Middlesex and the Subject of Intersex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is now one of my most memorable reads. I read this 2002 novel for the first time in 2015 and listened recently to the audio version. The latter was brilliantly narrated by Kristoffer Tabori. Tabori appears to know the text intimately and gives just the right inflection. Because of Tabori’s reading I realised just how funny Middlesex really is. One of the most amusing scenes comes right near the end when the main character’s father, Milton Stephanides, dies in a car crash while chasing another vehicle. Milton’s life stretches out before him in his last moments and, in some way, his thoughts act as a summary of the different strands the text of Middlesex explores.

These strands include the troubling subject of intersex conditions, cultural prejudices in Detroit USA, and the replacement of an older generation (and its viewpoint) by a younger one. The scene is also a fine example of the intriguing narrative technique used by Eugenides. Eugenides uses a combination of first person and third-person omniscient narrative viewpoint. This has the effect of casting Cal Stephanides, the ‘I’ in the book, as an omniscient narrator of his own life, from before conception to present day. So, in the scene when Cal’s father, Milton, meets his end, it appears as if Cal has entered his own father’s head. I loved this masterful narrative technique.

Of course, the opening scene of the book is one readers of Middlesex are also likely never to forget: ‘I was born twice: first, as a baby girl…. and then again, as a teenage boy…’ Readers immediately have an idea of the subject that is to follow. Eugenides employs this foreshadowing method throughout. It functions to draw the reader in, and in no way spoils the experience of this complex, highly thought-provoking novel.

It is thought-provoking in large part because of its treatment of the sensitive subject of intersex conditions. Middlesex attributes the abnormal development of intersex to incest. But then goes on to portray the main character (Cal Stephanides) as choosing to embrace the facets of his condition, rather than trying to change it.

One viewpoint that endorses embracing intersex conditions rather than trying to change them is the Christian ‘The Reformation Project’. The speakers in this Youtube video say that God created all variations of gender and should therefore be accepted as they are.

For a slightly different perspective a very thoughtful Christian talk from the Gospel Coalition on the subject can be listened to here. Andrew Wilson, the speaker, emphasises what a loving Christian response should be to intersex conditions and how to live with them.

 

 

National Arts Festival: Day Three

Thinkfest was first up on A Feast of Tales’s agenda on day three of the NatArtsFest with a discussion on Gender Politics. The hour’s dialogue indicated that this rhetoric-laden topic still favours too much – well – dialogue and too little practical application. An over-aggressive approach also emerged as a problem. Number two on our schedule was the dialogue-heavy House of Truth in which actor, Sello Maake kaNcube, told the story of writer Can Themba and his struggles during apartheid to be recognised as a teacher. The drama had a good script but was depressing and failed to hold the audience’s attention for its overly long 90-minute duration. Hannah Arendt was another ‘struggle’ piece, though this time in the form of a movie. Like the Sophie Scholl film we saw on day two, Hannah Arendt presented a view of Nazi Germany somewhat different to what we were used to. In this story German-Jewish philosopher and author, Hannah Arendt, wrestled with the problem of evil, putting forward the – scandalous – ideas that German perpetrators of crimes in World War II may simply have failed to think and that Jewish victims may have been complicit in their own victimisation. Our day ended with the brilliantly executed The Echo of a Noise by Pieter Dirk-Uys, in which this renowned performer gave an autobiographical account of his life, revolving mostly around his combative relationship with his ‘Pa’. Rich, funny, tender and well-rounded, Uys’s performance was very deserving of its standing ovation.