Posts Tagged ‘Letters From An Alien’

deconstruct

What would Derrida say about us? If I told him that I shall be spending today immersed in ‘texts’ I wrote a year ago? Some of them ‘letters’ to you. Some of them cries out into the ether. That I will be going over my words with a fine-toothed comb, looking for clues, looking for an escape route. That copies of my throwaway texts, some of them casual tweets, are also sat in a file in a drawer in a filing cabinet in a grey office. Waiting to be deconstructed by the little man in his grey suit whose hopes and dreams have amounted to this bureaucratic role as a servant. To the crown. Would Derrida frown and smile that wry smile of his? Would he shake his head and sadly say that you take a text out of its context at your peril? That if you try to consider words and words alone, separate from the sad desperation of the person who wrote them, separate from the blank incomprehension of the person who read them, separate from the cold officious room where the little man in his grey suit will one day be reading them out in a dead pan monotone, you lose all meaning? That deconstruction, inspite of what thousands of English  Literature Undergraduate students may believe, is not an academic exercise? It’s blood and guts.  It’s the opposite of abstract. It’s finding the life that is hidden in every text. The fear. The love.

What would Barthes say about us? He knows a thing or two about this. In his book, A Lovers Discourse, he ripped out his heart, laid it on a table, and ‘deconstructed’ it with a scalpel right infront of us. He reminded us that all those cliches we have come to associate with a trite, sentimental expression of ‘love’, are much much more. Goodbyes at train stations, scented notepaper, whispered ‘I love yous’ are merely cyphers, outward acceptable codes for a torrent of feeling, of loss, of pain, of the fear of death enacted in the scene where our Lover slams the door in our face.  I think Barthes would have some compassion for us.  If he were to join us in the cold, officious room, he’d probably be solemn as he transcribed the words coming out of the mouth of the little man in his grey suit. He’d probably find beauty in the translations of translations of words once written in great anguish. And he would save his wry smile for the moment when we started to argue about who ‘owned’ which ideas, whose texts were whose, he’d cough and mutter something about The Death of The Author. And the fact that, if we’re going to be picky about it, he has some claim to ownership of our ideas and our texts anyway.

What would Foucault say about us? I don’t know. I am not so sure he would be that concerned, no matter how much we wish he would be, about our individual feelings. Our petty struggle. He is more of a bigger picture guy. I suspect that if he too found himself with us in the cold, officious room, it could get quite crowded in there, he’d notice the lay out. Not from an interior design perspective, the State has no eye for style, but in terms of Power. Who goes where, who stands, who sits, who is left behind a glass screen. He might smile wryly too, and he might pull out an old battered copy of Discipline and Punish as he noted that whilst the days of flogging in the public square are long gone, there is still something theatrical about this scene. That the desire for rituals of public humiliation haven’t left us, we’ve just made them less gory. I hope at least, he might also spare a thought for Foucault’s Daughter, and how I said she’d get into trouble one day. How, in my fumbling attempt at fiction, I ended up doing what he does, and dissected, analysed, prophesised reality.

What would Freud say about us? For the Daddy of Psychoanalysis is also the Daddy of Deconstruction. It was he who, before anyone was ready, began to pull apart our words, and showed how words are rooted in thoughts, and thoughts are rooted in base impulses. I expect Freud would say very little. He might puff on his pipe and knot his brow. But it wouldn’t escape his attention, that it is me, not you, and not the little man in his grey suit, who has accepted that this is a psychological drama. That we have been interacting on a subconscious level, and that if I want to make sense of what has happened, I won’t find the answers in the cold, officious room, I’ll find them on the analyst’s couch, in my own mind, through my writing.

And, as much as I may have made out you to be the centre of this story, as Derrida, Barthes, Foucault and Freud know full well, it’s me I am writing to and talking to, it’s my thoughts and feelings and, yes, ideas, I have been ‘deconstructing’ all this time. The girl who wasn’t there is here. And she hasn’t finished yet.

