this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: October, 2011

Shame

No way to put the body

back into it—too late—

it’s who you are now.

 

The first love you knew

was this—to shit & piss

without making a sound.

 

But you never looked or

touched inside: the risk

of infection or, worse,

 

deviance. Cried perversity,

the chance to glimpse the

self in all its sadness and

 

pitiable neglect. Over-

coming or perhaps building

character or civility. But

 

you are able, mature,

and fully-functioning—

cheer up, you are, after all,

 

a woman or a man now—look

at yourself and smile! you are

fully and finally on your way.

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A few words on Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, at times, been painted as an incoherent, unstable, and a ‘mob-like’ movement. Social movements are, after all, easy to dismiss when it seems like just a bunch of deluded people running amuck. Others have lamented how unclear the political goals of such a movement are, what sort of clear point this movement is trying to make. Yet others have denounced the lack of revolutionary gusto (violence?) involved in these protests. Some have complained about the inescapability that we ultimately just have a bunch of people being exploited by a few complaining to those few to hurry up and stop it already. Some have even pulled the few knows best, that’s why they’re the few card.

What I find irritating about these critiques is that they are fucking old. Seriously. Really, really old. If you think for one moment that these are not the very same critiques levied against the Civil Rights movement (sit-ins, March on Washington, Chicano movement, etc.), Women’s Suffrage, Gay Liberation (pride marches, Stonewall ‘Riots’) and more, than you have another thing coming. Gay Liberation didn’t exactly have a particular proposition or bill that the whole of the movement was behind—namely because no such bill or action existed. This is what we mean by oppression, by exploitation, by silencing. These various movements weren’t about voicing complaints within the systems in place, but rather about establishing that the voice they had wasn’t represented at all, that they were being systematically silenced. Peaceful protesting is precisely that—PEACEFUL PROTESTING–NOT a revolution—and for all those in the blogosphere thinking that’s the only way to get things done, wake up and smell the history of countless peaceful social movements.

Granted, Occupy is not exactly a Civil Rights movement like the aforementioned. Totally, I admit this. But I think the same general urge to have a voice, to give voice to things unsaid, the desire to create a condition that things can be said in, is the same. This is what protest is—not the actual political activation itself. Systems are not yet in place for this to happen. Just as deciding, “no, it’s okay to have a space where people can be open about their orientation” doesn’t exactly enact any policy or legal advances in and of itself, it creates the condition for this political discussion to happen (see Stonewall ‘Riots’). Occupy Wallstreet is currently ‘successful’ precisely in that all these silly people critiquing it are critiquing it.

Does this ‘success’ mean everything is fine and dandy though? Of course not. The task before us, to right inequality, seems impossible. But you know what, The March on Washington and other such protests seemed impossible too—when able white men have all the power, why in the world would they decide to give it up? Because those being abused by that power want them to? Pshhh. But you know what amazing, miraculous thing happened? People talked. They critiqued. They discussed. And sooner or later the old generation of asshole bigots died and younger (hopefully) less bigoted people and activists and peaceful protesters took their place. But this only only only ever happens if these concerns get voiced. No exec or owner or principal of some business is going to even consider being ‘fair’ to his or her workers and consumers and such until people are fucking pissed about inequality.

How does a group of people who are oppressed by other people complain to those people and in so doing gain liberation? What steps have to be taken? What policies should be proposed? What programs should be axed? I haven’t the foggiest. But you know what, it happens. It’s amazing. Perhaps I am shot through with peaceful ideological fluffiness but I have this crazy belief that if enough people voice their concerns long enough and loud enough, things can change. People can change. And this doesn’t mean we aren’t left with shit to clean up—racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and so many other –phobias and –isms are alive and well today it makes me sick. We are still slogging through this shit day by day. Occupy is doing a similar thing with the great inequality throughout the U.S. of America–it’s trying to get things underway and get people talking. Trying to hold those in power responsible (geewhiz almost like it’s a democracy or something!). So, it’s time to be aware that inequality in the States is terrible right now. It’s time to realize how it affects people. Time to finally start changing things.

On the Soul

I bet Plato wrote so much

about the soul because

some greekboy (as boys

oftentimes do) tore into that

flesh with his fresh, young body,

tore that soul in Plato right out.

I imagine he spent the rest of

his life trying to put that wounded

soul back into a body, as he grew

cynical with age, certain in himself

that his body was a prison, and his

soul detached, a thing of pure beauty.

Doubt, Sacred Objects, & Religious Orientation

Over the past few days I have been having what for me is a fruitful discussion on what ‘religion’ is (although it seems to be mostly geared towards Judeo-Christianity and religions of ‘the book’) over on my Google+. I’ve had a few insights into my own thinking by having to articulate them so I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few excerpts here and get other people’s thoughts and advice.

