Kill Your Darlings

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From director John Krokidas, Kill Your Darlings is a 2013 American biographical film telling of the college days of Beat Generation members such as Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). This film debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and after garnering much acclaim, has won many awards across the board.

The true events that inspired the creation of this film had been previously documented in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a collaborative novel written by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The novel, and in turn the film, trails the lives of Beat Generation authors long before they had published their famous works such as Ginsberg’s Howl, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, or Kerouac’s On the Road. Written in 1945, this controversial novel remained unpublished and hidden under the floorboards for many years until it finally came to light in 2008. At the time of its publication, although written many decades prior, the authors were already well known worldwide. While Burroughs himself did not think this novel worthy of much praise, dismissing it as “not a distinguished work,” his audience disagreed. The tale of friendship and murder captivated the readers of the novel, and glued the viewer of the film to their screens.

Kill Your Darlings begins with a young Allen Ginsberg, circa 1940s, starting off his short-lived career at Columbia University. It is there that he meets Lucien Carr, an alluring young man whose main goal at university is to challenge the strict guidelines set up by the school. Carr is introduced to the movie, and Ginsberg, when he jumps up on a library table and reenacts a sexually illustrious passage from Henry Miller. The book this passage comes from is held in the restricted section of the library, and Carr, after its recitation from memory, is promptly chased out by security. After this incident, Ginsberg is completely enthralled with Carr. Not long after the movie begins, the viewer sees that Ginsberg, although a well kept, sober young man, may not conform to the standard literary guidelines Columbia has set up for him. In an exchange with a professor, young Ginsberg challenges the rigid guidelines set forward for a “successful poem.” He brings to the table Walt Whitman, a main influence of the Beat Generation authors, claiming that as a point Whitman never followed these rules and that is what made him the success he was.

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From the transcript of “Kill Your Darlings,” an exchange

between Allen Ginsberg and his Professor

Ginsberg and Carr, continue their journey together into madness by creating the “New Vision.” They want to turn the literary world on its head. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual tension fuel these young Beats as they team up with Kerouac and Burroughs to fulfill their vision. Along the way the tumultuous relationship between Carr and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) is revealed. Carr is the object of Kammerer’s obsessions. While Carr’s sexuality is fairly ambiguous, it is clear that he has no romantic interests in Kammerer. As the storyline progresses, Carr becomes completely fed up with Kammerer. In an attempt to leave Kammerer behind, along with Kerouac, Carr attempts to run off and join a merchant marine ship headed to Paris. Kammerer is informed of this plan and a deadly confrontation between the two ensues. Carr ends up stabbing Kammerer and then drowning his body in the river.

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Top: Real life newspaper article written about the murder

Bottom: Movie replication of article

It is important to note that the time frame of this movie is a significant period in Queer Culture. While homosexuality obviously exists in literature and the culture, when it becomes personal it is denied. Walt Whitman, a great inspiration to many of the Beats, had a very similar experience. In Whitman’s work, Leaves of Grass, the “Calamus” cluster celebrates the “manly love of comrades.” Many critics argue that these poems are an expression of Whitman’s homosexual love. While the homoerotic content is fairly clear, in a correspondence between Whitman and John Addington Symonds, in 1890, Whitman vehemently denies that he himself is a homosexual. When confronted about his own sexuality he fervently declared “no, no, no!” I am straight “I have six children,” none of which is true. The depiction of homosexual love is accepted when it is just words on paper, however as soon as the finger pointed at the poet, Whitman himself, he denied that accusation. He created a little family for himself because being gay meant not being “The Poet” Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind. Similarly, many of the Beats were notorious for being homosexuals, but some went to great lengths to conceal their sexuality, like Burroughs who had a wife.

At the time of Kill Your Darlings, gay liberation had yet to occur. Even Ginsberg, who later goes on to produce Howl, an epic poem riddled with homosexual content, keeps his identity hidden. Homosexuality is a crime, sodomy laws are still in effect, and being gay can get you jailed. In this vein, Carr uses gay panic to his advantage. Carr testified that Kammerer was a sexual predator, and Carr killed him in self-defense. They bring up the concept of an “Honor Slaying” which is “relating to a lethal attack committed when the accused is defending himself against a known homosexual.”

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Link to Video Clip from Kill Your Darlings explaining Honor Slaying

In an era of gay panic, this defense is enough to get Lucien Carr’s sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter. This is an important time period for Queer Culture because the simple act of making a pass at someone you are attracted to is an excusable reason to find yourself murdered. Kill Your Darlings portrays a hidden element of the Beat Generation’s lives, a time before they are out and living in a world riddled with hatred toward homosexuality. While many of them will face ridicule and lawsuits later in their lives because of these issues, at this era they are hiding behind the concept of “Honor Slayings” and letting gay-hatred propagate through their lives. This movie brings to light the dark past of the Beats who were all complacent in the murder of an individual some of them considered a friend.

