this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Ideology

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.

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There are No Good Men, No Not One

I’ve been having a fun little back and forth with a friend’s post over at the The Evangelical Outpost. You can find the whole of the post as well as my comments here. The gist of the article, which you should really read if you want more than my bad summation, is that it’s offensive to refer to men as boys or to treat them like boys. If a man is guilty of boyish behavior, one should treat him like a man, that is, address the responsibilities he is failing at, rather than resort to inaccurate name calling. My last comment summed up my position I thought pretty well, so just for the hell of it I thought I’d repost it here:
After some basic criticisms of this idea of a “man” and why I think self-identified “boys” or “bois” should be called what they want to be called (cause it’s nice), Nathan (the author) responded,

Whatever semantic labels you prefer, the fact is that people gain responsibilities as they age and sometimes they shirk those. I hope that in talking to people who turn away from responsibility we can show them that they do not have any semantic hiding places that will save them from what they are doing.

To which I wrote as follows [edited for spelling and grammatical error],

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I get the broader point about responsibility. And I agree about semantic cubbies and hiding places. But also semantics shapes the cubbies. It’s the mountains to the valley–complete with snowy peaks and potential landslides. It’s important to periodically stroll through and maybe close down an unsafe road or two.

It’s this correlation between being adult, masculine, strong, and virile with responsibility that I guess I was trying to push back against. Of course we give children responsibilities and we should be forgiving towards adults. If it’s a question of responsibility, all fine and dandy, but children have taught me a lot about responsibility and adults have at times been disappointingly repressed, irresponsible, and narcissistic. It’s not so much how to balance these two (adult/responsible with child/irresponsible) but more unlearning the ways we’ve been taught to privilege adults and trivialize children.

It seems like the source of frustration for you was this category “boy” and how it was implying you weren’t fit for or outside of certain responsibilities. I agree with you–it’s trivializing and dismissive. Yet it’s not just trivializing and dismissive to you, but to boys and children in general, while also assuming adults are way more secure and essential than they are. Just as the male who dismisses someone as a “boy” positions himself as a firm and solid “man,” so too joining in with calling all boys irresponsible positions you and I and all males into a comfortable category of “man.” It becomes this very sort of semantic hiding place–a means of coping by bullying those we’d like to think weaker and smaller than ourselves. It buttresses our own insecurities with a safe semantic and social shell, shirking responsibility of ourselves while scapegoating others.

So I guess my problem is a binary that’s so neat it pretends boys, and children in general, are irresponsible and men/adults are responsible. Like childhood is some bit of ash we must pass through to really, truly, finally be born. But children were born and are people and no less real. We give children responsibilities according to what they can and can’t do just like we do for adults. We expect them to follow through just as much. They have voices and stories worth telling and it’s nothing shy of narcissism to turn a deaf ear, thinking ourselves to have come much farther then they. After all, the kingdom belongs to such as these–a kingdom where there is no “man” or “woman.” I’d like to think St. Paul wasn’t just thinking about gender or birth-sex but birth, growth, maturity, aging, and dying. Ultimately, I think The City of God might be a little less “mature” and “civil” than we think, and just a bit more like Neverland.

Towards a Drag Christianity

Garbo ‘got in drag’ whenever she took some heavy glamour part, whenever she melted in or out of a man’s arms, whenever she simply let that heavenly-flexed neck… bear the weight of her thrown-back head… How resplendent seems the art of acting! It is all impersonation, whether the sex underneath is true or not.—Parker Tyler, “The Garbo Image” quoted in Esther Newton, Mother Camp

Over the past few days I have been asked a number of times what “kind of christian” I am. This is a curious phrase—the demand for a label, the religious truth of the subject, that will reveal itself by confession. Suffice to say my answer has taken a few forms depending on context but which has consisted of intentionally tense phrases like “secular/materialist christian,” “believing atheist,” or “reformed neo-pagan.” These titles of course are intentionally camp-y. They exemplify how “I” try to do the whole christian thing: as drag.

