this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: June, 2011

and I was like

and I was like

pushed to the
convex edge
            of these

issues, (yeah
we’re working

it out, getting
there
          slowly ) my
need to resolve–

your arms,
crossed, over
               what

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“How can you force the perverts to live like virgins?”: Anarchy, freedom, and servitude in St. Paul’s Galatians

“I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2.14)

For St. Paul, the correlation between the slave, the Jew, and the woman is obvious. These are all functionally the same thing for Paul–the servant of the law of the other–the one who submits to the master, the Gentile, the male. Paul sees the oppressed as being “held captive to the law,” (3.23) that is, the law is our oppression. Paul consistently accuses the Galations of perverting the gospel of freedom, of anarchy, into another gospel–an unholy gospel which rather than put to death the “guardian” (3.25) of the law, tries to make oneself the master of the law–the law’s guardian. This for Paul is what it means to cause division, to live according to the flesh.

Rather radically, Paul sees the law as directly opposed to freedom (“by works of the law no one will be justified,” 2.15). It is important to realize that it is not just the Judaic law, but the law of oppression as such. To overcome this kyriarchy, the master/slave binary, is to willingly make oneself a servant–that is to love. Law itself is flesh and death, spirit is love and living in freedom: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (5.13-15). Paul sees anarchy, that is a religion without law or constraint but purely grounded in the freedom of love, as the very basis of “Christianity.”

The often quoted list of sins Paul accuses the Galatians of (“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (5.19-21)) is typically treated as a list of things Christians ought not do (a new law?), but, given what was just said above, this is exactly antithetical to Paul’s view of a lawless religion. Rather, these are things Christians cannot do. These sins only exist in a religion of the law–they are impossible for those living a lawless religion. Having a religion of the law is what creates rivalry, division, and strife, particularly gender, kyriarchical, and racial divisions–remember, according to the spirit there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one” (3.28). Likewise, idolatry is something which can only emerge when one follows a religion of the law–afterall, Paul’s religion is a rather idolatrous one: he refers to living under the law as being “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (the implication being living according to the spirit is to be of the nature of god, to be gods) and considers god to be more himself than he himself is (“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2.20)).

Even sexual immorality is impossible in the anarchy of the cross because there is no more perverse/virgin binary. This is the purpose of the allegory of the slave woman and the free woman in 4.22-26. Christ has destroyed this binary. We have all become liberated from the law, from the language of perversion. We now live with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (5.22-23). Its not that we ought not to be perverse, we ought not to be idolaters, we ought not to cause divisions–its that according to living in the Spirit–freedom and love–these things simply cannot exist. Perversion is no more–what is there to pervert if there is no law? How can one betray the image of the “ideal-servant” when there is no master-law to submit too?

When living according to the spirit the very ideal of the virgin (the pure woman of submission), the Jew (the pure follower of the law), the slave (the pure and silent worker), etc., is an utter impossibility. These things are no more. There is no virgin. No Jew. No slave. When the law is irradicated and is replaced with love, that is willful and reciprocated “bear[ing of] one another’s burdens” (6.2), freedom flourishes. Freedom for Paul, by definition, is love beyond kyriarchical binaries–a love beyond the perverse/virginal, master/slave, Jew/Greek, wo/man.

Postgenderism and Gender-Neutrality

After reading NPR’s article on The End of Gender? I felt I had to give a short response. Postgenderism is certainly a thing and even a thing I support (in theory). I fully support the blurring of gender distinctions–this is where my anarchy comes through–I think gender distinctions are only beautifull when we reveal their fragility through questioning, critique, deconstruction. Is the expression of gender in the Marie Antoinette photo really something I can appreciate if it is a dogmatic societal injunction (you must wear this)? Can I appreciate it as a valid expression without, say, this? It is in this sense, taking apart societal presumptions about gender as such, breaking these molds apart and showing them to society in all their intestinal alienation, their withdrawn potentials, that I see postgenderism as an essential ideal.