It begins with the question of orthodoxy, religious certainty, and ‘sacred’ objects:

I personally consider myself a Christian and think the Bible is not inerrant. I attend mass. I consider myself religious. I am certainly not alone in this conviction as many of my friends and acquaintances are in the same boat. I am a Christian in so far as the Bible is a sacred object of study for me, as is Christ, the Eucharist, blah blah. However, these objects are consistently called into question, doubted, and critiqued–this almost seems a precondition to religious belief to me. Of course I doubt god’s existence, question what that existence is. This is my religious belief.

In other words, I agree that there is a difference between an examined/questioned belief and an unexamined one–it is unexamined beliefs, the ones that reveal themselves to us in events and catastrophes (the person who considers hirself fair and charitable until in a context with another that reveals racism, sexism, transphobia, etc), that are rightly fundamentalist convictions. Beliefs deep in us, in others we trust, and in our systems of thought, culture, and politic are “fundamentals”–not the convictions of people who consistently examine, question, deconstruct, scrap, re-construct, etc, these beliefs.

This moved into a discussion over how religion and philosophy are similar and differ, me arguing that philosophy too has historically had ‘sacred’ objects and revered ‘saints’ as well as its host of ‘heretics’ and philosophic ‘profanity,’ i.e. an ‘orthodoxy.’ Which lead to clarifying that,

not all religions preserve such a[n eternal, sure, and certain] sense of orthodoxy, and the ones that think they do (which aren’t terribly many–certain Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox strands of Christianity jump first to mind, but not all RC or EO persons would affirm this at that) fall into countless and obvious contradictions for thinking this way. It seems silly to lump all other religious convictions and expressions in the same boat. Tradition, even in an RC context means precisely that, traditio, to hand down, which is to say to take something from another place and time into another place and time. Even the staunchest of religious dogmatics think that these principles take different forms and are to be questioned and applied differently according to context. Sometimes they are outright done away with.

But as the history of say Christianity shows, even this dogmatism is a minority. Just look at the Reformation. Or the Anglican church. Or the Quakers. Or the Mennonites and on down the line. These are constant perpetual revisions, contradictions, of one particular instantiations of one particular religion–all throwing out heaps of dogmatisms, even what dogmatics fundamentally is, along the way. This isn’t identical to the history of philosophy, of course, but it is to say these things are pretty related and interconnected both in a structural sense and a historic sense.

And lastly then expounding on what doubt of orthodoxy looks like and what this implies about say a theology of god:

As regards doubt, using the language of orientation again, one can pray to a god one doubts exist–this is what a religious orientation is to me. It’s called a risk. I suppose, given how you use the term then, I am agnostic in that gnosis (some sort of ‘special’ revelation) is suspended–but I am oriented towards some*thing*–it may be a fiction, but fictions are certainly things. So what is in question is not whether or not this thing I pray to called god exists or not but what kind of existence it has and the implications of this. I am oriented towards it as an object. It’s almost like a sexual orientation. I am ‘oriented’ towards an ‘orient’ (an other, something unknown, something withdrawn, something in-reserve) by an insatiable erotic attraction . This involves the risk of the thing possibly being revealed to be substantive, a fraud, dead, horrific (Bergman’s spider-god), childish, feminine, masculine, etc. It involves the risk of realizing my desire exceeds me. That I don’t really want what I think I want. Just because this risk exists doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not a theist–just because I do not know with 100% certainty what way or shape a god would look or sound or act like doesn’t mean I can’t orient, pray, revere, and worship one.

Any thoughts?

a Thought

What if every

time there was

 

a sad or scary

scene in a movie

 

instead of crying

or shrieking or

 

turning dolefully

into the arms of

 

a nearby friend you

rather turned and

 

spontaneously made

love? Whole droves

 

of men and women

in theatres, naked,

 

shocked, crying

perhaps, pulsating

 

to the rhythm of

the lighted screen.

 

I would watch a lot

more horror I think.