Drag—as espoused by Esther Newton, Judith Butler, and others—presents us with a duel confrontation. On the one hand, it presents us with an exterior woman who is *really* a man, and yet also presents us an exterior man who is *really* a woman. Drag, as pastiche, reveals simultaneously the absurdities of interior/exterior, male/female, essence/accident, and subject/object binaries. In Gender Trouble Butler notoriously shows how drag functions as a subversive act to reveal the constructedness of gender. Drag, for Butler, just as much as any engendered position, is a strategy, a posture which both situates the subject as well as produces the subject. The difference between a “man in drag” and a “woman” is precisely the normalized and compulsory practices which sanction and produce the woman as natural. Thus drag works as a means of not only subverting naturalized socially sanctioned positions but co-extensively produces a new position.

The key thing is this happens only by taking up the very languages and practices of the social. Butler is highly skeptical of any discourse which appeals to an origin *before* a parasitic or extrinsic power that corrupts some pure essence (like some feminisms which appeal to a matriarchal/matrilineal pre-patriarchy). Like Derrida, Butler finds no “before the Law”—any origin is produced retroactively by the Law’s conditions and prohibitions. If all we have are the terms of the Law, how do we escape (the “we” it produces)? Just because we only have the terms of the Law doesn’t mean we can’t use those terms in new and creative ways to undermine the very systems of power and oppression that the Law implements itself. This is, in short, how Gender Trouble seeks to show performatively subversive acts, like drag, can re-distribute power-relations and normative constructions of engendered subjectivity, opening up new possibilities of relation.

Likewise, asking questions about what christianity was “before the Law” (I think here of questions concerning a historical Adam and Eve, historical resurrection, literal second coming and resurrection, fulfillment of prophecy, eschatological literalism, etc)  are nonsensical and irrelevant regarding what christianity *does* and what type of christian subject it produces. Likewise, alternative positions which attempt to circumnavigate christian discourse (I’m looking at you new atheism) often uncritically accept and replicate the terms and cultural practices of christianity. I think a large problem with this is the tacit assumption that christianity is a system of beliefs—something subjects choose—rather than a historical object that conditions, positions, distributes, etc, its subjects. If we assume the latter though then we can see how christianity, as a structuring and organizing and productive machine itself needs subversion and critique.

Now subversive acts that reveal the artificiality of christian belief or practice needn’t happen by someone who identifies *as* christian, but merely by positioning oneself as a speaking christian subject (just as the “man in drag” accepts given gender categories). It is by speaking from this position, by using components of the discourse, its objects of construction, that one reveals christianity’s composition. Just as drag shows the artificiality of interior/exterior through its performance, so acts of drag christianity disrupt this very notion of an inside/outside of “a” christian community (saved/damned, orthodox/heretic, sacred/secular etc). Instances of drag christianity include textual manipulations (William Blake), liturgical subversions (HIV-positive men lying down in protest within notoriously homophobic churches), cultural parody (Life of Brian jumps to mind), among other options. The point isn’t whether an individual subject is within or without the christian discourse/practice but how these various ordering of bodies are rearranged to reveal new possible (and hopefully less oppressive) relations by questioning that very relationship. Just as the “man in drag” accepts the terms of normative gender relations and compulsory heterosexuality in order to reveal the discourse’s contingency, so too drag christianity accepts doctrines and practices in order to invent new practices and recodify its subjects.

VIDEO SURPRISE

SO. I made a video. I hope you like it. I read some old poems and a new poem and chat too much but I was feeling chatty. I also started talking too soon. ENJOY.

BTDUBBS: I realize I said something weird about tallow coming from milk fat WHEN WE ALL KNOW it’s rendered beef fat. MY BAD. It also was and still is in some places used in feed. So like, cows are eating cow fat. Gross, I know.

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.

a Rant on Gender, Privilege, Floral Skinny Jeans, and Things

Gender, despite being constructed, permeates my whole being. I identify as a man. When I go to the store I am presented as, socialized as, received as, pressured into being, and communicate as a man. I use a men’s restroom. I speak as a man and people hear me as a man. Even when by myself and looking in the mirror I am confronted with the residues and traces of my masculinity—yes, gender is external, a social system that continues along with or without me, but it implicates me and I imply it. Although I do not believe there is anything biologically essential about how we as a society have presented and composed gender, there is something essential as regards my personhood—I am a man, and what I do and where I go and who is there engrafts, extends, or deflates this.

