Archive for the ‘leisure of the theoried classes’ Category

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?

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.
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.


Robert B. Pippin, the Boring Face of Scientology?

February 2, 2008
Is this the boring face of Scientology?

Everyman, Tom Cruise, plays Scientology’s charismatic crazy-face, publicist, but is there a secret academic movement of crypto-Scientology out there, laying the ground-work for its intellectual acceptance?

Friday night, I went out with a friend who teaches Theology and Ethics. I asked him to explain a little to me about Scientology. Over Mexican food, he pointed out that Scientology is a deeply crazy sect, far nuttier than those ‘heretical’ gnostics, the Mormons. Apparently, the Mormons are, as I long suspected, ridiculous shysters, but they don’t go so far as to eat placentas.

From what I understand, Scientologists believe there’s an energy in the planet that skilled persons can tap into to clear the blocks in their minds. Psychic Ex-Lax. These blockages prevent us from accessing our previous ‘Incarnations,’ which are past lives — aka, the reborn souls of aliens. Once a Scientologist clears all the blocks for this life, it has to be done for all the other lives. This is how it gets expensive. It costs money to clear up the various histories of our consciousness.

This got me to question, what do I know that is like this?

Why Hegel!

How is this like Hegelianism? Well, there’s an absurd self-absorbed confidence in the competence of grander systems. With both Hegel and Scientology we find an assurance about the present age being a fulfillment of past lives, of history. For Hegel, sure, there’s no immortality of the soul but there is the Present Age and the State which are the culmination of all that has gone before through the Spirit (aka, aliens).

Of course I’m talking out of my ass. I’ve only read a couple of books by Hegel, and each of those only once. My only truly serious engagement with his thought comes through Kierkegaard making fun of it, Zizek embodying the butt of Kierkegaard’s joke, and Robert B. Pippin’s book, Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfaction of Self-Consciousness.

Pippin’s book engages Hegel’s Science of Logic as well as The Phenomenology of the Spirit. No real philosophy book would go to press ranging all over the place like that, however, Professor Pippin isn’t a professor of Philosophy. He teaches something called ‘Social Thought.’ Is this Scientology? If not, is it better?

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My Encounter With Catherine A. MacKinnon

January 29, 2008

Seven, or maybe eight, years ago, I met Catherine MacKinnon at a Gender Studies “brown bag” lunch at the local university. It was the sort of event designed to allow people in the Humanities, the Law School, Social Work, the Social Sciences and often even the Real Sciences to mingle more casually than a formal workshop setting. Someone invited MacKinnon because she was teaching a class that year, though no faculty dared show up lest they lose their 90s pro-porn street cred. I have a theory that in the 90s, it was required that every academic feminist write at least one essay about how she enjoys watching gay porn while wearing Calvin Klein Boxer shorts. It’s still only a theory because I haven’t finished reading all the feminist articles about how awesome gay porn is. This investment in the Calvin Klein-Boxer shorts archive held many faculty back from an interesting encounter.

As it was, MacKinnon showed up to be greeted by a room full of women with the only men being Chamberlain and myself. She had this kind of ravaged beauty, as if she had once been beyond stunning but it had been burnt away by an intense rage. After the anger, what was left was an even more dignified grace. She spoke calmly, even sweetly, and the collected presentation of her thoughts belied how insane the contents of her speech were. I wrote earlier that I was sympathetic to her anti-porn position, but I wrote this out of an abstract admiration of some of the qualities I saw in her argument. They hearken back to things John Locke says about the social contract; about a contract being void if any party willingly agrees to willfully harm himself in the deal. My sympathy for that position comes from a real-life conviction that sometimes we harm ourselves without knowing it, and occasionally it takes an outside intervention to show that. I am not convinced, however, that this translates to pornography. The argument itself, stripped of her rhetoric, is what I found so interesting.

