I Can Give You Anything But Love

indiana-garyGary Indiana had an unusual career, as a writer, filmmaker, visual artist, actor and playwright. He briefly studied at UC Berkeley but dropped out to help a friend make pornographic films. After soaking up the sunshine noir and punk scene of 1970s Los Angeles, he moved to New York City and settled into a cheap East Village apartment — the same one he lives in today. Since 1987, Indiana has published novels, nonfiction, plays, short stories — all with an unmistakable, sardonic voice embedded in the text, and all experimenting with the traditions of form.

The title of his latest memoir, I Can Give You Anything but Love is “really about disconnection between sexual desire and love, in my life,” Indiana says. A graphic and funny memoir, it finds the author reinventing yet another genre — this time using his own personal narrative. He becomes the connective tissue that binds together a diaspora of subcultures: the beatnik-era experimental writing and happenings of downtown New York, the 1960s co-opted counterculture gone awry, the punk movement that followed, and the art and intellectual circles of the Reagan ’80s, when the AIDs crisis was wiping out a generation of young gay men like him.

(revised from the introduction to an interview with Indiana by J.C. Gabel in the L. A. Times.)

Gary Indiana is arguably the greatest American writer that nobody knows. I believe I first read Indiana’s early novel Rent Boy. Despite the raw depictions of gay hustling, underneath the difficult subject matter was a very talented writer. But it was the novel Depraved Indifference that really cemented my love for this author. To this day I recommend Depraved Indifference to just about everyone. Think of the movie The Grifters and multiply by at least ten. And don’t miss that the title of Indiana’s memoir is characteristically quite the opposite of the title of the well-known song.

The best thing about Indiana’s new memoir is not his description of the gay world, but rather his thoughts and opinions on the literary world: Kathy Acker, Ernest Hemingway, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, David Lynch, etc. In this passage relates his opinion of Hemingway far better than I could ever say it:

Hemingway and Marilyn Monroe are often thought of in the same breath, so to speak. They reached their zenith of celebrity and committed suicide around the same time. They embodied certain fantasies and gender stereotypes rampant in the 1950s. Yet we still love Marilyn, whose genius on the screen is there to see, and her sad private story continues to move us, even when recounted by a twaddle factory in Princeton, New Jersey. Hemingway we love considerably less. His genius on the page seems ever more indiscernible, as he moves ever closer to the realm of antiquary curiosity where Fannie Hurst and thousands of Hula-Hoops have gathered dust for half a century.

How did it happen? Why, why, why did the creator of Lady Brett Ashley and Jake with the missing testicle sink so precipitously in our regard? Hemingway is a lousy writer. A phony writer. A writer whose books are a tissue of falsehoods and moronic clichés of masculinity. A mendacious, ridiculous, deluded buffoon of a writer intoxicated by fame to the point of writing drivel. A malicious, unscrupulous, pig-headed bully who stole any good idea he ever had from his betters and turned those ideas into banalities. A Harlequin romance novelist masquerading as a pioneer of literary modernism. …

But before we dump his collected works into the marina with which he is so often confused, bidding good riddance to once-sacred rubbish, and forget about Hemingway altogether, let’s remember the Hemingway left a sizeable chunk of his fortune to his many cats and their successive offspring, who still enjoy a life of feline luxury in Florida.

So Papa wasn’t all bad after all.

Is this where we ask Mr. Indiana what he really feels about Ernest Hemingway? Oh, he doesn’t have anything good to say about other authors such as Charles Bukowski and F. Scott Fitzgerald (“his books are even worse than Hemingway’s, including The Great Gatsby”). Throughout this memoir, Indiana, as they say, pulls no punches.

51NVlGzNKeL.SX316.SY316.jpgHere is Gary Indiana’s bibliography from Wikipedia:

  • Scar Tissue and Other Stories (1987) (short stories)
  • White Trash Boulevard (1988) (short stories)
  • Horse Crazy (1989) (novel)
  • Gone Tomorrow (1993) (novel)
  • Rent Boy (1994) (novel)
  • Let It Bleed: Essays 1985–1995 (1996) (non-fiction)
  • Resentment: A Comedy (1997) (novel)
  • Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story (1999) (non-fiction)
  • Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (2000) (non-fiction)
  • Depraved Indifference (2002) (novel)
  • Do Everything in the Dark (2003) (novel)
  • The Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt (2005) (non-fiction)
  • Utopia’s Debris: Selected Essays (2008) (non-fiction)
  • The Shanghai Gesture (2009) (novel)
  • Andy Warhol and the Can that Sold the World (2010) (non-fiction)
  • Last Seen Entering the Biltmore: Plays, Short Fiction, Poems 1975–2010 (2010) (fiction)
  • To Whom It May Concern (2010), (a collaboration with Louise Bourgeois)
  • I Can Give You Anything But Love (2015), (memoir)

Indiana needs to be re/discovered, pronto, and I need to fill the holes in my Indiana reading list. He’s very very good and you should definitely give him a try. (Note: Being gay is definitely not a requirement.)

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