The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

The Phallus as Necessary Multiplicity in “Goat”

In Cinema, Fraternity, Freud, Gender Studies on February 20, 2016 at 6:41 am

by Diego Semerene (Lecturer, The American University of Paris)

goat1.jpg

  • previously published on The House Next Door

In the opening shot from Goat, a mob of delectably smooth male torsos can be glimpsed jumping up and down in slow motion, bonding against the camera. These young white males scream at the lens, as if intimidating and courting the audience at the same time. Together they form a kind of trompe l’oeil, the singularity of each person lost for the sake of the group. Are they brothers or soldiers? Are they twins or doubles? Are they in a battlefield or in an orgy? Their cinematic hazing is our invitation to an unabashed look at the dynamic of the fraternity—that bizarre, if not pathetic, enterprise of a decidedly American hetero-masculinity that makes Europeans laugh. And they certainly did at Berlinale’s press screening.

This initial sequence from Andrew Neel’s follow-up to King Kelly captures the murderous ethos of the fraternity multitude, meant to mask the frailty that each of its members would fall victim to were they to stand on their own. (A brief cameo by James Franco, who plays a former frat brother, is a highlight for the way it suggests that these boys are doomed to a life of alcoholic numbness.) The film never lives up to the conceptual synthesis and force of its introductory sequence, ending up taking an overtly traditional narrative approach, but it renders visible what a lot of us have known for a long time, but didn’t have the language to articulate: heterosexuality can be very gay.

Goat is really a never-consummated love story between Brad (Ben Schnetzer) and his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas). Although the characters use the term “brother” lightly, it’s difficult to know if their kinship is biological. Brett belongs to the Phi Sigma Mu frat, which Brad wants to join. Except that the pledging process involves drinking until you puke, sleeping inside cages soaked in your own piss, Abu Ghraib-style military role-playing, getting soaked in the urine of others, wrestling half-naked with bodies bathed in excrement, doing push-ups while saying, “I’m a faggot and nobody likes me,” and possibly gangbanging a goat in the woods.

It’s a refreshing and overdue exposure of the violence that white male privilege breeds and needs to reassert itself. Apart from the gangbang, none of that seems to be a problem for Brad, except that he was recently a victim of a violent assault when he had his car stolen—and the fraternity’s theatrics feel like re-enactments of a violence that he’s already experienced without having agreed to it. The fact that Brad has been a victim taints him like a Scarlett letter denouncing a glitch in the meticulously ritualized phallic machinery that’s the fraternity. In the series of seemingly endless, and progressively erotic, steps to becoming a member of the frat, Brad tries hard to mimic the other boys, repressing all emotions except aggression. But he’s a party pooper, letting his feelings show and refusing to go along with the torture porn that is the pledge. This triggers a dramatic domino-like effect on the entire group, whose coherence requires the hermetic disavowal of all male fragility.

 

Goat suggests a live-action rendition of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s legendary meme (made before it was called that) featuring an image of male lookalikes horsing around with one another juxtaposed with the sentence “You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men.” For a film about hetero-masculinity’s most hardcore litmus tests, women are noticeably absent—except from occasional scenes that show Jonas having sex and snorting coke with some girls in a gratuitous attempt to Miley Cyrus his anodyne image. Who needs them when the men divide themselves between “masters” and “bitches”?

Goat is a refreshing and overdue exposure of the violence that white male privilege breeds and needs to reassert itself. It’s a more important film than it thinks it is, as it deploys a shaky camera and all sorts of out-of-focus affectations that never match the traditional literality of its script. Its artistic ambitions may only ever be cosmetic, but its indictment is real.

Saint Turing: A Few Reflections on Gay Iconography and Martyrdom on the Occasion of Alan Turing’s 100th Birthday

In film, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Politics, Queer Theory, Sex on February 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm

by Chase Dimock

(This essay was originally published in 2012 on The Qouch in honor of Turing’s 100th birthday. With the resurgence of interest in Turing’s life following the Oscar buzz surrounding The Imitation Game, we wanted to reprint this piece to focus more attention on what Turing’s career, philosophy, and iconic status means for Queer Studies and LGBT politics)

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of British mathematician Alan Turing’s birth. In celebration of his enormous contributions to the fields of mathematics, computational science, cryptology, and artificial intelligence, the scientific community has dubbed 2012 the “Alan Turing Year”, commemorating the occasion with numerous conferences, museum exhibitions, a series of articles on his life in the Guardian and BBC, a Google doodle, and even a functional model of his famous Turing Machine made of Legos. By his mid 20s Turing developed his theory of the “Universal Machine”, thus ushering in the age of modern computer science. A decade later, Turing devoted his studies in cryptology toward cracking the German naval enigma. By developing machines known as “bombes” that could decrypt the messages the Nazis relayed to their U-boats, Turing’s intelligence gathering re-shaped World War II. Historians have argued that cracking the Nazi code shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives.

Such accolades coming 58 years after his death evidence not only his importance as a historical figure, but also how his ideas continue to influence contemporary research and debate on computer science in our increasingly digitized society. As the “Father of Artificial Intelligence”, Turing’s 1950 article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” foresaw how rapid advances in information science would produce a future in which the line between human intelligence and artificial intelligence would become blurred. Asking, “can machines think”, Turing postulated that ultimately the true mark of artificial intelligence would be whether or not one could tell the difference between communication with a human versus a machine. Turing’s standards for evaluating artificial intelligence have not only framed the scholarly and ethical debate in the scientific community for the past six decades, but they have also proven to be a prophesy of daily life in the 21st century. Living amongst automated phone banks, internet chatterboxes, GPS navigators, and Apple’s Siri app, everyday life has become a series of Turing tests as we increasingly rely upon forms of artificial intelligence and speak to it as if it were real.

