Author Archive

More Temporal Drag: Peaches is Risen

by on Apr.25, 2011

I’ve written on temporal drag* previously in relation to Edie Fake’s historic-gay-bar installation and the young adult novel Nell’s Quilt — I’m reading Elizabeth Freeman’s book now in full and am still excited by the possible applications of it in reading and making art.

Interestingly, Freeman’s essay on temporal drag was published in 2000, but the book, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, wasn’t published until last year. In the meantime there’s been a good deal of other writing on queer temporalities, e.g., Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place, Munoz’s Cruising Utopia — such that at this point Freeman’s book seems weirdly dated (as a friend said, oddly/perfectly out of sync) — as is this post, which I started in November after seeing Peaches Christ Superstar in Chicago.

Peaches Christ Superstar

Peaches Christ Superstar is Peaches’ interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar (the rock opera) — and is not to be confused with drag queen Peaches Christ, though both are Fabulous. I was originally intending to put Peaches in conversation with the David Wojnarowicz controversy but then I got distracted by Black Swan. Now it’s Easter! Sometimes you just need to be patient and wait for delays to become timely.

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Bieber, the Stains and the triumph of the false pretender

by on Mar.01, 2011

Over at Big Other, the marvelous Tim Jones-Yelvington wrote first a response to the Bieber movie, Never Say Never, that wonderfully captures the uneasy desire the film and its subject invoke; and second, a review of sorts. He pretty much articulates my own responses to the film: euphoria, confetti!, realization.

I don’t think the Biebs’ performance of nonsexuality is as much the same-old as Tim and other critics have said — in general I think any kneejerk dismissal of repetition and difference in celebrity cycles is unfortunate — Gaga’s “just copying” Madonna, Bieber is this moment’s Backstreet Boys — it’s all the same, no it isn’t. Cintra Wilson in her essay collection A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease discusses boy bands and “the unhealthy love of rock stars by little girls,” pointing to the “amorphous nonsexuality” of the Monkees as the crucial difference between then and now, where teen stars are “possessed of a mature, diabolically supercharged megasexuality.” “Now” for Wilson’s book is 2001; now, ten years later, post-Britney/Backstreet/nSync, teen pop megasexuality is pretty much boring, and Bieber’s nonerotic loving fits in well with our cultural moment of Twilight abstinence porn. In his first piece, Tim writes, “And the climax of this infomercial will be when I remember I have no sexual interest in Justin Bieber whatsoever” — and then imagines fucking Justin’s biological dad, rewriting the asexual narrative. Likewise, plenty of Bieber fans rewrite the asexual narrative in their own ways, just as Twilight fans have done.

Others are content to express romantic nonsexual desire, which tends to involve marriage — which for these girls generally means ownership. At one point in the film the camera locks in on a particular group of fangirls arguing over who’s going to marry Justin first. When one of them, obviously the most powerful in the group at least in this territory, claims it — “No, you’re not, I’m going to be Justin’s first wife” — the others shut up and sort of smile in uneasy support/defeat. If the film shows quite clearly that Justin’s priorities are, unsurprisingly, hardly romantic, it also highlights the ways in which his Beliebers are pretending. The screaming, the crying, the unhealthy love and simulation of desire: all obligatory aspects of the role of the committed and competitive megafan.

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another music video with unicorns and rainbows

by on Feb.28, 2011

Shearon Van Riggins’ unofficial video for MEN’s “Who Am I To Feel So Free” ft. Antony:

here’s the official video:

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Mildred Pierce #4 & John Berndt on Bernhard-Kinski-Theodore

by on Feb.16, 2011

Hello! It has been some time. I’ve been hiding out while finishing up the fourth issue of Mildred Pierce, a (maga)zine I co-edit with John Bylander, themed Comedy and the Grotesque. This post is promotional as well as sincerely in conversation with recent posts on atrocity kitsch and trauma and performance.

