Archive for February, 2008

Enabling Violations

February 29, 2008

The above albino beauty is Tessa, known by her code-name Sage. She is one of the X-Men; perhaps even the ‘original’ X-Man if one is to accept pervo X-Men scribe Chris Claremont’s retro-continuity, which holds that Professor Xavier found Tessa but didn’t want her openly recruited into his school. Instead, he sent her to spy on his industrialist enemies in the Hellfire Club — a group of SM aficionados devoted to World Domination. As a teenage girl, Tessa and her robot or computer brain (or whatever) dressed up in high heels and a bustier everyday while serving as the duplicitous personal assistant to the Black King of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. Once Tess came out of deep-cover, readers learned more about her; about the many times which she had been violated and had kept on swinging because that indomitable will of hers wouldn’t let anything hold the gal down. I like Sage. I’m probably the only person on the planet who does. She’s a famously unpopular and hated creation since she embodies all of her creator’s terrible writing ticks. But I have faith that even the most poorly written character can exist independently of horrific writing.

I was thinking about Sage today because I was pondering an atrocious phrase the post-structuralist “Gender Theorist,” Judith Butler likes to use – “enabling violation.” Judith drops it into her work all the time. As Butler is no doubt aware, in French “viol” means rape. Her social theory is very committed to the idea that interruptions in linguistic chains of re-occurrence can lead to progressive social change. Hers is a very trite and silly observation since, following David Hume (even Thomas Hobbes, actually), every re-occurrence is always an interruption and a continuation anyway. But she’s made a career of applying this observation to gender while giving props to her boiled down version of feminism. Given that her name is now embedded in the canon of “theory,” all her graduate students now know to go to her classes and parrot the party line about gender being, like language, naturalized by repeated stylized acts over time. Sort of like repeating “Candyman” calls up the monster, we socially repeat our genders until they materialize. The “enabling violations” of language, make these gender roles tough to pin down, according to her followers. It doesn’t matter to most people that Malinowski pointed this out when discussing sexuality and kinship early in the twentieth century, and that this is something all anthropologists are trained to know. Butler has become enough of a force to occlude that intellectual history.

As a student, it was incredibly refreshing for me to see anyone take her on. I argue with friends about her work all the time and am always surprised by their zombie defense of Butler. I guess zombies are somewhat civilized in that they like to eat brains all together, and in collegiate spirit stridently defend the brain-eating habits of their compatriots in the name of ‘freedom of thought.’ Luckily, my Tub of Love, Terry Castle, is big enough of a name to take Judith on. In her autobiographical novel, The Aspirational Lesbian, — before the section on lesbian barometers of the 18th Century* — TC writes “Frankly, I disagree. I don’t find it ‘always unclear what is meant by invoking the lesbian-signifier.’ … I still maintain, if in ordinary speech I say, “I am a lesbian,” the meaning is instantly … clear.” My Tub continues on to beat her breast some more and invokes some fake paraphrasing of Wittgenstein to defend her position. And even though she’s a blow-hard who attacks queer theorists left and right because she suffers from an intellectual strain of rabies, in this case, TC is right.

Still, I wish TC and other deriders of Judith would put aside their pink triangles and focus on the bigger picture to ask what the hell an ‘enabling violation’ is? In Undoing Gender, Butler finally notices the craziness of the phrase, “… that does not mean that we have lost the capacity to distinguish between enabling violations and disabling ones.” Cannily, here she doesn’t address rape and instead talks about losing one’s job, becoming suicidal, gender dysphoria and imprisonment. Being raped is some degree more or less enabling than becoming suicidal? What?


I swear to God, Judith Butler is this sort of indifferent “Johnny Head in the Air” type of masochist who probably enjoyed fairy-tales where a girl has to dance beautifully while wearing red-hot, iron, shoes.

I do know Judith Butler and while she is smart, she has committed herself to a line of reasoning developed long ago, in graduate school. Try as she might, she is incapable of evolving. Most academics get one *good* idea and run with it. Once, when she was defending a Californian’s right to gay-marry, I asked her a question about how the same demographic who will vote in California for gay marriage, at a rate of three-to-one also vote against allowing an illegal alien access to an ER or a school, and will vote for draconian anti-gang measures. I asked if this was “sheer political hypocrisy or an example of foreclosure.” Titters all around when I finished my faux-naive question; Butler decided to play dumb and explain foreclosure to me.

I know what foreclosure is.
Bitch, PLEASE.

