The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Posts Tagged ‘Freud’

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

.

by Michael Angelo Tata

.

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

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 

.

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 »

Pride & Prejudatass

In Art, Feminism, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on November 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

The fifth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

pandp

by Barbarism

In this spirited send-up of Pride & Prejudice, BARBARISM queers the classic! (which itself queered the classics–as Jane Austen queered femininity, the Barbs queer what has been queered before! With new and old results). By inserting the Thatcherian past into the Austenian past, Prejudatass connects new to old and upends the old, creating continuity as discontinuity, a constant inconsistency attesting that “there is no solid, objective reality… each of us experiences our reality subjectively”; it is rather for us to advocate what “encourages overlapping and sometimes contradictory realities… as opposed to essentialism’s quest for the One Truth” (Queen, 1997, p. 21).

Psychoanalytically, Prejudatass is a bacchanalia of defenses! This Darcy reincarnation relies on intellectualization and Otherizing to displace and combat his feelings of insecurity by scapegoating immigrants and dandies, thus divesting himself of responsibility and instead assigning blame to socially inferior parties. Psychologically self-soothing, this lack of honesty–as exhibited in his defense against enjoying performing femininity on The Old Stage–represents an egodystonic relationship with exhibitionism. He is finally able to integrate the multiple components of himself as he acknowledges his enjoyment, though with a discomfort that belies the complexity of emotions broiling underneath.

Further, this video is itself a defense against discomfort which “by finding a means of withdrawing the energy from the release of unpleasure that is already in preparation” is able to transform it “by discharge, into pleasure” (Freud, 1960, p. 290).

Works Cited

Freud, S. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Queen, C., & Schimel, L. (1997). PoMoSexuals: Challenging assumptions about gender  and sexuality. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

The Mother as The Child’s First Bully

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm
Marx Ernst, 'La Vierge corrigeant l'Enfant Jésus devant trois témoins: André Breton, Paul Eluard et le peintre,' 1926

Marx Ernst, La Vierge corrigeant l’Enfant Jésus devant trois témoins: André Breton, Paul Eluard et le peintre, 1926

by Diego Costa

When my sister got pregnant with her first child and was able to see what sex it was going to be assigned (that irreparable death sentence that the ultrasound enacts), she immediately knew what she would name him: Gael. She associated the name with the devil-may-care coolness of harmonica-playing boys who manage to be tough and sweet, masculine and sensitive. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal served as the perfect manifestation for the kind of boy she hoped her son would be. He was intellectual without being arrogant, manly without being brutish. Unfortunately, as she spread the name choice to everyone around her, strangers were taken aback by Gael. Doesn’t it sound like gal? Or even…gay? From Facebook comments to random women getting their manis and pedis at her local salon, folks went on about how strange, and literally queer, Gael sounded. My sister was thus bullied into re-thinking the naming of her son in order to avoid that this child who hadn’t even been born yet would be bullied because of his unconventional name. Pre-natal bullying, you may call it. He was being bullied as he was being gendered. He was being bullied into gender.

My sister decided to give up on Gael and re-name him something more normativity-friendly. For ethical reasons, I won’t say which name, but the point is that little does it matter. While Gael marks difference and rupture, Brian, Michael, or Ben offers continuity and maintenance. They leave things as they are, granting us the same cozy illusion of inevitability that the direct relationship between genitals and gender that we insist on can offer us. As the-child-formerly-known-as-Gael became, say, Ben, I can’t help but think of it as his first major castration episode. The first of a series of regulatory events that will certainly come in due time to keep him in line, to think twice before daring to venture outside the prescribed path of sameness under the “law.” Before language, before catching sight of the (“lack of”) female genitals, before letting out a cry– he has been silenced. Some fundamental protuberance that may have grown out of his singularity has been smoothed over, patched up like an irksome porthole (don’t holes tend to elicit so much anxiety?) out of which something disturbing is sure to emerge. An openness has been sealed, something has been maimed.

The Mother’s first encounter with the normativity-demanding Other could have become the stage for a symbolic intervention on her part. She could have staked a claim, she could have denied the Other’s entrance, she could have preserved the naming of her child as an intimacy between parent and child, without chiseling the baby into one that fits comfortably (for a price) in the world. Instead, she allowed her position of power, the unparalleled power of naming (and a quite violent one as is), to be contaminated by the anti-queer pre-natal police, transforming her motherhood into a function of the hetero-normative State. Here the Mother becomes not only an agent of bullying under the guise of preventing bullying, but a depersonalized baby-making machine in the service of a utopian hygenized society that is queerness-free. A society that is queer-free before queerness can even begin to manifest itself before our eyes. Like Down syndrome fetuses, which thanks to cutting edge technology, can now be spared from their birth so that we can be spared from their sight.

