this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: May, 2011

this filling is an overflowing

Following up on I am this urgency I make, I decided to continue with the theme of the mouth  as that which must go out (speaking, licking, sucking, etc.) in order to return (mouth as site of insertion both sexually and site of “speaking-along” others via dialogue, poetry, text, etc.). Simultaneously I have just finished reading the 112 ways of Centering as they appear in the quaint Zen reader, Zen Flesh Zen Bones. The text invokes several images of piercing and sucking to elucidate this idea of the decentered center, the “looking outside oneself” in order to return to the self–the self that is out there in other people and places (also was thinking of Andy Clark’s work on the extended mind). But, perhaps more obviously, this is a poem about me getting my nose pierced.

this filling is an overflowing

You must run the nail
of this, the very edge of

its curvature, strip or
ream, denude and flake

its pealing back of flesh,
pierce through the honey

of your own before
anyone can see or

be. Hands to the shaft
and right on through

the jelly of disclosing.
That’s how translation

happens. Translation
and the form of some

forgetfulness. Or: lips
to the trauma and

suck without lash or
curl, sing Shiva,

suck without blinking–
become the sucking.

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“I am this urgency I make” & On the Death of the Author

you can’t call it a theater without breaking someone’s window

Once again–a post I feel needs little introduction. My apartment got broken into. This is a metaphor for how people are. SURPRISE.

you can’t call it a theater without breaking someone’s window

A quick slash to the screen will show you how.

Is this okay? Are you sure—is this okay?

The sweetness of a tongue. A native tongue. Tongues of fire above their heads. Speaking in tongues.

They didn’t take much, how could they, the efficiency, the emergency of the act, of taking things on oneself. Of taking time for granted.

It was worse to stay, to see you like that, to do that to yourself, but what was I supposed to do? You didn’t give me a goddamn option. And later, when we pretended for our own sakes that everything was fine, like it didn’t even happen, everyone knew, I could tell, we weren’t fooling anyone.  Everyone knew.

Then the dust, fine, white ash all over my things. Don’t worry, they said, it washes off just fine.

And that’s something, isn’t it? Something of me, something of my interests.

When opening a new bank account out of fear of identity theft you are given back your old card but now corresponding to a different account. This means the old numbers signify new ones, which signify an exchange of electronic digits, which signify paper, which signify, in turn, yet other electronic digits.

Anyways, I have a new account but my card still has the old numbers. I believe we call this process, in the poetic trade, a metaphor.

I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much you hurt. What I had done. I’m sorry.

Breaking and entering. Entering: breaking.

Are you sure—is this okay?

300: Brotherhoods and the Queer Other

Every brotherhood presupposes exclusion. If not–how would it be a brotherhood? Clearly there are people not in it. But, also, there are those who are in it, but not “really” in it: a brother who is not-quite a brother. This phenomenon was first made pretty clear to me in college dorm life. I happened to room on an all male dorm hall at a conservative school, and thus there was a lot of homophobic, faux-homosexual behavior/humor. There was a presupposed homosexual other, some stereotype, the brother not-quite a brother, and there was an irony in taking on the role of this other–a humor. The queer other as this sort of presence by its absence strikes me as the unifying structural integrity of the brotherhood as such (the Lacanian Real). The brotherhood of dorm-life precisely was this fear of the homosexual other, the non-ironic other, the other who was “really” actually an other (compared to the faux-homosexual, homophobic humor).

What’s interesting is the way in which this ironic embracing of the homosexual other, the joking and playful eroticism, was itself an authentic expression of affection. It wasn’t a lie–it was true camaraderie. One just couldn’t go “all the way,” i.e. one could express affection for the father-figure of the brotherhood (the brotherhood-ideal: camaraderie, loyalty, honor within the group, etc.), but there was some point at which this affection became too-much, and it was this reserve of affection that made the brother a not-quite brother, a queer other, a pervert (the paraphiliac).

