Tag: freeman

The Oblivion of Tom Cruise

by on Aug.09, 2013

Oblivion_01

I watched Oblivion a couple of days ago. Haters won’t be able to get past its shortcomings or acknowledge its topical relevance beyond superficial references to drones and the surveillance state. Good thing I’m not a hater. Complete and total spoilers below.

This is the story of life as Tom Cruise knows it at the beginning of Oblivion: aliens from outer space destroyed the moon in an unprovoked attack on humankind, humans won the subsequent war but Earth was left mostly uninhabitable, and humans are now siphoning off the planet’s water resources (giant floating fortresses circle the globe, sucking up the ocean) and migrating to a new settlement on the Saturn moon Titan. Earth’s remaining inhabitants, at this point, are alien scavengers, the drones that hunt them, and the human tandems left behind to provide drone maintenance and manage the planetary system of water extraction. Tom Cruise is one-half of such a tandem, performing his duty with a sense of pride and adventure and no sense of history, his memory and that of his partner wiped clean every five years to ensure optimal team performance and facilitate their eventual reunion with the rest of their species on their new home planet/moon. This is the story of life that defines Tom Cruise as we join him in Oblivion.

But the story is bullshit, and deep down Tom knows it, and so do we, but access to knowledge in space-time — and movies — is necessarily chronological. Things happen, and Tom eventually learns the alien scavengers are really humans, his human bosses are really aliens, and he is neither, functioning instead as the biological technology that mediates human/alien. Cloned a thousand times over and deployed across the planet with a minor armada of human-hunting drones at his disposal, Tom Cruise is the figurative and literal end of humankind. But as Morgan Freeman, in his capacity as leader of a rebellious band of human survivors, understands, he is also its liberation. In the role of our onscreen proxy, and with the help of Freeman, Tom Cruise comes to an ontological and empirical understanding of himself as not special, not unique, and not even human per se, but as an operator of life. This is why he tells the first clone of himself he meets “It’s ok, it’s ok,” as he chokes the life out of him. He is not bound by the parameters of life and death, but exists as a localized operator of a nonlocal consciousness and a standardized piece of biological machinery. He exists across time and space, but in the form of right here and now.
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You and Us Make It Reverse: Itty Bitty Titty Committee’s Bad Drag, MEN’s Simultaneity, & Spahr and Young’s (Re)enactments

by on May.12, 2011

One more post on temporal drag and I’ll shut up about it maybe. This time I’ll approach it through counterexample.

The 2007 film Itty Bitty Titty Committee does some bad drag. That is, its temporal drag is flimsy and unclear about its relationship to feminist history. Directed by Jamie Babbitt (But I’m a Cheerleader!), IBTC chronicles the politicization of a young woman named Anna (Melanie Diaz) in present-day Los Angeles. Over the course of the film Anna moves from working as a receptionist at a plastic surgeon’s office to joining a group of radical queer feminists named the C(i)A (Clits in Action) who plot and enact feminist actions such as spraypainting slogans on offending businesses’ storefronts:

The C(i)A

The film is often charming and exhilarating, especially due to its raucous soundtrack and general exuberance for feminist theater; but it’s ultimately clouded by what I see as an embarrassing nostalgia for riot grrrl, ACT UP, the 90s generally — a nostalgia that doesn’t realize it’s nostalgia. There is no acknowledgment in the film that the 90s already happened, that that period of feminist/queer activism is over. (I’m not saying that feminist and queer activism’s dead, but that it looks much different now.) The datedness of the film is weird and confusing. When, in the film’s climax, the C(i)A manages to slip a papier-mache penis mold onto the top of the Washington Monument and blow it up, then infiltrate a news studio and invade American televisions with the footage, it comes across as a dead punchline to a tired joke.

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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, so she goes out and gets a home equity loan to further her family and settle down somewhere. 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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