story "Spiral," "I am disappearing but not fast enough."

The Soho Press collection is a Who's Who of brilliant writers from the period. In addition to the authors cited in the second paragraph above, it includes fiction artists of such diverse backgrounds and narrative styles as Lynne Tillman ("Weird Fucks"), Jamaica Kincaid ("Girl"), Christopher Bram ("Aphrodisiac"), Patrick McGrath ("The Angel"), Dorothy Allison ("River of Names"), Sarah Schulman ("After Delores"), Laurie Weeks ("Debbie's Barium Swallow"), Essex Hemphill ("Ceremonies"), Bret Easton Ellis ("The Secrets of Summer"), Gil Cuadros ("Sight"), Randall Kenan ("Hobbits and Hobgoblins") and quite a few others. That some of these talents were extinguished way too early only adds resonance and impact.

Another new collection has us looking retroactively at that fertile period for creative writers. Communal Nude – Collected Essays by Robert Gluck (Semiotext(e)) presents a whole world of nonfiction from the influential San Francisco writer, director of San Francisco State's Poetry Center. The book includes Gluck's manifesto for the New Narrative movement, appreciations of such powerful writers as Kathy Acker, Thom Gunn, Matthew Stadler and Aaron Shurin , and considerations of such larger issues as censorship, war and nuclear holocaust. It also includes Gluck's own essay from a series of commissioned pieces on gay middle-aged life that he procured for the Bay Area Reporter in issues from 1998 to 2004. The pieces came from such exciting writers as Indiana, Myles, Brian Bouldrey and Richard Schwarzenberger , and were edited by Yours Truly. The book's delicious cover contains a detail from Jess ' "The Mouse's Tale" (1951/54), a collage created from images cut out of gay bodybuilding magazines from their Golden Age. Great artist, great art adorning great literary production.


Up on the roof

Last Thursday night Out There was invited to the product launch of the Firefly2, billed as "the only vaporizer that reaches 400F in three seconds at the touch of your fingertips." The party took place on the rooftop of the company's headquarters South of Market. There we could vape to our heart's content, enjoy gin on the rocks, meet the Firefly crew, and consider the constantly evolving skyline of modern, tech-obsessed San Francisco.

Entrepreneurs Mark Williams and Sasha Robinson founded Firefly in 2012 with the goal of creating the best vaporizer in the world. They met at the Burning Man festival, and Burner values of open-mindedness and artistic expression inform their endeavor. Vapables were provided by various dispensaries, but we brought our own and filled up a Firefly2 that was beckoning "Try me!" from its display table like a cake of suspicious origin beckoning to Alice in Wonderland.

We missed the usual signals of stash enjoyment: the smoke, the pungent aroma, the satisfying plume of exhalation. While the Firefly2 produced only a wispy mist from our gaping piehole, it did get the job done. We chatted briefly with Firefly COO Baran Dilaver, but soon succumbed to our general euphoria, following the DJ's beats, and disappearing down our own particular rabbit hole. We came, we saw, we vaped. Thanks, Firefly!

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