Mildred Pierce #4 has among its contents a really fascinating essay by experimental musician and performance artist John Berndt which argues for the work of Thomas Bernhard, Klaus Kinski and Brother Theodore as constituting a particular genre of art that performs a (histrionic, deranged) Hitlerian mode. Here’s an excerpt:

Even without unpacking the full context that elevated Hitler to become a unique reference point of 20th century evil, something remains quite communicable and riveting about the Hitlerian personality, the Hitlerian performative style. This archetype is a threatening genie that is difficult to put back into the bottle. A serious trauma to social self-conception imperatively calls for transformative re-enactment, as those effected by the trauma of the trauma attempt to integrate “impossible” information, creating hybrid experiences that branch and dilute the underlying meaning in multiple unexpected directions—a dangerous, potentially important game. …

Three brilliant and transformational artists who emerged in the wake of World War II, who were each deeply personally scarred by events during the war, and had direct contact with frighteningly absurd elements of the Nazi reality, and who were each able to make immense use of the Hitlerian mode were the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), the Polish/German actor Klaus Kinski (1926-1991), and the German/American comedian Brother Theodore (1906-2001) (collectively “B-K-T”).  Each was deeply personally scarred by events during the war, and had direct contact with frighteningly absurd elements of the Nazi reality. …

With all three, there is a house-of-mirrors relationship between the characters they created (impossible, aggressive, imploding madmen) and their own private lives, which seem to have involved quite real anti-social tensions, as well as various public masks or simulations of unreasonableness they created, the artifice of larger-than-life mythologies. Therefore, three superimposed levels of sustained impossibility (relating to the actual artist, his characters, and the quasi-fictional-autobiographical overlay to the artist’s life) are common to each of them. This unstable boundary between performance, performer, and self-conscious legend, a major focus in Bernhard criticism, is equally strong in the cases of Kinski and Theodore.

Raul Zurita, in the q&a after his AWP reading, explained that when writing, “everyone else is writing” — “in writing you are allowing other bodies to occupy your body.” Kinski, according to Berndt, admits to no shared experience; and all three of Berndt’s examples led mainly anti-social lives, and moreover their literary and stage performances are basically anti-social. The Hitlerian mode is megalomaniacal, of course — it’s mad, a worldview that admits no infiltrators who could potentially reenvision it. Versus Zurita, this is a much different approach to embodying or channeling or performing collective trauma artistically – or is it? Zurita’s compassion is a far cry from Theodore’s crankiness but they seem to share an instability/multiplicity of voice, as well as a vividly accusing anger — and confusion. I don’t know Zurita’s work well enough to say much more, so I’ll leave it there, the question is open.

The full essay, which Berndt is planning on expanding into a book, is available in Mildred Pierce #4 — ordering info and a full TOC are available here.

Here’s a performance by Brother Bernhard Kinski at the MP release party in Baltimore last week:

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Black Swan/The Wrestler, good/bad sexualities and self-destruction as transformation

by on Dec.23, 2010

Beware of spoilers.

1.

I’m surprised nobody’s brought up Black Swan yet, the new Aronofsky film starring Natalie Portman as an overcontrolled frigid ballerina who must learn how to be sexual in order to make great art. I generally love Aronofsky for his grandiosity and adolescence, his willingness to tunnel into black holes of self-destruction and his refusal of reprieve. The instability with which Black Swan approaches self-destruction — at times seeming to fetishize it, at times seeming to mock it (especially at the end) — provides the tension that for me rules the film, and that does so really effectively. But the way in which Aronofsky connects self-destructive and pathologized sexuality is pretty clichéd in both Black Swan and its companion piece, The Wrestler, and both films’ protagonists are gendered in really heavy-handed ways especially with regard to their sexualities.

I can’t decide whether this execution of cliché is interesting or just disappointing. On the one hand, both characters epitomize heteronormativity turned in on itself: Nina, Portman’s character, is in a certain way so highly feminized she (apparently) must also be desexualized (passive, innocent, naïve, virginal (though it’s unclear whether she is, in fact, a virgin)), whereas Randy in The Wrestler is in a certain way so highly masculinized he (apparently) must also be hypersexualized (carnal, virile, irresponsible, wild, found at strip bars when not in the ring) — with both sexualities pathologized to signal the characters’ difficulties connecting with reality and other people.

