Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2002-2003

A Cock-Eyed Comedy, by Juan Goytisolo

reviewed by Jim Herrick

When I was teaching Shakespeare to teenagers, I used to tell them that whenever they suspected a double entendre they were probably right. In A Cock-Eyed Comedy the double entendres come thick and fast. (Yes, that phrase was intentional.) In this playful gay novel, watch out for treble entendres as well. Like the creation, according to the novel’s narrator, much of the tale seems botched, a cock-up or indeed, more accurately, a succession of cocks up.

Goytisolo is described as “the greatest living Spanish novelist”, which on the strength of this novel I have reason to doubt. The storytelling is deft and energetic. At the end of the book there is a reference to the “narrative’s confused chronologies”, which perhaps explains why the omission of about 30 pages from my review copy did not seem to matter greatly.

The central metaphor of the novel is the conversion of religious terminology to sexual terminology. The cottages of Paris, whether the old-fashioned circular urinals or the special places at the main railway termini, are known as chapels. To pray together and to give succour depends upon an upstanding performance. One speaker is impressed by a quote from Kempis: “Your duty is to be an instrument, big or small, rough or subtle ... Be an instrument.” A writer is described as wanting “to transcribe his cruising experiences in church language”.

The narrator, a version of the author, recounts his many lovers in Paris in the sixties and after. Many of them are Arabic, Muslim and bisexual and show that stoning is not the only Muslim reaction to homosexuality. They give him much pleasure before the arrival of the white caps and beards. Equally discouraging was the “one-syllable virus” (AIDS). He has had contact with famous gay writers such as Genet and Puig. There are some similarities with Genet, certainly in the repetitive accounts of sex, but without the darkness, the angst.

The central character (if “character” is the right name for the ciphers animated by Goytisolo) is a priest named Father Trennes, after a figure in Peyerefitte’s Les Amitiés Peculières (Special Friendships). He is a member of the Opus Dei, and traduces that sect’s bigoted principles, by his outrageous behaviour. He also has the pleasure of frequently changed personality by transmigration – a journey that included gender variety and even transsexualism. We are reminded of the cruelty of Christianity when he is persecuted and burned. Never, however, one feels, would he lose his taste for a colourful foulard and a gin and tonic. Trennes seems to stand for the numerous gay priests who have cocked their eyes at pleasure through the ages. “We are the Holy Queers for Jesus,” someone says, presumably not referring to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

The book can be criticised for repetition, excessive narrative playfulness, and political incorrectness. But Goytisolo forestalls the criticism. He gives words to his own critics: your homosexuality “suffers from passivity and masochism” and exalts “criminal hoodlums”; “Your characters lack the pride of today’s militants”; they do not “defend his rights – marriage, legislation for couples, entry into the military”. Well, it is a pleasure of Goytisolo’s document that it is so thoroughly unpolitically correct.

URI of this page :
Created : Sunday, 2003-01-12 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :