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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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One from the Other

In Art, film, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on August 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Picture 3(A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly)

by Kevin McLellan

Preface

Before the acronyms HIV and AIDS were established, there were these acronyms: the 4H disease (Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroine users) and GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). Did this precursory nomenclature further contribute to the stigma for the gay community in the early 1980s? For those within the gay community not only diagnosed with what would be named HIV/AIDS? Were there other forces that divided the negative gay community, if you will, from the positive gay community? Was fear one of those forces?One from the other by no means directly addresses these substantial questions, but rather in its compression attempts to touch upon the underbelly of a post-breakup phone conversation between HIV+ Kris and HIV- Anthony in 1998, on the heels of breakthrough medicinal therapy. Yet the psychological and sociosexual impacts for those living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis prior to 1996 had already been set into motion.

The title of this play, One from the other, correlates to something Kris says to Anthony, “It’s killing you. The alcohol and your relationship with your mother. I can’t determine one from the other.” The intention of this dialogue, and consequently the title, is by no means to demonize mothers/motherhood, but rather to use (this particular) mother as metaphor for HIV/AIDS and how the virus has control over the body like the mother has control over her son.

Kris mimics Anthony’s mother, “Why do you speak to me that way? You know that I’m not going to live for very much longer.” This language in conjunction with Kris’ claim, “You speak with her nearly every day and fall for her guilt” is not only an attempt to set the stage for Anthony and his compromised relationships (with his mother, an ex,  and alcohol), but alternatively to fashion germane language for those living with HIV/AIDS in 1998 if they were to address the virus itself.

So, ultimately, this play is attempting to support the creation of a metaphorical conceit (a mother lode, if you will) in order to address directly or indirectly various kinds of division: within the gay and straight communities, between a positive and a negative gay man, and between sons and mothers.

One from the Other

Picture 5A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly

 

Cast of Characters:

KRIS, a thirty-something gay man who is HIV+ and recently separated from Anthony.

ANTHONY, an alcoholic forty-something gay man still in love with Kris.

The play takes place in their respective apartments, opens with a phone conversation in progress, one evening in the year 1998. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Don’t You Come Up Sometime and Queer Me?: Reclaiming Mae West as Author and Sexual Philosopher

In Feminism, Foucault, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, Transvestite Souls, Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

  by Chase Dimock

  

We know Mae West as an actress, a sex symbol, a cultural icon, a comedienne, a master of the one liner and the double entendre. What we don’t think of Mae West as is an author. It has been largely forgotten that Mae West got her start on stage, in a series of salacious plays she wrote for herself in the late 20s. West was by then a veteran of the Vaudeville circuit appearing mostly chorus line gigs and bit parts. But when she grew tired of waiting for the right part and her big break to come around, she decided to write her own roles. With early plays such as “Sex” and “Diamond Lil”, West invented the vamp persona that defined her career over the next five decades. If we think of Mae West as playwright and an author that wrote the character that she ultimately became, then we can view her iconography as its own meticulously plotted text and her careful crafting of figure and image as a finely formulated semiotics of the body. If we think of Mae West as an author, then her pithy one-liners and double entendres transcend the ephemera of comic relief and reveal her as one of the most astute observers of sexual and gender politics of the modernist era. If we think of Mae West as an author, a quote like “I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing”, becomes an insight into gender performativity. Her quote “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution”, becomes a critique of the state’s power to enforce heteronormativity through marriage. And finally her quote “If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning” becomes a post-modernist play on the endless veils of irony and metaphor that obscure and inflate every day speech. It is this Mae West as author and sexual philosopher who put her text into her curves, that I want to recover and illuminate.

While West marketed herself as an object of heterosexual desire, she not only understood her appeal to a gay audience, but she also engaged with the newly emerging gay community in her plays. Thus, I want to also think about Mae West as queer theorist—as an interpreter of queer sexuality who saw the newly visible figure of the homosexual in society as a product of power relations—a figure determined by the interplay of institutional powers, medicine and the law, and his own creative power to define himself. For this, I turn to her 1927 play, “The Drag”, a text centered on the question of the male homosexual’s position in society. Unlike her previous play, “Sex”, which launched her into notoriety and stardom on Broadway, “The Drag” was not a vehicle for self-promotion as an actress. Mae West did not write a role for herself. Instead, “The Drag” sought to cash in on what contemporary scholars have called “The Pansy Craze”, a period in the 1920s when female impersonators appeared in mainstream stage shows and the Jazz age youth went slumming at gay bars and drag balls. The “pansy”, often known as the “fairy”, was a figure that created gender confusion; a male that interwove signifiers of masculinity and femininity on his body. He paraded feminine mannerisms, walked in high heels with a swish, and even used feminine pronouns, but he was not a trans-woman. The fairy became the dominant image of what was termed the “invert”, before “gay” hit wide usage two decades later; a biological male with the soul of a woman on the inside.

