Archive for March, 2008

Out of Treatment, Episode Thrice

March 30, 2008

Man will not be saved until he realizes he is the most despicable creature ever created.

— Pedro Almodovar, Dark Habits.

It took Michael the Therapist and I about a year to warm up to one another; a couple of years to become jocular. At first I was chronically late (I am normally extremely punctual), or far too early. He would become annoyed that I sometimes pressed his buzzer a good 45 minutes early. “Starbucks down the street is too touristy. It’s better to wait here” or “I didn’t want to forget to buzz later on,” I would explain. Each session we would struggle over our different visions of where discussion should go. He wanted to discuss boring topics, such as how I was sleeping? Was the medication reducing my appetite? Was I taking it on a full stomach?

In addition to the ADHD meds for inattention, he decided that my impatience with people was a sign of nascent depression and subscribed anti-depressants. Being a natural pill-popper (I always like to have something in my mouth), I was curious about how they would affect me. A friend of mine in college had studied Medical Anthropology, and was deeply opposed to anti-depressants. I had read her thesis as well as some of the pro-medication memoirs she referenced and had become curious. Whenever there was a switch-over to a different pill, Michael the Therapist would walk to the office closet, open it up, and pull out boxes of samples. I always tried repress visible signs of excitement, though I felt like a kid in the candy store.

In the meantime, he also kept sending my Adderall prescription through the mail, which was technically illegal to do since it was a Class Something Or Other drug. This, he explained, was why he was so strict with my coming regularly to sessions, so that if the record were ever audited (this part was implied) it would be plausible that he was handing me the script in person. I did my best to loosen him up. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to sue you for malpractice.” This statement would cause his personality to observably tighten up, at first. Eventually, he began to crack a smile when I’d say it. His uptight demeanor turned me on. I was in his hands. I was Michael’s guinea pig.

The only truly disruptive side-effect was the low blood pressure. After rowing, I’d try to disembark the boat and nearly fall back in. My roommate yelled at me once to hurry up and tie my shoes. When I stood up, all I could see were spots. She later described me as clutching the bookshelves in attempt to stay upright, “like you were having a seizure. Your head kept bobbing.” Despite my efforts, I fell anyway along with several shelves and their contents. This symptom was occurring with frightening frequency, but I considered it a small price to pay for a newer, happier, more-efficient me. My guide through the world of neuro-chemistry didn’t seem to think it was a serious problem. He’d merely make note of it and move on through his list of questions.

In exchange for giving my chemical brain up to his care, Michael permitted me to indulge in ruminations during our sessions as discussing my physical reaction to meds never took longer than ten minutes. For the extra forty, I simply talked — or complained, mostly.

— So, while I was sitting there, this really ugly woman at the table behind me yammered some story about how “sexy” some guy was. She kept enunciating the word sexy really loudly, verbally underlining it, so that everybody could hear it. It really made me sick. Partly, it was the juxtaposition of a really ugly, obnoxious, person discussing sexiness.
— Don’t you think standards of beauty are culturally specific?
— When it comes to beauty I go with the Evolutionary Anthropologists over the Cultural ones.
— Which means?
— Which means I feel my assessment is objective.
— ‘Ugly people’ don’t have a right to find other people sexy?
— Yes, they do. But this lady, she was flaunting the concept of sexiness. I suppose the upsetting part was really that the guy she was talking to was also very ugly. I felt like she was being insensitive to him. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left.
— You had been drinking caffeine with your Adderall?
— It was a latte, so it wasn’t too bad. That doesn’t matter. I truly think I have found the situation grotesque with or without caffeine.
— Uh huh. Espresso has a lot of caffeine.
— The guy at the counter had put the drink in a to-go cup. It bothers me when people assume my order is “to-go.” It makes me feel like they’re just trying to get rid of me. Even if they’re not! The assumption is possibly implicit, and they should be aware of that. Because they should be aware it’s a possible interpretation, I assume it is implicit. Baristas make me feel really paranoid.
— I see what you mean.
— Do you?
— Paranoia can be a side-effect of the medication. It’s also a symptom of depression.
— I’m not ‘paranoid’ about clerks. Go to a record store if you want to see what they really think of customers. Call me a skeptic, Michael, but that doesn’t prove I’m depressed.
— Yes, but why do you care?
— I don’t know? Why do you not care? Jeez!

— So, we were in the bookstore, C. and I. I recommended Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg. It’s also translated as Ms. Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but that’s the snooty British translation. She told me, she wanted to take a look at it. She found the book, started reading the back cover and looked through it… Why do people do that? I already told her what the book is about. Either read it or don’t. But don’t stand in the bookstore in front of me pretending that you’re ‘evaluating’ it by flipping around! You know what I mean?
— Uh huh.

— I really like my desktop — it’s a Sony–, but I can’t stand my desk.

— I dropped German.
— Why?
— Too much time. But I realized when I was in that class that I keep learning and then forgetting something about myself. Basically, I never absorbed any idiomatic expressions as a kid.
— What do you mean?
— I’m just no good at platitudes or clichés. Like ‘a chicken in hand is better than two in a bushel….’
— You mean ‘a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.’
— See. I can’t say it right as an example but it flowed off your lips. The are the things normal people say. Southerners have tons of these expressions. Their dialect is rich in abstract phrases, like… “a stick in the mud!” I love that expression. In college, I went out for a while with a grad student, Ben, a Canadian, who studied Philosophy of Language. Actually, come to think of it, that phrase is one of the reasons why we broke up.
— Why is that?
— He wouldn’t admit that “stick in the mud” could be polysemic. It can mean more than one thing… We mostly broke up because he was boring — and not just at the philosophical level. He really was a stick in the mud. Anyway, I would never casually start talking metaphorically about mud, or if I did, I’d use it in the wrong way, mix it up so that when I spoke it I wouldn’t make sense.
— How come this bothers you?
— Well, I feel like the way I speak is very unnatural because I’m no good at throwing around abstractions like that and only half-heartedly use metaphors to describe the abstract. My speech is not grounded in the ‘everyday.’ Sometimes, I compensate by being really literal. Obsessively literal. I turn double entendres into single entrendres.
— Give me an example of what you mean.
— In [redacted]’s class, I once pissed everyone off when I insisted the the phrase, “And then the fog came…,” in Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” only meant that the fog was cum.
— The class was hostile to a sexual reading?
— Maybe. I think the real problem was that I wouldn’t admit that the fog could even be fog; only ejaculate. There was something else about doorknobs, also. Why do I do this? I wonder if I was just deprived growing up in the cultural wasteland of Southern California, or because English isn’t my mom’s first language. [Speaking with increasing rapidity] I think I must have only heard Arabic in the chora. Do you think it might be because I grew up without a dad? I always had the impression that fathers are the ones who pass down clichés in language. The women in my family are very sullen and reject the oral tradition. My mother would give out meaningless yells.
— Yells?
— She would be on the other side of the house, and she would yell out some sound. The sound was unclear, but it could mean that I should “come here” or that my brother should “come here.” Our names sound very different, and the noise they make shouldn’t be easily mixed up. But she made one, non-complex, sound and neither of us could ever tell the differences in meaning. We’d both have to come running before she lost her shit. There was a real linguistic poverty in our upbringing. Or it all could be a symptom of my ADHD [By that point, I had come to accept the myth of my Attention Deficit Disorder]?
— It’s probably not related to a physiological condition.
— hmmm… Maybe. I was wondering if I maybe had Asperberger’s Syndrome. Would not knowing idiomatic expressions be a sign of mild autism?
— No.
— But…
No. It’s not. Stop self-diagnosing.

