The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

From the Same Source as Her Power: A Threnody for Adrienne Rich

In Foucault, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Queer Theory on April 23, 2012 at 10:57 am

by Chase Dimock

(This article originally appeared on As It Ought To Be)

How do we account for and preserve a writer’s power after she dies? At the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, any researcher who wants to access the lab books and notes of the legendary scientist Marie Curie must first sign a waiver acknowledging the danger of leafing through her papers. Over a hundred years after Curie’s discovery of radium and polonium, her lab book is still radioactive enough to set off a Geiger counter. Perhaps this is why when I heard of Adrienne Rich’s passing last month, I immediately thought of her 1974 poem “Power” about Marie Curie. Just as Curie’s words literally radiate from her pages with the physical properties of the power that she discovered, so too does Rich’s six decades of poetry continue to empower the reader with her social critique and introspection.

The Poetical is the Political

In the past few weeks, several obituaries and memorials have been written to commemorate the life of Adrienne Rich after she passed away from rheumatoid arthritis at age 82. In every remembrance, Rich’s status as a “feminist poet” comes to the forefront and in the process of assembling a biography, the age-old rift between politics and poetics, art for art’s sake versus art for raising social consciousness, is still being waged over Rich’s death. Most of Rich’s critics and detractors over the course of her career dismissed her work as overly polemical, accusing her of sacrificing poetics for politics, as if these are somehow mutually exclusive entities. As Rich herself once said, “One man said my politics trivialized my poetry…. I don’t think politics is trivial — it’s not trivial for me. And what is this thing called literature? It’s writing. It’s writing by all kinds of people. Including me.” For Rich and other feminists who came of age under the belief that “the personal is the political”, it was impossible for the deep introspection of poetry to not find the political oppression of gender and sexual non-conformists as inextricably determinative of one’s psyche and soul.  Rather, Rich would contend that to believe poetry could be written outside of the political is to naturalize one’s worldview and political privilege. Being “apolitical” is the privilege of those who have power.

The poetical is the political, but according to Rich, the poetical needed protection from the political. In 1997, Rich refused the National Medal for the Arts as a protest against the House of Representatives’ vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts. She argued that ”the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration,” adding that art ”means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage.” While Rich believed in poetry’s ability to illuminate the political, she was unwilling to allow politics to use her poetry as a token gesture to feign interest in women’s issues while camouflaging the growing disparity of power in the nation and the fact that, as Rich put it, “democracy in this country has been in decline”.

Rich did write political essays as well, including the seminal “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience” in 1980, which predicted the anti-normative analysis of queer theory that would be pioneered by Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick a decade later. Her essay identified the power of heterosexuality in our culture to define and naturalize standards for acceptable social and sexual practices and to marginalize and pathologize those who did not comply. She contended that this power not only harmed lesbians, but all women because it reinforced a sex-segregated delegation of social obligations that denigrated the power of women to pursue their own desires. Rich declared that all women should think of themselves as part of a “lesbian continuum”, which valorizes all same-sex bonds from the platonic to the erotic in order to create new practices and knowledges outside the constraints of patriarchy. It is in this respect that I understand Adrienne Rich’s power to be more than being a poet: she was a theorist on the very nature of power itself, scribing in verse and lyric what Michel Foucault wrote in volumes of philosophy.

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Growing Up Gay and Amish in America

In LGBT, Literature, Polymorphous Perversity, Queer Theory, Uncategorized on April 17, 2012 at 8:41 am
by James Schwartz

Leaving the Old Order Amish community equals leaving everyone and everything you know. Any Amish that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender questioning will be met with condemnation and  Scriptures (Leviticus, always a classic).

They will not be handed a complimentary copy of ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality’ by John Boswell.

Where traditions and heritage run deep there is little choice but leave or live a lie.

Most Amish are of German descent but we are of Swiss stock, my Mom passing when I am 9, thus my upbringing with my father, a model of Swiss tolerance.

I don’t join the church and will not go back.

I go clubbing in Indiana and Michigan.