That being said, sometimes postgender advocates strike me as naive. Just like how some people think there is an actual separation of church and state simply because we say so–simply because we enact a certain policy, say gender-neutral dorms or bathrooms, clothing, etc., this does not mean suddenly gender will no longer exist and everything will be grand. I am not so optimistic. This ignores that “gender-neutral” as a socio-linguistic function can actually be a covering for unreflected kyriarchy–i.e., “if there is no more intentional socio-political gender policing, then inevitably there will be no more sex-oppression.” No–I can very easily imagine a world with gender-neutral bathrooms and that world still having male privilege, rape culture, ciscentrism, etc. To “neutralize” gender as a political or even social “concept” as regards policy would still imply a binary–no matter how much you neutralize the binary. I don’t think there “has to be” a binary mind you, obviously I think this is a social construction and all, but it is something radically in our history, our world, our bodies–it goes beyond a mere issue of policy.

I support gender-neutrality, androgyny, and gender-expressions that differ from our norms precisely in that it is these “alter-native” expressions that reveal, one: the weirdness of our norms (is this “natural”/”native”? does this even make sense?), and two: the normality of the “abnormal” (is this really “unnatural”/an “alter-native” lifestyle?). This point leads to a confession: I find traditional gender expressions beautiful. I really do. But I find the totalitarian imposition of these things as “natural” or some sort of moral/metaphysical injunction about “the-way-things-are” revolting. Gender-neutrality is essential–not because of some fanciful hope it does away with ideology outright–but because it reveals the tendential and fragile quality of gender-ideology as such. Without this tension how would gender-neutrality stretch, question, bend, break, fuck?

A Vow

A Vow

 

The inevitable phone call

on the way back: lights out,

 

one hand shyly over body of

phone to avoid, if seen driving

 

that late at night, the possible

passing of a police car. Things

 

happen but even then words

turn and change face to be

 

ugly and terrible, and there is

nothing to say. It’s time for these

 

things to be finally different.

Time to start living freely again.

A Carnival’s Carnival: The Queerness of Grace

This is a sort of synthesis between two previous posts, the one on Cabaret as a carnivalesque inversion of the Law as well as my post on the queer-other. Žižek quite frequently throughout his work (here or here) refers to how the breaking of the Law, psychoanalytic pleasure (think here of Civilization & its Discontents—the breaking of the Law is precisely incivility, that is, contentment), is the “glue” of communities even more so than the Law itself. The Law itself is the “ordering” of the social, but it is the exceptions, the cases in which transgressing the Law is more lawful than the Law itself, that are the true binding of a community.

Žižek’s classic example of this is the Ku Klux Klan as the carnivalesque inversion of the social order of the Law—it is the true glue that bound together the 1920s Southern white community, not the Law. Imagine, though, if a member of the white community revealed the identity of key Ku Klux Klan members to the authorities (because, after all, legally these persons are criminals). This person is rightly fulfilling the Law of the white community, but, in so doing, is removing the very glue (that is the invert, the exception) of the community of the Law. The common title for such a person, e.g. Atticus Finch, is a n*gger-lover. The correlation between betrayal of the inner “true” community, the Ku Klux Klan, as the ultimate perversion of the Law (despite the fact that such a person would be literally obeying the Law to the utmost) and the individual’s sexuality is obvious. Here is a person who is not-quite a brother, not really a member of the white community, but yet not really a member of the black community either.

And this is what I meant by queer-other in my previous post—the one who loves the brother-ideal, the Law, the Father, etc., in such an “authentic” way—without irony—that it can only be viewed by the brotherhood as perversion, parriphilia. Another obvious example of this is Joseph of Genesis—the son who wholly embraces the love of the father without irony to the neglect of the brotherhood—thus the brothers must cast him out (into the carnival’s carnival—the inversion of the inversion itself, which is slavery in Egypt—arole Egypt fulfills throughout Judeo-Christian imagery—the land without Law at all: which, in the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy would be the black community).  This point is quite explicit given the repetition of this pattern—Joseph becomes Potiphar’s favorite, but Potiphar’s wife finds this love too authentic, perverted, thus he is outcast again. It repeats yet again when he is put in prison and becomes the prison-guard’s favorite (the homoerotic motif here is quite explicit). In this version of the queer-other myth he is ultimately outcast into the ultimate carnival, that is as carnival-King, Pharaoh’s servant (as a dream-interpreter, a typically eunuch role).

