Hottie of the Month: Richard Cumberland Sunday, Sep 30 2007 

Richard CumberlandSeptember’s hottie of the month is Richard Cumberland, an eighteenth-century dramatist. He was born in 1732 and died in 1811. Cumberland was one of the most productive and important playwrights of the late eighteenth-century. Best known for his sentimental comedy The West Indian, Cumberland also penned a number of other successful plays, including The Brothers (1769), The Fashionable Lover (1772), The Jew (1794), and The Wheel of Fortune (1795).

As the dates of these plays suggest, Cumberland’s career is often divided into two parts. After devoting the 1780s to writing relatively unsuccessful tragedies, musical theater, religious poetry, and novels, the successful production of The Jew began the later phase of his career. Indeed, this comedy brought international renown: it was produced throughout Europe and America, was revived in throughout the nineteenth century, and was even translated into Hebrew and Yiddish. The play was adapted in 2000 by New York playwright Robert Armin as Sheva, the Benevolent. I’m currently writing about The Jew, a play that I think is totally fascinating.

Scholars generally agree that Cumberland’s goal in writing The Jew was to bring greater tolerance of Jews to English society. He worked to do this by depicting the title character’s humanity in his play. In choosing the literary vogue of sentimentalism to achieve this goal, Cumberland departed from traditional representations of Jews as villainous usurers bent on the murderous destruction of Christians, an image made famous by Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and perpetuated in anti-Semitic treatises and a wide range of literary works throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


The Back Passage: A Review Thursday, Sep 27 2007 

Book Cover James Lear’s The Back Passage is the gay adult version of the movie Gosford Park, or at least that’s what kept coming to my mind as I read it. I wish Ryan Phillippe, Jeremy Northam, and James Wilby would star in a film adaptation of this novel!

The Back Passage follows Edward “Mitch” Mitchell, a 1924 Cambridge postgraduate student who agrees to visit Drekeham Hall, a Norfolk country estate, with his best friend, Harry “Boy” Morgan, who is engaged to the daughter of Sir James Eagle, the patriarch of the Drekeham household. Mitch’s motivation in accompanying Boy is far from innocent, however, since he’s been lusting after his friend since he first saw Boy carrying an upturned rowboat out of a river. Since proper young women don’t put out before marriage — and Mitch certainly does — it’s not long before Mitch find himself in a cupboard giving Boy his first blow job.

Before can finish the liaison, however, Boy’s fiancée screams, revealing that a dead body has just fallen out of a cupboard similar to the one Mitch and Boy are currently using. Having read a lot of detective fiction in his youth, Mitch intuits that something fishing is going on when one of the servants with no apparent connection to the dead man is quickly precipitously arrested for the murder. He therefore decides that it’s up to him to find the real murderer and bring him to justice.

But he murder plot is really just an excuse to follow Mitch’s erotic adventures, as he seduces just about every man connected with or investigating the murder, including Sir James’s younger, effeminate, and obviously gay brother, a local constable, a reporter, a couple of the servants, Sir James’s secretary, and, of course, Boy. His investigation even gives him the opportunity to observe a couple of the servants indulge their own same-sex desires and threatens his own life when he becomes the object of a corrupt policeman’s potentially homicidal S/M fantasies. The Back Passage is a fun, entertaining take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.


Teaching with Commonplace Books Monday, Sep 24 2007 

This quarter I’m requiring the students in my eighteenth-century literature class to maintain a commonplace book. A commonplace book is a book into which you copy passages from your reading that you would like to keep on hand for reference, passages that are striking for their insight, their style, their beauty, their humor, or their embodiment of something significant.

Our system of commonplacing is based on a 1799 “improvement” to John Locke‘s method for indexing a commonplace book. As this 1799 text reads,

The man who reads, and neglects to note down the essence of what he has read; the man or woman who sees, and omits to record what he has seen; the man who thinks, and fails to treasure up his thoughts in some place, where may readily find them for use at any future period; will often have occasion to regret an omission, which such a book, as is now offered to him, is calculated to remedy.

John Locke’s “new method of making common-place books” sought “to increase the amount of information one could annotate in the notebook, while also speeding up its retrieval,” by creating a system of indexing the book’s quotations. He proposed that each topic to be included in the commonplace book be represented by a keyword that is then reduced to a two-letter code. These two letters were the first letter of the word followed by the first vowel. The word, “Passion,” for example, would be represented by the code “Pa;” the word, “Order,” would be represented by the code “Oe;” and the word, “Art,” would be represented by the code “Aa,” since it has only one vowel. Entries in the commonplace book would be indexed according to these codes.

Whenever he found a passage that he wanted to include in his notebook, Locke would assign it a keyword (and thus a code). He would write the keyword at the top of a page. He would then reserve that page for entries on that topic. When he had a passage with a different key word that he wanted to record, he would go to the next free page, write the word at the top, and then transcribe the passage.

If Locke wanted to write down the following quotation from Richard Hooker:

Happiness is that estate whereby we attain, so far as possibly may be attained, the full possession of that which simply for itself is to be desired, and containeth in it after an eminent sort of the contentation of our desires, the highest degree of all our perfection.

He would open his commonplace book to the first clear page (assuming he hadn’t already started a section on “happiness”). Imagining that the first available page was page 16, for example, Locke would write “Happiness” at the top of the page and transcribe the quotation. Next, he would turn to the index, find the section of the index grid for “Ha,” and record the number 16 there.