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The Birdwisher

by on Nov.24, 2010

Last year I participated in the HTML Giant holiday gift exchange and Birds of Lace Press was my secret giftgiver, sending me among other things Anna Joy Springer’s The Birdwisher. Because I was focusing on my qualifying exams all year, I couldn’t crack it open…until now………

The Birdwisher is a modest, zine-y novella, beautifully illustrated by artist Sam McWilliams. Big, clunky typeface, winkingly lo-fi production. It is a treasure. The subtitle is “a murder mystery for very old young adults,” and in her acknowledgments, Springer says she wrote the story “on top of” Dashiell Hammet’s “Dead Yellow Woman.”

The opening scene witnesses a young woman (“the virgin”) using rusty scissors to cut through her hymen. Then a bird flies into her window and dies. The rest of the story imagines what between these characters has led up to this moment, and so we are thrust into the charming and uncanny human-bird society that constitutes the world of the novella, in which Walker Geon, bird detective, has been hired by a young woman named Gwen to investigate the murder of six birds.

Mostly the murder mystery doesn’t matter; that is, it doesn’t matter who killed the birds, but it does matter why, and Walker’s investigation functions as an uneasy mask which eventually disintegrates to make visible a horrifying and perversely humorous parable of sexual assault out of which Walker emerges Gwen’s protector.

There’s an instability of narrative voice that claims a debt to Acker (on top of the Hammett), but above that there’s a humility to the book that doesn’t really care whether it’s read as avant-garde or a kinda chintzy YA mystery. It’s both, of course, and it’s really its own thing, excessive and defiant and vulnerable. The Birdwisher is a story with exposed throat and chest. Brave. Happy bird day.

Birds of Lace is a really wonderful feminist press; here’s their call for chapbooks:

From now until Dec. 31st Birds of Lace will be reading chapbook manuscripts for possible publication. What we most desire to read is the improbable, the hysterically feminist, queered grotesques with muddy boundaries and sloppy hearts of integrity. What we want is literature that you’d have difficulty publishing elsewhere because it’s too disgusting, too personal, too loud and too ferocious. We like a sick sense of humor and sly wit. Some authors we love are Anna Joy Springer, Rebecca Brown, James Baldwin, Daphne Gottlieb, Maggie Nelson, Cathy Park Hong, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, Judy Budnitz, Bertha Harris and Sarah Vap. But if your work doesn’t align with any of those people, send it anyway: we like to be surprised.

Please email 12-30 pages of fiction, poetry, cross-genre, non-fiction, lyrical essays or any combination thereof as an RFT attachment to birdsoflace@gmail.com. A short introduction would be lovely, if BoL is unfamiliar with your work, but a publication history isn’t necessary. If you’re unfamiliar with Birds of Lace, visit our etsy page to check out excerpts and information on previous publications.

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So I Want to Kill This [Spritzhead]: Paranoia in Tori Amos, Hothead Paisan, and reading/writing generally

by on Oct.26, 2010

1.

In “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” a chapter in Touching Feeling, Sedgwick addresses the paranoid reading practices that she argues have come to monopolize critical theory, including New Historicist, deconstructive, feminist, and psychoanalytic studies, and especially queer studies: in these fields, she claims, “to apply a hermeneutics of suspicion is widely understood as a mandatory injunction rather than a possibility among other possibilities” (125).

