Muñoz, José Esteban. “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs).” Theatre Journal 52.1 (March 2000): 67-79. Project Muse. Web. 18 June 2013.

Ethnicity, Affect, and Performance:

The term Latino fails to capture the embodied experience of the different cultural/social subjects the term supposedly names. While certain names, Chicano or Nuyorican have worked in naming a Political group, the umbrella term Latino has failed. The term “Latino” fails to account for different countries, religions, races, classes, sexual orientations, so is there any commonality with the term?

Muñoz wants to differentiate between self-identified Latino/as and the US census designation of “Hispanic.” By rejecting the label “Hispanic,” Latinos are not constituting a political movement, but the “linguistic maneuver is the germ of a self-imaging of Latino as, following the path-breaking work of Chicana feminist Norma Alacrón, an ‘identity-in-difference’” (67)—identity-in-difference structures subjectivity from the point of view other than the anglo-feminist one; an oppositional consciousness in response to the ethnocentric, mono-identity provided by feminism. Muñoz states that “To be cognizant of one’s status as an identity-in-difference is to know that one falls of majoritarian maps of the public sphere, that one is exiled from paradigms of communicative reason and a larger culture of consent” (68). The Latino subject is in exile/displaced, which causes the Latino subject form political ontology.

The essay’s thesis states normativity “is assessed in the majoritarian public sphere through the affective performance of ethnic and racial normativity” (68). Minorities face problems attempting to perform whiteness (this thesis is much too general and sweeping); the essay states that “acting white has everything to do with the performance of a particular affect” in order to perform normativity. The wording is confusing, but I understand Munoz as saying that minorities must act/perform in a certain manner for whites in order to be considered normative, but by acting white, Latinos (minorities) lose their own political ontology).

Muñoz wants to use Raymond Williams’ idea of “structure of feeling” that connects working class groups and combine it with Alacrón’s “identity-in-difference” to think about affect as a way to group together Latino experience: “What unites and consolidates oppositional groups is not simply the fact of identity but the way in which they perform affect, especially in realtion to an official ‘national affect’ that is aligned with the hegemonic class” (68). Identity built around feeling instead of being (but feeling is a state of being). Muñoz goes on to clarify, “I am interested in plotting the way in which Latina/o performance theatricalizes a certain mode of ‘feeling brown’ in a world painted white, organized by cultural mandates to ‘feel white’” (68). This idea is interesting, expecially for Junot Diaz, as Oscar is brown but immersed in white culture—as he says, what is more sc-fi than the DR. Sc-fi captures that “brown” feeling by telling stories of diaspora and exile, about attempting to fit in even in a strange land.

Muñoz wants to examine how immigrants struggle with performing the “national affect.” He suggests that Latina/o works symbolically act on difference and insist on ethnic affect within the dominant national affect. He states “. . . this ‘official’ national affect, a mode of being in the world primarily associated with white middle-class subjectivity, reads ethnic affect as inappropriate” (69). Whiteness positions itself as Law; therefore, minorities must conform and perform whiteness, “or at least mimic certain affective rhythms that have been preordained as acceptable” (69). The national affect (white-ness) deems Latina/o affects as over the top, spicy, and exotic. Hegemonic society stereotypes Latina/o affects in order to simplify and contain these ethnic differences. This idea of marginalizing ethnic performances reflects Maximo’s position. However, I disagree that white, middle-class culture reads ethnic portrayals as inappropriate (not always), rather that Anglos posit a stereotype for ethnic groups to inhabit. Hence the popularity of Desi Arnez, of Maximo playing domino in Miami.

Popular media (hegemonic protocols of North American affective comportment) categorize Latina/o affect as over the top: “affective excess” (70). Muñoz argues that Latina/o affect is not excessive, rather that Anglo affect is minimalist, “to the point of emotional impoverishment” (70). Muñoz suggest positioning white affect as lack. Also, he believes Latinos should embrace the stereotype of ethnic affect as excess “. . . and redirect it in the service of liberationist politics” (70). The essay suggests that Latina/o affect challenges white affect as impoverished.

Muñoz wants to move beyond a fixed definition of ethnicity and look at it as performance—Heidegger already suggest looking at identity as performance in his own way. For Heidegger, identity is not a fixed “being” rather an in-the-world-towards-death Dasien who always-already is thrown in the world and takes up its possibilities and is affected by its environment, culture, history, and furture possibilities.