I had been told by someone ‘in the know’ that if I was being medicated (even in bad faith), I should also be psychoanalyzed. For a long time, conversations between doctor and patient followed a pattern:

— I feel like I’m boring you.
— You aren’t boring me. I wish you wouldn’t interpret for me. You don’t bore me.
— Goo goo ga ga, to you too. You shouldn’t worry about giving me a narcissistic injury if I am being boring. I bore myself a lot of the time. I want to see a psychotherapist. Why won’t you give me a referral? I can see you both.
— It wouldn’t be productive.
— Why not?
— Because you’re too smart for one. You would manipulate him.
— Please do not infantilize my potential psychotherapist. You can be so condescending, Michael.
— [My name], do you, honestly, believe digging up your ‘Buried Child’ will help you become a more patient person? Or are you actually trying to… Forget that. Answer the first question.
God… No. You obviously feel antipathy towards psychoanalysis. Personally, I don’t have the patience for the petty feuds going on between you Psychology people. I know you were indoctrinated in school to hate Freud. It’s not like I never had a conversation with a Psych major before. I want to embrace my contradictions. I’m not naive enough to believe I can cure myself with some digging. There’s nothing to cure anyway. There’s nothing wrong with me.
— Go on.
— Have you read R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience?
— No.
— A professor thought it would be useful for my project. It’s not, but I read it. There is something interesting in it. Laing wrote [pulling the book from my bag and finding the clipped page, I read it to him very quickly while pointing my finger to emphasize ‘thoughts’ or to make finger quotes when I got to jargon I found kitschy]

Psychotherapists are specialists in human relations. But the Dreadful has already happened. It has happened to us all. The therapists, too, are in a world in which the inner is already split from the outer. The inner does not become outer, and the outer become inner, just by the rediscovery of the “inner” world. That is only the beginning. As a whole, we are a generation of men so estranged from the inner world that many are arguing that it does not exist; and that even if it does exist, it does not matter. Even it if it has some significance — HERE IS THE PART THAT PERTAINS TO YOU, MICHAEL — it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let’s make it hard. Let it be measured and counted.

— What would you like me to learn from that?
— That not everything can be counted and divided into milligram dosages.
— I’ll look into finding you someone appropriate.
— You keep saying that.
— I’ll do it.
— Ok. Before I forget, I’ll need a refill.

Coming Soon in Out of Treatment!

Michael sends darknessatnoon to a Psychoanalyst. They make fun of him together!


Out of Treatment, Interlude (A Snapple Break)

March 28, 2008

to: Michael the Therapist
date: sometime in 2001
subject: Appointment

Dear Michael,
Please accept my apologies, but I have to cancel our appointment this coming Thursday. I am swamped with misbehaving students.


I am experiencing no side-effects from the medication.


— darknessatnoon

from: Michael the
to: darknessatnoon
date: a day later
subject: re – Appointment

Dear [Real Name],

I am experiencing no side-effects from the medication.

That is for me to judge. Please let me know your soonest availability.

— Michael

Which I did. I responded with a couple of free mornings and afternoons in the coming week. My mind wasn’t really on getting downtown so I could recite a list of the medical effects of speed. I was busy navigating a student revolt. The end of the course was coming up. For my final Friday section I had asked that they turn in a thesis statement and a complete outline for their paper in addition to reading the final assigned novel, Humphrey Clinker. I could tell all my kids were annoyed at having to think about their paper a week sooner than they wanted, however, I knew the professor. She may have seemed all sweetness and light, but that was an act. At heart, she would always be a Hopkins Girl and, therefore, a complete bitch about grading. I warned them that they’d need to get started ASAP. Instead they complained loudly to the professor. When she backed me up, I was ambushed during class.

Angrily waving her Snapple bottle around, my best student commenced traumatizing the class by screaming she had an Honor’s Thesis due in the English Department and another one due in the Sociology Department [editors note – That is a sickening combination of disciplines]. She didn’t “have time” for a “condescending assignment like this.” I had made a strategic error. The lecture had decent enrollment — the class may have been a drag yet it was a requirement –, but the department had assigned an extra course assistant, causing my section to be smaller than usual — 6 people. It had been difficult to sustain discussion without “favoring” this girl. She wasn’t as intelligent as she thought she was, but I had granted her too great a license to blab just so that I could fill the alloted time of discussion. This was blowback. I told her, “look [whatever her name was], I don’t want to have a war with you…” “YOU are trying to have a war with US!” she screamed. Then she stormed to the door, threw her Snapple bottle into the trash can — cracking the bottle in half –, and flew out of the room, crying hysterically. She couldn’t have startled us more if she had pulled out a gun and began executing her peers.

I knew she was going straight to the professor, who would definitely bitch me out for this. There was nothing I could do. I was stuck at the table, teaching Humphrey Clinker to a room full of traumatized students. “Uhm, so guys… What can you tell me about the status of constipation in this novel?”

Of course, I got nothing out of them. They hadn’t read it. The prof’s syllabus was too ambitious, and instead of rushing upstairs to mitigate the damage, I was stuck trying to draw water from a group of stoned out kids. The student went to the professor and the Chair of Undergraduate Studies. The Chair saw me in the hallway an hour later and told me that I had handled the situation perfectly and was in the right. Later the Prof would sit me down, furious that I had spoken to any other faculty about it (as if I’d initiated the conversation) and told me that the student I had upset was ‘from the former Soviet Union.’

— She is allergic to Totalitarian Behavior.
— I can’t believe you’re falling for that load of bull.
— It’s not bull! You should have spoken to her more softly, and shouldn’t have used the ‘war’ metaphor. Also, I can’t believe you spoke to anyone else about this. I’m up for tenure in a couple of years and you just endangered it!
— Oh, please. I didn’t endanger your tenure. That’s passive aggressive. She went to him and he came to me. This has nothing to do with tenure. I can’t believe you’re selling me out to protect the student. It undermines the whole professor, course assistant, student triad. What if I played my I’m from the Third World card, and did my poverty squat to prove it? Would that cancel out her Soviet Union, Second World, guilt trip?

I started to squat, but she waved at me to sit back down on the armchair. All in all, this woman was adept at ‘managing’ me. We weren’t friends. We never would be. I didn’t respect her Good Girl routine, her Neo-Kantianism, or her research methodology, and she felt I was an undisciplined wild card. I tried to reschedule with Michael the Therapist so that I could discuss my Great Annoyance instead of discussing how I could “now sit still,” but he neglected to answer my email. I decided to go to his office.