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Five Prose Poems as Psychological and Therapeutic Objects

In Art, Freud, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Queer Theory on August 27, 2012 at 8:11 am

By Don Adams

Author’s Forward

When I look back on it, it seems to me that I have spent a significant part of my conscious adult life in the active and sometimes arduous process of being gay.  The prose poems below have been a part of that process.  From a personal and perhaps generational perspective, these poems, written over a period of years, seem to me as much historical documents as aesthetic objects.  For generations of the future, being gay may well seem, one hopes, a mere fact of life, like being American or Chinese, tall or short.  But for young men and women of my generation, and in many situations of course still today, being gay was and is a predicament.

Psychology can help.  In graduate school I pored through Freud and Jung and their disciples in an effort to explain to myself my inclinations and identity.  Modern psychology admittedly has a long and sad history of being used in the service of bigotry and oppression.  But at its best, psychology is an effort at understanding, and “to understand is to pity and forgive,” as Somerset Maugham, a once celebrated and now critically neglected gay writer, assures us in his nearly forgotten autobiography.

Maugham is a case in point in regards to the at times torturous evolution of gay identity in recent history.  When he was writing his drama and fiction in the first half of the 20th Century, Maugham was compelled by societal prejudice and indeed legal stricture to omit any direct reference to homosexuality.  But when we read him by today’s standards and assumptions regarding sexual identity and awareness, his work all too easily appears the product of a hopeless closet case.  To comprehend that work sympathetically, we have to recreate in some measure the assumptions and prejudices of the society in which it was appreciatively received, and which it in no small measure condemned and critiqued.  For in its broadest existential sense, to understand is not only to pity and forgive, but to accept that one has an ethical duty to challenge and attempt to change.

Maugham’s work takes up the challenge of changing a bigoted world in a courageous but necessarily coded way that requires some teasing out.  The poems below, written in a less dire time for sexual minorities, are correspondingly less circumspect, but they exhibit nevertheless many signs and symptoms of the cultural and psychological closet from which they were attempting to emerge.  When I read them now, some years after composition, and from the relative security of a less bigoted world, it seems to me that they were attempting to compel an ignorant, indifferent, or even hostile reader into sympathetic comprehension.  Perhaps they were addressed in some sort of unconscious way to my parents (who conspicuously appear in them but never to my knowledge read them), kind-hearted individuals who were compelled into psychological cruelty toward their gay son by religious stricture and societal prejudice.  But the crucial audience for the poems as psychological and therapeutic objects was even closer to home.  For it is true, as Maugham said as well, that there is no one in greater need of one’s sympathy, or for whom it is more efficacious, than oneself.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD

I thought like a child, a simple fact.  At the dime store once, my hippie cousin bought us hats.  I chose a floppy denim number with orange and yellow flowers embroidered on the crown.  When I got home with the prized purchase, my mother, glancing up from her recumbent position on the couch, pronounced a casual curse upon it, “Why are you wearing a girl’s hat son?”  Seeing my face tragically altered by the fact, she said to my cousin, “You know what he is going to do now, don’t you?”  And there were tears beneath the brim.

Some years later the young man’s mother, driven to distraction by repeated rebuffs, took the matter in hand one night while riding home with her son in the car, “You think you’re better than us now, don’t you?”  She got, as usual, no significant response.  His thoughts on the matter he was keeping well under the ubiquitous brim of his hat. 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 »

“The Conference”: an excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Transgender on July 13, 2012 at 12:49 am

by Cybele Marcia Carter

Editor’s Introduction

        In her previous excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass, “The Institute”, Cybele Marcia Carter explored a fantasy that nearly all queer individuals share—the desire to go back in time to relive one’s adolescence armed with the knowledge of and security with our sexual and gender identity from the present. For Carter, this meant traveling back to a formative moment in time in 1972 when she was institutionalized for being transgendered. Carter writes in her introduction to the first installment:

 What I was (and still am) may have been diagnosed as a disease in 1972, but is accepted as (mostly) routine today – a transgendered female.  Neither my doctor, who recommended institutionalization, nor my parents or sisters at that time, understood what gender dysphoria (feeling born and trapped in the body of the wrong gender) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) were.  They could not know that, while born as a boy, I had always lived with the certainty that I was female and should have been born and raised as a girl.

