Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Suppose I'll Fly As I Fall

I just remarked to myself of the self-indulgence of this undertaking. I turned to it to alleviate the pressure, to release my anxiety by mastering it, by enframing myself in a reading (or a writing--Derrida would say, "In a word..."). Derrida would ask after my double-gesture, my acknowledgement that, while enframed, the frame is not totalizing. He does this by looking to the text, rather than, as Sartre did in Being and Nothingness and look to the subject (of Humanism), because, as with Heidegger, Derrida recognizes that Humanism is, itself, just another ideology, a totalizing erasure of differance, the margin(alized subjects) that is/who are deferred/different, that give the lie to (belie) the ideological text, the gramme. Sartre participates in this, after all, when he positions a "being" and a "nothingness". Though "nothingness" cannot be "enframed"--and thus, this is what makes the "nothingness" every subject already is the site of freedom--it still is not. Sartre, in thereby positing an "outside," "freedom," he misses that he subverts his own desire for freedom (authenticity) by making it a "nothingness." (Lacan in the same way posits jouissance as the site of freedom--from the reifying strictures of the Symbolic--in the "nothingness" of Woman, in the desire for reconciliation between the lost, desired Object and the always already castrated Law of the Father: the "oceanic" dream of knowledge of the Absolute Truth (in the Hegelian sense) that having the penis means being the phallus--(a truth mediated by, but "subsumed" "over-against," the Mother.) Heidegger's charge against Sartre, which is also Derrida's against Lacan, is to be found in the insistence that Humanism, no matter how knowing, remains a foreclosure, an inappropriate propriation of, Being on the one hand, and multiplicity on the other. For Heidegger, Being is elusive: it comes to us. Thus, to claim that one has "discovered the inherent greatness" of any appropriation of the communal world, one inauthentically denies the courage to confront the communal world on one's own, which also means confronting one's place within it: individuation; the glimpse of Being in the angsty response to the call of conscience, "Here I am!" For Heidegger, this call elicits an acknowledgement that, in fact, one is never "properly" "Here," but always a "being-there": between two poles, the past and the future, divided by that most lonely of loneliness: the moment a daimon issued a call of conscience. Derrida, however, inverts the insistence Heidegger makes on a singular "Being of beings" and emphasizes the multiplicity of possibilities that always already are deferred/different (differance) from the "enframing" of the world picture: the very metaphoricity of language denies the absolute truth of a text: within the text, itself, there are slippages, parapraxes, puns, plays on words--but most importantly, metaphor. The truth is only to the extent that it is like this or that as well. These metaphors, in traditional metaphysics, however, are "subsumed" into the logic of meaning being "present," self-evident in the text itself: metaphors only "present" the Truth, like a gift, but the Truth is distinguishable from the metaphors. In this sense, the critics of deconstruction wish to claim that the passenger is distinguished from the carriage. Perhaps--though, doesn't the quality of her petticoat speak volumes of her carriage. It is necessary to add to this account that differance is not "contained" to the text itself: the "nothingness" of Sartrean freedom and Lacanian jouissance is, in fact, "there". I say "there" so as to avoid the temptation to revert to metaphysically laden conceptual schemes, but to also imply that the margins are not pregiven empty spaces, "nothingness," but erased text, foreclosed text: they are "populated" with the traces of what metaphor "subsumes". This is the Freudian unconscious, the 'well-spring' of imagination, and of the necessity for repression. But repression, symbolically enforced through phallogocentric Law, is just that: a repression, a compulsory denial. Thus, if Lacan imagines the impossibility of a reconciliation between the Symbolic and the Imaginary, it is because he implicitly accepts, and thereby perpetuates, a radical, insurmountable binary--one which his own reading, ironically, lends itself to the project of exposing as hegemonic rather than essential such a binary. That is, if Lacan goes "back to Freud" (like Husserl went "back to the things themselves"), he regresses too far: he elides Freud's insights into the contingency of any given psycho-sexual enframing, or, in a words, scripting, and insists on a radical and decisive rending of the sexes, of the symbolic from the imaginary, of, that is, love itself: the subject is always already a "barred" subject from the subject of desire (oneself, the other, et cetera). Derridean differance is a reminder of the remains of the unconscious, of imagination, its impossibly erased, but hegemonically marginalized, possibilities that can still write (on a subject "not yet").

So where is my "double-gesture"? Where is my acknowledgement of the tension which "always makes this dual gesture, apparently contradictory, which consists in accepting, within certain limits--which is to say never entirely accepting it--the given-ness of context and its stubbornness." Derrida immediately adds: "But how without this apparent contradiction would anything ever be done?" I'd like to point out the literary Derrida himself makes with this turn of phrase "anything ever be done?": it calls to mind both Freudian "termination of treatment" and Nietzsche's ubermensch, "adyspeptic": it is the contradictions that enable civilizations and their pleasures: the space of multiplicity, of a proliferation of "there's," a Dionysian excess. Isn't this moment, this writing (which is always already ahead of itself) of self-indulgence the moment of excess that exceeds the enframing of my "intent" (which was to "confess" my anxiety over "starting" classes tomorrow, meeting my cohort, professors, and so on...): enframed as I was (as I am) in my anxiety, this, too, is de-limited, not Fated: "the structure thus described supposes both that there are only contexts, that nothing exists outside context, as I have often said, but also that the limit of the frame or the border of the context always entails a clause of non-closure."

J. is asleep in my bed. I'm in at my desk typing. It is crazy, this: I can "relax" with him when I am at his place--going to his place meaning only that I don't have to do anything in the morning... When he's at my place I've always something else on my mind.... I can't just fall asleep... This, too, will need to change.

