this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Hermeneutics

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.


Intersection of Vegan and Queer Subjectivities: Some Thoughts

I rarely say I am vegan. If I attend a BBQ I choose to idly pass by the chicken and scoop up an extra heap of green beans and continue on my merry way. But people have a curious desire to know, to rank those who behave in ways unfamiliar. In this way there is something queer to veganism, something that by the resistances I encounter declares my position—a positing—a political stance. This is particularly curious given that veganism is itself an absence, a refusal of something, yet given the normativity of meat-consumption it stands out: ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’ goes the proverb. This reminds me of Heidegger’s hammer somehow, the broken (unready-to-hand) hammer, the failure that gets read onto my being and in turn shapes and colors my being.

As the second-wave feminist mantra goes, “the personal is political.” What for me is a personal refusal of something is taken as (and therefore is) a political statement. People will ask why I did not pick up a kabob, why I took green beans, etc. And although these questions may be asked in earnest and a certain genuineness, they stem from a desire to take account of this statement, take account of me as a subject, to in fact give it a political shape. These statements and inquisitions themselves give birth to, flesh out the body of, my refusals as political.

Interestingly enough of course if I say I’m vegan for health reasons everyone is validated and secured in their position as a meat-eater—“well, it’s best for him and that’s fine, but it wouldn’t work for me.” But to be approached to give account of why I think it’s wrong to support the slaughtering of non-human animal life, to be asked to give the body—the meat if you will—of my personal practice is to ask for a politics of meat-eating. It is to ask, really, where I think they stand, on what ground I see their footing. And, they assume, they hope, that I will not say “over yonder with those who support the destruction of animal life.”

It is here that all the stock answers as to why someone’s not vegan or really really actually for reals cares about animals comes in. All of which boil down to trying to reposition me into the “over yonder of destruction” (usually by revealing the ‘hypocrisy’ of my stance) or reposition themselves as the wonderful kind compassionate person they truly really are (if only I could see how much they care about their cats)—both of which ignore the fundamental issue of whether or not giving money to corporations who profit off of breeding, abusing, and killing very real non-human animal life is good or bad or worthwhile. It defers the issue to teleology—how he or she or they use the animal—rather than an ontology of or ethics to the living, breathing animal. This is in part because, granted, it is an uncomfortable topic—especially when I am eating off a plate of green beans and she or he has chunks of a chicken’s leg in hand. But why ask the question in the first place then?

I think likewise this stems from people’s desire to ask about someone’s orientation—to take account of one’s (sexual) position. Derrida uses the nifty mouthful of a phrase carnophallogocentrism which I’m sure made him very popular at parties. Subjectivity, what constitutes the Western subject in particular, is a interpenetration of carno, that is meat—what they can consume/”handle”/receive; phallo, that is masculinity/virility—what they can fuck, and logo, that is reason—what they can speak of or argue for or justify.  It is this structure of subjectivity—of this is what you are doing and ought to be doing and everything you are doing is okay—really that people do not want to question.

So really why I think people want to take account of vegans and queer people (as well as persons of color and disability and size and many other things that are outside my own privileged white, able body experience) is that it affirms their position as politically and subjectively firm and solid. It re-inscribes their position as central just as eating meat re-inscribes these behaviors. While attending a church I was once told—when making mention about a particular problem I had with the liturgy—that we don’t change god’s will for ourselves, but our will to his [sic]. Eventually, by inscribing the liturgy on my being, by repetition, I would create and foster new desires—the right desires—and I would come to find theological justification for performing the liturgy.

There is a radical and terrible truth to this. These repetitions that form our sense of centrality, of sure-footedness, even form our desires, are learned practices. Granted, they are inscribed, they are external—I don’t mean to imply they are a simple choice on the behalf of the subject. I believe meat is very tasty to a very many people. I believe very many women are *only* attracted to men. None of this means though that meat-eating and heteronormativity are not also means of socially positioning the (meat-eating, heterosexual) subject into a place of centrality, stability, and comfort. It is this central position that vegan practice and queer existence destabilizes, or at least threatens to destabilize, by its political stance and practice.

