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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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Contemporary Metrosexuality III: Crimes of Fashion

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality? on September 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

The Fourth Article in our on-going Series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”

socks and sandals 1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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Which is the history of the epicene, the eerie man-child who retains a certain softness which may be read as feminine, but which also might resist such a reading, as with the Mafioso prince, the Chicano figure of the Pachuco, or the Spanish Don — even when that don is Don Ed Hardy, as the designer’s studded t-shirts boldly used to announce down the boulevards of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills circa 2006, back when it really seemed that Southern California might inherit the earth?

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead (RapGenius.com Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead
(RapGenius.com. Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

The affiliation of these smooth criminals with beauty seems to indicate that even if no infraction has occurred, it is still a crime for men to be beautiful, that to be beautiful, they must steal beauty from women, who are the proper keepers of this phenomenon of sensuality, their murders and burglaries of a piece with the aesthetic softness and smoothness they pilfer from the other side of a gender divide they raid in a project of corporeal and sartorial upbuilding.[1] For them, the beautiful remains foreign to masculinity at the same time that it is most at home there, as we learn from ornithology, producing a certain exoticism, their delicate features arriving from another place, a different land, a foreign clime: that is, from the zone of the feminine, where to be beautiful is to present a curvy and unencumbered landscape giving vision and touch the power to proceed without the hindrance of physical obstacle (the scratchy hair follicle) or the failure to form a viable expectation of repeating form or pattern (epidermal roughness and its inherent patchiness).

The various suavités and smoothnesses of these men mark their gender as thoroughly steeped in crime, the softness of their actions and apparitions not necessarily detracting from their masculinity, which is in fact enhanced by the infusion of attitude and action with qualities more traditionally feminine. For these men, the beautiful, the exotic and the criminal all flow together, their turgid waters creating a violent and vicious swirl whose eddies wash away the ‘natural’ roughness cleanly disassociated from femininity by 18th-century European aesthetic theory. These déluges erode the awkwardness of traditional masculinity, a state famously lamented by psychoanalyst J.C. Flügel, as I will shortly discuss, evening it out in the fabrication of a beauty that would completely feminize, were it not for the presence of criminal misconduct and ethical misbehavior in the form of cultural appropriation — or at minimum the potential for such an action to break out within the realm of aesthetic judgment, where a theory of beauty is toppled, quietly and smoothly, glossy yellow tape cordoning off an area where the philosopher forensically collects clues, as if he were the Dominick Dunne of delectation. As I will also examine in the work of Edmund Burke, for these creatures, male smoothness is the core disruptive quality, in that it obscures the rough or uneven, the true masculine aesthetic heritage, covering it over with a slick, calming veneer that is a tempting lure for the unsuspecting, tantalizing honey trap for the beauty of confused Sunday girls the world over, some of whom have a Y chromosome, but all of whom have at least one X. Whitney Houston beware: Bobby gonna getchya. If only these words weren’t retroactive.

How Could She Know? Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes Gawker.com

How Could She Know?
(Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes. Gawker.com)

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Contemporary Metrosexuality II: Life after Gianni

In Art, Barthes, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Instinct for Research, Kant, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on July 17, 2014 at 7:48 am

The Third in our on-going Series on: “The End of Heterosexuality?”metrochest1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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For Dixon Miller: Bless His Heart    