There are countless examples but the first that come to mind are prisons as brotherhoods and the pedophile as queer other, the military and the homosexual other (“don’t ask, don’t tell”), the “Jew” in much of renaissance literature (the Jew of Malta first comes to mind), or even the Roman Catholic Church’s stance and response as regards pedophilia. These don’t strike me as “fringe” phenomenon, but one’s which constitute what it means to be “inside” the group as such. If suddenly the queer other was admitted as a true presence rather than as absent within my dorm, for instance, suddenly the irony would dissipate–there would be no ironic assumption of the queer other as a performative humor role, because there would radically exist an other. Likewise, the camaraderie of this humor as a unifying integrity would decompose–without this irony there would be no “inside.”

Here the relation of the queer other to the disloyal one, the betrayer, becomes obvious. In the movie 300 for instance, this sort of brotherhood is seen in the Spartans (although, of course, they are a substitute for the U.S. military) who display a host of stereotypical brotherhood “virtues”: loyalty, unity, courage, etc. We have the clear “not” brothers, the Persians–in a pathetic and offensive substitute for the U.S.’s relations with Iraq, Afghanistan, et al–who are portrayed as everything the Spartan brotherhood is not: disloyal, scattered, cowardly (this comparison is most obvious perhaps in the juxtaposition of sex scenes between Leonidas and his wife and the orgiac scene with Xerxes). Ephialtes though, the one who betrays the Spartans, fulfills the role of the queer other. He is not quite a Spartan–he cannot lift his shield high enough, he is literally deformed in the movie, and, just like the queer other, the Spartans often wonder why he was let in the brotherhood in the first place (why wasn’t Ephialtes thrown over the cliff with the other “deformed” babies?). Ephialtes is “in” the brotherhood, but yet not “in” it at the same time. His sexual otherness is even pushed further to the foreground of the film when, while going to betray the Spartans, he approaches Xerxes in the middle of an orgy.

Yet, in a very literal way within the film, the so-called virtues of the Spartans, fighting to the death, even in the face of betrayal, can only be actuated in that Ephialtes betrays them. He represents through his otherness the very condition that is the sameness, the brotherliness, that is the Spartans. Even if Ephialtes would not have been shown in the film as the not-quite Spartan, like in the 1962 version of the film, this conception of a not-quite Spartan would still exist and be the condition of Spartan “virtue.” Think again of my dorm experience–there needn’t be a queer other actually for the assumption of the queer other as performative role to exist. The Spartans consistent denigration of the Persians, the messenger, women, etc., all point to the queer other as an absence as the condition of its irony (how could the Spartans mock un-Spartan like qualities without this absence?).

Once the queer other is made present, recognized to be always already “amongst” the brothers, it must be done away with to preserve the brotherhood. Perhaps I’m stretching, but this functionally seems a scatalogical movement to me. Once the brotherhood is forced to come to grips with its insides, what constitutes it as such, it feels the need to expel what it conceives of as “shit.” The queer reveals itself as a true absence, a reversal of castration, a radical unaccounted for presence always already at work within the brotherhood. Thus the language of betrayal. Thus the desire to destroy the other–restore the hegemonic asymmetry which allows the queer other to only exist in its absence, in its irony, and “restore” the “peace” and “virtue” of the brotherhood.

milk & honey flow there

I must apologize for the lack of posting, but I have been sick and working and writing some music and things and not really had much time. I also, though, began reading some new poets (for me) and thus am exploring some new themes and styles. I think I’m leaving more narrative elements which, oddly enough, end up becoming discontinuous and preachy I think, and am leaning more and more towards a very intuitive writing for myself–disjunctive,  reflective, amalgamated, and, for lack of a better term, voyeuristic. I hope you enjoy.

milk & honey flow there

 

It doesn’t take long to learn the difference between special and different, although, once noted, it can be difficult to account for.

Like that was really nice he said, it’s been awhile—you? No, she said, not really. Concerning himself with writing these days, on the health of the body, dieting, images of the self, it’s all consumption anyways, but how to start? where to begin?