This was different. MacKinnon told us she was outlining an extension of her ‘Marxist’ social theory on gender to gays and lesbians. I thought, “this could really be interesting” and began to nod in advance. A murmer went around the room. Then she launched it to it. She told us that she subscribes to the belief that more young boys have been molested by their fathers, older brothers, uncles, or some guy, than actually recall their abuse (she was once married to Jeffrey Masson for a while, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise); the statistic she gave out was absurd, like 90% of boys were being molested. These young boys go on to repress their memories, and are thereby inaugurated into a gender system that encourages them to seek revenge for this abuse on women. Where’s the gay? She insisted that gay men handle this abuse better than straight men do, because “at least they don’t rape women. They just rape each other.” She seemed very pleased with the gays, turning to smile at me. How it referred to lesbians, I forget. Something equally stupid and offensive, I’m sure. I remember straight women being the worst of the bunch, next to the rapists, because they didn’t just go out and become lesbians to get away from rape.

Like I said, she presented herself with grace and delivered this material in a soft-spoken voice but with enough of a tremor in her features so that you thought twice about challenging her in case she would leap across the room and tear out your throat with her teeth. What was most crazy was that all the young lesbians and straight/bi feminists were eating this shit up with a spoon. Some of them had tears in their eyes! I wanted to challenge some of the assumptions about childhood abuse and fantasy that she’d taken from Masson’s book, Assault on Truth, so I began to raise my hand. Chamberlain gave me a look and subtly shook his head “no.” He was a little more intimidated by the atmosphere in the room than I. I caught up with him, though, when a bookish undergraduate raised her hand and asked, “It seems that this is a chicken or egg situation. How do you know that it was the abuse of young boys that first led to the system of gender repression, or if it was the system of gender repression that causes the boys to be abused in the first place?” MacKinnon smiled and answered, “I’ve always believed that if you break all the eggs, there will be no more chickens.”

Both Chamberlain and I instinctively crossed our legs.

Betty Crocker or Queen Elizabeth?

Café con leche

December 27, 2007

David – a grad student I’d taken under my wing years ago – and I had just eaten brunch. He suggested we find some coffee and desert. Intelligentsia was conveniently located. The barista was a cute blond guy. I nodded admiringly at his tip-jar, which had a note on it expressly stating that he was not flirting with the customer. This one knew the drill, and his anti-flirt was sexier than any normal consumer flirt. David ordered a black coffee whereas I picked out a café con leche. The Mexican drink stumped the kid. “I am ashamed to admit this to you, but I can’t promise that this will taste right. I’ve forgotten how to make a café con leche.” “That’s alright,” I magnanimously answered. “I forgot what one tastes like.” David, who studies economic anthropology, correctly pointed out to us that the barista and I had achieved market equilibrium.

Such a state is both refreshing and satisfying to achieve. The barista and I discussed Antonioni’s films for a few minutes after I explained what the drink is made of, and I thought how nice it was that he had been honest and had a brain. Sure, the folks at Intelligentsia do have the annoying habit of asking “paper or ceramic,” instead of asking “for here or to go?” But the coffee tastes pretty good, and is worth the pretentiousness. The meta tip-jar was icing on the cake. Their website states that for their new Silver Lake branch many of the baristas “moved to Los Angeles from around the country specifically to work with Intelligentsia,” which is a kind of hilarious thing to write. Do they have recruitment drives? Do they send people to college job fairs to snap up hungry film students? I’ve got David on the case. These questions are exactly what I’ve trained him to answer. When he learns their secret, my faithful readers will share it as well.

Chopsticks Have Other Functions

December 21, 2007

As an update, let me think out loud. This has been bugging me for quite a while now, really ever since I read TranscenDentata: A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason. Bat-shit crazy (yet wise) author, Gayatri Spivak slams Roland Barthes’ book, Empire of Signs, claiming that Barthes is just so totally Eurocentric in his semiological claims about Japan. According to her, Barthes is invisible, disembodied, transcendental to the culture he describes. Now I’ve been a fan of Barthes ever since I saw Ben Chaplin read passages of Camera Lucida over the phone to Janeane Garafalo in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, therefore I have this to say to Ms. Spivak: ‘Nuh-uh, dragon lady!’ To wit, I submit the following passage from his book wherein Barthes describes his passion for being fucked by chopsticks in the Japanese style. I understand that they lube you up with soy sauce, cucumber slices and pickled wasabi, and that it’s a delectable experience — as precious as a serving of kobi beef; he even includes a haiku about the juice running down his legs across his spidery vericose veins. It doesn’t get much more embodied than this, folks.

At the Floating Market in Bangkok, each vendor sits in a tiny motionless canoe, selling minuscule quantities of food: seeds, a few eggs, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, pimentos (not to speak of the Unnamable). From himself to his merchandise, including his vessel, everything is small. Occidental food, heaped up, dignified, swollen to the majestic, linked to a certain operation of prestige, always tends toward the heavy, the grand, the abundant, the copious; the Oriental follows the converse moement, and tends toward the infinitesimal: the cucumber’s future is not its accumulation or its thickening, but its division, its tenuous dispersal, as this haiku puts it:

Cucumber slices
The juice runs
Drawing spider legs

There is a convergence of the tiny and the esculent: things are not only small in order to be eaten, but are also comestible in order to fulfill their essence, which is smallness. The harmony between Oriental food and chopsticks cannot be merely functional, instrumental; the foodstuffs are cut up so they can be grasped by the sticks, but also the chopsticks exist because the foodstuffs are cut into small pieces; one and the same movement, one and the same form transcends the substance and its utensil: division.

Chopsticks have other functions besides carrying the food from the plate to the mouth (indeed, that is the least pertinent one, since it is also the function of fingers and forks), and these functions are specifically theirs. First of all, a chopstick – as its shape sufficiently indicates – has a deictic function: it points to the food, designates the fragment, brings into existence by the very gesture of choice, which is the index; but, thereby, instead of ingestion following a kind of mechanical sequence, in which one would be limited to swallowing little by little the parts of one and the same dish, the chopstick, designating what it selects (and thus selecting there and then this and not that), introduces into the use of food not an order but a caprice, a certain indolence: in any case, an intelligent and no longer mechanical operation. Another function of the two chopsticks together, that of pinching the fragment of food (and no longer of piercing it, as our forks do); to pinch, moreover, is too strong a word, too aggressive (the word of sly little girls, of surgeons, of seamstresses, of sensitive natures); for the foodstuff never undergoes a pressure greater than is precisely necessary to raise and carry it; in the gesture of chopsticks, further softened by their substance – wood or lacquer – there is something maternal, the same precisely measured care taken in moving a child: a force (in the operative sense of the word), no longer a pulsion; here we have a whole demeanor with regard to food; this is seen clearly in the cook’s long chopsticks, which serve not for eating but for preparing foodstuffs: the instrument never pierces, cuts, or slits, never wounds but only selects, turns, shifts. For the chopsticks (third function), in order to divide, must separate, part, peck, instead of cutting and piercing, in the manner of our implements; they never violate the foodstuff: either they gradually unravel it (in the case of vegetables) or else prod it into separate pieces (in the case of fish, eels), thereby rediscovering the natural fissures of the substance (in this, much closer to the primitive finger than to the knife). Finally, and this is perhaps their loveliest function, the chopsticks transfer the food, either crossed like two hands, a support and no longer a pincers, they slide under the clump of rice and raise it to the diner’s mouth, or (by an age-old gesture of the whole Orient) they push the alimentary snow from bowl to lips in the manner of a scoop. In all these functions, in all the gestures they imply, chopsticks are the converse of our knife (and of its predatory substitute, the fork): they are the alimentary instrument which refuses to cut, to pierce, to mutilate, to trip (very limited gestures, relegated to the preparation of the food for cooking: the fish seller who skins the still-living eel for us exorcises once and for all, in a preliminary sacrifice, the murder of food); by chopsticks, food becomes no longer a prey to which one does violence (meat, flesh over which one does battle), but a substance harmoniously transferred; they transform the previously divided substance into bird food and rice into a flow of milk; maternal, they tirelessly perform the gesture which creates the mouthful, leaving to our alimentary manners, armed with pikes and knives, that of predation.

The Foucault Circus

November 26, 2007

This image from Action Philosophers #9 kills me.

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

A Warning to Gay Boys

November 7, 2007

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


August 5, 2007

“We can’t hear ourselves speak.” — Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

Liz was a linguistic anthropologist with a strong bent towards neo-pragmatism. That meant she couldn’t flat out admit she was a stalker. Her motivations were too “over-determined.” Liz only considered that her statements indexed “something,” but was — like the late, great, Susan Sontag — against interpretation. She encouraged her graduate students to compile indexes for their dissertations, lists of what their objects of study were referring to when they spoke — never what the natives meant. Melanie Klein’s writings would appear on her syllabuses as examples of the kind of too-free-thinking that, as compelling as they were, should be discouraged. They were signs of a bygone day. “We know better now.” Liz was secretly ashamed of the days when anthropology was a tool of empire. When she encouraged her female doctoral candidates to study ‘indexicality,’ she failed to realize that her turn from imperialism sent them all back to the days when women in Ph.D. programs wrote concordances instead of dissertations. Concordances are lists of words and where they appear; such as where the word “eye” appears in all of Shakespeare’s plays. They were popular in the days when women were encouraged not to hold a thought; to barely filter the material they wrote about. Though she was an out and proud lesbian, Liz was ashamed of her own intelligence.

Liz saw signs everywhere. First she liked C.S. Peirce and his semiology because it avoided the binary of Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotics. Later Saussure was preferred because “the post-911 political situation had reinforced the dialectic between binary utterances.” Liz felt that “theory is a tool box.” She would reach into the tool box for whatever equipment suited her at a given moment. Lacan was useful to quote whenever she wanted to go into denial about any aspect of her personality. She felt that she was the last person to be bothered to look at herself objectively given the inevitability of “misrecognition.”

That night Chamberlain and I ran into her at the Medici, I ordered an ice-tea. Liz needed no caffeine. She was wired from an exciting “constellation” of influences she had seen appearing in the work of various papers at that afternoon’s series of panels on Otherness. Talking and gesticulating excitedly about the difference between “the event of narration” and “a narrative event,” she didn’t notice what a scene she was making. Graduate students I knew at other tables were pointing to ours and whispering, giggling.

Liz brought up her mother to demonstrate a point about how “the Other enrages for no apparent reason.” It was the drapes that did it. Liz’s mom would constantly bring up inane topics, like the new drapes. Visiting her family, the last thing Liz cared about was the drapes. Discussion of drapes would fill her with rage. Liz had no drapes in her apartment. I’d seen it: in fact, she had no furniture at all. The natives she worked with had no furniture. Why should she? (Her allergy to domesticity hid behind a cover story of political commitment.) The unfortunate drawback of living without drapes, Liz raved, was that the object of her obsession lived one story above, across from Liz’s unit. She did not call this fellow professor “the object of my obsession.” She referred to the woman she loved by name. She would spit that name out as if it were an insult or speak it with the vastest condescension. This woman did not sleep regularly. “The light from her window is like a spotlight in my apartment all night,” lamented Liz. She easily segued into self-pity,”I can’t sleep at night because of it.”

As Liz told us of her predicament, Chamberlain refused to make eye-contact with me. He nodded politely and told her what she was saying was interesting, being almost encouraging. He was embarrassed by expressions of desire that weren’t camped up by references to coke or public sex. Why would anyone talk about an unfulfilled desire? To Chamberlain, expression of longing was unseemly. We were both trained literary critics, and Liz’s longing was obvious to us both. Why wouldn’t she see it? Or, did she see it? Was it part of her routine of self-deception to make bald admissions about herself through ‘deictics’ and ‘indexicals’ that merely gestured to her?

