Monday, June 29, 2009

Always Erring on the Side of Safe (or: Reflections on Becoming Who You Are)

In the lead-up to this crazy weekend the German and I were talking about the meaning of my new-found male companion (it's probably too early to call him my boyfriend, but once one starts speaking in semantic slivers no doubt this signals the broader phenomenon, no?). Down in Hyde Park where he's house sitting, I accidently locked us out of the house, with a massive, hungry dog, and no way to get back in. After a short bout of hurling accusations back and forth we resolved to hunt down a neighbor. I said, "A house with an expensive car in the driveway." That proved to be good advice, because the first door Herr German knocked on was the surrogate key-holder. Once inside, with cold beers in hand, we retired to a now unlocked patio and started to laugh at ourselves. In the course of this jovial self-criticism he had said something about how his most recent ex was a way of giving him something sure, some stable, even a distraction while he was working on an important project that he was nervous about. As soon as the project was done, confirmed, and he felt confident about where this left him, he broke up with his boyfriend. That makes perfect sense to me, especially as he explained it.

I began to wonder if in fact I wasn't just distracting myself with Hermes, if in fact my attraction to him--though undeniably bound-up in his charming shyness and bold, simply stated opinions, and stunning boyish looks--doesn't also carry the taint of escapism. I've been nervous about starting PhD work, so much so that a complete stranger said to me recently "You don't seem very sure of yourself." Is he just a way of surpassing the mystery of stillness? (cf. ee cummings, poem 42) But if he and I are in motion together, then is this a farce? Maybe I jumped at the chance to distract myself, but is it still that, if it ever was? I suppose, it's about the dance: not the tarantella, for certain.

There are a few things about Hermes that I would otherwise be put off by, but instead seem to simply add to his desirability. For instance, he's not out except to a very small, select number of people. This means he lives a somewhat schizoid existence, and the first time I met his band I had no idea I should be discrete, or should have expected him to be somewhat distant. I just assumed I was on the outs, and that his band mates didn't like me. He told me the next day and it was something on the order of a practical joke. That's something you should have let me know, I told him, and he replied that he was embarrassed to say anything.

I never had to deal with negotiating such matters when I was younger. When I came out I was next to asexual, or at least I would be for months at a time until some boy would make some covert advance. That is, my forays into sex were always furtive, almost criminal acts of secrecy that my parents and friends never knew of. I spent a summer dating a boy--Ryan--and then his best friend, Joey, but that was sequestered away in their town, with their friends. And, had I been seen out with either of them, as I was when we would meet my drug dealer, I was so angrily defiant--almost dangerously reckless--that I would have rather my face bashed in than backdown.

But then, I had criminals as my heroes--Rimbaud, the Beats, Camus' and Dostoyevsky's tortured existentialists. I never tried to bridge one world to the other, to keep the friends I'd had before coming out once I was out, to stay consistent. Coming out, and all that happened in the immediate aftermath thereof, was like an irrecoverable loss, an explosion of the world that had come to seem too plastic to contain reality. It was a rebirth.

Having to see how he negotiates the balancing act, as it were, has brought a certain degree of understanding, and an appreciation of how complicated such a maneuver is. Rather than try a transplant, I just severed the limb. I am not sure which is best, but I can't judge him for trying to integrate as many components of his life into one consistent character as possible. In fact, this is the work of culture. Somehow I'm a part of his project of sculpting a Self he can live in without sickness. This is frightening, though perhaps no more than any other relationship--isn't the danger of a relationship always that one will begin to hegemonically dominate? Seeing myself in this context, as a part he needs to integrate into the whole, as a symbol of a broader dimension of himself that he needs to harmonize, puts me on my guard--against myself. If Zarathustra admonishes his disciples, "this is my way, where is yours?" or "follow yourself and so you follow me," then he also reminds himself to allow them to craft their own style of existence. So I learn self-control, I practice myself.

Emasculating the Constitution (or: the Law is a Lady Tonight)

"The other thing that they describe in these meetings, that some of the people I've interviewed [from the Bush White House] described, was that it was very macho. The idea was, you know, 'We can be tougher than the next guy, and we're going to kick some butt over there in the Arab world.' And anybody who sort of said, 'Uh, excuse me, but is that legal?' looked, I mean, was just embarrassed to pipe in with little problems like that."
"So, the Constitution was feminized?"
"That's a great way to put it."
"There was a comment that Dick Cheney made towards the end referring to Nancy Pelosi, and he referred to his 'big stick' and I thought that was glimpse into what you were talking about."
--From an interview with Jane Mayer on Harry Shear's "Le Show, 6.28.09"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And: It's No Coincidence I've Come (or: On Nietzsche the man)

"Those who can breathe the air of my writings know that it is an air of the heights, a strong air. One must be made for it. Otherwise there is no small danger that one may catch cold in it. The ice is near, the solitude tremendous--but how calmly all things lie in light! How freely one breathes! How much one feels beneath oneself!
"Philosophy, as I have so far understood and lived it, means living voluntarily among ice and high mountains--seeking out everything strange and questionable in existence, everything so far placed under a ban by morality. Long experience, acquired in the course of such wanderings in what is forbidden, taught me... Nitimur in vetitum [We strive for the forbidden]: in this sign my philosophy will triumph one day, for what has forbidden so far as a matter of principle has always been--truth alone."
-N., Ecce Homo

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

bend paper

paper the windowpane
smile!
my hand wrapped your tee shirt went quickly through
the neighbor looking
we spoke loudly in whispers too, to see her
call
cans with strings spittle stretching the length a letter
initials announcing intentions
thank you for your thoughts
my hunger and the ink bleed out
drawn gun in crayon crushed glass under boots
yellow!
on the bow and sun waxes
your tee shirt my arm the mast
limp
the neighbor blinks our flag

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tell My Love to Wreck it All (or: Plans that weren't cancelled)

