Archive for the ‘stalking’ Category

Agreements/Disagreements

April 11, 2008

I. We Disagree

At this blog, we agree with luches‘ conclusion that love = stalking. In fact, we have probably stated this first and then forgotten it, but we will give her credit anyway because if we did say something to this effect we were probably distraught, drunk and high when saying it. My brother contradicts this view. He asserts that love is possible without stalking. I did not understand what he meant until I realized he was discussing ‘American Love.’ It’s sort of like ‘American Cheese’ — a, fattening, watered down oily mess that shouldn’t exist in reality, yet is on sale everywhere.

My foundational opinions on stalking, however, were recently rocked. In The Player, by Michael Tolkin, I am discovering a novel about stalking that doesn’t include the ‘love’ factor. In Tolkin’s book, Hollywood producer Griffin Mill is hunted and harassed by a writer whom he has failed to call back with a deal. Mill’s response to this is obsessive. He attempts to communicate symbolically, through the ether, with his harasser, by looking through his appointment book and seeking out writers whom he has led on during pitch meetings with the implicit understanding that when he doesn’t call them back, nothing will come of the pitch. Mill strangles another writer to death, certain that reading about a dead writer’s body in the papers will intimidate the Writer who is sending him angry post-cards. Mill’s existence focalizes entirely on the Writer to the point where large parts of the narration consists of ‘thought-projections’ to his stalker.

In discussing this book with a colleague, a disagreement has arisen. Can there be a stalking novel without love? Would that make every detective novel, for example, a novel about stalking, thereby watering down the category? Or does the non-erotic yet obsessive quality of The Player put it in a class all its own?

II. We Agree

It’s always a miscalculation when people copy Dat to an email without blind-copying everyone else. Yesterday, someone sent out the usual ‘how friendly to gays are Obama and Clinton, really?’ question that is a common filler piece in gay media. Dat replied-to-all with the following:

I AM HOMOPHOBIC!!!!!!!
AND READING ABOUT “GAYS!!!!” MAKE ME WANT TO VOTE REPUBLICAN….I would happily vote for any democrat for any other reason other then GAY RIGHTS.

  • I DONT CARE TO EVER GET MARRIED!!!
  • I HATE SEEING FUCKNG GAYS ROLLING AROUND THEIR DAMN STROLLER W/SOME BRAT THEY’RE RAISING THAT THEY JUST BOUGHT ON SOME TRIP TO THE SUDAN OR GUATAMALA OR WHATEVER
  • I DON’T WANT TO DIE FOR MY FUCKING COUNTRY SHOOTING SOME OTHER MONOTHEISTIC GOD – FREAKS….YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASK BUT I WILL TELL
  • THIS FANTASY THAT WE ARE SO IMPORTANT, IT’S ALMOST AS SELF ABSORBED AS BEING AN AMERICAN KKKRISTIAN.
  • OHH AND I HATED PRINCESS DI….I BARFED WHEN ELTON JOHN RE-PACKAGED THAT PATHETIC CRAP AND EVERYONE BOUGHT IT

This blog is in complete agreement with the opinions ranted above. If you disagree, you should probably go read some other blog.

III. We Agree

Karl Lagerfeld looks disgusting, however, we agree with absolutely everything he says in these interview excerpts. In particular, we are moved by the following statement:

Diane von Furstenberg told me she thinks you may not be the best designer aesthetically, but that you’re by far the smartest.
And look at her prints, hmm? Maybe I’ve known her for too many years. Maybe she’s right, I don’t know. If she were an expert, perhaps her designs may be more impressive…I’m not a frustrated writer or architect, I’m frustrated by nothing at all, and frustration is the mother of all crimes. Ambition? I have no ambition. I just want things in a certain way… I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t want to inform others through myself. In that way, it’s all for myself. I’m the most selfish person in the world. Being selfish, I take care of others. My mother always used to say, “Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give and nobody will care for you.”

I also agree with him that ‘people who eat’ and ‘places with other people’ are démodé. More on my soulmate can be found here, as well (if you can stand to give The New Yorker increased site traffic).