What does this have to do with Sage’s exotic robotic stoicness? There’s a very Claremontian quality to the concept of enabling violation; by which I mean that the idea that rape can be ‘transformative’ in a good way for a women is very commonly held. It’s not that Claremont is attacking the concept of the ‘liberated woman’ per se. Rather, he is an adherent to the ideology that unless one is bent and broken, violated inside and out (lots of telepathic mind-rape and violations as well in his comics), one can never attain freedom; freedom is an achievement, not a state from which one can be exiled. It’s an SM party-line written into the stories young boys consume every week. In the comic book world, Claremont’s plot and character fetishes are so well known that when this mock newsarama (a comic news site) promotional announcement for a new limited series starring Storm of the X-Men was run, I didn’t even notice the satire:

NRAMA : Tell us about this new “Queen Storm” series that you are writing.

CC : I’m so glad that Marvel gave me the oppurtunity to announce this series myself. The “Queen Storm” series has been my own personal baby for a while and I can’t believe that I’ve actually been allowed to make it. It’s an ongoing Marvel Knights series, set outside of continuity which we’ve dubbed a “Dominated-Erotic-Journey”. Each week a different marvel villain will capture Storm and dominate her and attempt to force her to be their queen. Storm has to use all of her skills and her indomitable will power to overcome them and to beat them.

NRAMA : What kind of stories will be in store for this series?

CC : Well, the first issue is more of a setup issue featuring the Red Skull. It will really give the readers a chance to see what the series will be like. Our second issue is where the action will really heat up, begining a 3 Part story titled “So Speaks Galactus”

NRAMA : If readers are only going to buy one X-Men comic, why should it be this one?

CC : The most remarkable thing about this series is that I’ve even been alowed to write my own cameo. Yes, issue 8 will see me taking the role of the villain, attempting to force Storm to my will and dominate her. Readers will actually be able to see their favourite writer in the comic that they’re reading. What more of a reason could people need to buy it?

QUEEN STORM #1
Written by CHRIS CLAREMONT
Penciled by IGOR KORDEY
Cover by T.CATT
At last, Storms very own ongoing solo series. Each week Storm is found caught in the clutches of a new villain trying to make her their queen. With only her control of the weather and her indomitable will power, how long will it be until an evil villain manages to subdue her completely.
FIRST ISSUE FEATURING THE RED SKULL, FROM THE PAGES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA.
32 PGS./Rated 18…$2.99 Look out for Exiles #84, Genext #1 and QueenStorm #1, all hitting comic shops in June and July.

bitterandrew also discusses this story-telling device in an essay about Claremont’s She Wolf graphic novel.

Mechanically, the rape provides the basis for Marada’s heroic transformation, the process by which an action hero loses his or her confidence so as to eventually regain it and emerge stronger from the experience. Think Clint Eastwood’s character in Fistful of Dollars, making a near-fatal mistake in sizing up the opposition then slinking off to re-arm, re-train, and re-gain his mojo. In that sense, the use of rape as a character-buliding obstacle capitalizes upon an extremely horrible real-world event by turning it into just another piece of genre shorthand, one exclusively used for female protagonists.

It’s interesting to find that this genre shorthand has found its way into critical theory seemingly without having rung everyone’s alarms. It’s nuts. I have to say, that I also find Butler to be as a terrible a writer as Claremont. His stilted mechanical dialog and her stilted rhetorical movements are of a kind. I am not here referring to the excessive jargon someone like Martha Nussbaum or my Tub of Love refer to when criticizing JB. Instead, I refer to her over-reliance on rhetorical questions. Sometimes she will write an entire paragraph of rhetorical questions. Who uses a rhetorical question for something that is going to print? Sure, if you’re giving a speech, by all means, include a few. But edit them the hell out when you’re publishing. The rhetorical question is a coy little device, of a piece with oblique (yet obvious) references to rape as a concept instead of a real-life event. It allows her to take trauma theory, apply it to a philosophy of language, yet allows her to avoid having to consider what a trauma actually feels like to a human subject. Butler likes to “trouble” concepts. Gender is “troubled” or “undone” euphemistically, instead of, say, “totally fucked over.”

Judith and Chris, this is a plea. Step back and check your insanity. Get a grip and get some therapy. Let Sage be freed. I want her to grow into her own character. I want graduate students to cease casually invoking rape when they discuss language. Beloved fictional characters and real-life impressionable minds depend on this!

* ERROR — MTL TC discusses Lesbian Barometers here.

Going Darwinian

February 28, 2008

On the bus a cute red-headed Education student with a Southern drawl, named P.J., was reading a book about Intelligent Design. I asked him to discuss it with me. He said the book was very important to the Intelligent Design ‘movement.’ I nodded and asked, “So, it’s, like, their bible?” He answered, “No. I think The Bible is their bible.” It looked fascinating, nevertheless Darwin still appeals to me. I’ve been into typology lately.

I. Trying to describe a co-worker whose neck always twists 180 degrees when passing by my desk so she can see if I’m being productive, I asked my friends what is the reptile that does that. I couldn’t remember the name. Dat replied, “It’s called Secretairia disgruntraius americana …. though seemingly shy, they are quite vicious and don’t fall for that they may be more afraid of you then you are of them b.s. .”

