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on teaching film and sweating

June 28th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Sharon Van Etten: Because I Was In Love (2008)

Sometimes it is permissible to sweat the “small stuff,” especially that stuff that registers the insignificant scenic snips in the field that Benjamin termed the “optical unconscious”—the inconspicuous steps of lighting a cigarette—or the speech that says more than what it says. Sweating these things—a metaphor here about not of getting overly worried, but of working-through minor perceptions—takes a certain kind of patience. I’ve been working these last few years to develop this kind of patience, both in critical work and in (inter)personal encounter. I’m noticing both kinds of attention, or attending (because I like the labor implied by the latter term), require a kind of slowing: of pace, of measured reflection, of withholding.

Withholding judgment. I was a teenage policy debater. Learning to undo those habits of judgment has taken some decades. Not that I am discounting debate, or the idea of quick thinking, or the pedagogy of argument. It’s just at this stage of my thinking, of my public scholarship and my personal life, I’m wanting to be more reflective. More speculative. More contemplative.

In my younger years I was the guy who would interrupt you when you were speaking. I was the guy who couldn’t listen because I was thinking too hard about how I would respond. I’m learning to look and listen better. I think, actually, I’m getting better at it.

Buddhism may be in my future. I don’t know, however, if I have that kind of discipline, or if I can extract the ego in a way that is likely required. I don’t want to detach, just think—or reflect—better.

Perhaps age has something to do with it, perhaps the security of a career that seems to be working alright does too. Perhaps a changing body chemistry plays a role (there are changes, in your thirties, a tired cliché but an observation that truly is only reckoned in the body). Maturity is certainly one name for it (whatever that means, exactly).

I’m noticing the small stuff more and more, the work of the eyes of others, their gestures and ticks. The overcompensation of “glitz” and “blitz,” of speed and novelty, seem to mask the slow labors of subtly and the pregnancy of that misplaced period or malapropism. The watery eyes of my dog (which means the mold count is up). The tiny, yellowing leaves of thyme on my patio table that tell me no amount of water can overcome triple-digit temperatures. The cockroach on the lattice jerking about (it doesn’t bother me). A toad croaks. There is a pleasant whatever here, even in the sweltering heat.

I’m no longer as concerned with clean feet when I climb into bed. I never used to go barefoot. Ever. Then I moved to Texas; somehow I became Fred Flintstone. I was Woody Allen in Annie Hall. What happened? Was it the heat?

I went to the US Post Office this morning. I can remember when a visit to this place condemned one to waiting in line for a half-hour. But no one was there today—or rather, only another group of people. The two attendants looked pleased to see someone at the counter. A middle-aged woman who did not speak English was just before me, her preteen daughter translated the transaction from Spanish (they were pursuing a passport). There were two smaller children, about six and eight, around them, clasping about bare, shaved legs. They all wore pastel-colored tank-tops and baby-t’s. And flip-flops. The woman who processed my business was very nice, looked me in the eyes, and wished me a nice day. And I knew from her smile and hand-pat on the counter she meant it. “You too,” I said, and I made sure to smile. I quick connection, but one that wasn’t a mere projection. I sipped my portable coffee mug on the way out. It is a pleasant thing when you can be with others and see them as people, with stories of their own, and lives, and not interact with them as objects. It’s easier to do in a Post Office. It’s much more of a challenge to do that on the highway.

As a teacher, I can tell you this is often the biggest challenge of teaching: seeing your students as people, not objects. You might say the ideological battle in education today is about precisely this. Teachers want to connect to students as human beings, not customers (which is a form of objectification). And this is the ruse of for-profit education: we treat you like human beings, when actually you’re “just a number.” But I digress. And I’m letting digression drive this, so . . . .

Today I screened Fritz Lang’s M in my film theory class, and a student confessed (somewhat sheepishly) he was indifferent. He didn’t understand, he said, why the film was held up as a classic, why it was so influential in the history of film. I explained the juxtaposition of areal shots of policemen meeting and mobsters plotting was a filmic innovation. I explained the murderer’s incessant whistling of “Hall of the Mountain King”—often off screen—was the first known leitmotif in narrative cinema. Small details often convey a lot of information, most of it affectively, I said. (I wanted to talk about the cigar smoke, which floods the film, but I decided that would be a diversion.) Cinema has been mining this language of affect for over a century now, I said. Today Hollywood is more like opera than it was in the Golden Age of cinema. Watching a film from the 1930s takes a different sort of patience; the pace is slow. The dialogue is fast. The cues are often very conspicuous, but sometimes very subtle. M is full of this subtly, I said. David Lynch and other filmmakers continue the tradition, but often in ways that only an expansive knowledge of the history of film can prepare you for (and I don’t have that either, which is why I like to teach film). Good filmmakers seem to sweat the small stuff. Many of us don’t have the patience for it.

