Archive for November, 2007

Excuse Me While I Gargle

November 30, 2007

As a child I often pondered the stories my mother told me. They always had a vague moral, and it was a healthy exercise for me to sharpen my brain against them to puzzle out what she meant. For example, to encourage a young version of me to read more often she’d discuss her college days in Egypt; how they didn’t think she could major in English Literature since she wasn’t the child of an ambassador and didn’t grow up in an English speaking country. Supposedly, they underestimated her determination; “I would read several books at once.” I used to wonder about this oft repeated sentence. Other than informing me whose genes passed down my ADHD, the point was unclear. I recall trying to follow up by asking if that meant she laid a bunch of books down on the table and would read two pages of each, and only once she had completed two pages of several books would she then turn the page? She never elaborated on the technique for this multiple book reading, and as an adult I have to assume that as incoherent as her college years reveries were, the moral was something something something about determination (!) and self-improvement.

I’m only reading one book at the moment – Henry James’ Golden Bowl – but in the spirit of self-improvement I’ve been practicing my gargling as well. I’ve never been a very gifted gargler; sometimes it causes me to choke. Something about the Golden Bowl, however, drives me away from the book to try doing something, anything, else. I’ve decided to concentrate on improved gargling while I power through this thing. I guess I’m not all that invested in the star-crossed love of Charlotte and the Prince, or in characters such as the Colonel and Fanny Assingham. I’m just not into Princes in the same way that I have to tell Harry Potter fans that I’m pretty indifferent to wizards. Charlotte in Sex and the City bugged me, as did pretty much all of the other characters and the pseudo profounder of the voice-over narration. Really, though, my problem lies in James’ writing, particularly in his famous evasiveness. If Charlotte’s answers to direct questions are so annoying to the other characters that they have to turn around, walk to a wall and face it silently for several moments while they fume and pull themselves back together, then I suppose I’m equally justified in dropping the book, walking to the bathroom and gargling. If I’m writing “Charlotte is a HUUUUGE bitch” in the margins by certain paragraphs, that’s also a sign I need a few moments away from the book. You may ask, how can you hate James but enjoy books by authors who are deeply influenced by him, like Allan Hollinghurst? The answer is that Hollinghurst purposefully writes about unsavory protagonists and while he may romanticize them, he doesn’t shy from judgment.

While the plot is ostensibly about some Prince and a poor chick named Charlotte, it’s thematically about the conflicts that arise from marriages (into incesty families) that cross rank and income, or, as I like to call it, the ethics of mooching. Lots of novels are about this; think of all those passages you’ve skimmed over in books that outline how many pounds a year so and so lives on. Still, just to show I’m not hostile to either narrative or modernism, look here at how Lydia Davis addresses the ethical quandaries that arise from mooching far more efficiently in the following short story entitled, Finances:

If they try to add and subtract to see whether the relationship is equal, it won’t work. On his side, he is giving $50,000, she says. No, $70,000, he says. It doesn’t matter, she says. It matters to me, he says. What she is giving is a half-grown child. Is that an asset or a liability? Now, is she supposed to feel grateful to him? She can feel grateful, but not indebted, not that she owes him something. There has to be a sense of equality. I just love to be with you, she says, and you love to be with me. I’m grateful to you for providing for us, and I know my child is sometimes a trouble to you, though you say he is a good child. But I don’t know how to figure it. If I give all I have and you give all you have, isn’t that a kind of equality? No, he says.

See. “No.” That answers that, Trophy Wife! Note the economy of prose and the way she leaves haunting open questions. There’s a lyrical see-saw with the he-says/she-says. That’s the entire story. Literature doesn’t have to be “efficient,” of course. But it sure as hell doesn’t have to annoy the shit of a reader. Hence, this reader’s new policy:

Anytime someone recommends a crappy book to me, the well-intentioned recommender is responsible for reimbursing me for the cost of the book as well as for the time I’ve wasted reading aforementioned book.*

I’m not exempt from this policy. In the spirit of encouraging literacy in a friend’s pre-teen daughter, I recently suggested she buy the girl some of DC Comics’ new MINX imprint. On the strength of authorial reputation, I suggested Mike Carey’s Confessions of a Blabbermouth, co-authored with his fifteen year old daughter, Louise Carey. This suggestion was made before I actually read the book. Carey’s Lucifer was entertaining, and his X-Men comic is surprisingly high quality, packed with interest and action for an X-Men comic, yet it comes out on a regular schedule which almost feels too good to be true these days. I’m particularly enjoying his Vertigo book, Crossing Midnight, and felt confident about the recommendation.