To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, the problem isn’t so much of learning new practices, constructing new desires, but of unlearning. The problem is the way in which we constitute subjectivity through a series of bodily practices—meat-eating, (hetero)sexist privileging of the hetero-fuck, and the cultural weight of these symbols—and repeat these practices socially so as to seem natural, god-given, and transcendental. Where veganism and queer existence stand is to simultaneously reject these practices as well as proffer new ones. For veganism, a practice that has unlearned the rhetoric of “handling meat,” “taking it like a man,” “manning-up,” “doing the body a favor,” etc, posits a practice based on compassion and self-humility. Likewise queer existence rejects heteronormativity, heterosexism, sexual binaries, and embraces a practice of openness to people regardless of binaries (fe/male, hetero/homo-sexual, etc), based on mutuality and consent.

Of course veganism and queer existence are very distinct things and ‘choosing’ a vegan lifestyle is very different from the process of finding oneself in or identifying as being queer. However, in terms of the threat people can feel, the political awareness it poses, the way it hints at the constructedness of heteronormativity and meat-eating respectively, and a possibility for change, the two intersect in interesting and similar ways. To quote Teresa de Laurentis, “for what is finally at stake is not so much how ‘to make visible the invisible’ as how to produce the conditions of visibility for a new social subject.” A subject, let us hope, not centered on consumption, hate, and apathy, but compassion, love, and consent.

reflexivity or something like it

23 and already the bags under

my eyes sag. st. stephen’s

face was white when he died. they

called him a saint.


consolation is beyond these

lines. like this day


it is much too white. camper’s chart of faces

puts the white skull next to the gods

whose faces were marble. of course the color

had long washed off and what

wasn’t was erased. it

was called renovation. i will


refresh and refresh this

page again until i learn to see

myself from the internet’s point of view. yes, we have

been here before, already someone’s


definition of irony. tonight let’s consign

all our synthetics to the ocean, this


residue deeper to marrow, and finally be

honest, waking up inside someone’s idea

of a poem, we wouldn’t

care to read it either

even the stars fall from the wall

even the stars fall from the wall



the first moon of the first year doesn’t have

a name anymore.


you leant me margaret mead made me gay

which i started last night

under a new moon. we call the moon

new because of how it relates to the

sun. anne


hutchinson was called new even

while being accused of all the old heresies.

they called her a witch just like

they called midwives witches. the most

common thing midwives

were accused of was the desire to steal

men’s penises, and


they were drowned,

burned at the stake, or crushed under rock.

then and only then could obstetrics emerge

as a science,

that is, a male-only medical profession, with


the instruments of the male medicinal

imagination, the forceps, which would scoop

the child out, piece by piece if necessary,

while the mother, tied or chained,

lay down, making for easier


reach and less strain on the doctor,

who assured the woman that pain was her

natural and allotted curse in life. i read


about that the other day and it made

me think of you and those

things you said about

motherhood. i thought

a lot about my

mother and the things

that happened to her when she was

young, how


they really happened to me too, at least

in a way. when you

finally met her it was sad

and i was guilty cause how typical,

i mean, me a man, and you, and my mother,

and i don’t

really know why but i cried


when i drove home.

after, i couldn’t forgive

anyone about anything for weeks


*                             *                             *


last year

i fell asleep at eleven while everyone

else welcomed the new year. and,


i thought to

myself, that this must mean

something i said and you said you

thought it

probably did too and even though you

didn’t really mean it did, i agreed. i told



about my uncle then and how i like

twin peaks and how scared i am of open


and you brought up the female

eunuch and i said something about

transphobia and


we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed

our shirts to sit

in the shade. things were so

peaceful then in tank-tops underneath the


sun which is really

the same sun everywhere for

everyone on this

planet. god. this planet. like that really

means anything anymore after



*                             *                             *


you told me over the phone

you went to a conference where

they wore shirts

that said esther

newton made me gay. that’s

pretty funny.