The irony being that Israel, the “handmaiden”/”Bride” of the Father/Law, is ultimately redeemed by the queer-other, specifically by his queerness—that which does not “fit” (is in excess of) the Law or its inversion in the carnival. Just as in the case of the police/Ku Klux Klan analogy, the “n*gger-lover” is neither a member of the white community nor the black community thus s/he is able to go beyond both, so too Joseph, who was neither a “true” brother nor a “true” Egyptian went beyond Israel and Egypt. Further, just as there is a perverse love for the Law/police and a rejection of the double of the KuKlux Klan/carnival tension for the “n*gger-lover”, so too there is the perverse love of Jacob (the Father/Law) precisely in that he was the perverse favorite—the firstborn of Rachel—yet to the rejection of the double of the family, the carnival brotherhood, of which he was not a true brother—remember his dreams which met with his brothers’ violent disapproval. But it is precisely in this otherness, which goes beyond the language of Law/transgression and from outside (from Egypt, the carnival’s carnival), that the ultimate redemption of the community of the Law comes.

This is what in the Christian tradition is called grace. Grace is this perversion of the Law, the transgression of transgression, the ultimate exterior gift.  Joseph becomes, through his very queerness (his love of the Father/Law which goes beyond the community and its carnival-double) the King of the carnival’s carnival (the perverse double of the Pharaoh who is the perverse double of Jacob), and thus is in a position to save the “inside” community from the furthest “outside.” Likewise, this is why the Christian God went beyond merely entering the carnival of creation as a person but entered the carnival’s carnival—the ultimate transgressor, the ultimate criminal and sinner, even to death on the cross (or: if Rome is the carnival of Israel, he became the ultimate citizen of nowhere, the criminal-slave of Rome). It is only from this position of exteriority, outside the dialectic of law and transgression, grace can come as an authentic gift—a gift that is wholly from without, other, queer.

Hitchcock’s “Notorious” & the McGuffin

Connections between the work of Hitchcock and psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan abound. One of the most common ways is through the use of the McGuffin (Hitchcock’s own term for an object, a meaningless object, around which the structure of a film dances, i.e. Guy’s lighter in Strangers on a Train) which can be correlated to Lacan’s objet petite a, a gap in the symbolic order. Just as the McGuffin is rightly nonsense (in that it does not communicate a sense) so too the objet petite a is something which, although an object of desire around which everything is involved, is ultimately senseless.

In Notorious we notice such a structure emerge, particularly around the use of the wine bottles filled with “ore.” This is the McGuffin—the ore itself is desired by Devlin and the US government which, in the great scene where Alex (who desires Alicia) is heading down to get more wine (because the partiers desire more wine), where Devlin has the object of desire in his hand with Alicia (who desires Devlin). Further, we also realize in this scene the falsity of these desires—the wine is not really wine (but ore), Devlin is not really a mere partygoer, Alicia does not really love her husband Alex, Alex is not really just an aristocrat (but a Nazi), etc etc.

I would like to point out two things. One—this “is not really” is very much like Lacan’s characterization of the objet petite a as having too little and too much significance (that’s what the Real is for Lacan). Alex’s mansion, as a structural and topological center, simultaneously has not enough wine (thus why Alex is going to the wine cellar, the symbolic reserve, the unconscious) and has something more than wine (thus why Alicia and Devlin occupy the same space, the wine cellar, but in the hopes of an entirely different significance). The wine is not enough and too much.

Secondly, I would like to pose that the wine bottles aren’t really the true McGuffin—but alcohol, wine in particular, is itself the McGuffin—the ultimate object of desire and structural unity of the film. After all, it is under the haze of alcohol that Devlin and Alicia meet (“the importance of drinking hasn’t started yet,” and, following Hitchcockian desire, it never does) and this interplay of knowing (or loving) too much and too little begins—think of when Devlin hands his ID to the police officer, Alicia both knows too much (he’s above the law in some way) and too little (but how so? Who is he?). When Devlin finally decides for the both Alicia and himself that their relationship is not to be (with a fabulous tracking shot of the back of his head, just how he was introduced, a sort of empty-man as regards the symbolic) he “forgets” the champagne bottle he bought by leaving it back at the embassy/office (a structural parallel to the wine cellar—the super ego, the big Other with its moral injunctions which run against desire). And, of course, ultimately what captures Alicia, what ultimately allows for Alex to get the “object” of his desire, is the murky liquid (just as in Suspicion), the poisoned coffee.