Munoz suggest looking at ethnicity as historical formation, beyond merely cultural differences, he attempts to look at ethnicity as “affective difference” –that is, how groups “feel” differently and are “in-the-world” in different emotional registers. (70).

Looking at Sartre who says consciousness is knowing what one thinks, and emotion, an extension of consciousness is, what Muñoz calls “performed manifestation of consciousness”—but can we really control emotion in such a manner? We can react to the way we are feeling in certain ways, but we can’t help from feeling those feelings. Satre, borrowing much from Heidegger, views life as this existentially, phenomenological world where we set up goals for our lives, but many obstacles get in the way of those goals; when we get overwhelmed by obstacles and barriers, we have emotions. For Sartre, and what Muñoz takes from Sartre, emotions are the way humans negotiate within their social and cultural and historical world—emotions are emotions, separate from humans. Rather emotions are something humans encounter when dealing with the world.

Satre is second hand Heidegger—Munoz has reservations about using Sartre because Sartre thinks of two different ways of being in the world. One way is the same as Heidegger’s ready-at-hand (you pick up a hammer and use it without thinking about using it; you walk out the door without thinking about the door)—the second way of being is Heidegger’s present-at-hand: when the hammer breaks and suddenly, to use Muñoz’s reading of Sartre (reading of Heidegger) “the organized matrix of utensils is no longer perceivable as such and one becomes overwhelmed” (71)—for Heidegger, one doesn’t become “overwhelmed” rather one steps back and begins to theorize the hammer; it becomes an object of contemplation rather than a lived thing in the world. —For Sartre, emotions are the second, present-at-hand way of being; “something we regress into when under duress” (71). This thinking falls into men as better (stronger) suited for the world of tools and women—as well as feminine men—as weaker and not well suited for tools. Women and weak men regress into the magical relation with the world (for Sartre, emotions are equated as magical state of being)—and the discussion of magical resonates with minority cultures who are viewed as primitive.

Muñoz thinks Sartre’s ideas of emotion because emotions surface during moments of distress when one loses the distance/relation to the world of objects and people. For Muñoz “Because stigmatized people are presented with significantly more obstacles and blockages than privileged citizen-subjects, minoritarian subject often have difficulty maintaining distance from the very material and felt obstacles that suddenly surface in their own affective mapping of the world” (72). Munoz believes that this thinking of emotion, in a world that is not ideologically neutral, that organizes material reality around capitalist interest, can help minority subjects gain critical distance and help explain emotions. As he puts it, “The phenomenological aspect of Sartre’s inquiry demystifies the magic of emotion and this in and of itself is an important contribution to a theory of the affective nature of ethnicity” (72).

Muñoz then turn to Walter Benjamin, who sees technology as alienating affect. He wants to amend Sartre’s ideas with Benjamin who sees certain technologies, like cinema, as returning or utopia for affect. Muñoz sees Latino’a drama as having the potential for political intervention. While the term Latino/a has problems, the term has helped organize people under the generic label. The practice of performing “Latino/a-ness” undermines the normative “national affect” by asserting ontological difference and affective difference (72). Muñoz uses the plays of Maria Irene Fornes to state that her plays use “ethnic feeling within a hegemonic order”—her plays stand out because her characters’ motivation are hard to decipher; the narrative arcs, also, defy normative modes of being, which Muñoz argues reflect a Latina/o “manera de ser”—not avant garde (only), but also reflective of a different culture.

