Category: Uncategorized

Fish Sex Feminism: Response

Yesterday, I was cleaning out my house in Coventry, and I found an 8.5 by 11 sheet of printer paper, folded into four squares, with the phrase,

“Fish fish fish fish fish.”

written in cursive at the top of the sheet, looking at it length-wise, crossing the fold between two quadrants on the middle fish. It was written at a slight angle, and followed by the abbreviated form of my signature.

I was reminded first, of another sheet of paper, a receipt, from the bookstore where I went last year to buy Christmas presents, on the back of which I had written, in pencil, in the same slanted cursive,

“I think feminism has failed.”

The fishes were written in pen. I tucked the receipt into a book of ecocriticism, of which I had only managed to read the introduction, and which I later brought to New York, and offered to Chad when he asked if I knew any good books on the subject. I do not. Chad flipped through the book and pulled out the receipt, gingerly and delicately, an archivist of the everyday. “What a strange artifact!” said with deliberate glee, “’I think feminism has failed’ written on the back of a Book Culture receipt!” I replied with chagrin. “I think I was stoned when I wrote it.” It was one of those astounding revelations that come to you with marijuana, only reveal themselves later in sobriety as incredibly ordinary and blatantly obvious.

Back to the fishes.

They reminded me second of “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo Buffalo”

and third of Penelope’s presentation on fish sex.

(Also of Peter Fish, the partner of a woman my boyfriend’s father was having a sad and torrid affair with. At the Christmas party that year they all sat in a row on the same couch the whole time in the room with the booze, quiet in the tragedy of middle age, abject and quiet, the dad, the lover, and Peter Fish.)

In December of 2015 (the same season as the receipt but not the same as the Peter Fish affair) Penelope presented the gathered cohort with an image of a man and a fish in reverse missionary position in a grassy swampland, alongside an Early Modern print of a nun, offering a fish to a cat who has stolen a penis, with balls attached. A jester looks on through the window holding a strangely shaped sagging object, a cloth? a piece of skin? Is it his penis that the cat has stolen? The nun looks unhappy. Penelope pointed out that her rear foot is slipping out of her slipper, an Early Modern euphemism for sex. The foot in the slipper. Eoghan pointed out that the cross on her rosary beads also looks like a cock. Under the cat it says

1555.              flaisch macht flaisch.”

Which, according to Reddit “meat equals meat,” though I would translate it, with my rather lacking knowledge of German, as “flesh makes for flesh.” (the verb ‘macht’ shows up in Freud’s case study of Little Hans, who calls his penis his Wiwimacher; it also makes an appearance in the wrought iron gates of concentration camps, “Arbeit macht frei.”) The man fish embrace and the thieving cat appear under Penelope’s title, “’For the Love of Fish’: Fish Fetish– (Fish/Sex)– in Early Modern England.”

After the pictures, we spent the rest of our time talking about an Early Modern play, by Beaumont and Fletcher, called The Woman Hater, in which a funny fat man named Lazarillo spends the entire play searching for a fish head. He describes the fish head in rapturous tones whose sexual impetus rivals that of John Donne’s plea for God to fuck him in the ass, in “Holy Sonnet XIV.” Lazarillo’s search is described in language that is replete puns and innuendo, all converging on the sexual triumph of finally eating the fish head in a whorehouse. According to Penelope, fish was a slang term for whores in the Early Modern era. And for vaginas. It still is. Hamlet, when he calls Polonious a fishmonger, is calling him pimp. When Faulkner writes “My mother is a fish.” in 1930, Vardman is calling his mother a whore. So great is Lazarillo’s longing for this fish head, that he agrees to marry the whore/fish in order to eat it.

The search for the fish head brings together a lovely hot mess of eating and fucking and desire and smell and absurdity and marriage. It is the comic subplot in a play that is, as the title suggests, primarily about misogyny. Would it be a feminist reversal to switch the dominance of the plots, to read the subplot as primary? To re-read a play about misogyny as a play about sexy fish, as we did? Placing the misogynist beneath the fish, smothering him with a fishy vagina, making him eat it. But perhaps the subplot is already fishy with misogyny, in its portrait of marriage as a structure of entrapment, where a man’s sexual/gastronomic desires are leveraged against him by a woman/fish for a security that is also her own entrapment. Her devouring of/being devoured by the man in question. “There’s only one reason a woman get knocked up” four or five years ago, a half drunk grad student, wooly eyed, male, disaffected, told me, “to trap a man.” This seems to me both true and completely fucked up and backwards.

Three out of ten students in our cohort are married. Penelope is one of them. Gina is another. Penelope uses a married name, which is her former name, first and last, with her husband’s last name appended. Penelope’s husband is an academic, and the tying of their names legally in hers marks something specific in an academic discourse. It makes visible their union, in print, on syllabi, at department cocktail parties, in faculty lists on university websites. It also marks a space of anxiety in the academic discourse of feminism, about the boundary between the public and the private, about sexuality in the classroom and the place of women in the academy. Do women ipso facto bring the private and the sexual into the public space of the university when they enter it, as students and professors? The university administrators who oversaw the large scale transition to co-education in the 20th century, who built women’s dorms with curfews and dorm mothers and called female students “co-eds” certainly thought so. So did the courageous scholars who founded departments of women’s studies, gender and sexuality studies, and queer theory, though with a rather different basic set of assumptions and qualitative judgments.

To take a man’s name without loosing your own. This is the puzzle of heterosexuality, whether you take the name or not. And where did your name come from in the first place? Another man. Would it be worth it to me simply to give my children the last name I now bear, my maiden name, my father’s name? Would that break the cycle? Would it be more radical simply not to have children? Not to dedicate oneself to the care of another, with my luck, a male child, another man. I once thought it would be a good idea to name a child “Ocean Adams.” I still kind of do.

What does it mean that strong young women in 2016 are still taking their husband’s names? I think it means that feminism has failed. Or that the claims of feminism have been articulated in a way that is somehow insufficient to the problem.

Back to the fishes.

If fishes are vaginas and Lazarillo is all about eating the fish, the fish’s head in particular, then what about giving head? I think that metaphor actually comes from the head of the penis, transferred across gender, and eating out would be better here. Or eating pussy (there’s that cat again), or licking the fish? Or just cunnilingus. The act of oral devotion to another’s genitals. A woman’s genitals. As Eileen Myles puts it, in Chelsea Girls, “Here it comes, the salty hairy organ, the slippery wet thing with a hard pearly center, jammed in my face. I started licking and sucking like crazy. I am wild for the sensation of having my face covered and dominated, almost smothered by a cunt.”[1] Yes, this has something to do with marriage and the patriarchy. With the textual signifiers of a woman’s identity, with desire and choice. With who’s licking what and where and why. Sexual empowerment is what feminism ends up offering those co-eds, sexual empowerment reified by, rearticulated through, eaten up by the consumer demands of late 20th century America. As Gina put it to me:

“Oral comes standard, or you don’t buy the car.”

 

[1] Myles, Eileen. “Robin.” Chelsea Girls. New York: Harper Collins, 2015. p. 69.

“For the Love of Fish”:
Fish Fetish– (Fish / Sex)– in Early Modern England

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1591-95)

Benvolio.         Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.

Mercutio.         Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy; Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior Romeo, Bon jour, there’s a French salutation to your French slop…             (II.iii.32­–40)

 

Marston, The Dutch Courtesan (c. 1604)—Moll’s defense of prostitutes:

…Fish that must needs bite or themselves be bitten,
Such hungry things as these may soon be took
With a worm fast’ned on a golden hook;
Those are the lecher’s food, his prey.   (III.i.97–100)

And Cockledemoy: “I must have the salmon, too” (3.3.109).

 

Beaumont and Fletcher, The Woman Hater (1607)

Laz.     Thither must I to see my Loves face, the caste Virgin head
Of a dear Fish, yet pure and undeflowered,
Not known of man no rough bred countrey hand,
Hath once toucht thee, no Pandars withered paw,
Nor an un-napkin’d Lawyers greasie fist,
Hath once slubbered thee: no Ladies supple hand,
Wash’d o’er with Urine, hath yet seiz’d on thee
With her two nimble talents: no Court hand,
Whom his own natural filth, or change of air,
Hath bedeck’d with scabs, hath marr’d they whiter frace:
Oh let it be thought lawful then for me,
To crop the flower of thy Virginity.     (I.iii)

Laz.     …Shew me but any Lady in the Court,
That hath so full an eye, so sweet a breath,
So soft and white a flesh: this doth not lie
In almond floves, nor ever hath bin washt
In artificiall baths: no traveler
That hath brought doctor home with him, hath dar’d
With all his waters, powders, Fucusses,
To make thy lovely corps sophisticate. (III.iii)

IV.iii:

Laz.     Boy, whereabouts are we?

Boy      Sir, by all tokens this is the house, bawdy I am sure, by the broken windows, the Fish head is within; if ye dare venture, here you may surprise it.

[…]

Laz.     I will go in and live; pretend some love to the Gentlewoman, screw my self in affection, and so be satisfied… only my appetite shall go along with me, arm’d with whose strength, I fearless will attempt the greatest danger dare oppose my fury: I am resolv’d where ever that thou art; most sacred dish, hid from unhallow’d eyes, to find thee out.
Be’st thou in Hell, rap’t by Proserpina,
To be a rival in black Pluto’s love;
Or mov’st thou in heavens, a form Divine:
Lashing the lazie Sphear[s],
Or if thou be’st return’d to thy first Being,
Thy mother Sea, there will I seek thee forth.
Earth, Air, nor Fire,
Nor the black shades below shall bar my sight
So daring is my powerful appetite.

Boy.     Sir, you may save yourself this long voyage, and take a shorter cur: you have forgot your self, the fish head’s here, your own imaginations have made you mad.

[…]

Laz.     The looks of my sweet love are fair,
Fresh and feeding as the air
[…]
Was never seen so rare a head
Of any Fish alive or dead.

Preliminary Notes //
The Architecture of Experience

Anna Moser

The essay Anna presented this evening
can be found under scholarly texts.