talks a lot about camp and in mother camp she

says something about

coping or transforming the

suffering of others’ fear into a state of irony

or something. i never was very good


at that. when i was 6 my dad said chicken

and i asked is that the kind

of chicken you eat or the kind that

flies. the tao


says something

about no place for the horn

to enter. no penetration. it would be pretty camp

to be candy


darling for halloween

i think, but seeing as i wear a lot of women’s

clothing these

days and what with my identity issues and


up sexuality,

going as warhol is probably pretty camp

too. i miss you too. i used


to be the cop who got shot

when my brothers played

cops and robbers. i hate


writing i miss you.

no risk

in the writing. no self staring back in


risk of writing. no

crisis of

language. no sainthood or eternality of the

soul or bullshit and

no risk of

bullshit. chickens


can’t even fly.

i hate

myself writing like this


*                             *                             *


i reallymiss how you sucked

my nipples. some

people say the

male nipple is useless. fuck

them and their

teleological bullshit. it was that sort of thinking

that led to clitoridectomies on “hysteric”

women with “erotic tendencies.” if

the 18th century

male bourgeoisie really took themselves


they’d never stop castrating

themselves. at least they’d

still have


nipples. i’d like


to think somewhere

there’s a picture of the little

christ child suckling away

at the tit of joseph. i’d like to think


it’d be easy to ask

someone to suck my nipples


*                             *                             *


later, you whispered something of a

new year (you must take this he once

said, and


maybe he too

will pass into night. forgotten


all implication and finally

be free) but


what could i say. for years he

visited me in the dead of night with

sad sad eyes like


the eyes of the american

night kerouac loved so much, and


i would dream about

those eyes and how they floated in

the bathroom


window, even though we lived on a


and how, even from an early age, i


wondered anyone got up so high, and

what it was about me and about


knowing, about fucking and all the

usual suspects

buried deep down inside. and,


here with you, and tonight, i just

really wish I knew


*                             *                             *


night emissions are what

they called it in

the glory days of 1970s freudian mumbo jumbo

america. this unconscious selffucking was

stranded somewhere on the

wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not

quite as


juvenile as (or so they would

say) female clitoral

stimulation, but not quite the anti-social


of full conscious solo male fucking either. but

that’s what i want to do with this

night, in the heat of it, just fuck

it right out and fuck you

right out

and for once and finally be fucked in

two. of


course, we could take this to

mean that semen is like nighttime, emitted

from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy

erection, and every time dusk rolls

around it’s cause some

boy had a big wet one, bringing down both

the stars and moon on us all


*                             *                             *


in beginners, ewan


summarizes his fetish with spray

painting public property as historical

consciousness. mike mills

directed beginners

and also has a fetish with spray painting


public property. this says something

about the

artist and art and what it is to have an

audience and

shit like that. anyway i think


that’s what this is. historical

consciousness. you once told me

anthropology wasn’t creative and i

felt really sorry for you then, because

the truth is poetry is just like

ethnography but

with less research. when


you said you were

supposed to spend a year

doing research outside of

your own culture i missed you. i mean.

to take the lid

off the thing is beautiful

and liberation is all

we have left, but resonance is

enclosure. also

preservation, health. to uncover is to expose

or enculture, to invite bacteria

and all sort of life. to be

open to the possibility

of life. to bend your ass

bare to the sky. to risk

being fucked

in the fucking. sometimes


i admit i don’t know the difference but


it was sad when you

left and i got that line from the

poetics of space stuck in my head, how the world

would be a better place if pots

and lids

always stayed together

and i wanted you back


*                             *                             *


we’re supposed to be

making love. damn that patronizing

sexedup alvie singer.


