"Gender is now just the decaying excess of culture revealed on the body.": On Danielle Pafunda's "'Massacre/Mascara: On Johannes Goransson's _Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate_"

by on Feb.07, 2012

The new Denver Quarterly (Vol.46, No 2, 2012) features a remarkable piece of writing, Danielle Pafunda’s “Massacre/Mascara”, which is a review of Johannes Goransson’s Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate.

Johannes Goransson, dressed for his entrance

In addition to providing an intimate and inflamed reading of Goransson’s text, Pafunda’s review is gory with beautiful language about the goriness of beauty. Referring to the pageant which comprises Goransson’s book, Pafunda writes:

“In this state-sponsored, state-devouring pageant, contestants suffer beauty to its furthest extreme. They are the anorexic, the surgically eradicated, “That girl dressed up like a little girl dressd up like  a big girl,” the diseased, the corpses. Beauty isn’t an aesthetic so much as a condition. It is programmed for its own destruction, and it will make you sick. It will killyou. This is why the contestants must perform in poems.”

Danielle’s review is also welcome because it puts paid to the idea that a male writer writing about violence and the beauty-industrial-military-gender complex is somehow ’employing’   sexism or misogyny or ‘enjoying’ privilege. As Pafunda notes,

“In this pageant, men have so much gender it hurts. Women murder. Do we get it? We get it! Or, there are no discreet men and discreet women. Male, female, and intersex contestants perform hysterically, refuting the gender binary as their cultural relationships to biological sex unravel. Gender is now just the decaying excess of culture revealed on the body.”

I’m grateful for Pafunda’s review not just because it discusses with brilliance and flair a book itself riddled (that is, shotgunned) with brilliance and flares, but because she clarified for me an important idea: that it’s contradictory to go about deconstructing gender in texts while at the same time evaluating authors themselves according to fixed gender and cultural binaries (i.e.  Mr X. is (apparently) male,  (apparently)white, and (apparently) straight, and thus falls on the ‘bad side’ of every binary, and thus is just exhibiting and reinforcing his privilege every time he writes.) To me, Pafunda’s review suggests that gender is fraying and  also unexpectedly piling up all out of whack throughout across and at all poles and vectors of the text, and that this process of fraying build-up and snagging doesn’t not-infect the author ‘himself’ and the writing process ‘itself’.



10 comments for this entry:
  1. J. Karl Bogartte

    Interesting review of a review, but, unless I am misreading it, is this a negative review of Johannes’ book by Pafunda?

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Well, I suppose we can ask Danielle to explicate, but I took it to be a very positive review of Johannes’s book, engaging with the text as continuous with Beauty’s sublime qualities of radiance and violence…

  3. Danielle Pafunda

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful read, Joyelle. Never not-infected!

    J. Karl, I’m curious as to why the review appears negative to you. As Joyelle notes, these excerpts engage with the text on its own terms and try to unpack those terms.

    Positive and negative may be less germane categories in a review of this nature, anyhow. I’m not telling readers whether or not they’ll *like* the book, or how they will/should feel in response to this work (though I’d hope many readers would feel as excited, galvanized, usefully terrified, etc. as I do). I’m offering a way into the book’s architecture and a way of understanding the book within some of our current cultural framework. I hope my review resolves some previous misreadings and gives us a few more tools with which to read other political grotesque and aesthetic bombing projects.


  4. adam strauss

    In some ways I can’t help but wondering if all writing–well all “expressive” writinhg–is privilege: the privilege to be literate enough, to have access to writing mediums, to have a sense that one has thinking worth revealing/has the right to show; I’m sure the list goes on–oh yes, minimal worry of state censorship!

    I agree that strayt socially mobile male bodies should enter the gender fray/undo and redo the threads, fluff out the beds and put the bogies to sleep that they may wake up beautiful.

  5. Lara Glenum

    Danielle, you know that I love the meaty language and pyromania of this brilliant review!

    Joyelle, what does “puts paid” mean? I think you mean “puts an end to?”

    If so, Danielle, what do you think? Are you aiming to put an end to “the idea that a male writer writing about violence and the beauty-industrial-military-gender complex is somehow ‘employing sexism or misogyny or ‘enjoying’ privilege?”

    Maybe, Joyelle, you mean that a man writing about these things is not *necessarily* flexing their privilege or simply trotting out sexist tropes (with which I would heartily agree)?

    Clearly, not all male writers are the same. Some men do appear to continue to flex their privilege while writing about these things, while others, like Johannes, appear to detonate it, to allow themselves to grow rancid with infection.

    I’m not sure I’m ready to say we’re in a post-patriarchal moment and that all male gender scribbling is now the same.

  6. Lara Glenum

    Can I say how often I’ve thought of this sentence since I read your review, Danielle?

    “Gender is now just the decaying excess of culture revealed on the body.”

    Love love love it.

  7. J. Karl Bogartte

    Danielle, It was the last paragraph that Joyelle presented (above) with it’s “apparently”s that threw me off. I read contradictions. As if your review of Johanne’s book was brilliantly written, as a review, in spite of your misreading of his particular point of view. I haven’t read your review, so I was only going by what Joyelle wrote.

    So, apparently your review was quite positive, just loaded with explication that needed to be explicated. Oh, well, I cannot help reading everything on numerous levels. But, it would be more helpful to actually see the review… Is it anywhere available?

  8. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hi there, I mean ‘put paid’ as in ‘puts an end to’. Of course, Lara, I don’t mean that we’re in a post-patriarchal moment any more than we’re in a post-racial moment. But I would say that any writer can write violence and can write misogyny but just because one takes on these topics or exploring the dark logics of these phenomena doesn’t mean one is endorsing cultural strategies of oppression. More importantly for my argument, I think trying to diagnose a writer’s position on violence or gender by trying to diagnose their gender/race/class status can be a very limiting approach– though it seems to be a prevalent one even among communities interested in deconstructing binary thinking.

  9. Lara Glenum

    Thanks for clarifying, Joyelle! I completely agree with everything you’re saying. I’ve taken a lot of flak for insisting that men, too, can write the Gurlesque, so I’m with you.

  10. J. Karl Bogartte

    It might be more authentic (or at least closer) to approach one’s vision from a transgender position, for starters. However real, sublimated or as a possibility.