What I didn’t know, however, was that Confessions of a Blabbermouth strongly intimates incest in a writing pair of father and daughter. Actually, I ended up admiring the book a lot more for that reason than I expected to, and decided that Mr. Carey probably has a pretty sophisticated relationship with his daughter. All power to them. However, I suspect that Elaine will probably feel that the book is more than a little inappropriate for her daughter. For my poor judgment, I now go on record with my willingness to reimburse Elaine $10 plus some change for the book as well as to throw in the costs for a couple of family therapy sessions.

* Going forward, this same policy will also apply to movies and comic books.

Addendum: I have been alerted that the girl was not permitted to read Confessions… Psychological injury averted.

Also, in the spirit of prevention, I direct my readers to the following public service announcement (thanks Ali). Be careful what you gargle:

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Krazy Kat, a Novel

November 27, 2007

During his trip to Yemen, Gerard picked up a few lovely little Sadaam Hussein flashlights, and gave me one. Thanks Gerard! Even better, G. brought back an interpretation of Tom and Jerry. Apparently, it is believed back in the Middle East that Tom and Jerry are an allegory of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It actually works quite beautifully. Tom, the Arab cat, hunts after the wily and Machiavellian Jerry, Israeli mouse. Occasionally, in the cartoon Tom will corner Jerry but find himself at bay, interrupted by a large growling bulldog (America). It works except that the cartoon was originated in 1940, well before the founding of Israel. The theory is discussed on this Israeli website; though the tone of the commentary is quite bitchy, I think that is an anomaly because I, personally, have never met a rude or obnoxious Israeli and find the idea of such a person to be unthinkable. Still, despite time-line issues the allegory can work if one comes to understand how both the Arabs and Israelis model themselves on Tom and Jerry, acting with the political complexity of cartoons.

‘His doodle-doo grew stiff…’

A more interesting allegory is Krazy Kat, one of the source materials for Tom and Jerry. Krazy Kat was a cartoon strip by George Herriman that ran for 30 years in the Hearst newspapers. Set in the New Mexico county of Coconino, it’s about a love triangle between Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pup. Typically, Ignatz schemes to hurl a brick at Krazy’s head which Krazy willingly receives as a token of his affection; Pup then arrests Ignatz. Honest and upfront about its erotic element, including the concept of triangluation, Krazy Kat is more ripe for adaptation than Tom and Jerry and a more accurate account of the Arab-Israeli affair, with both peoples masking a growing libidinal energy after every provoking act of aggression.

Jay Cantor’s novel Krazy Kat, a Novel is about an allegory attempting to become more ’rounded.’ It’s a truism of novel criticism that novels can absorb any genre, be it epic, tragedy, comedy or comic strip (though not musicals!), and make something new of it. Cantor’s premise is that Krazy Kat witnesses Oppenheimer’s test of the atomic bomb to find herself deeply traumatized by the explosion, imprinted with Oppenheimer’s image. Oppenheimer is Ignatz and Krazy’s first exposure to people who are ’round’ instead of 2-dimensional and flat. Afterwards she can no longer ‘receive Ignatz’s bricks’ without actually feeling pain — meaning, woefully, that their routine is no longer feasible. Krazy falls into a deep depression and refuses to leave her house. She ignores Ignatz’s pleas to return to work; pretends to disregard the copies of Variety he leaves for her to show her that the world of entertainment has passed them by while it remains ready for their come-back. Suffering her malaise, Krazy fantasizes about herself becoming more rounded, coming to realize that she and Ignatz share this same goal which binds them even more closely.

After violating Krazy’s trust by revealing that he and Pup had co-authored encouraging letters to her signing Oppenheimer’s name, Ignatz decides that psychotherapy will cure Krazy of her delusion that his bricks hurt. Upon convincing the town full of cartoon animals that they had each been molested by their parents, Ignatz realizes that they had only fantasized about being molested. In fact, he explains to Krazy that the bomb was just a large brick she wanted Oppenheimer to throw at her. Her resistance to this ‘fact’ is what causes his bricks to inflict harm on her. During this segment of the novel, Ignatz composes letters to Offissa Pup that rewrite the history of psychoanalysis. They are hilarious.