What fascinates me about Carter’s story is its testament to how gender and sexuality are discursively constructed. Most queer coming of age novels of the 20th century include some variation of a scene in which the character sees the word “homosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian”, or any term of queer identity in a novel, a dictionary, or encyclopedia and suddenly becomes transformed by access to textual authority. Just as an infant in Lacan’s mirror stage is born into the symbolic through the misrecognition of the self as a whole that must be maintained, I believe that this event of textual discovery for a queer youth is its own moment of misrecognition, an instance of being born into an identity category expected to wholly define the self that one must constantly strive to fit and resemble.

“Gay” is both a description of one’s self and an aspirational model to pursue for the self that subjects the individual to all of the expectations and limitations of that identity category. We are given language to inform the self, but it has an inherent, impersonal lack that can never satisfy the desire for psychic wholeness. A child born into the symbolic feels an inherent lack in themselves, and when a queer child first learns of a word for his/her gender or sexual feelings, they are deceived with a second moment of misrecognition that could make them believe that the feeling of lack was caused because they did not know they are this thing called “gay” and that by now knowing they are “gay” they have a wholly explanatory term for their self. Thus, part of maturing into a queer sexual or gender identity means realizing the inadequacy of all categories of identity, and developing strategies for signifying the self that use common terms and discourse to others in order to make one’s self legible without being reduced to a one-dimensional figure.

Carter’s story understands the importance of a queer youth to have access to language, knowledge, and discourse on gender and sexual identity. Yet, instead of having some enlightened clinician from the 70s to inform her teenage self, she supplies it herself from 2012. Her teenage self is not just given the message of “you are transgendered and that is okay”; she is granted all of the experience of growing into her gender identity over the course of the next 40 years. There is something in “queer experience” and living queerly between the lines of male and female–the lasting affect of navigating gender that informs gender identity in ways that the signifier/signified system of language excludes.

The Conference

The Gran mal conference would be, I felt, the make-or-break point of my efforts here at the Institute to form a new life; a new past, present, and future for myself.  If my explanations were convincing enough regarding my being born transsexual, and needing to live as a female being as important as breathing itself, then I would have the medical community here behind me.  And that was important in persuading my parents to let me remain Cybele and to begin taking female hormones.

But if I couldn’t persuade Kilroy’s colleagues to back me, I wondered if he would in turn back off from supporting me.  Nobody likes to swim against the tide or to go it alone, as I myself knew quite well.  Still, I knew I could count on Miss Williams’s support in any case; and perhaps she would convince the others on their own terms.

Miss Williams led me down the hall to the south side of the ward and used her elevator key to take us down to Level 1.  This was where a long hallway took us down into the actual hospital, with its own maze of corridors; until we found the conference room.  I was lost myself; but Emily had been there before, it seemed.

Now as for the room: perhaps you’ve seen, in old or classic movies such as Young Frankenstein, something called an “operating theater”.  This is a large room like an auditorium, or a small amphitheater: with banks of seats rising tier by tier so that all the attendees can get a good view of a platform, or stage, upon which a physician would perform an operation.  Or, in this case, introduce a rather unique patient.  As we entered through a set of double doors, I almost backed out.  Every one of the 50 or so seats in the theater were filled with white-coated physicians, psychologists and graduate students.  All eyes turned to me as I came in, blushing and flushed with my natural shyness.  Dr. Kilroy was standing beside a raised podium to my left, upon which a microphone was planted.

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A Jungian Exploration of Thoreau’s Sexuality

In Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Queer Theory on June 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

by Chris Snellgrove

The goal of my larger research concerning Thoreau is to use Jungian psychoanalytic techniques to examine Thoreau’s Walden, which helps to explore the connection between Thoreau’s notion of transcendence and the Jungian notion of self-actualization. This subsection focuses primarily on the Jungian anima archetype (in Jungian terms, this is the feminine aspect of man, and the avenue by which he accessed his soul, or spirit), and how Thoreau, existing in relative physical and sexual isolation, encountered that archetype during his time at Walden Pond. The ultimate goal of both Jungian therapy and transcendentalism is that of actualization, in which a person has accessed their unconscious mind and found truths concerning both themselves and the larger world around them. The importance of the anima to this process cannot be overstated, as it represents man’s ability to access his own unconscious mind—essentially, to begin the entire process.