I’m getting better.

I’m especially enamored of film sound studies. Attending to film sound takes a special attention. For the final two weeks of my film class, we focus exclusively on this. I think it teaches one a kind of respect for cinematic aesthetics that a focus on the image does not. Chion be praised.

I enjoy the films of Andrei Tarkovsky for these reasons. His films teach me a kind of gentile patience. His soundtracks are sparse and quiet. Shots of grass flowing in creek beds, in both Stalker and Solaris, can appear pretentious and needlessly long. Or, they can say something about “sculpting in time,” as Tarkovsky clearly means to do.

But, you know, an attention to the small stuff for it’s own sake—too much sweating—can go awry: for example, Malik’s Tree of Life. Perhaps that film is a little like this blog at times (certainly this entry). But rest assured, I will not give you 22 paragraphs about evolution that ends in a dinosaur smashing the head of another dinosaur into a creek bed (with flowing grass).

Some dear friends who happen to be talented poets are moving soon. They have taught me, in some ways, to sweat the small stuff. I remember a poetry workshop with Hoa, some years ago, in which she shared a poem she wrote in ten minutes. I don’t think it is published yet, but she was recounting the drudgery of daily life, and one of the lines was about “garlicky fingers.” That image and smell and truth has stuck with me, and the attention she gave it made an impression. We were reading Ted Berrigan for the summer.

Ted Berrigan ultimately killed himself by taking too many diet pills and amphetamines. How could someone so observant of the slow and minute detail, with the unconscious optics of life, how could someone so keen and insightful die so fast? I have trouble reconciling the insight of slow motion with the compulsions and addictions of the body on autopilot and routine.

I notice at the moment Psappho (my cat) is on the patio bench, transfixed on a bug of some sort slowly ambling across the concrete. Jesús, my dog, is settled behind me on a couch cushion I’ve moved to the bench I’m sitting on. I’m smoking a cigar, and I know I shouldn’t be doing that if I want to ensure a long life. But here we are. Patio life. I’m trying to grow into the slow. To sweat the small stuff. It seems to me that’s the right thing to do.

Film, good film, film that plumbs the human condition and makes us think, film that’s not just about turning a buck, but rather about exploiting the medium to contemplate, teaches us something about ourselves. I would not consider myself a film scholar. But every time I teach this class I am reminded of why I am drawn to good filmmaking and thinking about the art-form. It’s not just entertainment. It’s not.

a toad kitty in the garden

June 28th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Fritz Lang’s M soundtrack (1931)

Most of us in central Texas are suffering in this oppressive heat, with triple digit days now the tiresome norm. The drought is so severe that “extreme wildfire danger” signs are popping up everywhere; not one but two friend’s homes have been threatened by wildfires in the last month.

One individual, however, is taking the triple-digit heat in stride: Psappho, my hairless (and last remaining) cat. She has always been an indoor cat and never allowed to go outside, but recently I’ve been making an exception. She meows her little head off to go outside, so I gave in about a month ago. Fortunately, she is well behaved: she just sits on the bench and wallows in the heat. I’ve even left her out there alone for over an hour, and she doesn’t stray. She’s just content to bench it and chill.

I decided to let her spend some time outside if she wants because she is getting old. Psappho is thirteen, pretty aged for her breed (a Sphynx), a breed whose recessive genetic cocktail make them more prone than other cats for various illnesses (especially related to the teeth). Having put down three cats in as many years, and given Psappho’s age, I reasoned letting her enjoy herself in her old age is alright. She seems so happy outside on that bench, even if it’s too hot for me to sit with her.

Oh, Psappho: your meows are incessantly deafening; you won’t use the litter box and I tire of picking up your poop out of the bathtub; most people think you look like a rat; and you often smell bad. But . . . I still love you, and you’re still here, and so at least the Texas heat is good for something: putty patio happiness.

it’s train-wreck monday!