May 14, 19—
Dear Pup:
My wife is snubbed, as the spouse of the “little sex doctor.” Even Mock Duck feels free to make fun of me when the Mrs. brings in my dirty shirts. Well, I can live without the good opinion of morons. I’m used to it. This is the sort of country, you know, where someone like me can’t even go to one of their prep schools! So, let the gentiles think what they like so long as I have your encouragement. You have the roundness of a god, and your judgment justifies me.

Your admirer,
Ignatz
As the letters continue and his theories become more radical, Ignatz begins to throw off Pup’s influence, “I know that soon you’ll write to me to say that you can’t accept my theories on infant-style sex hunger. But what could I expect from a philistine like yourself?” The greater Krazy’s resistance to Pup’s theories, the more hostile Ignatz becomes towards Pup: “Your big mooonface continues to loom behind Krazy’s resistance to my world-historical theory.”

The novel is a tour of 20th Century intellectual history, veering into the Frankfurt School’s sadomasochistic version of mass culture when Ignatz decides that Krazy’s cure has taken effect. He invites a film producer to town; one obsessed with the topics of motherhood and whoredom. From him, Krazy, who can’t seem to curse without mangling curse words with her own Krazy-brand of dialect, learns to use “trust me” as a euphemism for “fuck you.” Brilliantly, in her own Krazy-way, she later starts to say “fuck you” when she actually means “trust me.”

Cantor clearly enjoyed writing the chapter entitled ‘The Possessed,’ which delves into Ignatz’s deepest alienation following the film producer’s abandonment of the town. A parody of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) group-think, Ignatz kidnaps Krazy to hold her hostage until William Randolph Hearst will give them control over their own copyright. Krazy is tortured by Mrs. Mouse and the other females in town as they lock her up and subject her to socialist brainwashing. “But aren’t avant-garde art colectors often boreshowsees?” asks Krazy. The answer is that nobody collects comic strips, “they belong to the masses.”

Cantor teaches at Tufts. When I went online to find reviews of the book I stumbled across a few of his student reviews. The general complaint is that as a professor he’s a wonderful performer, however over the course of the semester his schtick begins to repeat and is so irritating that he alienates his students (Oh no! Not the students!). While this novel is brilliant, I can see exactly that there is some truth to this student complaint but in this case it’s his choice of subject material. The same thing happens when I watch the dvd collection of Krazy Kat animations from the 60s. After a few episodes it feels as if my head is going to explode — Herriman hurled bricks at his readers through these characters.

After nearly two hundred pages of Krazy and Ignatz’s routine applied to one vein of intellectual history after another, I was pretty much done with the novel. Herriman, however, saves the best for last. Realizing that an understanding of sex and death, an acknowledgement of the power of fantasy, are necessary for ’roundness,’ Ignatz and Krazy return to analysis in the final chapter “Venus and Furs.” The trick this time is that it’s not an actual psychoanalysis of their pasts; rather they fictionalize a past as humans for one another. Ignatz must submit his self-image to Krazy for approval.

“Thank you,” Ignatz said softly, with the downcast eyes of a grateful supplicant. “And I’d like to have … to have a big… cock.”
“What?” Large? Loud? Doodle-doo?
“A big, you know, penis… a big cock.”
“What? Why?” What earthly difference did that make? Who would ever know? Oh well, if it was something he wanted. But then she saw that Ignatz’s form bent the light for her. The Producer’s lessons taught that Ignatz must truly be telling her something she wanted, too. Even if she hadn’t know she wanted it. Even if it wasn’t exactly nice. “Yes,” she said, as if from a trance, her own eyes downcast.
“Thank you.”
“Thank you,” she said.

Ignatz’s notes properly refer to this approval process as “introjection.” So what does Ignatz have to offer Krazy, who is only interested in his large doodle-doo because Ignatz himself wants her to want him to have one? “Dr. Ignatz explained… how the analyst could be Kate’s new, approving internal object, that we make our personalities out of such bits and pieces of others that we take inside ourselves. Introjects, they were called. Kate could introject the approving, feminine, maternal aspect of him.”

During their fantasy sessions as humans, they can finally engage in intercourse, “…fucking had been a bittersweet disappointment, not what he had imagined. The breast that had returned to the crib wasn’t precisely the one the child had had such delicious fantasies about while Mom was away. ” If sex doesn’t grant Krazy and Ignatz the roundness they crave, is it actually the more realistic disappointment that sex brings? Will they ever actually achieve ’roundness?’ Will Cantor’s schtick ever end? I leave it to you readers to find out, as this novel is worth reading so long as you read it over time in order to develop a tolerance for Cantor’s routines.