To explain what she means by paranoid reading, and to contrast it to the reparative reading mode towards which she desires queer studies to turn, Sedgwick adopts Melanie Klein’s formulation of two affective positions, the schizoid/paranoid and the depressive/reparative. These are positions, importantly, not developmental stages, and so they are temporary, changing, and relational, each subject to oscillation into the other. Klein sees the depressive position as a reprieve from the schizoid/paranoid position: its “terrible alertness,” its government by “hatred, envy, and anxiety.” From the depressive position, it is possible, Sedgwick explains:

to use one’s own resources to assemble or ‘repair’ the murderous part-objects into something like a whole — though, I would emphasize, not necessarily like any preexisting whole…a more satisfying object [that] is available both to be identified with and to offer one nourishment and comfort in turn. Among Klein’s names for the reparative process is love. (128)

I want to look at two performances of the oscillation between Klein’s paranoid and depressive positions within art — then return to Sedgwick and think about paranoid writing. I don’t understand why my writing here is so forced and I can’t break out. You’re going to point out every interpretive error, aren’t you, sneer that it’s obvious I’ve never read Klein. Stop it I hate you. Fuck you all.

Tori Amos’s “The Waitress” has radically evolved since its original 1994 recording on Under the Pink. The original version is pure murderlust, its speaker, a waitress, announcing her desire to kill a fellow waitress, a desire suppressed only by the speaker’s belief “in peace, bitch.” In this version the speaker is ruled by the “hatred, envy, and anxiety” that characterize Klein’s paranoid/schizoid position. The speaker is stuck, paralyzed by her “terrible alertness” to the threat posed by the presumably more-powerful waitress.

The version that Tori played on her 1998 Plugged tour is vastly transformed from the original and is improvised slightly differently in each performance. This clip  is pretty characteristic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rolRKCIAi0

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Sabrina Chapadjiev on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 3 (of 3)

by on Oct.01, 2010

The following is the final part of a three-part excerpt of my interview with musician/writer/performer Sabrina Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce. Here are the first and second parts.

These questions are about Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), an anthology edited by Chapadjiev that collects stories, essays, and art by mostly feminist and queer artists and writers who have lived through periods of self-destructive acts.

Sabrina Chap / photo by Justin Walker

MILDRED PIERCE: I appreciate the approach you (and the majority of the authors in the book) take to self-destruction, challenging the ‘bad bad’ psychological and social discourse on self-destructive behaviors that can be quite necessary — at the same time avoiding romanticizing such behaviors. Why do you think so much of the discourse around these issues is so simplistic and moralistic?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: I could talk for hours on this. But I will say that it is changing, and that we’ve come a long way in understanding/talking about mental health in the past twenty years. I am not an expert by any means, but I give a lecture on the history of sanity, specifically focusing on the gender difference in sanity/mental health through the years, and these moralistic and numbingly pedestrian outlooks on self-destruction stem from a place of power, which to me was the main way mental health was seen in the past. ‘Insane’ people were weak, ‘sane’ people were powerful. But who got to decide? Well, men, first and foremost. And then Religion took a stab at it. And then Freud came and since then we all want to fuck our fathers and have penis envy, and then there’s now.

For years, the pen of psychiatry was held by primarily by men. Before that, exclusively by men. Only women could be deemed ‘hysterical.’ It was primarily a ‘female disease’, this thing now called ‘mental instability.’ Though self-destruction is something that both men and women experience, there is definitely a gendered difference on how forms of self-destruction have played out. Cutting and anorexia — two primarily female related forms of self-destruction — are damned because a lot of the people studying it have been male, or been working in a relatively extreme male work-force. I think this moralistic misunderstanding is a form of patronization and an attempt of ownership over a woman’s true experience of the world.

Basically, it’s condescension, but a condescension that has been qualified over years of gendered or religious theology over mental health.

Again: I’m talking from an understanding of how females have been seen in the whole self-destructive manipulation. Dudes have their own problems. There is a lot less problematizing of male self-destruction — in fact, it is glorified. I do believe that female self-destruction is shamed and male self-destruction is either glorified or is simply not demonized in the same way.

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Sabrina Chap on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 2 (of 3)

by on Sep.29, 2010

The following is the second part of a three-part excerpt of my interview with musician/writer/performer Sabrina Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce. You can read the first part here.

These questions are about Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), an anthology edited by Chapadjiev that collects stories, essays, and art by mostly feminist and queer artists and writers who have lived through periods of self-destructive acts.