That's Why I Said I Relate (or: Back from Miami)

I'm back from my business trip to Miami's South Beach. It was, well, hectic--lot's of work, a multiplication of responsibilities that I hadn't anticipated. The weather was atrocious--humid 90s--and the scene very touristy. I did my job, though, and quite well. It was an honor to be sent as an emissary, to take charge of a chaotic situation and make it orderly, take account, and write a report of my efforts there. I would thrive, perhaps, as a consultant, or an economic "repair man". If only I could find any passion in it, or, rather, if only I were able to successfully extract the passion I have while doing it from what it is I am actually doing: making calls about people's lives and money. There is no space for passion in the cold calculations of capital. It is a brutal logic, and I am a lover, a Romantic, a martyr.

Seeing J. again when I got back was a relief, but not in the sense of "oh, good! you're still here!" I knew he would be there, he said so, and the relief was almost that there was no need to be relieved. Am I starting to take him for granted? I don't think so. I think, instead, I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of him in my life as something that won't abruptly disappear. I think we both are.

J. had a good time at his Michigan festival, which was also the last time his band will perform as a band. He is upset about this, and I understand, now, why. Without a band you are just a lone performer on a stage, no context, no grounding. But he's diving into the scene that school is providing for him: lot's auditions for plays, et cetera. This is a good thing, I think. We will both be abundantly busy, which I also think is a good thing: we can be one another's "fresh air," the proverbial "cork". And, with pleasure.

Orientation begins tomorrow. Finally. I register for classes, I begin my regular commute to Hyde Park. I'll see a friend from NY while I'm down there. And the German, too, probably.

At a cocktail party in honor of a friend defending his dissertation I had my first taste of what it will be like to attend parties with academics. What a profoundly insecure type! My Old Man asks me how I found myself handling the dynamics of perpetual cock-measuring. I said, "I take a page out of Riviere's 'Womanliness as Masquerade': I know how to be deferential, and how to subvert that performance without destroying the fantasy of the structure."

I had wanted J. to come along with me, but I was, in hindsight, glad he couldn't make it. He has absolutely no practice interacting with people like these, and he would have felt terribly out of place--and they would have encouraged him to feel that way, too. Still, he was there in spirit. I've decided it is important for me to be "out" while in this program. On the one hand it is a matter of integrity. On the other, it will become abundantly clear given the nature of my work and interests. Academia is such a "boys club"--and as a homo, I'm not really included in that club (after all, the logic goes, he takes it like a woman!). Part of J.'s "spirit" abiding with me meant that his fiercely oppositional character--he is my Nietzschean Lion--was evident in my own posture. Demure, certainly--these are your professors and senior peers--but don't submit: redeploy, subvert, mock--and with a smile, a dancing spirit (like a woman, who only ever loves a warrior!).

I've been speaking with my dear friend from NY, who, interestingly, does not have a "Nom de Guerre" for this blog (I'll have to think ask him what he thinks it should be), and he's adjusting to life in Canada just fine, though life in NY is a bit shaky. He left behind his love, and that means he is stretched along two poles. We will see how that works for him, if it works for him. When I was doing my MA I, too, was in the same position, but the object of my desire was nothing more than a phantasy, and so never was "there" but always "here". We will be reading the late Heidegger together. Heidegger, who changed the game, and who we have yet to reconcile ourselves to.

I'm back in Chicago, which is to say: I'm home. It is very, very satisfying to say that: these streets I recognize, this grime which I familiar, these bums, slums, and squealing taxi brakes, this man's love, this man I love, this apartment's smell, this community I am known in, these friends who see me and love me... this is my home.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Upside To Being Thrown Off A Train (or: A Reading of Marx)

A philosophical critique of Marx's youthful '44 Manuscripts might seek to expose the ways in which Marx assumes the existence of a reality in and of itself that is proper to Man. For that matter, a philosophical critique of these texts might also call into question what appears to be an implicit gendered designation of the masculine as the neutral universal--thus, "ontologically" man is the species-being who produces his own world: a man's world? A philosophical critique of these strident and earnest analyses might also synthesize these two lines of approach and ask if the reality of man that is ontologically secured is more than this appearance--namely: a world where the reality of man is created by man (or men) for himself, for himself as the neutral universal.

Thus, what is at the heart of the matter is the assumption of an implacable ontology befitting for Man. But, precisely because Marx designates this real-being as the real-being of Man the heart of the matter seems to demand a necessary supplement, a distinction between Man and...?

There are two (at least!) possibilities that stand in for the Other to Man when thinking seriously of the ontological claim that Marx makes in the essay "Estranged Labor". On the one hand is the animal, and on the other is Nature. In the first instance the trope of consciousness infects Marx's thinking: as much as man is the animal that labors, that produces actual objects in and of the material world, Marx can only value this doing by making it a conscious doing, a Hegelianly reflected upon doing; a doing that reflects the distinction between need and desire, immediacy and mediation, animal slavishness and human freedom.

The other Other is Nature, which houses Marx's text like a womb, like the world of the species-being that lives-on Nature by consuming and destroying it, and forcibly manipulating it into his image. Marx wishes to say that this labor on the inorganic body of Nature--which is his own body insofar as "intercourse" with Nature is necessary for survival; yet which is also Nature acting on itself (herself?) as man is "part" of nature--is the reality of the ontological status of species-being, of man as the universal. Yet precisely because Marx holds to such an ontology of the species-being Man as reality he effaces the power of his own assertion that man is a producer, an artificer, an artistic creator--perhaps: a narcissistic idolator? The reality of man ontologically, on Marx's terms, and the very "property" that makes him potent, is his imagination: Man is the animal that forcibly renders Nature in his image, thereby making it real.

This capacity of man, to be distinguished from an animal by his consciousness, is why man lives on Nature, as if over-against Nature, and not in Nature. To live in nature, to be an animal, is to live immediately, to live with no image of nature--to be in reality? Marx positions man on Nature, superimposing himself on nature, enframing nature, into reality. Man has reality by living on nature. Man has universality from the vantage of being on nature.