For the history of metrosexuality — and yes, it is strange yet important to provide some kind of forward-oriented chronology for even a metaphysical entity like the Metro, despite the fact that, being metaphysical, there will necessarily be resistance to containment, overflow of boundaries and an almost total refusal of vitrinization — the fantastic but very real story of the death of Gianni Versace functioned as a morality tale casting an unflattering light on an unruly and overgrown homosexual narcissism. This glamorously ludicrous stance seemed to beg for its own eradication as it articulated its visual, behavioral and ethical excesses so vividly in the language of a mass producibility that magically retained reference to the exclusive despite the tacit, blasé populism underwriting its existence. As with Freud, a primary, post-autoerotic attachment to the self seemed to lead straight to the necropolis when that love was tested in that realtime which transcends the solipsism of minutes spent gazing into a mirror whose tain holds the secret to that fixation. This creature’s disappearance freed up the domain of self-beautification for a metrosexual culture which would never know these particular consolidated energies and indulgences of the flesh, because, not being homosexual, their drive or pulsation was always directed toward an alternate biological organization of physiological surfaces different from theirs: this tale is one version of what happened to make way for a straight takeover of the scene of a sartorial display into which the corporeal factored in equally, body and garment conversing with one another loudly, and in public, the two engaged in an endless dialogue, each blocking the other’s claims to primacy through friendly semiotic horseplay. In this version or fashion genealogy, the metrosexual was an aftereffect of the Chelsea Boy’s deterioration, a degradation marked by a fatal unidimensionality which no molt or pair of alligator loafers or iced double mocha sipped by the shores of a restless South Atlantic lost in the pondering of its own turquoise splendor could have saved: the ecstasy of communication, Baudrillard’s vision of what happens when semantic channels collapse into the singularity of one neon tube abuzz with residues of lost dimensionalities, took this uniquely Mediterranean historical superficiality as a victim, Grimm’s Fairy Tale meets Movie of the Week.

Being one myself — what a crime, to admit it, even all these years later — and totally devoted to the cause, I penned a gossip column by the title Chelsea Boy for New York City newspaper LGNY in 1997, finally posing for a strange and tasteless advertisement in which I took responsibility for Gianni’s shooting before Cunanan had emerged as a suspect: the perfect swan song. In general, I took the concept and pushed it up against it structural limits, making it performative, a mobile site where surface and depth came into controversy without it being clear who won or could win the skirmish, sublation alluded to, yet never completed as a process, Deleuze’s CSO (Corps Sans Organes) popping by the mall for a ride on the merry-go-round, round and round and round, all those Holden Caulfield circles masquerading as motion (yes: Post-structuralists kept feeding the machine quarters). And because it all came so naturally to me, I continued to espouse the aesthetic long after it ceased being acceptable to do so, driven by my own sumptuary demons — right up until the present moment (and every act of écriture has its unique present, as Barthes’ punctum grounds itself in the spaciotempral banalities of a studium it is loathe to admit it needs). Walking the streets of Miami in a circus of citrus colors and animal prints, I still cannot help but flinch at the memory of what it felt like to live through the aftermath of Cunanan’s bullet striking the fleshy target of an icon reminded he was after all only a man. Read the rest of this entry »

Bend It Like Bex, Flex It Like Barts: Contemporary Metrosexuality and Its Pursuit of the Fabulous

In Art, film, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on May 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

The second in our on-going series on “The End of Heterosexuality?”
Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 11.35.47 PM

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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for 12 Pack

12 Pack Takes Over  (photo via vh1.com)

12 Pack Takes Over (photo via vh1.com)

Introduction: Narcissus Blinked (#sorrynotsorry)       

Selfie Wars take no prisoners: and so it is with vibrant male display in mind in the grand age of reality stardom that I offer the following series of reflections on what the metrosexual has done to interrupt a certain domination of the surface by homosexual culture in general, broken up into four installments, a tetraptych to be displayed at an impossible memorial ceremony where mourning and melancholia cross wires like so much spaghetti thrown against the wall just to see if it will stick, proof that the apartment was always a rental. In the first, printed here, immediately after this preface, and in direct physical contact with it, as if that matters (it might, actually), I trace out the rough contours of a fashion history that has left men in the dust in order clarify why exactly the metrosexual should arrive as such a surprise on the scene of display, where he seems to abjure both heterosexual and homosexual orthodoxies, making the future of each unclear, muddled and completely vulnerable to apocalypse. In the second, I gaze upon more recent history—and yet years that seem to have slipped so far and so quickly into oblivion, now that time has accelerated even beyond the spaciotemporal compression initially postulated by David Harvey in his analysis of postmodern culture and that Husserlian Internal Time Consciousness, a phenomenological mainstay, has become just another bone in the Pomo Reliquary—to examine what Gianni Versace has contributed to male efflorescence and in particular how he has clothed the whore so that his eventual disappearance will be more meaningful within the context of these struggles over aesthetic ownership (for in the end, not everyone owns male display—others are owned by it, or find themselves disowned completely, dissed and alone).