These days. What does that mean I wonder: these days?

The rhythm of the line sometimes more important than the line, sometimes, even not necessary, an unbounded rhythm, a talking without end, at least, until done.

I asked her, “is this okay” and, I shit you not, she said, “you’re not supposed to ask,” I mean, what the hell, yes, yes I’m supposed to fucking ask.

In the night he often dreamt he was tied down and with long shanks of lamb, raw, still pulsing with the red blood of life, forced down his throat, milk too, right from the breast. He felt terrible and disgusting: but it was so moist and fresh.

That woman, the one with hair like copper, loves you. Trust me, I can tell—she’s madly in love.

You remember, you called her bitch—that hurt. I don’t care what you said afterward, I know you weren’t kidding—it fucking hurt.

You know, this poem was supposed to be about you. There are already too many poems about you. This poem is not yours, and I am not yours, and I am not your poem. This was never your poem.

 

Text All the Way Down: Gadamer, Submission, & Entropy

A text is a dialogue. Conversely, when I use the word “text” I mean any object that is approached as a dialogue. Therefore film, theater, liturgy, discussion, music, sign language, interspeciel communication, are all text. Anywhere two objects come together to form some sort of relationally-binding third object, this third object is what I mean by a text. Therefore a marriage is a text as regards the partners involved, fire is a text as regards the spark and kindling, and the human species is a text as regards other species and mutation. This is, of course, all a way of saying everything can be a text given a context. This is tautological in a way, and I get that, that is precisely the point. I could align myself with deconstruction or Foucauldian theory or whathaveyou and use “discourse” or OOO and use “sensual object” or Hegel or a host of other people to get at this point[1], but I am choosing “text” as this is a post specifically about Hans-Georg Gadamer and hermeneutics.

Gadamer throughout his seminal work Truth & Method keeps grounding all hermeneutics in what he calls “tradition.” He defines tradition in its original Latin sense though, that is, something that is “handed down.” This is also tied up with his notion of prejudice. For Gadamer prejudice is not meant to have the connotation of a bad pre-judgment, but rather prejudice means any prejudgment whatsoever. Our prejudices then are our first impression, our fore-conception or fore-having, of a text. Our first inkling of the emergence of a text.

As an example, when I first met my now good friend and roommate I did so under the context of a meeting of various concert music composers at my school. I met him with a certain fore-having/prejudice—I “had” a space in me already as to what he was going to be like, an inscription, a sort of pre-text, the potential for him to emerge as-in-a-relationship. I had this prejudice given a history of course, a history of other friends I had, other composers I had met, etc. The only way in which he could appear to me as a potential friend was because of my prejudice of what he would be like—which was a very tentative, incomplete, and tendential interpretation. Suffice to say as I got to know him, my prejudice, my pre-text or first-interpretation, was constantly revised and deconstructed and re-constructed and obliterated and slightly modified and affirmed and denied. In turn, my tradition, my history of how to approach new people and more specifically composers (and men and people with red hair, etc, etc) was also revised, deconstructed, re-constructed, et al.

Sometimes our prejudices are fitting and appropriate and other times they are oppressive and cruel—this is not so much the concern of this post—but prejudice is always occurring—this is what allows texts to be intelligible. All texts emerge given prejudice—a fore-having of the text. This is what is meant by the “hermeneutic circle” (we approach a text with prejudices which the text revises which changes the prejudices ad infinitum). The point is that when we approach a text we already have a whole set of prejudices we bring to it. And, as a phenomenon, this is essential. There would be no text without prejudices—just as there would be no fire without the kindling to have the potential-to-be-lit. These prejudices exist within a personal tradition, the history of each object involved that are coming together to allow a text to emerge. Following Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer refers to these traditions as horizons and the text as a fusion of horizons. The key is that this fusion as a movement is violent, the emergence of text is a sort of birthing. The fusion is like two objects colliding, two radically differing objects forced to come-to-grips with one another and birth something alien.