II. I always sing the praises of Mao and Stalin because one of the things I write about academically is the concept of “ruthlessness.” But I’m not really seriously a fan. Jeezus! Recently a friend asked me to read his incredibly long essay arguing Marxistically and self-indulgently against notions of liberty and freedom. I was kind of mortified by it. Even though the writer is clearly intelligent, the politics of the essay were fucked up.*

I’d known for some time that he’s a member of a local Marxist Reading Group in the city of Chicago. They call themselves Platypus. I dub them Ornithorhynchus anatinus marixsta. The group believes a revolutionary vanguard can be created through reading the Frankfurt School of Marxist Theory (Adorno, etc. I doubt they count guys like Benjamin or Marcuse since they are social scientists and also since they are very humorless).

I knew one of the main members from a seminar years ago when he gave me a copy of his and his boyfriend’s art-sex video, demonstrating the progressive nature of their black-white interracial love. It was disorienting to sit there in a four-person seminar discussing WPA poetry with the image of his pasty, white, 16 mm penis burnt into my brain. A friend of mine recently found herself at a bar with him and his penis after a wedding, where he and another member of the group were discussing Platypus ‘neophytes,’ debating whether or not certain members had the potential to become “critical progressive intellectuals.” She said it was like they were discussing little children instead of fellow graduate students. At breakfast the next day, she asked me to infiltrate the group to do some counter-revolutionary work. I explained it wouldn’t work since some of them knew me and my ways all-too well. I’m probably on a list somewhere. I recently saw the guy on the bus, studying his Marx-Engels Reader, vainly trying ignore to the homeless, shell-shocked, war vet next to him who was ranting about the Khmer Rouge, the blacks and the Presidency of Warren G. Harding. Luckily for him, I and a law student sitting next to me carried the burden of the conversation.

I am in the mood to post a video in honor of the Platypi. I wish someone had made a video of the time Adorno’s feminist students raided one of his classes, flashed him, and accused him of sexism. I know someone who was present at the incident. When I asked how the Big A responded, she answered simply. “He regressed.”

In lieu of Adorno drooling and pooping his pants, I am posting some Maoist propaganda my friend Zed pointed me to. Chinese Communist propaganda tickles my brains. It was very innovative and confrontational. In the first, which Zed already posted, Mao cures deafness. The second is a more all-encompassing homage by some youtube psycho. Enjoy!

* though I apologize about my many totally bitchy comments in the margins.

On Loneliness, Part 2

February 27, 2008

This morning I realized why I was subconsciously drawn to the passage about the narrow corridor in Jelenick’s The Piano Teacher. It reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s poem about loneliness, “The Loneliness One Dare Not Sound.” The only time I ever really got the chance to study Dickinson was with a depressive throw-back to the American Puritans. This man, a surly Italian American (a self-proclaimed “wop from Cincinnati”) sunk in a deep sadness, idolized Puritan intellectuals and felt that they were the one true American intellectual tradition. Dickinson made him visibly uncomfortable. He preferred someone restrained like Anne Bradstreet, wincing when I interpreted Bradstreet’s poetry — though he admitted my readings were probably right, if “secondary” to the “primary” meaning. Dickinson was far too much of a separatist and too “esthetic” for him (Americanists neglect the “a” in aesthetic because their historicist pedantry makes them intrinsically hostile to the concept; they hate undue ornamentation and feel — probably rightly — that aesthetic types, like myself, prioritize form over morals).

The wop described her as ‘that girl who attends Bible Study sitting at a table where everyone to the left of her, to the right of her and everyone across the table all know that they are saved. A couple of them might not have heard the ‘call’ yet, but they know that they will hear it. Dickinson knew she never would be saved… And she never wanted to be.”

Here is the poem where Dickinson puts a speculum up to her isolation, wondering if loneliness creates us or buries us alive.

The Loneliness One dare not sound —
And would as soon surmise
As in its Grave go plumbing
To ascertain the size —

The Loneliness whose worst alarm
Is lest itself should see —
And perish from before itself
For just a scrutiny —

The Horror not to be surveyed —
But skirted in the Dark —
With Consciousness suspended —
And Being under Lock —

I fear me this — is Loneliness —
The Maker of the soul
Its Caverns and its Corridors
Illuminate — or seal —

1863

Some Baristas

February 27, 2008

Following my last post, I was gmail chatting with my big-balled friend, David over in Lebanon. Our conversation led us to wonder what a typology of baristas would look like following “Some Queens,” David Feinberg’s typology of queens in the sexy-covered novel Eighty-Sixed. David came up with a stream of barista types. He’s much better at it than I am since he knows Italian.