Next, in the third panel, if I may be permitted to stick with the poltytych metaphor from classical devotional painting, which seems entirely apt, I examine seminal aesthetician Edmund Burke’s ideas about the external features of the beautiful and the sublime so that the stakes of metrosexual reversal as the sublime becomes beautiful in a species of metaphysical makeover are spelled out clearly: the shift is not benign, and might even be described as tactical, assuming aesthetics is a war, which it might very well be, if entomology and ornithology have taught us anything and if the human experience is not such a radical break with nature as we might initially have fancied back at the start of Enlightenment thinking (it’s no accident that the typical Sadean justification of sexual violence is always that nature is cruel). Lastly, the final section of my lyric evocation introduces future mourning into the discussion, as it attunes itself to the affinity of fashion for the corpse and looks at the strange friendship the two entities share on both runway and street: for if every fashion stance is a commentary or gloss on death, then the metrosexual, too, must die, and be glossed, perhaps still remaining glossy, a creature most at home on the pages of a magazine or the charmed quadrilateral of the billboard, much like the Armani one famously perched along the elevated High Line Park in New York City, a metrosexual anchor. Assigning a value to that/these death(s) is imperative, for not every disappearance counts, much as we might wish it did: for to end and to stop denote different modes of cessation, as Arthur Danto has taught us in his writings about the famous End of Art: not every stop is an end, although every end stops (the trick is for the disaster to be world-historical). Read the rest of this entry »

MATRICÍDIO, Diego Costa’s “Lacanian film” To Screen at Anthology Archives

In Art, film, Lacan, Masquerade, Performativity, Sex, Transgender, Transvestite Souls on August 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Brazilian filmmaker Diego Costa traces back (and forth) the sources of his femininity through provocative/perverse encounters with his Mother, Her sister, and Her drag doppelgängers in “Matricídio“. The film will be screened one night only, this Tuesday, August 27 at 9:30 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, as part of the NewFilmmakers series. Tickets are $6. “Matricídio” is at once an experimental cinematic love letter and letter of rupture, the Mother is here muse and monster, incorporated and exorcised from the son’s body. Watch the trailer above.

(Brazil, 2013, Dir. Diego Costa, 93 min., In Portuguese and French, with English subtitles)

Tuesday, August 27, at 9:30pm
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave, New York, NY 10003
$6

for more info:
Facebook.com/Matricidio
Twitter.com/MatricidioFilm
http://www.NewFilmmakers.com

How Fashion is Queer

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Transgender on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm
Leigh Bowery

Photo by Leigh Bowery

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by Alison Bancroft

There are a number of popular ideas about fashion: That it demeans and oppresses women, or that it is a capitalist plot to extract money – either that they do not have, or that they do have but do not appreciate – from the gullible and the credulous. Attached to both of these is the idea that fashion is vacuous fluff, something trivial that is only of interest to women and gay men and thus pointless by virtue of those who are interested in it. If it were serious, significant, relevant in any way, shape or form, then straight men would take an interest in it. The fact that, on the whole, they don’t take an interest in it, and the people that do are, on the whole, marginalized and discriminated against, is enough to move fashion to the back of the queue for cultural and political importance.

In this short essay I would like to propose another way of looking at fashion, one that will emphasize the ways in which it reframes notions of gender and sexuality. What makes fashion so remarkable is that it has zero regard for heteronormative ideas about men and women, masculine and feminine. In fact, it offers one of the only cultural spaces there is for variant models of sexed subjectivities. In fashion, the usual categories of man and woman do not apply.