I sat with anticipation. actually, dread. the strange mixture of anxiety, terror, and disappointment. disappointment is something like low-level food poisoning, if terror is outright death. you feel sick, your stomach cramps, you don't want to be around anyone... nothing, it seems, can serve as a balm to ease the dis-ease: no understanding can quite penetrate into the cavity you seem to occupy. so you don't look for any understanding. and you don't try to generate any, either. it will be smoke, maybe heat even, but not light. nothing to illuminate things. nothing to give guidance, to allow what is happening to seem terminal. in disappointment, you are in a cavity, with all the density of rotting essential energy, not a train tunnel: there is no light to come.

perhaps it is best, in such circumstances, to simply occupy the dark and not attempt to weave a narrative that will lower an escape ladder.

the Writer got in touch after so many weeks of silence. he said something damning: "why am I such a disappointment?" and i realized, while wanting so terribly to throw in his face the consequences of his decision, for choosing this boy over me, i couldn't. he's not a disappointment so much as one gets sucked into a vortex of desire, and one doesn't realize at first that two competing claims are being made until it's too late... the Writer made claims that couldn't be satisfied by the person he made them to, or the other way around. and probably both.

if i were base and allowed myself the fleeting pleasure of vengeance i would laugh at the Writer. but i can't. love, i think, is something on the order of a Greek tragedy: Oedipus is told his destiny and he works so very hard to avoid the nightmare that has been foreseen, but every move he makes to prevent his fate just leads him closer to it. In fleeing he runs head-first into it. love is the same way. you don't know you will find yourself in a cavity of disappointment until you are there. and only when you are there can you see how you got there. I was too eager, you think, I was too hopeful, too blind, too desperate. If you are in that dark void, everything is too much. And there is no point in quantifying how much is too much: I simply love you, and want to be consumed in a brilliant burst of flame that would make everything over, new again. You think this in the dark of your thoughts, over a drink and a cigarette, listening to Radiohead or The Smiths.

I begin to realize why the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers spent so much time tied up in metaphysics. it's as if every human life were a firework sent off into a night sky, and though they may stream across one another, or even explode into their full brilliance side by side, every searing appearance is ultimately solitary. Cosmos means first, "order": this is the order of things.
---

After we made love, and really, though so thoroughly cliche, that's what it was, he said he liked my body. Tonight, after leaving him on the corner of x and y street, I raced myself home, up the lake, cursing my inability to keep two pennies between my fingers for more than a hot second. I stood in front of the mirror without my shirt on and imagined his eyes seeing me. It took me 15 minutes to get home. I wanted to buy him ice cream.

I liked my body. Sweating, still coiled from the punishment of the ride, I looked firm, sturdy, attractive.

He keeps a book of thoughts, he called it. A gedankenbuch. I discover more of myself in him, and as I do, I discover I like him more. I begin to admire him, respect him. He asks the right questions--the same questions I ask still. And he jokes as he does, laughing at himself, at the need to pose such questions, at the tentative answers he proffers. And he is hard on himself. He is unsatisfied, the way all ambitious people must be. He wants to conquer himself, but with laughter and kindness--understanding, perhaps.

He sings to me in Swahili. Twice now. The first time was in his room, both of us perched on his bed like it were the least inviting furnishing designed by man, unsure whether or not lowering ourselves onto it would invite disaster or if the danger we could feel tickling our nostrils was the sort of charge the air suddenly is laden with when awfully beautiful events crack through the commonplace--through reservations and embarrassment. He sang, poised on the edge of his bed, looking forward--I couldn't see his face, if it was blushing or confident--but I realized that I never would have been so courageous. It was one of the first of many moments when the pang of what can be described as love made my ears ache and burn.

I debated letting him read this. I decided against it. If I didn't have the sanctity of this place, this ritualized purging, then I would spew everything out, and I would unravel. Here, however, I remain tight, compact, distilled to my essence, and I don't need recognition: I simply need to have myself con-tained in this space, to keep my borders sharp and nonporous.

Before I wrote, before this narcissistic self-enclosure, I would store myself in my ex. The less and less I could see myself, the more and more hostile I became: cheating, screaming, my cruel nonchalance--all revenge for not keeping me tightly bound, preserved for the ages.
I am simply terrified of suffering that loss of control again.
---

I am simply terrified of suffering that loss of control again.
Last night, when he said he would be later than he thought, I heard only preparations to cancel our plans. I sank into disappointment, started to quantify my foolishness, document my mistakes...

I am simply terrified of suffering that loss of control again. But I had already. And when he arrived late, and held my hand as we walked to back to the table at Kit Kat to rejoin my friends after dropping his bike off, I was beaming. He is the first boy to hold my hand in public. I am, for all my posturing, still scared of that.

He can't yet know that I am falling for him. So quickly, with such intensity, with such hopes-- I am already, blissfully and uncontrollably, fantasizing about bringing him home in the Winter: he will talk music and beat culture with my dad, and my mother will be happily impressed with his manners and shy demenor . And care--for I think it impossible not to care.

I promised him: I just want you to be happy. I was padding my desire, offering him an out--...even if it isn't me--but I want to be the one who makes him happy: I want him to choose me.

He is, I think, the love-child of Rimbaud, Tom Waits, and Nietzsche.

He has me reading Murakami. I seized the book, the opportunity to have something of his he values, to compel him to keep in touch for at least as long as it takes to read the novel he loaned me. It is a long novel.

I am not a disappointment--I am just simply terrified of disappointing: to be an equal in love: that is a hero's challenge.

