this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Brainstorming

Some Disheveled Notes on OKCupid

Facebook from a certain perspective could be reduced to a sort of neoliberal bourgeois tool for producing the perfect consumer. It provides, creates, and sustains a limited space to define yourself by what you consume (movies, books, TV shows, and so on) while directing you into a milieu of advertisements both explicit (along sidebars) and implicit (groups, likes, etc). Even one’s FB friends structurally function as a means of redirecting one to other pages and groups and products.

While FB catapults us into these questions of the self, the other, and it’s relation to text, capital, and the social, OKCupid, as its name already signifies, uses language of desire, sexuality, and maturity. We are told we are entering a space where we can OK, on an individual level, our preferred specimen of desire. Playing the part of Cupid is like taking a shortcut, a childish impishness, cutting a corner—the adult world of seduction—and B lining it straight to the metaphorical release of self-security that can only be found in the orgasm of the other. The few who specify not wanting sex or a relationship merely seek to confirm what OKCupid is really about. Let no one fool you, OKCupid is about sexual desire, however neat, romantic, or dirty you like it.

Like your Facebook profile, the OKCupid profile includes various headings that seek to define “you” by consumption—movies, TV shows, books, etc. It also, however, includes a Self-Summary, What [you’re] doing with [your] life, what [you’re] really good at, and so on.  These are of course typical dating clichés that have “correct” answers. You exist within a Foucauldian regime of truth, a sphere of acceptable subjects to be, answers or accounts to give. The profile is consumed with investigating, revealing, representing “the truth” of the individual. Still, this is a certain openness—though a regime nonetheless, a broad-ish regime—not allowed by Facebook.

For instance my profile includes some answers where I attempt—and probably fail quite miserably—at upsetting the implied hegemony my answers are meant to reinforce and, co-extensively, produce “me.” Under “The first things people usually notice about me” I write,

my effeminate gait.

my words about which I gather.

my shame and fear and insecurity.

my shame and fear about people noticing my insecurity.

my incapacity to market myself.

positive thought: I guess I have a sense of style, an intellect, a maneuvering. who doesn’t strategize to find a way.

my broad shoulders and deep set eyes.

the way my body topples trying to identify itself with these words.

Okay I know I’m a pretentious ass and blah blah. Yet to answer the question according to its own guidelines is a sort of pretention too (whether or not my poem “succeeds” at addressing this is of course up for debate). It requires a siphoning of the self, a reduction to prescript and correct answers, a “knowable” or “genuine” self that I am meant to sacrifice my insincere, unknowable sel-f/-ves to. It’s like a perverse sacramentality—I must reduce my unknowable mystic erotic loveliness to a profane and knowable breadiness. I am not opaque to myself let alone others and I’ll be damned if you make me cover up my excesses and failures and seepage to a discourse that pretends people are all narratively complete, wrapped up in neat lil bows.

Which is I guess all I have to say about that. Cause really OKCupid is precisely like contemporary depictions of Cupid—something of an overweight adult with a Peter Pan complex. OKCupid refuses to assume “adult” ways of approaching sexual desire (typical dating structures, meeting up, bar hopping, etc), while yet providing a certain regime where only an “adult” self is OK’d—a secure, marketable, stable, employed, and so on self. I guess we see a space for the possibility of childishness, (in)sincerity, queerness, fragility, play, while yet all the old trappings of who counts and succeeds as a mature, civil subject. OKCupid has got a lotta shit that needs queering up, but at least there’s something like a space where it can begin.

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an anecdotal review of a film i saw on a weekday once

It begins at a mall with my father and youngest brother. It is interesting where we begin, or rather where we find ourselves beginning to speak. And it’s a mall, across the street from yet another mall, and it’s my father who says it’s a fun movie which I doubt, and it’s my younger brother who tells me I probably won’t like it. We pay. We watch previews and advertisements respectively which, given their ordering, I am assured are discrete things. Welles was obsessed with the camera as an eye. As a view and an ordering of things. Cinema is an answer. Maybe the questions are always asked after the fact, but what you walk into a film asking seems salient at any rate. And when walking in, and yes, paying, paying to be let in, and see The Avengers, one asks questions or presumes them.

The ultimate feeling one gets before the giant vision of a screen of men is an comforting finitude.  There is a woman somewhere in the film who thrives on the insecurities of less heroic men. Some have made mention that this is a radical statement about the subjectivity of being a woman or maybe it’s a radical statement about the movie industry or maybe it’s an ironic critique of the sidelining of women or how sexuality is always a failure. Maybe we are all black widows to the corporate America we are led to believe S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to be. Tony Stark succeeds and we know this because he is an all American heterosexual white male hero—a category the slightly flaccid Rogers reminds Stark he fails at. Supposedly the ending of the film disproves Rogers because Captain America fails to have wings or a jetpack or anything really other than nationalistic virtue and a proclivity for sticking around. Tony Stark due to presumably not going public or by dipping into the company pocketbook bravely teaches us that only CEO’s can enter the void of the universe. This is what the film means by vengeance.