Man in relation to nature, is like money in relation to man. Money extracts from man his properties, renders the real an image, and an image into reality. "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore, I am not ugly, for the effects of ugliness--its deterrent power--is nullified by money." I am an animal, but I can produce for myself the most useless of objects. Therefore, I am not an animal, for the effect of animality--its unmediated power--is nullified by frivolous production. Man overpowers Nature with the hostile image of his world, just as money overpowers alien being with the image of its possession of propertied properties.

What, then, does Marx identify as the true power of money if not its inverting power; that is, its power to superimpose an image onto the image of the reality species-being has superimposed onto Nature? An image onto an image that does not reflect the "reality" of the image of species-being.

Money, Marx writes, is the alien, external, indifferent, hostile force that establishes the tenor of human life. Alien, external, indifferent, hostile--antithetical. Have we already arrived in Hegel's civil society? Money as the negation--the Freudian negative--of species-being's position on Nature: in a word, competition.

Marx plays the game by decrying the rules. He knows the rules: "We address ourselves not to other men's humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. (Wealth of Nations, Bk I, Ch. 2, cited in Marx, '44) To accept the rules, after all, is to cede to the image of reality money produces a reality as real as the image of reality produced by labor. Marx positions the reality of "humanity and necessity" as the negation of the reality of "self-love and advantage": the position of the image of reality (or the reality of the image) shifts: the position is the negation (or the negation is the position of the image of reality)---the choreography of this production is really poorly imagined!)

The ontological reality of species-being is thus haunted by an image, a specter, that threatens to expose species-being as itself a product: a specious-being.

What does Nature have to think of all this? Or isn't it so immediately present that Nature is base, unthinking, does not have an image? Only man would bother to imagine such a question: for man, species-being is part of nature, living-on nature, for pro-duction, pro-creation with the inorganic body of the material (maternal?) world. Money is indifferent to Nature as its materials are the products of labor, labor itself: species-being. Money does not care about the object of production because it produces producers as its objects (or does it?). Money sees itself in its duplication--its interest rate--just as the laborer sees himself in his duplication--his objectified production.

Money interrupts the intercourse of species-being and nature, it objects to this image of man's reality. "In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him." Money tears species-being off nature, takes his object, and re-images it: the reality of production is the property of money. Intercourse with nature moves through the valuation of money, and is always deprived of its object, its produce. Labor labors but never can be private with nature, have nature properly again, as his property. The union of species-being and Nature is torn asunder.

Isn't this a mirror image of the reality of the Oedipal drama? Of an image of a union which was always already a re-union insofar as it is an image--of a reality of being on top? The child's fantasy of the mother as always giving, always replenishing, his to fashion. The harmonious symbiosis of species-being as a part of nature such that his imaginary is Nature's imaginary: desire as the remainder of the demand for love once need is satisfied. Money interjects itself into this fantasy, its value, its image is reality: money effects a loss that was always already lost: it insists upon its image, its fantasy, as the mediation of man to nature. Man loses his object and receives the symbol of the object in its place. Thus, labor as jouissance: the always and ever futile pursuit of the Real of species-being, the Real of production (understood through the infantile image of having intercourse with Nature).

That is, Marx writes as the castrated child subject to the prohibition on incest. His defiance--his denial of castration and ambivalent projection of castration onto Money (it makes impossible and impotent imaginations into reality)--does not erase this structural parallel. The economy of the loss of the Real of jouissance circulates in the currency of species-being estrangement.

The alienation of species-being is reconciled through the reflection, the recognition, of the laborer in the object of his production--the happy consciousness. Estrangement through the mediating value of money demands the laborer resolve this alienation through reflecting upon himself under its image, to see himself recognized in the symbol of the lost object. "Estrangement is manifested not only in the fact that my means of life belong to someone else, that my desire is the inaccessible possession of another, but also in the fact that everything is in itself something different from itself--that my activity is something else and that finally (and this applies also to the capitalist), all is under the sway of inhuman power." Whereas species-being resolved the difference between itself and its object by seeing production as a matter of reciprocity--the fantasy of man's doing unto Nature as nothing more than Nature doing unto itself (consent, in a word)--is, under the value system of money denied, barred: species-being is a split subject (always already).

Not that Marx necessarily understands his own negation of money to be a position akin to it, related to it, familiar with it: he maintains the Real of labor. But his critique of the fetishization of money is an unconscious projection, deferral, of the reality that the ontological status of Man qua species-being is guaranteed only by the forcible superimposition of his image onto Nature through labor. Marx remarks of money's inhuman power the way Nature must remark of man's unnatural (mediated) power.

The unconscious projection of an un-negateable position (living on nature) on which to found the ontological reality of man is expressed in this dismay, and allows Marx to (unconsciously) see his own project of ontology in the logic of capital: it produces itself as real and then denies that it was produced: an ideology, an image that frames reality. The ontology of man Marx proposes is an ideology insofar as the productive capacity of man is limited to, stops short of, the affirmation that this ontology, too, is the produced "real image" of the reality of man. Such emphasis on the productive capacity of labor to re-produce itself with variations and slippages (parapraxes?) potentially distinguishes it from money, which only ever appropriates the properties of the property it possesses (and is thereby possessed by).

The trace of labor always marks the real image of money, then, to the extent that there can be no absolute erasure of the real image of production: labor is the specter of money, the imaginary of its symbolic value. To affirm in the inverse, too, is to melt the ideology of Marx's youthful ontology.

To the extent, then, that Marx's critique of money issues from an Oedipal relation it is also possible to read Marx against himself and to thereby recover from the reified ideology of ontology an affirmation of the disruptive power of production insofar as this production disseminates a "real/image" beyond the valuations of capitalism...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Never Heard a Man Speak Like This Man Before"

It's been a while since I've posted, and I lament that this infrequency will become more the norm as school starts up. I've been very busy, but it seems like "busy work" rather than sustained, focused labor (to invert the meaning of the terms, perhaps even to make work something flighty and give weight to the process of labor, of giving birth).

