Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 May 2011

Sonnets for the Wedding

I am performing as the minister in the wedding of two very dear friends of mine (my best friends in the whole world, actually) and another friend of ours will be reading a sonnet at the wedding. So I was looking over Shakespeare's Sonnets recently and I found some really great stuff for the wedding. I also (of course) came across my absolute favorite of Shakespeare's sonnets. Thought I'd share that today, since this blog has been so lately obsessed with the past and since I've been spending so much time reading about queerness and its particular melancholies. This is not going to be in the wedding, obviously.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 43:

When most I wink, then do my eyes best see;
For all the day they view things unrespected,
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?

How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?

All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Reflecting (?) on History

One of the things I committed to doing last semester, in addition to my teaching responsibilities and studying for my comprehensive exams, was taking part in a one-credit seminar on historiography (a/k/a the writing of history) with a professor who is leaving FSU shortly. The professor really wanted me to participate in the seminar, and because there are not a lot of PhD students currently taking courses, my presence was expected to fill out the seminar a little more fully. Anyway, I was excited to do it once I got the reading list, as I hadn't read any of the texts she had assigned.

Since then, I have been thinking more consistently about writing histories, and about histories in general. The theme for the one-day LGBTQ conference I'm working on organizing is subtitled "Memory, Archives, Testimony, History," and, well, queer histories have seemed a more pressing question to me of late.

This is, of course, preface to me telling you that I've been reading a new book. This one is called Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Heather Love's book is about feelings as much as it is about history – and it is about negative feelings at that: shame, loss, melancholy, refusal, desperation. It's fascinating, actually, in its insistence that we pay attention to our feelings of sadness and pain, and that we work (toward whatever queer futurity we're working toward) from those feelings instead of a constant insistence on disavowing those feelings.

Heather Love reminded me of many things with this book. Some cool ideas about queer history I wanted to share:

The effort to recapture the past is doomed from the start. To reconstruct the past, we build on ruins; to bring it to life, we chase after the fugitive dead. Bad enough if you want to tell the story of a conquering race, but to remember history's losers is worse, for the loss that swallows the dead absorbs these others into an even more obscurity.

Paradoxically, perhaps, the persistent sadness of the above passage reads to me more like a challenge than an admission of failure. How about this:

The turn from a focus on "effective history" [history intended to function as a call to activism] to a focus on "affective history" [history as it might have been experienced] has meant that critics have stopped asking, "Were there gay people in the past?" but rather have focused on questions such as: "Why do we care so much if there were gay people in the past?" or even, perhaps, "What relation with these figures do we hope to cultivate?"

Boy, do I love that: the idea of writing history as a way of cultivating a relationship with the past and with figures from the past. This is always how I think of Alfred Jarry and the Dadas, although I would never have described it this way until now. Okay, one more:

What is at stake in [Sylvia Townsend Warner's novel Summer Will Show] is a rethinking of history as itself bound up with fantasy. History in the novel is not simply a neutral chronicle of events; nor is it a ground for the working out of the dynamics of class conflict. Rather, history—like the future—is a medium for dreaming about the transformation of social life.

It has been said before, of course, that history and the writing of history are more about our lives in the present than they are about the past. We write about what has past in order to find places and people with which we can identify, which can define our present selves for us. What Love reminds us of, though, is that writing about the past is always a gesture of relationality, and we ought, perhaps to think more about what we desire from the past – and from those in the past – as we write their stories. For writing about the past is a way of fantasizing about the present: what was, what failed to be, what might have been, what we still have the ability to achieve.

29 May 2011

Rate My Professor

Weirdly enough, on the RateMyProfessor website, my ratings are mixed in with another professor who shares my name – someone who taught in the Humanities before I got to FSU, knew a lot of Latin, and was evidently not very well liked by his students. Sigh. Well it's good that even though I am openly gay, at least I am funny. What does that even mean?

