this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: July, 2011

The “animal”: On the Nastiness of Name Calling

There is a part in For The Bible Tells Me So where a mother, after her daughter had come out as a lesbian to her, says that all she could think about was her daughter having sex. This one simple confession turned what her daughter was as a person upside-down in her mind. All because of whom she had sex with. She could not abide this. But then, slowly but surely, she came to grips that, well, her daughter was still the same daughter. I mean—what changed really. She then says something very telling—she went on to say that initially when she thought of a lesbian or gay person she thought of a blatant stereotype, say butch, and could not see how this and her daughter were the same. Suddenly the stereotype collided with an actual person, and there was a tension, causing the harsh and cruel application of the stereotype to the daughter (“this is not the way you were born,” “uh uh, this has gotta change,” etc), but then, slowly, the stereotype itself was dismantled. It turned out the stereotype did not really exist wholly anywhere. She concludes saying something to the effect of, “you just don’t imagine real, everyday people.”

There is a word for this stereotype which her husband had no shame in saying earlier in the film: f*ggot. This horrible word (although certainly different and not comparable) bears a structural similarity to the “animal.” The concept of the “animal,” draws an image of something wild, untamed, illogical, unable to function in society, lustful, perverse, and shameless. The “animal” is not natural enough, ironically. In order to be “natural,” to fit the order of things, the “animal” must be tamed. This image of the “animal” is juxtaposed with the idea of the “human”—calm, tame, logical, able, modest, and reserved. Likewise, the f*ggot is subject to a similar binary—conceived of as not natural enough (by being “too wild,” “too passionate,” etc), perverse, lustful, and overbearingly upfront and without shame about hir orientation.

Just as the mother in the film says, this stereotype, rightly speaking, does not exist anywhere. It’s like the conception of the n*gger, the b*tch, the slut, the cripple, the “Jew.” Once a certain conceptual sketch of the other has been solidified in the public mind, say the undermining, anti-nationalist, greedy et al conception of the “Jew” in 1930s Germany, it can readily be seen in anyone. I recall reading somewhere (since I don’t remember, I give the caveat it could be apocryphal) Martin Heidegger saying to one of his colleagues, who was a Jew, that he appreciated him because he wasn’t really or all that Jewish (or something to that effect). Heidegger’s colleague embodied some of the negative traits of the so-called anti-nationalist Jew, but not enough to be a “Jew” to Heidegger. Just as the mother could not reconcile her daughter with “the f*ggot” (as her husband says), so too Heidegger could not reconcile his Jewish colleague with the “Jew.”

This is because this conception of an animal-other, an untamed other as opposed to us “normal,” tame people, is created essentially as a scapegoat. Thus the ridiculous violence suffered because of these categorizations. There is something about the “animal” that, if not willing to be tamed, must be sacrificed. This is encountered in extreme ways (the “slut” who is tragically characterized as deserving to be sexually assaulted, who had it coming, should’ve known better, etc) as well as more mild ones. A common one I have encountered, sadly, is the “b*tches be crazy” trope—a heterosexual male goes out with a female, in a presumably romantic /sexual context, something goes wrong, and then he gives that ultimate and bizarre closure, “well, b*tches be crazy.” This is scapegoating.

Let me breakdown the logic: let’s say I am interested in someone. Something interrupts this interest (and of course it can’t be myself!). Someone else must’ve interrupted it (the other, clearly!). Only a crazy, untamed, wild, non-functioning, illogical, animal would not like me (because I’m so tame, logical, and appealing! I’m SO human! really!). Therefore the other must be a crazy b*tch (f*ggot, n*gger, slut, “Jew,” et al). People shouldn’t hang out with b*tches (because they’re crazy!), which is why everything went wrong in the first place (notice how I’m totally blameless?). So I cut off the relationship, feel justified, further embed the b*tch stereotype, and tell all my (bro-)friends to not hang out with the b*tch.