J. has started classes--this is his second week. He has a packed class schedule, and a play in the works, and his job on top of it all. A week ago things seemed dicey, a bit of ambivalence about commitment, I think, as he was beginning to live the competing demands that life makes on a person, rather than (as I always do) think them out first and stress a priori. Two eruptions of frustration, two ambivalent resolutions, and then a night that ended with a decided(ly ambivalent) decision: "Maybe I do need time away from you..."

A restless night, tears, self-remonstration, utter exhaustion gave way to a dawn and then to a day at work which was graciously interrupted by a text message: Are you free Friday? he asks. I don't know what motivated him to think he should send out an olive branch. I don't think I could have done the same: I am so very skilled at working my way against a brick wall and then burrowing a way through it rather than turning around and walking-back my own stupidity. Instantly I made myself free and replied that, Yes, I'm free. He took me to see The Mars Volta. Friday night at the Congress Theater.

It was a perfect set list. It was a perfect night. He reached out for my hand as we made our way into the crowd, held it proudly, and we danced like a couple of kids in love with life, one another, and the music that we first made love to. (Yes, he played "De-Loused" the first time we fucked... it would have been scary if he wasn't so caring as a lover...) I met his friends from home as his "boyfriend" and they were wonderfully welcoming and happy for us both--I wasn't expecting such a warm reception from his home-town friends, but then: I've come to learn that with J. it is easy to make false assumptions: and I love him for this: he is complex, fluid, mocking of any one determination: I'd like to think we share this in common: and perhaps my own anxiety stemming from living "Am anfang war die Tat" lies in the uncanny resemblance his life, his style, his posture, his masks, bear to mine.

When we made it back to his place, after a delicious fuck, we started up some small talk and then, much to my dismay, and despite myself, this small talk swelled into a full-blown argument. I stopped myself, I slowed down, I realized that "the point" wasn't worth staining the night we'd just shared. He was less receptive to my attempt to walk-things-back, but then, as if out of no where he says (and I paraphrase and add dramatic flourish): "Don't be jealous but this afternoon I found a letter I wrote to my ex..." (a letter he never sent apparently), "and in it I apologize for arguing with him all the time. It's funny because I don't remember arguing with him over anything important, only theoretical bullshit" (at which point I interrupt: "theory isn't bullshit" and he smiles and demurs, "I know, but you know what I mean...")... "I guess it's just the way I relate to people, my Dad is like that, too..." To this I say, "I'm not jealous: I'm relieved: it means it isn't me, that you aren't disagreeing with me because we are incompatible..." He says that he ripped up and threw away that letter for fear that I would find it. He probably didn't need to do that. But it was interesting that he added this fact: that relationship, it's as if he said, is over and it means more to me that you not feel jealous or nervous if you ever saw this letter, this artifact of my feelings for that man, than preserving a record of those feelings.

J. and I have this brilliant capacity to talk around the "real" issue that dogs us, and to then talk of that issue "through" some other issue. My mistake, so often, is to correctly read that something else is at stake, but to then presume that I can rightly diagnose the "real" issue. Instead, whenever I've tried such a tact, J.--who is no fool--throws my pretensions in my face with the full forcefulness that I would myself muster against any such haughty condescension. What I've found, rather, is that when we simply try to walk-back our own fervor and remind one another (and ourselves) of our love... then, at least thus far, the "real" issue suddenly comes to the fore.

This isn't always easy for me: language is my weapon, and my best defense: I can tear anyone apart, or at least keep myself from getting eviscerated: I can go toe-to-toe with the best, and I have, with fear and trembling, and with defiant pleasure. But J. has the capacity to frame things in such a way--a way that affirms that with him I can be less guarded--that allows me to hear what he says not as a criticism, but as an insight, not as an indictment, but as a welcoming. My challenge--and no doubt it will remain my challenge for the foreseeable future at least--is to remain receptive to those moments of insight and welcome, and to extend to him the opportunity, to help open a space between us, where he can feel open for the same sort of receptivity.

This isn't, of course, anything that can be prescribed. As I have affirmed in other contexts (just recently with my friend "the Church Girl"--a monicker that doesn't do her justice by any means), life itself is a "process", a conversation rather than a conversion: there is no "The Moment" when everything clicks absolutely and finally into place: shit changes, and we must be capable of changing with it.

After this change in tone, in "mood," the "thing" that sat between us--that threatened to wedge us apart again and throw us back into a cycle of ambivalently made promises and ambivalent ruptures of those self-same promises--was no longer a "thing" that separated us, but which brought us together: Let us be certain: there is always a "thing" in-between any "us"--a mediating third point in the triangular structure of any relationship. This "thing"--too complex to reduce to language--was all that is contained in the concept of "commitment," but especially a sense of shared relief that we could relate to one another in a multiplicity of modalities without thereby effacing the common-ground that keeps us together. We made love again, and fell asleep in one another's arms.

It's as if that night was an exemplary "scene" of the face of things to come: the joy of sharing a wonderful night together, the ever inescapable complexity of human defenses to human trauma, and an affirmation of desire in the face of the manifold challenges that simply "being-with" another human being must negotiate. I think, when I reflect back on this night, that we both were immensely grateful for it: it served as a moment of realization for us both (one of many already experienced, and one of many to come) that we can do "this" if we do it together and not against one another. Often, for me at least, this means also, doing it with him against myself--I am so very talented at being my own saboteur!: give me a wall and I will pin myself against it and try, through alchemical osmosis, to force myself into and through it... I am learning to love the absence of walls.