Please feel free to make suggestions and I will edit them into the list.

fareasta barista = an asian barista
baristina = female barista, or girly barista
the starista = the actor-dancer-model-waiter of the 80s
pianista barista = lonely barista

beirutista = a lebanese barista, or otherwise self-destructive barista

barflyistas = club rats who must work the steam to support their p.m. habits
fartistas = secretly love the sound of the hot air
chartistas = the ones who sing pop songs as they prep your cappucino
sous-barista = the trainee, also called startista
smartista = a frustrated intellectual who can’t get another job
bartiste = the 21st century bohemian
barysta = the feminist expresso maker
blasista = the bored stiff, indifferent barista
no hold’s barista = the uncensored, crazy type
millibarista = coffee sommelier in a very low pressure cafe
barbiesta = all she can think is about ken as she is making your macchiato
disbarista = used to be a lawyer
sbarrista = former italian fastfood maker turned coffee expert
gaydarista = lists his station shifts online and cruises through the steam
czarista = coffee professional of russian origin, or spikes the drinks with vodka
sportsbarista = non existent
fubarista = you dont want to drink what he makes
babarista = he can froth the milk with his trunk
proteinbarista = muscle queen coffee sommelier

Educating Barista

February 26, 2008

What an outrage! What if I need a venti cappuccino on my way home tonight? Starbucks is closing its stores at 5:30 tonight for “barista re-education.” Starbucks continues its natural evolution into McDonalds.

Some of my loyal readers have pointed out that I have a fascination with baristas, or the ‘coffee sommelier.’ One went so far as to suggest I have a fetish for them. Disgusting. That reader has some balls to speak to me in such a manner.

This news bulletin from Starbucks puts me in mind of an anecdote I’ve been meaning to share:

Standing in line at cafe Intelligentsia, I risked contamination by de-activating my ipod, silencing Róisín Murphy. I wouldn’t normally break protocol like that, however, I find sometimes find it difficult to modulate the volume of my voice to be heard if I have music playing. I think I was also motivated by anthropological curiosity. After all, I do my best ‘field-work’ on buses and coffee-shops. I felt the need to give the outer-world another chance. Approaching the front of the line, I tuned in impatiently on the conversation between the lady in front of me and the barista. After placing her order, the lady decided to hold up the line with some bullshit chit-chat. She asked, “I’ve been wondering, what does the name ‘Intelligentsia’ mean?” This was the Intelligentsia in Boystown which always has an incredibly long wait, so I could feel myself make a short, impatient, in-take of breath. The barista was delighted to demonstrate his training.

“Intelligentsia refers to a kind of coffee shop you could find in the nineteenth century. It’s where you would find, uhm, different kinds of writers, artists, and …” His co-worker steaming the milk decided to cut-in and show him up by knowingly adding, “… and astronomers.” Beneath the jocularity, you could feel the tension between the barista and the sous-barista ready to burst into open, flagrant, homosexual confrontation.

This incident spurred me to new imaginings. Consider the knowledge that could be shared if all coffee shops, nation-wide, engaged in barista re-education? I look to the Barista Guild of America as well as the World Barista Championships for leadership on this. We could kick-start a new Age of Enlightenment.

On Loneliness, Part 1

February 26, 2008

For some time I’ve been wanting to find good writing about loneliness. Not novels, necessarily, since I suspect the category of loneliness is intrinsic to novels; not simply in their writing and their reading, but also to how they are structured. I’m looking for something more essayistic or critical. Susan Stewart’s book On Longing was the first place I thought to look, but it turned up empty (in more ways than one). Really, aside from Radclyffe Hall back in the 20s, who has written intelligently about loneliness since the Existentialists discussed the subject, tainting it with all their drama?

One useful essay I’ve found is “Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen,” a ground-breaking essay by D.W. Harding — a professor of Psychology. Harding felt that Jane Austen’s prose was misunderstood by the amiable context of her stories. One claim he makes is that Austen’s most faithful adherents are exactly the kind of people from whom she was alienated; whom she detested. His essays were about “Austen’s concern with the survival of the sensitive and penetrating individual in a society of conforming mediocrity.” He points out comfortable looking faux-naive sentences such as the one where she calls England a country of neighborly “spies.” It’s an interesting psychological claim he makes, that readers mentally re-write her sentences, willfully overlook her parenthetical comments, and refuse to recognize their real selves in Austen’s writing. I’m not sure I totally buy it. It’s possible that her readers are just stupid. Most grad students I’ve met who tell me that Austen is their favorite novelist are pretty unbearable. The only ones I’ve ever wanted to punch in the face more than the Austen crowd are the ones who study “modernist poetry.” Nevertheless, Harding argued that her novels consist of exquisite caricatures that have gone unremarked (he wrote this in 1940, so if you wrote a paper in high school pointing out Austen’s irony please don’t crucify me in the comments).

The thesis that ruling standards of our social group leave a perfectly comfortable niche for detestable people and give them sufficient sanction to persist, would, if it were argued seriously, arouse the most violent opposition, the most determined apologetics for things as they are, and the most reproachful pleas for a sense of proportion.

