February 2011

I don’t have much to say other than I loved reading this selection from the new Norton Anthology. G and G perform what they preach in “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, a book I feel I must read now.

The challenge the conventional ideas of ideas, of thinking, of books and philosophy: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified and signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with…” (1455). This is the direction I see myself going towards more and more; that is, not looking for meanins but rather trying to understand how things mean. How does a book create meaning? How does society impose its meanings?

G and G challenge the notion of the book in the Western tradition. The book is like a root (the image of logos as a root)– and to go off on an aside here for a minute– I wonder (and I’m sure this is out there somewhere) what G and G would think of Heidegger’s conception of philosophy since he wanted to rethink philosophy not from the tree of logos or the roots but from the very ground from which the logos tree springs. In that sense, I’m sure the would like how Heidegger was challenging accepted modes of thought in philosophy; although, I’m sure they would have qualms with how he reordered philosophy and still found a center from which to spring. However, Heidegger is concerned with Be-coming– Dasien is, after all, the movement of Be-ing. In that sense, I believe that Heidegger can be seen as rhizomic writing. Yet again, though, G and G don’t want a beginning; they want “…neither beginning nor end, but always a middle…” (1458).

Mostly, I like their prose; the way they play with language and with the structure of logical thought: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is composed of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs” (1459).

This “logic” outlined in G and G, I believe can be seen in the works of early Palahiuk, in Joyce, in Danielewski, and with philosophers that perform in their text, such as Derrida or Ciouxous.

On Zizek’s “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”

Zizek sets out to explore the notion of “courtly love” and claims that it is only in the last century, with the emergence of masochism and the masochistic couples that we can begin to “grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love” (2407).

Zizek outlines the first problem of looking at courtly love, which is that the Lady is idealized; the woman is rasied to a sublime, radical Otherness, which makes her Freud’s uncanny ‘Das Ding’ (the Thing) and which he suggest is an example of Lacan’s Real—that is a thing which resist articulation and being placed in the symbolic order (it is unknowable). Furthermore, the Lady-Thing is just a mirror reflecting the narcissistic ideal projection of the subject.

The second problem with looking at courtly love is that courtly love has nothing to do with passion; it is just a “fictional formula” where the man pretends “as if” the Lady is inaccessible (2409). Zizek links this idea with a masochistic relationship, where the couple where the couple pretends “as if” the masochist has no power; although, it is the masochist who dictates the contract of the relationship. This relationship is a busness exchange (not psychological).

The principle mistake to avoid, Zizek posits, is reducing this inaccessibility to a mere “dialectic of desire and prohibition” (2412). Zizek describes how in courtly love the man creates obstacles and barriers around the Lady; as the Real, the only way to approach the Lady is at an angle, indirectly. This is Lacanian sublimation, where an everyday object is raised to impossible Thing. To reduce the rest of the argument into a concise summary: the subject claims to want to sleep with the womean, but in reality, he is scared and so creates barriers of postponement. The Lady, like the phallus, becomes a symbol for both enjoyment and for castration (2415).

Then by looking at a number of examples (most prominently The Crying Game), Zizek elucidates how true love is ‘the stretching out of the hand, “towards the loving one and to ‘return love’” (2421).

Zizek uses these examples to make his argument: that courtly love (and any conception of “love”) only reinforces this imbalance in the sexes, and it is only in the masochist relationship that a true symmetry in a relationship can be achieved.

Margaret Atwood – Spelling

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
There is no either / or.

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

Reading Gilbert and Gubar this week, I see ways to inform a reading of Invisible Monsters that I want to attempt as soon as I get more time. G & G wonder how a woman can write in a patriarchal world, which can be mirrored in Palahniuk’s novel where characters seek a way to undermine (“write”) in a world that defines them.

G and G reevaluate Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” and question the woman’s role in this theory. The influence appears to always be a male poet’s anxiety over his male predecessor, so then, what happens to woman writers? For G and F the situation, “cannot be simply reversed or inverted in order to account for the situation of a woman writer” (1929). Rather the woman writer must fight how other writers (male) have “read” women.