I biked downtown, rang his session buzzer and sat myself down to read The New Yorker and glare at the contrived stupidity of the articles (“The New Yorker,” I mentally sighed. “Who the hell does he think he is?” I would later convince him to subscribe to GQ, The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers, any of which I prefer to read). He came out of his office and appeared surprised to see me.

— What are you doing here? We don’t have an appointment today.
— I know. You didn’t answer my email, so I decided to drop by.
— You can’t just do that. I have other patients. I am with one right now.
— Well, you shouldn’t have answered the door during your session. You should get a secretary.
— [Livid] If I had a secretary, my rates would be a lot higher. I’ll email you later today to set something up. Please don’t just show up off-schedule like this again. [Calming] I apologize for not responding sooner.
— Good. I always feel that it’s important to respond to email within 24 hours. It’s the professional thing to do.
— We can discuss ‘professionalism’ the next time I see you, if that’s what you would like. Goodbye.

Coming Soon in Out of Treatment, Episode Thrice!

All the stuff darknessatnoon promised last time but was too busy this week to write!

A Moment of Silence

March 27, 2008

A strong Woman of Color has fallen.

In yesterday’s X:Men Legacy 209, Magneto blinded Joanna Cargill, a.k.a. Frenzy. Frenzy has been a long-time X-Men foe, with 60+ appearances in comics over the past quarter of a century, and affiliations to The Alliance of Evil, The Femizons, and The Acolytes. Her depiction has always been that of a single-minded devotee to her cause. Only once, during a random prison break issue, has Joanna been portrayed as less than cuttingly intelligent (the dialog, I believe, read “Let’s bust up this joint.”)

Yesterday, she attempted to lay hands on Magneto’s injured man-meat, Professor Charles Xavier, and got her eye burnt out for it.

Racist Caricature

A strong believer in mutant supremacy, Joanna took the militant position that aiding and abetting Charles amounted to a betrayal of Magneto’s cause.

More ‘femme’ than usual, Frenzy remains Hard-Core

My dear Frenzy was a victim of two decrepit men who have been unable to get their shit together since, literally, the founding of Israel. Typically, the soap operatic conflict between the fictional Charles Xavier (founder of the X-Men) and Magneto (founder of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants), has been treated as an allegory of the conflicting ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. In an interview with New York Magazine, fan favorite pervert, Chris Claremont (who is described in the article as wearing ‘stretch waist khakis’ and having a ‘fiendish grin’ and a ‘chubby finger’) explains:

Actually, Claremont says he always saw Professor X and Magneto as echoes of David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. “My view of Magneto” — originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a magnetic-powered supervillain who wanted to take over the world — “is that he’s the terrorist who might someday evolve into a statesman.”

Leave it to Chris Claremont to start off a thought with “actually.” This does explain CC’s decision to place their first meeting in what would become Post-WWII Israel. Their conflict has always been less about Civil Rights, and more about how best (to what degree of harshness) to treat their dirty, inferior, neighbors. An entire comics and film culture has risen around the megalomaniacal debate between these two ludicrous old queens, whom I find both as boring to watch as paint drying. Obviously, there’s very little you can do with these two characters apart from having them play chess (which is the very first thing they do in the canceled buddy series, Excalibur, that CC wrote a few years back). Magneto has lost all gloss and has been wearing the same flop sweaty clothes since 2004. He looks like my drunk bum of a next door neighbor.

The only real way to produce any drama from these two is to sacrifice perfectly decent stand-by characters. To get to Charles, Frenzy first has to go through Karima Shapandar, a South Asian tech-oriented hero. Karima attempts to use microwaves to stop Frenzy, which fails ridiculously since Frenzy has “steel-hard” skin. Everyone knows you don’t microwave metal. After the cat-fight between Frenzy and Karima, wherein Frenzy disregards the Karma of Brown Folk, she very nearly tears apart Xavier — who has just woken from a coma. Because the X-Men have more in common with General Hospital than any sequential narrative, Frenzy is laid low when her eye is basically blow-torched. The characters themselves then discuss the narrative (il)logic of this:

I once gave a paper arguing that representations of the serial killer phenomenon in American texts is effectively a continuation of the tradition of the 19th Century phenomenon of Male Friendship. Traditionally, male friends in American lit triangulate through third-party objects of consumption. Guys like Jeffrey Dahmer literalize the consumer object, suturing their relations with other white guys by ‘partaking in the social’ when they eat gay Black or Vietnamese men.

I’ve seen people argue that Frenzy is clearly a transsexual, which would fit fine with the argument I barely sketched above. Frenzy’s militancy and pronounced musculature contribute to this impression. As Aphra Behn wrote in “To the Fair Clarinda, Who Made Love to Me, Imagined More Than a Woman” (1688) —

For sure no Crime with thee we can commit;
Of if we should – thy Form excuses it.
For who, that gathers fairest Flowers believes
A Snake lies hid beneath the Fragrant Leaves.

Nevertheless, she doesn’t have the over-the-top Big Texas hair, or the hyper-femininity, which would both can signify trannyness. That impression of maleness in Frenzy is more likely due to the the gender scrambling that is associated with the complex place African-American women hold in this society, which Hortense J. Spillers eloquently describes in Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book. Either way, she makes the ideal sacrificial plot victim to the pseudo-political non-drama, rote lover’s quarrel, between Charles and Magneto. Joanna is a mere economic sacrifice made in exchange for a brief achievement of “cultural meaning.”

Do I blame Mike Carey, writer of this latest issue? No. All he’s done is bore me some. Anyway, he reminds me a lot of Dick Hebdige, with that hot, slowly, aging punk, British guy vibe. Maybe I should start a letter writing campaign to him? Basically, I feel okay blaming CC for this. He’s the one who created this banal psycho-dynamic between the characters, authorized it with a fake pop-philosophic vibe, heaped it with loads of Holocaust Fetishism for twenty some years, and began to feed more interesting and colorful background characters into ‘the machine.’

Swingin’ Friday

March 21, 2008

I never wanted a drink more than Every.Night.This.Week.

It’s been hell. I tried to get today off by claiming I wanted to celebrate Good Friday. For some reason my boss didn’t believe me.

To celebrate this wonderful holy day and the end of the week, I offer up three swinging clips.

Number 1) From Darling, (1965), the Parisian party scene. This is a step-by-step manual on how to handle a dysfunctional relationship. I just read Muriel Spark’s The Public Image which is basically an homage to this movie and, in particular, this scene.

Number 2) From The Killing of Sister George, (1968), Beryl Reid’s character June Buckridge gets drunk and molests two nuns. This film has great footage of a 60’s lesbian club, unfortunately that scene isn’t available online.

Number 3) From Pedro Almodovar’s Dark Habits, when Almodovar still made good films! Here some nuns take in a trampy singer on the run from the police and drug dealers, shoot her up with heroin to calm her down, and come onto her as they coke her up. Contains lines such as “There is much beauty in physical deterioration. As a child I wanted to look haggard. But I never could. I was always very plump.”

Out of Treatment, Episode Deuce

March 21, 2008

The wound I have just suffered, some setback or other in my love life or my profession, some sorrow or bereavement affecting my relationship with close relatives — such are often the easily spotted triggers of my despair. A betrayal, a fatal illness, some accident or handicap that abruptly wrests me away from what seemed to me the normal category of normal people or else falls on a loved one with the same radical effect, or yet … What more could I mention? … All this suddenly gives me another life. A life that is unlivable, heavy with daily sorrows, tears held back or shed, a total despair, scorching at times, then wan and empty. In short, a devitalized existence that, although occasionally fired by the effort I make to prolong it, is ready at any moment to plunge into death. An avenging death or a liberating death, it is henceforth the inner threshold of my despondency… I live a living death, my flesh is wounded, bleeding cadaverized, my rhythm slowed down or interrupted, time has been erased or bloated, absorbed into sorrow. Absent from other people’s meaning, alien, accidental with respect to naive happiness, I owe a supreme, metaphysical lucidity to my depression.

Julia Kristeva, Black Sun

I’d spent a summer a year beforehand studying for two practice orals lists; one on Semiotics and one on Psychoanalysis. I’d devoured Kristeva’s melodramatic texts in the same way some people I know sit rapt before an afternoon Spanish telenovela. I journeyed with her into the womb to watch the Pre-Oedipal psychodramas of the chora in the ‘lurid and rotting uterus’; mentally traveled to China with her to observe as she rubbed her hands all over the faces of Chinese Women; cackled with laughter at her xenophobic rants about the Immigrant Other. Whenever I read Kristeva, I remembered being a student in Paris. There was a woman in my Hannah Arendt seminar at the Collège international de philosophie, who used to get into violent spats with the Jewish participants by ridiculously arguing that Arendt was a Catholic ‘at heart.’ I ran into her once, sitting in Notre Dame during mass, with a copy of Jacques Derrida’s Dissemination open on her lap. Her attention was half on the mass, half on the book. When she saw me waving to her, she blessed me with a sign of the cross. Every gesture she made — every comment that escaped her lips — indicated a highly flammable personality deep in the depths of an over-intellectualized depression, seeking the rapture of Pure Being through a total ontic immersion in Philosophy and Theology. I’m sure she was a widow, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see her yank an urn out of her oversized purse to sprinkle and stir her husband’s ashes into an afternoon coffee.

I wasn’t ready to ‘plunge into death’ in my therapist’s office. Though I wouldn’t say that I necessarily fit the ‘normal category of normal people,’ I was fairly self-satisfied to a point of arrogance. At the time, I was a rower. I was working as an editorial assistant at a ‘theory’ journal. I read three books a day in preparation for my exams. I was lecturing and course-assisting during, as well. I wanted to up my productivity with ADHD meds. At the farthest, I would be willing to obtain confirmation from a therapist that my family really was insane. That’s about it.

The therapist who wouldn’t remove Black Sun from her desk was persuaded to give me an off-campus referral. I didn’t really know much at the time other than that he wasn’t a psychoanalyst, he worked downtown and he was “very good” with gay men. I gave his number a call and made an appointment for a few weeks down the line.

Michael the Therapist’s office overlooked the lake. He was attractive, dressed smartly, and unlike the previous two therapists, he actually had a couch I could sit on. After biking to his office against the wind, I was happy to sink into it and play with the pillows. Later when Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” was installed in Millennium Park, I could see it out of his window. These elements combined to give a (wrong) impression of supreme competence on his part.

“You keep staring at my books,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m trying to see if I recognize any of them.”
“Do you?”
“No! I’m relieved.”
“Why is that?”
“If I knew them, I’d be uncontrollably cross-referencing. I wouldn’t really be present.”
“You find yourself compulsively distracted by books?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I read too much.”
“You are a graduate student? Isn’t it your job to read?”
“I hope you don’t have some unrealistic idea in your head that graduate students actually read anything. We always ‘re-read.’ Just ask around.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I’ve never met a grad student who would admit they were reading something for the first time. It’s always this ‘re-reading.’ No one will admit to reading something for the first time. If you insinuate that something is new to me, I am supposed to pretend to be insulted. But yes, even for a graduate student I read too much. Not enough re-reading, though.” I was babbling. I always got like that when I saw an opportunity to mock the culture of graduate school. I tried to reign it in.
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know! It doesn’t matter. That’s not why I’m here,” I said, meaninglessly.

I then gave him my whole prepared line about “not being able to sit still and concentrate” (only now do I realize that statement somewhat contradicted my claim about reading too much). I’d looked up my goal symptoms at the Science library on campus (while I was supposed to be verifying footnotes for one of the journal’s absurd articles) and felt well-prepared for this. Realizing that the bike ride might make me appear calm — even placid — on the advice of a friend, I had stopped by Starbucks to order a latte with an extra shot. I made sure to play with the cup holder to perform my level of distraction.

I’m not a consummate liar, but psychological narratives amused me — enough so that I was fairly certain I could fool this guy. In a college seminar, we had watched A Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris’ documentary about a police officer’s murder in Texas. During a badly mishandled flashback, I began to laugh at the narrative construction of the film with its contrived psychoanalytic plot-line. The lecturer (the young, untenured husband of one of the more entrenched professors), began to shout at me that “this is a serious psychoanalytic narrative.” This sparked a case of the giggles in me that spread to other students. I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom, where I wiped the tears from my face and pulled myself back together. To me, being a little snot, there was no such thing as a “serious psychoanalytic narrative.” But I knew what they were supposed to sound like, and I had come prepared.

Apparently, I didn’t need as much preparation as I thought. There was no need for me to delve into a back story regarding my family. “I’m only concerned with symptoms,” he explained — effectively chastising me for narrativizing. This was new. He was a behavioralist or psychiatrist of some kind. This development was … interesting, if intimidating. I was dealing with ‘real science’ and I would have to learn only to ‘describe,’ but the course of the struggle was already charted; the battle between Michael and I to decide which of us had the authority to interpret my symptoms would become one the two defining contests between us. The second contest turned out to be my persistent effort to goad him into unprofessional behavior contra his struggle to maintain a professional comportment.

“You are shaking your leg,” Michael observed.
“I am? Yes! I never notice myself doing this,” I lied. This had been one of my carefully researched symptoms. In truth, I’m hyper-conscious of my leg. I had actually learned to monitor myself and stopped doing this as a kid when my Swedish aunt, Astrid, witnessed me doing it at a restaurant and slapped my leg, announcing to the table in her heavily-accented English that, “You are acting like one of the autistic children I used to take care of when I volunteered at the hospital.”

“How long have you done this?”
“Oh, since about 8,” I said. I made certain to indicate that this was a pre-pubescent symptom, having read that ADHD is evident in children prior to puberty. Seeing an opportunity to stretch the symptom out, I added, “I always thought it was a good way to get extra exercise to burn extra calories, since my aunt used to bribe the kids to stay in shape.”

This little addition about the bribes was actually true — a vulnerable moment for me–, but it elicited what I was to learn was a cynical “uh huh” as he rapidly took notes on a yellow legal pad. “Shit,” I thought. “Don’t go too far!” I knew, instinctively, that discussing my family truthfully would take us into areas of ludicrousness far afield of plausibility.

I sensed he was attracted to me and, feeling that it was mutual, I rolled up my sleeves to give him a good look at my rower’s arms. Halfway through the appointment, he stopped asking questions and simply wrote the prescription for the speed I needed.

I feigned reluctance.

“I don’t know how I feel about medication…”
“Let’s give this a try. Your have symptoms of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. You appear to have had this problem for a long time. Clearly, you’ve developed strategies to get around it, otherwise you would not have progressed so far academically.”
“… OK…. I’ll give it a try. Is it addictive?”

We made a follow-up appointment (which I skipped). I threw on sunglasses and jumped on my bike, gleefully. The medical system was mine to manipulate. This, however, was only temporary. Michael the Therapist would quickly get my number.

Coming Soon in Out of Treatment, Episode Thrice!

darknessatnoon and Michael the Therapist figure one another out! darknessatnoon is chastised for absences and tardiness! The battle to control the conversation begins! Michael the Therapist suggests to darknessatnoon that he should have intercourse with another one of his patients! darknessatnoon calls Michael the Therapist ‘a boob’! Patient and doctor loudly argue about Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva! darknessatnoon begs Michael the Therapist to let him try out psychotherapy! darknessatnoon starts to date a guy coincidentally named Michael, and Michael the Therapist evinces jealousy! All this, and more, plus a guest-appearance by a shrink who resembles a fat bear of a comic book writer!

Out of Treatment, Interlude (How Am I Not Myself?)

March 19, 2008

In lieu of new content (I am busy!), I post a great moment from I HEART Huckabees. In this clip, Lily Tomlin plays my reader, Luches. Brad Stand’s ‘cover story’ comes crashing down through excessive repetition, causing him to ask a key question:

Unfortunately, going online I cannot find any great Isabelle Huppert moments from the film.

Out of Treatment, Episode 1

March 14, 2008

I’ve never conducted therapy in good faith. I reached this realization yesterday after going off on a Dunkin’ Doughnuts employee who kept badgering me about Strawberry cream cheese. I will discuss this incident in another post. Suffice it to say, I felt guilty and wanted to discuss my horrified reaction to flavored cream cheese with a professional, but I have never found a therapist who suits me. In this post, I would like to discuss the various reasons why I have fired my therapists.

It all began 9 years ago, at the Student Health Clinic. I was dating someone and wanted us to both get blood tests so that we could start the relationship with zero doubts (hah! so naive…). Anyway, the doctor came in and asked why I wanted a blood test. I told him why and he said he’d like his intern to conduct an interview with me for practice (this was always a very strange thing when I was in graduate school. Asking to be tested for STDs led to a lot of extra nonsense and concerned emoting on the part of the health-care staff, unlike where I went to college and getting tested was just something everyone did.) The doctor left the room so that the intern, a young, nervous, Asian woman, could begin her inquisition. Asians are outnumbered in the Mid-West, and always have an air of victimhood about them here. But this lady radiated her sense of intimidation, covering it up with rigid medical formality. I didn’t really appreciate the third degree, so when she asked how many sexual partners I’d had in the past year, I sarcastically answered “500, mostly men.” She was shaken, and it amused me that she wrote it down. I was obviously lying, but she continued. “Were these all people you knew?” “Not really, but I find that sex is a good way to get to know people. Don’t you?” She ignored my question and continued on with her list.

When the doctor came back in, she whispered to him that I’d slept with 500 people in the past year. He ate it up! “Promiscuous sex is normal in the homosexual population,” he loudly proclaimed to us. The intern wrote that down. I found the way he spoke about me as a member of a “population” to be kind of thrilling, even if technically offensive. He turned to me and said that they would “go ahead” with my blood test, but felt that the number of anonymous sexual encounters I’d had was a little high. I nodded as if I were taking this seriously. He told me that he’s a psychiatrist as well as an MD and that he’d like to start seeing me as a patient. He felt that I should start off with a small dosage of lithium, and wrote me a prescription.

This is exactly what I didn’t want! Lithium. For promiscuity!All my friends were on adderall and other ADHD meds for their orals. Lithium would slow me down, preventing me from studying. But the seed was planted. Once I had seen how easy it was to get meds, I figured I’d follow the pack and adjust my symptoms for the next shrink.

Therapist 1:

At my first appointment at the student clinic where I would arrange to see a different psychiatrist altogether, I was subject to another laundry list of questions. Asked how often I drank alcohol, I said, “I usually meet my friends at the campus pub twice a week. I don’t really drink more than two beers at a time. I didn’t drink much in high school or college, so I never developed a high tolerance for alcohol.”

“I see, ” she said. “We will have to address alcoholism, then.”
“I don’t really consider myself an alcoholic.”
“You said you drink but don’t have a tolerance.”
“I said that I drink four beers a week. Are you a teetotaler?”
She didn’t answer nor did she seem to believe me. I sensed that this was a ludicrous person; we wouldn’t work out together, and I’d never get the Ritalin I required to pass my exams. I asked for a referral.

Therapist 2:

We had two decent sessions in which I complained that “I can’t sit still” and “can’t concentrate.” I mixed things up by discussing actual problems, like my three serious pet peeves

1) Baristas who chit-chat and ask me to spell my name so that they can write it on a cup.
2) Romanticists.
3) People who hail cabs in cross-walks, interfering with my getting across the street.

All three of those types cause me unreasonable anger, and I thought since I was in therapy I might as well address these issues.

Her professional curiosity was piqued by my hatred of Romanticists (she told me that the Department of English sent the clinic more frustrated students than any other department). I explained that in my undergrad and graduate career, I had taken three classes in Romanticism. Two of the three professors had traumatized me. The third, I wanted to have sexual relations with even though he wasn’t super-attractive, and could be described as ‘short.’ “I never want to have sex with other academics, so this was just bizarre!” He just had this distracting “aura.” She wanted to know what bothered me about Romanticism. “They’re constantly blabbing about lakes, water, ghosts, Wordsworth, and Caleb Williams. It’s so goddamn boring. I can’t stand it. Or they’re endlessly spouting gibberish about Spinoza and God.”

“You have a problem with… Spinoza?”
“Spinoza and Leibnez. Yes.”
“What about God? Are you an atheist? A Muslim?”
“I’m apagnostic.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m too apathetic to even wonder whether or not God exists. It’s a ‘philosophic question’ that doesn’t interest me in the least.”

I told her that I was so fed-up with people talking about Spinoza that when a famous critic, Fredric Jameson, had come to the school and given a lecture on Modernity, he pontificated wildly before finally starting in on ‘Spinoza and God.’

“I couldn’t bear it anymore. Finally, I stood up, stuck my tongue out at him and left. I’m a little ashamed I did that. It was very immature. Also, it was a packed house; people were sitting in the aisle. On the way out, I accidentally stepped on the Chair of the German Department’s hand.”

“How do you feel about stepping on his hand?”
“I think he shouldn’t have been sitting on the floor, sticking his hand out in the aisle. That part isn’t very important.”
“Do you have a problem with German Professors?”
“No. Spinoza wasn’t German. I like German literature.”
“So the two Romanticists you disliked taught Spinoza?”
“No, interestingly, the one I was attracted to used to blather on about him. It was this line about Spinoza being a pre-Marxist. I didn’t really care for that school of thought, but whenever he would start talking about Spinoza, he would radiate this energy that would totally turn me on. The same thing happened whenever he would talk about William Blake’s cartoons.”
“And when Fredric Jameson spoke about Spinoza, you didn’t feel the same thing? “
“No. Jameson was actually my prof’s dissertation adviser. But he doesn’t turn me on. The opposite. He looks like Porky Pig with muttonchops. He was nauseating me. He’s let his fame turn him into a pig.”
“He’s famous?”
“Yes, very much so. He’s not stupid. To become as famous as Fredric Jameson, you have to have said one or two smart things. Fred has said one. But the guy who introduced him was practically fellating Jameson. I was immature. I stuck my tongue out at him.”
“For being the opposite of the professor who turned you on… ?”
“He’s disgusting.”

Eventually, in the third session, we fought. I came in and she had a copy of Black Sun by Julia Kristeva on her desk. I asked, “Why are you reading that?”

“A patient recommended it. It’s very interesting!”
“Is it?”
“Yes. Do you know it?”
“Yes. I know Kristeva’s oeuvre all too well. Could you please put it away?”
“It’s my desk.”
I sighed – “I would prefer it if you took that book off your desk while we’re in session.”
“It’s my desk. Why do you want to control what’s on my desk? It’s personal property.”
Pissed off laughter from me – “Having Black Sun on your desk in a therapy session is akin to shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. It’s not ‘your’ desk.”
“It is my desk.”
“The desk belongs to ‘the community.'”
“Would you like to talk about your control issue?”
“You’re the one with the ‘control’ issue.”

We bickered for about twenty minutes.

She refused to remove the offending book, so I asked her for a referral to someone else. I knew I’d never get any speed from someone who thought Black Sun was ‘interesting.’

Therapists 3 & 4 coming soon in Out of Treatment, Episode Deuce.

What happens when darknessatnoon can no longer control the conversation?! Find out if darknessatnoon ever got the speed he wanted! darknessatnoon goes downtown, eschewing campus shrinks! Discover what happens when a therapist shares personal information while physically resembling a well-known fat bear of a comic book writer. The results are not pretty but they will be thrilling!

Dazzler the Movie

March 12, 2008

A story of drama and action, human interest and intrigue. Visual phenomena of exhilarating brilliance. Four talented and seasoned storytellers. And a heroine who is daring, determined, vulnerable, and vivacious. It’s a match made in heaven. Who knows? Maybe they’ll make a movie out of it?

– from Dazzler the Movie: The Behind-the-Scenes Story
by Sandy Hausler and Mark Lerer.

Dazzler the Movie, (1984), a graphic novel by Jim Shooter, James Springer and Vince Colletta ends with Alison Blaire doing a mirror-check before she walks out of a Beverly Hills mansion, saying to herself, “You’re going to be okay, Miss Alison Blaire,” in a narcissistic ballasting of the self. Tossing aside the shaky self-doubt that naturally stems from a singing and acting career that has gone nowhere, Alison Blaire reaches deep into the genre for the confidence that naturally exudes from Classical Hollywood Cinema.

Unlike some obsessive friends, I am not a Dazzler scholar. I cannot go into great lengths about the corporate partnership that first resulted in the first Dazzler pitch, nor can I expound on the original character design. I understand that she originally was going to be African-American, but that editorial settled on a Farah Fawcett style for Alison Blaire. Her first appearance aligns her singing style with disco, yet, I’ve seen her represented rocking out as well as performing R&B and lounge routines. Her representation has strongly shifted along with her many creative teams. As for as I can understand, the core concept is of a mutant who is far more interested in her singing career than in her father’s ambition for her to become a lawyer, or in super-heroic fantasy. Her power to ‘transduce’ sonic vibrations into light is secondary to the story of a woman trying to follow her dreams. Arguably, once Dazzler was forced by circumstances (and the cancellation of her book), to join the X-Men, all forward momentum ended for the character. Her core concept betrayed, Dazzler spent most of the 90s languishing in comic book limbo. Publicity for Dazzler the Movie played up someone who didn’t want to be a super-hero:

“Unlike the X-Men, who make a guest-appearance in the graphic novel, Dazzler doesn’t vindicate her ‘different-ness’ with super-powered heroics. She feels no need to justify nor apologize for her mutant powers. She tries to make it in the human world.”

Detailed art depicts Storm’s Adam’s Apple

The original Marvel Graphic Novel, Dazzler The Movie, however, is a stand-alone story, connected to her ongoing series, but sufficiently self-contained to stand on its own. Alison Blaire, whose stage name is the Dazzler, had recently moved from New York, where she had been pursuing a singing career, to Los Angeles, where her ambition became acting. This is where the graphic novel picks up: Dazzler is teaching aerobics during the day and singing at a club at night, looking for someone to discover her. Scipio points out that the series was heavily influenced by the 1960s Romance comic genre, which Marvel excelled in. The closest parallel would be Millie the Model — the interior art for Dazzler the Movie had a very “Mary Worth” feel that captured that sense of romantic longing and melodrama. Once arrived in LA, Alison Blaire’s tale shifted gears a bit; she left behind the Romance book melodrama, and her character was smoothly transitioned into the classic Starlet’s Tale, namely, a rise to success that causes her to forget her values, become too dependent on alcohol, dabble in drugs (coded as cigarettes), experience tragic career failure, and generally forget her authentic self only for a rediscovery at the story’s conclusion. Much like any classic from Hollywood in its hey-dey, Alison’s romantic problems tie up with her social/work problems, and both climax together at the end. The two plots become one before setting up a new status quo for Alison’s already ongoing series.

One difference from Classic Hollywood Cinema, however, is that pop psychology is much more body-oriented here than it is in the source texts. This is a natural by-product of the 80s, which saw an explosion of the gym phenomenon. A timely text, the plot places Alison in a gym where she teaches aerobics, but flourishes in her own independent weight-lifting. Weight-lifting, more than spontaneous, accidental, glowing or light-shows in the privacy of her apartment, sets her apart from others. Her awed aerobics students stare and gossip about the fact that she’s able to lift weights after teaching class. In the weight-room, she is told that she lifts more than most of the guys: “I bet you’re as strong as Lisa Lyons, the body-builder!” – gasps Freddy Stanachek, in a shocking but subtle reference to the body-builder made famous by a Robert Mapplethorpe nude series (1981-1983). Normally, I would think this would discount Freddy as a possible romantic suitor, but strangely enough he gets a kiss from her after the Mapplethorpe reference (going to show that the gays really do love Dazzler).

Alison has three potential heterosexual mates in the book; Fred Stanachek (normal guy), Roman Nekoboh (film star), Eric Beale (producer). Fred is the nice (gay) guy, who gets in one peck and a confidence boost. One would normally expect him to end up with the gal at the end, however this “movie” doesn’t have that sort of romantic closure. Both Roman and Eric are stalkers. Roman is the fat, non-threatening, washed up Hollywood star stalker, while Eric is the far more threatening producer, rich “fat-cat,” stalker who buys Alison’s gym just to circumvent the employee fraternizing with clients rule. When Alison denies him, she effectively loses her job. This sets up the rest of the plot wherein Roman, who is pursuing Alison separately, promises Alison a movie contract to get a date but can’t find financial backing for the film — Alison has been photographed in the past socializing with known mutants, such as the X-Men. No one wants to finance a starlet associated with such unsavory types despite Dazzler’s personal disdain for the X-Men, whom she privately refers to as “the Monsters’ Guild.” Roman secretly signs up for backing from Eric Beale, who wants to ‘out’ Alison and ruin her for denying him sexually. There is a strong parallel here with There’s Something About Mary, since, like the titular Mary, ‘things stick’ to Alison. Almost every man she meets transforms into a stalker, denying her any other kind of relation to men.

Roman gets ready for the big day.

I. The Mutant Threat as a Media One:

It was a basic staple of angsty mutant stories when I was growing up that there was a mob mentality that adhered to genetic freaks. Hatred of them found an expression in the “danger they pose” to normal citizens, when — on a genetic level — the damage has already been done. Mutants represent an anxiety about the atom bomb causing our children crippling, unseen, damage. I think Dazzler the Movie breaks away from this shop-worn plot point. Dazzler’s threat is the media threat. The X-Men write Alison off for the way she enjoys flaunting her powers in public. They sense that the damage she could cause if outed would be immense. Roman outs Dazzler as a publicity stunt, which causes no more of a media-effect than the typical celebrity rumor. It’s only when she actually uses her powers in front of reporters, that the response becomes truly hysterical. German film-maker and critic, Alexander Kluge, writes that “the challenge of the New Media [is] the ecological threat to the structures of consciousness.” Shooter et. al. understood in Dazzler that the mutant threat was less about what we thought the threat was about (nuclear contamination) and more an anxiety about the means by which the threat had entered our consciousness (film & television). The fear of contamination isn’t a fear of radiation damaging the ecology (as hypochondriac environmentalists would have it), but rather the very infiltration of our lives by mass culture.

Though she is reluctant and first, distrusting Roman’s disingenuous “You’ll be another Jackie Robinson” line of b.s., Alison eventually takes up the challenge after the first public relations disaster. She sincerely believes she can combat prejudice with a movie that positively represents the personal struggle of mutants.

I’m really committed now! I’ve got to make this movie now — for the sake of every mutant on earth! I didn’t ask for it, but I have the chance to win the respect and tolerance of humanity for all of us! And I’m not going to blow it!… Don’t ‘Look Ali’ me! I’m call the shots now, understand? It’s my overplump little ass on the line!

II. Dazzler’s Overplump Little Ass:

Alison’s body image issues aren’t just about needing to stay thin to ‘make it.’ Her work-outs always take place in front of a mirror. When she gets home from the gym, she turns on the stereo, fires up a light show, undresses and then stands naked in front of her mirror. On one panel she openly converses with one of her boobs about whether or not “we” need a bath. Her diet is spare and economical, mostly spaghetti and asparagus out of the can. This all changes when she starts dating Roman who is comically out of shape (he wears a girdle and orders his valet to do calisthenics for him). Ali’s descent into idleness is striking. One of the most surprising of the-ascent-to-celebrity panels has Dazzler demanding a drink from Roman’s valet at breakfast. There are then another quick series of panels that demonstrate Dazzler not only drinking, but demanding drinks to cope with stress, which are strongly reminiscent of ‘Angel’ Evans Conway in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, (1947). She stops working-out entirely, and takes up smoking as well.

A thin Dazzler baby-talks her left boob

These are all signs of how out of control she is. To any reader, Roman is absolutely disgusting and the thought of him tainting Ali with sexual contact is fairly revolting. Gross, creepy, guys, however, are kind of a staple of the classical cinema. These schlubs weren’t originally experienced by audiences as creepy, just wealthy and cultured. The 80s were a transition point where being rich and out of shape was paradoxically at odds with the gym culture, yet far less threatening than wealthy, rich, psychos like Eric Beale (American Psycho would be his ur-text). Roman’s stalkery behavior is treated comically, as light narcissism, unlike Eric Beale’s truly dangerous approaches. They both think they can buy Ali, but Roman offers her comfort instead of sexual slavery (the sexual slavery angle with Beale is, of course, played up by fan favorite, perv, Chris Claremont, when he gets his grubby mitts on Dazzler for Uncanny X-Men). She knows she can let herself go around Roman, whereas Eric only wants her for her body. Roman still loves her even after she gets fat.

At a certain point, Alison experiences a wake-up call. She turns off the lights, turns on the stereo, undresses and gives herself a body critique. “I’ve put on a lot of weight!” and (pinching herself), “I never used to get flabby there.” Reading it, I began to wonder if Roman’s true betrayal wasn’t in having Alison out herself in public, but in making her wear a bikini while doing it!

Alison invents the fat caliper.

Even after all his betrayals, Ali remains “in love” with Roman. My sense is that he provided a welcome relief from her rigorous care of the self. If she could get plump and be loved, there would be little to motivate her to continue fighting for her career and self-promotion.

III. ‘You’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror…’

I am going to be up front and say that I have a lot of trouble writing about femininity in general. Partly, this is because I have a congenital inability to tell discern what conventionality is for women, when the line crosses into masochism, or what counts as “out of control” (unless it’s heavily underscored). I also have trouble trying to figure the difference between ‘bad’ narcissism and ‘good’ independence. To a lot of students of feminist criticism, these seem to be straight-forward categories. Not so, for me. I find that ‘femininity’ comes off as a flood of category mixing.

Since she is a media icon, the talisman for the Star’s Tale, the best I can do is to discuss try to think of what Alison’s attraction to the repulsive Roman is all about in Hollywood terms. Before funding is found for the movie, Alison attaches herself to Roman sensing that no movie is really in the works, aware that his finances are a mess, knowing in her heart that this ship is totally sinking (incidentally, the name of an excellent comic book industry analysis column), but decides to stick by him nonetheless. Her attachment to him is very reminiscent of Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. Lauren Berlant has written about Vicki Lester’s identification with her husband (who has just committed suicide), Norman Maine: “It is an embrace of the value of that man in the in the only terms a mass public schooled in the ways of Hollywood can be sure to understand, the terms that marry a fantasy of true love’s absolute authenticity to the power embedded in cliché and conventionality, which support the … fantasy of recognition and transcendence.”