The Foucault Circus

November 26, 2007

This image from Action Philosophers #9 kills me.

I can’t get enough of it. It’s the best thing about Foucault that I’ve come across since this. It’s a great tonic for all the years I’ve had to put up with professors and graduate students reciting Foucault’s mumbo-jumbo about power. And it’s cute! Action Philosophers, I’ll miss you.

It Shouldn’t Work

November 21, 2007


I am familiar with Diana Abu-Jaber from a class she taught at my alma mater. I wasn’t actually enrolled in the course, but had the one scheduled afterwards. She was teaching Arab-American Literature, whereas I was taking a course on the Modernist Arab Novel taught by dry Professor Fishbein and populated by impossibly dryer graduate students. Jaber’s course, on the other hand, was filled with young Armenian/Persian and Arab undergraduates unsubtly flirting with one another. It was entertaining for me to show up early to observe the girls in her course as they would talk about their ‘right’ to wear veils and “be modest,” while they kept the upper parts of their potato sacs cinched so tightly that their bosoms hung out all the more alluringly to their potential husbands. Once the class would end, to prevent the suffocation of Professor Fishbein I would preemptively open the windows to clear off the stench from the cologne all the guys wore. During those liminal moments at the threshold, Abu-Jaber and I shared a kind of sympathetic connection as she would always wince a bit when the girls would discuss their ‘right’ to forgo clitoral stimulation. That, however, might have also been a side-effect of the cologne.

I made an effort to seek out her first novel, Arabian Jazz, shortly after I first encountered her. If you go online, you will see people discuss it as a quest for Arab-American identity, which is tantamount to telling a person not to read it. Eh, it was a first novel. Still, I enjoyed it because I saw the book as a therapeutic attempt to purge herself of her family; to mock her Lebanese relatives over in Syracuse which used to be a right reserved to Arabs until Caucasians stole anti-Arab sentiment from us after 911. These quests for identity are best when they’re about purging oneself of second-hand identities and obtaining it on one’s own, as all adults in every culture are supposed to do. Abu-Jaber is an East-Coaster, and discusses a demographic of Arabs (yes, they are still Arabs even if they don’t live in the middle-east… no need to be so literal about populations) that I tend to dismissively refer to as “the New Jersey Egyptians.” Ten years later, I saw a new book entitled Origins by Abu-Jaber at 57th Street Books, and decided to take a chance.

The first thing I noticed when perusing the book was the cover blurb by Chuck Palahniuk, leading me to wonder, “Jeez, what the hell happened to Diana?” While reading the novel I discovered she had written a memoir between this and Arabian Jazz. The unforgivable title of that book was The Language of Baklava. Upon learning this, I knew I couldn’t give Origins a good review. Nobody with such gratingly poor taste could write anything worth recommendation. As one of my bastard interns pointed out, if it had at least been titled The Language of Balaklava a reader might expect a good action/adventure terrorism story. Still, with Palahniuk on her side, perhaps Abu-Jaber’s sentimentality might have been traded for some entertaining abjection.

Rather, after reading it my sense is that they must have met in the Portland area Creative Writing circuit. Looking at it objectively, this book has a lot of the hall-mark traits of the creative writing seminar. It’s genre fiction about a forensic investigator — Lena Dawson — on the case of a baby murderer, but with a twist to keep the rest of the writing seminar fixed on the story. You see, the investigator was orphaned and for the first two years of her life, raised by apes! No. Really. That’s what we’re told.

My ambivalence stems from the fact that this is actually an excellently written example of the kind of thing that stems from these writing workshops. It has none of the excessive descriptive passages that would-be authors interpolate from their assigned writing exercises. It’s all measured, and when she does descend into lyricism, the passages are authentically moving. However, the ape thing tormented me as I read it. It kept intruding on the story, distorting the verisimilitude necessary for this kind of detection fiction. There’s a feminist angle inasmuch as Lena is forced by her conscience to go the extra mile in investigating the case as mothers are also being victimized by the murder of their infants. Even ‘the New Jersey Egyptians’ show up here and there, most memorably in the person of Mr. Memdouah, a former sociologist at SUNY Bimhangton who has become a destitute schizophrenic. Mr. Memdouah’s rants about the “technocrats” are especially entertaining if, like me, you think that all sociologists are mentally ill. Terrorism-paranoia also rears its head as Memdouah is, for a time, blamed for the murders. Since it would be sheer narcissism if anyone in Syracuse were to imagine that Al-Quaeda were after them, Mr. Memdouah gets aligned with Native American Rights groups. But we all know where the author is really going with this…