Also, before this essay continues, it should be said that fashion here refers to creativity in dress and bodily ornamentation. It is a branch of the avant-garde that makes people say “but you can’t wear that” as if a garment’s unsuitability for everyday life is a problem when, actually, it is the whole point. Fashion is not about shopping, and if you think it is, you have missed a trick. Fashion is not going to change the world, of course. It is never going be truly revolutionary. It is seditious though, it subverts from within, offering challenges to the presumed naturalness of existing hierarchies within the terms that are available to it.

Sheila Jeffreys is the most vocal exponent of the standard criticism that fashion reflects and serves to maintain female subordination. In her book Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West she argues that the appearance of the drag queen Ru Paul in adverts for MAC cosmetics and on the runway for the designer Thierry Mugler is a testament to how much fashion hates women. By Jeffreys’ logic, using a drag queen as a model tells the world that fashion thinks women are irrelevant.[i]

Unfortunately for Jeffreys, anatomy is not destiny. It is not the case that fashion hates women so much it makes them redundant by using a man in their place. Instead, fashion ignores the very idea of men and women from the outset, and it puts men in the place of women, women in the place of men, and trans becomes the default, the norm, rather than an oddity or an abasement. This disregard for the usual categories of man and woman is evidence firstly that gender binaries are irrelevant in fashion, and more generally that gender identity is not located in the anatomical body anyway. For anyone familiar with the development of Queer Theory in the last twenty years, this second point is no surprise. Queer Theory, though, is a bit niche, and beyond the confines of the humanities and liberal arts departments of Western universities where it is researched and taught, no-one has really heard of it. For people outside of universities, the ideas of Queer Theory are communicated differently – and fashion is one of the ways in which queer ideas become culturally active. Indeed, it could be said that fashion was queer avant la lettre.

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

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Report On The Paris-USA Lacanian Seminar

In Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan on September 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm

by Albert Herter

“In the final analysis I consider the contemporary era to be a kind of interregnum for the poet, who has nothing to do with it: it is too fallen or too full of preparatory effervescence for him to do anything but keep working, with mystery, so that later, or never, and from time to time sending the living his calling card- some stanza or sonnet- so as not to be stoned by them, if they new he suspected that they didn’t exist.”
 – Mallarme

The seminar cost 90 euros, lasted two days from 9:00 am to 11:00pm and consisted of twenty-four papers, one film, and two keynote speakers. I attended the seminar as an analysand, which the woman next to me said was very unusual. I was curious to put faces to the names, flesh behind the words. I wanted to see how analysts handle a microphone, the logistics of ordinary order which can be so difficult for those accustomed to the thin air of high altitudes. I wanted to see the fabric of their vestments. In fact it all went smoothly and cordially.

The Congress had been held a few days before and we talked about how there was no English translation and why not.

The topic of the seminar was “Entering Analysis”. Papers were to be first person accounts of the beginning of analysis.

The room was lit by skylight, a diffuse grey light, like the wandering attention of an analyst, rigorously soft-focused.

My memories of the papers remain amorphous despite my effort to recollect details. The rhythm of the presentations and terms lulled me into a mild stupor.

There were several reoccurring themes. The debate on the validity of “phone analysis”. There were references to how an analysts gesture of the hand, tapping of the fingers, or movement through the room had proved meaningful. It was also pointed out that phone analysis, due to the prevalence of cell phones, no longer dictated any set space.

Eric Laurent’s presentation recalled to mind Lacan’s description of Freud’s handling of concepts as that of a man who holds a hammer which fits comfortably in his hand and says “This is how I hold it for best effect. You may need to hold it some other way.”

Laurent spoke of the nonsensical past which could not have been otherwise, and the future of contingency, when, quoting the Porgie and Bess song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” It could be as it ought to be.

There was some talk of humor and one individual remarked “When there is the phallus there can be a lot of fun!” As soon as the phallus is there it’s a comedy.