Whitman and Carr both had their reputation on the line when confronted with ideals about homosexuality. Although far less extreme as Carr, Whitman created children for himself in order to escape the label of a homosexual. Likewise, Carr clung to a defense that heavily depended on him being completely heterosexual. If there was a single drop of evidence proving he had even the slightest of homosexual tendencies, the guilty charge of murder would have stood. Both men lived their lives in such a way that their sexuality came into question. When brought into the light both men went to great lengths to turn the spotlight away from them in order to return to what the heteronormativie world around them deemed as normal.

Ganymedes and Zeus

Ganymede+Zeus

The Abduction of Ganymede (ca. 1650),

By Eustache Le Sueur

Verily wise Zeus carried off golden-haired Ganymedes because of his beauty, to be amongst the Deathless Ones and pour drink for the gods in the house of Zeus–a wonder to see–, honoured by all the immortals as he draws the red nectar from the golden bowl . . . deathless and unageing, even as the gods.”

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 203 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th – 4th B.C.)

In Greek Mythology, Ganymedes was the embodiment of beauty. He was a handsome, young Trojan who was, as Homer describes, “the most beautiful of mortals.” In the myth of Ganymedes and Zeus, Ganymedes is herding his flock on the mountainside when Zeus sees him and is determined to make Gaynmedes his lover. Zeus, in the form of an eagle, abducts the young Ganymedes and carries him off to Mount Olympus to be the god’s lover and cupbearer. Hera, Goddess of Women and Marriage, and wife of Zeus, upon hearing that Ganymedes was to be cupbearer as well as Zeus’ lover, became enraged with jealousy. Her own daughter Hebe, Goddess of Youth, previously held the favored position of cupbearer. The omnipotent Zeus did not waiver in his affection for Ganymedes who would carry a golden cup as he accompanied the powerful god on his travels. Eventually, Ganymedes, recognizing the thirst of the mortals, no longer coveted his role and, refusing his position as Zeus’ cupbearer, decided to pour out all the wine, ambrosia, and water of the gods. Although Zeus, a notoriously angry god, first wanted to punish Ganymedes, he eventually realized he had been unkind to the boy. Instead, Zeus set Ganymedes’ image among the stars as the constellation and God Aquarius, making him immortal and fulfilling Ganymedes wish of sending rain down to the people of the earth who were in need. This myth is often depicted through artwork of Ganymedes and an Eagle, or Ganymedes and Zeus, seen on canvas, pottery, and multiple other mediums of art.

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Ganymede pouring Zeus a libation (c, 490-480 BCE)

By the Eucharides Painter

Greek mythology often portrays Ganymedes as the God of Homosexuality. It is fascinating that sex between men was not only seen throughout Ancient Greece, but was also revered. Men often lusted after other men, and as can be seen in the myth of Ganymedes and Zeus, the Gods themselves could not resist the allures of the youthful man. The culture does not dismiss homosexuality as an aberrant behavior but rather deifies it. The Greeks appreciated beauty in a very natural, stripped down form, to them beauty was not gendered, nor as we will soon discuss, was it confined by age. This is an important point of notice for queer culture because there was a time where rather than being sin, which is the dogma many religions currently preach, men having sex with men was to the Greeks a behavior of the Gods. Growing up in a world where same-sex relationships are streamlined in religious tests and stories could ultimately result in a more accepting environment.

The story of Ganymedes and Zeus is one that depicts a common theme throughout Greek mythology, which is pederasty. The word pederasty derives from the Greek “love of boys,” and it is the relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male. Today, in our culture we may consider this to be pedophilia, however to the Greeks, this was a behavior that their very own Gods partook in.

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The act of Zeus abducting Ganymedes to be

his lover would now make frontline news.

It is important to question why when reading about Ganymedes and Zeus the reader’s focus is on the beauty of the young male, not the actions of Zeus. If translated into common day form, with idols we recognize, people would be outraged. However, it is common to be taught various Greek myths in classrooms, which cover similar content. It is not viewed as pedophilia to us, however if it was rewritten without ties to an ancient culture, you could almost guarantee that if would be controversial. Foucault would link this to his repressive hypothesis. In the beginning of the “The History of Sexuality” Foucault claims:

“Sexual practices had little need of secrecy; words were said without undue reticence, and things were done without too much concealment; one had a tolerant familiarity with the illicit” 

However, a very apparent switch was then made and sex was “moved into the home” where it could be carefully confined. It was restricted to simple procreation between a man and a woman. Other forms of sex were deviant and therefore not discussed. Except…

“If it was truly necessary to make room for illegitimate sexualities, it was reasoned, let them take their infernal mischief elsewhere: to a place where they could be reintegrated, if not in the circuits of production, at least in those of profit. The brothel and the mental hospital would be those places of tolerance: The prostitute, the client, and the pimp, together with the psychiatrist and his hysteric…”

Non-heterosexual behavior was essentially demonized. The only place non-missionary between a man and a woman belonged was in a whorehouse or in a mental institute. Foucault would argue, in his repressive hypothesis, that since the rise of the bourgeoisie if Ganymedes and Zeus were to be rewritten it would be worthy of sending Zeus to a mental institution. Man has come to jail the actions of a God.