Though the whole ape angle does draw one out of the story, its purpose is clear. The roots of Lena’s identity are in question. She’s alienated from her humanity. As alien as the ape-thing is to the genre, it’s becoming kind of a cliche that forensic types are inhuman and somewhat robotic. If ever, to catch a glimpse of a shirtless David Boreanaz, you’ve watched an episode of that lousy show, Bones, you will know what I mean. Other characters refreshingly do comment on this. For example, the complaint “Lena, for chrissakes. You’re being a weirdo.” This kind of self-awareness on the part of the novel does give the reader some breathing room between the apes and the cops.

While there are glaring mistakes in judgment, the author of Origins is unmistakably talented, and in all good conscience, I can’t recommend it as there aren’t enough stylistic faults and idiosyncrasies for my bastards to mock.

If They Won’t Play You in Chicago

November 21, 2007

Today S. and I went out for lunch. She was a wreck. Her husband, whom she is divorcing, went to Cabo with his new girlfriend and she learned of the trip, of the girlfriend, accidentally, through a third party. S. was riven with sudden, unexpected, jealousy. He called her to tell her he wants to still be her friend. I mentioned how, after leaving me, M. had still wanted to be friends — ‘I miss hearing your opinions on politics.’ She told me that I should have said, “My opinion on politics is this: If you were President, you’d be a prick President. If you were made Congressman, you’d be ‘that prick Congressman’.”

Her feeling of violation is familiar. So is her anger with herself. Intellectually, she knows she’s better than he; that he was lucky she married him. Hell, he was lucky she ever even spoke to him. Still, I remember what it’s like to have one’s emotions betray the intellect; what it’s like to find one’s brain and heart devouring one another, trying to track down a rational reason for that feeling of betrayal when you already thought you knew what an asshole your betrayer really is.

Later I spent the afternoon and evening working on applications to get out of town and to move on. I think, for the both of us, this song’s chorus fits the spirit of today’s mood:

‘That’s All’

November 19, 2007

This kind of outburst is precisely why I dislike being cornered by those ‘relationship’ conversations.

‘I don’t care what you make of it, and I don’t ask anything whatever of you — anything but this. I want to have said it — that’s all; I want not to have failed to say it. To see you once and be with you, to be as we are now and as we used to be, for one small hour — or say for two — that’s what I’ve had for weeks in my head. I mean, of course, to get it before — before what you’re going to do. So, all this while, you see,’ she went on with her eyes on him, ‘it was a question for me if I should be able to manage it in time. If I couldn’t have come now I probably shouldn’t have come at all — perhaps even ever. Now that I’m here I shall stay, but there were moments over there when I despaired. It wasn’t easy — there were reasons; but it was either this or nothing. So I didn’t struggle, you see, in vain. After — oh I didn’t want that! I don’t mean,’ she smiled, ‘that it wouldn’t have been delightful to see you even then – to see you at any time; but I would never have come for it. This is different. This is what I wanted. This is what I’ve got. This is what I shall always have. This is what I should have missed, of course,’ she pursued, ‘if you had chosen to make me miss it. If you had thought me horrid, had refused to come, I should, naturally, have been immensely “sold”. I had to take the risk. Well, you’re all I could have hoped. That’s what I was to have said. I didn’t want simply to get my time with you, but I wanted you to know. I wanted you’ — she kept it up, slowly, softly, with a small tremor of voice but without the least failure of sense or sequence — ‘I wanted you to understand. I wanted you, that is, to hear. I don’t care, I think, whether you understand or not. If I ask nothing of you I don’t – I mayn’t – ask even so much as that. What you may think of me – that doesn’t in the least matter. What I want is that it shall always be with you – so that you’ll never be able quite to get rid of it – that I did. I won’t say that you did – you may make as little of that as you like. But that I was here with you where we are and as we are – I just saying this. Giving myself, in other words, away – and perfectly willing to do it for nothing. That’s all.’

Henry James, The Golden Bowl

To Me, My Bastards

November 16, 2007

To me, my bastards.

