Monday, July 30, 2007

Just because...

First of all, I've got about 4 shots of vodka in me, so, while I'm not exactly smashed, I'm also not totally lucid.

Earlier today I saw a bumper sticker that said "Just because you have one doesn't mean you have to act like one."

Now it seems pretty obvious, particularly since this is a bumper sticker I'm talking about, that they meant "dick." What struck me as interesting is that "pussy" would, semantically, work just as well (though obviously the meaning would be different). Thus two quite common colloquialisms, both derogatory, mirror the social gender divide; dicks are aggressive, attention-getting and insensitive, while pussies are submissive, passive, and weak.

Now I stopped calling people pussies years ago, for the obvious reason that I object to the rehearsal of the construction of feminine passivity. Pussies are not inherently passive or submissive, and equating the female sex organs with weakness is as misogynist as calling a woman a bitch just because she didn't let you have your way (you spoiled frat boy, you).

But the dual meaning presented by the bumper sticker made me reconsider my position on calling people dicks. I call people dicks all the time (but not to their face, cuz I'm a pussy [joking!]). My rationalization of this was this:

1) calling someone a pussy reinscribes the woman as passive and myself as dominant. Because most often the object of ridicule--that which is being called a pussy--is male, the implication is that the person in question has failed to adequately perform his gender role. Now, I'm not so post-modern as to presume that passivity or weakness are always valid choices, so when I felt someone was being unethically weak, I had to find alternative terminology (wuss seems to work. I used pansy for a bit, but that's clearly homophobic).

2) Dick, like pussy, is an appellation most commonly reserved for males. In this case, the man is being too male. Either his cockyness has impinged upon another man, requiring a retaliatory re-assertion of masculinity, or it has imposed itself upon a woman, who, like a strategic bit of territory, must be defended against such an unseemly advance. Now here, of course, I'm being critical of common usage, but it seems to me that "dick" can be redeployed in the service of critiquing this proprietary gender model. So when I call you a dick, I'm saying "dude, quit acting the part of the patriarch."

But is that true? Or am I embedding myself (like I work for CNN) in the conflict and, as a result, only acting out the normalized role? Does "dick" necessarily re-cite essentialist models of gender difference, or can it serve as a critique of essentialism?

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that the bumper sticker was probably talking about "assholes." I think it says a few things about me that that never occured to me.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I suppose some of you won't find this very shocking, but it's interesting to hear from the General. One wonders only why he said nothing earlier.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why am I so insufferably stupid?

I cannot get this paper written. I can't even get it started. I've become an intellectual porridge, incapable of stringing together coherent ideas.

Here's what I'm trying to say in my talk:

I'm going to begin with a quotation from an article on minimalism that reflects upon the difficulty the music analyst faces in trying to "penetrate" the music and find the governing meaning beneath the surface. In minimalism, ostensibly, there is not beneath the underneath.

I will then circuitously reapproach this observation.

1) Michael Fried, Hal Foster, and Kate Linker. These articles in art criticism, placed here in chronological order (and I think I'll retain this ordering) reinforce the reading of minimalist art as a project in the service of decentering the artist-subject. For Fried, this is a bad thing, and it renders the work of art a "mere object," devoid of what Hegel called subjectivity. It is important that this modernist critic dismisses minimal art precisely in terms of an unreferenced Hegelian aesthetic model. The subject fails to present itself.

Foster reitterates this critique, but, rather than dismissing minimalism as a theatrical non-art, claims it for the cruz of postmodernity. For Foster, the subject seems to be successfully gotten rid of (though we ought not to presume he really believes this). We can see this as an artistic movement self-conciously breaking from modernism as represented by Hegel and the centered autonomous subject.

Linker may prove to be unnecessary. I've used her in my paper to draw the explicit link between Barthes (who also might not be so necessary) and Reich, since she uses wording that connects the two quite clearly. Maybe this belongs later in the paper?