Hitchcock infamously had stated that “a McGuffin is nothing at all”—it rightly is not working on a symbolic level, but on a very real level, it’s radically a meaningless, empty gap in the otherwise “sensible” narrative. And the McGuffin, the object of desire, the objet petite a around which we are presented characters and their desires and ultimately a film, is ultimately the murky liquid, the drink that is not enough—it can never quench thirst, never get one drunk enough, never communicate love, never heal the sick drinker—and too much—one has already drunk too much, is drunk or hung over, bares too much meaning, the cause of the illness.

you must know by now

you must know by now

vegans and pacifists and communists are all such a fucking joke

which is why the world is dying and why everything is so beautiful and why if we fuck tonight it can never be beautiful enough even though we are beautiful and our bodies are beautiful and everyone is such a beauty in this world

and we’re dying

respectively

this is why we must fuck if we are to breathe and not gag on all the world’s bounty some one or thing forbid or bore into our being

to flush or be flushed or be the flushing of someone else’s shit which is really so easy and why it’s so beautiful and revolting and why no one ever does anything but

drag their asses through their quiet universe looking for anything as worthlessly wonderful as they

Žižek, Levi-Strauss, & the one called Christ: A Harmony of Sorts

The read Žižek gives to Claude Levi-Strauss’ account of the zero-institution as it appears in his Structural Anthropology  is certainly an intriguing one.  In short, Žižek analyzes the zero-institution as rooted in a trauma—a gash in the structure of things, a singular void which is the precondition of a given binary (or any sort of opposing multiplicity). Žižek opposes  this to the “postmodern” (a word I still cringe at due to its vast functional abuse in academic spheres) view which would have it that any interpretation is a valid interpretation, each viewpoint is “correct,” but, for Žižek this denies the radically real absence of trauma whose deep-seated negation is constitutive of actual activity (of the binary, multiplicity, etc).

So, for instance, Žižek views the so-called “gender binary” as being such a zero-institute—for him the “postmodern” answer to the binary would be that there is no true binary, any view of gender is valid and any expression is valid: everything is socially constructed and infinitely referential so of course anything is as valid as anything else. And although Žižek agrees with the non-essentialist implications, i.e. the validity of gender expression, he radically disagrees with the clean-cut symmetry implied (all viewpoints are equal, flat, open, infinite). Being the Hegelian he is, Žižek sees this as myopic and dismissive of the history of gender and its “traditional” reduction to a binary. For him this zero-institution of gender is at heart a trauma, a rift which split things up, and there is something about this wound which “pushes” persons into this binary (or tries to at the very least). In this rather clever way Žižek is left with a non-essentialist binary, a materialist dialectic which is not grounded on some metaphysical injunction. There is a real void at the heart of the “gender binary,” a real violence within the history of gender and sexuality which tears us into its play of opposites.

It is important to note that the expression(s) or multiplicity that arises is one that is tendential and tentative, it is symbolic and mutable—it is the trauma itself that is the structurally binding real. Likewise Žižek points out that bipartisanship functions similarly. The two-party system is in one sense arbitrary and insufficient, no one neatly fits into either end of the polarity, but the very fact that there is a two-party system implies a rupture that allows the binary to emerge as such. Not only then is the binary dialectical, but the relation of the trauma to the zero-institution itself is dialectical as well. Just as the trauma split(/birthed) a binary, so too the binary re-veals the trauma (the parent does not exist until the child is born—thus why patristic theologians tended to think of god the father and god the son as being caught in an eternally begetting and being-begotten dialectic).