I apologize that I have not blogged in over a week. I haven’t been ignoring your pleading emails requesting that I post anew; they are read thoroughly — tasted for the flavor of longing — before I delete them.

It’s not you. It’s me. The problem is, to be quite frank, that I’m wiped, √©puis√©. Theoretically, this is due to a faulty adjustment I made last week to my caffeine intake. I switched from lattes to cappuccino, as well as to ‘American coffee.’ Now I can’t get a full night’s sleep.

Also, and I hate to say this about him, but my boss is a murmurer. On occasion, moreso than usual this week, he shares an office with me. Usually he sits outside in the animator’s bullpen but of late he’s been in here with me. And he talks to himself. Little rhetorical questions — I’m not sure … he might actually be asking me questions. I choose to treat them as rhetorical. There also follow sarcastic asides about a new piece of software he’s trying; grunts of success when he’s overcome a frustration. Yesterday, after a series of grunts interrupted me mid-bloggus, and a sensation ran down from my scalp, along my spine to my toes, I abandoned for all time a post I was trying to compose. I was severely tempted to turn around and explain that “I cannot blog under these conditions!” Instead, I practiced restraint, came up with an excuse to leave work early, and went home to lie down with a hot wet towel over my eyes.

Finally, I have two books to review but my emotions about them aren’t as stark as usual. Those of you who have known me longest understand that ambivalence is an alien emotion to me. How do I sort out a tone of voice about these novels when I can’t love or hate them with purity? I’m sure once I’ve slept, I’ll be less wishy washy and will capably praise or condemn them. Please have patience.

Peacefulness,

darknessatnoon

“Jesus loves you, but I don’t.” – Judy Torres

The Writer’s Strike

November 9, 2007


OMG, guyz! Isn’t my little brother cute?

I’ve been trying to get him to send me pictures of him in case I start feeling sentimental over the holidays, but for some reason he refuses. Thank goodness for Friendster. He’s so paranoid and thinks I’ll mock him.

As if I’m going to mock my own flesh and blood!

With the ongoing WGA strike, Ameer isn’t going to be writing episodes of The Office any time soon. Normally, he’s very busy. I don’t know how he balances web design in NY with writing and acting on television in Los Angeles, but he’s always excelled at multi-tasking. With the Hollywood gigs off his plate for the moment, one would think he could be bothered to spend time with me over the holidays. Unfortunately, he’ll be in Egypt with our mother, ‘connecting with my roots.’

I cannot even begin to describe how ludicrous (and disappointing) this is to me. This kid grew up listening to INXS, not Um Kulthum. He never even knew how to speak Arabic. I hope he knows that when the Egyptians speak to him and he can’t answer back in the language, they’re going to think he’s retarded.

Well, Ameer. Enjoy your little vacation. Have fun watching our mother eat koshry with her mouth open instead of getting to hang with me. I know you two have always been close. In fact, I’ve often heard that you never punched her when you were in the womb. Make sure you get good and fucked up in Amsterdam on the layover if you plan on traveling long with her. I’ll see you in reruns.

A Warning to Gay Boys

November 7, 2007

If you’ve ever been to a Starbucks you know what I’m talking about. Namely, it’s the barista opening his googly eyes wide and serving the guy behind you before getting to your drink. It’s because the guy behind you is either a banker with a fat wallet or a med student with H.E.P. (High Earning Potential). Shaking his ass while thinking he’ll use it to get ahead in the world, the barista is the modern day equivalent of the 1930s shop girl; a whore. I have no problem with prostitution in theory. My problem is with prostitutes who let their own sex drive and lust for authority / advancement / money / prestige get in the way of business. The fantasy of self-interest, of climbing the ladder, is acceptable in the moral order of capitalism and screens something less savory — sex addiction.

If you know anything about Alexyss Taylor, you know she shares my view of people who get so addicted to people who can fuck them well that they lose the faculty of judgment meant to steer them through a sexual economy. Here’s what she says in her warning of men who can fuck well but aren’t good for anything else: “He won’t even buy you a plate of shrimp from Long John Silver’s. And what that plate only $2.99?” On a similar note, friend of mine once said, in reference to his fellow Asian boys looking for white boyfriends at Los Angeles’ Buddha Lounge, that “if you’re going to whore yourself out, at least make sure it’s for a meal at Spagos instead of a burger at McDonalds.” He is Taylor’s ideal gay boy — someone who can look out for both the sex and self-interest, whereas the boys Taylor discusses are so addicted to “penis power” that they’ll do it for free, “selling their bodies for a crystal snack and a hamburger.” I’ve personally met plenty of boys who would do it for a rice crispie snack. That’s class based sexual servility, and its perverse ‘sex for sex’s sake’ fetishism totally undermines the nature of the sexual economy. Taylor knows what she’s talking about as, “I have a masters degree in being played by men.”

