this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: August, 2011

Yes, In Fact, Your Ridiculously Sexist Ad Means You’re Sexist

For a long time I drove by a billboard of this advertisement everyday on my way to work. It seems to me to embody so much of what is wrong with advertisement and its relation to the distribution and reinforcement of social prejudice. If you don’t get how offensive this advertisement is, let me break it down somewhat for you: You are necessarily a male. All men necessarily like women. You also probably like to stare at women (just like you’re staring at the woman on this sign!). Our beer is just like the beautiful women you stare at—sexy, thin, able, white, heterosexual—the perfect object(-to-be-consumed). I personally feel no shame in holding the advertisers fully responsible for promoting these detrimental ideologies (sexism, homophobia, ablism, et al).

People often excuse such things given that it’s an advertisement merely ‘presenting’ a ‘situation’. This ad in particular further defers its prejudice by couching the advertisement in a faux-50s era nostalgia. This is the intentional shock of shows like Mad Men—by presenting sexism as blatantly as possible in the context of the ‘innocent’ 50s, it upsets a lot of the preconceptions we have of the 50s, nostalgia, and representation. But, unlike hopefully Mad Men (although things like this make me doubt), advertisements such as these are meant to simulate, create really, some lifestyle or situation for you as a viewer via a product.

Advertisements like these function as an extension of the Western gaze—film, TV, billboard, etc. all present some visual content in which the viewer is intended to penetrate, visually ‘enter’ (TV ads or whatehaveyou that feature a blank screen and just audio typically are there to entice the gaze all the more). The advertisement is created as a simulation with no original, the simulation itself is genetic. This man and this woman never had the hypothetical date that is implied. The extension of your gaze into the situation as a simulation of a hypothetical-date is itself the advertisement. It’s not copying anything. Not representing some genesis. The simulation is the thing.

Given that the advertisement is this simulation, it is responsible for its simulating. I know that sounds silly and redundant. My point is this—this ad is responsible for the heterosexism it’s simulating. Yes. I get we live in a heteronormative culture. I get that we live in a culture that has an ablist history of preferring sight to the other senses as both more objective and more sensual (Western conceptions of beauty and sexuality are frequently equitable to voyeurism—we Westerners are obsessed with the sense which distances us from our desires). I get that we live in a culture that thinks of the gaze itself as ‘male’ and the object of desire as ‘female.’ But given there is no ‘bottom’ phenomenon, no genesis, no origin(-al) the advertisement is ‘presenting,’ given that its presentation itself is the phenomenon, it is fully responsible for these sorts of ideologies it ‘represents.’ Because it isn’t ‘representing’ them—it is them.

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Ithaca

To come to rest again, if only
for a time, on such sands—left
behind the depths of insatiable
questioning, the vessels of
transport tossed aside to deeper
waters. Sure, I fucked it up,
you fucked it up, who hasn’t,
really, fucked it all up from
time to time? Isn’t that what
return means—to find yourself
facing that way, open, alone,
finally and totally fucked dry,
a mere by-product awoken
in a stream, unsure of this
haunted feeling of familiarity
as you drift among the stones,
downward, toward the sea?

A sound of water

A sound of water

and you are awake to the smell of ash and his or her taste and smell along thigh and wrist (where, late night, even you who are so in love, wore such self-pity and

loathing: had to make real, you said, to present, to make present what was real

in ways unreal to those who had loved once or twice, or, and perhaps you know, even here and now). Awake—showing the sheet kicked, idling the butt-end of the mattress—the slyness of you gathering bag, coat, and other clothes like so much plastic waste. And what is

this, darkened in shadow, naked, and wet in the cool of the hall,

so distant and full of desire?

the breaths are long and deep

First the bending of prong to round the lip of membrane, then the puncturing of tissue. Press, hold, and the body and its pressure fights back the blood for you.

Gauze the wound and press. Soak. Discard all residue.

Leaning forward over the side of saline, wound-first, and right to the stillness of salt and distillation. This is called prevention. Prevent the incoming of foreign matter and prevent all possibility of infection. A closed system is a healthy system.

At night, sleep face-up, block the body inward. Preserve insularity. This is what wellness looks like. Do not touch the wound as the body can turn against itself with its countless and infinitesimal smaller bodies.