Such self-actualization can be understood in terms of removing a mask: Jung considered an individual’s persona as a representation of how they wished to be viewed by the world: individuals can only wear one mask (and, thus, embody one aspect of their personality) at a time, limiting not only their interactions with others, but their ability to access their unconscious mind. Self-actualization occurs when an individual eliminates the need for the persona at all, finding a way to dynamically embody the entirety of their self—as Thoreau emphasizes so powerfully, when an individual is able to revere both their spiritual and their savage side, they are more fully actualized than if they limit themselves to one perspective. Before they can embrace savagery, however, they must first pull back the veil of their unconscious world by accessing their inner femininity.

The Anima

The anima of Thoreau and his subsequent re-contextualization of the feminine is a central idea to this work, as an analysis of Thoreau’s “repressed” masculine side necessitates an examination of his anima. This Jungian examination offers a fresh perspective to the heterosexual/homosexual binary that splits critics, and unites several disparate elements of Walden—the carnivorous bloodthirstiness of Thoreau in “Higher Laws,” for instance, seems to have little to do with John Fields’ wife, until one considers the spirituality Thoreau sees in bodily taking what he wants from the land, as opposed to those whose adherence to capitalism keeps them poor.  Fields’ wife is portrayed as urging her husband to define success in worldly, material terms; the trappings of civilization are, to Thoreau, actually trapping civilization within a feminine framework.  The counterpoint, then, is masculine abandon, such as eating a live woodchuck; from a Jungian standpoint, Thoreau balances the best aspects of femininity and masculinity—forsaking the capitalistic repression of Fields’ wife while retaining his own sensitive appreciation of the natural world. Similarly, he does not condemn nor regret the urge to eat a woodchuck, yet implies that such beastliness is a necessary precursor to spirituality, just as hunting is ironically necessary to teach children to value the natural world (Thoreau. Walden 214). This exercise—liberating restrained femininity and restraining masculine abandon—allows Thoreau to perceive transcendental truths without being held back by his persona; in Jungian terms, he is individuating himself by overcoming his own mask.  The Persona is best understood as the aspect of Thoreau that helps him integrate into the collective consciousness—the so-called “mass of men” in Concord who Thoreau seeks to impress even as he distinguishes himself from them.  This is significant in this analysis, because the notion of such a mask extends to both the public realm of perception (how Thoreau desired others to regard him) and the archetypes of unconsciousness controlling how he views himself—one can actually view the process of Thoreau’s individuation by reading the transition between the teacher/student dichotomy of Walden’s first chapter and the open arms with which he greets a fraternity of free-thinkers by the close of the book.  By this point, the mask of superiority has genuinely dropped; a fully individuated Thoreau is presented as a changed man.

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The Erotics of Melancholia: Natalie Clifford Barney’s “The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife”

In Feminism, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Transvestite Souls on June 8, 2012 at 10:18 am


by Chase Dimock

In the author’s note for her 1930 novel The One Who is Legion: or A.D.’s Afterlife, Natalie Clifford Barney writes: “For years I have been haunted by the idea that I should orchestrate those inner voices which sometimes speak to us in unison, and so compose a novel, not so much with the people about us, as with those within ourselves, for have we not several selves and cannot a story arise from their conflicts and harmonies?” Culminating in one of her few works in her native English tongue, this American ex-patriate’s “haunting” of multiple selves serves as a model to conceptualize an identity and lifestyle that had as of then not been granted an adequate discourse to describe it. As an unapologetic lesbian writer, Natalie Clifford Barney and her Parisian salon from the turn of the century well into the 60’s defied the heteronormative conventions of her era. She dared to write explicit love poems to women so as to ward off the “nuisance” of male admirers, she promiscuously romanced the great lesbian writers of her time from Liane de Pougy to Djuna Barnes, she created an alternative academie des femmes against the male dominated academie francaise to promote female authors, and she hosted theatricals based on Sapphic rituals in her own home garden.

For Barney, these “multiple selves” stand in for an identity that blurs the lines between masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual and penetrates to the depths of the human psyche and soul where desire is multi-form and multi-directional. As a literary project, The One Who is Legion embodies Barney’s vision of the erotic possibilities of a psyche and society unmoored from the constraints of binary categories and stable, self-same identities. In the aforementioned author’s note, Barney outlines the basic plot of the symbolist novel: “A.D., a being having committed suicide, is replaced by a sponsor, who carries on the broken life, with all the human feelings assumed with the flesh, until, having endured to the end in A.D.’s stead, the composite or legion is disbanded by the One, who remains supreme”. Barney’s summary of her novel is as confusing as the novel itself. The novel not only evades a sense of a stable plot or characterization, but it purposefully leaves the genders, sexualities, and even the number of individuals inhabiting singular bodies ambiguous. The “One”, the name Barney gives the spirit that resurrects and relives AD’s life on earth is in fact a legion of selves inhabiting a single body that refer to the body as “we”. The novel reads more like an extended prose poem, choosing to explore detours of philosophical musings and poetic contemplations rather than telling a linear or consistent narrative.