Muñoz then turns to The Sweetest Hangover to argue that the play’s affect differs from mainstream/ national affect: a Latino affect. The play creates an affective performance that “rejects the protocols of (white) normativity” (74). The play presents an other way of being in the world, an other way of “feeling” the world. (74)—The play groups people together by political affect or affective belonging and not by culture or race. The play groups together different people, and this grouping illustrates a different way to reach utopian ideas of unity through affective identity rather than racial ones. –basically, the play connects people through an affective belonging. Even in the drug use and homosexual relationships: “The major conflict in the play between Octavio and his lover Samson is not Octavio’s drug problem, but Ocatavio’s refusal to conform to a drug-free monogamous ideal that Samson desires” (77). This ideal is an affective normative one. However, then Muñoz suggest that this homosexuality and drug use are “modes of being in the world [that] are folded into the rich affective archive of latinidad” (77)-but being gay and using drugs is not a white normative affect; every race and culture has drug users and gay people, so I fail to see the point here?Yet the bigger point of community under affective belonging can be used positively to think about ethnicity and community and belonging. Taking Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein (as being-in-the-world), then a Latino/a’s way of being in the world is different than an Anglos. Both groups, to begin, have different worlds to be in. If we take Heidegger’s idea that all consciousness happens within Language, then the language differences of both groups create a different “way” to be in the world. As the minority group, Brown people will always know their identity as the other to White/majority group, just as Anglos will view Browns as the other. In this manner, Oscar Wao is a different person, just as Maximo Gomez in In Cuba I was—since they both “feel” about the world differently by way of their place in the world.

The essay ends by summarizing: “This analysis has posited ethnicity as “a structure of feeling,” as a way of being in the world, a path that does not conform to the conventions of a majoritarian public sphere and the national affect it sponsors” (79).

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Zizek, Slavoj. “Melancholy and the Act.” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000): 657-81.

Zizek begins by stating that the Lacanian Big Other designates explicit symbolic rules and unwritten rules as well. Example of Robert Ebert’s movie rules—in a foreign land, in a car chase, a fruit stand will get run over, the grocery bag rule, etc—the Big other regulates our speech and actions. While not stated outright, disobeying them can be very bad.

One of those rules is mourning and melancholia. The dominant opinion is: “Freud opposed normal mourning (the successful acceptance of a loss) to pathological melancholy (the subject persist in his or her narcissistic identification with the lost object). Against Freud, one should assert the conceptual and ethical primacy of melancholy” (658). In mourning, a remainder occurs that fails integration through mourning, “and the ultimate fidelity is the fidelity to this remainder” (658). Mourning kills the lost object (again), while melancholy stays faithful to the lost object. The melancholic refuses to renounce the attachment to the lost object. (((This point is elaborated on by Derrida—we carry the world of the other; the dialogue continues)). This idea of maintaining attachments to the lost object can be used in multiple ways: from the queer one—gays should maintain attached to the repressed same-sex libidinal economy to the ethnic one: where the ethnic  group might lose their culture as it is subsumed by the capitalist tradition.

“The melancholic link to the lost ethnic Object allows us to claim that we remain faithful to our ethnic roots while fully participating in the global capitalist game” (659).

Anamorphosis- distorted projection or perspective, requiring a specific vantage point. Zizek says ideology works off of anamorphosis, where if we look at the ideology from a certain standpoint, then it makes sense; example, anti-semitism—the Jewish plot is the cause of all our problems. Anamorphosis distorts the idea of subjective and objective reality, since “the subjective distortion is reflected back into the perceived object itself, and, in this precise sense, the gaze itself requires a supposedly objective existence” (659).

This paradox does not hold in the melancholic, who mistakenly asserts that something “resist the symbolic sublation”, and “locate[s] this resistance in a positively existing, although lost, object. ” The melancholic interprets his/her desire as a loss, when it is merely lacking. The melancholic thinks that he/she possessed the object and has now lost it when in reality, he/she never possessed it at all. The melancholic confuses the object as missing, but in reality, it is lacking. That lack causes the object to emerge in the first place. The paradox comes when the melancholic thinks the object loss when in reality it lacks. “The melancholic subject thus elevates the object of his longing into an inconsistent composite of a corporeal absolute; however, since this object is subject to decay, one can possess it unconditionally only insofar as it is lost, in its loss” (660).

Zizek looks to Giorgio Amamben who “emphasized how, in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real object, but also its very opposite: ‘melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object’” (661). The problem is that the melancholic thinks what he possesses is lost—he mourns the object before the object is lost. ((((This problem happens with Maximo, who always wonders while all the stories that begin with Cuban being pure and great turn into something dark—he is suffering from melancholy, and even in Miami, where he possess a Cuban identity, through his food, his wife, and his community—he feels his Cubanness lost; later, he maintains connection to his identity through playing with the Cubans, through old stories, and through his jokes, but feels this abstract object loss, so he suffers the attachment to it—Also, his sadness comes from knowing that his homeland has forgotten him; he is no longer the German Shepherd of Cuba, he is the mutt of America. Having suffered one loss (losing his home), he suffers the loss of his Miami identity, he suffers the loss of his children, his friends—all before any of them are actually lost))))

As Zizek further explains “the mourner mourns the lost object and kills it a second time through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to remounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost” (662).