Electric Text Case Studies:

Veronica Forrest-Thomson, In Memoriam Ezra Pound [excerpt]:

Transpontine Ovid made his ovoid obsequies
unto the only emperor, the emperor of ice-cream.
In his elegies Teddy Bear is having picnics.
Can you find four ice-cream cornets hidden
in this elegiac picture? I pasture the pastel
colours of the heart, a part from and partial sense
of lethal elegies hidden in the provinces
of desolation and ice-cream, “the lost land
of Childhood”, and the defeated past.

[…]

He is not here he has outsoared the shadow
of our right. ’Tis life is dead not he. And
ghastly through the driveling ghosts on the bald
street breaks the bland day of critical interpretation
staining the white radiance of eternity […].

 

Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cordelia: or, ‘A Poem Should not Mean, but Be’ [excerpt]:

But first and last read me, the beloved
Who was killed in the general slaughter.
But rise again like John Donne
(read him too) I, Helen, I Iseult, I Guenevere,
I Clytemnestra and many more to come.
I did it, I myself, killing the King my father
Killing the King my mother, joining the King my brother.
It is the kick, my love, and not the nightingale
I like larking up kicks myself
But not kicking.
They that have power to hurt and do so
Should not be blamed by Shakespeare or anyone else
For hurting though such is the race of poets
That they will blame them anyway.
However it is a pretty productive process
Especially if one may be plumber as well as poet
And thus unstop the drain as well as writing
Poetic Artifice “Pain stopped play” and
Several other books and poems including
1974 and All That (seriously though)
I, Veronica did it, truth-finding, truth-seeking
Muck-raking, bringing victory.

 

Susan Howe, Noncomformist’s Memorial, from “A Bibliography of the King’s Book or, Eikon Basilike”:

On the day of the execution [of King Charles I] The Eikon Basilike, The Pourtraicture of His Sacred Majestie in his Solitude and Sufferings, was published and widely distributed throughout England, despite the best efforts of government censors to get rid of it.
The Eikon was supposed to have been written by the King. It consists of essays, explanations, prayers, debates, emblems and justifications of the Royalist cause. […]
The Eikon Basilike is a forgery. (55)

*

One of Milton’s chief points of attach on the Eikon [in his 1649 pamphlet The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, a defense of regicide] concerned “A prayer in the time of Captivity,” said to have been delivered to Bishop Juxon, by Charles on the scaffold. The prayer, a close paraphrase from “no serious Book, but the vain amatorious Poem of Sr Philip Sidney’s Arcadia,” was the prayer of a pagan woman to an all-seeing heathen Deity. (56-7)

*

In 1680, an official edition of the Eikon, sanctioned by King Charles II, subtracted all the prayers. Other post-Restoration Basilikas and Reliquae Sacrae, some dedicated to the new monarch, included the seven prayers with Pamela’s leading the file. A great deal of energy and confusion has been expended and expounded since then; by bibliographers, scholars, poets, critics, and other impassioned crusaders, including Samuel Johnson, Christopher Wordsworth, and William Empson, over correctly identifying the first edition to carry the “forged” prayer. (57)

*

The Eikon Basilike is a puzzle. It may be a collection of meditations written by a ghostly king; it may be a forged collection of meditations gathered by a ghostwriter who was a Presbyterian, a bishop, a plagiarizer, and a forger. (57)

*

Pierre Macherey’s description of the discourse in a fiction applies to the discourse in this bibliography: “sealed and interminably completed or endlessly beginning again, diffuse and dense, coiled about an absent center which it can neither conceal no reveal.”
The absent center is the ghost of a king. (58)

 

Susan Howe, Noncomformist’s Memorial, from “Melville’s Marginalia”:

Wilson Walker Cowen, using Merton Sealt’s checklist (Harvard Library Bulletin 1948-50) as a guide, collected and transcribed every page from every known volume of Herman Melville’s library that Melville had marked or annotated. Only the pages Melville marked in each book are included so there is little forward trajectory to whatever novel, narrative, or poem. Each marked passage is a literal transcription from the particular edition Melville used. Because Cowen used each original’s type-set line-lengths, prose often looks like poetry. (98)

*

A
poet
does not relate
real
events
2. For then
she would clash
with the histo-
rian/connecting
them
by a verbal
association
in a strange
order (102)

*

If there are things Melville went looking for in books so too there were things I looked for in Melville’s looking. (114)

*

Because he stole the light
my heart is feminine
What meaning is there
In my head my clothing
Unconfined as an ocean
nerves are what they are
delusions of imagination
Hero of authentic poetry
I can compose my though
an excursus on Tradition
trace of the word city
I will dismember marginalia
‘l’ for ‘i’ and ‘i’ for ‘l’
Ophelia Juliet Cordelia (155)

Talking about Truth

When almonds sit in water they become easier to chew. When
almonds sit with grapes and raisins they may taste like grapes and
raisins.

—a largely true remark of Kimberly Adams’

Gina

I love it: truthiness.

Chad

           Oh do you now?
I googled it. It was not as I wished,
This project, to which I set my labour.
I dreamt dimensions in’t that never were,
Politics for’t that never yet have been.

David

A great woe.

Chad

     Great, and more than great, bizarre.
Its first concern is with the years of Bush—

Ruby

A fair fine firstling, ha! But pray tell on.