This has nothing to do with mothers individually or my sister’s excellence or lack thereof as a mother. I admire her as a person in the world and do not doubt her maternal love. This has to do with the Mother as function, the position of the Mother and the labor she is asked to do within the gendering economy. Under the spell of the hetero-normativity promises of an unscathed member of society, the Mother with a capital M is ironically the first to injure her baby by giving it up on a properly labeled platter to those who will actually decide if we will keep him or chuck him. Wasn’t it Eve Sedgwick who claimed that in our society the good homosexual was either the masculine homosexual or the dead one?  In order to assuage anxieties about an imagined future violence enacted by others, the Mother ironically wounds the child preemptively, robbing him of the opportunity to begin life from an authentic position. She teaches him how to lay low and pass before he gets a chance to gage his attraction to whatever it is he is passing for.

French essayist Roland Jacquard once said that bringing a child into the world is already abusing him. American culture does an excellent job bringing the violence of bullying to the headlines in a kind of masturbatory panic. It interpelates its celebrities to plead for tolerance, it creates task forces, it broadcasts TV specials, it puts bullying on display to be spoken about, judged and condemned ad nauseam. It’s like it brings us the sadistic high that the act of bullying begets but in a roundabout way that relieves us from the guilt. Yet, America administers this enjoyment mostly through finding bounded human entities to blame for it — which is the same strategy any kind of panic, fueled by claims of tolerance or hatred, tends to follow (the slut, the Jew, the black man, the homosexual, the illegal immigrant, the sex predator, the barebacker, take your pick). Someone is to blame, which leaves the social and symbolic structures (of which we are authors) conveniently unexamined. Read the rest of this entry »

“No, Psychoanalysis is Not Against Gay Marriage” or How Psychoanalysis Supports Queer Inquiry

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Lacan rainbow

by Chase Dimock

As I write, the French parliament is embroiled in a protracted debate over President François Hollande’s push to legalize gay marriage and adoption in France. The controversy regarding the bill has swept through French society and the regular cast of conservative political and cultural interests such as the Catholic Church and the xenophobic right-wing parties has emerged in demonstrations against it. Yet, one unlikely voice of support for the bill came out last month as Jacques-Alain Miller, representing the psychoanalytic community, authored an op-ed in Le Point titled, “Non, la psychanalyse n’est pas contre le mariage gay”. I say this is “unlikely” not because it would be unexpected for a psychoanalyst to support lgbt rights, but because it is uncommon for psychoanalysis to weigh in on current political issues. In this article, Miller (who is Jacques Lacan’s son-in-law and one of the most widely published analysts still active today) does not come out in explicit support of gay marriage, but instead lambastes the conservatives who have misrepresented and instrumentalized psychoanalytic research and theory in their campaign against gay marriage. As Miller promulgates, “we Psychoanalysts are obligated to declare that nothing in the Freudian experience will validate an anthropology that is authorized by the first chapter of Genesis.” (my translation)

While it is important in the context of the gay marriage debate for scholars to publicly dismantle the pseudo-scientific and unfounded sociological claims made by conservative interests, I find that Miller’s short, five paragraph article also makes a profound, if unintended, argument for how the basic concepts of psychoanalysis are congruent with research in Queer Theory. Miller’s article comes out against the abuses and misinterpretations of psychoanalytic concepts and practices that led the ill-informed to pathologize or inject moral approbation against homosexuality based on poor readings of Freud, Lacan, and other luminaries of psychoanalysis. Miller makes a bold statement against any kind of normative moralizing and instead stresses the fluidity of gender, sex, and desire as a guiding feature of psychoanalytic practice and research. The article serves a double purpose of both defending against socially regressive misuses of psychoanalysis and clarifying the basic concepts and practices for queer scholars and activists who have been mislead by pop-psychology or misinformed critics. Here, I have translated key elements of Miller’s text for an English-speaking audience because I believe his points brilliantly illustrate how psychoanalysis has granted me and other scholars of Queer Theory illuminating language and discourse for the  study of queer identity and desire.

In his third paragraph, Miller explains that the gendered language of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis is metaphorical and not meant to cement specific gender roles based on sex:

If Jacques Lacan gave the Oedipal structure the form of a “paternal metaphor” involving the “Name of the Father”, the “desire of the mother”, and the phallus, this formalization was not meant to be an anthropological invariant. Its advances have led, on the contrary, to pluralize the function of name of the Father, then to relativize it, and finally turn it into a “sinthome” (an ancient form of the word “symptom”).