I am reminded of two aphorisms by Nietzsche:
"Without Vanity: When we are in love we wish that our defects might remain concealed--not from vanity but to keep the beloved from suffering. Indeed, the lover would like to seem divine--and this, too, not from vanity."
--and--
"What Makes One Heroic?: Going out to meet at the same time one's highest suffering and one's highest hope."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Never Thought Tonight Would Be This Close To Me (or: I met a boy)

I am working hard not to intellectualize, to resist even the urge to poeticize.
I met a boy.
I met a boy in the most unlikely of circumstances. I gave him my number, thoroughly expecting nothing to come of it. He came back to see me and we talked for an hour, parting with plans to see one another Sunday.
He invited me over for sherbet the next night.
(A digression: A friend recently hypothesized that beneath the bravado I am a prude. I don't think the metaphysics of essence he alludes to is valid, but it got me thinking critically about how I present such that he would venture that reading. I realized my political passion, expressed in previous posts, to resist moralizing our sex practices prompted a hyper-amplification of my own sex practices to a disproportionate extent. His observation, thus interpreted, was timely.)
The invitation to his apartment for sherbet seemed too innocent to be taken at face value. An effect, no doubt, of the ghetto mentality such that everything is innuendo, where words, unless freighted with sexual polyvalence, are undecipherable.
The contrast struck me as such: I recalled a scene from Thorton Wilder's "Our Town" where George and Emily go out for a rootbeer float-- the invitation carried that tone. But then, too, it wasn't explicitly articulated in those terms and it was mediated via instant messenger--a medium in which I am wholly disarmed: nuance, body, intimacy simply do not translate.
Confident this was a booty-call I ventured out.
No, not confident at all: there were too many unknowns, myself included: I didn't want to simply sleep with this boy: I wanted to take him out for dinner, to go to the movies, to fall in love.
My ambivalence--for I would have slept with him, so I could claim him, conquer him--but I didn't want to: he shook me out of my anticipation when he returned and I did not want to simply be conquistador, or conquest myself. My ambivalence, transmuted through that mysterious alchemical art of desire, became anxiety and when we reached his apartment and lingered at his herb garden I gratefully received his hesitation...
We went for a walk, a journey that brought us to the lake--though I suggested it, he promptly voiced like-mindedness, and for the first time we settled into a trepidatious harmony that would guide the rest of our sleepless night.
At the lake I spoke of the romance of the sea, of open water, of the pleasure of a vibrant starscape, and the dangers of groundlessness. He beamed and it was no longer my fantasy. I imagined a calm night somewhere in the Pacific lying beside him gazing at stars. I imagined him imagining the same thing.
He invited me back for sherbet. This time he meant sherbet but more, a more both of us we could name with vague and cliched poetics. We left it unspoken and when we reached his apartment we savored the sweetness of the lemon ice, made sweeter because, now, I stood across from him in his kitchen safe in my desire, in his desire.
(A digression: He has the physique of a statue boasted in the Uffizi gallery in Florence of the boy-god Hermes. Last night, my second in his bed in as many days, I told him this and he said he always fancied that of the Pantheon he was closest to Hermes. He is a musician and a director-in-training: an artist. Artists, who deliver to us the truth of the human condition--.)
He lent me a copy of Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle". I promised him a copy of Nietzsche's "The Gay Science".
I fall in love too easily. That standard refrain. Love pulls me out of myself, and thus all the more deeply am I thrust into myself. He said I make his whole body tingle. He laid his sweatshirt on the damp bench when we sat by the lake.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"The world becomes without healing, unholy. Not only does the holy, as the track to the godhead, thereby remain concealed; even the track to the holy, the hale and whole, seems to be effaced. That is, unless there are still some mortals capable of seeing the threat of the unhealable, the unholy, as such. They would have to discern the danger that is assailing man. The danger consists in the threat that assaults man in his relation to Being itself, and not accidental perils. This danger is the danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all beings. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss. 'But where there is danger, there grows also what saves.' (Holderlin, "Patmos")
"It may be that any other salvation than that which comes from where the danger is, is still within the unholy. Any salvation by makeshift, however well-intentioned, remains for the duration of his destiny an insubstantial illusion for man, who is endangered in his nature. The salvation must come from where there is a turn with mortals in their nature. Are there mortals who reach sooner into the abyss of the destitute and its destituteness? These, the most mortal among mortals, would be the most daring, the most ventured."

These lines, from Heidegger's "What Are Poets For?," are the boom of a cannon's shot across the bow of our time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I Want You To Know: He's Not Coming Back (or: On Time and Tradition))

I think it's time one just admit it:
Rufus Wainwright or Thom Yorke is our Morrissey. More to the point, Morrissey is still our Morrissey.

What is it that has happened to our sense of time such that the living are as if dead?

I don't mean only the strange fetishization of Morrissey circa 1985. Include with this example the equally bizarre autobiography phenomenon. Take, for instance, William Jefferson Clinton's, My Life, which is written as though on a deathbed. And let us also attend to the haltingly simplistic syntax--"When Daddy got out of jail he had sobered up in more ways than one and was so ashamed that nothing bad happened for some time"; this written by a paragon of Democratic intellectualism: I can scarcely tell if this is gay erotica or the transcript of an abused boy's psych evaluation. Perhaps neither, but certainly a intended for the lowest common denominator. Which is strange as the only imaginable demographic for Bill Clinton's autobiography should be composed of the phantasmic "New England elites." No doubt they did read it--it was a #1 National Bestseller--and no doubt this speaks volumes of this supposed "elite." Which is to say: Bill Clinton died. To the only people who would care about him after his Presidency, he wrote his own death and retreated into the shadowy folds of the William J. Clinton Foundation, through which he purportedly brokered uranium mining deals in Kazakhstan for only $30mil.

But Bill Clinton's diplomacy is not my concern. My interest, rather, lies in the hyper-acceleration of time itself.

Giorgio Agamben claims in The Man Without Content that in a traditional system "it is not possible to speak of culture independently of its transmission, because there is no accumulated treasure of ideas and precepts that constitute the separate object of transmission and whose reality is a value." (MC, 107) We can cite as an example of this accumulation the resurgent elevation of The Smiths to "nearly-lost treasure" status--"nearly lost" because isn't this the posture of the hipster? to be the guarantor of a cultural artifact that is in need of aggressive protection?