28 May 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

This poster is for a movie called The House on Chelouche Street, which I thought was good. I didn't love it, though, and one of the reasons I didn't love it was that it is a coming-of-age story about a fifteen-year-old boy. I think that I might be losing patience with coming-of-age narratives, or at least coming-of-age narratives that deal with young people with very little self awareness. The main character of this film is so young that I found it hard to identify. It's not that I'm exclusively interested in films about adults, now, but films about young people have been difficult for me to drop into these days.

27 May 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

I wish that I could like Luchino Visconti, but I guess I just don't. I liked Romy Schneider and Trevor Howard in Ludwig, and literally every shot could be framed and put in a gallery. It's that gorgeous. But the film is just so boring. And I am really interested in Ludwig II and in Richard Wagner, whose life and work have always fascinated me, but I feel like Visconti just drains all energy out of his films. This is sacrilege, I know, but I feel it is time to be honest about this.

There is one sequence in Ludwig that I liked and that has real emotional impact: there is an extended sequence (every sequence is an extended sequence in Visconti) where Romy Schneider takes a tour of all the castles that Ludwig has built. The castles are all empty and unbelievably sumptuous. At the end of the sequence, Schneider throws her head back and laughs. I loved this sequence, but for me that was the film's only scene of merit.

Also. I do not understand what it was with the Italians from this time – Fellini and Visconti in particular. Why are all their films dubbed? I fail to understand it. Helmut Berger, as far as I can tell, was speaking English in the film. But instead of listening to him speak in English, I listen to someone else speak over him in Italian and then read an English translation of that Italian in the subtitles. I am sure there must be an explanation for this, but whatever Visconti's reasoning (and Fellini's and René Clément's) the dubbing works to distance me from the emotional impact of the film.

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

This is a Sherman Brothers musical (the gents behind the near-perfect Mary Poppins), but this film is rather awful. The kids are cute – particularly little miss Jodie Foster as Tom Sawyer's love interest – and I love Celeste Holm as always, but for some reason the film isn't underscored and so must of the time Tom Sawyer doesn't actually feel like a musical. The songs, in addition, are unmemorable – and that's generous.

26 May 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

I have not read the book on which Bang the Drum Slowly is based, but the film manages to capture a very interesting tone. This manages to be a very funny comedy about Hodgkin's Disease while also being a very moving story about a friendship between two men. The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious plenty of times, and alongside that humor, the film is quite poignant. It's a true directing achievement, if you ask me. De Niro's character is sort of thick and Moriarty's is streetwise and clever. The following exchange is one of my favorites from the movie and is indicative of how Mark Harris's very simple dialogue manages to achieve profundity.

De Niro: They're only nice to me because they know I'm dying.
Moriarty: Everybody knows everybody's dying; that's why everybody's nice to everybody else all of the time.

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

This movie is great! It's a movie about an assassin out to kill President Charles de Gaulle and the man trying to catch him. Suspenseful, exciting, and sexy. The Day of the Jackal follows the inscrutable, heartless assassin much more than it does the police, and we get to see all of his tricks and plans and ways of not getting caught. It was fascinating.

Revisiting Tzara

This week in the class I'm teaching, we are visiting with the Dadas. So, of course, I came across this passage from The First Celestial Adventure of M. Antipyrine:

DADA is neither folly, nor
wisdom, nor irony, look at me
friendly bourgeoisie.
Art was a nut-shell game, the
children assembled words with a
ring at the end, then they cried,
and shrieked the verse, and
decked it out in doll shoes, and
the verse became queen to die a
little and the queen became a
whale and the children all ran till
their breaths did fail.
Then came the great ambassadors
of sentiment who exclaimed
historically in chorus
Psychology Psychology heehee
Science Science Science
Vive la France
We are not naive
We are successive
We are exclusive
We are not simple
and we are all well-versed in
But we, DADA, do not agree with
them, because art is
not serious, I assure you, and if
we show the crime to
say learnedly ventilator, it's to
please you, good
listeners, I love you so much, I
assure you and I adore you.