Tomorrow I head down to Hyde Park to meet with a professor friend, to set for myself the proverbial "Thousand and One Goals" that will guide me through the next five-to-seven years of my academico-intellectual life. I am so eager to begin! In der Tat, in the beginning is the deed! Being in Hyde Park, on that campus again, walking down those halls... I came to realize after my year at Chicago that I "belonged" there. Not in any sense of "belonging": the place reeks of Ivy League privilege and pretension--but I "belonged" there because it was the first time I was really critically challenged as a scholar, intellectual, and human being. It is the place, I found, where I was most finely honed, and a part of my body's purpose is to be a weapon: perfectly weighted and balanced, finely cut and tested, sharp and quick. A weapon that can dance: nimble and delicate, like a lady: a stiletto.

J. wrote to me, "finally home and pretty much all ready for school". It took a week to catch-up, to establish a rhythm of step that could feel comfortable: he's all registered, his computer arrived, his books are on his desk, and I'm there with him in a way that doesn't obfuscate those demands: I "fit in". No doubt when school actually starts for me there will be yet another adjustment, yet another series of negotiations that will need to be performed. But, and here is the crucial point, the point that gives me hope and confidence: we've performed such negotiations already, and while not perfectly, we addressed ourselves to the changes that were rippling through our lives. We performed it once, and we can perform it again. I'm not worried.

This relationship, unlike my only other, has been fraught with doubt, with ambivalence, with "fear and trembling" in the face of another human being that refuses to settle into a simple confining context. But it has also been so utterly immensely satisfying for these very reasons! In my first relationship all the questions, doubts, hesitations, and conflicts were buried underneath the sheer volume of accumulated pronouncements of "love"--we never allowed ourselves or one another to figure out what the hell we wanted, and who we could be individually within the context of our relationship, until much too late, when any such assertion of selfhood seemed like a betrayal and the inevitable dissolution of that relationality. J. and I are, now, in the beginning, establishing our hesitations, our doubts, our ambivalences, our "fear and trembling" so that when these same challenges confront us in the future they do not confront us as alien entities, betrayals, but as that which has always been there, as part and parcel to "being-with-in-love": to the very person that each of us is and the dynamics of our relationship.

I'd say that I feel "so grown up!" saying such things, but the truth is, as I joked with my Momma, it's only been because of J.'s ability to let me see myself, and what we're up to, in this light that I can make such mature proclamations: "Either he is 25 years old psychically, or I am 20--but most likely we both exist somewhere in-between." She laughed at this, and said that it didn't really matter as long as we were able to maintain the necessary tension that comes-between and holds-together any couple. Still, I do feel "grown-up," and I include in my narcissistic valuation, J.: I'm able to relate to another human being on an intimate level that heretofore was unimaginable for me, and he is in no small measure a main contributor that that process: with him it is desirable to risk the danger that might also promise salvation (to quote a poet's poem). I gave him a book of e.e. cummings' work: "Deeds cannot dream what dreams can do" a single verse reads. I never allowed myself to see the inter-animation of ideas and action in the profound sense that I do now: if Cummings gives voice to my aspirations (I wish for a better future, my actions are guided by this messianic hope), then J. counters: "dreams cannot do what deeds can dream"-- a reversal that throws emphasis on the act itself, on the deed itself giving ground for dreams, from which dreams can launch.

J. and I, we exists, in our love, in the in-between of this perpetual reversal: the play of deeds and dreams. We dance as we follow the flips of polarity, sometimes missing the beat, needing to re-catch our step, but we have learned to, in such moments, hold onto one another, to feel the tempo of the other's body, and to regain our rhythm. I've been reading a lot of Murakami this summer on J.'s urgings, and he emphasizes again and again in his fiction the importance of the "flow," the "dance"... "Dance, Dance, Dance"... And, with J., I never heard a man speak like this man lives before.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

on your back with the stacks you load

That weight in my chest, curled like leaden vipers coiling around my lungs... it's back. That clenching in my shoulders and my neck, that dull ache in the back of my head.... they're all back. Something like a gravity too dense for this planet that covers my skin making it hard to move, hard to think, hard to breathe. Too much to bear, but not enough for it to overflow. It sits, like stagnant water, heavy and thick. This weight.

...
my mystic writing pad drafts the deeds before i speak them. the director yells cut, but i like the take. the mirror in my trailer is missing a bulb. the shadow makes my eyes look dark and intent. i'd love that man if he weren't so miserable, so afraid. no amount of reassurances could ever soothe him. my mystic writing pad gave those lines to the mirror, spoken out the side of its missing bulb.

...
There is a moment when everything seems incredibly clear and laid out before you. From this moment of clarity, you turn and flee. If I had a bottle, I'd empty it. If I had a cave, I'll contort my body into its crevices. If I had another chance... Wouldn't I flee?

...
i don't know what i'm doing. to try to think it makes me crazy. too many forks in the train line and my mind can't keep up. i race around like a lunatic. like a frantic man in a burning house who can't decide what he needs to take with him. his hands are empty when they find his remains.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Get Up (Boy, You Must Be Dreaming)

So a blog post instead of hanging out with J., which was what we had made plans to do. Something rather irksome about this, actually.

Somehow "I'm all yours" carried with it an unspoken ellipses: "I'm all yours... as soon as I'm done hanging out with my straight friends who I am closeted to (which prevents you from staying the night when they are around), and my drug-dealer... I'm all yours around 2am--maybe--even though I've known you've been done with work for 5 hours, even though I know you're exhausted after a sleeplessness night of writing... I'm all yours so long as you will wait for me to be ready... All yours, except when I'm not all yours, except when someone or something else comes along... Yours, J."

The second time, now, that I've been blown off by him in as many days so that he can hang out with his straight band mates. Forget that I wanted him to meet and spend an evening with my friends. No, that might be too damning in their presence: my gay friends, of course: and then the jig is up...