Taylor takes that economy for granted and seeks to create sex-aware agents, both gay and female, who stop succumbing masochistically to “penis power.” There’s something incredibly Kantian about the way she discusses sex. It’s about an ontological form being created by the sheer force of someone who knows how to fuck well (how to “work the middle” and get to “the root of the vagina”). Penis has the capacity to somehow force its target into a new shape, and the men driving the penis “ejaculated all into your brain.” In reference to the women Taylor discusses, a man is “screwing her into slavery by using the penis as a weapon to break her ass down.” For women, the consequences are unwanted pregnancy and/or allowing a “dog” to draw her out of a stable relationship with a man who isn’t so great at sex. For gay adolescents who say they “will fuck for food” but who in truth “just like to suck cock,” the consequences are probably STDs (or being killed) but Taylor is more concerned with the immediacy of their “busting their asshole out” (note: the E.R. can stitch it back in) and having to wear pampers. Her mother, sitting behind her, is, for some reason, deeply threatened by the pampers comment and thinks that’s reason enough to “back off” from being gay.

Kunt

Deontology, or duty-based ethics, as Immanuel Kant formulated them, posit a categorical imperative that grounds judgments; one that binds people together into a moral order. For Kant, our intentions make us, moreso than the consequences of any of our actions. But, practically, there are other ways that people come together and become who they are, such as fucking. Kant would be appalled at that statement. He dispenses with desire as something heterogeneous and disorganizing to the self. An intentionalist, it would also disgust Kant to be told that it doesn’t always matter how good you intend to be at fucking if you “can’t bring it.”

That being said, for practical reasons fucking not only brings us into the world but it also facilitates our becoming who we are. I guess that’s why I’m drawn to psychoanalysis; at least Freudian psychoanalysis. With Freud there’s no higher moral order that leads one away from dealing with our affections as they really are in the world. Analysis of our fantasies reveals the way in which we posit ongoing images of ourselves for ourselves — the imaginings that keep us going from day to day even though every day might totally suck, otherwise known as continuity.

Taylor is entertaining (in a racist way), but she’s not stupid and she’s not incorrect. Her main thesis, that women and black gay boys need to be wary of penis power (to be “aware of the dog inside of the god”) doesn’t mean she is necessarily sex phobic. When she talks about men “not hitting the walls and working the middle” and “hitting the root of the vagina,” there is clearly an interest in educating people to have good sex. On another video, she discusses the jackrabbit style vibrator and its usefulness for women who want to train themselves in what pleases them. Unfortunately, this discussion is interrupted by her mother’s reverie of having grown up with jack rabbits. What Taylor wants is for people to find out what’s going on behind sexual servility. She’s performing an amateur analysis on herself, and her mother’s Alzheimer’s induced reveries provide as good a backboard as any classical psychoanalyst.

What I’ve gathered from watching a few of her videos is that penis power is great insofar as it’s about being in your body but having someone screw the subjectivity out of you so that you can find your place in the scene of domination. Taylor finds the scene of domination to be degrading since, for the most part, it literalizes itself in unwise decisions or gets muddled up with other cultural fantasies of coupledom (basically, he’s fucking me into a Disney fairytale). People hate this kind of observation since it presumes that you can be injured without you knowing it; in fact, you can be harmed even when you think you’re experiencing pleasure. However, as infantalizing as it is to have someone come in and instruct you to stop being self-destructive and shatter your fantasy of autonomy, that doesn’t necessarily change the truth of the observation. It’s a fantasy of autonomy if you think you’re better off not knowing what’s good for you.

I do think she does fairly acknowledge the power fucking actually has over people — the relief we have in our subjectivity being temporarily erased by something bigger than it. That’s what the addiction to “he wanna give you a mouthful of sperm and a rectumful of sperm” is about. She just thinks, a la Freud, that we need to take a step back from these fantasies and consider what they allow. These public access videos have been circulating the net for a while, and though I’ve seen most of them, I think I need to read her book to get a handle on what else she’s saying, so please expect more on the subject.