I wondered if there was a phallus in the American Lacanian movement.

Miller’s talk began at eleven pm. I remembered the only video I could find of him speaking (on YouTube- Rally of the Impossible Professions) where he prefaces his talk by saying he prefers to speak to a tired audience, because their defenses are down and they don’t ask so many questions. He was introduced and someone said it’s not every day you get to speak to Jacques-Alain Miller. I think Miller opened the palms of his hands to this audience of English speakers as if to say “What do you have to offer? What can you contribute?” Read the rest of this entry »

Blundering Aloud, Pondering Aloud: On Becoming a Lacanian Analyst

In Instinct for Research, Lacan on August 9, 2012 at 11:15 am

By Albert Herter

“What is realized in my history is…the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.” –Jacques Lacan

I am still in the beginning.  The beginning is very genteel, friendly, civilized.  A theoretical discussion, nothing on the line really.  Nothing I couldn’t step back from.  I have put concepts on the table which are worthless.  The first time I saw my analyst, whom i will refer to as Venus, I was walking behind her into a lecture hall, and she suddenly turned around and said hello, smiling.  I said hello and smiled and she turned around and we continued walking in.  A pleasurable and surprising first encounter. The next contact I had with her was three years later when I emailed her about entering analysis.  In her email back she mistook me for a mutual friend of ours I had mentioned as way of introduction.  I don’t think I responded to that email.  Before our first session I was struck by a long wait that imposed some feelings of anxiety.  Later I would learn to love this long wait.  We talked about her situation for a while, some troubles, and then she said “That’s my story. What’s yours?”  The first words that came out were “I’m an artist.” A few sessions later she mentioned that in many countries people don’t say “I am an artist.” That it’s an adjective.  I think we continued to speak about art and various shows and one in particular at the New Museum.  I said I thought conceptual art had a tendency to be too cute.  I asked her if this particular show was old.  She said it’s older than JESUS.  I bare some resemblance to Jesus (I’m tall and had long brown hair at the time, maybe even a bit of beard) and so I thought this was some sort of message. I thought about it for a while. Later I found out that was the actual name of the art show we had been speaking about.  Many misrecognitions.  I remember her opening her legs a bit which I also thought was some sort of maneuver.  It sounds a bit adversarial.  I thought of it later as being called to an appointment, not knowing why, and knowing that one had made the appointment oneself.  I referenced Lacan’s statement on beginning from a point of not understanding.  And then the session was over, a friendly introduction.  We had faced each other.

The next session continued in the same vein, art, aspects of Lacanian analysis and it’s present developments.  I began to feel frustrated that we weren’t talking about what I had come here to talk about.  Towards the end I said I would like to speak about my “personal problems”.  Venus asked if I would like to start now or next time.  I said we could start now.  I said “I tear the skin around my fingernails. My cuticles.  I tear them till they bleed.  I lie in bed and read my book and play with my penis or tear my cuticles.”  She stopped the session there and said I had named it and said it well, that often it could be hard for men.

I enjoyed my own bewilderment when friends asked me about my analysis. I recounted things I’d said and my analyst’s responses, letting the words hang without any anchoring points.  My most intimate formulas delivered to a stranger.  I felt like analysis accentuated the absurdity of all other intersubjective contact.

I missed one session, out of absent mindedness.

I recounted a dream of driving a Porsche into a giant pile of laundry.  She said it reminded her of my sculptures and cut the session.

She asked me what the mandate was and I said “Economic and to sleep with lots of women.” She said “But it’s a mandate so you know you don’t have to do it.”

Everything was infused with meaning. It’s a realm I invested with power and knowledge.

“You’ll find some way to tell me.”

She said something about a “Narcissistic world where there is no desire.”

“I don’t know what words mean. I need to understand my words before I say them.”

“You postpone yourself.”

Sometimes I noticed her perfume.

“Look at you” she said.

I said “I say ‘You know, I don’t know.”