The manner to explore this paradox comes in the Lacanian distinction between the object and the (object) cause of desire, the feature that has us desiring the desired object. Something that we are usually unaware, “even misperceived as an obstacle.” The melancholic posseses the object but has lost his desire for the object: “. . . the cause that made him desire the object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency” (662). Lacan’s object petit a, is the void in reality around which reality is displaced and centralized. “This object is the sublime object (of ideology), the object elevated to the dignity of a Thing, and simultaneously the anamorphic object (in order to perceive its sublime quality, we have to look at it awry—if looked at straight on, it appears as just another object in a series)” (662).

The void-lack- only works when when it is embodied in an object. The object keeps the gap open. The void of desire embodies itself in an object that serves as a stand in. This void is best embodied in post-sctructuralist, Derridian, deconstructionist ethics: an ethics that calls for the always-already withdrawn negative trace of its own absence. We can never be fully present, accountable, ethical enough in the face of the other. The other is a void around which to build this ethics. Another example happens in Derria’s view on Marxism: we must keep true to the spirit of Marx, not the letter. Derrida’s radicalization means only the theoretical Marx, any actualization of Marx betrays the “spirit.”  As Zizek explains “on account of its very radicalism, the messianic promise forever remains a promise, cannot ever be translated into a set of determinate economic and political measures” (665). We can never be responsible enough to the other, our answer to the other will always lack. This gap between ethical responsibility and action betrays the problem of totalitarianism because the party attempts to fulfill this ethical gap with actions that betray and go against the people.

Democracy works as a perpetual working-ING, a “to-come”: “The to-come (a venir) is thus not simply an additional qualification of democracy but its innermost kernel, what makes democracy democracy. The moment democracy is no longer to come but pretends to be actual—fully actualized—we enter totalitarianism” (665). This democracy to come refers to when one is urgently called to answer the call of the other in the face of injustice. Derrida addresses the gap between ethics and politics, where ethics is the impossible response to the call of the other and politics is the need to act/respond. Ethics is always to-come; politics is a “here/ now”—in politics, in having to make a choice, we risk doing the wrong thing: “The ethical is thus the (back)ground of undecidability, while the political is the domain of the decision(s), of taking the full risk of crossing the hiatus and translating this impossible ethical request for messianic justice into a particular intervention that never lives up to this request, that is always unjust towards (some of the) others” (666). Ethics, then, opens up the condition of possibility for politics, while closing it. When I have to act in politics because of the ethical call, my action my hurt (some) others—will be unethical. The decision to act works on two levels:

First, we open up the gap between the ethical call of the other, and the decision to decide. Zizek elaborates, “the first decision is identified with/as the injunction of the Thing in me to decide [the other’s call/ the other’s decision in me]; it is a decision to decide, and it still remains my (the subject’s) responsibility to translate this decision to decide into a concrete, actual intervention, to invent a new rule out of a singular situation, wehre this intervention has to obey pragmatic and/or strategic considerations and is never at the level of the decision” (668-9).  Zizek wants to say that the Lacanian act is not along the lines of this deconstructionist ethic, where the “other’s decision in me” is not some structuralist view of a decentered subject of abyss of otherness I can never reach; rather, the Lacanian act refers to the subject’s direct identification with the other’s Thing/ injunction to action. The subject becomes the Other-Thing for “a brief, passing moment of, precisely, decision—directly is the Thing” (669).

An ethical act changes the very nature of what we think about ethical acts, the very idea of what is good.

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Johannessen, Lene. “The Lonely Figure: Memory and Exile in Ana Menendez’s “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 41.1 (2005): 54-68. Routledge, 15 Aug. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.

Intro:

Johannessen covers the discussion of exile and figuration. She examines how the exile attempts to re-map his/her new place in order to orient him/herself, in order to understand a new place meaningfully. Johannessen expresses that writin gin exile is writing in extreme. Her essay explores two levels: figuration- metaphor and analogy, which are the master tropes; and the manner in which the exile attempts to understand and familiarize him/herself in a new land. The exile uses old knowledge and applies it to new, unknown world in order to place him/herself. Migration is never merely happy or not—literature, like actual experience, has a growing number of displacement stories. Migration follows a wide range of motivations. The difference between groups depends on motivation. Exile, for instance, is marked by forced banishment; emigration is a choice for a better life.