We can also note an antinomy central to the notion of understanding tradition qua cultural transmission. On the one hand, the decadent and languid allure of Morrissey's lyrics and lyrical performative are on display, and just as seductive, in Thom Yorke and Rufus Wainwright, establishing an unbroken link--transmitted quite literally--between generations. On the other, the fetishization of Morrissey corresponds well to an analysis that claim's "contrary to what one might think at first sight, the breaking of tradition does not at all mean the loss or devaluation of the past: it is, rather, likely that now the past can reveal itself with a weight and an influence it never had before." (MC, 107-108) The same weight Machiavelli's, Nietzsche's, and Freud's mythical Founders came to acquire in death: the weight of authority, and eventually deification. (Note that for Arendt tradition forms/is composed of authority and religion; cf. "Between Past and Future")

But isn't it the case that in both instances tradition is being "activated," "transmitted"? That, on the one hand, the direct influence that connects Morrissey to Thom Yorke or Rufus Wainwright constitutes precisely "an absolute identity... between the act of transmission and the thing transmitted, in the sense that there is no other ethical, religious, or aesthetic value outside the act itself of transmission." (MC, 107) And isn't this transmission equally activ(e)at(ed) when the receptive ear is listening to the newer singer, Yorke or Wainwright? On the other, the influence of Morrissey on Yorke or Wainwright is decidedly not like Kafka's castle "which burdens the village with the obscurity of its decrees and the multiplicity of its offices," despite Agamben's claim that our epoche suffers a loss of tradition (MC, 108) The consequence of this rupture in traditional time means losing "the possibility of drawing from this heritage the criterion of [ones] actions and [ones] welfare and thus the only concrete place in which he is able, by asking about his origins and his destiny, to found the present as the relationship between past and future." (MC, 108) Quite the contrary: The Smiths either remain relevant or their successors articulate experiences of like kind which means life is similarly experienced now as then, and both; in no sense is the continuity of cultural transmission here interrupted.

Is it plausible to suppose we are, still, firmly, if confusedly, enmeshed in a traditional society?

Agamben, under the influence of Heidegger and Arendt, theorizes from a gap opened between past and future by a rupture in tradition. While it is necessary to be aware of the crucial insights of Heidegger and Arendt, Agamben should have been more attentive to the rapid response-ability to what Heidegger and Arendt documented. The devastatingly violent explosion of liberal democracy, humanistic metaphysics, and religious orthodoxy that threatened to throw the world into an abyss of oblivion gave birth to a near-instantaneous, clear-sighted account and analysis (Heidegger and Arendt), but also new configurations of comportment to the world amidst this radical loss of tradition. Once the threat of immanent oblivion subsided and assessed, the fragments of this tradition began to call out: Wilde's love which dare not speak its name, unmoored from the context of 19th century Victorian England this love came out. It could only come out; it had no home to return to. That is, the loss of tradition was also the event of its reconstitution, as if tradition had transmitted itself through and out of its negation.

What Agamben reads as the loss of tradition is really the reconstitution of tradition. The cultural lineage that connects The Smiths to Radiohead or Rufus Wainwright stands as an example of a fragment consolidating itself, pro-ducing (poiesis) a tradition of its own from the remains of a relative/relevant fragment. Our task, we fragments who are sub-alterns, is to call to one another now. The hyper-acceleration of time this essay addresses, is precisely the cultivation of a tradition, a queer tradition. The "good ol' boys" have the jump on us; they are fetishizing themselves, consolidating themselves--as through we needed further evidence than the Kennedy, Bush/Gore, or Clinton dynasties; a hegemonic fragment, as though magnetized, draws us away from one another in resistance, and towards itself.

I Would Go Out Tonight, But I Haven't Got a Stitch To Wear

I've come to think of Boystown as a ghetto, especially upon reading Guillaume Dustan's semi-autobiographical novel, "Dans ma chamber". He describes the neighborhood where he lives in such a manner as to render it nearly indistinguishable from, say, Boystown: the economics of his neighborhood revolve around hair and tanning salons, bars and nightclubs, sex clubs, and posh restaurants. In this space, he muses tellingly, one can do almost anything, except work or bring family. In other words, this is a ghetto organized around consumption--of drugs, alcohol, sex, fashion, and overly-priced "haute cuisine". This is, in no small measure, a very strange ghetto.

How then are we to understand gay enclaves--by which I mean those spaces politically or socially (or both) recognized/designated as "officially" gay-centric--as being ghettos? We are familiar with the term in the wake of the Final Solution as a site of an earthly Limbo where Jews, stripped of citizenship rights and robbed of their possessions, awaited deportation to death camps. In American political discourse we typically refer to such spaces as under-resourced, inner-city areas usually populated by racial minorities. But, perhaps we should look further in history, to the original ghetto in Venice, for an understanding of the sense in which Dustan uses this appellation self-referentially. We know well from Shakespeare's tragic portrayal of the hostilities that colored Jewish/Gentile relations that Jews were money-lenders, as Gentiles were forbidden (by religious edict) from borrowing money from one another. Metaphorically speaking at least, one left the city of Venice "proper" to transact what would otherwise be sacrilegious. Restated: the ghetto in its original iteration is a place outside of what is proper, where one can transact what inside the city walls would be illicit business.

I think it is this valence that the ghetto carries, as a space "outside" the walls of normalcy where illicit business can be transacted, that may account for Dustan's characterization. The play on the "proper"/"improper" that the French Freudian feminist Sarah Kofman deploys is alive (as it were) in the dynamics of this scene: organized around an economics of impropriety--after all, sex is _THE_ unspeakable (which is spoken most fervently)--that is perversely proper in its carriage; the extent to which Boystown is a ghetto is reflected in the propriety of its impropriety. We may even say that, like the ghetto of Venice, Boystown is structured in such a way that it is necessarily a ghetto: a place where "legitimate" business can be transacted with "illegitimate" partners.

Of course, this resonates on a full harmonic scale: gay sex is "proper", but those who have it are "improper"; dancing with multiple men is proper, but only amidst the impropriety of a gay nightclub, ect, ect. Thus, Boystown, quite apart from offering a space for queers to move unrestricted, is a necessary locale for straight people: it is a site of impropriety, that, not unlike Venice's ghetto, serves, ultimately, the privileged class: Boystown is the geographical con-tainer of psycho-sexual-pharmacological vice which can be safely entered, and swiftly disavowed.