Sabrina Chapadjiev / photo by Jolene Siana

MILDRED PIERCE: Can you talk about your conceptualization process?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: I was in touch with a few publishers about possibly publishing my book length zine, “Cliterature – 18 interviews with women* writers” (*anyone who’s had the experience of being a woman) when one press said they really enjoyed the way I thought, and wondered if I had any other ideas for books.

I was pissed off when I read that. I was pissed off because I’m an idea person – more than anyone I know, and I knew I could come up with fifty ideas for books, but I was already exhausted and aching to do my music. I didn’t want to do another book project. But I had a publisher asking me for a book idea, how do you pass that up? So I spit out a couple of ideas; one of them was ‘For Smart Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide,’ and purportedly would be a collection of women writers who’ve thought about killing themselves but then didn’t. It possibly was that poorly worded. Nonetheless, they bought it, and asked me to start working on it. Again, I was pissed off, but I started rallying the troops.

As proposed submissions came in, I became a bit uncomfortable. I really wanted to talk about anorexia and cutting and such, and I wanted to fit those stories in the book. I also didn’t want twenty stories that were essentially, “I was going to kill myself, but then I didn’t!”

Also, something interesting was happening. Every time I talked to someone about the book, and how it would be based on people who’ve considered suicide, they would get very still. This was because 1. They’ve considered suicide themselves and were on guard or  2. They knew someone who had killed themselves and were on guard. Either way, the resulting conversation would often be very combative. People were highly sensitive about the topic of suicide, such that even talking about the book was exhausting. Once I was able to change it to self-destruction, which covered more of what I was interested in, and also turn it towards surviving, it became a much more bearable topic to work on.

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Sabrina Chap on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 1

by on Sep.24, 2010

I’ve been interviewing Sabrina Chap/Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce; the book she put together, Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), a collection of pieces by various mostly feminist and queer artists and writers, addresses a lot of the issues I, and others, have been approaching on Montevidayo. So I’m excerpting part of the interview.

Chapadjiev’s stage name is Sabrina Chap – she’s a musician and burlesque performer as well as writer and editor, and also a playwright. Her most recent album Oompa! traverses genres, pledging allegiance to ragtime above all. She’s also part of the Schlapentickle Family, a burlesque troupe that toured for the first time this fall.

For Live Through This, Chapadjiev tapped folks like Eileen Myles, Kate Bornstein, Diane DiMassa, and bell hooks to contribute essays and art on the relationship between creative and destructive forces, with an emphasis on creativity and artistry. Chapadjiev’s approach to these issues very much moves away from the medicalization and pathologization of self-destructive behaviors, while also escaping romanticizing them and providing any kind of autopedagogy (thanks, Joyelle!) for self-destruction. The collection is wildly varied in form and content — musician and mental health activist Bonfire Madigan Shive shares her wellness plan; comics artist and illustrator Diane DiMassa visually narrates her turn away from anger and addiction and toward art and journaling; poet and essayist Eileen Myles emphasizes self-care in a meditation on flossing.

In her introduction, Chapadjiev writes:

We have been taught that self-destruction is an awful thing. ‘It is bad,’ we’ve been told by therapists, psychologists, and those who do not understand its seduction. I would like to edit that. Instead of ‘It is bad,’ I would like for it to read, ‘It is.’ It is what we do naturally. We smoke too much, we drink too much, we drive sobbing in the rain. Our hearts break and we do not eat. At times we drink to forget, and at times, we forget for years. …

I offer this book as a discourse, not as an answer, but as a way to help women begin to understand the potential in the power of their self-destructive acts. … Now, what you’re dealing with is the deepest thing, the worst thing, and it could possibly be the thing that destroys you. But it could possibly be the thing that makes you as well.  (12-13)

Chapadjiev gives workshops and lectures in colleges on these issues; anyone interested in inviting her to their campus can see her touring newsletter here.

(This is part one of three excerpts for Montevidayo.)