This false binary should teach us two things—that no one fully bears any of these stereotypes, there is no absolute, transcendent b*tch, f*ggot, or “animal.” Secondly, it should teach us that none of us are beyond receiving the negative stereotype. This becomes most obvious with the conception of the “animal.” If I were to call someone an “animal” they would not think I meant my mother’s wonderfully bright, endearing, and cute dog, Missy. They would think I meant an untamed, ruthless, perverse beast and be offended. Simply put, with this common conception of the “animal,” Missy is not an animal. At all. She is a friend whom my mother and brother (and myself) happen to have a lot of love and care for. Likewise, I myself am not “beyond” being treated like an “animal.” It would be wrong, surely, but I have the capacity to fulfill the function (whether in meat-production, labor, et al) and appear as the “animal” just as much as any other species does.

This is not a post trying to equate types of oppression or suffering—in no way is this post a condoning of say PETAs attempts at conflating US racial slavery and meat-production. These are radically different sorts of suffering. Also I do not mean to conflate the suffering that has occurred under the terms the “animal,” the “f*ggot,” the “Jew,” et al as being in anyway comparable—I was merely wishing to point out a common structure and how all seem to be connected in some way to the notion of someone who is “untamed,” unfit for a certain cultural world. The concept of the “f*ggot” and the “animal” have both been used to justify terrifying violence and abuse to actual living, breathing creatures despite both not in any way fulfilling their respective fetishist, fantastical stereotypes. Further, the concept of the “animal” has been correlated, invoked, and explicitly used to justify the treatment of the“Jew,” the “n*gger,” the “b*tch,” et al. This is not a post about how these things are equal or worth equating. I really hope no one thinks this is what I am saying. Nor is this a call for everyone to be vegan (per se). It’s not even a post to get you to stop using the word “animal.” But it is a call to question what we mean when we use the term “animal,” and how we use it, what animality is, how historically the “animal” has been correlated with certain races, gender expressions and identities, orientations, and disabilities. Likewise, the ways in which we take for granted being “human” to the exclusion of others, perhaps call us to question who has been defining the “human” (what race? gender? orientation? religion? ), being human, what appropriate “human” conduct is, and what treating something “humanely” looks like.

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Tim DeChristopher Sentenced

We will not be intimidatedWe will not sit idly by as our government uses Tim DeChristopher as an example to deter other activists. We will not compromise when it comes to defending our right to a healthy and just world.”

Yesterday, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison, being guilty on two counts of felony for non-violent, civil disobedience of an illegal auction of Utah national park land to oil and gas companies. If you didn’t catch that, yes, it was an illegal auction.

For those of you who haven’t been following Tim’s story, you can read up on it more here. A good summation of the sentencing can be found over at GreenIsTheNewRed here.

Tim’s address to the court and judge can be found here. It feels appropriate to end with an excerpt:

“If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens.  My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits.  I take that very personally.  Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.”

Salve

Your body was here

before you found it.

 

No point in starting

over now, you’ve

 

come too far to hold

on to it. First, was

 

an opening—then

the repetition that

 

was his love for you,

full, and the wound of

 

its fullness. Forgetting

this will be an eternity.

 

But Why the Binarism? On “For the Bible Tells Me So”

I started watching the intriguing documentary For the Bible Tells Me So the other day (it’s on instant watch on Netflix)–a documentary that is an “exploration of the intersection between religion and homosexuality in the U.S.” The film follows five families, all “strong” conservative and Christian, and how each has dealt with a child or spouse coming out as “gay or lesbian” [sic]. The film also includes a list of notable theologians, most of whom take a very favorable stance towards the inclusion and acceptance of homosexuality.

