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literature

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The Bible  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  

In Sodom, or The Quintessence of Debauchery (attributed to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester), the king of a licentious realm outlaws vaginal intercourse and makes sodomy the order of the day, encouraging all "to break all former vows / And do what love and nature disallows." Although the members of his court eventually rebel and force Bolloxion to rescind his decree, Rochester opens discussion of the pleasures of anal versus vaginal intercourse, making riotously satiric argument in favor of the former and proving how arbitrary manufactured restraints like Blackstone's laws are.

The most famous appropriation of the Sodom myth is that by the Marquis de Sade, whose 120 Days of Sodom--written in 1785 while he was imprisoned in the Bastille--attempts deliberately to "outrage the laws of both Nature and religion." Four men of the highest society secret themselves in an unnamed chateau for an extended period during which "everything of the lewdest invented in Sodom and Gomorrah was executed" on forty-two victims of their lust. Sade structures his narrative according to the 150 "simple," "complex," "criminal," and "murderous" passions that are recounted and acted out, his purpose being to "unveil" the nature that society would keep hidden.

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Sade has been particularly influential for modern "speakers of truth" who defy the empty value systems and petrified structures of authority that attempt to control individual behavior, supposedly for the good of society, but actually to perpetuate a corrupt status quo.

"Everything which other men take as obvious and accept, for me are abstrusely and painfully open to question," Italian poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini acknowledged early in life. His Salo (1975) appropriates Sade's Sodom as an analogy for the political fascism that Italy suffered under as he was growing up, and for the even more insidious fascist control that the Roman Catholic Church and the ruling Christian Democratic Party exerted on every aspect of post-war Italian life.

Paul Russell's The Boys of Life (1991) has appropriated, in turn, the details of Pasolini's aesthetic, his controversial life, and especially his violent death to tell the story of filmmaker Carlos Reichart's affair with teenaged Tony Blair, whom he casts in a number of disturbing films, among them The Gospel According to Sodom, in which Tony plays an angel whose arrival in the biblical city provokes a disturbing sexual apocalypse. Reichart's determination to break through every sexual and artistic boundary in the search for a brutal, naked truth is as much Pasolini's as Sade's.

As the litany of forbidden words in the song "Sodomy" from the 1968 rock musical Hair is intended dramatically to enact, a speaker's appropriation of what has been condemned socially can be both psychologically and culturally empowering. By reversing the poles of what are assumed to be good and evil, the writers of some of Western literature's most troubling social commentary have been able to question the values that many people take for granted, particularly in terms of society's control of individual sexual identity.

Paul

Paul, not Jesus, extended the Levitical attitudes toward homosexual acts into the Christian era. Contrasting Paul's fear and distrust of pleasure with Jesus' acceptance of the sexually marginal, Jeremy Bentham noted that "Jesus was one person, Paul was another. The religion of Jesus was one thing, the religion of Paul another; where Jesus had been silent, Paul was vehement." (Bentham unfortunately never completed his work, which was to have been a contrast of homoerotic love as justified by Jesus' teachings and example, with the influence of Paul.)

Some pastoral counselors, familiar with the psychology of the homophobe whose vehemence masks his own homoerotic feelings, have seen in Paul's epistles evidence of a psychosexual disorder.

In Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha (1992), the narrator--a fifteen-year-old, well-endowed Greek boy who would enter the church calendar as Saint Timothy--complains of Paul's "double standard": "officially, he hated sex inside and outside of wedlock on the ground that it made you unclean in the eyes of God," but Paul himself never stopped "fussing around with my [Timothy's] bod," or with that of any other attractive younger male.

Vidal is not alone in thinking that biblical Paul protests too much. In "St. Paul and All That" and "Those Who Are Dreaming, A Play about St. Paul," Frank O'Hara plays on a lover's middle name (Paul) to mock his fear of having his homosexuality revealed to his parents by being named in O'Hara's autobiographically explicit poems. Identification of his self-conscious lover with his biblical namesake comments on the self-repression of closeted homosexuals, whether in biblical or modern times.

With more angry intent, Pasolini was planning at the time of his death to make a film suggesting that the "spirit" that infused biblical Paul was phallic. Pasolini, of course, courted public resistance to his films, which in this case would undoubtedly have proved phenomenal. Significantly, one of only two weekly columns during Pasolini's long association with the Corriere della Sera, Italy's most distinguished newspaper, that the paper refused to print is that in which he lambasted the self-hating homosexuality of St. Paul.

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