This means that all the privileges men have are mine with or without my consent. Masculinity extends beyond me and no matter how I personally treat women I reap its plunders of war—those plunders afforded by systemic pay inequality, assault, and rape (Susan Brownmiller called rapists men’s “shocktroopers”). Even if I volunteer as support for rape victims, a woman will be hesitant, nervous, or perhaps cross the street if I approach her late at night. I on the other hand wouldn’t feel nervous, certainly wouldn’t cross the street, and possibly be confused or perturbed by her behavior. But this is because I collect powers and privileges about myself simply by nature of my socialization and how I am presented.

Of course there are dissonances. When I walk into the grocery store wearing jewelry, a woman’s top, and tight floral skinny jeans, an obvious dissonance between the role-as-a-man I am supposed to be performing and the performance I am giving becomes obvious. This gap is traumatic for some people (often, but not always, other men). Whether they take offense at the audacity to question gender-roles and binaries or it reveals guilt they share at similar unacted upon desires, who knows, but people scapegoat the person who doesn’t fit. It calls things into question, puts words and structures in doubt.

There is a tension here. A tension between people thinking both, at the same time, that gender is wholly essential, entirely biologically given, and wholly accidental, not who they are. The presupposition is that I, by wearing floral skinny jeans et al, am acting out an unnatural desire, something outside the structure, against my nature, therefore not “human,” and yet that they are not “acting” a gender, that their gendered existence (clothing, voice, mannerisms, body, etc) is incidental to their personhood, their humanity. The thought emerges that they are a person beyond any institute (of gender), they are free, but yet anyone outside the gender binary is likewise “outside” the institute and therefore perverted, ecstatic, animal. Because they follow an implicit law, they would like to think they are free—while yet simultaneously accusing those who question it of being an outlaw.

I am no expert in the history of “Natural Law” or virtue ethics or St. Thomas Aquinas or anything, but I am inclined to think that this played no small part. Of course being male, white, and generally privileged seems “accidental” to someone who is white and male—one would have to admit his finitude and complicit participation in systems of power and abuse. And seeing as the history of Western thought is the thought of a white supremacist patriarchy (although a few other distinct lone voices have survived), well, it is unfortunately little surprise that white men are often entirely blind to their privilege. But it is quite clear that they thought being a woman was essential to a woman’s being—thus she was excluded from education, work, religious thought, and nearly all forms of public power. It makes sense, in a very evil way, that ideologies about gender and race and class would emerge alongside and in support of this power—whether they be religious or scientific ideologies (social Darwinism, eugenics, etc).

People with privilege (cis, white, male, upper-class, able, heterosexual, etc etc) are unaware of their privilege and take any questioning of the structures that supply them with this privilege as an insult to the very “natural” structure of things themselves. I include myself here too of course. No matter how many pairs of floral skinny jeans I own I am obviously endowed with privileges and power. I move about so often oblivious to my gender, race, class, et al, that for me too it takes “queer” figures outside my comfortable systems of power to shock me, traumatize me into seeing how deeply and essentially ideology and institutional privilege penetrates and constitutes my being. Gender is not biologically “essential” in some sort of ordained hand-of-god coming down and structuring my being sort of way, but it is essential to who I am: who I’ve been socialized as, how I present myself, and how I am expected to act.

It seems like a lot of people say they “get” that being sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, et al is bad—while simultaneously being oblivious to the privileges these very relations provide. So let’s get one thing straight—my position as a subject is composed, at least in part, by the systems of power I am implicated in. I often do not “feel” male or white or middle-class because I exist in a milieu of ideologies that tell me not to question my position—that the only reason women receive less pay is because they are bad workers, that black men have a higher arrest rate because they are criminals, that the poor are lazy, and all that bullshit. I reap these benefits, even when I don’t want them, because questioning privilege and one’s positionality means acknowledging I participate in a gender, a race, a class. These institutions penetrate deeper into me than I can see and extend farther from me than I can grasp. BE AWARE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE.