Ana Menendez’s stories speak in memory, which remembers what has been left behind. The essay states, “The title story “In Cuba I was a German Shepherd” allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (Johannessen 55). This essay wants to look at how “this voice” [memory] configures the narrative and how memory shapes desire. Johannessen says she will use tropology (the figurative use of language), Bakhtinian architectuonics (triad of model of human psyche; I-for-myself; I-for-other; and I-for-me), and cognitive linguistics. All these fields deal with memory, orientation, and relationships.

Memory unites the dissimilar, while similarity unites what is not continuous in memory. Borrowing the idea from Dianne Thompson’s The Brothers Karamazov and the Poetics of Memory, this essay quotes: “the continuity of memory makes us unite what dissimilarity (spatio-temporal) might otherwise separate; similarity makes us unite what discontinuity in the memory might hold apart” (Thompson (3) qtd. in Johannessen 55). The essay goes on to say that writing in exile intensifies this “sensitivity to temporal and spatial complexities and contradictions embodied in all attempts at representation” (55). Writing magnifies the disjunction between “home” and “place”—writing turns to home in order to restore familiarity in memory (55). Writing in exile highlights what was and what is, and attempts to recover home through narrative, “in order to recreate and restore familiarity, if only its memory” (55). Therefore, exile writers attempt to hold on to memories and to write in order to familiarize themselves with the world.

This familiarization attempts to “orient” self in the world. Writing attempts to restore the old world from nostalgic memory: the writer’s attempt to understand a new place through familiarization happens through the use of metaphor and analogy, “ ‘the master tropes’of migration” (55). Since the exiled lives in a new, unknown world, the exile uses analogy and metaphor to familiarize him/herself—to map his/her new world, a way of understanding. One comes to know the world through language—figuration or mapping—the exile takes what he/she knows and connects that knowledge to things he/she does not know. This “figuration” results in mixing of culture and language. Memory recalls what has been left behind. This idea leads to the essay’s contention that “The title story “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” resonates powerfully with such compulsive retrospection, and allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (55). This memory leads to exile’s desire.

Emigration leads to the need of making the unfamiliar and new into the familiar and understandable. The essay draws on cognitive linguistics to explain the idea of metaphorical mapping—the mapping of “source domains” that diverge from the “target domain.” The idea—from Heyden White and Antonio Barcelona—is that the exile projects old concepts on to new ones: “Language, custom, religion, and tradition undergo a certain degree of ‘figuration’ as they travel from one domain o another”—the two domains tend to blend (56). Migration parallels the idea of the “figuration process.”

The essay looks at Menendez’s stories, and it claims that the characters “and their relationship to the world display…a sensitivity to temporal disjunction and dislocation that challenges the coherence of the narrative’s inner space” (56). –plot summary   –focus on Maximo’s “nervous breakdown” (bottom 56-57).Looks at the park: essay claims that Domino Park becomes a separate entity of “American Miami” and acts as a “synecdoche of Cuba” (58). The park only matters to the Cuban immigrants who determined the “place” of the park, giving it meaning as they recreate a Cuban ritual. The Park, now—when Maximo visits it—has become gentrified and a tourist attraction. With the gentrification and touristification of the Park, the Park loses its synecdoche for the Cuabns (why? I don’t understand this logic?) The process works by taking something old but subordinate (Cuban Domino) and re-figuring it to match the new “thing” (America Miami). [An example is brujeira—where Cubans take an old, “pagan” religion and map it on to the new Catholic religion). The Park, however, has not followed these examples: “The park takes its cue, as it were, exclusively from what lies outside it” (58). The tour guide’s discourse objectifies Maximo and the Park, taking away the old Cubans agency in creating their own culture. [Again, I don’t agree—the Park, gentrified or not—arises out of Cuban culture, of bringing and introducing a Cuban ritual in to this space where only (mostly) Cubans over the age of 55 are allowed to participate. Objectification for tourist does not lead to inauthenticity of the ritual performed by the Domino players).