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A Stalker Clings to Love With Both Hands

December 16, 2007


I’m a huge fan of self-conscious acting choices such as the scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David casually cleans his glasses using a yamaka. Alternately, one of the lovely touches Sarah Silverman has added to her roles over the years takes place in her first appearance on the USA television comedy, Monk, as Marci Maven (yes, ass, I know Monk is not a very good show but I like it anyway). Newly obsessed with Adrian Monk as the world’s greatest detective, Marci abandons her previous fixation on actor who plays a tee vee detective in order to obsess over Mr. Monk. At midnight, she knocks on his door to let him know that she has created a website dedicated to celebrating his genius. The brilliant touch is that Marci uses both sets of knuckles while knocking. Her knocks come rapid fire as she hunches her shoulders and leans into the door; she is childish and animalistic. Even though it probably wasn’t, I like to imagine that this acting choice was an homage to the greatest stalker film of all time, Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.

In the scene in question, Sandra Bernhard, playing Masha, marks her first intrusion into Jerry Langford’s (Jerry Lewis) life by assaulting him in his limo after he’s finished taping his show. Competing fans drag Jerry to safety and lock Bernhard in the limo as she screams “I’m not going to take… Jerry! No! No!” Both Bernhard’s hands pound at the window. Scorsese freeze frames as a flash photograph illuminates both Masha’s hands clutching the window, trapping the wild animal; fellow stalker, Rupert Pupkin played by Robert De Niro, peers inside the limo, past Masha towards the audience. Frank Sinatra’s obsessive “Rain or Shine” plays as the credits do a slow roll between Masha’s illuminated and outstretched hands.

While watching him demonstrate the beta-version of his online video chat/dating service, my friend (Sa)Adam and I were talking about the movie (or, rather, I was telling him about the movie). Over his web-cam, he condescended that women don’t stalk; stalkers are always men. I strongly objected. It was difficult for us to talk. We were using the video dating website he’s programming to chit chat. If I didn’t keep rating him above a “6” on a scale from 1-10 once a minute, he would be bumped from the screen. As succinctly as I could, I directed him to Bernhard’s performance in the movie. I explained that it could teach a person a lot about how differently people fantasize.

Take, for example, Rupert’s fantasies. They revolve entirely about performing his success in front of an audience. Every night he stages his triumph in front of a set of the Jerry Langford show, sometimes performing a monologue; other times acting out an interview and on-stage banter next to cardboard cut-outs of Jerry Lewis and Liza Minelli (cardboard Liza doesn’t fall off stage as easily as real life Liza). Since he believes in the American Dream where anyone can achieve success if they try hard enough, Rupert thinks that simply by wanting something badly enough he can actualize it. Given that his comedy is about his and his family’s inadequacies, his performance is a self-castration in front of a live studio audience.

Masha, on the other hand, comes off as one of Bernhard’s ‘performance art’ routines, totally unhinged and off-book. She’s the perfect actress to make this role her own, down to even the way she can seductively remove masking tape from Jerry Lewis’ lips, purse her own and blow him a kiss. I can believe that scriptwriter, Paul Zimmerman, did include the scene where Bernhard sings Billy Holiday’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” but it’s very it’s very difficult for me to believe that Bernhard’s monologue — delivered across a candlelit dinner with Lewis at the other end, confined by masking tape — came from anyone’s mind other than her own:

I feel completely impulsive tonight. Anything could happen. I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start. I want to tell you everything about myself. Everything you don’t know. Do you like these glasses? Crystal. Beautiful. I bought them just for you. I don’t know. There’s something about them that remind me of you. Just the simplicity. But if you don’t like them. If there’s even an inkling that you have a doubt in your mind [she hurls her glass behind her. It shatters]. You know, sometimes during the day I’ll be doing the simplest things. I’ll be taking a bath and I’d say to myself, I wonder if Jerry’s taking a bath right now? Then I’d just hope, you know, that you’re not drowning or something. I just get really worried about you, you know, like something terrible’s going to happen. Then I just have these daydreams like I’m out with you at the golf course driving your cart. Just driving around. ‘Need a putter, Jer?’ you know. ‘Need an iron?’ I don’t even know how to play golf. I played with my parents once. My dad. But, I love you. I’ve never told my parents that I love them. Of course, they never told me that they loved me either, which was fine with me. But I love you. Want some wine? No? Okay. I’m not in the mood to drink either, though. But I’m sure in the mood to be alone with you. Why don’t we just clear off the table. I was thinking, why don’t we go upstairs, but that’s so predictable. Let’s just take everything off the table and do it right here. Of course that would blow your mind, wouldn’t it? It would blow my mind. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’ve never even had anyone over for dinner, let alone made love on the table. But somehow, I just want to do that. I just want to dance. Like, you know, put on some Shirelles. I wanna be black. [Laughs]. Wouldn’t that be insane? God, you know, I wish I was… You know what I wish I was tonight? I wish I was Tina Turner. Dancing to the room. Oooohhh Oooohhh [Laughs at herself].

Throughout the scene, Jerry sits silently, occasionally rolling his eyes. He never once laughs. Whereas Masha’s routine is outwardly similar to Rupert’s, he receives plenty of gratifying laughter which isn’t to say that he’s funnier. They both make reference to their abject family lives, however Masha doesn’t use comedy to only sadistically project hostility. The only clear thing about her routine is that she’s ambivalent; she’s of two minds about those she loves. Both Masha and Rupert have trapped their audience, but only Masha is explicit about it. Jerry is flat out told that he reminds her of her father; that even though she loves him, she fantasizes about him drowning or harm coming to him on a daily basis; that she’s willing to destroy prized possessions on the mere suspicion that what he’s thinking is that they’re tasteless. Jerry knows that this crazy bitch is auditioning and that in spite of her reverence for him, she also feels contempt. It makes her unpredictable and dangerous. In a way, she’s the true heir to his late-night spot as he also reveres the craft of comedy but feels contempt for his audience and his colleagues. That feeling, at least, is mutual. What makes her ‘edgy’ — edgier than either Jerry or Rupert — is that she integrates these mixed feelings into her routine. By doing so, she demonstrates that she understands Jerry’s own schtick inside and out.

Darian Leader, author of Why do Women Write More Letters Than They Post, takes up a psychoanalytic line that says women desire differently from men. Women, he argues, don’t have a cultural constant of Womanhood with which to identify, so they’re always trying to figure out how they’re supposed to act whereas it’s a lot clearer to men since you don’t exactly have to be a genius to get the basics of masculinity down (hint: start with a baseball cap). When they watch a couple pass by, women are not checking out either the woman or the man but rather how they interact. Leader defends the generalizing structure of his argument by saying that desire works along different axes of generalization:

‘I know you’ is probably the worst possible thing a man can say to a woman and the best possible thing a woman can say to a man. While most men like to be included in generalizations, many women don’t. This fact is well known to retailers: if you want to sell your coat to a man, you can tell him that everyone in the City or on Wall Street is wearing it, but if you want to sell it to a woman, it is better to say, on the contrary, that no one is wearing it… Even if men want to wear what everyone else in the City is wearing and women what no one else in the city is wearing, most men in fact end up failing to follow fashion while many women follow fashion but without necessarily wanting to.

Leader’s argument is based on Lacan’s logic tables that refer to sex and desire. Not-A this, Not-B that. They’re boring, but Leader has a way of making them accessible. In reference to the film, we can see that one of the extremely irritating things to Jerry about Masha (other than that he’s her prisoner) is that everything she says and does is meant to elicit audience participation. She’s a game-player. Nothing he says or does could possibly please her, so he remains stoic in the face of her hysteria. Her routine is all about toying with his perception of her, as if to say ‘You may think you know me, a spoiled Jewish princess, but I’m black inside’ or ‘I may love you, but see how I express it in torture.’ Every statement she makes is a question. Can he see the intricacies of her desire for him? Can he see how much bigger than his person — even his star power — this desire extends? Can he continually gauge their ever-shifting relation?

Even if he can’t, he’s suitably intimidated as you can see from this scene in the movie where Masha unsubtly follows him to his studio.

Concordances

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.