Chave gives us the necessary critique of Foster.
1) the artist is of course always present in the work. In my terms: just because the author is no longer to be considered the privileged source of meaning does not mean that he (naturally) is not one of the pieces assembled into the text.
2) Minimalism can be seen as a replication of the devices of late capitalism (she doesn't use that term). It's phallic power is both ever-present and empty/fragile. It is necessarily unitary, devoid of depth or detail, and in this regard mimicks the valid sex organ. However, its vain attempt to desubjectify the creator (by means of being so phallicized), in conjunction with the vapidity and fracturedness of the postmodern Western Subject undermines its unity. Chave looks at Andre's line of bricks (the 136 brick long phallus that could be dismembered by an absent-minded kick) and Flavins "angle of exstacy" which burns out regularly and has to be replaced. This is analogous in music to the degree of concentration required to perform early minimalist works, particularly in relation to the simplicity of the result (4 organs, for example, fell appart when performed in Boston because the performers couldn't concentrate. Also, Reich was initially apprehensive about the viability of live phase-shifting music, since it was probably too hard to do. Compare also Les Moutons de Panurge).

Further similarity is the lack of depth. Take, for example, Tony Smith's Die, which is large and bleak, but seems also quite hollow. The openning quote (that I didn't put up here) reflects this in music. The fragility and hollowness (lack of penetration) of minimalist music is in part what keeps it from repeating Schoenbergian or Schenkerian organicism. Instead, it serves as a critique of the emptyness of late capitalist culture.

If I have space, I'll follow this up by delimitting the historical boundaries of minimalist music. For Glass, minimalism begins to vanish with his longer, complicated works such as Music in 12 Parts. For Reich, the transition is more interesting (cuz he's actually a good composer). It begins just after Drumming, and involves at least two important features. 1) voice. Voice was important in Reich's first minimalist pieces (Come Out, It's Gonna Rain, and that one where concert-goers had their voices recorded and phased) but was always treated like a found object rather than like an intrument. In the post-Drumming period, performers begin to sing and the corporeality of the musicians becomes important. Gone is the faceless replication of post-industrial society, and it is replaced with people ("All music is ethnic music," says Reich at this point). 2) Duration. By adding sustained tones to his music (which began in 4 Organs and came back in a different guise at this point), phasing, and hense mechinization, stops being the only process in the music. Hence the music becomes more complicated, and consequently both less unitary and less fragile.

Now that's only 3 pages.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Striking image of a situation unlikely to end well (PIC)

" by TehSwat 20 minutes agoWhy can't we all just put away religious and past differences and get along? We are all 99.97% the same."

Pardon my lack of websavitude.

This sort of comment pisses me off. We're all the same, so let's be nice? The problem with this (racist) reasoning is that all we need to do to sanction violence is efface any similarity. This is the flaw of humanism. If similarity is all that's needed to stop violence, all that's needed to erase someone's humanity is to focus on difference. Instead, we ought to recognize that we are all potentially radically different from one another, and that that's no excuse for hatred.

read more | digg story

Friday, July 20, 2007

An I.'s Light (I.Luce-idation) on Woolf

Pretentious title, eh?

First of all, I'm surprised to find that, as far as I can tell, Luce is Irigaray's given name.

I'm reading Virginia Woolf's Orlando and I've come across an interesting passage about half-way through. She and Mr. Pope (presumably Alexander Pope, since Anne is currently Queen) are riding to her (Orlando's) house through the streets, and it being night, long periods of darkness intrude upon their conversation. This is for the better, since the danger Pope poses is the danger of Truth:

"A poet [Pope] is both Atlantic and lion in one. While one drowns us, the other gnas us. If we survive the teeth, we succumb to the waves. A man who can destroy illusions is both beast and flood. Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air and the plant dies, the colour fades. The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet. By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream [remember: Orlando loves Shakespeare]. 'Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life--(and so on for six pages if you will, but the style is tedious and may well be dropped)" (203, Woolf's jabs at English writing style pepper this book. It's really much funnier than anything else I've read by her, though that asks little, since her other books have been very depressing.)