MILDRED PIERCE: Live Through This is really its own thing, very nurturing in a certain way — perhaps because it emphasizes the creativity side of the [creativity and self-destruction] equation — and also far, far from any self-help books I know. Can you talk about your conceptualization process? What prompted you to put this together?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: Those are three questions- well, the first point wasn’t a question, but I’ll respond to that first.

1.  I was very, very conscious to focus on the creative aspect of the book, not only because I was talking about the role of art in the process of self-destruction, but because my entire desire was to promote creativity as a way to help those dealing with these tendencies.

Too often, self-help books end up being instructional manuals for self-destructive behavior. Most of the ones I read were written from two very different perspectives, 1.  Doctors trying to deal with self-destructive patients, and 2. People who’ve survived and had their stories become a major part of their public lives. In the first case, the doctors would always fascinate in how these self-destructive tendencies manifested, i.e., ‘The subject came to me with cuts made by…’ — there was always some sort of explicitly gross fascination by the variety of ways ‘patients’ would hurt themselves.

Well, those types of details often intrigue and teach people different ways to hurt themselves. People reading those types of books for help, actually might learn other ways of self-destructing. I didn’t want the book to be an instructional manual for the variety of ways we can hurt ourselves, especially because this is the first book that I know of that was grouping all of these behaviors into one mass group ‘self-destructive’. There are many books on cutting, anorexia, alcoholism, drug abuse. This is the first one I know of that talks about the variety of ways that women can destroy themselves, and while I wanted to create a communal spirit in the lives of powerful women who’ve felt these inclinations, I didn’t want someone that starved themselves suddenly read an essay about cutting and try that instead.

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Self-harm & judgmentality, or Why don’t you love your body you fucking bitch

by on Sep.10, 2010

1.

I subscribe to a body modification blog and while I don’t want to like some sort of outsider anthropological tourist fetishize and potentially exploit body modification culture, at the same time I do.

I MEAN LOOK AT THIS SHIT. (Click link for GRUESOME PICS!)

It’s cool. I have some tattoos.
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Anorexia in temporal drag

by on Aug.20, 2010

So I’ve been thinking more about temporal drag (an idea borrowed from Elizabeth Freeman – see my earlier post), this time in relation to narrative — how narrative crosses time, performing the pull of the past upon the present. Temporal drag in narrative can solder wormholes between eras, producing a vertical layering of temporalities that, in being made to run parallel, refuse anachronism, refuse progress. An example would be Octavia Butler’s Kindred which through a time travel portal forges links and adjacencies between slavery-era U.S. and the present, two seemingly discrete periods that in the narrative are simultaneous; in this approach to time Butler exposes ways in which the present is continuously affected by, suffocated or haunted by, a past that is not past because the present continues to revive it — rejecting the master narrative of progress. Science fiction often does this explicitly through mechanisms like Butler’s portal. Then there’s temporal drag produced via appropriation, via rewriting, revising. These strategies work in different specific ways to produce complex ties across time, bending time, if you will — but that image already presumes linearity.

Susan Terris’s Nell’s Quilt, published in 1987, is a young adult novel set in 1899 that charts the rise and rise and approaching fall of protagonist Nell’s anorexia. This book may seem like a random choice until I tell you I’ve been studying eating disorder narratives. This particular ED narrative is of interest to me because it uses temporal drag to connect different periods through recognizable pathology. (I use the word ‘pathology’ uneasily, am still figuring out how to discuss pathology, or perceived pathology, or ‘pathology,’ with a critical view of the idea itself — open to suggestions for how to do so more elegantly.)

In 1899, when the novel is set, there was no such thing as anorexia as we know it, or as readers in 1987 would have known it: a distinct and recognizable set of behaviors with a complicated etiology and serious bodily consequences first officialized by the DSM in 1980. Eating disorders did not spontaneously emerge in the 70s and 80s, of course, as Joan Jacobs Brumberg has shown in Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa — they’ve been around, first (to my knowledge) documented in the 13th-16th centuries connected with women fasting fastidiously out of religious devotion. Eating disorders, and anorexia has received the most attention probably because it’s the most visible, have come and gone in waves, with one such wave occurring in the late 19th century in the US, England, and France. In the time of Nell’s Quilt, laypeople (and most physicians) knew nothing of eating disorders as eating disorders: Nell’s symptoms are incomprehensible, in fact she’s diagnosed as neurasthenic, and her family rejects what they see as her selfishness, weakness, and stupidity. (Hmm, these attitudes sound familiar — are we sure we’ve moved past them?)