Early on Alison is in the closet about her mutant powers, and refuses to let anyone get close to her. Roman finally confronts her about them, and uses it to create a wedge of intimacy. Does it matter much that Roman brings the subject up to feed Eric information? Once you’re in love with someone, should learning of a betrayal of confidence change one’s feelings? Is Alison’s refusal to abjure Roman a sign of masochism, or perhaps a star’s confidence in her own instinctive appreciation of Roman’s inner-goodness is a sign of a deeply abiding, and laudable, self-confidence? Alison tells the shy Fred Stanachek ‘you’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and have confidence in the person looking back!”

Conclusion: ‘Go Suck and Egg’

Alison eventually discovers that Eric Beale only financed the film so that he could give her an ultimatum: effectively contract herself into slavery and become a star, or walk away with her career and relationship in ruins. The part that hurts the most is that the movie is actually very good. Alison calls it “a classic.” Both she and Eric know that its release could turn the tide of anti-mutant prejudice. Alison’s race wouldn’t simply be an ecological threat. It would have a consoling, conventionally recognizable STAR at its helm, guiding mutant-kind into a berth of eventual, predictable, acceptance. Alison Blaire loves like a normal woman (badly), and therefore bleeds like anyone else. Alison does sign the contract, but not with her name. She writes “Go suck and egg,” decks Eric, and uses a focused laser-dazzle to destroy the last existing print of the film.

Alison also decides that even though she still loves Roman, she can’t stay with him. She would never be able to use “success” as a measure of her own merits, constantly feeling as if what she achieved would be due to her association with him. In the final panel, she walks out of his mansion and back into her open-ended ongoing series.

Artist Depiction of Dazzler’s Subtle Treatment by Claremont, I
And, ‘no,’ Alison, ‘that is not the answer.’
‘The answer is to take that potato sac off your head and run for your life!’

Dazzler reached issue #42, and was ironically canceled so that Marvel could start up a line comics called The New Universe, based on superheroes in a ‘real-world’ setting. Dazzler was a victim to its own superior concept. The New Universe crashed and burned after about a year. Dazzler was schlepped off into Uncanny X-Men, where super-star writer Chris Claremont waged war on the character, obliterating her personal life and character history. Signing Alison Blaire off to Claremont — letting him get his lubed up hands on the diva — did the character far greater damage than signing with Eric Beale ever could have done. Eventually, she was consigned to comic-book limbo for over a decade. There are indications that Alison might be about to make a prominent return to comics this summer. In the meantime, fans honor the character-that-was since her flaws and travails continue to speak to readers.

— This discussion of Dazzler the Movie was commissioned for “Dazzler Week” at the Comic Book Resources forum. *

Artist Depiction of Dazzler’s Subtle Treatment by Claremont, II

Works Cited:

Berlant, Lauren. “‘It’s Not the Tragedies That Kill Us, It’s the Messes’ Femininity, Formalism, an Dorothy Parker,” in The Female Complaint. (Duke, 2008).

Kluge, Alexander. “Why Should Film and Television Cooperate? On the Mainz Manifesto,” trans. Stuart Liebman. October n. 46. Fall, 1998.

*Thanks to Ben for making me read Dazzler (it was good!) and forcing me to write down what I thought.

Dazzler Resources:

Dazzler Appreciation
Dazzler the Music Video (Your Disco Needs Dazzler)
Dazzler’s MySpace Page!
Go for it!
Storytelling Engines: Dazzler
This Diva, This Monster!
The Ballad of Dazzler’s Butt
Thus Stalks… The Dazzler!

For more, read Essential Dazzler, vol. 1!

Start With This

March 11, 2008

I have often wondered what would have happened if Queer Theory had started with Moby Dick instead of “Billy Budd.” I am referring to Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, which is about how important the homo/hetero binary has always been to Western culture; to what counts as knowledge; to the way in writers use marginal comments to highlight the non-dit that is pretty much an open secret.

As a novel, Moby Dick is a spectacular failure. It’s still one of my favorite things to read. It has none of the subtlety of “Billy Bud,” which is about where loneliness and sexuality intersect. Was Sedgwick’s decision to focus on what goes on “between-the-lines” an effort to show what close-reading can pull out? Was her book a gambit towards critical virtuosity? Were critics of the era (whom she has called “paranoid” elsewhere), simply uninterested in blatantly utopian and sexual passages, such as the following from the chapter “Squeeze of the Hand”:

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, –Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness. Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!

My impressions of the critical world are really defined by my experience of graduate school. When I was a student (please note that it was a very conservative department where I was, for most of the time, the only openly gay male in the department — among either faculty or students … I know! who ever heard of a straight English professor? There was one old gay guy, but apparently he wasn’t very “out” since another prof — one who physically resembled Krusty the Clown — always insisted he and his boyfriend were “bachelors”), I felt like Queer Theory had gained some acceptance inasmuch that it allowed critics to destabilize established notions of sexual normativity. But Sedgwick’s observations were often misused as a relativistic bludgeon against anyone who ever noticed any sex going on in the books. It didn’t help that my Tub of Love, a leading lesbian literary critic, wrote a whole book about lesbianism where no sex, just barometers, appeared. Sure, there are some people who write about “flapping vaginas” in Eighteenth Century literature, and that kind of thing was made possible with a “work-around” Queer Theory. Of the holy trinity, Leo Bersani, Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler, only Bersani was ever willing to discuss sex; including a great moment on the epistemology of rimming.

Still, this didn’t really translate well to the classroom where all anyone knew about homosexuality was the closet. I was practically lynched once for suggesting that maybe, maybe, when Julian of Norwich was rubbing her holy hazel nut and experiencing the rapture something masturbatory might be going on. OK. OK. That’s not quite true. I just flat out said “the hazel nut is her clitoris,” which it was! But I thought that everyone in the room was going to kill me. Newsflash: People did actually masturbate before the 1960s (though, during senior year in high school, I had to explain to our valedictorian that Woman could, indeed, masturbate. She didn’t believe me, or at least pretended not to). Maybe if we weren’t always negotiating these awkward work-arounds to make sexuality and sex legitimate topics of conversation in the collegiate classroom, people might see that as a possibly interesting start to the conversation, not end it.

Obviously, one of the reasons people feared talking about sex was because they were afraid of being pigeon-holed as someone who had to work on sexuality. I think people were surprised that my dissertation topic was more focused on political economy than sex, as if knowing what a clitoris is makes me incapable of writing about anything else. Having a sexuality, being able to talk about sex and identity, should contribute to making one cosmopolitan, not provincial. I eventually learned that if one wanted to have a remotely sane discussion of sex, just go to the Anthro Department and talk with them and let the Literature people stay in their bubble.

I like Melville. Not everything he wrote was pure sublimation. It would be nice if that entered the discussion occasionally. I think it’s actually a more difficult book to write about because it’s actually fun (Melville is also being extremely facetious in that passage, if you hadn’t noticed, but Utopian all the same).

Ride a White Horse

March 10, 2008

Thanks to Josef F., my new favorite video is Goldfrapp’s Ride a White Horse.