there are some things you can’t

swallow without

gagging. i was


annie then, wanting to

be fucked into nothing. you were

nico or jack kerouac maybe,

always ahead of

some careening. we made love


the night you

left. it was beautiful in a way. the

semen pooled

onto my chest

in the night. the coolness


there. the discharge. the sense of


found in the rubbing and

in the loss. you can

never really lose everything


you said. when our

broad shoulders touched

and your hands

were on mine

and you

told me about the iliac

crest, it

was the world that

was guilty. when i

couldn’t, the towel

swallowed your cum


*                             *                             *



you had to have

something or someone to forgive


maybe you forgive lovepoems


too even though

you have

such a hard time with

people who say the word love like

it has

definite contours.

some people can’t



love spilling out

of itself. that’s

why god killed

onan. such a god lacks the imagination

to love without shame. moses

could only see god’s ass

who was so

afraid that moses would catch

him in

the buff and laugh

at the shame of it. i was kicked

by a bunch of

boys in the balls once in p.e.

and the teacher laughed. i

was obese which

meant i was sick which meant

it was funny to kick me

in the balls. i never


really got

the logic but the point is i imagine that’s

how god felt surrounded by

moses and with his

ass sticking out like that i feel

bad for him but

then again

what with the whole creator of everything

bit i kinda expect a little more out

of god


*                             *                             *


sadeyed lady of the lowlands

came on the other day and i

thought of how we never

listened to blonde on blonde while we



and how germaine

greer said the sadeyed lady and

the girl from north country were

eunuchs but

what does she know about dylan and the

beauty of the soul. when

orson welles

says he’s not a magician but an actor playing

the part of a magician he means

artifice is the only

magic this side of heaven.

you said


you weren’t really liberated

until you tasted your own menstrual

blood. well,

germaine, i don’t have menstrual blood okay

the best i can do is taste my

semen which is hardly the same thing. but


it’s been getting

sweeter lately. god, even i’m a


man. a piece of shit playing

the part of a man. sometimes even

an actor playing shit playing  the part of a

man. i’m

trying to tell you i’m sorry. i’m


trying to put this somewhere


*                             *                             *


the planet’s going to finally die someday

and of course type-1 diabetics will


still have diabetes in heaven and

martyrs always wear their scars like

trophies in

icons at the getty so you didn’t

see why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display


insertionsite scars and pumps

alongside st bartholomew and his heap of

flayedflesh. and we thought

this was beautiful, and that maybe


the world’s flesh might be hung up to dry on


some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world

we must’ve been and what a

death we suffered and what a beauty it all was

before heaven

so wonderfully dispersed its grace like


so many tiny bombs and the world fell

asleep in angelic wonder

and never woke up until the following year

sometime past midnight, clear-eyed and


fresh and ready

to begin again

as if for the first time in forever


*                             *                             *


you held me tightly there.

you fucked me

like a man fucks. ground me

down to a pulp of myself.

i wore a


love conquers hate

shirt for days. loving

oneself is like being

blind but not like the flower girl

in city lights with her christ imagery

and madonna silence. there’s

something so canned when

chaplin’s mouth gapes open

as wide as his eyes

and those sounds pour out

in a

proper english. but


how can you not cry watching the great


and even laugh when

he fucks the world he blew. you

know anything really

can save this world

except killing it.


when you visited

i missed you

and when you left

i missed you. even in kyoto

i long for kyoto goes a hass

translation of basho.

i guess there

is always something lost. even the



of my uncle and the shit

he did and the night and the fear

of it and all of everything

burns out after awhile. and you get

left with something


i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

in all the wrong places. i’d shave my head

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

in these lines. the marble and the marrow. instead i’ll shave

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

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…

poem, forgive me

I’ve decided to post my commentary after my poems rather than before from hereon out as this gives you the opportunity to form your own thoughts about the poem. After all, I am just as much a commentator on the poem as you. Being the author doesn’t entitle me to anything.

poem forgive me

Never held to the weight
of that anchorage. But
then again
                  relating can
be more fucking, the
reeming out of skin, till,
bearing the fullness of
the body you stand
             and unashamed
(as the saying goes)–
two fingers
                   bound tight
and right
                to the cusp of
the wall–skin folded
back on skin to redden
the lip of that flesh,
                      the tearing
and rawness there.
yourself up: this is something
you must do for yourself.