What then of the status of those for whom this very impropriety _IS_ proper, that is, the queers who more or less claim this space as their own in spite of the fact that it is becoming increasingly over-run by young, upwardly-mobile professional straights (YUPpieS)? Or, rather, and more to the point: what is it that the queers in Boystown appropriate as their own? Here, again, I think we see Dustan's justified characterization of his Parisian neighborhood as a ghetto when we recall Shylock's famous "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" speech:

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? if we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should he sufferance be by a Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

While wildly provocative and controversial, we can take Shakespeare's main point to be the assertion Shylock makes throughout regarding the transmittable status of cultural norms: we are no different than you, he declares, and your villany, too, is our villany, which you taught us. I think it wise to read this passage as both a lamentation and a wrathful damnation. The sadness that plagues Shylock is, no doubt, his despair that he has no choice but to move in this hierarchically arranged relationship (the proper/improper); while, on the other side of the same coin, his lust for revenge is equally born of this resignation. In Lacanian terms, Shylock pursues the "jouissance" of a lost equality which he literalizes in biological likeness, and thus, in no uncertain terms, this accounts for his undoing. (Importantly, and no doubt the brilliant ambiguity of the Shylock figure, the "bios" of the Jew _AND_ gentile may be cast in terms of precarity--the vulnerability of the body to invasion, loss of control--and here revenge, too, is an infection, a loss of bodily control: a dis-ease.)

May we not read the ghettoization of Boystown in precisely the same manner? Is not the literalization of a ghetto economy--that is, organized around "improper" transactions (bodily, monetarily, dialogically)--tantamount to speaking with the persecuted, humiliated, and marginalized Shylock: "The villany you teach me, I will execute"? To return to the prior question, "What is it that queers in Boystown appropriate as their own?" we have to ask this question against this horizon; to interrogate not just what is appropriated, but how. Shylock's revenge, we are well served to recall, is also a revenge against himself: with his act he gives himself up and over to identification with the aggressor, the Big Other--in taking revenge Shylock becomes precisely the caricature of "The Jew" he loathes. May we now understand the ghetto that is Boystown as a necessarily _therapeutic_ space? May we now acknowledge its economy as one of that enables, supports, and sustains an active denial of the very position Shylock occupies?

At the conclusion of "Gender Trouble" Judith Butler argues for a politics of parody, a subversive transvaluation, a redeployment, of caricature into parody. Her (moving) target is juridico-discursive power's ability to "essentialize" gendered/sexed identities (recall for Butler to speak of sex is always already to speak in the syntax of gender), to naturalize the body in a discrete binary structure; that is, to enforce the proper/improper dichotomy. Parody, she argues, is a direct assault on this ideological edifice precisely because it "queers" the dualism and she offers drag as an example of this politicized subversion: in drag "she" parodies "his" sex in "her" performative re-presentation of his "gender," and vice versa. Dustan's semi-autobiographical character is incapable of such a queering; he exclaims that he must leave the city if he is to survive--staying would lead him to psycho-sexual-pharmacological suicide. His inability to queer himself, and by extension, to queer the space, the gay-ghetto, may not, however, be due to a personal short-coming; it is conceivable that life in a gay ghetto is not amenable to such queering, that, as in Venice and the figure of Shylock, identity is entrenched, essentialized along a moralized binary schema of the proper/improper dualism.

At the outset of this entry I affirmed Dustan's description of his gay neighborhood as a ghetto and it may be that precisely because he is so thoroughly assimilated into its economics that his claim has veracity; his self-reportage is _NOT_ critique, which nevertheless implicitly illuminates the very technologies of subjectivation characteristic of a ghetto. The question, then, is the extent to which a politics of parody is capable of meaningful intervention; can the ghetto overcome itself, which is to say: can the ghetto overcome a (Judeo-Christian) morality of revenge, a morality predicated on--as Nietzsche's genealogy claims--the creditor/debtor relationship (On the Genealogy of Morals, Book II)?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sharpened Teeth That Dive Deep Into Veins (or: Yes, I'm all about the body)

In The Man Without Content Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues for the resuscitation of the ancient distinction between action (praxis), making (poiesis), and labor--a thoroughly Arendtian effort--by turning to Aristotle. Yet, as Agamben writes, the potential for the blurring of this distinction has, itself, ancient origins: "According to Aristotle, the roots of praxis lay in the very condition of man as an animal, a living being: these roots were constituted by the very principle of motion (will, understood as the basic unit of craving, desire, and volition) that characterizes life." (69) He continues to argue that in late-modernity we suffer from a profound blurring, or more pointedly, confusion, over these three activities of the human animal (action, work, labor). Today, all "doing" (now, crudely, "praxis") is understood as labor, that activity which is inseparable from the necessities of the biological life cycle, but: "In the course of this process, which implies a total reversal of the traditional hierarchy of man's [sic] activities, one thing remains unchanged, namely, the taking root of praxis in biological existence, which Aristotle had expressed by interpreting its principle as will, drive, and vital impulse." (71)

I'm not sure where Agamben is headed with these two observations (I haven't finished the book yet), but as his analysis of Aristotle tends to locate the difference between poiesis and praxis in the self-sufficient quality of the latter (praxis is its own limit and end, where as the work requires external limits and ends) I assume he leaves in place the "biological" foundation of the vita activa, or, in Arendt's terms, "the fact of natality." His critique, then, addresses itself to the ways this ontological condition(ing) of human bios qua active has been interpreted, or, rather: misinterpreted such that action (praxis) regresses to be commonly understood as labor.

This Arendtian impulse--for the whole of The Human Condition is a sustained critique of this regression and its implications for contemporary political life--is one I am sympathetic to. And, like Agamben, I agree with Arendt's reading of Aristotle that the human capacity to act, to pro-duce (poiesis), and labor are rooted in the fact of natality, of the human condition to initiate new beginnings. Nevertheless, I am unsure whether Agamben accomplishes--pro-duces in the sense he deploys: "the essence of poiesis has nothing to do with the expression of a will...: this essence is found instead in the production of truth and in the subsequent opening of a world for man's [sic.] existence and action." (72)--what he sets out to establish, namely, because he reads Nietzsche through an Aristotlean (metaphysical) lens.