 

‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’  –  Oscar Wilde

Some notes on seeing A Dangerous Method:

I hate Keira Knight­ley usu­ally but I thought she acted quite well in this.

I liked how her con­tor­tions of emo­tional pain were exactly the same expres­sions in tone, as when she was approach­ing orgasm due to the beat­ings from Jung.

The por­trayal of female masochism as a result of child­hood ‘abuse’ was pre­dictably lame, though I thought. Isn’t sado-masochism really a NORMAL part of sexuality?

Also Fassbender/Jung just was not believ­able as a ‘dom­i­nant’ man but is any man?

I also thought that she ‘recov­ered’ rather too straight­for­wardly with her recov­ery being sig­ni­fied by mar­riage and pregnancy.

The actor who played Freud made it for me he was very con­vinc­ing. He had a pres­ence I imag­ine Freud would have had. He also showed that Freud may have been a dif­fi­cult man.

As I said to you before, my favourite scene was on the boat where Freud refused to tell Jung his dream because it would under­mine his ‘author­ity’. How apt.

 

http://www.towleroad.com/2012/02/a-marine-comes-home.html

This photo has gone viral recently. It was first posted on a ‘Gay Marines’ FB page and has since been sent round the internet, with the tagline ‘Gay Marine Comes Home’.

You know me. I am an out and proud ‘homophile’. I am bordering on being a homo myself.  My blog archives are full of pictures of men in clinches, from the sacred to the profane. But when I saw this image I was caught short. I will admit it to you, Roland. I felt a bit queasy. And I think you will understand why.

The photograph is a graphic illustration of the end of DADT, the edict that kept gay, lesbian AND BISEXUAL army personnel from being open about their sexuality. In some ways, the military was, until very recently, the last bastion of ‘pre-gay’ times. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been the unspoken motto of men who have sex with men for eons. And now it is over.

But it is not just the repression of homosexuality that is over here. I fear some other things may be on their way out too. What about all those soldiers ‘acting gay’ on video? Will they be doing that so much, when their gay colleagues are on site? Or, a story you know intimately, those plucky GIS who went gay for pay a few years back. Would that happen when being gay in the army is normalised?

I know that you and your ‘accomplice’ in homo-anthropology Steven Zeeland, have had a range of feelings about the ‘coming home’ of gayness in the military. In Male Impersonators and Barrack Buddies, you both seemed to be opposed to DADT, even though you were nostalgic for a time when homosexuality was even more hidden than it was in the army in the 1990s. You of all people are aware of the complexities and contradictions here. And you, of all people, would be unlikely to begrudge a passionate embrace between a marine and his lover, especially if it is caught on camera.

But something is well and truly lost isn’t it?

Perhaps our only consolation is that in coming home, the gay identity is also quickening its own demise. You have predicted we are nearing the end of gay. Judging by the defensive reactions mainly gay men give to me when I even dare to critique their precious identity position, I am inclined to think you are right.

A Gay Marine Comes Home. We know it’s over, Roland.

It’s over.

P.s. I am going to be honest with you, one of the things that made me feel a bit ‘queasy’ was the gender dynamics of the photo. The marine, supposedly one of those macho masculine types, has a garland round his neck and is being lifted off the floor by his big strong civilian boyfriend (who he termes ‘the giant’ on his facebook page). But I am an old-fashioned girl.

 

In a previous post of mine about ‘subjectivity’ ‘objectification’ and narcissism, a frighteningly astute commenter likened me to Morrissey. He quoted me:

“He [Roland Barthes] positioned himself as the ‘amorous subject’ and that seemed to me like the font of his creativity and knowledge and writing and work. If you are always the ‘object’ of someone else’s affections, it is a very passive role. What do you actually do?”

And then said, damningly:

‘This is Morrissey in a nutshell. A continually fascinating aspect of his work is how melancholic longing is always a form of activity, even attack. Always pursuing, its unimaginable that the “amorous subject” of a Morrissey lyric could ever be the pursued. You are the quarry.

