this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: February, 2011

two dogs

Sometimes I don’t want to write descriptions of my poems. People. Interaction. &c. I do hope you like it though.

 

two dogs

 

you pass by the usual places,

the smallness and intimacies

of your mutual incidence: the

 

restaurants, park, a freeway

overpass you both noticed

and there’s not too much

 

to say about your “falling out”

is there as the stretch of concrete

and steel remind you of her

 

body or his body, its mortality

and its stretch of limb on limb,

your sharing of warmness, and

 

the fine nicks and bruises

and so-called bodily blemishes

born out in countless ways and

 

you suddenly feel abused,

abused and worn-out, wronged,

taken advantage of as the

 

expression goes, used like an

animal or dog, begging, whipped,

two dogs each straining against

 

the cordage of leash when what

we really mean is a common

and mutual loss of dignity, a

 

loss of name, or face, placeless,

dissevered, not a thing but an

emptiness not to be given

 

the dignity of abuse or injury

but that must silently face that

way, and what to do or say or

 

name—straining, she told me,

we were like two dogs straining

Advertisements

Something New

I have been thinking about atmosphere and environment and its relation to mood and decided a February rain poem was in order. Something about the rain in California, when it finally comes, seems to embody the sort of tug of new but expected experience. So, toss these things together with the usual poetic fascinations of mine, relationships as embodiment of self/o-/O-ther distinction, and ta-da(!) you got yourself a poem.

 

Something New

 

Thinking less and

            less of you—

 

February, the sudden

            bursting of rain,

 

in its middle a certain

            deadness, a

 

honeyed, hollowed

            out center;

 

we felt on a border

            always the

 

edge of it, backed

            to it and in

 

front the ledge and

            curl, its

 

infinite dropping off,

            downward

 

into and through the

            center and,

 

presumably, into

            some bey-

 

ond—finally—then out

            and onward

 

right up to the cusp of

            some vast and

 

infinite cusp of things,

            but together,

 

and perhaps a little

            closer, face

 

forward, sidling some-

            thing new,

 

something finally

            quite different.

Alien Bodies: Seeing Myself Seeing Myself

Perhaps the most sinister part of given gender-roles are their capacity to cover up the alienation of our own bodies—having a prescribed relation of gender correlated directly to physicality covers up this alienation and gives me the illusion of being “at home” in my own body. This ignores that there is a distance between myself and how I relate to myself, something fundamentally “other” about the self’s relation to body. I speak of my body as other, as something I “have” etc, but notions of given or normative gender present the illusion that there is something matter-of-fact about my relation to self, no dissonance between self and body—and where there is no dissonance, no distinction between the same and quasi-other of my own existence, there is no knowledge of the self, no distinctions. Rightly speaking, where there is a one-to-one relation of physical sex to social gender there is no knowledge of self as engendered, no knowledge of self by self qua self.

This fundamental rupture, my alienation from myself as quasi-other, is essential for self-knowledge—precisely the means by which I can speak of learning from myself, personal growth, etc. In other words, covering up the alienation of myself from my own body is true alienation, for covering up this alienation alienates the self from being able to move outside itself. Rank assumptions of societal norms don’t make communication “easier” but rather ignores and covers up the difficulty of communication, its complications, and, in short, the liminality of the gender “dialectic” (that all of us are between gender, always already becoming-male, becoming-female, becoming-neuter/de-sexed, etc). It is by being “between” gender, caught in a fluctuating, chimerical state of becoming, like Tiresius, that the notion of me as “having” a gender, a body, can emerge. It is only by being-between that a self and quasi-other can appear so as to have two isolate viewpoints, a self that sees itself.

Point being, I am always alienated from my own body, gender, self. I am not “at home.” But it is precisely in this liminal ambiguity that gender and self can emerge, albeit in a tentative and tendential way. The self always emerges in-between, because it needs to see itself seeing itself—the self alienated by its own otherness—in order to gain knowledge of self. To cover up alienation is the worst sort of alienation, stifles communication, and ultimately reduces to a solipsistic ignorance. “Know thyself” means moving outside yourself in order for the self that sees itself to emerge.

love song

The world needs more love songs. Thought I’d write one.