In moments like this I begin to wonder whether or not I am simply deluded. If, in fact, I called it those two months ago (which seem to contain more time in them than two months would allow) when to the German I said, "I know this is simply a summer-time distraction..." Maybe when I said that I wasn't speaking so much about myself, but rather of J. Perhaps then I intuitively gleaned what is becoming abundantly clear: the boy is simply still a boy: he doesn't take anything seriously because he takes everything too seriously: everything, still, is too close and he doesn't yet know how to assert himself in the face of so many demands, most especially, in the face of those demands that issue from his own desires. And, though I thought at the time that the Vegan was being self-protecting, maybe he was right to say that these younger men have no clue. This, still, despite their best intentions.

I'm 25, an ambitious-as-fuck PhD student about to embark on the training that will sharpen and hone me into an intellectual capable of taking the world by storm, I'm rather good-looking (though one is never pleased on this front, are they?), and I'm very fucking attuned to my sexuality, my desires, and the socio-psychical challenges entailed therein. That is, there is absolutely no reason why I should be happy to be dicked around.

I said to DeMilo this evening that no more than 6 months ago I viewed with distain queers who remain closeted. As a phenomenon it struck me as cowardly, self-serving, and yet, paradoxically, totally self-denying. What happened to that refusal to compromise on such a principled position of mine? Is it that I'm gaining nuance and attending to the complexity of a situation that I had been inclined to view in black and white terms? Or is it that I was slowly drifting away from myself as I drifted towards J.? And, if the latter, what was the quality of such "drifting"? Was it escapism--the "distraction" I thought this would prove to be little more than--or was it something like allowing myself to open-up to the perspective of another I was growing to respect, and love?

And of course my pride begs me to say the latter--to deny that I imported more into a relationship with a 20 y/o, a sophistication and depth that wasn't really there; to deny the charge so many of my "acquaintances" have hurled at me: can't handle a "real man," huh? And if I can't? Which is not to say I think there is something every remotely resembling "a real man". I suppose I would measure a "real man" by their capacity to floor me with a sentence that curls like a plume of smoke, nimble and subtle, but which seeps into the very blood of who I am. Someone who can hold their own and then some with me in intellectual conversation--who will never say, "You're just smarter than me" as if to belittle themselves. Someone who can make me cum with my whole body, who can make me laugh, and, I suppose, who can make me cry. Does that sound "real" enough? Because I know plenty of 40 y/o men who can't read their way out of a paper bag, who see "Project Runway" as high culture, who are miserably unhappy people. I know plenty of my peers who are lonely, unable to articulate their desires, or who "lack the courage for what they know" (as Nietzsche once beautifully put it), who can only stand to be seen by other men as sexual when drunk or doped up.

I'm done with this writing... I'm pissed and this is going nowhere. What am I even trying to say? This much is clear: I'm fucking pissed. I'm doubly pissed because to say I'm pissed seems to pose a referendum on our relationship: am I over-reacting? am I placing too much stress on a foundation that cannot hold under its weight? But what weight is this anyway?! Nothing more than his own promise! And maybe that says more than I want it to.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Was Loud By Your Lows (so many creature fears)

(For J.)
I've been thinking about the sex/gender distinction a lot recently. I'm reading Drucilla Cornell's "Beyond Accommodation"--a Derridean reading of Lacan at its most powerful--and just finished Michael Warner's "The Trouble With Normal". Needless to say, the former is far superior to the latter. But still, both books attempt to get at the problem of "naturalized" or, in philosophical parlance, "essentialized" gender roles. Briefly, a naturalistic or essentialized account of gender takes recourse to anatomy, to "sex," to account for the "proper" actions of a gendered subject. Thus, the logic goes, a man, because he has a penis, desires a woman, sleeps with her, and towards the end of reproduction. The gendered "male" is a man insofar as he, by virtue of his anatomy, is directed by his anatomy to sleep with the "proper" sexual object, a woman, and for the purposes of reproduction. This is, obviously, immensely problematic. But let's attend to what makes such a notion problematic in the first place. After all, it wasn't so long ago that the idea of a difference between "sex" and "gender" was a radical idea--a radical idea we now are the beneficiaries of, and which we have the privilege of taking for granted.

Sex, it was once thought, to be "male" or "female," issued forth from anatomy itself. In a strange way, then, we can now--from the vantage point of contemporary queer and feminist theory--see that the body itself, the natural corpus, the text of the lived life, was always already moralized: a certain body "naturally" does certain things and with certain other bodies (never the same kind of body, a "homo" body). Plato, for instance, gives voice to this fantasy of biological determinism in the Symposium when he, through the voice of the comedic playwright Aristophanes, tells the myth of two bodies, once unified but split by Zeus, longing for reconciliation, for a re-joining that would complete them or fill the absence of the Others loss. That a penis fits into a vagina, the story was appropriated into saying, proves that the "rightful" union of two divided lovers is between a man and a woman. (Needless to say, this reading, so prevalent in Western civilization that my own gay mentor was taught by his [straight] mentor to "pass over the disgraceful indulgences of the Greeks," elides--actively erases--from the Symposium the very inclusion of gay and lesbian pairings articulated by Plato himself.) Of course, Plato interjects, in the voice of Socrates: just because the Other is your "other half" does not mean he or she is good for you: a person has been known to amputate a diseased arm because it is no-good, regardless of whether or not it is a "part of him". That is, and with an appeal to the body itself (to a certain form of [Nietzschean] naturalism), Plato introduces the necessity of ethical or moral or political standards or judgments into the idea of the "health" of the body: just because it "seems" to "fit" doesn't mean that the myth Aristophanes tells is binding: your other half, or what you are meant to take your other half to be, could be a gangrene appendage. Something other than simple biology, Plato is saying, must aid in deciding who the Other that will be your "compliment" will be.