Why Nietzsche as the figure upon which the success of Agamben's critique teeters? Namely, like Arendt, Nietzsche sees something crucial in the resemblance the theatrical arts share with action. Agamben reads Nietzsche as a modern manifestation of the aforementioned blurring of the traditional distinction between praxis and poiesis in reading with near exclusivity aphorisms wherein Nietzsche insists life itself be viewed as an artistic pro-duction. True enough, but the particular art Nietzsche champions is theatre. Agamben cites aphorism #107 from The Gay Science, "Our Ultimate Gratitude to Art" in which Nietzsche writes, "We must discover the hero no less than the fool in our passion for knowledge; we must occasionally find pleasure in our folly, or we cannot continue to find pleasure in our wisdom." What Agamben does not catch is that in aphorism # 78, "What Should Win Our Gratitude" Nietzsche explicitly cites, "artists, and especially those of the theater, have given men eyes and ears to see and hear with some pleasure what each man is himself, experiences himself, desires himself; only they have taught us to esteem the hero that is concealed in everyday characters; only they have taught us the art of viewing ourselves as heros...." (emphasis mine)

Agamben's failure to establish this connection, especially given his Arendtian affinities, is troublesome; the mirroring of "gratitude" and "hero" in both aphorisms signals their intimacy. Arendt maintained, with Aristotle no less, that theater allowed a moment of recognition for the spectator, an opportunity to experience oneself as mediated through the tragic hero. Agamben, if we trust his reading of the Attic Greek, claims that praxis and experience are etymologically synonymous: both entail a passing-through to completion, or end which is the limit of the action. That is, we can trust Nietzsche as a philologist, too, knew of this resonance, so it must be crucial in these aphorisms he is championing art from the perspective of the spectator, especially given his withering critique of Kant's theory of the "disinterested" reception of beauty (GM, III, 6) and his affirmation of art for the sake of the artist! It may be supposed that Nietzsche singles out theater precisely for its capacity to cultivate active spectatorship where one experiences or "suffers"--the words are the same in Greek; both imply "going-through"; indeed, the tragedy always has a "chorus": an incorporated group of spectators who judge the action of the drama.

This hermeneutic failure on Agamben's part suggests that, as Arendt herself acknowledges, the distinction between action, work, and labor is more complicated than the traditional reading of Aristotle he offers. It is here that his ambivalence about Aristotle's choice to locate in the ontological fact of bios qua the capacity to initiate or set in motion becomes important. Arendt is, no doubt, following Nietzsche's reading of the theatrical arts insofar as both maintain that this artistic poiesis serves life; theater mimics life by re-presenting action itself, an experience Aristotle claims that elicits in the spectator a moment of self-awareness as a tragic figure, a hero. Thus, Arendt claims to act and to suffer are two side of the same coin, a play on the polyvalence of the polysemic "experience" as praxis and enduring. Whereas Agamben reads Nietzsche as collapsing the distinction between art and action in true modern fashion thereby effacing the human capacity to act on the one hand, and be pro-ductive on the other, Arendt reads this not as a collapse but a return to a tragic understanding of the human condition. In other words, Agamben succumbs to the very hermeneutic he critiques when reading Nietzsche: he reads Nietzsche like (and as) a modern, and not with Nietzsche as the ultimate critic of modernity.

Still, it remains troublesome, as Agamben rightly points up, that the conditioned human being's natality has been systematically interpreted not in terms of the plurality of activities it is capable of but reductively, and exclusively, as either the fabricator or laborer. There is, oddly, in this contemporary confusion occasion for hope or "weak messianism": while humanity may have regressed to a condition of abject necessity to the demands of "bare" biological life, become as it were solely an "animal laborans," it is possible to see in this twilight the dawn. Of course, if we follow the messianic thinker of new dawns this entails re-conditioning our bodies, re-turning to the body as that upon and through which a new style of life may be inscribed: "Recapitulation: To impose upon becoming the character of being--that is the supreme will to power." (Nietzsche, WP, #617)


In Honor Of Short, Left-handed Men

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Go On Just Say It (or: Re-turning again)

You need me like a bad habit,
One that leaves you defenseless, dependent, and alone.
... Live up to your first impression
Well my best side was your worst invention
Why can't you live without the attention?
___

The idea of returning to school is somewhat daunting. I recently saw a one-time classmate who noted that I seemed to be consistently on-point when in class. I wonder about this. When out with Matthias I expressed my anxiety that after so much output I will run out of things worth saying. Much like Zizek, who can't help but repeating himself endlessly (it is next to impossible to not find fully cut-and-pasted paragraphs in any given collection). That is, I fear being a one-trick pony.

In reflecting on the discussions I've had Matthias, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, called me half-autistic because I will inevitably redirect whatever conversation I'm engaged in to topics/thinkers/texts I'm familiar with. This practice, of course, is not a matter of autism, but rather anxiety. My profound paranoia that I will miss-step in conversation leads, Matthias rightly observes, to an endless return to the comfortable folds of texts I've read.

No doubt this tendency has been amplified by my hiatus from the academy, which, coupled with my poverty induced decision to read all the books I own but hadn't read, has meant that the arguments I make and the sources I reference are those I've been making for 2+ years. Which is to say, I'm somewhat happy to think that once I'm back in the saddle, reading 1500 pgs a week again I will be stimulated anew; inspired.
___
"This is a .44 caliber love-letter straight from my heart":
When in NYC Sokrates asked me what I would do when I successfully surpass my "rabbit" (Judith Butler). I would say, well, then once I am the best I would only have myself to overcome. Linked to this question was an implicit critique of my fatalistic Lacanian moment--an affirmation of jouissance in my defense of barebacking: what do you do when you catch the bug? This lead to a sustained conversation about fetish versus fantasy. I suppose this is why I need, as it were, to find my "Wendy Brown". To have my work and my love overlap in powerfully stimulating ways (as I fantasize theirs does).

I joke that I need a daddy for this summer before I get my "real" daddy--the university. In true Platonic fashion, the sex is sublimated into intellectual pursuits. And, it's strange that I managed to successfully sublimate for almost a whole year (with the single exception of my first foray with the German). But, isn't it necessary, sublimation? The real challenge, no doubt, will be not to expiate my will to power in this brilliantly seductive ghetto.