25 May 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

I love love loved this movie. It is dark and moody and has that classic 1970s anti-hero feel with a protagonist that is totally at a loss for direction. (I am thinking of movies like The Conversation and The French Connection and Serpico – anyone reading this blog could probably name another five quite easily – the kind of movie George Clooney and Tony Gilroy tried successfully to revisit with Michael Clayton). In Save the Tiger, Lemmon is absolutely superb. His performance is astounding. I was blown away. And, frankly, I was blown away by John G. Avildsen. I've always had a hard heart toward him because the average Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar over Network, probably the best film of the decade; as it turns out, though, Avildsen is a real talent: he directs this hard-hitting, bleak picture without pulling any punches. Save the Tiger is fantastic.

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

I was just talking about childhood, wasn't I? I have to admit to being totally underwhelmed by this picture. It was good... sort of. American Graffiti is a movie that is actually about nostalgia; in other words, the picture attempts to give us an idyllic picture of life as it used to be, to revive something that the film always already assumes is lost. (That makes sense, right?) I don't do very well with either so-called main-street values or with nostalgia, so I didn't really like this movie very much. It was cool to see Harrison Ford looking so young and pretty, though.

24 May 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

The movie was the absolute weirdest. George C. Scott plays this scientist (who is not a mad scientist) who has – and I mean this quite literally – taught a dolphin that he calls Alpha to speak English.

That's all well and good, really, except that The Day of the Dolphin is not a children's comedy. Instead, the movie is a rather intense political-style thriller. The dolphin and his dolphin girlfriend (you guessed it: Beta) are kidnapped... and then trained to kill the President of the United States.
You know, everyday stuff.

The Briefest of Reviews from 1973

This movie manages to figure black people as both primitive and (somehow also) villainous. But, I love me some Yaphet Kotto, and he was great in this picture, and, well – truth be told – more than anything else Live and Let Die is interested in

A) Roger Moore's upper body
B) crocodiles 

I rather enjoyed it, liking, as I do, both crocodiles and shirtless men.

22 May 2011

In a Queerer Direction

My friend Brian warned me that after the comprehensive exams I was going to have trouble getting back on the writing horse. He was obviously correct about this – and I have had some trouble (I'm euphemizing) finding the energy/will/need-to-speak necessary for real theorizing.

To keep busy I am teaching and, of course, reading. I finished Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips's short/sweet book Intimacies this week. And I was reminded of something that I think about frequently that I wanted to share.

People who know me, and regular readers of this space, will probably have heard me say something to the effect that I don't believe in homosexuality. I believe in gay people, sure; I consider myself one or at least close to one (I'm grinning as I type that). But that doesn't mean I believe in the thing homosexuality. Homosexuality as some kind of identifiable reality. In my classes, I refer to this idea of an actual homosexuality as "secret gay," as though it is hidden somewhere on my body, inside, like behind my pancreas. Where is this gay? I ask my students. Show me.

And while I was reading Intimacies, Leo Bersani reminded me that "For Foucault, the virtue of role reversals in S/M was that, by undoing fixed assignments of top and bottom, and of active and passive, such reversals help to create intimacies no longer structured by the masculine-feminine polarity. I think that when he told gays not to be proud of being gay, but rather to learn to become gay, he meant that we should work to invent relations that no longer imitate the dominant heterosexual model of a gender-based and fundamentally hierarchical relationality." This, strikes me as an ideal goal for queer relationality – and perhaps for (my) (queer-inflected) pedagogical praxis.

But I was also reminded of the amazing book The Queen's Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum. I read this when I was an undergraduate and immediately fell in love.Take this passage as exemplary:

I have been speaking about gayness as if I knew what it meant. I don't. It is a mirage.
Gayness isn't my rock-bottom nature. Rather, I listen for and toward gayness: I approach it, as one approaches a vanishing point, or as one tries to match a pitch that is fading into a vast silence.

One of my favorite literary passages of all time comes just a bit later in the book. This is a little long, but I hope you find it as lovely as I do:

You listen to an operatic voice or you sing with operatic tone production and thereby your throat participates in that larger, historical throat, the Ur-throat, the queen's throat, the throat-in-the-sky, the throat-in-the-mind, the voice box beneath the voice box. Homosexuality is a way of singing. I can't be gay, I can only sing it, disperse it. I can't knock on its door and demand entrance because it is not a place or a fixed location. Instead, it is a million intersections—or it is a dividing line, a membrane, like the throat, that separates the body's breathing interior from the chaotic external world.