Natalie Clifford Barney with Renée Vivien

Yet, the novel is somewhat autobiographical and deeply personal. The suicided poet A.D. bears resemblance to one of Barney’s greatest loves, the poet Renee Vivien, whose self-destructive behavior, anorexia and drug and alcohol abuse caused her early death in 1909. Informed by this tragedy, Barney’snovel reads as a meditation on grieving the loss of a lover whose voice and presence remained fixed in her psyche 20 years later. Thus, I argue that Barney’s experience of grief is not aimed at successfully getting over loss, but instead she willfully submerges herself in the state of loss itself and perpetuates the existence and memory of her lover through exploring the dynamics of melancholia. Barney’s novel re-imagines melancholia as an erotic experience through which death does not diminish the memory of the lost love, but in fact amplifies the impact of its presence as it echoes in her unconscious and comes to inform and guide her desires.

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A Brief Chronicle of the Long Life of a Nobody

In Art, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Poetry, Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

by Jim Elledge

Internationally-recognized, self-taught artist Henry Darger lived in utter poverty his entire life. Not long after he was born in Chicago (April 12, 1892), his impoverished parents moved out of the respectable, blue-collar neighborhood in which they had lived for several years into a coach-house apartment behind 165 West Adams just west of the Loop. That address was at the threshold of Chicago’s most notorious vice district, called West Madison Street after its chief thoroughfare.

Henry’s father went into a tailspin after a string of tragedies blind-sided him. His second son, Arthur, born a year and a half after Henry, died when he was only five months old, and then his wife Rosa died giving birth to their third child, a daughter. Almost sixty years old, too old (he felt) to be taking care of both an infant and a toddler, he immediately put his daughter up for adoption. The loss of his wife and children was too much for him, and he abandoned himself to drink and Henry to the dark streets—and even darker denizens—of West Madison Street.

Henry’s experiences during his earliest days in the vice district were, in a word, horrific as his autobiography, The History of My Life, reveals. He purposely knocked down children younger than he; sliced his teacher’s face and arms with a knife he carried when she punished him for an infraction; flung ashes into the eyes of a little neighborhood girl; committed arson to get even with a neighbor man; was nearly kidnapped by a homeless man; had a relationship with a night watchman; and was removed from his father’s house by authorities who institutionalized him in Dunning among the insane, indigent, and mentally ill—all before he was eight years old. Henry’s anger, violent behavior, and early sexual activities are symptomatic of child sexual abuse. Small for his age, Henry was an easy target.

In 1900, embarrassed by his eight-year-old son’s conduct and unable to cope with him, Henry’s father pawned the boy off on the priests who ran the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy, where he would live for the next four years. After more behavioral problems, which included being involved sexually with at least three other boys at the Mission, the priests told Henry’s father that Henry had to go. By then, his father was living in St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged, had no money with which to help his son, and had no room to take him in. Instead, he contacted a doctor, told him that Henry had been masturbating since he was six years old (another symptom of sexual abuse), and asked him to examine the boy. After meeting with Henry on two separate occasions, Dr. Otto Schmidt helped Henry’s father to fill out the form that would allow them to exile the now twelve-year-old to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln, IL. On Thanksgiving Day 1904, Tim Rooney took Henry by train to the Asylum.

Institutionalizing children for “self-abuse” (the term that was most often used for masturbation) was entirely legal and ubiquitous at the time. Physicians across the country supported institutionalization, and some even went so far as to recommend castration. Henry wasn’t the only boy sent to the Asylum for self-abuse. In fact, four other boys—three, twelve, thirteen, and nineteen years old—were admitted within of a month of the day when Henry arrived, each because of self-abuse.

As it turned out, the Asylum was a hellhole. While attendants had many techniques that they used to control the boys in their care, they were fond of strangling boys until they were close to blacking out, their tongues protruding and their faces turning blue. In such a condition, the boys were unable or unwilling to resist whatever the adult had in mind for them. At the same time, the prisons in Illinois had been filled to capacity, and the courts decided to send the overflow of male criminals to live—and sleep—among the boys at the Asylum. The smaller, weaker boys were at the mercy of the larger, stronger boys and men in the beds beside them.

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