I give the caveat that I haven’t finished the film yet, but, given what I am to talk about, I really don’t think that is too, too relevant. The film does a good job at first of supplying “alternative” interpretations to passages from Leveticus, Romans, et al. Most of these have to do with the complete lack of context, both literal and historical, that so-called “literalists” bring to the passage. Aside from the eating of shrimp being an abomination, the wearing of wool with cotton being an abomination, etc., the film also makes the (all-too-well-known) point that other abominations of sexual origin include male masturbation and “pulling-out” (Onan is struck dead by God for this). It also dismisses the Sodom and Gomorrah interpretation that God-hates-gays as ludicrous given that god destroyed S&G precisely because Lot is the only hospitable human in S&G. Lot simply refuses to let his guests get gang-raped. This is why the reason he is righteous–he is the only one who upheld Jewish hospitality laws by accepting the angel/guest/neighbor/other inside. In other words, it was Lot’s tolerance that made him righteous.

The film continues along these lines with touching narratives about the families interjected with theological banter. That being said, I have agreed so far with these theological and practical implications of the film. I admit it’s not terribly in-depth and if you have any deep-seated theological reasons for thinking homosexuality is a sin you probably won’t walk away persuaded (but hopefully a little more open-minded at least).

BUT….

The film had this ridiculously offensive cartoon shoved right in the middle that includes among other things, the stereotype that all male homosexuals are biologically more “feminine” than straight men (whatever that means), that all lesbians are angry feminists, that gay men are attracted to any and all men (awkward glances and flirtation of the male homosexual character towards the straight character throughout), that bisexuals are really weird, as well as the classic argument “well because identical twins are oftentimes of the same sexually orientation it must be determined by one’s genes (and has NOTHING to do with ANY social constructions).” I am not trying to say homosexuality is a choice. Really. But it also seems incredibly miopic and reductive to take the stance that an entire community and culture (i.e. the male homosexual culture with its general association with “feminine” posture, clothing preference, etc) is equivilant to whats in one person’s genes, DNA, et al. This strongly essentialist view of orientation is one of the reasons that has lead to physical reparative treatments as well as the sad question almost every parent asks throughout the film, “are you sure you’re gay?” It also leads toward a certain hostility of less biologically definable gender identities and orientations (thus the bisexual joke in the cartoon).

I really do not see why this rank binarism (omg bisexuals are so funny!!1!), ciscentrism (transgenderism has yet to be mentioned), gender essentialism (well, she always liked pants, so, I guess we should’ve known she was a lesbian) and reduction to obvious cultural stereotypes belong in this film. I really appreciate what the makers of the film are trying to do, I do, I just wish it wasn’t at the expense of other members of the LGBTQ community.

One Year of Blogging

As of a handful a days ago, I have hit the one year mark of blogging.

I took this as an opportunity to reread some of my bad bad Heidegger posts which are incoherently silly or self-evident at worst or clunky at best. I think I can comfortably say I’ve improved in presenting ideas. I hope.

I also fumbled through old poetry and, god, I was didactic. I mean. REALLY DIDACTIC. That being said it wasn’t all terrible and there were a few good lines that stood out even.

Thanks for following–and here’s to another year.

LINKS LINKS LINKS

Apparently losing your 4 year-old son due to a drunk hit-and-run driver can get you convicted of vehicular homicide. Seriously.

Say hello to the Meat Eater’s Guide. Includes a helpful break down of the GHGs (greenhouse gas emissions) of twenty common foods. Big surprise–meat production shipping and packaging is really bad for the environment (but not as bad as lamb). But potatoes are nigh four times as bad as milk (!). So there you go.

The beautiful cover of this last issue of the New Yorker. Just felt like sharing.

Now, I’m no fan of propaganda laden, lie spreading, incoherent babbling, nor the endorsing of rankly homophobic policies, so it will come as no surprise that I don’t really like Michele Bachmann. That being said, over at Feminist Philosophers there is a great post on the ridiculous undercurrent of ableism and sexism in the media’s treatment of Bachmann’s so-called headache “scandal.”

To counteract the aforementioned Michele, hopefully how amazingly awesome Michelle Obama is (and to California no less) will make you feel better.

Also, I really like this song:

new wine like skin

No need to shit
what’s inside
you–the insides
are already out
there. Away from
you (how else
would people
love). But some-
times what of
ourselves lies
that way, mutual
facing, and eye
crossed to know
such disclosing
of her many and
varied secretions.