She said “You say that?”

I said “That’s something I say.”

You can see I simply dictate words I heard while in analysis.  I haven’t yet threaded them into any larger fabric.

At one point I said “This isn’t exactly a doctor’s office.”  Defending myself against any power she might have over me. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Queer About Psychoanalysis?

In Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Politics, Polymorphous Perversity on July 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm

by Chase Dimock

Whenever I “out” myself as a student of Freud, I am inevitably greeted with comments like “Isn’t that the guy who said we all secretly want to have sex with our moms?” or “You know he’s been disproved, right?” It is true that Freud’s work has been diluted with bad pop culture appropriations that have turned his thousands of pages of careful analysis into a couple of slogans to be thrown around at cocktail parties. Yet, it is also a testament to his enduring influence and value in the cultural imaginary. 120 years after his first publications, he is still the most famous and widely recognized psychologist in the world.

To say that Freud has been “disproved” is to ignore the process by which human thought evolves over time and builds on the speculation and observations of the previous generations. Many of Freud’s ideas are in some ways antiquated or incompatible with the direction in which our social values have turned (penis envy comes to mind here). But, Freud himself was open to changing his beliefs over the course of his career. He added footnotes over the years to many of his texts to address new findings that changed his opinions about their subjects. Still, several of the core principles of Freudian thought endure today. Even those most rabidly against psychoanalysis cannot dispute the presence of unconscious associations, the value of putting one’s inner thoughts into narrative (the “talking cure”), and the importance of analyzing the systems of authority and power under which we mature and with which we identify.

Yet, I have no intention of defending Freud as a clinician, a scientist, or as any of the other roles that represent fields in which I have no expertise. Rather, I am interested in maintaining Freud’s relevance to my own field: the study of literature and culture. This is why, when I respond to any of the above questions or challenges to my interest in Freud, I say, “Freud was the greatest mythologist of the 20th century”. By “mythologist” I do not mean myth as a false or fictional idea. Instead, I conceive of Freud’s mythology as one part classical mythology and one part the cultural mythologies described by the French semiotician Roland Barthes. Mythology is not simply a bunch of quaint stories from antiquity, but it is rather an on going process through which cultures communicate their values, ideologies, and desires and grapple with that which is beyond their complete comprehension in the form of easily relatable narratives and archetypes. Mythology simplifies and personifies the “other”. Just as the ancients used the cruelty and petty competitions of the gods to personify the natural and social elements beyond human control and explanation, so too do we today use mythological constructs like “the invisible hand” to explain laissez-faire economics or “maternal instinct” to account for the infinite intimate ways a mother understands her child that have not been put into language. Freud’s great contribution toward personifying the “other” was recognizing that the “other” resided in our selves and in fact is an integral part of self.  Freud dramatically and effectively illustrated how the “self” is in of itself a mythology: a split entity made up of an ego, id, and super-ego–all subject to the associations and eruptions of the unconscious.

This then answers the original question of this essay. What’s queer about psychoanalysis is what’s at its very core: the mythology of self. When we navigate away from uncritical assumptions about there being an essential, stable self, we unsettle the very foundations of all other normative assumptions attached to it, including norms about gender, sexuality, race, and any other social constructs that we try to etch post-natal into our DNA. While Freud was no queer theorist, he gave us a model of subjectivity through which the “queer” could be investigated. With the theory of polymorphous perversity, Freud speculated that sexuality in infancy begins with a form of “perversity” in which “the formation of such perversions meets but slight resistance because the psychic dams against sexual excesses, such as shame, loathing and morality—which depend on the age of the child—are not yet erected or are only in the process of formation” (57). Sexuality, according to Freud, begins with an exploration of one’s own body in which activities that adults have been taught to think of as shameful are freely pursued. It is additionally important that sexuality begins with physical pleasure. It is only later in the child’s life that they learn to find other things (people and objects) attractive and to want to derive pleasure from them. Read the rest of this entry »