A critique of “society” is nothing new. I think of Austen as is something more than one of those stereotypically “lonely in a crowd” types. It’s more interesting to think of her crackling rage as an aspect Austen’s loneliness. Few things are thematically more lonely than spinsterhood. I’ve been slowly reading Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, and am possibly enjoying it even more than Michael Haneke’s film adaptation. This book is the ur-text about a lonely existence; a daughter smothered by an over-bearing mother well into middle-age and the two of them exchanging punches and screaming fits every night. It’s also about how lonely the teaching classes are and what effect this has on pedagogy. The following is an extended quote that juxtaposes how Erica’s life-long solitude inflects her teaching style:

After the trials and tribulations of the day, the daughter screams at her mother: She should finally let her lead her own life. She’s old enough, the daughter yells. Mother’s daily reply is that Mother knows best because she never stops being a mother.

However, this “life of her own,” which the daughter longs for, will culminate in a zenith of total obedience, until a tiny, narrow alley opens up, with just enough room for one person to be waved through. The policeman signals: All clear. Smooth, carefully polished walls right and left, high walls with no apertures or corridors, no niches or hollows, only this one narrow alley, through which she must squeeze in order to reach the other end. Somewhere, she doesn’t know where, a winter landscape is waiting, stretching far into the distance, a landscape with no path, with no castle to offer refuge. Or else nothing is waiting but a room without a door, a furnished cabinet containing an old-fashioned washstand with a pitcher and a towel, and the landlord’s footfalls keep coming nearer and nearer, but never arrive because there is no door here. In this endless vastness or in this cramped, doorless narrowness, the frightened animal will confront a larger animal or merely the small washstand on wheels, which simply stands there to be used, and that’s all.

Erika keeps exerting self-control until she feels no more drive within in her. She puts her body out of commission because no panther leaps up at her to grab her body. She waits, lapsing into silence. She assigns difficult tasks to her body, increasing the difficulties by laying hidden traps wherever she likes. She swears that anyone, even a primitive man, can pursue “the drive” if he is not afraid to bag it out in the open.

Erika K. corrects the Bach, mends and patches it. Her student stares down at his entangled hands. She gazes through him, but sees only a wall that bears Schumann’s death mask. For a fleeting instant, she needs to grab the student’s hair and smash his head against the inside of the piano until the bloody bowels of strings and wires screech and spurt. The Bösendorfer will not emit another peep. This desire flits nimbly through the teacher and evaporates without consequences.

Erika is alone with a struggle to master music because her parasitic mother has sacrificed her to a craft (the mother needs someone to live off). The narrow aperture of her sexuality would be her vagina, whose virginity Erika takes with a razor. The only future she can foresee is the same as her present; exile to a room where she can be instrumentalized by animal (her students). Unlike Haneke, no holier than thou tone here. There have been a few arrogant, not-as-smart-as-they-think-they-are, under-performing, students whom I’ve longed to smack around as well.

Loneliness renders Erika averse to all theory. She doesn’t want to hear about a piece’s meaning, though she has standard set speeches where she pontificates sadistically to her students, consciously seeking to break them down so that they don’t surpass her; so they suffer at least as terribly as she did. For Erika there is only the performance of the music, and every interpretation she performs of a piece is occluded by outrage. Her alienation should have at least brought her genius and acclaim. Instead she’s trapped, toiling for tenure, early retirement and a government pension. Teaching is purgatory for her, and moreso than her colleagues, students are the enemy. She follows them whenever she can, delighting in sneaking up on them in public places to make them insecure for not constantly thinking about music. One of them, she emotionally blackmails after catching him standing in front of the same porn movie she planned on attending.

Mrs. Bennet to Erika Kohut. Spinsterly loneliness blossomed into a tradition of novelistic hatred. Another notable example is Geraldine Jewsbury’s novel, The Half Sisters, where two unmarried sisters do nothing all day but move newspapers across the carpet depending on where the sun is to prevent it from bleaching the carpet. Also, one of them hides in the closet and sucks on oranges. In interviews, Elfriede Jelinek has claimed that Erika is the only character she has written with whom she can identify. The experience of the book is fairly blistering; a claustrophobic tunnel of hilarious irritability, self-mutilation, desperation and existential immobility.

As I write more about this, let me know what you think are the qualities of loneliness? What is the best way to think about the relationship of loneliness to boredom; to writing; to teaching; to theory; to sex? The Piano Teacher is a great primer on the subject, so I’ll definitely have more to say about it.

Drop Dead, A Novel

February 18, 2008

“You should write a novel.” Anytime something goes mildly wrong or right for me, friends and family trip over themselves to advise me to write a novel.

This weekend the toilet upstairs flooded my bathroom, ruining a couple of walls. “Write a novel.”