Secretly, she denied her intellectual positions and thought her subtlest gestures counted. In her most depressed moments she would quote Erving Goffman on the importance of posture to identity formation. The spotlight put her on stage all night long, so that in her exhausted stupor even the boyish slouch of her shoulders would send a secret communication across the courtyard, up one floor. In reality, subtlety escaped her. She was loud and obnoxious. At lectures by other academics, she would chit chat like she were in some high school cafeteria. I shushed her while Victor Burgin spoke; I shushed her at a lecture on Typhoid Mary. During question and answer sessions, she wouldn’t ask the normal questions that usually translated to “Why isn’t your work like my work?” Instead, she would ask long rambling questions that would turn into a second talk — one that wasn’t actually saying anything. She talked until it stopped being actual talk; the stream of words coming from her mouth would only look like talking. At some low animal level her body registered constant frustration that the one she loved wasn’t paying close enough attention, and neither, ‘damn it!’, were the rest of us. I used to wonder if she was experiencing a condition to which only academics were susceptible — metapause. When she would ask questions, you could practically smell the engine burning. She would press on the theory, and all that would come out amounted to a loud jungle screech.

It’s the demand inherent to making a spectacle of herself that counts. That demand for a patient reading meant that Liz struggled with the understanding that she wasn’t loved. “You can never be too patient with the ones you don’t love enough.” This stubborn refusal of interpretation was her way to remain in denial about her loved one’s non-affections

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back and trying to understand Liz. Friends and colleagues dismiss her as a kook. When a friend mentioned that her dissertation topic would be about slapstick comedy, Liz stopped and started to hit herself. Her voice widened and she began shouting for “water” with each slap. A few minutes later she explained that she was performing an aboriginal rain dance. Once, when escorting a famous philosopher around campus, this woman asked me expressly to keep Liz and her mania away from her person at upcoming public events. For a while, I gave up and trying to figure out what was wrong with Liz and, if asked, would go with the flow by summarizing her as ‘nuts.’ I would argue in vain against her intellectual positions as if they were truly intellectual and not simply painful formations of emotional immaturity grinding against a stubborn refusal to be “fragile” in the face of adversity and intellectual complexity. It wasn’t until I was myself carried away by an under-current of obsessive feeling that I began to relate to her. Reading around, I came to understand that Liz was an eroto-maniac.

Ian McEwan’s creepy novel, Enduring Love, puts a spotlight on eroto-mania. In the aftermath of a ballooning accident, science writer Joe Rose meets born-again layabout Jed Parry and “something” passes between them. Jed begins to stalk Joe, talking endlessly about what Joe communicated to him on the fateful day they met. He accuses Joe of using curtains to send signals that torment him. Over the course of the novel, no one believes Joe is being stalked. He is the one accused of having gone mad, living a life of delusion. Eventually Joe remembers a case he once read about:

This woman was convinced that all of London Society was talking about her affair with the king and that he was deeply perturbed. On one visit, when she could not find a hotel room, she felt the king had used his influence to prevent her from staying in London. The one thing she knew for certain was that the king loved her. She loved him in return, but she resented him bitterly. He turned her away, and yet he never stopped giving her hope. He sent her signals that she alone could read, and he let her know that however inconvenient it was, however embarrassing and inappropriate, he loved her and always would. He used the curtains in the windows of Buckingham Palace to communicate with her. She lived her life in the prison gloom of delusion.