Chad

—where I had thought it to be laid about
The decade of the sixties; very odd.
And I, so thinking, brought this German stuff,
While no one can read German!

Vignesh

               In the world?

Kim

No, no one can read German in the world.

Eoghan

Not ev’n, I hear it said, in Germany.

Ruby

Oh stuff and nonsense, all! Let’s hear from Chad

Chad

Now I shall tell you what I shall tell you,
And what I know I know is true I’ll tell,
And that is this: my study is of truth,
Of tales and screeds and literatures that claim
To speak a truth, make claims about the truth.
For how can tales speak true, being tales? How screeds,
When every word that’s writ is scarce the truth?

Anna

(aside)
A pretty speech. What is this beer he drinks?

Chad

I’ll tell of nineteen-sixties magazines
And authors ten—no, twenty—years past that,
Of journalists (suspend your prejudice,
I’d say, were I as yet a partisan
Of causes long since lost), vain journalists
Called “New”—

Bérengère

       Soi-disant?

Chad

            Who can tell? The truth’s
A weird, persnick’ty thing; that’s what they said
As well, back then: “No truth is to be found
In wretched novels and the wretched men
Who write them! Don’t you know the novel’s dead,
And narrative, and sundry Kennedys?
Keep up. The novel died when Bellow died
In artistry; a corpse since Herzog, yes?”
And so they wrote the real, the truth, the true;
Got at it (so they said) through that same thing
Called Social Realism in the schools,
But which they called an electricity
Without which no machine of art could run.

Gina

What rot! Who are these men?

Anna

               And women too?
Is Joan among them?

Chad

           Mistress Didion
Could hardly not be of this party, yes!

David

And Tommy?

Chad

       Yes, he’s of them, Master Wolfe.
I’ll tell of all these people, all these things,
In every last particular, fear not,
Down to the colour of their hair at root,
But first let’s hear from someone else but me,
Who’s writ of truth, and those who tell, or don’t.
His words are ciphers cut with diamond knives,
His eyes as firecoals, and he speaks the tongues
Of serpents, sibyls, anything with fangs.
Wiser to run, to hide, but wise we’re not:
Take up your scrolls and read Michel Foucault.

They read.

David

He’s clever, but I wonder…

Chad

              Soft, not you!
We’ll hear at first from Kim.

Kim

This word he writes, how do you say’t aloud?
pʌˈɹiːʒɪə? pʌˈɹuːʒɪə? Oh God,
I fear my Greek is not quite what it was.

Eoghan

Slack-twisted Kimberly!

Kim

            Oh you may jest,
But what if he were here, and judging one?
At any rate I’d like to know how he
Would say the word.

Chad

          Most often I pronounce—

Anna

Most often you pronounce. Can you define?

Chad

Well he defines it thus—

Anna

            Who cares for that?
He feints, he feigns. Where is your scholarship?
My dear befuddled mollycoddled friends,
Cease this game of ring-around-the-proses.
This is no jest, nor jape, nor escapade,
Except for him who waits (And who knows where?)
And creeps and rears and springs and snaps and—thwack!
No fun to be beheaded by Michel
Who judges one, as Kim so rightly says.
So read the French and Greek and English words
As never scholars read the words before:
And some must watch the windows; some, the door.

Vignesh

What for?

Eoghan

     Monsieur who bears a sword, of course!

Sam

All clear, no murd’ring misters at the door.
And now to crack the Frenchman’s wily code—

Chad

Well I’ll make use of etymology!

Kim

And I, rhetorical analysis.

Eoghan

I know a scholar woman in a wood,
Farouche and strange, who wrote her PhD
On rhetoric. Perhaps you two could speak?

Gina

Wait, what was that?

Anna

          What, what?

Ruby

               Oh, what was what?

David

All clear. You know, I think we ought to speak
Of Hegel.

Ruby

     David dear, you always do.

Gina

I think Descartes is what we must discuss.

Bérengère

You see this phrase? Cartesian. This one too.
I know my countrymen—perhaps too well.
This room’s so cold: you’re sure the window’s closed?

Alexa

All clear. No axemen Frenchmen entering here.

Kim

Oh stop it, do. Let’s talk of Stanley Fish,
Biography and bias, presidents,
And presidential candidates and things,
And problems of philosophy in Greece
In times ere Dualism and Descartes
Had worked their woeful work. Or Wittgenstein!
I really wouldn’t mind. Let’s even talk
Of Palin, Sarah Palin, anything
More cheerful than this waiting, watching fear.

Vignesh

A bunch of ninnies, that’s what you lot are.
This is the very painting of your fear!
The Frenchman’s dead; the doors are shut; calm down.
Really, sometimes—

David

         Oh God the page, the page!

Kim

Who’s that? Who’s that? The pronouns! Where’d they go?

Anna

Oh look at them, they creep, they rear, they rise!
Oh, your hand at the level of your eyes!

Chad

HE’S

Eoghan

    HERE

Ruby

       AH GOD

Bérengère

           AH GOD

Gina

                AH GOD

All

                     AH GOD.