Right for Each Other for All the Wrong Reasons

November 4, 2007

For years, I couldn’t find any entry on the internet about Giuseppe Patroni-Griffi’s 1973 film, The Driver’s Seat that did not describe the film as “psychotic.” People felt that they had it sufficiently summed up in that one word, which also was one of the alternate titles given to the film at its release abroad. Occasionally it was noted for putting Liz Taylor onscreen across from Andy Warhol; this should have been hint enough that this movie is a queer’s casting wet dream. With its release on dvd there has been a call to re-evaluate it (on Rottentomatoes.com), but not much effort has been made.

“Who asked you for a stain resistant dress?”
A neo-surrealist effort, the film is an adaptation of Muriel Spark’s brilliant novel. Though I haven’t read it in over ten years, that book is one of the most vivid reading experiences of my life and I find the film to be a faithful rendition with the exception of some tweaks to the narrative structure.

Plot-wise it’s a story about Lise (Elizabeth Taylor), a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who leaves some unnamed Northern European country on a vacation to the South (clearly Italy), where she intends to meet up with her boyfriend.


Lise unwinds in her hotel room.

One misadventure after another leads Lise to encounter men whom she deems are not her “type.” Eventually, she catches up to a fellow who had caught her attention on the flight over to Italy, takes him to the woods and instructs him as to the method of her execution (death by stabbing). Spark probably meant this to be an indictment of the way in which modern urban loneliness makes a woman’s sexuality frigid and thereby turns her most positive social impulses against herself.

“Where are you going dressed like that, the circus?!”


But that’s such a cold, analytic, way to summarize the movie. Spark was well known for her Humanistic, “Catholic,” all-encompassing sense of humor and her campy plots (she deserved the Nobel Prize far more than that hack, Doris Lessing). The film maintains much of that sensibility, telling the story through a series of police interviews that flashback to the characters’ horror at encountering Lise. Lise is played as a tacky affront to the senses, whose social awkwardness transcends mere bad taste and becomes a divine madness — an aesthetic of tightly wound up female sexuality and lack of self-consciousness.

“This may look like a purse. But it’s actually a bomb! You’re all so suspicious. Suspicious!”

There is a method to Lise’s madness, such as when she stuffs her passport into the seat of a cab mentioning “this will keep it safe.” Liz Taylor plays the scene with frenzy followed by relief as if by packing away the sign of her identity, Lise has thrown off a weighty burden.

“When I diet, I diet. And when I orgasm, I orgasm. I don’t believe in mixing the two cultures.”

Right for each other for all the wrong reasons, is a sentiment whose smug self-satisfaction is on par with such expressions as “TMI” (read: ‘Too Much Information’) and “It is what it is” (read: ‘Fuck You’). But here, Lise and her “boyfriend” are so wrong each for each other, there is something beautifully right about it.

Pierre senses this about their dynamic when he first sees her on the flight. Her predatory nature has her sniffing him up and down. His panic is such that he stands up and forces his way down the aisle to another seat just as the plane is taking off. He thinks that pathological love is something that he can escape, not yet understanding that all true love is naturally pathological. Lise is smitten by the rejection: “He must be crazy. I wonder who he is?” she asks. “He must be nutty” she muses with apparent hunger.

Lise spots a “filthy, stale glass… dirty” in her hotel bathroom.


Not enough can be said about Elizabeth Taylor’s insane performance in this movie. As ever her delivery was virtuoso, but by 1973 one could see the wear and tear of age on her face. The over-ripeness of her appearance and wardrobe (as Lise says of her dress, “These are pure, natural, colors”) only enhances her amazing acting talent. One of the best trained actresses of her generation, she had been eclipsed by the legend of that blond bimbo, Marilyn Monroe. But this was a role into which she could sink her teeth, presenting Lise’s instability with subtle changes of expression such as the gamut of emotions that wash across her face when, out of the corner of her eye, she discovers an unwashed glass in the hotel bathroom.

Lise dirties her dress in a terrorist attack.

Someone with great taste has kindly uploaded scenes from the film onto youtube in three parts. If you can’t get your hands on the dvd or vhs of the film, I’ve linked to the videos below. I would love to hear what established fans of the movie think of it, and see the impression of newcomers to it. I watch this thing at least once a year and am never disappointed with its madness, and have not once thought that I have a comprehensive sense of what is going on in it.

Let me know what you think.