And then, all of this makes me wonder if I actually want a lover while I am in school. More likely, what I will want is what I want now: a brilliant distraction while I am allowed to fully inhabit my body, to simply be body.



A Series of Vignettes (or: The last few days)

{I Fixed Myself Up Nice But You Never Came}
The German told me a delightful story:
"I am at Hydrate dancing with this very cute 21/22 year old and at one point he says, 'Do you wanna fuck?' I am startled [the German momentarily erupts in one of his characteristic "aborted chortles"] and I ask him, 'Are you always this forward?' to which the boy replies, 'Well, it's only $100.' So I look at him and realize he wants me to pay him to fuck me. I wish I had thought of this before hand, because, I mean, what a perfect anthropological case! Instead I said, 'Do you know where we are? I don't have to pay to get fucked at Hydrate!'" Two things about this story are intriguing: 1) That this boy prostitute would be the one propositioning his client, and 2) that the German--like I would have done, no doubt--thought immediately like an academic, wanting to elicit confessional information to then intellectualize.


{Distress Code Call Word is: I Want to Live}
The UofC hosted "Alumni Weekend" and in an effort to be inclusive inaugurated the first ever GLBT (I've noticed that recently the L has come before the G, and I am hip to feminist struggles, but I like the acronym that GLBT allows: "Great Lies Being Told") Alum event. As good gay men, it was nothing less than a cruising cocktail party, where the common denominator was UofC affiliation. Hosted, no less, in a beautiful two story lakefront penthouse in Hyde Park (at least worth 4-5million). I got very drunk with the German, and we had a grand time crashing the party. Though, my new friend, it would appear, the Pirate reminds me: "Your Irony Will Not Protect You." It didn't protect me from getting snoggard, but it did facilitate making out with the only other good looking boy at the place.
The German watched me pee--an anthropological study, no doubt--and apparently, when we made it back to his apt., stripped for bed, and laid down I managed to slur out, "If you want to fuck me, just wait 15 minutes when I'll be asleep." It turns out my snoring drove him out of his own bed and onto the futon in the living room. I'm so fucking hot.


{I'll Be Waiting... I Hope That It's Worth It, But I'll Never Know}
At Berlin I saw the Sadist again. After so much dancing around the subject (though, no actual dancing), I did it: I denied the Writer, like Peter (upon whom the Church was founded). It is this act of renunciation as a modality of preservation, no doubt, that prompted him to abruptly turn around and leave. And isn't this Freud's genius in "Mourning and Melancholia" and Totem and Taboo?, locating desire in the act of denial?
The other side of Freud's claim that renunciation is a means of cathexis lies in the quality of this cathexis, namely as a means of sublimation, of "incorporealization". To return to the example of Peter, who is represented as the "Gate Keeper," the Church built upon his denial of identification effects a shift in the quality of Christianity; yes, belief in Jesus, but in this manner of denial/incorporation: the object (Jesus) is supplanted and preserved in the supplantion (Hegel's aufhebung) such that the object is now the subject itself in this paradoxical position; Peter's doubt on the Sea, his three-fold denial, enfolds the subject of Christ's redemption in a paradox of denial such that it is preserved. Thus, it is through Peter--or, through Peter's "type" of belief--that one enters the Kingdom; Christ himself is displaced--the original is shelved for posterity while the copy is exhibited; a move whereby the simulation becomes simulacra.


{Dance With Me Boy, I'll Be Leaving Soon}
I met a boy at last call. He just plopped himself down at the bar while I was closing out the tab. We started to talk. This very tall boy. He invited himself to my apartment, and then into my bed. He is a classicist at UofC. Thoroughly polluted by a heteronormative moral schema, he refused my advances in masochistic manner (I want to cum all over your face, but...). We ended up discussing shame (αιδοσ) in Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.
After leaving Madonnarama I ran into him again at the Sbux on Clark/Belmont. Serendipity, perhaps, but wanting an escort home, and seeing that it would be impossible for me to draft a scrawled-out "blog post" on a piece of receipt paper in his presence, I took him home again, where he told me he was angry at me for being a slut. He would sleep with me but for my promiscuity. Again, we talked shame, this time inviting Sappho into the conversation.

{This Is Wrong, This Is Wrong and I Can't Sleep Without the Radio On}
I met a rather adorable boy at the club, a French major, who is recently home after a year in Brittany. I am beginning to think that the truism the German and I are fond of consoling ourselves with, namely, it is impossible to meet someone at these places who will satisfy the soul, just needed warmer weather to be disproved.
But then, I maintain that just because you are a student and gay does not mean you will actually be able to meet my intellectual needs. As it turns out, my jocular observation that he resembled another beautiful boy I met last year (The Spaniard 2.0! I mused) is an indication of my general unwillingness to put much stock in the breed.

{And I Would Rather Be Lonely Along the Way (Something Set Us Off Into the Wrong Direction)}
It is the German's birthday celebration tonight.
And I am broke.
Boring. That is the worst part of poverty, I think: it sucks from life all the means for necessary distractions.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I slide myself forward//through my head//I think halfway//Backwards


The New Objective (with apologies to Joseph):
The G.I. Joe movie comes out August 7th. That means I have 10 weeks to find a boyfriend who would be as giddy as I will be when sitting in the theater. Yes, hyper-masculinity blah, blah, blah but I loved this as a kid.
My Gramsy had my uncles old 12" action figures and whenever I would visit (which was every summer) I would play with them, setting up elaborate scenes, meticulously moving each character through detailed, multi-layered story-lines. Like a good fag, I sewed clothes, sleeping-bags, and tents for them out of old pants, fashioned backpacks out of my dad's socks, and made parachutes out of spent shiny plastic balloons.
I also had the 3 1/4" figurines, which would be strapped to remote-control cars, sent to the bottom of our tenement's swimming pool for "scuba exploration," and thrown from the terrace on kites.
Since we didn't have cable growing up, it was a super special treat that my Gramsy did. After riding my bicycle down the boardwalk and back--the hours were from 6am-9am--I would make it home just in time to catch the G.I. Joe cartoon on USA. And then it was off to do all the amazingly homoerotic playing with dolls (I know, I know: "action figures") described above.
...
The Old Man (my dad) and I spoke on the phone the other day about my time at Christian all-boys sleep-away camp. A recent post brought me back to thinking about those days, and watching video from the camp, realizing just how young I was... there was something profoundly tragic in it. And, nostalgic. Zizek gets one thing right, I think, and it is this: socio-political ideology (fascism, Marxism, racism) stems from the desire for jouissance, the fantastically "lost" primary love object--the Mother, but most specifically, the Mother qua womb. At camp one was wholly absorbed into the group, one was no longer an individual per se, but rather a necessary "addition" that reinforced the ideological apparatus of the commune. Leaving camp was always the hardest thing: it was like birth; a traumatic abandonment into a hostile world, where the idiomatic dialect that we spoke was just gibberish, where, in other words, an entirely discrete paradigm ordered and governed life.