It is not a fight with the female precursor that G and G posit, but rather that women writers can look at predecessors to see that it (writing) can be done, even in a male dominated world. The go on to explain how women were always looking for ways to break into a male dominated profession, and that if women today can feel freer about writing, it is only because their mother figures struggled to change the system.

What interest me, though, is the second half of the essay where G and G posit that women faced actual pyshical manifestation of illnesses because of the constraints of a patraicharial soceity imposing oder on them: “It is debilitating to be any woman in a society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (1932). It is socialization in a male-centric world that cause women to become ill.

I believe this is what is playing out in Invisible Monsters where Shannon, conditioned to be just a pretty face, a model, in order to radically break from the constructs of society (and possibly manifesting the disease that G and G discuss), decides to destroy her own face. Shannon says she felt like she was trapped in a beauty ghetto, unable to expand and grow but rather pigeon holed; can it be that this feeling arose because, as G and G point out, “Learning to become a beautiful object, the girl learns anxiety about–perhaps even loathing of–her own flesh. Peering obsessively into the real as well as metaphoric looking glasses that surround her, she desires literally to “reduce” her own body” (1933). Shannon, indeed, “reduces” her own body because of the anxiety she feels of the looking glass, and she does so radically.

By mutilating her face, Shannon nullifies the power given to her by patriarchal society. But what does this say about Brandy? I wonder if Brandy, then, doesn’t becomes a model for reversing the order, challenging the assumed patriarchal hierarchy in place? Brandy is a problamatic character here because he still has a penis, and as the one with the penis (and a voice), he is the one who gives the other characters a story to live by. Brandy is the manifestation of the Lacanian subject supposed to know. With his penis (his symbolic phallus of power), he wields his power but under the guise of a female (soon to become an actual male). Or can it be said that Brandy has a transgender/transexual is purposely complicated any easy definable category, as Brandy says she/he wants out of the labels.

Ugh–freaking grad school! Rather than explore this by reading Lacan and other femminist, I have to do homework and grade papers and quizes. But I will get back to this soon. I might use this line of reasoning when I present my paper in Illinois in April.

Looking at Lacan, I am fascinated by just how much of his ideas can be implemented in every day life (as Zizek constantly points out). It is frustrating, though, as Dr. Price-Herndl’s handout points out, that Lacan posits that coming into language is a journey, and “[Lacan] sees this journey as painful and difficult, and claims that he wants the entrance into his discourse to likewise be painful.”

In trying to understand Lacan, I began Jane Gallop’s intorduction Reading Lacan, which also attests to the difficulty in understanding Lacan. Gallop describes John Muller and William Richards encounter with writing about Lacan: “They [Muller and Richards] describe the experience of reading Lacan as ‘infuriating’ and ‘extraordinarily painful'” (Gallop 32). This has been my experience with Lacan as well, but this was Lacan’s point, I think.

From the outset of reading Lacan, I am castrated. I am never complete in my knowledge and never will be. From what I understand, once the subject enters language, he/she is castrated. The complete image that is mis-recognized as a complete whole is broken in language. Lacan says he is led to regard “…the function of the mirror-stage as a particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality…between the [inner world] and the [outer world]” (1166), but there will always remain a gap between the psychological projection I create (the outer world) and reality (the fragmented inner world) because as Lacan goes on to say, the subject is always marked by fragmentation. As the subject enters the social symbolic (through language), the subject will lose the wholeness acquired in the beginning of the mirror stage and will spend the rest of its life trying to find wholeness again (1166-67).

Lacan’s idea of lack interest me because I believe Lacan can begin to voice the experience of heartbreak. The subject is always radically fragmented; it can never be present to itself and never be present to anyone else (which is what postmodernism will say as well: Eagleton points out that if language holds not fully present meaning, and if we can only know ourselves through language, then we can never fully know ourselves). As the handout and Lacan (1188) points out, our desire is always the desire of the other, what others desire of us. In a relationship, a subject takes up the identity of that desiring thing the subject thinks the other wants. When the other rejects the subject, though, the subject is radically castrated. In heartbreak, Lacan’s fragmentation, as well as subjectivity constituted as lack, is manifest in the subject’s statements of “why doesn’t he/she want me?”