 

                     Fin

TRUTHINESS

chad
today
Electric Text

“And what I wanted to show you was that if Greek philosophy has raised the question of truth from the point of view of the criteria for true statements and sound reasoning, this same Greek philosophy has also raised the problem of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity. It has raised questions like: Who is able to tell the truth? What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller? About what topics is it important to tell the truth? (About the world? About nature? About the city? About behavior? About man? ) What are the consequences of telling the truth? What are its anticipated positive effects for the city, for the city’s rulers, for the individual, etc.? And finally: what is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate? Are they separable, or do they require one another?”

Foucault, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia, [6] Concluding Remarks

Parrhesia and Frankness

“The word ‘parrhesia’ then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician’s own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.”

[1] The Meaning of the Word “Parrhesia”

Parrhesia and Truth

“It would be interesting to compare Greek parrhesia with the modern (Cartesian) conception of evidence. For since Descartes, the coincidence between belief and truth is obtained in a certain (mental) evidential experience. For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in his Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework.

If there is a kind of “proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes— is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes. If we raise the question of how we can know whether someone is a truth-teller, we raise two questions. First, how is it that we can know whether some particular individual is a truth-teller; and secondly, how is it that the alleged parrhesiastes can be certain that what he believes is, in fact, truth. The first question — recognizing someone as a parrhesiastes — was a very important one in Greco-Roman society, and, as we shall see, was explicitly raised and discussed by Plutarch, Galen, and others. The second skeptical question, however, is a particularly modern one, which, I believe, is foreign to the Greeks.”

Ibid.

“To summarize the foregoing, parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.”

Ibid.

 

“The personal account in some ways demands more of a reader than other forms of reportage, for he [sic] must read and then evaluate the author’s editorial commentary…A first person presence must be constantly evaluated by the reader.”

Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson, unpublished manuscript of The New Nonfiction

“This new form was grounded in a concrete setting and developed through the use of scene, dialogue, and point of view. The question-answer business was abandoned in favor of a less formal, more artistic presentation which was essentially a dramatization of fact in a technically-fictional framework.”

Tom Wolfe, “The New Interview,” unpublished manuscript

 

“21. Moore’s view really comes down to this: the concept ‘know’ is analogous to the concepts ‘believe,’ ‘surmise,’ ‘doubt,’ ‘be convinced’ in that the statement ‘I know…’ can’t be a mistake. And if that is so, then there can be an inference from such an utterance to the truth of an assertion. And here the form ‘I thought I knew’ is being overlooked.—But if this latter is inadmissible, then a mistake in the assertion must be logically impossible too. And Anyone who is acquainted with the language-game must realize this—an assurance from a reliable man that he knows cannot contribute anything.

“22. It would surely be remarkable if we had to believe the reliable person who says ‘I can’t be wrong’; or who says ‘I am not wrong’.

“24. The idealist’s question would be something like: ‘What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?’ (And to that the answer can’t be: I know that they exist.) But someone who asks such a question is overlooking the fact that a doubt about existence only works in a language-game. Hence, that we should first have to ask: what would such a doubt be like?, and don’t understand this straight off.

“30. When someone has made sure of something, he says: ‘Yes, the calculation is right’, but he did not infer that from his condition of certainty. One does not infer how things are from one’s own certainty. Certainty is as it were a tone of voice in which one declares how things are, but one does not infer from the tone of voice that one is justified.”

paragraphs from Wittgenstein, On Certainty

Response to Political Concepts

On Legitimacy or Maybe Opacity

David Sugarman

4/10/15

 

Ruby says: I want to answer Penelope’s question.
Anna says: Women! Homosexuals! The Disabled! Arabs!

List of people writing things down:

Berengere
Penelope
(Me)

People Not Writing:
Anna
Kim
Oliver
Eoghan
Chad
Nuri

Anna says: I want you to answer Penelope’s question.

Who is listening?
Eoghan has his arms crossed.
Gina is nodding.
Kim looks nervous?
Oliver, diligent.
Anna touches her lip.
Berengere’s hair is growing long—it looks nice!

Ruby read three books before she understood Glissant at age 4.

“Twinkling eyes.” Who said this? What was the context? Follow up.

Penelope says: This isn’t an actual comment.
Eoghan says: This might be stupid.
Are there more carrots? Have I had more than my fair share of bread?

Who has nodded thus far:
Eoghan
Kim
Gina
Anna
Chad

Sam has recently read Invisible Man.

[Enter Vignesh]: Hello everyone.

Anna says: That’s what I’m sort of starting to think about.
Chad says: That’s just me being useless.
Gina says: There’s nothing to uncover.

Ruby commends Eoghan’s comment on “the medial.” Eoghan responds: Mmhmm. Ruby says: Can you say more? I don’t think Eoghan can say more.

Nuri is now writing. Chad is writing. “There’s no colon!” someone says. “That’s interesting to me!” Have I had more than my fair share of bread?