A Personal Note to my Readers: on Lethargy

It’s one of those days where life seems to be a crisis. This is of course hyperbolic and I suppose what I really mean is life is a state of emergency, or at least that is what I would like to think, because emergency is related to emergence which sounds constructive and creative and nice—at least when alongside the word crisis and its connotation of mid-life crisis and Dante and missed opportunity. Dante of course was given to such feelings of crisis and in turn wrote a three-piece epic poem to a woman he never fucked and chances are was married anyway, but such is the Petrarchan tradition. There is an old box of Emergen-C in my cupboard and I can’t help but think that conceiving of my life as an emergency deludes me into thinking I’m being preventative, formulaic, pro-biotic. Emergency also sounds like urgency and I think—if only for a moment—my desire to be doing something with “my life” is synonymous with actually doing something with “my life.”

But it quickly occurs to me that this is illusory and someone somewhere is reading Sherwood Forest or a/s/l or any number of books of poems I *ought* to be reading. Of course I add them to my aptly titled Amazon wishlist “poesy” and congratulate myself for at some point in the near future reading them. First I must of course read the stack of books surrounding my bed and maybe trudge through Loba or more Heidegger and maybe workshop or read some poems publicly. Suddenly now this feels like a chore, a burden, a beast of burden, an animal, a cow, and I long for animal-urges which I connote with fucking probably because both the animal and fucking are misconstrued as aggressive. I realize now how fully I resonate with Dante—only I can’t write so well.

The correlation between animals and fucking and aggression is longstanding and I don’t really know where it begins but one imagines Adam and Eve and the snake played no small part. The Gospel of Eve was said to be declared heresy because the Gnostics who read it really liked oral sex. I wonder how differently Christianity and it’s relation to fucking and aggression would be if the Gospel of Eve was canonical. Between not including the Gospel of Eve or the Book of Judith we get a pretty clear picture of Protestant America’s view of women. When one thinks of non-human animal-sex and how rarely rape plays a role one should realize how its correlation with aggression is a gross misapplication and it’s really humans who are the aggressive ones.  Really we should equate the “animal” with consensuality, sensitivity, and wisdom. This is after all the traditional Buddhist depiction of the bull.

The bull is serene, powerful, and, to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, keeps all its weapons hid. Of course it still has weapons. Somehow this seems related to America and masculinity and the correlation between men and bulls and women and the cow. Suffice it to say the ice cream brand Skinny Cow manages to be sizist, speciesist, and sexist which is no small feat. I keep a copy of the Tao Te Ching here at work which is where I am now as I type this. I leave it out in the open to be ironic. It makes a lot of claims about “the world” which is something I’ve been trying to refrain from cause, god, I mean, what the hell does that mean, but it’s the Tao so I guess it can get away with shit like that. Religion excuses a lot.

One of the excuses of religion within Protestantism is that masculinity includes aggression, fucking, and a strong work ethic. This may also contribute to my crisis and approach to fucking but who knows. Once I pass through the stage of work ethic, guilt, general horniness and such I tend to emerge into a stage of general lethargy. Perhaps that’s a better word for it: lethargic. I like how it sounds clinical. Also, it sounds like Lethe which aside from Styx is the only river in hell people seem to remember. It’s funny when they can only remember Styx though.

Like Dante too the lethargy usually is followed by climbing a mountain of both learning to respect the self combined with penance. This strikes me as paradoxical which would bother Dante but at any rate we both agree we feel better when at the top of the mountain. Few people make mention of the fact that Dante punishes fat people more than people who really really like sex who are the closest to heaven. Maybe this is why I doubt Paradiso and it’s my least favorite of Dante’s trilogy, but still, I appreciate Dante putting me at the top of the mountain at least. If I had written the Comedy I would’ve put him in limbo.

At any rate I am still making the low and slow climb, heavy robes of guilt upon my shoulders, and muttering crazy things underneath my breath. Inferno strikes me as the most productive phase of writing and contemplation but maybe this is because it’s the phase wherein I think I’m the shit. Purgatorio is humbler but unambitious. It’s a stage appropriate for January and for drinking oneself to sleep. It’s the cure for lethargy really.

“The Female Eunuch” and Constructing Masculinity

I’ve recently been reading Germaine Greer’s feminist classic The Female Eunuch. Although spanning a diverse assortment of ideas and thoughts, the premise of the text is male-domination projects a sexless role onto women, causing girls at a young age to reject their own sexuality, and thus socializing all women as “eunuchs.” In case you’re wondering, yes, this book is steeped in 1970s American Freudian analysis.