Dairy, PMS, & Kyriarchy

If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for one of the most offensive ad campaigns of your life. I needn’t go into why this is so offensive on so many levels here. The fact that milk “helps” PMS is sketchy at best, if not blatantly wrong, (in fact, supposedly, its calcium that does, which, heads up, milk isn’t such a great source of anyway). But that isn’t really my concern right now. My point is that oppression bleeds into oppression–after all, dairy advertising being abusive towards other “minority” (when there is one USDA approved beef cattle for every three persons in the US alone, one wonders if this is a minority) groups is nothing new.

Kyriarchy is co-existent–it appears between people, it’s relational. Because of this, certain relationships can liturgize people into becoming comfortable with certain structures and thus relating to others in a certain way. Regardless of if you think veganism is an essential lifestyle or not, it is obvious that the dairy system as it is in America today is founded on abuse (viewer discretion is advised as regards the video links). Abuse is not an exception to forcing a creature against its will to lactate for you, it’s its condition. In order to milk a cow effectively (to get the most “product”) there is a host of abuses, ranging from forced insemination (which, by most definitions, is called rape) to the forced seperation of mothers from their calves (you know, kidnapping).

At some point one has to ask not just “is this a nice thing to do to cows?” (SPOILER ALERT: NO IT ISN’T) but “is this a nice thing to do to dairy workers and consumers?” What does this sort of system do to the behavious of the creatures at the so-called “top” of the kyriarchy? Just watch a few videos of abuse (the male calling a mother cow “b*tch” as he smashes her head with a sledge hammer is an all-too-obvious example) and see how the participating parties interact. Treating the cow very consciously as a mother, as a female of her species, and then abusing that particular female verbally and in a physically violent way, makes one wonder how this impacts the abuser’s view and interaction with mothers, females, “animals,” etc, in hir life. In other words, even if you think that the bizarre metaphysical conception of “the animal” means certain species warrant our rank exploitation and abuse of it, one has to ask if we warrant becoming abusers.

Kyriarchy means oppression is never neat. Everyone is always a master and always a slave. I think here of Lennon’s didactic albeit catchy song Woman is the N*gger of the World. Everyone has hir rights in the hands of other people. This does not mean kyriarchy is flat or symmetric–the abuse the transgender woman by the ciscentrist white, male, homosexual is very different than the abuse he faces from the homophobic disabled Jewish woman that is different from the abuse she faces from the ablest Latino adolescent etc etc. It’s all asymmetric. But it seems to me it’s always wrong for the person at the “top” to be at the “top.” Authoritative oppression is wrong (in part) because no one ever should have that kind of authority. Even if you think someone deserves that kind of abuse (the cow) for some end which justifies it (dairy products) no one (the dairy farmer, the shipping companies, the distributers, grocery stores, consumers) should be comfortable with having the authority to do it.

Because kyriarchy is never neat oppression bleeds into other oppression. Of course dairy farmers make sexist, ciscentrist, homophobic advertising campaigns. They needn’t de facto, not everyone who supports the abuse of cows necesarrily abuses women, but it comes as no surprise that the kind of person who abuses cows also abuses women and is homophobic as seen through ads like the milk “cures” PMS campaign. The Got Milk advertising campaign assumes that the kind of person who supports dairy production is also inevitably male, heterosexual, and thinks that PMS turns their respective monogomous female sexual partner into an illogical raging “animal.” Is the latter really all that surprising given that dairy production as such presupposes so much abuse? Oppression bleeds into oppression–not necesarrily, not by some metaphysical or divine mandate, but tendentially. As long as companies abuse creatures (and workers) for a product and its financial success, this will catechize those involved into a behaviour of viewing abuse as, at least in some cases, acceptable.

Of Lions and Giraffes: a few Thoughts on Mike Mills’ “Beginners”

If you haven’t gotten around to seeing Beginners yet, I would suggest you do before it leaves theaters. Begginers stars Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, and Melanie Laurent and is written and directed by Mike Mills. The movie is centered around these three actors and how they approach and deal with love, particularly in regards to de/constructing ideals.

