Tuesday, February 09, 2016


When Philip remembered his adolescence, he remembered the hidden parts. Hiding had been so important, so essential a part in his life, that even now–grown up, more or less, and living on his own–he kept every book with the word “homosexual” in the title hidden, even in his own apartment. These days, when he thought of himself at twelve or thirteen, he did not think of school, his friend Gerard, board games and playground injustice and gold stars in workbooks. He did not envision himself sitting in a classroom, or with his parents at dinner, or in front of the television. Instead, he saw himself always and only lying on the bathroom floor and masturbating, the steam billowing from the shower, the wallpaper curling at the edges. He could remember nothing else, nothing but this forbidden activity, as if his memory was now capable of creating only a negative image, exposing only those things which were then in shadow. Philip's sexual awakening had not been uncommon: a chance collision of penis and thigh, the unexpected, intense terror of orgasm, the shock of the white liquid squirting onto his bedsheet. But what was different for Philip was that it never ended, this period when sex was only masturbation, it never developed into another stage. For his friend Gerard, there was talk of girls, and then there were girls, sex, talk of love. For Philip, there was only this solipsistic stroking, by definition nameless. Of course he realized, from the magazines he glimpsed at the corner newsstand and later bought in profusion, that there were many other men in the world with similar visions in their heads. But he did not think to seek them out, to match himself to one of them, to make love to one of them, because sex for him had never had anything to do with anyone but himself, and certainly had nothing to do with his life.
Sometimes Philip thought about what would happen if his mother were to walk in on him one day and find him surrounded by the shiny magazines, mounds of them spread all over the floor, colorful as the toys and blocks with which, as a child, he had often built play castles to house himself. He imagined the look on her face -- her eyes wide, her mouth open in confusion. Beyond that, he couldn't imagine. His life, he presumed, would end in a flash, as it had begun. If he was lucky, he would be born again without this need.
It was only many years later that Philip was finally able to face the possibility, to enact the scene that never took place, the scene where his mother walked in and caught him with his pornography. He imagined what it would have felt like to be forced to talk about it, to acknowledge the protruding erections and the "toys" in the ads and the sergeants in the stories, "planting liplocks" on willing recruits. His mother would have probably handled it relatively well, he decided. She would have left the room, let him clean up. Later, calmly, she would have brought it up with him, said something wise and never mentioned it again, imagining, he supposed, that this was a childish phase, something he'd get over. And he -- what would he have said? His sexual life had been bred in secret; he had never spoken of it with anyone, not even himself.

It was not until college that Philip finally made love with another human being, and it was a man. He was not altogether happy about this, but he felt compelled: Loneliness, horniness, the need to touch real flesh -- these things conspired against him. He and a skinny medical student named Dean rolled on an ancient sofa in a dorm room and Philip's hands grabbed for flesh, touched where they had never touched before.
-- David Leavitt, The Lost language of Cranes, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986

5 comments:

Bob Turner said...

Awesome!

joseph said...

un brin de traduction du texte (genre selection du reader's digest) m'aurait sans doute permis d'en apprécier la substantifique moëlle il n'empeche que la photo et quelques bribes ci et là m'ont replongé dans les souvenirs des chambres austères du collège où j'ai vécu les années d'adolescence boutonneuses et bien à l'écart de la gent féminine (si ce n'est quelques miss tiques ouvrières de cuisine nous inspirant quelques vers de mirlitons plutôt que de cobras sous les draps)

another country said...

J'entends bien, Joseph, mais je n'ai pas le texte en français. Si l'un de mes lecteurs dispose de la version française et qu'il est disposé à m'adresser un scan des pages concernées (ou, mieux encore, le texte dactylographié), je serai plus qu'heureux de le publier en regard de ce court extrait.

Le roman de David Leavitt traduit en français est disponible chez Amazon (notamment) sous le titre "Le langage perdu des grues". Voir ici.

Quatième de couv': "Quand Philip, un jeune New-Yorkais qui a décidé de vivre ouvertement son homosexualité, révèle enfin son secret à ses parents, il n'imagine pas toutes les conséquences de son aveu. Leavitt, sismographe des cataclysmes ordinaires, se plaît à entrer en scène à ce moment critique. Il guette la cellule familiale sur le point d'imploser, il sonde la vérité fragile."

another country said...

Bob: Indeed.

another country said...

@ Joseph : Ce texte, comme vous l'avez deviné au travers des quelques bribes que vous avez déchiffrées, s'adresse en effet à chacun d'entre nous, à chaque jeune homosexuel qui s'est trouvé un jour mis en demeure d'affronter seul et simultanément sa puberté et la découverte de son homosexualité, et donc de son aliénation sociale.