For gays, and I speak in what follows from the perspective of a gay man, the problem of the distinction between "sex" and "gender" is particularly troublesome. Because the common understanding of sexuality is understood within the context of a heterosexual alignment of man/woman the idea that a man could love and fuck another man throws the whole concept of "sexuality" into chaos. Who is the man? people ask. Who is the, you know, the one who fucks? they ask. These questions, which for any gay man who speaks frankly about his pleasures are common-place, belie a deep-seated acceptance of a gendered assignment of sexual roles, so deep-seated that they seem natural: to be the man, this logic thinks, means to be the one who fucks. To be a woman, conversely, is to be the one who is fucked. Restated in philosophical language, the distinction between "masculine" and "feminine," between "fuck-er" and "fuck-ed," is phrased in the context of "active" vs. "passive". To be a man, it is understood, is to be the active penetrator, the fuck-er, rather than the fuck-ed. To be a man means to stick your penis into something (a woman!), to actively penetrate.

Thus, to be a man who enjoys and who takes pleasure in being fucked is to be the logical equivalent of a woman--at least by the logic of sexuality. (And I mean by 'sexuality' "heterosexuality" which only ever speaks of its Others with qualifiers--"pathological sexuality," "perverse sexuality," "homo-sexuality," "trans-sexuality"--which, as it were, takes itself as the norm that must distinguish itself through a series of ever increasing qualifiers from the "aberrations" of itself: "sexuality" always already presupposes "heterosexuality" upon which every other sexuality is but a derivative, and a less than worthy derivative thereof.) When my boyfriend says, with me, "I'm a gay man, I like to get fucked in the ass" we disrupt, we--as it were--fuck with the very logic of gendered sexual roles. We expose, with our pleasures, with our affirmation of our pleasures, the lie that grounds the logic of gender as determined by sex. As men, so the story goes, we are not men if we, as men, get fucked. Then we are women. But we say, and live, otherwise.

In the wake of the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, a movement which relied in no small measure on exposing the hypocrisy of White discrimination and demanding consistency, the Woman's and Gay and Lesbian Movements took recourse to a very politically potent weapon the Black movement made use of: biological determinacy. Before addressing the appropriation of this logic by gays, lesbians, and feminist women let's first attend to the logic Blacks used in their struggle. It is, first of all, a logic that directly appeals to a theological conception of "man" as the creation of God and thus equal: we are all children of God, and made in his likeness. Therefore, how can a Black man be any less worthy of divinely imbued dignity than a White man imbued with the same divinely imbued dignity? (It is no unimportant fact that MLK Jr. was a Reverend.) This line of argumentation dissipated, however, but what remained was the "fact of Blackness": I was born this way, I had no control over the pigmentation of my skin, and because of this, because of my being victim to the event of my birth as a Black person, you (you White folk) cannot rightly hold me accountable for all that "Blackness" means. An appeal not to God but to genetics is made in this case to justify the a-responsibility of being born Black: lack of control, being "fated" to "Blackness", contains within it a moral imperative for Whites to not discriminate.

In the same way gays and lesbians have made the same appeal to a perverse sense of biological determinism: I never asked for this, the logic reads, I was born this way: I had no choice, just like a Black person had no choice over the color of their skin! The analogy between race and sexuality allows the following point to emerge with brilliant clarity: being gay or Black is only something someone has to excuse or justify through recourse to lack of choice when the norm, the ideal, is White or straight. The logic, as it reads, says nothing more than this: If I could, I would be you--White, straight, male--but I was born this way--Black, gay, female/queer--and I can't help that I can't be "right"/"proper". Therefore, the logic continues, take pity of me. Don't discriminate, don't call me nasty names, don't beat me up, don't look disgusted or afraid when you see me: I can't help that I'm different, that I'm not like you. This logic amounts, ultimately, to an appeal to the privilege of the so called "Normal" (White, Straight, Male) population to not hold us freaks to their impossible standards, all the while promising with everything we are that we freaks will try to be normal--at least as best we can.

The question that strikes me is this: Why are we making any such appeal to "Normal" for pity, for allowance in their otherwise pristine world (if not for the appearance of us freaks), for permission to be who we are and to pursue the pleasures we enjoy? I think the answer to this question is to be found in the very same impulse that gives rise to the question in the first place: an acceptance of a biological determination of sexuality. The logic reads: Just like a Black man has no control over his skin pigmentation (though, to a limited extent certainly, he can determine what that pigmentation means) a gay man has no control over his desires: he is the victim of his homosexuality in a Straight World just as a Black man is victim to his skin color in White World. I reject the notion that to be gay or to be Black is to be a victim. I think, instead, the very impulse which seeks out such a refuge always already accepts that Straight or White is what is Normal, right, and proper.

Thus, I think about defending gay sexuality, but not exclusively gay sexuality, outside the context of the Black Civil Rights Movement and its tactics of justifying inclusion on the grounds of theological, and thereby biological, determinism. I am not a child of god, and even if I was born this way, this isn't a "defect" that needs to be accommodated: politically, and psychically, speaking biology has nothing to do with my oppression, with my frustration, with my confusion, or my sadness.

I, instead, ask the obvious question, which I alluded to above: why do I need to justify my pleasures, my body, my lover to you, Normal? What makes you, Normal, so pristine that everyone around you needs to legitimate themselves before they can just live? These questions (and there are so many more--just ask a wounded queer of their rage and pain) are decidedly political insofar as they strike at the public and socially accepted ordering of our bodies and our pleasures. Fundamentally, it is a question of where you can hold your boyfriends hand without fear of backlash. That is, it is a question of appearance in the public realm: who can and cannot "properly"/"appropriately" appear. It is a series of questions that invert the hierarchy of power: instead of "Normal" demanding of me that I justify my appearance on its scene, I ask of "Normal" why it presumes to legitimately dominate and order the scene in the first place. Instead of "Normal" "accepting" me so long as I'm no "too obvious" with my boyfriend I ask why "Normal" can be as obvious as it likes to be without fear of social punishment. Instead of keeping my desires and affections silent, I ask "Normal" why it can declare "I'd totally fuck her" with impunity, without fear of reproach. That is, in inverting the direction of power, I thereby empower myself: I can ask the questions now, and you, "Normal," have to answer up: now "Normal" has to defend itself.