Maximo feels someone else’s will determining him “So even if the function of the park (as a site for playing domino) may not be basically altered from the point of view of the guide, the metaphorization it has been subjected to transforms it into a relic, an object for musuems, something that is lifeless” (59) – [Cubans who fled from Castro’s communism have always-already felt “someone else’s” will determining them].   The park attempts a one-to-one replacement that attempts to limit distance and past. [[I would argue no—that the Cubans who go play there KNOW that this park is a constructed space; however, as Raul says, they do not care. He embraces the spectacle. The Cubans know that this Park, in the middle of Miami, pales in comparison to what they had in Cuba—like most everything in Miami/America, none of it is as good as it was in Cuba.—‘eso no pasabar en Cuba]

Troping is a desire for replication not transformation; the exile space becomes itself the substitute for home. Johannssen claims that “Domino Park represented home with little regard for the new cultural domain in which it resided” (59) and that currently, the Park represents home as a constructed place, thus a caged zoo. Using cognitive linguistics, metaphor and metonymy, used to map knowledge to the unknown for understanding. Both, however, are different “Metonymy is [a] conceptual projection whereby one experiential domain (the target) is partially understood in terms of another experiential domain (source) included in the same common experiential domain” (Barcelona 4 qt. in Johannssen 60).

The essay relates memory to metonymy—metonymic memory selects what it remembers along continuous lines. For the exile, the idea of orientation does not involve making a ‘new home’—home is lost forever, and only lingers, frozen, in memory (60). Metaphor is not good for constituting the exile’s discourse “both because of its retrospective orientation, but also, and just as crucially, because the exile’s obsession is not only with memory but also oblivion” (60). Metonym is better since it “prefigures the exile’s mode of ordering” (60). The essay then looks at “In Cuba…”—stories about Cuba and past and follows two figurations: 1-similie—figure of despair of departure “roots dug in like fingernails in a good-bye” (Menedez 7). The 2nd– likens narrative to movement, where memory uses image of journey and space: “figuration is, however, inherently unstable, inaccurate, if for nothing else than the fact that the absence of figure does not exist” (61)—language opens up a gap between what is meant and what can be meant—this analysis sounds much like Derrida’s trace. The gap is itself a form, a “thing.” The figure that Maximo opens up is called “suspension” (61). Maximo’s memory illustrates memory and oblivion: memory connects him and separates him from his old home.

Maximo’s memories –his daydreams—become present in the figure of his wife. His memories, his daydreams, are a “synecdochical representation”, where parts (memory) stand in for the whole (Cuba). His memories stand in for that location, his home in Cuba. His memories represent how the exile occupies a certain place while remembering another place. This double creates a “discursive tension” that cause Maximo to “conflate and confuse” Cuban with Miami (62). Maximo thinks of his “other life” but that phrase is ambiguous—which is his other life? Johannssen wants to look at this tension—this suspension—and states that exile’s “double orientation” struggle for dominance; however, for Maximo, this “suspension” is neither Miami nor Cuba. Maximo is left without a place because he has no way to orient himself. He has no place from which to speak since he cannot reconcile his current place and his past; he is caught between place and time. (63).

Essay turns to joke, which functions along metonymic memory. The laughter directed at Anglo-American superiority and arrogance also pokes fun at Cuban “and his innocent provincialism in the face of the cosmopolitan new world he encounters” (65). He invests his naivety in the dignity. Essay says that he gets the laugh and “allows Maximo to escape his enclosure in a life lived elsewhere” (65). [I think this reading of the joke misses some nuances. I think that Maximo, a professor and well-read man in Cuba, knows that he is thought to be the provincial, poor man, and possibly uneducated man in the eyes of American society, and the joke is quite “literal”—in that new way literal means—in pointing out that Maximo was a German Shepherd in Cuba (a well respected professor), so the joke serves as a tragic reminder of his new place in America, in Miami, where he can no longer come off as a great and “pure breed”]