I think a lot about becoming. Of rising into who I wish to be through effort/dedication/devotion. And I love the idea of performing in the direction of queerness.

20 May 2011

The End of Childhood Part 2

I finally finished Lorenzo Carcaterra's memoir Sleepers, and I wanted to make sure I talked about something other than the book's inadequacies as enjoyable reading material.

A brief digression while I do go over how ridiculous this book is, again. For example, Carcaterra ends his saga, which is broken into three separate sections – idyllic childhood, sexual abuse, and revenge – with a page of paragraphs no one of which is composed of more than three sentences. The end of the story proper looked like this:

It was our special night and we held it for as long as we could. It was something that belonged to us. A night that would be added to our long list of memories.
It was our happy ending.
And it was the last time we would ever be together again.

"It was something that belonged to us"? What does that even mean?

After this bit, Carcaterra lists a kind of American-Graffiti-style explanation of what has happened to every character since the "happy ending." Each one of these paragraphs ends with the same awkward formulation. Ralph Ferguson is forty-nine years old. Edward Goldenberg "Little Caesar" Rominson is fifty-one years old.

Moving on. What I really think is interesting about this book is its insistence on the "childhoods" that these boys "lose" after they are sexually abused. I am interested in this not because I think sexual abuse is a good thing – obviously not – but because I think this formulation of sexual abuse as the "end of innocence" seems so, well, cheap.

Aren't children supposed to leave their childhoods behind and grow up? Isn't this the entire premise of, say, an important literary work like Peter Pan or Huckleberry Finn or (dear lord, forgive my reference to this) Pride & Prejudice? It seems to me that this innocence or "childhood" is, in fact, projected backward onto children – this is certainly true of the boys in Sleepers, who, indeed, are violent kids long before they endure the sexual abuse to which they are subjected.

But Carcaterra insists on this fiction. "I saw them as often as I could," he says of his friends once they are grown up, "and when we got together, it was easy for me to forget what they had become [killers for hire] and remember only who they were." And on the next page he describes their adult friend Carol as "ha[ving] a special affection for John," always able to "see the boy he once had been."

Not only does Carcaterra clearly not understand his friend Carol, who is having a sexual relationship with John (It seems dubious to me that she is having sex with the boy he once had been), but he refuses to believe that the lives that the men have chosen for themselves might have anything to do with their own choices. What I really object to here, though, is this phony re-reading of childhood as something blissful or innocent or idyllic, while also reading it as something that ought to be protected from the future. Carcaterra seems obsessed with the notion that childhood needs to be preserved, protected from outsiders to the supposed naivety it contains.

Again, this isn't to say that the act of rape which signals the end of Carcaterra's childhood is not a terrible, painful violation, with its attendant psychic and physical trauma. But why is the worst thing that the sexual violation manages to do is end this euphemistic childhood? Further, it seems to me that in ending the childhood, the rape actually creates the childhood, for, of course, Carcaterra doesn't know he lives in an idyllic, magical universe until it is ended by an act of violence on his own body.

I like it a lot better when narratives that include rape spend time speaking about actual consequences of that violation. Narratives like Carcaterra's seem to make rape a kind of magical act, and, indeed, reinforce both the stigma of rape victimage and the psychic power (wielded by rapists) that threats of rape and acts of rape can hold over others.

19 May 2011

The End of Childhood Part 1

So, I am reading Lorenzo Caracaterra's memoir Sleepers (at least I think it's a memoir). This is the book that was made into the 1996 movie Sleepers with Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Billy Crudup, Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, etc. I am reading the memoir because it is about the sexual abuse that four boys endured while in a kind of juvenile prison in upstate New York.