His work is constantly recriminating the loved object for its passivity. And here there is a secret collusion between lovers and enemies: “And what do you do? You just sit there”.’

 

 

Your silence is deafening…

Fade-out

fading / fade-out

Painful ordeal in which the loved being appears to withdraw from all contact, without such enigmatic indifference even being directed against the amorous subject or pronounced to the advantage of anyone else, world or rival.

- Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

 

h/t @fennerpearson

 

 

In Barthes’ Lover’s Discourse he says that the ‘amorous subject’ suffers from an overload of empathy. In one sense it is the opposite of narcissism as the amorous subject focuses on the ‘loved object’ more than himself (Barthes always uses ‘he’ and ‘him’) but in another sense ‘love’ in the constructed sense of the word, is all about reflecting back on the self. There is this devestating bit in the book where he basically says every time you think you care about how your ‘loved object’ feels you are kidding yourself. You only care about how he feels in relation to you.

It really hit home to me.

But after reading it I was with Barthes all the way. He positioned himself as the ‘amorous subject’ and that seemed to me like the font of his creativity and knowledge and writing and work. If you are always the ‘object’ of someone else’s affections, it is a very passive role. What do you actually do?
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This subject made me recall this, one of the first conversations I had with Mark Simpson, king of metrosexual narcissism, on his blog in 2010:
QRG: ‘Classic Pushy Bottom’ is a classic phrase!
MS: Well, I’ve enough experience of that particular species to recognise one when it pushes back at me – in Widescreen
QRG: Maybe the ‘Classic Pushy Bottoms’ and the ‘Classic Passive Tops’ should get together in a (very large) room and fight it out amongst themselves. With the cameras rolling of course, for the rest of us to enjoy the carnage.
MS: Oops, I think I may have already appeared in that movie….
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There is this trick (you will have played it on yourself) where a writer writes something very personal and somehow manages to convince him/herself that on finishing it, it will magically turn into just another book. That is detached from the personal things it refers to. But that is the point when it becomes even more personal. How do we manage to pull that one on ourselves?

And there is another trick. This one is where I convinced myself that finishing the story would mean the story would be finished. It feels like now, it has only just begun.

Quel con!

(There is a new drug available-that ‘blocks’ the onset of puberty, that is beeng piloted to use for trans ‘children’ to make transition more practicable and less traumatic)

You: Like all this kind of new technology it will produce new sexualities – and identities. Plenty of kids, trans or otherwise, would be drawn to the idea of forever postponing puberty. It’s like the ultimate form of edging

Me: I hated puberty but I don’t think I’d have tried to postpone it. i just postponed sex which probably wasn’t a terrible idea. Though I did it in quite a S/M way by tormenting my poor boyfriend at the time. I get annoyed with all those ‘sex-positive’ people saying ‘virginity’ should not be a thing, because sex is all number of things and it is sexist to assume a girl in particular has to ‘lose’ her virginity etc. But as a good puritan I got off on all that! If I hadn’t had my purity to lose, I might never have bothered at all.

Me: Sometimes talking to you is how I imagine it’d be talking to Foucault. But Foucault was so much more precious about how his own sexuality informed his ideas. You, whether it is intentional or not, imbue all your words with – what is the phrase- a visceral sense of your own response to them. Or to the idea that led to them. I find it very compelling. And I found Foucault compelling in the first place. I am an alien, who has the good fortune to receive these notes, as brief as they may be, that throb and pulsate with the blood and desire of a real human being. (The desire, as ‘desir’ is, obviously is not aimed at me or anyone in particular, but there it is, waiting…)

Of course, I rarely think what it must be like for you, interacting with me. Tiring? Er…  I just don’t know. On one or two occasions someone has remarked on my intelligence. As if it is something they wish I didn’t possess. Or if I must have it, could I just not leave it in its box sometimes. Instead of constantly bringing it out and haranguing others with it?