Do not wash near or around the wound. Do not scrub or poke. Remember: This is health. You’re finally getting better. Functioning. Proper.

8.14.11, 8:34 am

There is no hiding here.

White porcelain, steam, the inevitable drip and spill over the edge of it.

 

Somewhere they are swimming past objects of ocean and shell—

there is a shore too, and faces beyond the fog,

eager, waiting.

 

This is the first morning.

I am sorry.

 

Off the coast the breeze (dried leaves

of late summer caught in the current there)

is nothing if not a sighing, faint

moisture in exhalation, the sometime

openness of a world arrested in its giving, its

bounty of sadnesses. You know—you begin,

a sounding of water lapping on

the sand and stone—I think we’re doing okay. I really

think we’re going to be just fine. No need

to respond, just finish your cup

and make your way home.

Hold Onto Your Butts: on Bumper-Sticker Beliefs

Today I got stuck behind a car driving through Huntington Beach. On the back was a bumper sticker which read, “Hold onto your butts: keep our beaches and streets clean” featuring a picture of a cigarette butt. Nothing special. The irony, however, was that the driver was in fact smoking a cigarette and proceeded to throw the butt out the window. You know. Onto the street. At the beach.

This stresses to me something fundamental about belief. That is, belief is external, caught between and around and in front of us. It is out there in the world—we are in it, not autonomous possessors of it. This is not meant to completely undermine agency, just to say that oftentimes our so-called personal beliefs and convictions, say the soiling of streets with cigarette butts, goes against, not just our actions (i.e. hypocrisy), but active, external beliefs. This person (assuming the car was hirs and blah blah) had contradictory beliefs, both external convictions, one, that beaches and streets should be clean, and another, that s/he would like to smoke wherever s/he felt like. A lot of people’s reaction to global warming takes on this same contradictory-belief/disavowal quality (“Oh, of course I know global warming is really happening and terrible, but just one [insert environmental abuse here] isn’t going to break the camel’s back…”).

Basically, I’m trying to say that belief is caught up all around us. This includes us of course, like I said, I’m not trying to undermine agency. Who knows. Maybe a lot of good came from that bumper sticker. But nonetheless there was a pronouncement of a so-called “inner” belief (although of course this is wrapped up in external ideologies and mythologies about Nature, a certain health ideal, smoker shaming, etc etc) which, given its internality is presumed to be the person’s “authentic” self, counteracted by an “external” belief (“well, fuck it, I want a cigarette”), which is either viewed as a deeper self (“they’re a hypocrite!”) or  ideological (“look at how the media/corporations/et al have sapped away their agency!!! Aren’t we super great to in no way be influenced by ideology like those heathenz lolz!!1!”). Neither of these options fully satisfies me though.

I think of belief as an aggregate that, although including agents, is also external to myself. If you haven’t read Andy Clark and David Chambers’ fabulous essay on the extended mind, you should. In it, they argue to show the spreading of epistemic credit—that is that the mind is active externally in the objects it thinks “through.” So, for example, when writing a poem, myself, the pencil, and the pad all form an aggregate. I think “through” these things. Likewise with a laptop or even in regards to memory (the Otto and Inga example in the essay).

This is why I am so unsatisfied with most of the responses to the London riots. Either, the poor are demonized and blamed, the “they have revealed their true selves” rhetoric, or, on the opposing side, the rich and systemic forms of ideological and class oppression are to blame. Or, as Philip Blond seems to think, a bizarre form of both (he seems to think ideology is to blame, the destruction of “the individual” and blah blah, but yet somehow he wants to hold “individuals” wholly responsible… or am I reading this wrong?). None of these satisfy me wholly. People are caught up in beliefs, in systems, in ideologies. A person never fully bears the brunt of the belief in its entirety as an agent nor is the belief ever fully outside of the person. The agent is outside of the reach, withdrawn from the belief in some ways (like the smoking in the car with the bumper sticker, not wholly captivated by the belief, or rather, captivated in counteractive ways) and likewise the belief is outside the reach of the individual, they do not realize it in its entirety. No person involved in the London riots bears neither “the criminal” (a la demonization) nor “the oppressed poor” (a la ideological approach—which, for clarification, I do think is much less bigoted and far more insightful than the demonization approach) stereotype fully nor can anyone person be held fully responsible for the systemic beliefs involved therein (whether or not there is legal responsibility or what-have-you is not my concern here).

