-Heraclito: Everything changes and everything moves, the opposites follow one another in a perpetual cycle and cycles, of which the fire is responsible. “You can not bathe twice in the same river”.
How we are used to the common roles of women and men! The women’s everlasting feelings, the male exemplars of us stuck inside ourselves and inapt to express any emotions… It could remind us of Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, couldn’t it? It is about time to aproach sex and gender with a fresh mind. It did begin though! Don’t we love the appearance of David Bowie, Brian Molko (the frontman of “Placebo”), Boy George, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stipe, Tanita Tikaram, k.d.lang, Marla Glen, Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson and meanwhile many other singers and actors playing deliberately with genders? Anything seems possible like in the antiques, where nobody was wondering about Hermaphrodites. They were even worshipped as holy people and prophets – see Tiresias, being first a men and changing into woman.
Jeffrey Eugenides’ book is all about this matter. Even the title, “Middlesex”, though mainly an adress of Detroits suburb Grosse Pointe, can be an allusion to the third sex, the gender in the middle of female and male.
Callie Stephanides, our hero, is expieriencing this in her own body, being born as a girl and turning into a boy with 14 years…
She is the teller of our book, sometimes omniscient narrator too, beginning the story even before her birth or conception, telling us about far away Anatolia, the burning inferno of Smyrna, the doings of her parents while away in California or even going inside Father Mike’s head. Actually she/he is 41 years old, living in Berlin, just finding a new girlfriend, doing big flashbacks into the story of her family, her grandparents Desdemona and Lefty, her parents Tessie and Milton, her brother Chapter Eleven, her aunts and uncles.
“Grow up in Detroit and you understand the way of all things. Early on, you are put on close relations with entropy.”
There is but a big life space in between Bursa in Anatolia and Detroit. The unifying motive is the silkworm, doing it’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly and doing this by spinning itself into cocoons…. In my opinion this is the hidden motive of the whole book.
The main theme though is sex and gender, and we get aware again, how fluent the borders in between sexes are. At one point it even is said about hermaphrodites: we are the new gender, the one of the future. But even samples of the past are cited: The Oracle of Delphi, Tiresias, Homeros, Heraklit with his “panta rhei”, the nymph Salmakis (whose pool,by the way, is to be found in Bodrum!) turning to Hermaphroditos, the poet Sappho…
Eugenides though is very less didactic but always good for a joke. I like his wry sense of humor:
“She didn’t surrender until after Japan had.”
“The days of the harem were over. Bring on the era of the backseat! Automobiles were the new pleasure domes. They turned the common man into a sultan of the open road.”
“I crossed to the intercom and put my mouth against the speaker and said in a deep voice, ‘I’m not going into that church.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Have you seen what they charge for those goddamn candles?’”
“The slight gracelessness of my walk, which Dr. Luce had commented on, predisposed me to join the graceless sex.”
“Sing, Muse, of Greek ladies and their battle against unsightly hair! Sing of depilatory creams and tweezers! Of bleach and beeswax!”
“On sunny days the lake still managed to look blue. Most of the time, however, it was the color of cold pea soup.”
“By April of 1972, Desdemona’s application to join her husband in heaven was still working its way though a vast celestial bureaucracy.”
Some have the opinion, only the initial story of the village near Bursa, the war in between Turcs and Greeks, the terrible end of Smyrna and the escape of sister and brother to the New World and finally to Detroit is catching, the rest of the book rather boring. I am not in that opinion: I red this thick book until the last page like a police-novel.
The figures emerging all along the plot are quite interesting: Peter Tatakis, Jackie Halas, Father Mike, Sourmelina, Aunt Zo, Dr. Philobosian (“Dr. Philobosian smelled like an old couch, of hair oil and spilled soup, of unscheduled naps. His medical diploma looked as if it were written on parchment.”), the prostitute Irini, Captain Kontoulis, Jimmy Zizmo, Sophie Sassoon, Marius Wyxzewixard Challouehliczilczese Grimes, the Charm Bracelets, the Obscure Object, Maxine Grossinger, Mr. Da Silva, Zora, who doesn’t want to be a woman, Bob Presto, Julie Kikuchi and many others.
All along the book the thesis of the surroundings, the education being important for the gender of someone against that of the genes (“I try to go back in my mind to a time before genetics, before everyone was in the habit of saying about everything, ‘It’s in the genes.”) are elaborated. But finally the author solves the opposite theories by stating, that everybody has her/his own will.
What’s the reason for studying history? To understand the present or avoid it?”
Lets end with the motto on the flag of Detroit: “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. ‘We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.’”