On more than one occasion the film whispered to me I was Banner who is perpetually avenging himself against himself which gives him definite contours of self-reflexivity. Banner is something of a William Burroughs without conviction. Perhaps the most relatable in his awkwardness, which is yet another failure, but also most complicit in his passivity, Ruffalo plays a sort of Kubrick Joker or Alex or whatever Tom Cruise’s titular male porn star character in Eyes Wide Shut was called. This is perhaps why Mark Ruffalo makes so many romantic comedies. In both his romantic comedies and The Avengers, Ruffalo’s nudity plays a prominent role.

Stark wants you to think the Hulk is the real Banner or that Banner is some alter not-Hulk, meaning the dissonance or resistance to capital is a sort of negative narcissism. To be angry is to succumb. Unless of course you smash which is something sadly Banner never quite does to Stark or S.H.I.E.L.D. but who knows what will happen in the next movie or two. For now he dares not destroy our big American submarine-boat-helicopter, but of course we do with our imaginations, if not for justice ,at least for the spectacle of justice. And this is why they chose Loki as the protagonist of the film—an honestly corrupt fellow with nude paradoxical limbs rendered seamlessly explicit.

And here we have these various men who bring with them worlds, both literal and metaphorically literal, and politics and ideologies and general mythos to bear on our protagonist’s oedipal problems. We are led to like this or that particular instantiation according to plot and whim.  These moments of dissonance, world scraping world, seem the most pleasant—who doesn’t love the frottage of a Captain America and Iron Man after all? Of course we know the phallus of corporate America will win out in the end, the flaccidity of post-WWII America having become an overstated albeit nostalgic fact.

I must tell you at some point in the center of the film I left to use the bathroom and I don’t think I missed too much or rather I experienced something other people in the theater probably didn’t get to. There is a fight near the end and some extra stuff if you stick around through the credits which, as an exercise, is meant to lead us to believe is not part of the film. When I saw Thor eating a sandwich it was the closest I came to sympathy with any character throughout the film. Oh and someone died near the beginning which was sad because he was being paid by the government to make guns.

We left shortly thereafter and argued about this and that about the film but really we were talking about each other and how afraid and guilty we all are. If we could truly love each other I bet I would’ve liked the movie a lot more. If I had to remake the movie I think I’d cast Jack Kerouac as Captain America, Esther Newton as Tony Stark, GWF Hegel as Thor, Teddy Roosevelt as Hawkeye, Bjork as Black Widow, Loki played alternately by Michel Foucault and VI Lenin, Leonard Cohen as Bruce Banner, and Nina Simone as the Hulk. Of course Samuel L. Jackson would reprise his role.

We would film on location at the edge of the universe and the earth respectively and I imagine we’d shoot on an iPhone. I’d then project it on my breast, film it with my webcam, and upload it in segments to youtube. Naturally, I’d sue any theater or distributor who dared play it for copyright infringement (and maybe something about distributing pornography as well). No one would die though and we’d open with everyone eating sandwiches and end with a shot of Charlie Chaplin as a marine alternatively crying and trying on outfits but sort of smiling in between. If you stuck around until the very end you’d get to see a special little scene where we show you the names of all the people who worked on the film.

Queer Poetry and the Aesthetics of Failure

I am just finishing up a rather long poem/collection-of-poems. I feel really exposed with these poems but not so much because I am naked or vulnerably honest or “in” them in any unusual way but rather because they are incomplete—rather a meditation on incompleteness. In this way I feel it’s my most queer work. Just as the social powers that be project an image of incompleteness onto the queer family (as “lacking” mother or father, fulfillment, etc) so too I feel these poems as an embracing of incompleteness or failure. Which is why it has been SO HARD to edit for me. It’s like editing a giant premature ejaculation.

Premature. That’s really what I hope these poems to be—when I finally upload them—like the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck but de-centered. Elided. In other words TOTALLY NOT the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck at all. Premature. Incomplete. Queer. Failure. But it’s this sort of “failure” that needs voicing—narratives which not only deconstruct the supposed completeness of say the hetero-monogamous family unit but that revel in the “incompleteness” of queer sexual and asexual lives and narratives. The problem isn’t “prematurity” but a projected hegemonic “maturity”—the complete, grand, heterosexual, patriarchal fuck.

By writing narratives of (sexual) failure or incompleteness this not only radicalizes these narratives by occupying and commandeering public discourse on (sexual) normativity but also in turn liberates the oppression the oppressors have built about themselves. Queer narratives “queer” heterosexuality. Anyone who is attracted to diverse gender expressions knows the shit that you get when dating someone society deems as “appropriate”—if a queer man and woman end up in say a marriage-relationship they are constructed as “appropriate,” that is their individuality is appropriated towards the furtherance of a compulsory heterosexuality. Society defines not just queer lives as “other,” but also straightens queer lives into sameness. Sadly the queer community can even join in the shaming of such a couple as a “betrayal,” i.e., a failure of being “queer” according to this or that community’s definition of queerness.

This of course misses the entire beauty of queering shit up. It’s all about allowing people to equally make their own decisions and express their own desires without massive systemic compulsion. There is no way to “fail” properly. That’s why it’s failure. And that’s really the uncomfortability with this/these poem(s). It’s like naming my closet, the contours of hetero-hegemony, and yet stepping out of those contours by naming them as incomplete—and being okay with that. I hope when I finally upload it, it proves to be as much of a failure as I think it is.

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.

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?

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…