This coming-to-grips, the birthing of the alien, is the emergence of text. And this is what I meant earlier by a dialogue—when two persons discuss a common language emerges between the two. The language is neither person A’s language nor person B’s language. It is the violent assault of A over B and B over A that emerges and appears as neither A nor B. It is sort of a collapsed-AB language. It is a text. And here we could go on about how the text is an infinite void or collapse or such but I would rather like to take a sort of detour to make another point—if person B accepts person A’s language whole-heartedly, there is no dialogue, no text. Granted, one wonders if this could ever really happen (I’m always, at the very least, understanding someone’s language through my own language, prejudices, tradition, etc), but, and here I may sound silly, some dialogues are more dialectic than others, some texts more textual.

In a lecture for instance the students are given the burden of having to “do” the majority of the fusing—they are the ones having to conform to the lecturer’s use of language—it is the students’ language receiving the brunt of the collapse. However, it is important to realize there is still fusion; it’s just an asymmetric fusion. There is still a dialogue occurring, the students (hopefully) are not entirely withdrawn from the lecture, they presumably are engaging it as a dialogue (and if the teacher is a good one, s/he is as well). And, of course, the lecture as prepared by the teacher is itself a history of dialogues, the teacher’s host of experiences. And here is where I part ways (somewhat) with Gadamer. It’s text all the way down. The text, although an emergence between two objects, itself is an object and has a history of it’s own which it in turn is in dialogue with thus allowing another text to emerge (i.e. a certain reading of a text, a certain history of a text, a certain community of the text). There is no end to texts, because every prejudice, fore-having, pre-text, tradition, etc., is itself a text.

This is all a way of saying that to engage a tradition-as-a-text, i.e. “orthodoxy,” one inevitably must be in dialogue with it—which is to say, in some sense, not accept its terms. Dialogue, even in a dialogue involving submission, as was the case with the teacher example, emerges as a coming-to-grips, as not wholly accepting the other speaker/object. The kindling does not wholly accept the spark, but rather burns, which is to say engages entropically with the spark. Every birth of a text is also the entropy of a text. Text is itself this breaking down, the collision, the entropy, the fusion of languages/horizons. Thus, even when submitting to a creed or scripture, one submits by questioning, doubting, and breaking down what is being submitted to. To “accept” a creed whole-heartedly would be to mistake one’s prejudice, one’s own text, as the creed itself.

I think here of how in many non-denominational Christian churches (and I admit this is an exaggerated negative stereotype, but, I swear, I have heard people say this) the claim is often made “I don’t need any creeds, denominations, popes, seminaries, or traditions—all I need is me and my Bible.” This is blind prejudice in the negative sense—it assumes that creeds and tradition mediate, that is function as Gadamerian prejudices, and that this is wrong: rather one should trust one’s gut instinct and just read the Bible without any outside aid as this is in some way immediate. Of course this individual is still doing hermeneutics, still bringing prejudices and tradition to the text, but is completely unaware of doing so. Gadamer’s point is rather a Hegelian one—the “immediate” only appears through mediation. Because, as I said, it’s text all the way down. We can never avoid or escape hermeneutics—just be oblivious to it.

To truly engage a creed or scripture is to question it, to not wholly accept it, to break it down, to come-to-grips with it. In that the scripture, which is of course itself a text, engages us, a new text, interpretation, is birthed through our struggle, our breaking down, our entropy. This text in turn is tentative, incomplete, tendential, and entropic. Every interpretation is a revised prejudice. Every reading that happens without this struggle is a reading that covers up the otherness of the text: it disavows what is alien. In this sense, submission is a sort of rebellion.


[1] Granted, all the aforementioned authors mean something very different in their use of their terms: “the real” does not equal a “sensual object” does not equal “power-structure” does not equal the “trace”/”inscription”—they all stress very different aspects of what I see as a similar movement however, namely, the emergence of a relational object.