This is followed by the carriage ride, during which Orlando is not reduced to a "heap of cinders" because of the poor street lighting. During the moments of light, Orlando is repulsed by the humanity of the poet (perhaps Pope is chose not only because of his historical location and well known wits), but during the ten-minute-long darknesses, she is convinced not only that he is divine, but that she is the luckiest of women for being so near him, and surely history shall remember her for it. Just before reaching her house in Blackfriar, they pass what is not Piccadilly Circus:

"The light blazed in her eyes, and she saw, besides some degraded creatures of her own sex, two wretched pigmies [sic] on a stark desert land. Both were naked, solitary, and defenceless [sic]. The one was powerless to help the other. Each had enough to do to look after itself. Looking Mr. Pope full in the face, 'It is equally vain,' she thought, 'for you to think you can protect me, or for me to think I can worship you. The light of truth beats upon us without shadow, and the light of truth is damnably unbecoming to us both." (206,7)

First, the role of the pigmies is reminiscent of the Feuerlaender in Spivak's reading of Kant: those who are condemned to poverty, in the spiritual and intellectual sense. But for Kant, the "naturally uneducated" were to be pitied as exceptions to the grand narrative of metaphysical knowledge. Woolf, in contrast, is using them to illustrate that we are all naturally uneducated. Knowledge (Subjective knowledge) is utterly unattainable in the face of the blinding light of truth. Hence our reliance on shadow and illusion.

What drew my attention to this passage though was the use of light, and it's parallels with Irigaray's writings. Now it's probably only because I'm reading both of these authors so close to one another that this seems interesting to me. After all, using light to signify truth is hardly Woolf's invention.

But what's interesting is that both authors use light as a dangerous bringer of knowledge, not as a savior from darkness:

"Finding the ecomony of light in all its dazzling brilliance, without risk of combustion and death, marks humanity's first steps into philosophy. And just as the sun, even in eclipse, must be observed only indirectly, in a mirror on pain of blindness, even so the spirit will serve as an additional reflector that helps us to look upon the Good. In a strict sense, mortals cannot look upon Good." (Speculum of the Other Woman, 148. As far as I know, the French words for "good" and "god" do not bear the close relationship they do in English.)

She goes on:

"But the consuming contact of light will also be avoided by paying attention to forms alone. Vision protects itself from the risk of blindness by using daylight for the exact perception of 'beings' and for the calculation of the relations and correlations 'beings' have with their ideal inscription in the psyche. Direct vision means looking directly ahead, of course, but ti also means doing so through an optical apparatus that stands between man and light and prevents light from touching him at all." (148)

Woolf does not make use of mirrors the way Irigaray does. Irigaray is interested in mechanisms that protect the viewer (man) from direct vision, and is using this to critique the Western philosophical tradition. Woolf, on the other hand, uses darkness. She's an author instead of a philosopher/psychoanalyst, and that manifests here. Instead of arguing that we've deliberately mediated our interaction with knowledge in an overly determining way, Woolf argues that we've hidden ourselves from truth, and that what we call knowledge is merely our own self-delusion, willfully mistaking the shadow of a seat cushion for a noble forehead.

I keep getting interrupted in this post, and as with all my posts, I didn't really plan it out ahead of time, so I'm afraid I've lost track of my point.

So there. Two feminist authors criticizing light, I guess. Whatever.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Body, limp.

“The Body, and its language, which is of course, all language.... But that male body, how IT dominates the culture, the environment, the language. Since 3000 B.C. in Sumeria, Tiamat’s monsters again and again, and every myth an effort to keep the sun rising. Save the sun... will it rise again will it will it rise again? The language of criticism: ‘lean, dry, terse, powerful, strong, spare, linear, focused, explosive’—god forbid it should be ‘limp’!! But—‘soft, moist, blurred, padded, irregular, going around in circles,’ and other descriptions of our bodies—the very abyss of aesthetic judgment, danger, the wasteland for artists! That limp dick—an entire civilization based on it, help the sun rise, watch out for the dark underground, focus focus focus, keep it high, let it soar, let it transcend, let it aspire to Godhead——————”
--Frances Jaffer, as quoted by Susan L. Stoops in More than Minimal.

I'm not sure much needs to be said about this. I may bring it into my paper on musical aesthetics and feminism.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Freedom of Speech

This is an endnote from the introduction to Hal Foster's The Return of the Real, an art criticism book focusing on the "second neo-avant-garde" and the development of post-modernism in the arts:

"I address a further reciprocity between leftist provocations and rightist prohibitions in chapter 5. As this work of (dis)articulation proceeds, the neoconservative strategy of the last two decades comes into focus [published in 1996]. Its essence is twofold: first, to denounce vanguard and popular cultures as hedonistic, and then to blame this bad culture for the social ravages incurred from a capitalism that is hedonistic; second, to celebrate traditional and authoritarian cultures as ethical, and then to use this good culture (of family values and the rest) to buy votes for this rapacious capitalism (that, never mindful of the working class, is evermore heedless of the middle class as well). It is a clever trick, but why do so many people fall for it even as they see through it? This is where the work of (dis)articulation comes into play (let alone the critique of cynical reason)." (229)