At 22 I step onstage, making my drag debut at Brothers Beta Club (Kalamazoo, MI) Closet Ball pageant and perform at The Zoo Bar.

I would exchange the cabaret for the poetry slam circuit in my mid 20s and seriously began writing with stars in my eyes.

The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America collects my poetry, writings from 2005-2010 with a few early poems.

THE BEGINNING

 The black garbed men cluster by the shed

 As the morning sun burns mists away

 The unharnassed horses away are led

 To the barns stuffed with hay

 The men kiss in the Spirit of the Lord

 As Christ once kissed his band

 Across the green a rushing stream

 Serenades the countryland

 Only the brethren greet with a kiss

 I am but a child yet know

 What today I am to miss

 And how far I have to go

 To find redemption at the border

 Of new beginnings and the Old Order.

 

INDIANA 2 AM

I was such a queer thing.

Even growing up.

Sexuality is not a choice.

Listen to my femme voice.

Even throwing up…

I was such a disco boy.

Spinning through school.

Twirling in my first disco.

The Seahorse Cabaret 2.

Indiana 2 a.m.

He stares at me and smiles…

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Madonna Is Dead; Long Live Madonna

In Butler, Counter-transferences, Freud, Lacan, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory on April 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm


by Diego Costa

I remember watching this short video at an LGBT film festival several years ago that established a kind of viral kinship to Madonna. The experimental essay film juxtaposed images of the icon to the filmmaker’s melancholy voice-over narration, in which he told us how he had mapped his anxieties about being a horny gay man in the 80s to Madonna’s oeuvre. He would only allow himself to finally purchase her “True Blue” album once he got tested for HIV and the results came out negative. Unfortunately, then, he was never able to buy the album. A Madonna-less HIV-positive man in the early 90s trying to make do with only the accidental encounters with the diva’s music, when he happened to tune in to a radio station precisely when they were playing one of her songs. Of course, he could never have exercised such self-control when it came to channeling his own sex drive. Leaving it up to happenstance for pleasurable encounters to occur would, in the 80s, 90s and today, probably leave many a gay man on the verge of a very dry nervous breakdown. So why Madonna masochism? What is it about Madonna that inspired the filmmaker to elect her as the ultimate reward for a fantasized sexuality that doesn’t come back to haunt the queer “male” body in the ass?

The relationship between Madonna and gay men are, of course, as clichéd as her post-2005 lyrics. Following the narrative of the bad faghag who leads her fag to believe she will always be forever his (no matter how many times he drops her in the middle of the dancefloor ride-less for a hot trick, as Margaret Cho would have it), only to then drop him ride-less when her own trick comes along, her Guy Ritchie years allowed us to look elsewhere. We found comfort in the easy-to-digest liberal essentialism of Gaga, who told us our monstrosity was legitimate only because it was genetic. After the divorce, and we had a feeling that faghags, like fags, don’t do longevity very well, we were ready to be seduced by Madonna’s unapologetically unintellectual affect all over again. The video for “Girl Gone Wild” illustrates well one of the fundamental differences between Gaga and the Queen: the first is stuck in the politics of categorization of identity politics, the latter bypasses “language” altogether by inhabiting Desire itself. Madonna, most importantly, has always taken charge of her own objecthood. Like a bitter bottom queen, too well-seasoned to strive for some kind of impossible agency that only a very laborious masculinity could buy, she has taught us that there is pleasure in being a thing too. That one can both act and direct, one can cum without moving, one can script entire scenes from the comfort of one’s silk-covered bed. “Justify My Love,” one of Madonna’s many video masterpieces, transforms the walk of shame into a walk of victory. She begins the video as an anxiety-filled, migraine-suffering woman carrying her luggage through hallway, wishing to make love in Paris and hold hands in Rome, and ends with the post-coital smirk of the hungry liberated tourist fag who goes to Le Depot for the first time, blows every butch top in sight and leaves unrepentant. “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another” are the words she leaves us with, condensing pages and pages of much drier Queer Theory work that 1991, the year the video came out and was promptly banned by MTV, would inaugurate into one single (and sexy!) sentence.

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