Nell is a young woman stuck in time, living with her family who are struggling to make ends meet on a farm in New England. She can see a future on the horizon: she is both proud and deeply envious of her grandmother, who lived an independent life in Boston, where she was active in advancing women’s rights; and Nell dreams of joining the feminist struggle herself. But she can’t get out of her situation, which seems regressive even to her: she’s faced with an unwanted marriage proposal she feels pressured to accept because her marriage would alleviate her family of much of its debt. Nell’s feminist consciousness develops throughout the novel — she understands that her father is treating her as property because of her gender (“I was the collateral for Papa’s loan”); she resents the unfairness of her best friend Rob being able to go off and explore the world while her own future is limited to either staying on her farm, or marrying and going to live on her husband’s farm, where she’ll be expected to mother his daughter from a previous marriage. Rather than step into either of these futures, Nell stops eating.

Nell’s anorexia is a protest, and the novel treats it as such, is sympathetic to Nell’s situation and the unfair economic and social hierarchies that determine her life. In 1987, the time when Terris was writing the novel, anorexia/EDs were all over the media after Karen Carpenter’s death in 1983, and psychologists and the general population were only just beginning to understand the epidemic, often playing blame-the-anorexic, or sensationalizing them when they weren’t being stigmatized. By moving to the past — to an era where the future of women’s rights was on the horizon, where progress seemed inevitable — within a ‘post-feminist’ context in which so many of these women were giving their power over to eating disorders, Terris implicitly connects the two eras. Her insertion of contemporary, ‘post-feminist’ pathology into a past of emergent feminist potentiality produces a dissonance that suggests that the past is not quite past — sure, “progress,” but not clear or simply progress, the work is not, will never be done — and that makes a case for anorexic behaviors as a reaction, and a legitimate one at that, to sexism both in Nell’s time and in Terris’s.

Pulling from Freeman again, this time her essay on erotohistoriography, I’ll revise her question, which is concerned with queer practices of pleasure, to suit my own interrogation: “how might [dangerous or ‘pathological’ body management practices], be thought of as temporal practices, even as portals to historical thinking?” (59) What does it mean to link historically specific pathologies via narratological temporal drag? What does it mean to recuperate Freud’s case study of Dora, for instance, as Gina Frangello does in My Sister’s Continent, reviving and revising Dora’s pathology, refusing to see it as over, as historic, as no-longer-conscious? And how might these issues relate to Johannes’ notion of atrocity kitsch? I’m thinking of the sensationalism of a lot of eating disorder narratives, especially the early ones which tend to both exploit and condescend to eating disordered individuals.

I know I said I’d further discuss Muñoz, how his critique of queer utopia relates the past to the future but I’ll save that for a next time, dot dot dot. Meanwhile, from Todd Haynes’ Superstar (full movie available here):

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Queer Utopianism & Edie Fake in Temporal Drag

by on Aug.06, 2010

Queer utopia, yknow: still pretty sexy, especially with the publication last year of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. I’ll touch briefly on Muñoz here, expecting to return to him in later posts; but here and now instead of the past/future I will take up the past/present. In the meantime, may I direct you to the Gay Utopia project, especially Bert Stabler’s “Bottomless Anus of Perfected Wisdom,” my contribution to recent discussions on the ole ass/hole.

I recently interviewed Edie Fake, a Chicago-based artist:

art by edie fake

and we talked some about his developing queer cartography project. He’s mapping Chicago’s queer heritage in some rad Edie Fake way, and the project has spilled over into other smaller projects, including an installation on display Wednesday at Archie’s bar in Chicago for a joint event co-sponsored by the Swimming Pool Project Space and Queer Social Club. Regrettably, I took no pictures. There were a number of box structures decorated and labeled with the names of Chicago gay bars no longer in existence, spread out on small tables sharing space with empty beer cans and hot pink cards inviting viewers to “celebrate the phenomena of intuitive queer space.”