Friday I sat on a bus next to a lunatic who lectured me on the Khmer Rouge and Warren G. Harding. “Write a novel.”

When I first got into grad school, my disappointed mom answered “Oh, I’d always hoped you’d become a novelist.”

When I temporarily left grad school, multiple friends congratulated me. “Now you can write a novel.”

I date a weirdo or break up with one, it’s always shrugged off by people I know as the subject of a novel.

Since my view of literature is fairly unreconstructed, I always feel a little insulted by these suggestions– as if people are calling me a liar. My interest in writing a novel is non-existent. I don’t have the necessary capacity for make believe to get away with one, and thinking about how to structure them gives me a headache. It’s not as if I dislike writing, per se. I’ve been published several times under my real name and occasionally under an alias for pieces of journalism, including a vituperative masterpiece about Moises Kaufman. Several of my author interviews have seen print. I am also not opposed to creativity. For example, when I write academically, my interpretations tend to intentionally pervert Great Authors beyond recognition, though the readings always remain firmly rooted in fact — unlike some critics I know who make novelists seem as fact-oriented as mathematicians.

But a novel? Yuck.

What I really don’t get is why one would write a novel while suffering from full body paralysis. On Friday, while my bathroom was being flooded, friends talked me into going out to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, adapted from the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

This movie was a fucking a torment.

Bauby was ‘a major cultural figure’ in France. He edited Elle magazine until, one day, a stroke hit him. The ensuing damage to his brain stem gave him “locked in” syndrome, leaving him with only one functional body part — his left eyelid. The first half hour is shown from the perspective of his left eye. We watch as his right eye is sewn shut and the screen goes blurry and anamorphic. It was one of the most claustrophobic experiences imaginable. At certain points, I began to hyperventilate, desperately wanting to leave the theater. Peer pressure forced me to remain in my seat. There were expressions of sheer horror on the faces of everyone around me.

For two hours we twisted in our seats as people repeated the alphabet to Bauby. Bauby would blink whenever someone announced a letter he wanted. Viewers were treated to ‘profound’ internal narration lifted from the completed novel about how we must all ‘try to be human.’ Thanks, I’ll give it a try. Eventually the film switched to an external perspective, granting us some mild relief. Occasionally, our entire bodies would return as Bauby escaped into memory or fantasy. Of course all of his nurses were played by extremely hot actresses. One of them looked a lot like Padma Lakshmi; the narration makes it clear that even though Bauby’s penis doesn’t work, locked-in syndrome+hot nurses is a special hell for someone who historically dreamed only of pussy.

Conference Call

This was the bleakest story I’ve ever encountered. Julian Schnabel is a breathtaking film-maker, except in this case he chose to use his talents to smother paying viewers. Three scenes made this thing somewhat worthwhile. The first was a flashback to a trip Bauby and an ex took to Lourdes before the stroke. Apparently, Lourdes is more commercially crass than Disneyland. I had no idea! In any case, the scene stokes whatever anti-Catholic prejudices you may harbor. The second was an imaginary sequence where he and his physical therapist gorge on oysters and make out at Café de Flore. I was with a kosher friend who had chosen the movie, so this scene was an opportunity to feel him squirming next to me as they downed plate after plate of seafood and played tonsil tennis. Finally, amid all the attempts to express “profundities,” one reverie stood out; the image of a melting glacier as Bauby discusses life as inherently a series of near-misses. This moment successfully moved me as the point was simple and true. Unfortunately, Schnabel ruined it later on by showing the glacier melt in reverse while playing some truly terrible rock song.

Upon its release, the memoir sold ten thousand copies in the two days before Baubier died. The French love “true-stories.” I find them emotionally manipulative. If you hate the story, then you must hate the poor trauma victim who wrote it. Not really. Elle is laughable, but I have nothing personal against their editors. I do have something against true-stories that use U2 songs in their soundtrack.

Consider this post my living will. If I ever become a vegetable, or even a near-vegetable, I want to die. No profound novels or memoirs will escape my eyelid. The only thing you’ll get is a stream of non-stop, curse-filled, bitching; no pedagogy about how a flooded bathroom or a stroke made me into a more complete human.

I recommend you see this movie with your worst enemy.

Tha Nairobi Trio

February 16, 2008


Tha Nairobi Trio crack life’s code.

‘Cough’ … Cock … Cure!

February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day. Speaking of love, I have a burning question! Would “Dora,” the subject of Freud’s famous case-study, have been better off if she sucked some cock?

I know I sure would.

Understanding Dora is crucial to understanding and, if you care to, condemning Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste, 2001). The first thing all reviews and summaries of this film point out is that Huppert’s character, Erika Kohut, is a masochist. Wow! This is an astute observation based on some truly casuitical interpretation. Such fine analysis turns on subtle nuances like the scene in which Erika – a cutter – sits on the edge of the bathtub just before dinner, slicing into her vagina. Other possible self-cruelty is evidenced in her flagrantly spying on a couple having sex at a drive-in themed movie theater; writing her lover a letter in which she begs to be beaten and degraded; sticking the edge of a knife into her chest; quoting T.A. Adorno.