 

 

Political Concepts: O p a c i t é

Ruby Lowe

Electric Text 8 April 2015

 

“Continual return is to exegesis as chaos is to disorder”

Anonymous (Twentieth Century)
Epigraph, Faulkner, Mississippi

 

Édouard Glissant Poetics of Relation (1990)

The opaque is not the obscure, though it is possible for it to be so and be accepted as such. It is that which cannot be reduced, which is the most perennial guarantee of participation and confluence. We are far from the opacities of Myth or Tragedy, whose obscurity was accompanied by exclusion and whose transparency aimed at “grasping.” In this version of understanding the verb to grasp contains the movement of hands that grab their surroundings and bring them back to themselves. (191-2)

The thought of opacity distracts me from absolute truths whose guardian I might believe myself to be. Far from cornering me within futility and inactivity, by making me sensitive to the limits of every method, it relativizes every possibility of every action within me. Whether this consists of spreading overarching general ideas or hanging on to the concrete, the law of facts, the precision of details, or sacrificing some apparently less important thing in the name of efficacy, the thought of opacity saves me from unequivocal courses and irreversible choices.

As far as my identity is concerned, I will take care of it myself. That is, I shall not allow it to become cornered in any essence; I shall also pay attention to not mixing ;it into any amalgam. Rather, it does not disturb me to accept that there are places where my identity is obscure to me, and the fact, that it amazes me does not mean I relinquish it. (192)

 

Jacques Derrida Monolingualism of the Other: Or, The Prosthesis of Origin, Paris/Baton Rouge (1998)

One more word to expatiate a bit. What I am sketching here is, above all, not the beginning of some autobiographical or anamnestic outline, nor even a timid essay toward an intellectual bildungsroman. Rather than an exposition of myself, it is an account of what will have placed an obstacle in the way of this auto-exposition for me. An account, therefore, of what will have exposed me to that obstacle and thrown me against it. Of a serious traffic accident about which I never cease thinking. … A Judeo-Franco-Maehrebian genealogy does not clarify everything, far from it. But could I explain anything without it. But could I explain anything without it, ever? No, nothing, nothing of what preoccupies me, what engages me, what keeps me in motion or in “communication,” nothing of what summons me sometimes across the silent time of interrupted communications, nothing, moreover, of what isolates me

in a kind of almost involuntary retreat, a desert that I sometimes have the illusion of “cultivating” by myself…. (69)

It is the monolanguage of the other. The of signifiers not so much property as provenance: language is for the other, coming from the other, the coming of the other. (68)

 

Édouard Glissant Faulkner, Mississippi (1996)

What is hidden makes us feel what is disclosed or revealed all the more strongly. ln Faulkner’s work, it is what “we don’t understand’’ that helps us approach the dark and luminous mass of what we think we have understood. (142)

The Faulknerian genius, occupied with deferring and at the same time revealing what torments the consciousness of Whites in the county, instinctively chooses to treat Blacks as if they had opaque, impetratable minds, even the most important Blacks in his works. (70)

True, it is said more than once (someone will repeat) that Whites are incapable of understanding Blacks. We do not hear the parallel implied that “Blacks are incapable of understanding Whites.” It is as if only the Whites feel the need to understand. (65)

Efforts to create descendants and a foundation are thwarted by two obstacles: opposition and refusal by the Blacks (the extended family) and the curse of the Whites (“the exasperated Hand”).

This is what Quentin Compson says about it: “The last. Candace’s daughter. Fatherless nine months before her birth, nameless at birth and already doomed to be unwed from the instant the dividing egg determined its sex.”

The people of the county who act against each other and against their opacity, only have themselves as their point of origin, and they leave no descendants. Through this, they refuse familial inheritanceand legitimacy, the indispensable base of every foundation. (126)

Legitimacy, the drama of its depletion, and the path of its restoration are the first principles of traditional tragic theater. This is because, in Western culture legitimacy guides the individual’s destiny and is the indistinct path linking a community to a Genesis, establishing it in its sovereign right. (128)

 

Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, Paris (1997)

For each identification (the creation or cobbling together of identity) creates a figure that provides a material for its investment by the market. There is nothing more captive, so far as commercial investment is concerned, nothing more amenable to the invention of new figures of monetary homogeneity, than a community and its territory or territories. The semblance of non-equivalence is required so that equivalence itself can constitute a process. What inexhaustible potential for mercantile investments is this upsurge — taking the form of communities demanding recognition and so-called cultural singularities — of women, homosexuals, the disabled, Arabs! And these infinite combinations of predictive traits, what a godsend! Black homosexuals, disabled Serbs, Catholic pedophiles, moderate Muslims, married priests, ecologist yuppies, the submissive unemployed, prematurely aged youth! Each time, a social image authorizes new products, specialized magazines, improved shopping malls, “free” radio stations, targeted advertising networks, and finally, heady “public debates” at peak viewing times. Deluze put it perfectly: capitalist deterritorialization requires a constant reterritorialization. Capital demands a permanent creation of subjective and territorial identities in order for its principle of movement to homogenize its space of action; identities, moreover, that demand anything but the right to be exposed in the same way as others to the uniform prerogatives of the market.

Response to Allusion

“My presentation is not about drugs,” Vignesh tells us. An allusion to Electric Text, an allusion to Kim. Electric text itself is an allusion I don’t understand, I realize. Allusion is a form of exclusion. Or so argues Freedgood. Vignesh begs to differ.

A summary.