The condition comes to be known as de Clerambault’s Syndrome for the French psychiatrist who eventually comes to treat her and make her his most famous case-study. The novel may be the best of Ian McEwan’s positivist novels. If you’re familiar with his work, especially his 911 themed novel Saturday, you’ll know that McEwan believes in science above all else. Every character insight his novels make are taken from references to diverse discoveries in neuroscience, evolution or even meteorology. But in Enduring Love, the science writer is faced with having to dissect the concept of love. Someone who lives in a world of clarity where love consists of drives and evolutionary imperatives, is suddenly forced to face a ‘pointless’ homosexual obsession without reproduction as an end. Moreover, this love is sublimated into a Christian desire to bring Joe into union with not only Jay, but Christ as well. With his atheism threatened, Joe loses all objectivity; he destroys Jay’s love notes and shoos him away before anyone can witness them together. For a while even the reader wonders if Rose is an unreliable narrator who has lost his mind, wishing up a stalker for the attention; it’s the gothicism of obscurity, desire, confusion, being pissed off, that is the horror of positivism. Luckily for Rose, psychology is also a science and once he arrives at the breakthrough that allows him to pigeon-hole Perry, the novel reaches a tipping point. Joe seems reliable once more, and the horror recedes. By the end of the story we find ourselves back in familiar McEwan territory of pithy observation and pop science analogy, out of the very interesting ambiguity into which he had too briefly plunged we readers.

Liz feared and loathed the signs she saw all around herself for just that sort of ambiguity, and being unable to see the forest through the trees she couldn’t understand that they spelled out the same old formulaic “love” script Jay Perry and all other stalkers read: the script which promises “you are important since you bring meaning to others, especially your extra-special, super-duper, true love with a cherry on top.” Or maybe she could read the script, but also understood at a deeper level that though this script was written to adhere to unchangeable rules and formats that apply to everyone, it also, nevertheless, singled her out as unique, concrete, singular.

Liz tacitly acknowledged her compulsion to stalk and veiled it over by the old anthropological stand-by of “culture.” Once, she confided in me, “I’m Siccilian, and my people understand revenge and the vendetta better than most. What I’ve learned is that the reward of revenge comes at the moment where your target finally understands all the years of effort, of labor, of calculation, that went into hurting them at just this moment. It’s that look on their face as they realize how well you’ve crafted their punishment that makes it all worth it.” Three years later, while teaching a class with her, I told Liz that her long-term sociopathic revenge plan against the object of her obsession had to end. It had gone too far. I explained that I would bring her machinations to light if she persisted.

Liz took great measures to try to silence me. She confiscated the “golden age” gay porn that I had lent to her “for research” (these were vintage, mint condition, issues of Straight to Hell). She tried to intimidate me through my friends, threatening to ruin their careers (even when they were in completely different disciplines). Liz appealed to my professors to mediate. When that didn’t work, she contacted the dean and accused me of being a “terrorist.” The same woman who once told me that she finds violence to be “thrillingly enabling,” dredged out an email where I had referenced suicide bombing. The dean denied her request to have me kicked out (she hadn’t edited out her psychotic emails from the ones she forwarded to him). He asked her if she was holding my porn hostage. She told him that she would not be returning it under any circumstances.

In a psychotic outburst, Jed Parry tries to kill Joe’s girlfriend, Clarissa. Liz, on the other hand, parceled her violence out over time. She put the lie to the myth that these breakdowns are spontaneous. They are in fact, planned, fantasized about. The fantasy is that violence will enable meaning. It filters what has been indexed and allows the “love-script” to speak. Liz hoped that all her cruelty and aggression would be recognized, and even, despite the pain she caused, appreciated.

Stalking was a perfect past-time for Liz. Her intellectual positions, which centered on flirtatious vagueness, became a screen on which she projected this feeling that she’d reached the threshold of politics. Since she was queer, it was convenient to feel oppressed and transgressive when opposing society’s hard core stalking laws. Instead of just watching tee vee like the rest of us do when we can’t sleep, she spent those long insomniacal nights putting together an action story with herself at the center. Of course at the end of her nightly battles with ennui, she’d get the girl. Whenever she would pause a moment to consider the collateral damage, she could delude herself into thinking her fantasy was meaningless. Liz is one of the ideal case studies of what the theoried classes do with their leisure time. I have more to say about Liz, and not all of it bad. One day I’ll discuss the time when Liz intervened and prevented a professor of Philosophy from stabbing out one of my friend’s eyes with a pen.