 

love song


it begins in the same,

subtle ways such things

 

begin—play of eyes or

shift of bodies and

 

things “begin” they say,

or: they “have begun,” “be

                -ginning,” etc.

 

she told me there was a marked

difference between loving and

 

being in love, between feeling

and making love, ie we were in


love that summer although

we made love through winter

 

(and into spring when what

we felt could only be described

 

as feeling love or perhaps feeling

about love) and although common

 

and (at times) repetitive, love is

 

certainly never

                    cheap—

 

sure, I suppose I’ve loved out

of duty, obligation, filial piety,

 

self-justification, and so

many countless endless

 

nights loving out of guilt,

self-pity, self-deprecation

 

and once or twice because

it “just seemed like a nice

 

gesture,” having been taken

out, given food, wine, talked

 

sweetly to, and, of course—and

why not?—then of all times, to

 

lie down on the bed, table, sit,

stand, crawl, and make love

Hypocrisy and the Evangelical Church: Not “Of” but “In”

Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction in Anti-Oedipus between that of the cynic and the hypocrite. At the risk of doing some injustice to the text I am enough of a deconstructionist to gladly “mis-read” this distinction and use it for my own ends. The way I see the distinction is that the cynic tries to critique from outside, that is make the “meta” move and claim to be able to be outside the discourse and critique it. The hypocrite on the other hand critiques knowingly from inside the problem itself.

For example I am a vegetarian—I strive quite publicly for the fair treatment of animals and have a hostility particularly towards many forms of the “production” of meat in the US. I could withdraw from the issue as much as possible in order to be “on the outside,” i.e. grow all my own food, avoid any contact with companies as this would essentially support them implicitly, etc. This would be the move of the cynic. The cynic however runs the risk of thinking he’s gotten “beyond” the system—runs the risk of being delusional, of thinking he no longer is involved with hypocrisy. But there is no escaping one’s own finitude. To act as hypocrite, however, recognizes that one cannot move “outside” of one’s viewpoint, he radically embraces his own finitude. Thus I have decided to still purchase veggie-friendly-food at a restaurant that sells meat (even though this money will inevitably go to meat-production), not throw away everything leather in sight, eat cheese, etc. The point being is the hypocrite embraces his own shortcoming. He does so at the risk of “stopping shy,” it’s true, perhaps he could do more to engage in whatever cause he’s behind, but, hell, he’s only human and he’s doing what he can. Besides, he’d rather be aware of his own shortcomings then be ignorant.

I think this distinction applies pretty clearly to the state of the contemporary Christian church. Many churches attempt to withdraw, play the cynic—I think most vividly of the “Not of This World” bumper stickers on cars. Here is a clear case of attempting to move outside, withdraw from one’s own finitude and claim a superior position by which to “see” more clearly than others (the image I get is of the person above on a white cloud, cherub-kissed, harp in hand, looking down on all us “sinners”). The sticker fails to recognize any irony or hypocrisy in itself. However, this sticker is on an automobile, usually a gas-guzzler if you’ll forgive the stereotyping, purchased from a NOTW store at a local mall, and, in everyway, a clear sign of this world. Here the cynic is in denial over his or her own hypocrisy—s/he cannot account for any irony or dissonance of faith, but must rather feign withdrawal from the world as such in order to feel justified. The cynic NOTW-sticker owner uses an essentially hypocritical-paradoxical statement (not of this world but in it) as justification for “escaping” finitude and discourse.

The problem with this is things are messy. Sometimes issues are clear-cut but more often then not we reduce them to clear-cut cases for simplicity’s sake and at the expense of others. This seems to be central to the Christ-of-the-gospels’ message, namely that the religious institutions of the day were enacting morality at the expense of the meek, poor, and widowed. This also aligns with St. Paul’s distinction between law and spirit—the law (making things clear-cut) is a form of violence, a means of revealing sin, not our means of overcoming; the spirit is what we live in, which is to say we approach each situation with love, faith, charity and do the best we can—which is never enough and always falls short. Withdrawal essentially denies this moving beyond or outside the self. The NOTW brand of capitalist fashion-Christianity ironically is embracing a very harmful form of asceticism—they parade around in the world telling everyone they are withdrawn and therefore better.