This reads well, I think, with an article published by Edward Said in 1983 ("Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community," in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster). From the article:

"Our political discourse is now[, in the early years of the Reagan administration,] choked with enormous, thought-stopping abstractions, from terrorism, Communism, Islamic fundamentalism, and instability, to moderation, freedom, stability and strategic alliances, all of them as unclear as they are both potent and unrefined in their appeal. It is next to impossible to think about human society either in a global way (as Richard Falk eloquently does in A Global Approach to National Policy [1975]) or at the level of everyday life. As Philip Green shows in The Pursuit of Inequality, notions like equality and welfare have simply been chased off the intellectual landscape. Instead a brutal Darwinian picture of self-help and self-
promotion is proposed by Reaganism, both domestically and internationally, as an image of the world ruled by what is being called 'productivity' or 'free enterprise.'" (136-7)

Both of these authors (the former clearly influenced by the more prolific latter) reveal the brutally ingenious stupidity of late capitalism's mechanisms of political and social (in this case the same thing) control. Ultimately, both accounts point at the usurpation by the political authority of an ostensibly democratic narrative. This narrative is co-opted, as is frequently remarked, through the use of fear. What makes the brutality ingenious is that, instead of creating an arbitrary political scapegoat to focus popular fear (as did the Nazis, for example, or as Rene Girard describes the origins of sacrificial violence), the neo-liberal, late-capitalist political/economic apparatus focuses fear on exactly those who work to expose late capital's hedonism, and that fear is focused in part by reflecting the critique of late capital back on the critics themselves. This is the necessity of free speech. It exists not to free the masses from the yolk of oppression or to foster the free exchange of ideas, but rather to nourish an oppositional base that can in turn be debased. After all, if avant-garde art and leftist scholarship were forbidden, fear would have to be focused either arbitrarily or fantasmatically (as in 1984, and to a lesser extent, in contemporary popular discourse on terrorism, as indicated by Said). The fact that there is a fantasmatic evil currently does slightly undermine by hypothesis on free speech, though it can be partially recuperated by considering "terrorist" not only as a foreign body, but a domestic label, as in "If you _____, then the terrorists have already won," or "you're either with me or you're with the terrorists." (I'm obviously not claiming that terrorism doesn't exist, but rather am suggesting that it is made use of politically as a means of accruing power in a way that is incommensurate with any practical solution to the terrorist problem.)

Freedom is slavery, but not in the Orwellian sense. It is not the demand for freedom that will eventually lead to slavery. It is by granting freedom that sustainable slavery can be attained. Clearly I mean slavery somewhat metaphorically: I'm not implying that the contemporary American condition(s) are equivalent to any historical or contemporary state of actual slavery.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Gay Science

"New Struggles.-- After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave--a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead: but given the way men are, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.--And we--we still have to vanquish his shadow, too." (108)

"A dangerous resolve.-- The Christian resolve to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad." (130)

"Incense.-- Buddha said: 'do not flatter your benefactor.' This saying should be repeated in a Christian church--right away it clears the air of everything Christian." (163)

"Need.-- A need is considered the cause of the origin: in truth, it is often merely an effect of what did originate." (205)

"Against mediators.-- Those who wish to be mediators between two resolute thinkers are marked as mediocre: they lack eyes to see the unparalleled; seeing things as similar and making them the same is the mark of weak eyes." (228) *blush*

"What is the seal of attained freedom?-- No longer being ashamed in front of oneself." (275)

These are a few aphorisms Walter Kaufman selected from _The Gay Science_, by way of further illuminating the text of _On the Genealogy of Morals_. I'm doing exactly what I'm not allowed (by Kaufman) to do: quoting them out of context. I disagree with him: I think they do hold valuable meaning even when excised from their surrounding text. Undoubtedly this meaning is other than it was intended, but the intended meaning is always already lost, whether one is "in context" or not. After all, by what arrogance could I ever claim to be in Nietzsche's contexts? At any rate, these are fun little bits, particularly when one considers their own genealogy, both before and after.