Magic and the Link Compliment of the Borromean Rings in America

In Freud, Instinct for Research, Lacan, Mythology, Politics on July 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

by Albert Herter

A salvo

The Lacanian want-to-be-analyst in America is not unlike John the Baptist who when asked to identify himself said ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…’  There is a wildness in the cry of those who cannot be but amateurs (in the sense of lovers and without financial benefit) but on the other slope we have the fate of a tamed and harnessed Lacan, in the stable with all the other thinkers waiting to become usable in American universities, servicing the humanities.  One receives a credential with a sigh of defeat.  But despite this wildness the amateurs would like to contribute to the edifice being constructed across the Atlantic, and in South America.  Eventually we would like to build on New York bedrock.

Marie-Hélène Brousse, during the Paris-USA Lacan Seminar at Barnard College this past September, said that when Lacanian analysis comes to the States it falls flat.  Only in the Arts, specifically directors such as the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, etc., is Lacanian analysis alive and well.  It is alive in so much as it is ‘subversive’ and ‘creative’.  This is in fact my own history, coming from an arts background and education, I found Lacan through a gallery.  I now belong to a reading group that is currently reading Miller’s address to the congress and the group consists primarily of musicians.  There is a dearth of ‘men of letters’ here, no symbolic fortress to support us.  As Lacan already noted during his sojourn in the States – there is a deficiency in the symbolic.  We are adrift in a soup of imaginary phosphorescence, bursting, oozing, continually reconfigured.  No wonder the Health Care Industry compensates with an obsessive reliance on statistics and categories- that makes everything appear impossible.  So this is the field one wishes to practice Lacanian analysis on.  An amorphous threat of litigation is pervasive.  As far as I understand, the bare minimum in order to practice legally is a two-year social worker program.  In some senses two years is not a long time, but in terms of an ethics of desire it is a very long time.  Presumably one learns more than how to call the police if the patient mentions suicide but still.  I considered making analysis my art practice.  At one point I investigated what sort of credential a fortune-teller requires. Perhaps we are the new magicians. W.H. Auden wrote ‘To believe that a world of nature exists, i.e. of things which happen of themselves, is not however invariably made.  Magicians do not make it. ” Just as the Imaginary after the Symbolic is not the same, Magic after Science would not be the same.  One need only conjure up the image of CERN, the 27 km circumference circular tunnel located 100 metres underground with its 2,400 full-time employees searching for the God particle to get a sense of the desperate need to make nature cough up another signifier.

There is a magician in England named Derren Brown who is ‘a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism’.  He is essentially a cognitive behavioralist suggesting actions to weak-willed volunteers.  In addition to his stage show he has a series where he exposes frauds who claim to speak to the dead or heal the sick.  He keeps company with men like Richard Dawkins.  What I would call the missionaries of science- Brian Greene, Daniel Dennett.  The prevalent magic of today is the magic of suggestion, hypnotism, nudges. Algorithmic magic. Everyone knows that the birth of psychoanalysis was tied to the renunciation of hypnosis.

Rogue analysis, Black Market analysis

The practice of Lacanian analysis in America is irredeemably political, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ego psychology fit very well within the American program of forging individuals, harnessing their desires to the wagon of capitalist growth. A positivism and naivité which wanted to know nothing of lack or castration.  The New Yorker reports that Freud has finally landed on Chinese soil and will hopefully work the same magic, to reinvigorate the engine of endless expansion.  The article asks ‘Does psychoanalysis have a future in an authoritarian state?’  It tells about the suicides of workers at Foxconn factories, which make iPhones and other electronics, and a series of murderous attacks on young children by middle-aged men. According to The Lancet, nearly one-in-five-adults in China has a mental disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  As regards the USA, perhaps Lacanian analysis has no relevance to a country that has not yet experienced a sort of ‘historical narcissistic disaster’.  Which has not yet been truly occupied.  And it may yet be awhile before the ground is fully prepared.

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