It is impossible to know how the individual Greek from ancient times interpreted the actions of their Gods, however we can infer from the recurrent themes seen throughout the myths that pederasty was widely accepted. It is also impossible to know what the focus of the myth was intended to be. Logically, understanding that these myths were embodied through art and storytelling it would make sense to assume that beauty was a central focal point when sharing and preserving their culture. As mentioned earlier, if this myth were to be modernized, our repressed society would not focus on the beauty. However we still read Ganymedes and Zeus in a positive frame of light. The discrepancy is due to the common reader of Greek Mythology reading it in the vein in which it was written. This may be due to the cultural ties that come along with something that is not of our time-period. The only difference between the story of Zeus abducting a child and a Catholic priest and an altar boy is that the former is a remnant of a time period where people were not focused on the sexual acts that occurred and that sentiment carried through the generations of storytelling, keeping beauty the main focus.

“Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality.”

Middlesex

cara

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and author of The Virgin Suicides, which has since been adapted into a film, Jeffery Eugenides is an American novelist of Greek descent. He has been a finalist for various awards such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and various others. He is a graduate from Brown University, and received an M.A in Creative Writing from Standford University.

Middlesex cover

Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, published in 2002, is one of Eugenides’ bestselling novels, selling over three million copies. In 2007, Middlsex was the main feature of Oprah’s Book Club. This book follows the life of protagonist, Calliope Stephanides, an individual with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This is a recessive condition that causes genetically male infants, those with XY chromosomes, to be born with external genitalia that resembles that of a female. This is caused by a lack of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an integral hormone during fetal sexual development. Children with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, as we see in Middlesex with Calliope, are often mistaken for girls at birth and are raised as females. However, a big change for these individuals occurs at puberty. Due to an onrush of testosterone these biologically male individuals, who have been believed to be females all their lives, will start developing male secondary sex characteristics. These characteristics include increased muscle mass, deepening of the voice, and even enlargement of the penis and scrotum.

“I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974….My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”

As mentioned previously, Calliope, nickname Callie, is born with this intersex condition. Unaware of “her” biological maleness, “she” is raised as a girl. While growing up Callie felt different from how a normal girl should feel. At the age of 14 Callie falls in love with her female friend who she simply refers to as the “Obscure Object.” On vacation with the Obscure Object’s family many events unfold that lead to Callie realizing her intersex condition. In an attempt to appear like a normal fourteen year old girl, she engages in a sexual act with the Obscure Object’s brother, Jerome. As Jerome enters her for the first time, she experiences an immense pain and her condition starts becoming transparent to her.

“Jerome knew what I was, as suddenly I did, too, for the first time clearly understood that I wasn’t a girl but something in between”

This is just the first stepping stone in Callie’s realization. In an accident, Callie is injured and is taken to the doctors. It is here that her intersex condition is fully discovered. She is taken to a special clinic in New York where she is poked and prodded. Sex reassignment surgery is suggested to make her body match the female identity she was raised with. After much thought, Callie decides she wants to start living life as the boy her chromosomes say she is. In a letter to her parents she declares that she is not a girl, and that she is a boy. She runs away to San Francisco to assume her male identity as Cal.

“Despite its content, I signed this declaration to my parents: “Callie.” It was the last time I was ever their daughter.”

In the end, Cal returns with his brother to his family home and lives out the rest of his life as a man.

This book questions what it means to be a male or a female. Is gender biological and innate or is it a product of our environment, or perhaps a mixture of both. Intersex conditions are an important part of queer culture because they bend the gender binary.

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

No longer is gender either one or the other, if that were the case, how come Cal’s doctor, much to Judith Butler’s chagrin, declared “It’s a girl” rather than “It looks like a girl now, but in fourteen years your daughter will become a man!” This sets up a role in which the child has to “act” in order to achieve gender normativity. According to gender performativity, Callie, before 14 is reiterating the act of being a girl. Her gender comes from her wearing the outfits, having the long hair, the whole theatrics of being her parents’ daughter. Finally when the time came for a decision to be made, Callie gave up the charade, her performance as female, and became Cal, the man he was meant to be. Cal’s decision was her putting on drag and finally starting the performative ritual of becoming “he.” As Judith Butler points out gender performativity is “not a matter of choosing which gender on will be today” but rather the repetition of gender norms which will in turn qualify maleness vs. femaleness.

“There have been hermaphrodites around forever, Cal. Forever. Plato said that the original human being was a hermaphrodite. Did you know that? The original person was two halves, one male, one female. Then these got separated. That’s why everybody’s always searching for their other half. Except for us. We’ve got both halves already.”