19th century novels chastise readers, put them in their place. Mass literacy leads to havoc! (Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!) There is a right interpretation, and a wrong interpretation and (for some) “you just don’t get it.” Vignesh disagrees—it is via allusion that one learns about new things. Clytemnestra is as old as a vampire. Scholars are quick to see novels and poems as ways of reinforcing underlying barriers of education between the classes—and Vignesh disagrees: literature works to disrupt this structure. The presence of literature and fact that everyone is reading the same texts (because they have not yet figured out how to break up literary market) means that literature is the place to be looking to see if the coextension between class and education is not as coherent as we would think.

A conversation.

How allusion works, and how we get to use it. Allusion drives you elsewhere to look for meaning. The text sends you out on “intellectual errands,” as Anna puts it. Quite aptly, we all agree. But how do you know if this intellectual errand is a fool’s errand? If I send you all out to get apples, pears and κυκεών, am I just messing with you? Probably. Will you look it up? But if you do, does it matter? Probably not. I didn’t really mean anything by it, after all. And in Freedgood’s mind (or perhaps Victorian literature in general?) the author decides. So there. Well, unless you’re Phillip Roth. But I’m not. I have no Wikipedia page.

We talk about different genres. We see the exact opposite (of Freedgoodian knowledge exclusion), some colleagues point out, in high modern fiction. We assume that we will be looking stuff up and not getting it. Think Finnegan’s Wake. We can choose our own path through a text. “Choose your own ending.” In fact, choose your own beginning and middle, too. Poems are always obfuscatory. You always have to look things up. It is your challenge as reader to find the things out and bring them back to the text. “Intellectual errands” become a game of fetch.

This is a source of pleasure. Vignesh champions pleasure. We should be able to recover the pleasure in coming across something that we don’t understand. But no one leaves open the space to say anything other than that the novel chastises you for not knowing a thing, and you must humbly, meagerly crawl to it. This doesn’t leave open space for pleasures. Pleasures of instant recognition are overstated. There are other kinds of pleasures.

A response.

Pleasure, play, and errands. These terms of conversation dwell with me the most, I think. Allusion is inherently about play. From the post-classical Latin allusion-, allusio game—the verb being alludere (to frolic/play/sport around/with, play against, jest); closely related to the Latin ludere (to play, mock, tease, trick). What a great semantic playing field! Knowing is part of this play—“His Majesty smiling, said, I understand your allusion”—but not knowing is part of this play too. You need to have a ball to chase after. No fun just sitting there with the ball in your hands. Though I suppose it depends what kind of balls we’re talking about.

On that note, here’s a joke, from England’s Jests refined and improved being a choice collection of the merriest jest, smartest repartees, wittiest sayings, and most notable bulls, yet extant with many new ones never before printed by Humphrey Crouch (1687):

A scholar, being ask’d by a Porter for a Gentlemans Chamber in [Oxford] Colledg, he directed him thus, You must crncifie [sic] the Quadrangle, and ascend the Grades, and you will find him perambulating in his Cubicle, near the fenester. Pray Sir, says the Porter, what is that Fenester? It is, replies the scholar, the Diaphanous part of an edifice, erected for the Introduction of Illumination; which so amaz’d the Porter, that at first he did not know what to think, till recovering himself, he went and enquir’d of another, who have him plainer directions, in more intelligible terms.

Ha, ha! So, as I see it, you can laugh at the pompous scholar who speaks in obtuse allusions, and just go find someone else who will deal in terms you know. Or (why not!) you can also go out on the intellectual errand of crncifying the Quadrangle. Long live the pursuit of meaningful-meaningless words, terms, and ideas. Allusion to all, and to all a goodnight.

Allusion

      Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,—or from one of our elder poets,—in a paragraph of to-day’s newspaper.

——George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

 
      The word “that” in the first sentence of the novel immediately suggests restriction: not just any kind of beauty, not some kind of beauty left to the vagaries of the reader’s imagination, but a specific kind of beauty that, if the reader does not recognize it from the data in the first paragraph, will be explicated further in several of those that follow.

      […] In order to understand the kind of beauty that poor dress throws into relief, we have to imaginatively place Dorothea’s hand and wrist into the sleeves of the garment of the Blessed Virgin as she appears in Italian paintings. If we have never seen Italian paintings of the Virgin, we may be more than a bit stuck. Allusion performs a rhetorical and a social function here: it takes us to the right metaphor; it escorts us, as well, to the right sense of our own social and cultural place.

——Elaine Freedgood, Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel

 
      The gesture of allusion is shaped by a nostalgia for the lost event; the object serves only as a souvenir of our knowing. In allusiveness we seek to follow the trace of the event to its origin, an origin which eludes us. The impossibility of repetition precludes an authentic engagement with the text of the event. We move, therefore, from the authentic to the aesthetic. The impossibility of recapturing the point of origin produces a desire which is sublimated by a transformation of the self.

      […] the allusive relationship is a conjunctive one—the author cannot proceed without a mutual knowledge held with his readers regarding the referentiality of the text. In allusion, the indirectness of reference is used not to trick the reader so much as to signal to the reader that he is in on the trick.

      Thus every allusion, from “Brush up your Shakespeare” to Thackeray’s “Had Caroline read of Valancourt and Emily for nothing?” (A Shabby Genteel Story, Chapter V), is the articulation of a statement of membership.