A comment on the poem:

I think the notion of “forgiveness” is an odd one. Feeling like one needs to be forgiven is to be alienated, out of place, to not be in one’s own body. We turn to, of all people, the ones we hurt and expect them to be able to put us back in our body. What a strange thing. Where do we get off feeling the entitlement to make the one’s we hurt responsible for such a thing? It struck me that this is similar to what we look for in love. Sex puts one in one’s body precisely by putting oneself out and into someone(s) else’s. We make another responsible, the one we displace into, to put us back in place. Strange.

When we give someone that whole weight (“forgive me because I can’t forgive myself” or “make love to me because I am insecure about my body”)  there is something terrible about it. Just think of the unfortunately typical problem of heterosexual male entitlement. He does not find his own body erotic, because, after all, if he actually enjoyed masturbating it would be homosexual or not masculine or some such bullshit. For Lacan this would mean his masturbation is not a Symptom–an obsessive, insatiable pleasure (an unfillable desire)–but rather a “s”ymptom–something which is simply pleasurable in its own right (one kind of sex among many). Because of this, during intercourse the woman must bear the erotic weight of both bodies, she must both be presentable as an object(-to-be-viewed) and make his body erotic. She must not only give him her body (“make love to me”) but must put him in his own body as well (“but also make me lovable”).

This happens with forgiveness as well–expecting the one we hurt to forgive us, not just for the wrong we did, but for the person we are. The injunction is not simply “forgive me,” but also “make me forgivable.” This is also what we often force upon a text, thus the title of my poem. We expect the novel or poem or movie to not only become an object for us but to make us into a good and comfortable reader or viewer. Just as this is misogynistic and cruel in the case of the hypothetical couple above, so too this is to place a terrible burden on the text. Sometimes you have to woo the text. You have to forgive and love and accept yourself before the novel can accept you as a reader. Here we touch on shame. I don’t think you can love someone very well if you are ashamed. You need to be comfortable in your body before you can be comfortable entrusting it to someone else. It’s too much weight to expect them to touch it and make you comfortable being an object of touch.

Or maybe that’s just me. Anywho. Hope that clarified the poem some without completely and thoroughly spoiling it.

and I was like

and I was like

pushed to the
convex edge
            of these

issues, (yeah
we’re working

it out, getting
          slowly ) my
need to resolve–

your arms,
crossed, over

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.

this filling is an overflowing

Following up on I am this urgency I make, I decided to continue with the theme of the mouth  as that which must go out (speaking, licking, sucking, etc.) in order to return (mouth as site of insertion both sexually and site of “speaking-along” others via dialogue, poetry, text, etc.). Simultaneously I have just finished reading the 112 ways of Centering as they appear in the quaint Zen reader, Zen Flesh Zen Bones. The text invokes several images of piercing and sucking to elucidate this idea of the decentered center, the “looking outside oneself” in order to return to the self–the self that is out there in other people and places (also was thinking of Andy Clark’s work on the extended mind). But, perhaps more obviously, this is a poem about me getting my nose pierced.

this filling is an overflowing

You must run the nail
of this, the very edge of

its curvature, strip or
ream, denude and flake

its pealing back of flesh,
pierce through the honey

of your own before
anyone can see or

be. Hands to the shaft
and right on through

the jelly of disclosing.
That’s how translation

happens. Translation
and the form of some

forgetfulness. Or: lips
to the trauma and

suck without lash or
curl, sing Shiva,

suck without blinking–
become the sucking.