Regarding the gay marriage debate, Miller corrects those that would simplify the paternal metaphor of the oedpial structure and see it as evidence that a child must specifically have a heteronormative family with a female mother and a male father. Historically, this oversimplification of the oedipal structure has led some to assume that a “normal” family will produce “normal” children and that any disruption in the nuclear family dynamic would cause psychological damage. For example, in the 50s and 60s, some American psychologists performing studies under the name of “psychoanalysis” argued that an overbearing mother and a distant father (or sometimes an overly affectionate father) would lead to homosexuality. Miller dispels this notion, asserting that the terms “father” and “mother” in this usage are metaphorical and not tied to a specific gender or familial structure.

The Name of the Father does not correspond exclusively to the male, biological father of the child, but it can instead apply to any person or entity of any sex that has a position of authority over the subject and functions as the one that acculturates the child into acceptable behavior in society and regulates desire. The phallus has no correspondence to the anatomical penis, but it instead signifies a position of agency in the subject’s life, which is fluid, contextual, and can be held by (or simply be) anyone. For Miller, the job of the analyst is to pluralize and relativize the Name of the Father, meaning that they must help the subject understand who or what has that position of authority and what impact casting that entity as the law giver has on their pursuit of desire. Read the rest of this entry »

Cruising is Cruising: What Have 15 Years of Digital Sex Taught Us?

In Cruising, Freud, LGBT, Sex, Sublimation on September 25, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Image

by Diego Costa

.

When I was cruising on Gay.com as a young teen in the late 90s and I “ran into” someone who was in his 30s or 40s (quelle horreur!) I remember thinking, or perhaps praying: Damn me if at their age I am still hanging out at such depressing dens for the embarrassingly lonely. It was a mixture of repulsion, pity, and anxiety.  Only an ugly or inept gay would make it to their 35th birthday and still be looking. Only a loser fag would by then be willing to stoop down to that level of desperation (please fuck/love/fucking love me now) in order to find a mate. The compulsion to cruise, to reach out for someone out there in the universe to come along and save us from our predicaments, was sure to be a burden of broke young boys who would eventually master the art of being alone and still alive.

This was a time when queer sex was beginning to enter its hyper-commodification phase. Suddenly we didn’t have to settle for whatever guy happened to cross our paths (a curious cousin, a drunk hetero) and, as in a fluke, not find us disgusting. Even if, at, first, we didn’t have the technology to easily exchange digital photographs of photoshopped selves, we could list our frantic likes (straight acting guys only!) and fascist dislikes (No Fems, Fats, Asians, apparently). Like a database of, in theory, easily available men, we were able to sort through, pick and choose, discriminate and reinforce the inherited prejudices of the general culture. And, somehow, demanding through exclusion passed for getting in touch with authentic desire.

By the time kids like myself, whose sexual lives coincided with the development of ubiquitous computing, got to college requesting an impossibly normative masculinity from strangers who were to commit to fucking us before having met us was part and parcel of what it meant to be a queered human being. Now we could make even more demands: photographic evidence of our potential tricks’ muscles, six-packs and convincingly well-acted straightness ad infinitum (More face pics!). The few who could “host” were lucky enough to be able to script their encounters down to their very details. Sometimes the scripting of these narratives were so pleasurable little did it matter if the countless cruising hours led up to an actual encounter or with one nutting all over the keyboard and calling it a night.

We told ourselves we would exit the chat room in 15 minutes, which soon became 2 hours, 4 hours, the entire night. The faceless screen names became too familiar, the logging on to the same old sites automatic, the disturbed sleeping patterns more constant. But what if we leave and the stranger who is supposed to sweep us off our feet and fix us arrives? It became quite hard to tell if what we were really interested was in the potential lovers the digital seemed to promise or in the endless deferral from ultimately frustrating encounters (butch in the picture, a flamer in person) that it certainly provided us.

Eventually, of course, one of these immaterial strangers would show up at the door and something would happen, generally something you hadn’t scripted or accounted for, a mannerism, an unexpected reply, a certain kind of non-desperate availability, or a je ne sais quoi-like shining on the nose, as Freud would have it, and the endless cruising would flirt with an interruption. The stranger would stay a bit longer and not foreclose the possibility for a shameful moment like this, in which horniness just takes the best out of otherwise normal boys (this is my first time on the site), to become something the straight world recognizes as meaningful. The stranger responds to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Madonna Is Dead; Long Live Madonna

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


by Diego Costa

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Robert McAlmon’s Psychoanalyzed Girl and the Popularization of Psychoanalysis in America

In Freud, LGBT, Literature, Polymorphous Perversity, Sublimation on February 14, 2012 at 1:45 am

Freud (far left seated) and Jung (far right, seated) at Clark University in 1909

by Chase Dimock

A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises and he typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to publish works by such luminaries of the modernist movement as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Nathanael West. Yet, his own reputation as a writer never reached the heights of those that he helped.