Greer makes the assumption, as Freud seems to have, that castration is in any form essentially a shameful act—both on a literal and metaphoric level. This reading of Freud presumes that the phallus is a positive good, that power is inherent, essential, energetic, and that “healthy” men act upon it. Of course Greer argues that men don’t always use it positively in a moral sense, but that having power and “phallic” confidence is nevertheless a psychologically and morally healthy thing.

The problem with this is two-fold. One, it presupposes that anyone with a penis who has it removed is “shameful.” Here Greer lumps in eunuchs (who have a complicated history), castrati, sterile men, and I-shit-you-not trans women and homosexual men (so eloquently referred to as “f*ggots”). Conflating all these very different experiences as one and the same is so obviously offensive, historically errant, and so riddled with homophobia and transphobia I don’t even know where to begin. It further conflates all these diverse phenomena with the socially constructed “feminine ideal,” which is yet again another very separate issue.

Yes, Greer’s critique about phallogocentric psychoanalytic thinking shirking the vagina to a metaphysical absence and clitoral stimulation as adolescent are well made. But one gets the impression that Greer is arguing for two separate nodes of power—the phallus and “cunt” [sic]—rather than confronting the power abuses women have suffered under patriarchal thinking and practice. In other words, rather than critiquing male privilege and how it affects both women and men negatively, she merely projects a vision of a positive female sexuality like men have. And herein lies the contradictory nature of her work. Greer attempts an American masculinity without castrating it, and proposes a phallic-power-positive sexuality for women without patriarchy.

And the second problem I see here is a mirror reflection: she presupposes anyone with power who wants it removed is likewise “shameful.” Greer seems to assume that people have and use power rather than that people are had and used by power-structures. Perhaps Lacan can be of help here. Lacan’s reading of castration was that the moment of castration, rather than removing power or worth or value, reveals an absence that was there all along—the castrated person in question was in fact a “eunuch” already. To translate Lacan into Greer-talk—everyone is already a “eunuch,” sexless, weak, and it is our relationship and social-structures that implicate us with a gender and power. This is perhaps why Greer is so hostile towards trans women throughout the text—because trans issues reveal countless ways in which gender and power are not inherent biologically but inherited socially. Greer cannot seem to imagine someone revoking power, privilege, or a phallus for that matter.

Greer really then is arguing, in my opinion, the wrong thing. Masculinity is an implication, an inference, an accusation given how power relations are and have been mapped out historically. It’s an ideological machine that is created by and in order to fuel the status quo of patriarchal power-relations. Likewise femininity is such an ideological machine too. Neither of these are inherent or biologically essential as Greer herself works out throughout her text. But neither is power inherent. We are all weak and powerless and “sexless” but it is our situation—historically, socially, et al—that implicates us with a gender and power-relations.

If men have seemed to exude more “confidence,” “surety,” “ability,” and “energy” than women it is not neutral, but equally wrapped up in men’s history of dominating, demeaning, abusing, and raping women. As Susan Brownmiller notoriously said, male rapists are the “shock troopers” for all men, creating the power and privilege all men share, whether they want it or not. Perhaps a more positive masculinity would be one with more doubt, one that doesn’t have such “confidence.” After all, it is this “confidence” which has led men to declare the superiority of his race, nation, and religion, over others—and his body over that of women—and his privilege and power have given him ample opportunity to.

Deconstructing patriarchy is not just about a new womanhood, but a new manhood: one that is less sure, less phallic, and just maybe “sexless.” The premise that the “feminine ideal”—lumping in trans women, gay men, and sterile men along the way—is a metaphysical absence and therefore bad is nothing more than shaming and scapegoating victims of patriarchal oppression. Victim-blaming and calling people castrates like it’s the dirtiest word on the playground seems like a poor solution to overcoming gender-violence. I’m inclined rather to think the solution lies in embracing castration—grabbing patriarchy by the balls, and cutting the phallus of oppression right off.

Either way

you piss standing

and we say

 

this is the order

of things. Certain

 

as cigarettes

between our

 

drying fingers.

But peel back

 

and sooner

or later it

 

happens: and

touching—tender,

 

eminent—we

squeeze

 

out the rest.

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.