This is why I’ve decided to stop attending the church I was previously going to. I fully support equality for the LGBTQ community. It is also, unfortunately, hard to find the kind of church I would like to attend that doesn’t go directly against (in terms of verbal and/or financial support) LGBTQ issues and policy. I was attending such a church, and, well, I felt that I was within a system of belief I did not want to be—I was supporting an institute which propagated a certain belief, put me in a belief aggregate, that I did not want to be in. So it was time to leave. It was like smoking in the “hold onto your butts” car (perhaps a cliché is in order: “pulling a ‘hold onto your butts’ ” perhaps?). Despite the fact I didn’t “believe” the policing and hate, it was being believed for me—I was still within a system of belief acting on the world. What I would like to have thought of as a deep-seated, authentic belief was nothing more than a bumper-sticker belief on the engine of a gas-guzzling, beach-littering machine of a counteracting belief. Suffice to say, our beliefs are inherited, interconnected, disavowed, repressed, out-there, and mesh-y things. Mesh-y indeed.

Brainstorming: (Mis-)Reading Genesis

Just had a possible paper/research idea that I haven’t seen flushed out before, but if anyone has, feel free to let me know. I know Derrida addresses this in some of his essays and such, but it would by interesting to see a more systematic approach. I think it would be pretty great to look into the development of language and interpretation a la Derrida as layed out in Genesis (in particular, but the Torah as a whole).

Obviously, in the beginning there is the direct, intentioned, authored meaning. God speaks. Things are. Direct correlation of intention, thought, speech, act, being. The creation of Adam as monadic unity to function as an other to be spoken to. Thus the breathing. Image of god, logos, et al. Communion, i.e. a home, is established by commitment through speech—common ground—walking with god. Adam is established as one who names—the naming of creation and its creatures. This establishes a hierarchical relationship between hir (at this point Adam is “they,” both in Genesis as well as according to St. Paul—that is, there is no gender-difference—I think of Paul’s no male or female in the kingdom bit) and god as the one who speaks into being and the one who names—that is, opens up to a meaning.

Adam cannot bear a name nor be inscribed hirself though (therefore be-different, have identity) rightly without the dialectic relation of the lateral other, i.e. Eve. Enter alterity, linguistic difference, blah blah. The “transgression,” that is the break with the one-who-speaks(-into-being) is an entering of polysemic meaning—that is Eve and Adam orient themselves towards the tree, name it, in a different way than it was spoken. The polysemy is engrained further by the separate verbal curses—enter gender difference (man works, woman births).

This carries over into the transgression of murder by Cain, transgression of the commitment to the (br-)other. The (br-)other is outcast in a solidification of exterior/interior as a fundamental relation of self/other—establishment of the Jew/Gentile distinction. The tower of Babel is a going beyond polysemic meaning to Derridean dissemination. Suddenly translation exists which is to say the residue/reserve of untranslatability of a given text (irony of the attempt to dissolve difference by building “up” to god). The giving of the law represents a duel movement of unutterability, the Cloud of Unknowing, mystical experience, residual darkness, as well as the reification into law. The tension and difference between the law—the priest, arche, the natural—and the Cloud of Unknowing—the prophet, anarchy, the wilderness—is established.  Enter Derridean justice with a touch of Levinasian commitment.

Just a fun potential project. Who knows.  I don’t feel like reading that much Derrida right now though to take such a project seriously…

NPR and the “Historical” Adam & Eve

NPR has put up a post on the so-called “historical” Adam & Eve debate. Let me just come right out and say it: I do not believe in a historical Adam & Eve. Although I respect people who hold that position, in the sense of respect them as persons, I find such a position to be, well, silly. I just see the whole issue as, well, a non-issue–this is not what Genesis is about. Historical and scientific grounds aside, I mean, do we really think the author of Genesis (who could very easily have lived well after Moses) was actually trying to write a history text devoid of social mythos and meaning? S/he did a pretty lousy job then. I mean, there is a constant telling of stories and interpreting them throughout Genesis and the Torah as a whole. Just one obvious instance, when the author posits “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2.24) etc. Here the author presupposes an understanding of masculinity, femininity, marriage, kin, sexuality, et al. Just on an obvious narrative level, s/he is clearly not talking about the motherless and fatherless Adam & Eve—further, Adam never had to leave anyone or thing, Eve was separated from him. The author is presenting a view of sexuality, masculinity, femininity, et al via a story.