As a bisexual man in what most presumed to be a marriage of convenience to lesbian poet Bryher (H.D.’s longtime partner), McAlmon was one of the first American writers to depict the queer subculture of American expatriates. In Distinguished Air: Grim Fairy Tales, he detailed the exploits of Berlin’s cabarets and in the recently rediscovered The Nightinghouls of Paris, he dished on the queer affairs of the writers that inhabited the bistros and bars of Montparnasse during the famed expatriate period. I have written on McAlmon’s biography and poetry in greater detail in this previous article.

The story below comes from McAlmon’s first book of fiction, A Hasty Bunch. James Joyce himself suggested the title to McAlmon, commenting on the speed with which he wrote the stories and their roughness. By reading just a few sentences of the story, it is apparent that Joyce’s judgment is well justified. “The Psychoanalyzed Girl” should be considered part of McAlmon’s juvenilia as its awkward phrasings search for the more polished voice of ironic detachment and sardonic wit that would come with his later, more mature work.

Nonetheless what I find fascinating about this piece is its place as a cultural artifact of the influence of psychoanalysis on the Lost Generation of American writers. McAlmon’s opinion in this story is none too favorable. He satirizes the hyperawareness and self-centeredness that psychoanalytic therapy causes in his friend Dania, depicting her as perpetually self-analyzing and becoming progressively more alienated from her own reality as she obsesses over self-knowledge at the expense of self-experience.

Written in 1922, McAlmon’s short story testifies to the sudden rise in popularity of psychoanalysis in America in the 20’s. Freud made his first visit to America along with Carl Jung and others in 1909 and gave a series of five lectures at Clark University to both academic and lay audiences. The fact that psychoanalysis would become widely adopted in America in just over a decade after his visit exceeded what he and his contemporaries thought was possible. As Sanford Gifford writes:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Surreal Sex of Beauty: Jean Cocteau and Man Ray’s “Le Numéro Barbette”

In Freud, Kant, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Transvestite Souls on January 23, 2012 at 11:23 am

by Chase Dimock

In 1923, the American acrobat Vander Clyde better known by his stage name “Barbette” made his theater debut in Paris at the famed Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère and captivated the French artistic community with his show. Yet, his success was not merely due to his death-defying high wire or trapeze acts. Rather, what built his reputation and fame was his uncanny female impersonation as he performed his stunts. Most who saw Barbette for the first time were completely unaware of his true sex, but as Barbette’s renown grew in Paris, audiences poured in knowing they were witnessing the feminine graces of a man, yet captivated by how willingly they bought into the artful deception. During his days on the American Vaudeville circuit, Barbette’s revelation of his male gender at the end of his show may have shocked the audience, perhaps with laughter and the occasional moral offense, but in Paris, his act transcended the carnival aesthetic of oddities and shock value and was appreciated more as an art akin to ballet.

This appreciation for Barbette’s artistic sensibilities came as his act was embraced by the Parisian avant-garde and explored in the works of two surrealist artists, the French writer Jean Cocteau and the American photographer Man Ray. In 1926, Cocteau commissioned Man Ray to take a set of photographs chronicling Vander Clyde’s physical transformation into Barbette before a performance. In these photos, Man Ray presents Barbette in a stage half-way between average man and the over the top show girl outfit that completed Barbette as a character. Barbette’s wig is on and his face is made up, but his chest is bare and unmistakably a man’s. For Jean Cocteau, this state in between genders, in between sexes constitutes the essence of Barbette as neither a man impersonating or transformed into a woman, but instead as a being that takes advantage of the fluidity of aesthetics and theatrics to render gender and sex amorphous, constantly in a state of movement. I examine how surrealism supplied a discourse for theorizing an aesthetics for visualizing the possibilities of Barbette’s play of gender and yet how Cocteau and Man Ray had to work against the conventions of this fundamentally masculinist movement by examining the long repressed queer dimensions of the unconscious that even surrealism feared to unleash.

Vander Clyde was born in 1904 in Texas where he first saw trapeze artists in the circus and as an adolescent began to recreate their acts on his mother’s clothesline. By his teenage years, he was already touring with the circus, most notably as a replacement for one of the “World Famous Arial Queens”, the Alfaretta Sisters after one of them had died. It was as a member of this act that Vander Clyde first performed dressed as a woman. Later, as Vander Clyde developed his solo act, he chose the name “Barbette” because it sounded exotic and could be a first or a last name and thus also could signify both genders. By the time Barbette had achieved international fame and had taken his act to Paris in the 1920s, his performance appeared generally as Frank Cullen describes it in his entry on Barbette in his encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

Read the rest of this entry »