Yet, less emphasis has been placed on the tragedy of his untimely death. In 1952, Turing was arrested and convicted of gross indecency for a consensual sexual relationship with another man, the same 1885 statute under which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned more than half a century earlier. Instead of serving prison time, Turing chose to undergo an experimental hormonal treatment prescribed by the British government. While this chemical castration via a synthetic oestrogen hormone curbed his sex-drive, it had dire side effects. Turing began to grow breasts and developed a deep depression. His conviction also caused him to lose his security clearance, thus barring him from continuing to work with the British intelligence agencies. The man who did as much from inside a laboratory to defeat the Nazis as any general did on the battlefield was now considered a threat to national security solely by virtue of his sexuality. Two years later, on June 8th, 1954, Turing took a few bites from a cyanide-laced apple–an elaborate end designed to let his mother believe that his suicide was actually an accident due to careless storage of laboratory chemicals. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology for Turing’s “appalling” treatment, but a 2011 petition to pardon Turing’s conviction was officially denied by the British Government.

While infinitely more qualified scientific minds have written amazing tributes to Turing’s contributions to computer science and mathematics this year, I am interested in what Turing’s life and legacy mean to gay history and queer thought. I first heard of Alan Turing when I was 14 years old and just starting to reconcile my sexuality with the images and stereotypes of gay men in the media. He was mentioned in Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Persons of the Century” and with just a brief blurb on his life and death my concept of what a gay man could achieve and contribute to the world was forever changed. I came of age in an era of unprecedented gay visibility, but the Elton John and “Will and Grace” imagery of an ostentatious, campy gay world did not seem to fit my shy, nerdy bookishness. Although I never excelled in math and science, Turing became one of my first gay heroes because he proved to me that a gay man—a nerdy man, can change the world through the power of his intellect, invent the future, defeat the Nazis, and stand up for his rights.

Contemporary Metrosexuality IV. Le Mort Chic: Epithalamion, Epitaph

In Art, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Masquerade, Performativity, Philosophy, Politics, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality?, Transgender on January 1, 2015 at 11:31 am

The Final Article in our series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”                                         

Dixon Miller, New Orleans, 1996

Dixon Miller, New Orleans, 1996

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by Michael Angelo Tata

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If the edifying Versace Bildungsroman has taught us anything, it is that fashion evokes and invites death, that to be chic is to court death as the lusty courtesan flashes the inflamed King, that death is the ultimate reward for being fashionable, for being fashioned, for being able and willing to be made and remade time and time gain in the kinds of self-fashioning that epitomize the restless self of capital, eternal shopper looking to alienate his subjectivity in just the right foreign material, perhaps even arriving at the point when, as if emulating a pop princess whose psyche has circled back upon itself one too any times, he is finally able to claim he has renounced identity altogether in the pursuit of pure egolessness, the greatest illusion of territoriality.

Beverly Kills “Dee, when your gluten allergies act up, take out your nose ring!”  (Daily Mail)
Beverly Kills
“Dee, when your gluten allergies act up, take out your nose ring!”
(Daily Mail)

True, the death of Gianni Versace is a morality tale on almost every level, but the lesson to be learned from his demise is not a homophobic story about vulgarity and sexual favors in which demented gay men reap what they sow, as Maureen Orth presents in her facile exposé Vulgar Favors, but instead a larger and more genetic lesson about the implicit connection between fashion and death, the one tied inextricably to the other like a sparrow stapled to a shadow or a cinderblock roped to a cankle, the effect being that the more we embrace fashion, the louder we call out to death, who awaits the sound of our voices and finds us all the quicker simply by following the light reflecting from the embellishments of our surfaces (yes, this is also how the sun finds the moon). For it is only via the stuttering, chatterbox language of ephemerality that we may communicate with death and by embracing the transitory that we turn our bodies into so many transistor radios searching for just the right frequency to deliver a message that can never be recalled once its syllables achieve telepoetic status, radiating out into space along with every other radiowaved record of human civilization broadcast to the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

Maurice Blanchot has much to say about the chatterbox in the essays grouped joyously under the title Friendship: for him, the one who chatters paradoxically redeems the “idle talk” (Gerede) lamented by Heidegger in his Being and Time as discardable stage along the path to authentic Da-sein, at its best a productive social obstacle that must be superseded yet another trap put forward by the world to ensnare a being-there which is really a being-here-and-now (what I refer to as Spacetime Da_sein), preventing it from coming to a knowledge of itself through the simple, seductive ruse of distraction.

Little Miss Blanchot rawrzammm to infinity & beyond <3

Little Miss Blanchot
rawrzammm to infinity & beyond❤

 Like Blanchot, I’ve always found a charm in idle talk, in particular as I discuss in my work on Existentialism at the Mall, myself unsure that discourses priding themselves on clarity, like logic or the philosophy of mathematics, ever go beyond the strange circularity of idle talk, this infinitely recursive yet clueless and a-discursive stammering that is first and foremost a playing for time, as in the title of Perf Art troublemakers Kiki and Herb’s smash 2000 show. In Blanchot’s words:

This is, as it were, the point of departure, an empty need to speak, made of this void and in order to fill it at all costs, and the void is himself having become this need and this desire that still treads only emptiness. A pure force of sorts, of melting snow, of drunken rupture, and often obtained under the cover of drunkenness, where the being who speaks find nothing to say but the flimsy affirmation of himself: A Me, Me, Me, mot vain, not glorious, but broken, unhappy, barely breathing, although appealing in the force of its weakness (“Battle with the Angel,” 131).

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