The creation myth is presented as an anecdotal means of presenting the author’s moralistic and metaphysical conclusions on the myth (which, as themes, play out throughout Genesis as a whole). Granted, this doesn’t de facto mean the myth can’t be true, but it means that the truth-content of the myth is irrelevant to the conclusions presented. The author doesn’t seem to care if it happened. The text doesn’t seem to care if it happened. So why as a reader should you? It’s like thinking the parables of Christ of the New Testament are historically valid and then deriving doctrine from the parable rather than from what they were meant to communicate (to those people, in that culture, at that time). Who reads the parable of the sower and the seed and thinks, “My God, what a fabulous agricultural technique?” or the shepherd and the sheep and thinks, “I should leave my flock behind to be scattered and devoured to find just one sheep! Flawless shepherding!” I know I certainly don’t trust Jesus’ science as regards the mustard weed.

The book of Genesis is first and foremost a story. It’s about a historically real people group, their cultural and religious experience, the oppression they faced, and how they became a nation. This story is told from within that rich culture, full of religious meaning and mythic stories that flow in and out of the text itself. This is hermeneutics 101. This is not only how you read fiction and fairy tales (Brother’s Grimm), but fictionalized history (Shakespeare’s Richard III) as well as histories (Thucydides).  This has nothing to do with what genre the book of Genesis is “in,” it has to do with the fact that the author of Genesis acts as if s/he is telling a story. The whole tone of the thing has a grandparent telling a child, perched on hir knee, the “story of our people” tone.

The question of whether it is true misses the whole point of what type of truth it’s trying to communicate.  Even Thucydides is trying to get at something—ideals of virtue and masculinity, etc. Shakespeare quite clearly is not interested in portraying the historically accurate account of Antony or Brutus. Likewise the author of Genesis doesn’t seem to care about presenting us with the “historical” Adam. Perhaps it’s a valid question to delve into how historically accurate these things are, i.e. “is the Genesis creation myth more of a Grimm fairy tale or Shakespeare history” (SPOILER ALERT: I’m pretty sure it’s the former), but this question is far from essential to asking the question of what the myth is about or means.  If the myth doesn’t really care if its textuality corresponds to “historical reality,” why should we?

A TOTAL SIDE NOTE: This is for those theistic non-evolutionist friends of mine: I’ve always wondered how you reconcile speciel and racial variants given how short you claim the earth to have been around (and DO NOT toss out the micro/macro distinction like that solves everything). I mean, let’s say humans have been around for 8,000 years or whathaveyou and we all came from two people. Am I really to believe that all racial distinctions we see today happened in a mere 8,000 years? And if we toss in the fact that racial distinctions have been recorded for, oh, I don’t know, since we started recording history AND the fact that “the flood” happened well after “creation,” we are left with anywhere from 0-2,000 years for every racial variant of every species to suddenly emerge. That is rapid. You have to have a MUCH firmer belief in evolution, its capabilities and rapidity, than I do to think that all racial varieties happened in, at best, 2,000 years. I am sure there must be an answer to this—surely I am not the first to ask this question. I’m just curious what a non-evolutionary response to this would be.

100 Posts

My last post was my 100th post.

This doesn’t mean anything.

I thought I’d mention it anyways.

eyes closed, bedside

Dreamt last night of the ghost of her going.

Howls at the touch of intricate fabric. The tearing down of corridors held tight like stitching across the brow where you touched marble, split upside to spill the hatred out of

younger days (your brother, chasing to catch such passing).

And older you rest on the cusp of these chances, scarred but wiser; and, grown cynical, quit the hold of the ghouls of intimacy, sounds of things unseen: father,

there were whispers of your faith, incantation to seraphic beasts, arm folded on breast—then, wishing your children a goodnight sleep, head downstairs to rest.