The night brought a turnout — lots of folks. It was like any other queer night at a normally non-queer bar, only the adjacency of this night to its historical context of under-the-radar gay venues and illicit queer sociality was announced through Fake’s structures. I’d describe the juxtaposition as a kind of temporal drag, borrowing the concept from Elizabeth Freeman, who uses it to describe a crossing of time, a temporal transitivity that carries “all of the associations that the word ‘drag’ has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past upon the present,” alongside its associations with crossing and performativity.

Freeman uses this idea of temporal drag to read Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie, a 1997 experimental film that, shot by shot, remakes an unreleased 1967 documentary of the same title which feature a young Shulamith Firestone, then unknown, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago who would soon jump ship to New York to found the New York Radical Women, the Redstockings, and the New York Radical Feminists; and write the radical feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex. The 1997 film restages the original, duplicating its camerawork and adding only a beginning montage and an ending text explaining that it’s an adaptation.

Bringing in Samuel Delany’s ideas on markers from an essay in About Writing, we might say the 1997 Shulie functions as art-and-its-marker, performing temporal drag to map out space, assign value and legacy to the original (and its subject). Delany pulls from Dean McCannell’s tourist (which Delany connects to Benajmin’s flaneur) in explaining markers as those signs scattered about the landscape from brochures to signboards, conferring importance:

There is a whole set of sites–often the spots where historical events took place–that are sites only because a marker sits on them, telling of the fact… Without markers, even the most beautiful spot on the map becomes one with the baseline of unmarked social reality.

And until something thinks to emit, erect, and/or stabilize a marker indicating it, no tourist site comes into being. (341)

As a marker and as a site in itself, Subrin’s Shulie, as Freeman puts it, “engage[s] with prior time as genuinely elsewhere” (735). It re-maps Firestone’s pre-history as history. In so doing the film implicitly critiques what’s been left out of history/herstory’s charting of the past and links the past and present in complicated and dynamic ways.

Similarly, Fake’s installation on Wednesday exposed the fuzzy boundaries between the then and the now, simultaneously undermining and reinforcing divisions between what we see as distinct “generations” of queers and queer activists. Instead of lopping off the issues of old generations as anachronistic to the goal of a narrative of progress, Fake’s models of long gone venues and their attendant histories united the then and there with the here and now, implying that those issues, those moments, “are not yet past and yet are not entirely present either” (Freeman 742). His other work being so interested in alternate realities, I’m interested to see where Fake further takes his queer cartography, how he interprets and charts the ‘reality’ of the ‘past’ (with apologies for gratuitous scare quotes).

Muñoz’s critical engagement with queer utopianism shares many ideas with Freeman; interested in collectivity and the past, Muñoz employs “a backward glance that enacts a future vision” (4). With regard to Fake’s installation and the scene that surrounded it, Muñoz seems applicable especially given the leaking through of one particular future onto the present – as only hours before, Prop 8 had been ruled unconstitutional, and the implications hung in the air. Muñoz seeing marriage as an antiutopian wish, a desire that “automatically rein[s] [itself] in, never daring to see or imagine the not-yet-conscious” (21), I wonder what he’d say about this messy confrontation between past, present, and future in this moment. In a certain sense, Fake’s temporal drag worked to bring what Muñoz would call “the no-longer-conscious” to bear on the present as well as on the future society, the “not yet conscious” – here, this is our past, just how anachronistic is it, and what do we want our future to look like?

I’ll return to Muñoz in a future post, maybe connected to Acker; and considering temporal drag as temporal push.

References

Delany, Samuel R. “A Para*doxa Interview: Inside and Outside the Canon.” About Writing. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

Freeman, Elizabeth. “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations.” New Literary History 31.4 (2000): 727-744.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009.

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