What is being said in these statements (especially in cases of a lover leaving the subject for someone else: “what does he/she have that I don’t have”) is a breakdown in the symbolic order that keeps the subject stable. Since the sense of self is always predicated on the other, what happens when the other rejects me? If the subject is already marked by lack, what happens when that lack is highlighted by being rejected by an other? Heartbreak, just as its opposite love, is a temporary insanity. That is, the heartbroken identifies itself as a whole that can be fully-present. This is illustrated in statements that hold claim to whole-ness: “he/she will never find someone like me;” that is to say, someone as whole and complete as I.

I think– which leaves us back at my opening statements and the frustration of reading Lacan.

Gallop, Jane. Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. Print.

I am completely overwhelmed. This last week I managed to get all the reading done that I need to get done, but now I feel completely overwhelmed…really…

I am going to be reading Lacan this week, and in the end, if nothing else gets done, I WILL read Lacan.

I was going to write something, but I have papers to grade, and I am tired.

In the readings for this week, the question of culture and culture’s influence on society is addressed. Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” especially had me thinking of reproducible art and specifically Reality T.V.. Sure, people look at me quizzically when I tell them that I watch “Jersey Shore” because they think that just because I am in school studying for a PhD in literature, that I don’t like my televisual pleasures. In answer to that, I submit Cornel West’s view on the place for pleasure in life, which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Q6v1xsvcI

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not a puritan; I believe aesthetic pleasure has its place”

My question is: is T.V. art? TV has shows that tell stories, that engage the mind, that make us examine our lives. Even the most base show (like Jersey Shore) is a reminder of the society we live in, and it also holds up a mirror to ourselves. Which one of us has not drank too much and made a fool of ourselves, or wished we could live on a beachfront property with our friends without paying rent, or thought about forgetting the life of the mind for the life of the heathen and pursuers of fleshly pleasures?

But is a show like “Jersey Shore” the most evil part of “the culture industry” that Horkheimer and Ardono discuss? Reality TV present the audience with the idea that “Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies” (1113), though in this case, from TV (and hasn’t TV always tried to capture “real life”? A sit-com is, after all, supposed to be our lives on screen, and when The Beaver does something wrong and is punished by his dad (the Cleaver–whoah! Cleaver, and the specter of Freud is always with us), I am reminded of doing something wrong and being punished by my parents). In reality TV, what we see is the worst part of ourselves, usually. Furthermore, is reality TV the passive acceptance of “art” that H and A describe?:

“[…]no scope is left for imagination. Those who are so absorbed by the world of the movies [reality TV]–by its images, gestures, and words–that they are unable to supply what really makes it a world, do not have to dwell on particular points of its mechanics during screening” (1114).

H and A are concerned that the culture industry is making its consumers passive. Furthermore, H and A make the distinction that good art struggles with identity and that “…inferior art has always relied on its similarity with others–on a surrogate identity” (1115), and this is what reality TV is–it is a art form founded on a surrogate identity (regular TV). I think this is an issue that requires much more ink than a 400 word blog post because I would argue that reality TV is precisely the passive entertainment that H and A discuss; that reality TV is holding up the example of “real” life that is not very real, which makes people want to emulate these “real people” in the worst possible ways. Not in the way that I watch this show in order to be able to write a post about it. But the trick is to engage in televisual pleasure and be aware of the ideology subtly being conveyed.

Furthermore, I believe that Benjamin can address reality TV as well, even if Benjamin is sounding a little to essentialist for my taste.

Benjamin is concerned with the “aura” of the work of art, stating that this loss of aura is because of two circumstances: 1) “The desire of present-day masses to “get closer” to things spacially and humanly, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction” (1055)– and this is seen in reality TV because, is not reality TV precisely this desire to “get closer” to what it is we see on TV. This is what H and A talk about when they discuss the ideal of the typist that the audience can relate to as a person who “made it”- which works to both, on the one hand, make it seem that anyone can make it, but, on the other hand, show just how far away that ideal is. However, with reality TV, this gap is lessoned. This is “real people” that one watches on TV, and the thought is, why not me? All the more reason that this is so popular.

I have more to say about all this, but now my thoughts are rambling and I need to think this out better.

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