Joseph and I once noted that we were able to take 5 courses (24 credits), get straight A's, work three jobs each, and have social lives in college because we were in relationships. Those relationships were, in no small measure, envelops that held us securely, kept our letters from spilling out, spared us the angst of negotiating that which so quickly undoes a person. Since that time, since graduating, I've been more or less single--I won't count the last year of my relationship, which was animated more by my drunken affairs (with boys) and vicious fights than anything else. I moved to Chicago alone, I made new friends alone, earned my Masters alone... And I discovered the degree to which my ex served most faithfully as a "womb"--a home I could return to, where questions evaporated, where I was safe. I feel a pang of remorse when I reflect on this, if for no other reason than I knew before it all burned down that it was over but did not allow myself to leave the safety of that space. It was cowardice, and we both paid dearly for it.

Still, I long for another body I can feel safe with. As much as danger is one of my aphrodisiacs--the danger of disease, of committing a faux pas, of violence, arrest or what have you--I still long for someone to wake beside, who will have heard me snoring and have rolled me over to shut me up, who will joke about it later over espresso, make me blush, and then reassure me it was no big deal. I believe we are nothing more than just so many masks--some more highly refined than others through use. I've no illusion that in expressing a desire for something more or less "stable" this is just another dimension of myself that has been strangled of nourishment, choked on so many acerbic denunciations (often couched in Nietzschean parlance of "hardness towards oneself"--an attempt to do away with the shameful history of my fetishization of my ex). The desire for companionship, for erotic relationality that endures beyond a 24hour window, is not a desire to return to the womb per se. Rather, it is a desire to transvalue danger into love.

Enjoy the video. It's one of my favorites by Sigur Rós (another wonderful aspect of my life I owe to Joseph). The title of the song, and video, translates to: "Good Weather For Airstrikes"--a reference to a comment made by a weatherman during the Kosovo war. (Oh, and the lead singer's a fag ;) .)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Drink From the Bottle Weeping: "Why Can't You Last?!"

Today was the first day at the new job. I correct myself: my first day on my own. I did quite well, actually, though it took longer than expected to close. No worries, though--that's the sort of stuff that comes with habituation. They have a blog they keep, and of course, being a sucker for pontification (though, without illusions of being the "pontiff") I couldn't resist. Below is my first post, inspired by a post by the Writer and staring at S/M gear. I think it's an interesting combination, actually, which hopefully produced readable results.

The job itself is a kick. My favorite customers, by far, was this straight couple, though the guy was fascinated with the prostate massagers. After a slow dance around the issue he finally asked what he could buy that would accommodate both him and his girlfriend. At first I thought he meant at the same time, but then I realized he meant a toy each could use, but not necessarily at once. So I sold him a small g-spot targeting vibe that is gently tapered. "Try this out," I told him, "It will hit the prostate." The sexual subtext was near intoxicating; this tall, blonde man flirting with me in front of his equally beautiful girlfriend. He winked at me when he left and I blushed.

Enough: We-turn to the Thing itself!...

A friend of mine recently recited a poem by Anne Carson which prompted me to return to the volume he drew from, wherein I found another poem I was pleased I'd underscored when I first read it. In this poem Carson poses a question--"What really connects words and things?"--but the question is both a rift in the unfolding of the poem, and a bridge that tenuously connects one stanza to the next.

Perhaps this is as fitting--hand in glove, like--an introduction as any.

But then, maybe the question itself is loaded, packing, carrying underneath the folds of appearance a hidden intention. What is to say words and things are not coextensive--hand in glove, like? What does Carson want from us? Why does she open this abyss while seemingly promising to repair the schism she has just effected? Who are we, as readers, if we are both bridge and abyss?

Perhaps, like OJ, the glove doesn't fit, like.

But then, which is the glove and which the hand? Is the thing the hand which our words envelop in a fabric(ated) [of] meaning? Or is it words which animate our motility, dexterous, limber, fleshing-out the empty shell of the thing? It was assumed that the sculptor "unlocked" the statue from the slab of marble, as if there were no question about a difference between matter (phusis)/idea (eidos), as if the rift Carson opens and cares-to does not exist.

Perhaps, unwittingly, I am speaking of (Lacanian) sexual difference, of activity//passivity, masculine//feminine, hand//glove.

Foucault once remarked that S/M allows for a plasticity in the "gendered" roles of top/bottom, and for precisely this reason he was attracted to that scene. In this thoroughly Freudian moment (I refer my kind readers to the First of the "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality") Foucault speaks to, from another angle, the very problematic contained in Carson's question: "What really connects things and words?" Like Foucault, Carson is confronting a distinctly Western (Aristotlean-Hegelian) metaphysics of activity/passivity. For Foucault S/M was a means of resisting this hierarchical dualism, to be, in the act of sexual pleasure, both abyss and bridge. That is, just as Foucault "queers" the scene of sex by subverting the very (gendered) meaning of top/bottom, Carson queers her text: to read this poem, to move within it, one becomes the nihilistic (w)hole of meaninglessness (words and things are irreconcilable) _and_ the bridge that "traverses the fantasy" of this meaninglessness giving it meaning; meaning, the connection between words and things, can only ever be affirmed if, she suggests, there is always already this threat of meaninglessness.

Perhaps, when thinking of sex one must think poetically, to incorporealize the paradoxical position of Carson's reader.