Usually when such questions are posed, when answers are demanded, recourse to a naturalistic determinism is made: "Normal" is normal because that is how we are made, we are born this way: boys are supposed to sleep with girl: it's nature, that's how babies are made, the continuation of the species and all that. It's funny how when Normal wishes to justify itself it elides pleasure all together: no mention is made of how the act of sex might feel good, might be enjoyable. (Notice how when Normal is in the "hot seat" it retreats to the same tired position as queers: it denies its pleasures on the basis of a victimization, only that Normal happens to be "the right kind of victim".--Could not our shared status as victims to a restrictive Law of what is normal, ordered around a pleasureless functionalism, serve as the basis of our commonality? More on that in a moment...) Instead there is a retreat to a bare functionalism: sex is such only to the end of reproduction. Indeed, most straight people can't appeal to pleasure because there are, following the logic of sexuality, a whole host of pleasures they could (and probably would) enjoy that are denied to them: to defend their sex on the basis of pleasure would already be to start sliding down the slippery slope of de-naturalizing the gender roles they so adamantly need to defend. Freud, when he speaks to so called "perversions," includes kissing, looking, masturbation, oral and anal sex, and touching in the realm of "perversions" of the norm of reproductive, functional, naturalistic sex: such play is about pleasure, not "sex". Of course, Freud's "list" (as it were) is in the service of subverting the very concept of "Normal," to expose the "normal" (give or take) sexual acts that almost everyone engages in that fails to meet the standards of Normalcy.

Also, usually, such questions are never even allowed to be posed. Violence against gays and lesbians (and those who look a bit too queer for comfort) is aimed at not the actual being of the feared homosexual but rather the questions their very bodies pose to "Normal". The insult, the punch, the look of disgust: these are only ever defensive acts of effecting a distance between oneself and the feared Other: with the insult, strike, or disgusted look a gulf opens up, and that gulf keeps Normal safe from the challenges of the questions the very body of the freakish Other poses: What, after all, make you normal? A question the only answer to is either, "Nothing" or the debasement of the very desires and pleasures the answerer might feel in the reduction of sex to mere functionality. Why is it that Normal (or, rather, those who claim to fit into "normalcy") would rather preemptively silence the Other than face the challenge of a question of their normalcy? Doesn't this impulse speak volumes of the fragility of the very concept of Normal, a concept so fragile it cannot allow itself to challenged? In a certain sense, doesn't the vehement opposition to the appearance of us freaks on the scene belie, in fact illuminate, the very breaking-point that Normal is afraid it is being pushed towards? But still, why the need to silence the Other, why the fear of a "breaking point" the occasion of queers on the scene seems to threaten?

I don't as of yet have an adequate answer to this question. The critique, as it were, ends with this unanswered question, leaving in its wake a serious challenge to Normal on the one hand, and the prospects of a way of life that can exist "within" Normal while resisting normalcy on the other. For, while "Normal" may not exist and may not be able to justify itself--and I thereby answer what were, ultimately, a series of rhetorical questions--this does not enable the belief that now "everything is permitted." The loss of the norm, of "Normal," does not entitle us to act without constraint. Nor, more to the point, does it legitimate violence--whether physical or otherwise--against straight people, or one another as queers. Rather, with the rejection of Normal what remains are still the questions: what remains is oneself as a subject who poses, and who is subject to, questions, to critique. It is not enough, that is to say, to simply live in opposition to Normal; one must also challenge oneself with the same intensity that one challenges Normal. When Socrates is about to face death he strokes the hair of the young Phaedo who, anticipating the loss of his friend and exemplar is already in mourning, and says: the real loss, young Phaedo, would be to let the conversation die, to stop asking questions. The death of Normal does not thereby mean that the questions Normal poses for us, just as the questions Socrates posed for Phaedo, disappear: we can reject the norms of Normal without thereby being free of the questions born of that rejection. Indeed, so long as the traces of Normal are always with us--we cannot leave our homes without seeing is effects everywhere!--so too must we remain questioning, and questionable, subjects.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deeper Into A Murakami Novel continued

When you stopped yourself and thought about things hard enough, usually after a bottle of wine was emptied and the ashtray had been piled full-up, you realized that J.'s disappearance made perfect sense. There were a number of reasons, all perfectly coherent and logical, that laid themselves out before you which, even through the haze of the liquor, were undeniably clear. The future itself was always something J. felt uncomfortable about discussing. Still, not talking about it allowed it to unfold itself, as if almost by some magical force which also kept you to him. The promise, when it was ever spoken, was only to "be there"--a projection into that unknown, untalked about abyss. It was into that abyss that J. disappeared into.

It was three weeks ago that he left. Classes had started again; your students vivacious and eager as always, your colleagues jovial and perpetually aloof. The folds of the books that lay open, spines cracked, pages heavily marked and annotated, had, once again, become your refuge. They became his arms but their embrace was more total: every sentence opened itself to you, reaching out to you, and then holding you to them with steely insistence. You remembered why the text was your lover in the first place, the return to a primordial state of total envelopment.

You had let J.'s arms grow more and more slack, less emphatic. He had a rival lover he could never best. After four years of this gradual disengagement he finally disappeared. And you had adjusted yourself to his absence.

Once, when you had just fallen in love with him, as coursework was impending, he guffawed at the sex/gender dichotomy. Lacking any will to patience, you had lost your cool. My body, you snarled, is political resistance. It does not bend to the contours of the demands made of it from every angle. It stands erect when it can, and it harbors always an irrepressible need to revolt, to scream, to never, never be cowed into denying itself. My body is fluid and filth, but it is your fluid and filth, too, and if you can't love this, then I'm going home. I refuse to deny my pleasures, my jokes, my irony, to accommodate your anxiety.

It was your body, you thought as your rode home on your bicycle, battered by the wind off the lake, that he was assaulting.