Archive for the ‘torture’ 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.