The thing is, this book is just so bad. I can hardly bear it, to be honest. The subject matter is fine. It's terrible, in fact, but it isn't unbearable, and the rapes and beatings are described so plainly as to almost be boring. Remember all that brouhaha about James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces and how he fictionalized so much of it that he had to publicly apologize for calling his story "true." Well the difference between Sleepers and A Million Little Pieces to my mind is that AMLP is well written and Sleepers is not. Who cares which one is more "true"? Sleepers, in fact, is written so poorly that I have trouble believing the veracity of what he has to say. Carcaterra doesn't describe anything in detail, and he's trying so hard to make his book suspenseful and emotionally impacting, that he foregrounds the very constructedness of his "true" narrative.

A few examples. The book is about these boys enduring sexual abuse. I told you that. But Caracterra keeps that a secret. We don't know what the book is about. Instead, Carcaterra lets these giant, obvious, open-secret-type hints drop on a rather constant basis. The prologue contains phrases like:

He and the group he was a part of had stained the future of four boys, damaged them beyond repair.
I am the only one who can speak for them, and for the children we were.

I will do another post about this "end of childhood" business in a day or two. I am not sure I buy it. More important right now is Carcaterra's obsession with leaving us with something interesting right before the commercial break: "And for the children we were..." duh duh DUH. Consistently, he ends his (five-page) chapters with this kind of cliffhanging. Some more, intensely repetitive examples:

At first look there were no surprises to Addison. There were no surprises to any of th[e guards]. But that was a first look, and for once we had no idea what to look for.

And two pages later.

They had tried to prepare me, prepare us all. But none of them, not even King Benny, could have envisioned the full extent of the horror we would face.

And three pages later.

The four of us had been locked inside the walls of Wilkinson long enough to expect nothing but the unimaginable.


In the short distance behind us, a guard's whistle blew. Overhead, rain clouds gathered, darkening the skies, hiding the sun in their mist.

Hahaha. That one is just about impending doom, not actually cliffhanging. Okay, last one, although, there are several more in Sleepers:

But he would save his true wrath for me and Michael. We both knew that. What it would be, what it could be after all the horrors that he had already initiated, was something neither one of us could envision. All we knew was that it would happen soon and, as with everything Nokes planned, it would be something we would never be able to erase from our minds.

I know this is supposed to be scary, but it only makes me laugh. The style is just so unbearable!
Anyway. More on Sleepers soon. I have some theory brewing in my head about all these suddenly ending childhoods for which we are so quick to mourn.

18 May 2011

Itamar Moses

I guess I never really posted about how much I enjoy Itamar Moses's play Bach at Leipzig, but I read it several years ago and developed quite a love for it. Which means that when I have seen other Itamar Moses plays on sale, I have purchased them.

This morning, since I am reading more plays – going to try to read one every day before work this summer – I finally picked up Moses's play The Four of Us. I didn't really love the play or anything. It's a play about writing, which I always think is not necessarily the most stageworthy of topics. And, well, I tend to think that plays that could just as easily be films probably ought to be films. There is some good stuff in The Four of Us, but it wasn't really my bag.

What I did love was Moses's afterword to the play. It almost moved me to tears, actually. Moses creates a whole kind of meta-afterword, where he writes about having to write a foreword. It's charming and tongue in cheek, but then he ends with the following:

What a writer makes public is at best a truthful but partial and fragmented glimpse of a private conversation that is happening all the time. Sometimes out loud, with friends or lovers. Somewhat more often in silences, with those people or alone. So listen, you. It's clear now that a silence is about to open up between us. I can see the blank bottom of the page from here. And I don't know how long it's going to last because it's not entirely up to me. And you're already reaching for another book and I'm about to start something new. So here's the part I need for you to understand. I want to tell you everything. I want to tell you absolutely everything about absolutely everything and that is why I do this and it never works. All I seem to do is tell you over and over and over again about the wanting. All I ever do is introduce the things I really want to say. Which are unsayable with words. Which are not pure bursts of feeling and of sound, but which want to be, for you.
Travel safe.
By for now.
Itamar Moses

I love it!!

What I'm Reading...

I helped one of my teachers move out of her office yesterday – she has a fancy new job and just needed a little muscle to lift a few boxes. We got to chatting after the muscle – me and my teacher and another PhD student – and she shamed me a little, telling me I've been watching too many movies and not doing enough work on my prospectus.