June 27th, 2011 by slewfoot

One of my best buds started this feature on Crackbook. I couldn’t resist trying this out too . . . .

on gay marriage (again)

June 25th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Suede: Head Music (1999)

Last night I was at a wonderful “Queeraoke” event and birthday party for a friend organized by the incomparable Katie Feyh. Shortly after the gay marriage bill passed in New York last night, I got to break the news to a queer bar full of tipsy people; they erupted in applause and hoots and hollers. Before I announced the news, I thought I might preface it with something like: “I know some of you are ambivalent about this, but very soon if you’re queer you can . . . .”

I didn’t add the preface, given the vibe at the moment. Folks wanted to celebrate, and another state recognizing same-sex unions is, in the end, perceived as a civil rights issue. And perhaps I didn’t add the preface because a former student was at the bar, one of the brightest I’ve had at UT. I remember some years ago she came to my office very upset one day after lecture, and primarily because in class I had challenged the idea of gay marriage and suggested it was a “conservative” move. As a lesbian woman, she took umbrage to the fact that I claim to be an advocate for LGBT rights and recognition, and yet I waver on and question the issue of same sex marriage. It took me some time to explain my position (and even then she was not happy), as I suspect it does many folks who are ambivalent on the issue. In the wake of the historic decision by our friends in New York, I thought this might be a good time and place to reiterate the reason to be in favor of gay marriage, while nevertheless, also wary of the larger, ideological move a state-sanctioned recognition represents.

Here’s the reason to support gay marriage: fairness, equality, protection, choice. I’m especially hung-up on the latter. If two people are in love and wish for the state to recognize their love in law, I believe they should have that right. As it stands, marriage is a discriminatory institution. By participating in marriage, I do not mean to suggest you are part of the problem—just that not everyone gets that right, and, well, that’s not right. I will celebrate every state decision to make it legal. It is a civil rights issue, period.

That said, as I’ve written previously, same-sex marriage makes me uneasy because, at some level, it is a norming institution. That is to say, gay marriage is in some sense a kind of suburbanization of queerness, a “mainstream” sanction that may be dulling to the radical edge of queer politics. What do I mean?

Professor Katherine Franke had a plain- and well-spoken editorial a couple of days ago in the New York Times about the mixed blessing of legal same sex marriage. She does a great job explaining why same-sex marriage could become constraining (e.g., to get health care benefits, and so on): it forces loving relationships into a box. For decades, Franke explains, queer people have been defining their relationships outside of the watchful gaze of the state, relationships that challenge mainstream values and norms. Gay marriage threatens to “mainstream,” and thereby constrain, these self-defined relationships.

I think Franke’s slippery slope argument—that gay marriage may lead to requiring marriage for all couples—is a bit far-fetched. But I understand her point: there is an undercurrent of compulsion here, a yearning for normalcy that would trade in a radical potentiality for security.

Worse, as Judith Butler has argued, marriage discriminates against those for whom the plot of “the couple” chafes. Not all loving relationships are monogamous. Although I am personally, fiendishly monogamous (it’s certainly a form of selfishness)—which is to say, I confess I don’t “get it”—I have a number of friends who are “polyamorous” or are in “open relationships” and this, of course, is a plotline that deviates from the mental image of marriage proper. One of the vectors of queer politics concerns the plot of the couple, that the only route to happiness is to be paired up with someone until death do you part. This plot, of course, along with others (e.g., having children) comprise the very coordinates of American happiness (insofar is the couple is a plot that inheres in the symbolic itself, it is nigh impossible to disarticulate one’s identity from this compulsory telos) for most people raised in U.S. culture. Gay marriage, in other words, reinscribes the cultural logic of the couple, a logic that has been used to oppress queer people since the nineteenth century (often in tandem with arguments to biological necessity).

These worries, however, are just worries. It’s important to have worries, however. It’s important that we think about our politics carefully so that we don’t completely give into the conservative impulse that underwrites gay marriage. At the same time, I celebrate New York for aligning itself with the enlightened. Neither sexual orientation nor gender should be a barrier to someone’s desire to have his or her love recognized and sanctioned by the state. Neither sexual orientation nor gender should be an impediment for legal protections and rights (e.g., visitation rights at the hospital). Neither sexual orientation nor gender should stand in the way of love, however you chose to define it.

it’s synth-pop friday!

June 24th, 2011 by slewfoot

on academibashing

June 21st, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Peeping Tom soundtrack (1960)

Yesterday I was joking on The Blogora about the predictability of essays that attack academics: they have a pattern that reduces to (a) a confessional; and (b) an accusation. “I used to be an academic, and I can tell you, my colleagues were bloated, money grubbing lazies . . . .” It’s starting to become more comical than disheartening because one seems to appear, almost every other day, with almost the same passive-aggressive cadence. Nevertheless, at the moment the “professor doesn’t work” essay in the popular press remains demoralizing for many of us.