Church, to me, is precisely the place where hypocrites come to meet. This is why I love a weekly Eucharist so much I think. Once a week a whole group of diverse hypocrites all come together to eat God (a God who became just one among us, a human being, and that we killed). The crux of the entire Christian faith seems to me to rest upon this paradox: Christ crucified for us. The Eucharist is more than a mere reminder mind you, it is a literal enacting of hypocrisy—that’s the point of real presence—we actually in some way kill and eat our God.

When people accuse the Eucharist as cannibalistic the correct response should be yes, we as humans eat our fellow man, and the divine-in-him—this is sin, but we should recognize it as such, we never escape it, never supersede it. We are always already sinners, but, by embracing it, by eating the flesh, we become more than mere cynics (those who insult, stereotype, withdraw and claim to be “other”) but hypocrites, those who insult and critique the world that is first and foremost ourselves. What separates the church from the world is not its sacredness or holiness as opposed to secularity but its radical acceptance and embracing of the secular, the other, its forgiveness and charity towards it, its capacity to love it—the authentic sacred is the embracing of the secular—an authentic Christian a hypocritical one.

Objects Stare Back

The Levinasian conception of the experience of the other is, in short, that I encounter the face, the gaze of the other and am made responsible to it. It is by first encountering a human that is outside myself that I put myself into question—thus birthing ethics, how I am to act beyond myself and with others. Slavoj Žižek in a fabulous lecture series argues that Levinas stopped short—that is the concept of face that makes me responsible is not limited to humans alone. Who has not felt responsible or guilty when gazing into the face of an abused animal? Although a topic for another post, this is what is so sinister about meat production, namely the disavowal of the face of the animal, the destruction of the animal as other. Suffice to say, ethics is born not exclusively within like species, but across a gamut of inter-special experiences.

But should we stop short at animals? Is it too much to wonder if vegetables gaze back? Too much to ask if quasi-others, ie statues, pictures, film, music, sounds, equally have a face? From this line of questioning the post-phenomenologist deconstructionist in me wants to push this questioning to and beyond its own horizons. Which leads me to wonder if non-sensual objects, ie institutions, class-structure, gender, etc, also can gaze back. Here I think of OOO work done on hyperobjects, specifically Timothy Morton’s classic example of global warming as hyperobject (read some here). In short, global warming is not a directly tangible, isolate object like my laptop, however it is an object that invades my space while always being more than my experience of it (it withdraws). Global warming is not wholly, exhaustively found in any catastrophic experience of it (melting ice-caps, climate change, etc). Although not fully sold on OOO, I think I can comfortably enough adopt the term “hyperobject” and claim that hyperobjects gaze back.

I think here of Nietzsche’s all-too-often quoted aphorism, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” This is not a mere poetic anthropomorphism—one of Levinas’ points about the gaze is that it is an authentic experience which occurs outside of the self’s world or language, that is, the gaze is a cataclysm, a violence, an abyss—it tears into our very being and opens up a void. This void is guilt, responsibility, calling the self into question. Others otherness is rightly an assault of otherness, a harassment. We cannot appropriate it, reduce it to language, grasp it. It is pure abyss, non-language, and in that abyss is an authentic gaze calling our very being, way of life, into question. This is precisely how hyperobjects seem to function to me—class distinctions and global warming are avoided, repressed, denied, disavowed, until a radical rupture or collapse. Although we can “see” class oppression for instance before revolution or riot, we cannot see it seeing us until a cataclysmic assault. Revolution is an example of the cataclysmic otherness of class oppression gazing back, the abyss of the object unfolded, open, wide-eyed and staring back. How can we not be made responsible to this gaze, this void, this otherness? How can we not see the otherly gaze of animals, art, sound, other people, class, gender, kin-relations, global warming, et al? Are we not looking? Are we not looking long enough?

we all had a good time

Processing: I am doing more of it. This is a short (and sweet?) poem, hopefully small enough for the smallness it deals with–but small things deserve attention too, right?

 

we all had a good time

 

and when

it was finally

 

over, some

-thing about

 

the copy of

On the


Genealogy

of Morals you

 

leant me, that

I read as

 

we broke and

hardened

 

and broke,

made me

 

this morning,

cigarette

 

in hand, cry

out one

 

small, quiet

-ing laugh