Towards a Constructive Penance: On Accountability, Guilt, and Power

I find it interesting that evangelical Christians still practice confession. Confession is, of course, a Roman Catholic practice that developed early in the medieval era and was codified as sacrament at the Lateran Council in 1215. Sure, the formation has changed, certainly it is unlikely an evangelical would use the phrase “the Sacrament of Penance,” but the idea of a small group, accountability group, pastoral counseling, etc., still abounds. I find this word ‘accountability’ particularly telling in terms of how it differs and yet is in complete alignment with the medieval practice. By contrast, penance could (and often did) take the form of inquisition and torture (consensual or otherwise), and if we were to take a look at medieval doctrines of the body, ecclesiology, and sexuality I think we would see why this was. The contemporary evangelical church shies away from such a direct denial of the body—although American consumerist Christianity (and I include myself in that label) definitely has its fair share of body-shaming and hatred. Also there is skepticism as regards church hierarchy, i.e. confessing to someone in particular. We don’t like the idea and, perhaps justifiably so, of someone with that sort of absolute knowledge.

However, I still think the comparison is ripe with similarities. For instance, although no vertical hierarchy, there is still sort of a lateral hierarchy (if this makes sense)—although there is no longer a direct person who must know, i.e. a priest (although pastoral counseling can look remarkably similar to this), there is a community itself which is in possession of knowledge, and it is still essential for the person confessing to confess to this community. In other words, rather than punish the individual for erring, the individual is condemned rather to feelings of inadequacy and guilt for keeping secrets. These communities are founded upon knowledge of the other, ‘accountability,’ rather than punishment. What is fascinating is how this takes the language of ‘truth.’ The implication is that there is some defining ‘truth’ of the individual, typically sexual but not exclusively, that is hidden or unseen and one should be open with the community and the community should know (the language is typically that of ‘brokenness,’ i.e. the image of the church as hospital, you must confess in order to be healed). In order to be ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ one cannot ‘hide’ one’s ‘brokenness’ from the community. Thus one reveals the ‘truth’ to the community, the ‘hidden’ side that no one sees ‘except God.’ This invocation of ‘God knows’ is a roundabout way of saying that the community of believers, i.e. those who ‘have’ the Spirit and who Christ ‘lives in’, already *really* knows. God knows. That’s what matters. So confess it to us and be ‘real,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘broken.’ That’s what ‘counts’ (thus ‘accountability). There is something (sexually) perverse at your core, God knows it, we know it, now tell us.

One has to wonder if this is much different than inquisition. Sure. It’s nowhere near as violent, obviously, and it is certainly not my intention to trivialize the horrors of the Inquisition. But in terms of power and knowledge—a community with the power of who you *really* are, with the power to control where you are (within the community), the injunction to reveal this to the community—there is something inquisitional about ‘accountability.’ By being in a community it is implied there is a part withdrawn, not entirely present to the community (the personal/sexual life), this is bad, and the community demands it of you (all in the name of ‘accountability,’ to take account for yourself).

This is particularly clear in men’s groups where discussion/confession of things like pornography and masturbation is ripe. The language used in such things, at least in my limited experience, fails to take the form of why these things are wrong (systemically), how to correct them (systemically), or any such thing. They take this language of accountability—confessing one has not given ‘everything’ to God (i.e. the community of believers), that they are ‘still holding on to things in their heart,’ etc. What these men tend to confess is their own finitude or withdrawal from the community rather than fruitful discussion over how to or even if we should overcome these issues. I have yet to ever here a sex-positive approach from a Christian as regards say pornography or even masturbation in such a context. The tacit assumption is these are things the church tells you not to do, but we all know you do them, so tell us you do already. Further, the ultimate confession is not that this person has objectified women, been unable to accept their own body, had sadistic fantasies even or what have you, but rather confessing how long it has gone on without telling anyone, how selfish this was of them, how bad it is to keep secrets, how they haven’t sacrificed everything to Jesus/the Church, in short, how they haven’t revealed all, haven’t been honest, broken, authentic.

I don’t mean this to be a bitter ‘all-confession-is-stupid-why-don’t-you-read-some-Foucault-or-queer-theory-already’ post. I mean this to be an urge towards a positive construction of penance—not one founded on guilt, of not revealing everything to the all-seeing-eye of the Church, but one grounded on lively conversation on how to overcome these real issues rather than use them as vehicles for pity and scapegoating. Men’s groups are so often scapegoats for not dealing with the issues they are supposedly attempting to correct. They so often devolve into self-pity, guilt, and lack of urgency to do anything constructive—meaning women are being exploited at the expense not only of these men’s sexual pleasure, but also for their self-pity and guilt as well. These are real people suffering who can’t afford the luxury of your feelings of guilt and pity. This is a call to have things like ‘accountability’ and Men’s groups to actually constructively deal with these issues—whether that be picketing, joining MCSR, teaching yes-means-yes at schools, boycotting products with sexist advertisements, or simply working for more female representation in the structure of their local church. It’s time for the contemporary American evangelical church to stop feeling sorry for itself and, who knows, start showing some sense of charity and justice.