——Susan Stewart, “The Pickpocket: a Study in Tradition and Allusion”

 
      She was thinking of a passage in that letter which George had written to her during his honeymoon—a passage in which he said: “My childish little wife is watching me as I write this—Ah! how I wish you could see her, Clara! Her eyes are as blue and as clear as the skies on a bright summer’s day, and her hair falls about her face like the pale golden halo you see round the head of a Madonna in an Italian picture.”

*******

      I am afraid the young man belonged to the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, for he had spent a most unconscionable time upon the accessories of this picture—upon my lady’s crispy ringlets and the heavy folds of her crimson velvet dress.

*******

      Yes, the painter must have been a pre-Raphaelite. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses of ringlets, with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait.

      It was so like, and yet so unlike. It was as if you had burned strange-colored fires before my lady’s face, and by their influence brought out new lines and new expressions never seen in it before. The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of coloring, were there; but I suppose the painter had copied quaint mediaeval monstrosities until his brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend.

      Her crimson dress, exaggerated like all the rest in this strange picture, hung about her in folds that looked like flames, her fair head peeping out of the lurid mass of color as if out of a raging furnace. Indeed the crimson dress, the sunshine on the face, the red gold gleaming in the yellow hair, the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips, the glowing colors of each accessory of the minutely painted background, all combined to render the first effect of the painting by no means an agreeable one.

——M. E. Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

 

Response to Drugs

On March 4, the Electric Text read two twentieth century American poets.

On April 4, a member smoked a joint, ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream, and wrote about it.

Fittingly, the session began distracted. A quote from Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking (2012) sent the group on an “intellectual errand.” How does one buy pot in a lid?* A quick trip to Urban Dictionary revealed that a “lid” of pot was “common terminology used in the 1960’s and 1970’s in the United States to describe approximately one ounce of marijuana.” Apparently, before a scale was typical pothead paraphernalia, a coffee can lid did for approximating—something akin to a dime bag.

The first piece was “Recuerdo” (1919) by Edna St. Vincent Millay and the second was Wallace Stevens’s “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” (1923). How might we think about these pieces together? And why would we want to think about them in relation to drugs?

The twentieth century scholars pointed out that Millay and Stevens aren’t really the “sort of modernists” that interest NYU’s English department, which tends to favor T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Frank O’Hara. More importantly, however, English scholarship in general just doesn’t seem to be invested in literature and drugs. Literature and sex, yes, but not drugs.

The first task became methodological, a question of fit. If, as Fisher reminds us, there is “a lid for every pot,” what type of academic project pairs with marijuana? There seemed to be a consensus among the group that it isn’t that we can’t write about drugs. It’s that something feels wrong about doing it.

A member then asked for clarification: Were we interested in drug taking as an analytical tool or an object of study? Poets like Allen Ginsberg, for instance, write openly about drug use and its effects on “the best minds of [their] generation,” and scholars have little difficulty discussing the historical use and effect of drugs (see Tanya Pollard’s Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England, Oxford University Press, 2005). But to seriously consider drug use as a creative if not productive research tool or question is something different, even if poems like “Recuerdo”** remind us of the ways a particular substance once unfolded our interiority and opened our senses to “seeing without limitation” the “importance of objects” in all of their “beautiful strangeness.”

Indeed, the suggestion of drug use as a methodology for the reading and writing of literature almost instantly incited the group to Romantic musings of ephemeral inspiration. Yet the subjective experience of drug use seems to pose an impossible barrier to a legitimate argument or discussion of/for/with it in the academy. The evening’s group leader discussed the difficulties encountered during one attempt to do just that, not the least of which was a feeling of compromised authority given the position from which one typically writes an academic essay. An argument that would take seriously “high” thoughts and experiences would, in some way, be expected to a) posit those thoughts and experiences as useful and not irresponsible and b) assert some “expertise” regarding those types of experiences, what would elsewhere be referred to as “street cred.”

 

Such concerns with expertise, authority, and control (characteristic of the paranoid academy) seem antithetical to theoretical inquiry about a mode of perception to which one “relinquishes control.” As one member pointed out, what we mean when we talk about a drug’s ability to key us into the “beautiful strangeness” of objects (apples, pears, and ferries and cigars, wenches, and ice cream) is similar to the kino-eyes (Kinoks) of early twentieth Russian film-making—“life caught unawares” by the eye of the camera—the reification, perhaps, of Emerson’s “transparent eyeball”: “I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God” (“Nature” 1836). Within a field that embraces, in so many ways, the deconstruction of identity and its relationship to the body, it does seem odd that, in the case of drug use, the taboo “presumes an authentic self” that can only ever be compromised by the very physical experience of taking “mind-altering” substances.

Must such experiences be sacrificed to the gods of professionalism?

Does it matter that I wasn’t high when I wrote this?

 

* “Anyway it worked because Charlie actually managed to marry twice, (probably someone with nursing ambition), which just goes to show that there’s a lid for every pot. Sometimes there are as many as nine lids for the same pot. Also when I was a teenager I could buy pot in lids. But I don’t think you can anymore… can you?” (44-45).

**Recuerdo, a souvenir, memory, or memento.

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