Erika teaches at the Conservatorium of Music in Vienna where she brow-beats students out of the false hopes they might cherish of becoming accomplished musicians. (Let me tell you, having lived with a cellist who gave up his music career to fix the screen-savers of investment bankers, there is no one out there less optimistic and supportive than a failed musician.) Kohut, herself, still dreams of success well into her middle-age, but only because she is driven by her controlling, live-in, mother (Annie Girardot).

Geez, mom, you bitch! Can I get a second alone with my boyfriend?!

Before she commences her affair with infatuated student, Walter Klemner,* Erika lives an entirely fantasy based sex life. In addition to spying on couples fucking, she “sneaks” out after work to the back room of a porn shop where she watches porn and sniffs cum stained tissues. Every attempt she’s ever made to embody her own sexual life has been crushed and frustrated underground by her over-bearing mother (they share a bed which leads to an utterly insane lesbian moment between them). One of the film’s first scenes shows Erika arriving home late, with the excuse that she was at a practice session that ran over. She and her mother quickly find themselves in a fist-fight that reveals the “slutty” new dress Kohut has stashed in her bag. Like a jealous lover, her mother also goes through Erika’s closet looking for revealing dresses to toss into the trash. While they are in bed together, Erika berates her mother over a destroyed dress, arguing that the cut was “classique.”

Awwww, mommy… you suck. I wuv you!

I’ve seen and loved all of Haneke’s movies despite the fact that they are tortuous and make me hate myself. While he definitely has a sadistic streak, this story is hysterically over the top even for him. I watched the movie once through, and then tried it again for ten minute spurts. I wanted to see if the plot could go ten minutes without some act of sheer hysteria, deep character ugliness, or unbelievable perversity. It couldn’t. Without constant repetition of these elements, the dvd would have burst into flame and taken me with it. I even started to keep a list of the insanity, but Haneke and Hupert successfully worked my nerves far past patient list-making. This movie reaches heights of obscenity that take me back to Sexy Beast (2000) with its long opening shot of an obese man in a speedo.

As far as I can tell, he seems to be trying to say *something* about the impossibility of trying to live your fantasies. Erika’s life begins to spiral out of control when she, apparently for the first time in her life, receives sexual attention from a man, young Walter. Instinctively fearing that Klemner’s romantic streak is just typical youthful infatuation that will quickly run its sexual course, leaving her alone once more, Erika over-compensates by doing her excruciating best to extend every single aspect of their affair. For example, when blowing him in the bathroom of the Conservatory, she refuses him a climax. Erika also berates Walter when he tries to finish himself off, announcing that if he touches himself one more time she will walk out the door ending it forever. She undermines the fundamental basis of the blow job, by refusing to allow him to even grasp and guide her head!

The most over the top moment is pretty easy to miss. It takes place shortly after the commencement of Erika and Walter’s affair when, during piano practice, Erika begins to cough repeatedly. Walter explains the cough to her — she is “uptight” — instructing her to relax. He is explicit that some fucking will cure her cough. To probably any trained academic, the reference here to Freud’s Dora is unmistakable. For most people, this would probably pass innocuously, but to me it came like a punch in the face.**

Adorno-quoting masochist

Dora was the name Freud put down in his case files for a young lady who, among her many problems, suffered a intestinal problems as well as a persistent cough that led to asthma attacks. Ever tactful, Freud suggested to her that her cough was choking something back, and never flinching from his own desire to speak, he suggested that perhaps that something was the desire to suck her dad off. I can’t imagine why Dora would terminate her treatment abruptly. Lacan would later argue — it’s complicated and it was years ago when I read this — but something like Dora couldn’t come to terms with desiring men because she never fully comprehended femininity. But then again, who does? I, sure as shit, don’t.

The coughing scene is pure Psychoanalytic ‘Sploitation, and it’s one of the more shocking things I’ve seen Haneke try. Sorry to spoil the movie, but sucking cock doesn’t get Erika anywhere. She gags and chokes, and I’m fairly certain from Walter’s shouts of pain and “you’re hurting me,” that she uses her teeth. On her list of things she wants Walter to do is for him to beat her, but when he tries it she crumples on the floor yelling “not my face!” Nothing is like she imagined it, and her attempts to realize her fantasies drive Walter to more quickly reveal his inner frat boy.

I recommend this movie. Isabelle Hupert was awesome, and having the actress who played the ideal Emma Bovary play Erika was casting genius. It really made me hate myself and tested the limits of my cinematic endurance. I will not say that I liked it. But really, was I supposed to?