The film deals a lot with personal history. The main character, Oliver, is obsessed with pictoral representation, he’s an artist, and obsesses over historical quips, graffiting property with such sayings as “1985 BUSH FINDS JESUS.” When asked by his friend, Elliot, why, Oliver responds that he’s promoting “historical consciousness.” And indeed throughout the film Oliver is obsessed with being historically conscious. Much of the film consists of a voice-over narration of Oliver reading off historical facts told through pictures (“this is the president in 2003” etc). When Oliver begins ruminating over past relationships we see him draw his past loves rather than see scenes between him and them (compare this to the montages of Oliver and his mother, Georgia). Oliver does not remember these people like he does his mother, as a radical part of who he is, but as mere historical content–things to be conscious or aware of. He is in love with signification, think of the various “point & drive” scenes, Oliver wants historical consciousness to be enough.

Oliver’s father, Hal, at one point tells a melancholic parable of a boy who really wants a lion. He waits years for the lion to show. Finally a giraffe comes along and loves the boy and wants to live with him. Now, you can be alone without a lion and keep waiting, or you can have the giraffe. Aside from the obvious parallel this has with Hal’s life who “settles” for both Georgia and Andy (his non-monogamously minded boyfriend), this also is telling of Oliver’s plight. Oliver is waiting for a lion that will never come, that can never come. If we think of Lacan’s petite objet a (the object of desire), that certain something that makes me desire someone, as the lion, we can see that Oliver in a Hegelian fashion has etched out a sort of ideal lion given the content of his own history, waiting for that perfect lion to come fit. The perfect representation–the image which perfectly represents this lion quality he’s looking for.

But the representation is never the thing–this is Hal’s point with the parable. It’s not just the giraffe is never a lion, but the lion is never a lion. Think of the scene where Hal gives Oliver a pride rainbow–Oliver thinks he knows what it represents–sure, it represents gay pride–but Hal asks him if he really knows. Oliver doesn’t get the distinction and Hal seems concerned for Oliver. In other words, the sign cannot be reduced to what it signifies, gay pride, nor to simple historical content. It is part of who Hal is. This scene is almost repeated with Hal and his pride buddies when watching the documentary on Harvey Milk. Once again, Oliver “knows” who Milk is, yet doesn’t really know who he is.

This is the same with his relationship with Anna. He “knows” her, but when she moves in and he has to face her in his space he feels like he doesn’t. For instance, Anna instantly begins crying when she enters Oliver’s bedroom and Oliver as well as the audience do not know why–this is an event with no historical content, no signification–it’s a trauma that can’t be reduced to content. Even when Oliver and Anna “talk” about this scene the dialogue is shut off–does it matter what they’re saying? Here is a place–grief, trauma shame–where there is no “historical consciousness,” no awareness, just raw pain and people being people (the Lacanian “Real”–beyond signification). Here is the lion who is not a lion. The lion who doesn’t signify a lion.

This is also obvious in Oliver’s relationship with his father’s dog, Arthur, who Oliver speaks for. He signifies for him. This relationship is paralleled when Oliver first meets Anna (at a costume party–Oliver humorously dressed as Freud–a place of carnivalesque “historical consciousness”) and Anna herself (dressed as Charlie Chaplin?) cannot talk due to laryngitis. Here is Oliver’s ideal relationship–like the one with his dog–one in which the person is raw significance, pure indication, dressed up,  silent. Of course Oliver loves her all the more when he finds out she’s an actress with no real home. Here is pure perfomance. Pure signification. Pure consciousness. But there are always moments that go beyond awareness or that we’d rather be unaware of (like the aforementioned “silent” discussion). Anna, in distinction to Oliver, loves this about relationships (what she calls “magic,” that which is unexplainable about people from our individual perspective). It reminds her she is free, and reminds her she can never “have” the other person (indeed Laurent’s performance is somewhat reminiscent of Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim).