My friend and colleague Randy Lewis (American Studies) penned a nice response to the Academibash essay over on the Inside Higher Ed website. It’s a nice read, and expresses how I often feel when I read these attack essays. It’s also a little astonishing how quickly the “comments” section after Randy’s essay got nasty. Of course, it’s always difficult to gauge tone, whether or not someone is earnest, and so forth in many online contexts. Still, the “haters gonna hate” comments give one some sense of why folks like me (and many of you) can get a little blue about what we’ve chosen to do.

And let’s face it: even the most steely of the professoriate can be worn down after she’s told, time and time again, that she does not work hard enough. The mantra against “bad teachers” in public schools has all but destroyed primary and secondary education in the Great Republic of Texas. I have dated a number of schoolteachers (well, most of the ex-schoolteachers), and a retired principal lives two doors down. The stories they tell of the amount of work they are asked to do, not to mention the ever-increasing size of their courses and the behavioral problems they have to manage, are disheartening and demoralizing. Why? Because in addition to a demanding workload, they also have to contend with school board politics! I’m not sure about the numbers today, but studies from the 2006/2007 academic year show that attrition at charter schools was a whopping 43%, and roughly 16-19% at public schools. Of course, hundreds of those who didn’t want to quit were laid off a couple of months ago because of the recession . . . .

The so-called crisis of the academy is a crisis of teaching, and it’s not about money (although it is, in the end). Well, the cause is about the money, but the crisis is about valuation. What’s really happening is that there is a budget shortfall, and education needs to be slashed, and it’s easier to argue for cuts by retreating to a metric that can show how something’s falling short. But the crisis is really one of morale: we are asked to do less with more, and we do. In addition to doing less with more, however, we’re told we’re bad teachers and don’t work hard enough. Now, that’s a double-whammy, and if it continues in any sustained way you’re going to have a teacher shortage in the university just like you have in the public school system.

[sigh] And even in the same breath, I have to admit I like what I do and am privileged to do what I do. I appreciate the freedoms the life of the mind (if we can call it that any more) affords, such as studying what I think is important instead of studying what my supervisor thinks is important. I appreciate being able to teach course that I think are important for young people to have. Like my friend Randy, I just get bummed out hearing, for example, that my colleagues and I teach “fluff” (overheard and administrator said this of my department) by someone who has never sat in my class or read anything I’ve written.

it’s synth-pop friday!

June 17th, 2011 by slewfoot

weinerama-lama ding dong (on perversion)

June 16th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Nordkapp: Gran Tiempo (2011)

Warning: This blog post is rated “R.”

Today’s blog subject might equally apply to the impending news Governor Good Hair is apparently poised to run for the presidency, as well as increasingly embattled New York representative Anthony Weiner, whom everyone is urging to resign. As tempted as I am to detail all the reasons why “prick” is slang for a stubborn, self-righteous Texan (“you’re either with him, or against him”—sound familiar?), the photographs that leaked yesterday of Mr. Weiner in women’s lingerie at a college Christmas party forces my hand.


To extend my observations from last week: this morning it was reported a number of high profile democrats are meeting to consult about the Weiner Affair —I’d say WeinerGate, but let’s face it: the lack of sentry is part of the problem—which many are on record as saying is a “distraction.” Privately, we can only imagine, these leaders are infuriated by Weiner’s stubborn refusal to tender his resignation. That stubborn refusal is a hallmark of something, a peculiar psychical structure that Lacan (following Freud) terms “disavowal.” About which more shortly.

For the moment, let’s do be clear about the reasons for the resignation: technically, the man has not done anything wrong nor violated any known laws. His ouster is based only on moral grounds, the key among them not-so-much the dirty sexting as it seems to be Weiner’s initial categorical denial and his attempts to deceive “the public” and his colleagues. What the ethics committee is charged with doing is finding something wrong—that is, looking for evidence so that Weiner can be forced out of office. The repeated suggestions by Obama, Pelosi, and others to the media that Weiner should resign can be easily read as an “or else.” The politically prudent thing to do at this point would be to (a) resign; and (b) make public one’s attempt to “get psychiatric help.” You cannot do the latter only and expect to rehabilitate a public image. The damage cannot be undone.