Michel Foucault:

The experience of heterosexuality, at least since the Middle Ages, has always consisted of two panels: On the one hand, the panel of courtship in which the man seduces the woman: and, on the other, the panel of the sexual act itself. Now the great heterosexual literature of the West has had to do essentially with the panel of amorous courtship, that is, above all, with tha which precedes the sexual act. All the work of intellectual and cultural refinement, all the aesthetic elaboration of the West, were aimed at courtship. This is the reason for the relative poverty of literary, cultural and aesthetic appreciation of the sexual act as such.

In contrast, the modern homosexual experience has no relation at all to courtship. This was not the case in ancient Greece however.  For the Greeks, courtship between men was more important than courtship between men and women (Think of Socrates and Alcibiades). But in Western Christian culture homosexuality was banished and therefore had to concentrate all its energy on the act of sex itself. Homosexuals were not allowed to elaborate a system of courtship because the cultural expression necessary for such an elaboration was denied them. The wink on the street, the split-second decision to get it on, the speed w ith which homosexual relations are consummated: all these are products of an interdiction. So when a homosecual culture and literature began to develip it was natural for it to focuse on the most ardent and heated aspect of homosexual relations.

Q:

I’m reminded of Cassanova’s famous expression that ‘the best moment of love is when one is climing the stairs’. One can hardly imagine a homosexual today making that remark.

Michel Foucault:

Exactly. Rather, he would say something like: ‘the best moment of love is when the lover leaves in a taxi’… It is when the act is over and the boy is gone that one begins to fream about the warmth of his body, the quality of his smile, the tone of his voice. This is why the great homosexual writers of our culture (Cocteau, Genet, Burroughs) can write so elegantly about the sexual act itself, because the homosexual imagination is for the most part concerned with reminiscing about the act rather than anticipating it. And, as I said earlier, this is all due to very concrete and practical considerations and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of homosexuality.


I have been reminded of this passage in one of my favourite interviews with Foucault, recently. I think it sheds some light on two questions I asked. The first was about why homo literature often seems so ‘romantic’ about homo-sex, when homosex in reality tends to be  so ‘unromantic': pragmatic, casual, ‘un-emotional’. Foucault’s response might be that this is because homo writers always seem to be looking back wistfully on the sexual act. The way it was conceived tends/tended to be rushed, illicit, snatched in a stolen moment, rather than the result of an elaborate and often public courtship, as a heterosexual sexual act might be.

The other question I asked, that it reminds me of, I didn’t actually ask. I am asking it now.  This relates to your stories of being a ‘straight-chaser’, of those men for whom ‘it is my first time, mate. I’m nervous’ might be a common refrain. About the questions you may ask yourself about why you are so intrigued by their nervousness, even more than the actual act of sex with them. If it arrives. I wonder, if straight chasers are in some way chasing that ‘courtship’ that in modern times has been denied gay men (who have had to spend some of their time skulking in bushes, quite literally, in order to have sex with other men). The way that maybe more ‘traditional’ gay men might also be chasing  courtly love, by chasing the ‘rights’ and rituals of straight people, such as dating, engagement, marriage (divorce).

I feel more sympathetic to those ‘straight’ gays after hearing you and reading this interview with Foucault. Though not to the fundamentalist verve with which they pursue their aims, at the expense of those whose version of ‘romance’ is a little more dark and mysterious, dappled as it is with the shadows of illicit sex and unexplored sexualities amongst seemingly straight men.

Just as Genet and Baldwin created and reported on the  romance of the sexual act that is gone, the warmth of his body and the memory of his smile, maybe you and other homo-romantics are trying to reclaim a romance that has been denied you, the  traditionally hetero-romance of ‘will she won’t she?’ the waiting, the hope, and sometimes the bittersweet disappointment of coitus not achieved.

Maybe the internet adds to and also takes away from that romance. It tends to in most situations, be both a promise of, and a desultory ruiner of all hope of anything resembling poetics.

I wish he was here, still, to look upon this world with wonder and horror and annoyance and laughter.  I wish I didn’t have to be always looking back at the memory of the warmth of his words.

2nd Image: Still from Genet’s Chant d’amour