The conclusion of the film seems to be that everyone is a giraffe. Giraffes are simultaneously too much like lions and yet not enough like lions at the same time. We are too much ourselves and yet never enough. Georgia’s attempts to try to “fix” Hal’s homosexuality is this sort of too much and too little–its a kind of love that is offensive in how far it goes and signifies yet not enough to satisfy him sexually. Georgia wants to make the giraffe a lion. While Hal loves the giraffe (Andy) in spite of it never being a lion (monogamous). Oliver and Anna on the other hand see things as more complicated (there is a line about how they never experienced the terrible historical events their parents did, but this means they have a whole different set of internal pains). Although, like Hal, they both want a lion and realize that no one ever really is, both love the excess, the too-much lion, how people can be more lion than you ever expected, magical. But they each likewise enter severe moments of depression given that people can never quite fit their ideal lion.

The whole film is, in a way, this move from Freud to Lacan–the move from a time when “abnormalities” were analyzed as symptoms and repressions (like Hal’s homosexuality, Georgia’s Jewish descent) that deserved “treatment” to a time when every relationship, even/especially the normative ones, became shot through with symptoms (like the very normal straight, white relationship of Oliver and Anna). Lacan says somewhere that the death of God does not signify that everything is permitted (like the common misquote of The Brothers Karamazov would have it), but rather nothing is permitted–suddenly everything is a symptom, a cause for guilt, a transgression. The film, in its own way, charts the realization of this transition through the juxtaposition of its characters’ relationships and their personal histories.

It ends with promise but without ultimately having made any real commitments. We are left wondering if Oliver has finally realized its him who needs to abandon his preconceptions and prejudices as regards the “ideal-mate” or whether he thinks he finally caught a lion. Or if, like his mother, he thinks he can make his giraffe into a lion. We get the feeling during a scene where he revisits Andy that he has moved beyond reducing people to historical content though, when Andy accuses him of homophobia (a crime of signification, reducing Andy to a movement and orientation he identifies with) Oliver admits that he was really jealous of the love his father gave Andy (a very particular, real, human crime). Here Oliver has moved into the realm of the Real. He feels jealousy, pain, trauma. He moves beyond his symptomatic sadness which pervades the film, a sort of lethargy brought about by historical consciousness (think of the drawings from the “history of sadness” scene), and feels true, traumatic pain. A pain that is his. Finally something that is part of who he is–not just historical content. We are left hoping he will do the same with Anna.


Links both Happy and Sad

Some things I’ve been interested that have been happening. Thought you might like to know.

An agreement between The Humane Society of the United States and UEP (United Egg Producers) will bring about a few reforms throughout several states (including California!) for egg production including wider cage space and cartons that read whether they are free-range or not–which, hopefully, will decrease the amount of eggs from caged chickens (consumers will be confronted with a “Eggs from Caged Hens” label). MFA gives a good run down here.

On a terribly sad note, one of the most transphobic articles I’ve read by Mac Margolis (who has consistently posted ultra right-wing articles about his paranoiac fear of liberalism in Latin America) was released through Newsweek about Lea T., a Brazilian transgender model. The article includes such saddening phrases as, “she’s also a he” and “who’d have figured that the hottest new face from Brazil is not a she at all?” (WTF–NO, SHE’S A SHE, JACKASS). He also conflates the terms androgynous, gender-bender, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and, I SHIT YOU NOT, not liking football as all basically the same thing. Seriously. Newsweek, you can do better than this.

On a slightly brighter note, Connecticut has become the 15th state to explicitly pass nondiscrimination legislation for its transgender residents. You know, like equal employment, housing, credit, and all those other opportunities you think should be obvious given the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq” and other depressing statistics about women involved in US military. Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones laments the lack of attention the media pays to armed forces’ gender issues.

And in the hopes of not driving you to maddening despair, I’ve had this ridiculously happy song by Bibio stuck in my head all day, so, I hope I get it stuck in yours and out of mine or something like that.