From a colloquial standpoint, the pressure for Weiner to resign has to do with perversion, which generally refers to something (often a sex act) that is outside what is deemed “normal.” Sending lewd photographs of yourself to random women—especially if one is married—is generally understood as a perversion of what is “normal” behavior. Of course, as I noted last week, this is quite hypocritical, for our watching the news about the perversion, as well as the apparent glee with which the MSM is reporting and circulating the story, participates in the perversion too. The whole thing is a jouissance salad of sexual perversity. Wheeeeeee!!!!!

And that brings me, in a round-about way, to the less colloquial but nevertheless insightful observations about perversion originally made by Freud: human sexuality, by definition, is perverse. What Freud means by this is not that we are drawn to extreme, abnormal acts of sexual non-conformity, but rather, that anything humans do other than copulate to perpetuate the species is counter to biological normalcy. So, neither my getting turned on by the sound of your voice, nor your little fascination with small nipples, are “normal” in some sort of genetico-biological sense. Freud observed humans are unique in their ability to derive (sexual) enjoyment from things that are, prima facie, not sexual at all. Cue discussion of the “fetish” here (and/or Foucault’s discussion of “the norm”).

So, the tie that binds all of us to the Weiner scandal is a tacit recognition of our own, ubiquitous, undeniable perversions as self-conscious human beings. The question is: what, if anything, makes Weiner different than the rest of us? If “peversion” is normal, then what can make perversion abnormal? When does perversion veer into pathology? I don’t think Weiner’s sexting or lewd photos or cross dressing count as pathological. I think the answer really comes down to his categorical denial of his sexual proclivities, the deliberate lying—a lying with such conviction one wonders if he actually believed his denial.

From a Lacanian perspective, Weiner’s categorical denials could be read, at some level, as the operation central to all clinical perverts: a refusal to accept that lack is the cause of desire (or “disavowal”). Allegorically speaking, most of us are “neurotic” in the sense we know “lack” (after the event of castration) causes desire, and we repress this knowledge. In other words, symbolic limit is accepted at some level. The pervert is different because the pervert both recognizes the event of castration yet refuses to admit it has happened.

What may distinguish Weiner as a pervert, then, is not what he did online, but rather, what he did coupled with the denial. Moreover, what he did is, more or less, a casebook example of perversion (albeit very mild). The clinical pervert does not pursue the object of his desire; rather, the pervert needs to become or embody the fantasy of the other itself, becoming an agent of its exposure or traversal.

Politically, Size (damn autocorrect) Zizek often gives the example of the fascist as a pervert: The fascist comes to embody the law, executing the larger political fantasy for the “good of the people.” The Nazi, for example, may physically weep as he terminates innocent human lives, however, Zizek’s point is that he goes-through with the atrocity because his own sense of self—or “locus of control”— is emptied out; it’s like a narcissism except there is no “I” at the center—something Other comes to occupy that place. This is why the pervert evokes fear or astonishment: he unflinchingly exposes the perverse core of social phantasy.

It is in this sense, then, that we can engage Weiner’s “sexting,” in which he becomes (albeit temporarily) the agent of hetero-female fantasy; his enjoyment is not so much physical as it is psychical, deriving a sense of psychical release from becoming the agent of a well-worm pornographic fantasy: becoming a giant phallic object doing injury. In other words, rape (NSFW, folks!):

All the signifiers of a larger rape fantasy are here (“crawing for the door,” his cock will “hurt” her, etc.), and the “female” apparently goads him on—-but also note she stops short of validating the rape fantasy. She never invites symbolic violence, but he keeps persisting.

But . . . I don’t think Weiner is a clinical pervert, in the end. Based on what’s part of the public record thus far, he’s too much of an obsessional neurotic and, regardless of his sexual conspicuousness, there is an element of “holding back,” despite his compulsions. Now, he’s apparently in “treatment,” but most suspect that’s for sexual addiction, insofar as sexting and related activities stimulate that part of the brain that is involved with addiction. Certainly if he is a clinical pervert he needs treatment (but good luck with that; many psychotherapists believe perverts are not treatable with therapeutic methods; also, extreme cases of perversion have been linked to brain tumors . . . . ).

Ultimately, what’s characteristic about the pervert is that he usually goes all the way, that is, the pervert delivers the unvarnished fantasy so nakedly that the other person is fearful or disgusted. Enjoyment for the pervert is precisely in the surprised or disgusted or astonished reaction of the person for whom the fantasy is channeled or embodied by the pervert. In my mind, the best portrayal of clinical perversion is Dennis Hopper’s character in Blue Velvet, Frank Booth (“Let’s fuck! I’ll fuck anything that moves,” he screams, and then proceeds to make good on such a declaration). Antony Weiner is no Frank Booth. It’s curious, however, that the MSM would like him to be.