Nightwood presents the narrative of people’s heartbreaking. The main character, Robin Vote, leaves broken hearts behind her the way the heartbroken leaves tissues and empty Ben and Jerry’s behind. The story begins with Baron Felix Volkbein’s history–all fake, which he attempts to uphold,because family name and European traditions define his (false) identity, and he believes that marrying Robin and siring an heir will keep his legacy alive. Robin gives birth to Guido and realizes that she desires something different from life, so she spends her nights away in debauchery and distracting herself with various affairs. Finally, she moves to America and shacks up with Nora Flood, who fails to hold Robin’s attention, who feels driven by the conflicts of “love and anonymity,” spending her time debauching and in elicit affairs away from home while Nora waits for her. During one such night Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, a widow four times over, who “gains happiness by stealing the joy of others.” Jenny turns her attention to stealing Robin away from Nora, and succeeds. In her despair, Nora (like Felix before her) turns to the counsel of Dr. Matthew O’Connor to recover from the loss of Robin.

The doctor reminds me of a darker version of something Oscar Wilde might imagine. Matthew’s speciality is stories; he expertly weaves stories that help the people who seek his consul until the end of the novel after Nora unloads on him and he turns to alcohol to forget. His monologues present an interesting mediation on love and heartbreak and memory and death and desire– his locution amazes.

The novel ends with Nora back in America, camping in a forest with her dog, near Robin, who wanders the forest and ends up at an abandoned church. Nora’s dog gets away and Nora goes after it; the dog ends up leading Nora to the church where she finds Robin kneeling before an alter. In a mad fit, Robin sprints towards the door knocking Nora unconscious. Robin plays with the dog until she falls asleep.

Many critics discuss this novel as a mediation on heartbreak and love, but the love here is selfish and violent. Robin’s love manipulates her lovers, Nora’s heartbreak results from ego, Felix gives his love as part of a lie– the characters are misguided, selfish people who engage in love that fixes their object of love in an image and results in heartbreak when the object of love breaks the image. Robin is a spoiled brat, an Nora is a spineless nitwit. The doctor, the biggest lier of all, manages to know himself better than anyone else in the novel.

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.


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.

Rather than go into the long list of excuses (most of them revolving around me being lazy, but not the only reason), I will get into something new.

There is this interesting article over at the Huffingtonpost.com which looks at neural research being done on love. The thesis here is that “…love mostly can be understood through brain images, hormones and genetics.” I had to stop there. Can love be “understood” in this way? I mean, sure, ok… looking at the definition of understand, then one can, maybe say that love can be something that we can “be familiar with, to assign a meaning to.” In a way, and that is interesting in its own way, but for me that still does not explain love.

This is an interesting artcle, and it does a nice job of explaining how the chemicals in the brain react to love:
The VTA is part of a key reward system in the brain.

“These are cells that make dopamine and send it to different brain regions,” said Helen Fisher, a researcher and professor at Rutgers University. “This part of the system becomes activated because you’re trying to win life’s greatest prize _ a mating partner.”

But I don’t think this helps with any understanding of our conception of love. The study goes on to say that love is like a drug, working with the same chemicals, but I could have told you that without spending any money on research– and, none of this still actually explains love. It is interesting to note that love produces the same effect in the brain as craving cociane, but that still doesn’t “understand” love.

The article explains how this research could lead to drugs that could help autism and other such neurological disease where people have problems, yadda yadda…

These scientist also studied heartbroken individuals, but they didn’t really go into it. Just more blather about how these things can be measured through chemicals in the brain. And while the article did mention that research is being done on why we are attracted to whom we are attracted to, this is still lacking for me. This, I would argue, is a way to explain love, not understand it, which is why the word understand bothered me at the beginning of the article. None of this still explains any of it really. Sure, love makes our bodies release chemicals, but what is that “something” that triggers it. Why do some girls, some relationships, some situations cause the release and others don’t. Also, it makes this all so un-romantic.

I did like the way the article ended because it is what I am more interested in. I mean, besides looking at how artist have dealt with love and heartbreak– how love/heartbreak has manifest itself in the arts– that is what really interest me.

Here is the end of the article:

Young said that romantic love theoretically can be simulated with chemicals, but “if you really want, you know, to get the relationship spark back, then engage in the behavior that stimulates the release of these molecules and allow them to stimulate the emotions,” he said. That would be hugging, kissing, intimate contact.

“My wife tells me that flowers work as well. I don’t know for sure,” Young said. “As a scientist it’s hard to see how it stimulates the circuits, but I do know they seem to have an effect. And the absence of them seems to have an effect as well.”