*Classic youtube comment about a clip with Walter: ” he reminds me of the leadsinger of the goo goo dolls.” Gotta love youtube commenters.

** The cough is an addition of Haneke’s. It’s not part of the story of the novel.

‫شوف لي حل

February 8, 2008
In Treatment is the new, week-nightly, HBO drama based on the Israeli hit, B’tipul. After watching two week’s worth of episodes made available on my soon to be canceled subscription to on-demand premium cable, I can clearly see the Israeli origins of the show. It’s about miserable, tortured, people torturing the audience through the exasperation of therapist, Paul (a nightmare himself during his own Friday night sessions with Gina). Though many of the elements are contrived to bring out “the therapy drama” – such as Laura’s erotic transference – those are the only entertaining parts of the show. Laura is actually well played by Melissa (Wot is My Accent This Week?) George as a sexy, vamping, MD who uses her sessions with Paul to emotionally blackmail him into having sex with her. His code of ethics make him ANTI this, and he’s got to spend sessions dodging unsuitable innuendos. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are killing me. Blair Underwood plays Alex , who does NOT feel a guilty conscience for bombing a schoolhouse in Iraq — is clearly a repressed homosexual who hates his wife because she only farts twice a year and won’t let him drink coffee. And he probably wishes he were white.

Their collective shit stresses me out. I don’t need this from HBO.

This is what I need:

TV7 -11/10 Choufli 7al 3 Episode 29/Partie 1/2
Uploaded by hapsi87

Known as Choufli 7al (“Solve My Problem”), it is a Tunisian sit-com about what happens when a psychiatrist and a psychic share a waiting room. You are not required to be able to read Arabic to be welcomed at my blog, so I direct you to the official show site which is in French. It contains episode summaries and cast photos.

TV7 -29/09 Choufli 7al 3 Episode 17/Partie 1
Uploaded by hapsi87

By the juxtaposition of therapist and psychic, this show demonstrates how therapy is perceived in the Arab world. Obviously, it’s not original to say that therapy is cultural situated even if Freud considered it a universal science. It just doesn’t fly in some cultures. Asians, for example, don’t go to therapy. They work.

On the other hand, there’s a solid, pragmatic, thrust to the show. Whatever solves the problem. It does seem to be a cultural universal that we perceive emotional relief in terms of a service industry. ‘You do the work, and I’ll shell out the cash,’ so to speak. Therapy, psychics, massages, hand jobs are all there to relieve our anxiety and serve the cult of the ego. Honestly, in terms of the relief they bring I’d rate hand jobs first, then massages and psychics; finally, therapy comes in last not because it actually provides much relief, but because you at least get to spend some money on it and blow your wad that way.

This show has lasted five years and only now, after bitching about In Treatment, do my sources (DW, thanks) alert me to its existence. I was trepidatious at first, though, because of a recent experience with the Egyptian film called The Yacoubian Building. That was supposed to be some ‘ground-breaking‘ work which openly treated subjects like terrorism and homosexuality. Unfortunately, these timely, world-historical, topics were just slathered with the usual sauce of Egyptian melodrama; the result was disgusting and offensive — even to me, who, as you know, revels in things offensive. The Yacoubian Building also contained condescension at a Brokeback Mountain level without even the hotness of Heath Ledger playing a stoic, butch, bottom or Ang Lee’s nice nature photography.* It was a painful reminder of how far, in the past thirty years, Egypt has emotionally and intellectually regressed. Sadly, Egyptians have long dominated cultural production in the Middle East; ergo, it’s a regional regression.

All Egyptian film is disgustingly self-indulgent and melodramatic. That is its true generic constraint. I’m sure they would say it’s ‘operatic,’ but it’s actually more music hall. Here are the ingredients:

1) Take some clichés that substitute for sociological analysis.
2) Add some brooding emotion for seriousness.
3) Mix in some casual humor, because we’re not self-conscious like that.
4) Throw in a touch of moralism to battle nihilism.

and blend!

Actually, that describes most American stuff, too. But even without understanding most of what’s going on in the clips I’ve found, Solve My Problem seems to be far superior to other crap from the region: It’s head and shoulders better than the Yacoubian Building or In Treatment/ B’tipul model. I know these aren’t ‘just’ comparisons, but they’re the only recent examples of successful “socially progressive” fare I have from the region.

Solve My Problem could be a huge hit in America if some open-minded producer would be willing to steal and exploit this idea. The episodes are already written, so the writer’s strike is irrelevant. I can see it knocking The Office out of its top-slot and hereby demand that we culturally poach this show, too. If not in the interest of entertaining tee vee, at least in regards to fairness. If we’re going to agonize over mental illness from Israel every night, we should at least lighten up once a week a la the Tunisians.

*I might write an entry later about how Brokeback Mountain was clearly Hollywood’s hugely bitchy revenge against the state of Wyoming for the death of gay, drug-dealer, Matthew Shepard.