I’ve been saying for years our socius is becoming increasingly psychotic. I have not considered that may be a misreading. Perhaps we are becoming increasingly perverse, which is to say, increasingly self-righteous . . . or cause-righteous, and not in a good way?

on brotherly love

June 13th, 2011 by slewfoot

Suede: Dog Man Star (1994)

I have been working today on a speech I am giving this evening at my Masonic lodge for our annual “Festive Board.” The Festive Board is a ritualized dinner that consists of a series of toasts or “healths,” a nice, usually catered meal, and a educational speech of some sort. For the third year in a row I’ve been asked to deliver the speech, which is for me a great honor. The first year I spoke I talked about he necessity of secrecy. Last year I talked about the square, one half of the universally recognized symbol of Masonry. Tonight I’ll talk about the compasses, which are the other part of that symbol. (The “G” was added sometime in the nineteenth century and is not an official part of the symbol, however, there are arguments about this; I side with those who say it is not official. If you’re a Mason, you’ll realize the “G” is redundant.)

Specifically, I’ll discuss the compass in relationship to “brotherly love,” which is something Masons tout as central to the fraternity. I can’t share here what I am going to say, as I will discuss some things that are only known to Masons. But I do want to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about these past couple of days.

I always find Aristotle a fascinating go-to guy for wisdom about people and ethical matters. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle denotes three types of friendship, but the one that is most important concerns equality:

Now there are three kinds of friendship . . . and as in respect of each of them the friends may be on a footing of equality, or may be in a position of relative superiority and inferiority—for two men who are equally good may become friends, or a better man may become friends with one less good; and this same holds good with respect to those who are friends because they are agreeable to one another . . . . The general rule should be that equals should love one another equally, and make equal returns in all other respects, but that unequals should give and receive affection in amounts proportionate to their relative superiority and inferiority.

Of course, Aristotle is speaking about class here. But I think it’s interesting that Aristotle says there are “rights” and “rules” of friendship, and that he goes on further to discuss friendship as contractual, in a sense. We tend today to think about friendships (or romantic relationships) in terms of equity, the indirect consequence of economics coming to dominate every part of our lives. Aristotle’s rules of friendship should not be understood in this sense; he means to refer to giving and receiving one’s attention and time to others.

Aristotle is also careful to distinguish “brotherly love” (philia) with erotic love. These should not be confused, a warning that many Greeks have issued. What I’m speaking about tonight, however, is how in our time all the different kinds of love have been confused or squished together, such that people can often mistake one type for another. Indeed, the mainstream media often encourage this confusion, or play the same plot over and over. For example, ever since the film When Harry Met Sally came out, its thesis has almost become common sense: men and women cannot be friends, or else, you know what.

The effect of rolling different types of love into the same ineffable thing is that it circumscribes our abilities to express emotion and share our affections. In the 19th century, male friends were much more intimate with each other physically than is permitted today. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes here, but, the current interest among some queer historians to expose this or that public figure as gay overlooks how homosocial male cultures were in the 19th century, and that what may appear queer to us today was quite “normal” in the nineteenth century: men sleeping in the same bed, as Lincoln and Speed did, for example.

Anyhoo, what I mean to say is that contemporary norms of masculinity constrain male affection in friendships. One of my best friends always tells me, “I love you,” when we say goodbye on the phone, and this is a norm for us. But if someone overhead this, he or she might think it is unusual. It shouldn’t be, because we do love each other, and no, we do not want to sleep together. And we don’t need a few drinks to get to a place where we can say it, either.

My main argument tonight will be the Freemasonry is a practice that cultivates friendship in the Greek sense, of basing one’s relationship to others “on the level” or equally, recognizing the goodness internal to each brother. Aristotle warns that “unequals” can be friends, but there is a risk of exploitation. Masons get around this problem by staying that you strip your identity once you walk into the door; no class, no race, no religion, no sexual identity. There are few practices left in American culture in which men can express feelings of love and appreciation for one another unhindered by inequities (or confusion). Masonic ritual and custom also provides a way for men to express affection in a larger culture that, for the most part, discourages this (Boehner, anyone?). Freemasonry freely practices brotherly love in a way that, I think, Aristotle would admire.

it’s synth-pop/ebm friday!

June 10th, 2011 by slewfoot