This is particularly interesting as regards the tradition of “harmonizing” the gospels as we see in such theologians as Tatian. The harmonizing emerges alongside and contemporaneously with hermeneutic difference—as one recognizes dissonance between the gospel texts one is therefore already and concurrently projecting a “completed” Christ. This is an attempt to cover-up the void, to veil the Christ between the texts, the unharmonizable Christ, the Christ who does not speak (or, perhaps more telling, the Christ who isn’t logos). This is the definition of repression—an attempt to narrate the void of trauma by any means necessary accept acknowledge its fundamental constitutive power as an absence. But just like repression, that which is denied squirms out through veiled symbolic language, finite representations which allude towards and “translate” the trauma. Just as “conservatism” does not exhaust American bipartisanship, so too a projected synthesis of the conservative/liberal binary misses the constitutive “center” as well—so too any one gospel does not exhaust Christ and any harmony is at best a projection or fantasy.

And this is because the subject is not any one performance exhaustively nor a magically exhaustive synthetic-aggregate of all of the subject’s performances (or potential performances). The subject is a zero-institute who is only unified in that the “center” of the subject is an absolute void, a void which is manifested in countless opposing performances. This is why Derrida saw Levi-Strauss’ work as a dialectic of de/centering.  Like a “harmony of the gospels” any definition or view of the subject as a definite whole deludes itself into seeing its own synthetic-fantasy rather than stare into the abyss of another person.  The subject is radically real and radically a negation. This is why communication is democracy but sexuality is anarchy. This is also why we can never truly be said to touch another.

Seeing the Unseen Exhibitionist in Hitchcock and Maes

The Lacanian mantra that desire is the desire of the other always struck me as similar to the tat tvam asi (“thou art that”) of the Upanishads.  Each seems to have a double-meaning which presents itself as irreconcilable: what defines the “I,” what the interior is, appears as such only by its exteriority, and, likewise, the exterior is only intelligible because “I” am already (in) it. My desire is for or towards the other, i.e. to move outside the self, but this very desire itself is already outside of myself, already in the other.

This becomes more explicit through the gaze—the gaze is both for the interior, myself, “I must see this,” while simultaneously of the other, the exterior, “this must be seen (by someone: an implied onlooker).” Here we touch on the voyeur (who following this alterity of the libido set up by Lacan is also an exhibitionist as we shall see, just an unseen exhibitionist) or the “eavesdropper” trope in much of Dutch painting. The eavesdropper in this particular work by Nicolas Maes is seen outside of a presumed conversation which the viewer is literally “veiled” from seeing yet the voyeur is not. We are tempted to say the painting draws the viewer to “desire” to see precisely what the eavesdropper sees, i.e. makes a voyeur of the viewer, while also cutting off the viewer from the possibility of seeing. We simultaneously see too much, the voyeur who knows “too much,” and see “too little,” are veiled from seeing.

Yet the opposite strikes me as equally/more true. In other words, it is not so interesting to me that we become voyeurs because of the eavesdropper, but that our existence as an outside “meta-”voyeur is the very condition of the eavesdropper. This is the irony of the eavesdropper’s invitational gaze at the viewer which she cannot see gazing back no matter how intensely we stare—the eavesdropper knows this is something we want to see, and that is precisely why she is eavesdropping. The eavesdropper already has convicted the viewer, the “they”-self, the other, as a voyeur, and that is precisely what makes eavesdropping desirable. The desire outside of the eavesdropper “in” us is precisely the eavesdropper’s desire. The eavesdropper’s desire is “in” her in that it is outside of her.

The gaze as cinematic gaze, as the camera-as-eye (or train-as-camera-as-eye as in Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, et al), is a common motif throughout the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock. The explicit theme of the relationship of an eavesdropper caught in the gaze (in both cases literally caught by physical constraint) appears in both Suspicion and Rear Window. Like the Dutch maid caught trying to gaze at an audience outside, so too Jimmy Stewart and Joan Fontaine are caught (wheelchair/bedridden) gazing. But the gaze is dialectical—they would not be gazing if not for being in this movie we desire to see, but, likewise, we would not be so fascinated if not for their desire to gaze—in both cases to see the murder (remember Jimmy Stewart slept through the murder he was obsessed with seeing, that he had to see). And this is what I meant by the voyeur as already being an exhibitionist, just an unseen one. Like these protagonists or Maes’ maid there is a glance back towards the theyself, the always already presumed other, an audience. This glance is the desire to be seen seeing, to be the site of the gaze. The desire to be caught trespassing and found complicit in the crime.