She's right, of course. I have felt like giving myself a break. And a break for me means watching movies.

But I am back on the wagon again. Reading texts that involve male/male rape like a good little grasshopper.

 My pal Joel gave me a tip on three plays by Philip Ridley (he wrote Mercury Fur, which I found disturbing a couple years back.) So yesterday and today I read The Pitchfork Disney, The Fastest Clock in the Universe and Ghost from a Perfect Place. They were okay. Early so-called "In-Yer-Face" style, these three plays pre-date Kane's Blasted and Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking. They remind me of Anthony Nielson a bit, although Ridley is, I think, better than Nielson. They are also a lot seedier than Kane and Ravenhill, which is probably why they reminded me of Nielson.

Still, he has some clever, cruel characters, and a few rather odd, disturbing, nightmarish situations. Take, for example, this, from a (male) character who is attempting to seduce a fifteen-year-old:

I gave him what he wanted. A new big brother with a shoulder to cry on. So don't get all righteous with me. We're all as bad as each other. All hungry little cannibals at our own cannibal party. So fuck the milk of human kindness and welcome to the abbatoir!

This character sits for the first twenty minutes of the play in front of a tanning lamp in only his underwear. I was charmed, obviously.

I am also reading the novel Sleepers by Lorenzo what's-his-name: the one the movie is based on. I am bored; mostly because the writing is simply not very good. All nostalgia for the lost days of Hell's Kitchen in the late 1960s. The guy writes like it was paradise and all they did was read Dumas and Melville and Hugo. I am skeptical. It's also been ages since I saw the movie, but it's a Barry Levinson flick if I'm not mistaken. Which makes sense: that man is the king of nostalgia.

17 May 2011

Love Her

Every once in a while one of these comes along that I have to repost.

Anna Wintour doing anything demands a repost.

16 May 2011

Come Live with Me

When I think of love I always think of the following poem by Christopher Marlowe. I thought of it again last night as a friend and I were speaking about choosing non-Shakespearean readings for a wedding, and then I realized I never have posted it on here before. So:

Come live with me and be my Love, 
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.

Not sure why I like this as much as I do, but the phrase "come live with me and be my love" veritably haunts me. I think of it constantly. To me, that is what love is: a comfortable cohabitation, a kind of dance of movements through a shared space, easy relationality and calm. 
The notion of "my love," is interesting, too – the way it's phrased I mean. He says come live with me and be my love as though it is a kind of position, a role, or slot that can be filled by almost anyone. But the poet asks this particular beloved to come be his love. It is a request to fill a need rather than a head-over-heels madness. We choose who we love, and the poet admits that he might have chosen otherwise. But he doesn't choose otherwise. He chooses this beloved for this moment in time. To me, this is love.

08 May 2011

The Medium

I should probably write a post about what a crazyperson I am (one of my dear friends outlined for me yesterday how I have been crossing some serious lines of crazy lately) but, well, this blog is not a confession booth and you, dear reader, are probably not a Catholic priest, so: no confessions of a crazyperson today.

Actually, what I want to talk about today is something else my friend and I discussed last night: media.

Now, my friend and I were talking about politics, as we often do, and the way that the twenty-four-hour news cycle pushes us from one story to the next. One minute all anyone is talking about is the president's birth certificate. Was he really born in the U.S.? I mean, he's black! He's probably not from 'round these parts. And then the next minute it's Osama bin Laden all day and all night. What was he doing in that residence? Why didn't we tell the Pakistani government we were in the country? Who knew what and when? Why didn't President Bush catch him in 2003?

My friend then was blaming people for forgetting about what they think are important news stories quickly and moving on to new topics. "I mean, who do we blame for this?" he asked me: "the media?"

Stop right there. I said. Who are these media and how can we blame them for things?

Then today I was looking at the Calls for Papers for a conference I will probably be attending in Montréal in November and there happened to be a call on "Economies of Mediated Performance." Now, I already object a little to this frame. I am not quite sure performance can be mediated. It is media that perform. That's what media do. Right? It's possible that I understand this incorrectly, so I'll table it for the moment.