What I’m Listening to: Amy Winehouse Wednesday, Sep 19 2007 

I finally downloaded Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. Of course her singles and very public personal problems with drugs and bulimia have been all over the place for the past six months or so. I wasn’t too keen on “Rehab” when I first heard it, but I loved “You Know I’m No Good.” So, I checked out some of her other tracks on Youtube and decided that I liked her sound enough to buy the whole album. Here’s “You Know I’m No Good:”

Since buying the album, I’ve fallen in love with two additional tracks, “Love Is a Losing Game” and “Tears Dry on Their Own.” While she has a basic retro sound in all of her music, these tracks show how diverse that sound can actually be. “Love is a Losing Game” is a quiet, simple song that uses that quietness and simplicity to express such pathos about love, while “Tears Dry on Their Own” is almost an anthem of the self-sufficient woman who can get over failed love and start anew. Its up-tempo chorus is really catchy and triumphant.

Here’s “Tears:”


What I’m Watching: Torchwood, Dr. Who, & Bob and Rose Saturday, Sep 15 2007 

Torchwood premiered on BBC America last Saturday. Here’s the trailer:

PJ and I first were interesting in seeing Torchwood because it stars John Barrowman and because we had heard that his character is bisexual. There are so few American television shows that have interesting depictions of sexuality that we definitely wanted to see how far Torchwood would go.

John BarrowmanWe also wanted to see it because Barrowman is gay. I first saw him when he starred in Central Park West, a fun primetime soap that aired in 1995. While his character in CPW was straight, he seemed so gay that we were interested in following his career even before he came out.

We didn’t actually see any of his movies, mind you, but we’ve kept an eye out for what he’s been in. I did buy his album, John Barrowman Swings Cole Porter, but apparently I’m not that kind of gay, since I didn’t really care for it. Don’t get me wrong — he’s very good at what he does, but I’m not really into Cole Porter.

But back to Torchwood. While I first tuned in for its depiction of sexuality, I’ve already gotten hooked on its geeky sci-fi plots, gadgets, and action. It’s quick paced and action packed. And in just two episodes it’s managed to create characters that I can get into and “care about.” I also really like that it seems to assume non-heterosexuality as the default sexuality for all of its characters. The first episode had one of the male characters go ahead with a seduction of a man and woman when the woman’s boyfriend unexpectedly show up, and the second episode had a female character snogging another woman when she gets caught up in alien pheromones.


U.S. Open Round-Up Sunday, Sep 9 2007 

Roger FedererThe last Grand Slam tournament of the year is over, and it’s left me feeling a little down. For me, the men’s final each year is the true marker that we’ve really entered the fall, that the quarter has started, and that the end of the year is just around the corner. I’m definitely sad that it’s over — I’ve spent way too much time in the past two weeks watching it. Now I’ll actually have to get to work!

One didn’t need much expertise to predict that Federer was going to win again. His 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 win over Djokovic wasn’t surprising, especially considering the fact that this was Djokovic’s first big final. When it came to the big points — five of them in the first set alone — he choked. So many of the players do in their first match of this magnitude.

What was kind of surprising is that Federer didn’t actually play all that well. Djokovic really should have been up two sets to love, and it seemed to me that, while Federer kept his cool and won the key points, it was really a case of Djokovic tightening up and letting Federer have them. I felt the same way at the end of the Wimbledon final — Nadal should have won that match, but didn’t take advantage of his lead in that last set.

What this says to me is that Federer’s reign is almost over. If he wins three of the Grand Slam tournaments next year, I think it will either be a miracle or, more likely, a disappointment. It’s been great for the game to have Federer at the top. He’s a great ambassador for the sport and really seems like a nice guy. (And he’s got the best hair ever!) But tennis is getting really boring. Why watch the big tournaments if we all know that Federer’s going to win them all? Why watch just to see the up and coming players give it all away each time they get ahead?


Visiting the Musee d’Orsay Saturday, Sep 8 2007 

While we were in Paris two months ago — was it already two months ago?! — PJ, James, and I visited the Musee d’Orsay, which is now one of my favorite museums. The museum is housed in a renovated train station, a fabulously renovated train station, that is. I tried to get a good picture of the inside of the museum, but I was still learning how to use my camera. Here’s the best one I took:

Musee d'Orsay

Besides this main area, there are two floors of rooms off of this main hall and an additional floor that doesn’t branch off of this main area. Architecturally, it’s a magnificent space for art. It really succeeds in a way that I think the Tate Modern, another great museum, doesn’t.

There are too many works here that I loved to write about them all, so I’ll just have to hit the highlights. One of my favorites is Jason et Médée by Gustave Moreau:

Jason et medee

I love everything about this painting. First, I love the golden colors of the painting, mimicking the golden fleece. Second, I love that Jason and Medea’s nudity evokes (to me, at least) Adam and Eve. I love the youthful masculinity of Jason’s body in this work. He’s young, but he’s a man. And finally, I really, really love that his nudity is covered by a scarf tied to evoke genitalia. It’s suffused with youthful energy and eroticism. I love it!


Walk on Water: A Review Tuesday, Sep 4 2007 

Last night I watched Eytan Fox‘s 2004 film Walk on Water. Here’s the trailer:

I have to admit that I really disliked Fox’s previous film, Yossi & Jagger, from 2002. That film was disappointing in so many ways, but I especially didn’t like the way it ended. I wasn’t in the mood for a film about missed opportunity in the Israeli army.

Because I disliked Yossi & Jagger, I almost didn’t watch Walk on Water. The U.S. Open is happening right now, and so I was going to watch that instead. But there was a lull between matches, so I thought I’d give the movie a chance when PJ started watching. I’m glad I did, because I really liked it.

Walk on Water is kind of the gay version of Munich. It stars Lior Ashkenazi as Eyal, an agent in the Mossad. As we see in the movie’s opening scene, he is very effective in his job, eliminating Palestinian agents. His career is thrown for a loop, however, when his wife commits suicide while he’s on assignment in Istanbul. When he refuses to seek therapy afterwards, the government deems him unfit for continued assignments.