Tuesday, December 22, 2009


"This Holiday Doesn't Mean Anything Anymore"

There is something beautiful about thinking about the body as an organic part of the world--an organism. In this context I mean to emphasize the ways in which the body has its cycles, like a weather pattern, almost. And, like the weather, especially here in Chicago, this shit can turn on the drop of a dime. Sunny and mild, now windy and overcast--my psychology as meteorology.

I'm tired now,
of trying to figure out how,
Sometime next week
it will come to me
Will it be too late?

Sometimes skies defy words
and it's all I can do to stare
I imagine you're in there
Always a sunset

"That's the Way We Get Down (or: On Artistry as a Way of Life)"

For Nietzsche modern man is sick, sick of himself--man makes himself sick, and is sick of being who he is, doing what he does. This condition, "ressentiment"--French for "resentment," but with clear illustrative power of "re-sediment," "re-sentiment"--is a turning back-upon, a doubling over, a re-coil, a bent-double in pain. For Nietzsche the "soul" or "conscience" is born of this process of turning emotion back onto the self, of inflicting pain onto one's own body rather than letting those emotions or passions flow out into the world. (For Freud, the "soul" is the super-ego, the "judge, jury, and executioner" of the Freudian psyche.) Nietzsche, as much as Freud, sees this "soul" or "conscience" as the advent of "humanity," the "moment" (which is never a single moment, and is itself anachronistic, resisting linear models of time) when, as Nietzsche writes, Nature gives herself the paradoxical task of breeding an animal with the right to make promises. Nietzsche's whole genealogy of morals is to show how the birth of the soul in and of itself is not a good or bad thing. Rather, how the soul functions is important for Nietzsche--what and how it does, and why: these questions are more important for Nietzsche than the simple fact of the soul.

Part of the problem Nietzsche identifies is that we come to understand ourselves late in life, after we already have a conceptual understanding of "I," of "self." The problem is simply that this is an "I" that was formed by forces, influences, and agents totally other than "I," but which now are inseperable from "I." Social constructivism is an interpretive lens that asserts the pervasive effects of culture on our lives--that we cannot understand ourselves outside of any given context, precisely because we are always already in a certain context. Nietzsche recognizes this phenomenon, and indeed is one of the first in the West to give it full articulation. As he understands the problem of modern man, man sick of himself, the context is seen to be total, as an unchanging, unchangeable _fact_ of reality. Thus, Christianity, for Nietzsche, is a religion (as almost all are) that gives a "reason" for suffering, for the violent re-doubling-back-on of re-sentiment (ressentiment): the priest says: the world is evil, and the body is fallen, impure, corrupt. Nothing can change this metaphysical fact of the world and only death and the afterlife promise happiness or "purity".

This kind of thinking, and the kind of life that lives this way, is only possible because of an act of will. Nietzsche writes, people would rather will nothingness, rather than not will at all. The important move Nietzsche calls attention to, however, is the denial of any act of will: modern man is sick of himself, but denies that he makes himself sick--this responsibility is projected onto the world and the body. For Nietzsche, modern man looks at himself and says, "It happened thus..." as if there were some sort of mechanistic necessity to the way the world unfolds. By contrast, the over-man, the man who tries to get "over" man, declares: I willed it thus!

Of course, this is a lie. But a necessary lie--a true fiction. It allows life to go on... the illusion of mastery, of some sort.


"The Queer Thing Is... (or: "To Fail to Represent Your Life As You Know It...[Is] To Create")

This afternoon, in the wake of a simply wonderful conversation with De Milo, I went to the local cafe and sat in the glorious sun reading an equally wonderful book, Drucilla Cornell's "Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction, and the Law". Her reading of Lacan, and especially her reading of Derrida's critique of Lacan, is superb and I'd like to take a moment to share with you some of the thoughts I've had in the immediate aftermath of these two incredibly stimulating intellectual encounters.

De Milo and I ran the gamut of topics, but we consistently returned again and again to the importance of resisting a reification of the structural binary that so easily insinuates its way into so many radical discourses. Dichotomies of man/woman, inside/outside, proper/improper, top/bottom, pure/impure, active/passive--dichotomies that by sheer force of repetition are now taken to be natural givens (or, and more to the point, "pre-givens")--are often taken at face value, and unfortunately taken at face value by the very folk who are to be ironically subverting--"queering" if you will--such rigid binaries.

This led me to wonder: Is there something about the very structure of sexual difference that leads us to slip into the metaphysical language of "proper position". Or, rephrased, What is it about our framing of sexual difference that seems to force us to speak of its presence only ever against a metaphysical horizon of absence or loss?

As I've said in other blog posts, the tendency in contemporary queer discourse to speak of sexual difference--and thus of sexual practices--within or against a horizon of immutable "positioning" can be traced to two distinct sources: Lacanian linguistico-psycho structuralism on the one hand, and Anglo-American "essentialist" feminism on the other. A paradigmatic example of the latter would be Catharine MacKinnon, who is treated rather charitably by Cornell, but who nevertheless, by operating out of a Marxian frame of critique refuses the possibilities of imagining a "beyond" to socially real-ized gender norms. Because, in a doctrinaire Marxian modality, the base is always already determined by the super-structure, "who" a woman or a gay man or lesbian "is" arrives as an absolute imposition of identity. There is no room for "queering" the scene because any performance is always already enframed by a rigid binary of sexual difference. This leave MacKinnon, as Cornell points out, in the position of having to disavow the feminine as a position of domination, and to unconsciously affirm the masculine as equivalent to freedom. That is, the revolutionary politics MacKinnon proposes amounts to little more than an inversion of the current configuration of subject/object positions, a redesignation of the feminine in the "masculine position" (viz. free), a move that effaces whatever specificity the feminine may offer and an unwitting acceptance of the very gender-hierarchy MacKinnon is purportedly is critiquing.

It should be noted, at least in passing, that MacKinnon suffers from a serious lack of imagination, and this because she sees the possibilities of the imaginary domain as always already "infected" or determined by patriarchy. Her vehement denunciation of such "flights of fancy" is in the service of stating what _is_, and thereby demanding a confrontation with the reality of gendered domination. But her insistence on what "is," coupled with her rejection of imagination, shifts her analysis out of the register of a _descriptive_ phenomenology of patriarhcal oppression, and into the tenor of a _normative_ assertion of what reality, in its totality, "is". This slippage is almost inevitable; her onto-epistemological claim, the "is," is marked by the very metaphoricity of language: "is" always already is written: "is like...". (This "is like..." "is like..." "is like..." when making ontological claims is the trace of _differance_ which marks every claim to present presence with the deferred, differed Other.)

Cornell does a superb job of showing how, in a sense, Lacanian linguistico-structural psychoanalysis suffers from the same slippage from the register of a phenomenological analysis of the structuring "realms" of psychic life (symbolic, imaginary, Real), to an instantiation of these realms on the foundation of sexual difference, of castration.

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