Further in the call, the conveners offer that "From tele-present skype exchanges to enscreened corporeal action, from performances of protest to bio-art performance, media is interwoven into the fabric of contemporary performance economies." Media IS?

Mediation, surely, is interwoven into "the fabric of contemporary performance economies." Fine. But media is a plural word; it is the plural, in fact, of the word medium. And so the idea that media is is a rather impossible notion grammatically.

There is a larger problem here, though, at least to my mind, and it is one that exceeds a mere (if you wish to call it that) gripe with these conveners' incorrect grammar. The problem I see here is the vagueness of this term. It is this generality that I objected to with my friend and his blaming of the (big, bad) media for the short attention spans of the U.S. citizenry. To refer to media as though they are responsible for things is to turn our attention to the wrong thing. Or, rather – and actually I think this is the far more pernicious tendency we all have when discussing media – to speak of media is to give up, to pretend as though we have no control and to pretend that we, the receivers of information, are only passive creatures, doomed and cursed forever to be fed information from a superpower of information who filters and sanitizes "the real" before giving us the news in a more palatable and condensed format.

But media (and this is why knowing that the word is plural is important) are different. Media work in different ways and we interact with them in different ways. Television news is different on the television than it is when I watch it on my desktop computer via YouTube because a friend recommended the video to me. Those two modes of watching, those two methods of interacting with media are, in fact, vastly different from one another. And to use a blanket term like media and then transform the plurality of practices that term covers into a singular term that is effaces some really important variations.

Instead of talking about media, it seems to me that we need to be talking about specific patterns that media use, specific modes of interacting with media, specific styles, techniques, and technologies that various media employ in order to feed us information. It is only when we become specific about how these media work that we will be able to change how we interact with them. It is only when we stop being general about media, stop treating them as though they all work in the same way, that we can recognize that there is no giant behemoth called "the media" that is out to brainwash us, but that, rather, there are numerous, diverse, and diffuse mediated connections between ourselves and the information we consume. It is these connections that instruct us about our daily lives and connect us with the world around us, and we need to examine these connections critically and individually. There can be no critique of "the media" at large.

05 May 2011

Seen Around Tallaclassy #7

I know this series has been away for a while, but today I came across this on the East side of town:
Uforia? Seriously? Now, I understand that the person who runs this establishment – which boasts, for the record, seafood and sushi, as well as an international buffet – probably knows that his/her spelling of the word euphoria is not the correct spelling of the word. The owner is likely being clever somehow or thinks a u and an f look cooler or more hip or something than an e and the old p and h combination. But I find it baffling. (I am similarly baffled by Krispy Kreme and its excessive and oddly placed Ks. For that matter, there was a gay club here for a while called Rayn and I never grasped why a y was supposed to have looked any cooler than an i.)

The thing is, why should a place called Uforia do any better with the international buffet set than a place called simply Euphoria? And who is the guy who goes: "I know what'll make the place look and sound cooler, we'll call it Uforia!" I call shenanigans on this restaurant.

03 May 2011

More on the Family and Other Ideas from EKS

I have been studiously reading Tendencies and learning a lot about how to approach my own dissertation simply from Sedgwick's approach to theorizing and the ways that she braids her literary study – even close reading – with her big theoretical ideas. And I wanted to share some more really cool thoughts from her essays that cohere around the idea of "family" and "parentage" but also "friendship" (I put it in scare quotes because the word often seems inadequate to what it signifies) and other relationalities. Her ideas resonate with me so much not only because I am queer, but also because (and perhaps this has to do with queerness, as well) I am spending so much time these days in non-familial and yet, perhaps, in parafamilial relationship with many of my students.

