Current Music: Cocteau Twins: Garlands
Subtitle: Letter to a mentor.
Tenacity is only two syllables away, plus and minus, from mendacity.
As my favorite high school teacher once disclosed in a letter to me during my freshperson year of college, he was in therapy for many years because of his fretting over the size of his penis. It was not so much the size, of course, but the fear of being found out (so he told me). This is an anxiety of our times, particularly, which can be tracked, on the one hand, by all the email I receive on a daily basis about “blow her away with your tool” and “BIG PENIS NOW!,” and on the other, by the conspicuous absence of trough-style urinals in newly constructed sports stadiums.
This was for the longest time Freud’s preoccupation: being found out. “On [not] Being Found Out” has been a theme I’ve played with since grad school. It is, of course, the central problem of philosophy, usually expressed in terms of the mind-body “problem” (though John Searle has faith! He has the longest nose-hair of any intellectual I’ve ever had the fortune to meet). I discovered this argument in an essay of Freud’s last week:
“To find a way out, the philosophers at least were obliged to assume that there were organic processes parallel to the conscious psychical ones, related to them in a manner that was hard to explain, which acted as intermediaries in the reciprocal relations between ‘body and mind,’ and which served to re-insert the psychical into the texture of life. But this solution remained unsatisfactory. . . . Psycho-analysis has escaped such difficulties as these by energetically denying the equation between what is psychical and what is conscious.” (“Some Elementary Lessons in Psychoanalysis,” SE 23, p. 283)
Oh, East is East, and West is West, as Kipling’s cliche goes.
I think psychoanalysis is one of the most sophisticated ways in which twinning has been theorized to explain our plight, and that Judith Butler is, I think, one of the most important thinkers in this legacy. Like Slavoj Zizek, she is seeking to forge dialectics with an ontology of twinning. And like Zizek, the rigorously pursues the cleave by denying there is anything prior. *Gender Trouble*, then, I think reduces to this: “If gender attributes and acts, the various ways in which a body shows or produces its cultural signification, are performative, then there is no preexisting identity by which an act or attribute might be measured; there would be no true or false, real or distorted acts of gender, and the postulation of a true gender identity would be revealed as a regulatory fiction” (p. 180). So, I suspect, “when in doubt, for Judy, it’s about why there’s no ‘before.'” It’s temporal. And with Slavoj, “when it doubt, for Zizek, it’s about why there’s no ‘there there.'” Perhaps it is Baudrillard’s fault in a way: although we are wont to believe, although we long, for a singular when we think about twinning (before two there was always one), there is no “prior” and there is not essential “stuff.”
So to sort out Butler’s rejoinder to Kristeva, you have that basic, fundamental critique (and we cannot forget that for Butler sex, as much as gender, is a fiction as well; p. 139) which I think you and I have a general grasp of. It consists, bascially, of the following (paraphrased from p. 102):
1. the primary relationship to the maternal body is not a viable psychoanalytic concept because it is essentialist (Lacan also takes a beating here).
2. one cannot base a program of cultural subversion on a pre-Oedipal economy of drives, because drives cannot be prior to the law (e.g., drives are mutable precisely because they are not instincts).
3. the notion that, within culture, this Real, pre-discursive, libidinal economy leads to psychosis and cultural breakdown is absurd.
One and two you and I have discussed and, I think, cleared away–at least as a point of disagreement between Butler and Kristeva, and perhaps not so much between us. A am a fence sitter in all this business, so I may sing with the chora yet.
Regardless (still stylin’ the transference), the psychosis of homosexuality falls into the third bone-prick of the Butlerian strap-on: Butler would fuck shit up with her phallic nose and her polymorphous panoply of words
As I understand it–whether from Butler’s strawpersonage or not–for Kristeva, because female identity is essentially melancholic, lesbianism is an unmediated, incestuous encounter with the internalized maternal body. That is, the maternal body is folded into the female-ego by girls as a negativity that cannot be grieved, and in the homosexual idiom, contact with that which cannot be grieved is an impossible transgression leading to psychosis. How this relates to the two unpleasant choices you mention (virgin or whore), I am uncertain (I need to get with my Chinese women).
Regardless, Butler’s critique of this nugget is, of course, predictable (she demolishes mourning and melancholia theory in the previous chapter). To paraphrase, she really takes issue with an understanding of psychosis that requires compulsory heterosexism: “The relation between heterogenous drives and the paternal law produces an exceedingly problematic view of psychosis. On the one hand, it designates female homosexuality as a culturally unintelligible practice, inherently psychotic: on the other hand, it mandates maternity as a compulsory defense against libidinal chaos” (p. 110). Or in my terms, desire particular to the “feminine” is explained away as a yearning to finally individuate from the maternal body by literally giving (it) birth. This means, for Butler, that Kristeva “indissolubly” links heterosexuality with “coherent selfhood.”
But is sure does explain, in some sense, the guilt associated with foregoing fucking with a purpose.
One thing popping mushrooms does, to carp on Huxley, is open the doors to association and the potential horror of a “bad trip.” I guess the frightening lesson Zizek is good at telling, and Butler less so, is that “not being found out” is a fantasy and anxiety that we all need. The seepage of the uncs. signifier–it’s fuckin’ shit up-and-out, if only in slips and unexpected farts–leads us to fumble about for indirect routes. Hence the occult is “always already” with us, part of the “deep structure” of all this goddamn writing. As I said in the dissertation years back, the “biggest secret is that there are no secrets.” That pressure from below is just there to remind us that there’s nothing really there, that there is no prior, or rather, that there are just suspicions built upon suspcions. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m with the program that there is only a vast network of signifiers and nothing much else, and that the body, well . . . Oh, East is East, and West is West . . . .
Love from Below,
PS: Wish you were here . . . .