The following is from her essay "Tales of the Avunculate: Queer Tutelage in The Importance of Being Earnest." It's a little long for a blog, but the payoff is considerable, I think:

You will have noted a certain impatience, in this reading of Earnest, with the concept of the Name of the Father. That is partly because I see what may have been the precapitalist or early-capitalist functions of the Name of the Father as having been substantially superseded, in a process accelerating over the last century and a half, very specifically by what might be termed the Name of the Family—that is, the name Family. (Within this family, the position of any father is by no means a given; there are important purposes, including feminist ones, for which the term "familialism" may now usefully be substituted for "patriarchy.") Now, the potency of any signifier is proven and increased, over and over, by how visibly and spectacularly it fails to be adequated by the various signifieds over which it is nonetheless seen to hold sway. So the gaping fit between on the one hand the Name of the Family, and on the other the quite varied groupings gathered in that name, can only add to the numinous prestige of a term whose origins, histories, and uses may have little in common with our own recognizable needs. Redeeming the family isn't, finally, an option but a compulsion; the question would be how to stop redeeming the family. How, as well, to stop being complicit in a process by which the name Family occludes the actual extant relations—for many people, horrifyingly impoverished ones; for everyone, radically changed and unaccounted-for, indeed highly phantasmatic ones—that mediate exchanges between the order of the individual and the order of capital, "information," and the state.

And this is from her essay "Is the Rectum Straight? Identification and Identity in The Wings of the Dove." I love her idea of thinking about how queerness refashions the world:

I have focused on queer "parents" rather than queer "children" because I see an urgency in understanding queer people as not only what the world makes but what makes the world; it is time for genetic narratives like psychoanalysis (and, of course, all narratives are genetic narratives) to stop representing the idiot perseveration of the assaultive and sinister question, Where do homosexuals come from. The complications I have been trying to introduce here are a way of saying, "Get used to it."

Lastly – and this is short, so I don't mind including it – in her "Memorial for Craig Owens" EKS refers to "this strange, utterly discontinuous, projective space of desire euphemistically named friendship, love at a distance..."

I love thinking about my relationships as undefinable and even indefinite. There is a way in which the name "friendship" can only ever be a euphemism for something else. And I don't mean sexual desire, obviously; I mean something else, something more or less than the term "friendship" can manage to cover. Those who are my friends know that what I feel for them is something greater, something that we are "supposed" to feel only for those who answer to the Name of the Family.

01 May 2011

Coming Back to Eve

This afternoon I finished Jacques Rancière's The Names of History, which took me quite a while to navigate, but which I found useful and corrective. (I need to be careful, as always, of thinking I write about culture. What, after all, is "culture"?

But after that I picked up Eve Sedgwick's Tendencies. Sedgwick holds an important place in my heart, and I've read many of her books, but I guess that I sometimes forget that when I read her it is like being literally nourished.

I have spent the better part of a year reading outside of my chosen (favorite) disciplines of queer theory and gay and lesbian studies – not totally, of course, but for the most part – and returning to these modes of thinking and methodologies of analysis via one of Sedgwick's books is, I think, just what I need right now. As I embark on the thinking and writing of my dissertation, the ethical reminders and technologies of care that permeate her work feel to me as though we were written with my own little brain in mind.

Consider, for example, this small passage from her introduction to Tendencies:

I see it's been a ruling intuition for me that the most productive strategy (intellectually, emotionally) might be, whenever possible, to disarticulate [the various elements of family identity] from one another, to disengage them—the bonds of blood, of law, of habitation, of privacy, of companionship and succor—from the lockstep of their unanimity in the system called "family."
Or this from a few pages later:

A word so fraught as "queer" is—fraught with so many social and personal histories of exclusion, violence, defiance, excitement—never can only denote; nor even can it only connote; a part of its experimental force as a speech act is the way in which it dramatizes locutionary position itself. Anyone's use of "queer" about themselves means differently from their use of it about someone else.
And note the ethic of radical deindividualization and identity that the following entails:

"Why me?" is the cri de coeur that is popularly supposed to represent Everywoman's deepest response to a breast cancer diagnosis. ... Yet "Why me?" was not something it could have occurred to me to ask in a world where so many companions of my own age were already dealing with fear, debilitation, and death. I wonder, too, whether it characterizes the responses of the urban women of color forced by violence, by drugs, by state indifference or hostility, by AIDS and other illnesses, into familiarity with the rhythms of early death.
This woman is extraordinary. Few writers, it seems to me, manage to be as challenging and nurturing at the same time.