nearly every culture has its phallic myth upon which a civilization is founded and sustained. a civilization that valorizes imaginary phallic ideals of symbolic representation over and against what is other to it, which in this case is the public representation of feminine sexuality. these phallic myths are never negated nor overcome, but unconsciously re-incorporated and appropriated over time that reveals a nihilistic repetition of the phallic same (here’s looking at you ‘christianity’). in the west we have plato and the greeks, and in japan…they have steel penises. and the video below simply makes all the more evident how sexual indifference and a prevailing symbolic order continues to condition and inform governance, law and politics.
i’ve been thinking about performativity and what that could mean existentially. by performativity, i dont mean the ways in which we imitate or mime certain roles that society imposes upon us such as acting out or reproducing masculine-heteronormative values. by performativity, i mean the embodied re-enactments which parody and thereby challenge and problematize normative assumptions. a prime example is the drag queen. where a man takes on the appearance of a woman. we see the outer performance of femininity but the body underneath the fabrication is male. but are we so sure? what we see is the representation of a woman, but clearly it is not, for it is a man dressed as a woman. and yet, the man who is compelled to dress as a woman may appear as a man insofar as his body visually refers to masculine biology, but ‘inside’ (whether emotionally or psychically), he is a woman- meaning, this man identifies with femininity. so we have a paradox or tension of two separate dichotomies. the man dressed as a woman and the woman embodied as a man. so which is it? preliminary answer: undecidable. at least for the one that stands outside the performance. and that’s the point to the performance, to render normative assumptions problematic. to subvert and interminably delay objectification, categorization, socialization and petrification.
(would not this impossible hermeneutic of the ‘drag queen’ open up an entirely new horizon against which one could understand the person of christ? of performativity par excellence perhaps? the same paradox and question can be posed when inquiring about the nature of this god-man. is it the god embodied as a human or the human clothed as god? i suspend these thoughts for now)
the question that i raise is: to what extent can performance be resistance, and to what extent self-deception? without a doubt the performance can call into question socio-political norms that have been petrified (all my references to petrification are allusions to the stone tables of the mosaic law, the divine, frozen in stone, cold and dead), like male heteronormativity, and privilege certain bodies over and against others. violence is always violence against the body. more specifically, against one’s own body. violence against another is violence against one’s own body. while it is not within the scope of this post to spell out just what the intimate relation between violence and the body is, i’ll simply say that at the root of violence is a primordial sado-masochism that is the result of our being disembodied the moment we enter into language (it might help to read this). performativity challenges such violence against the body by projecting a counter-body, one that doesn’t conform to norms and that dissimulates the prevailing linguistic order and sexual-symbolic representation.
however, part of me is not so sold on the efficacy of performativity just yet. when i consider dressing in drag, the question that arises is: why? sure, dressing as a woman while i give a public presentation on masculine totalitarianism may be comic, ironic, subversive and all (which is also why it is frustrating how comedies are never nominated for best picture) but wouldnt dressing in drag just as equally mask over the fact that i’m…for the sake of argument, ‘chinese’? but of course, neither am i just simply chinese either. the platitude ‘just be yourself’ comes to mind…and i mean to appropriate it not in a way where being oneself is simply being however culture has conditioned one to behave, but a being-yourself in the authentic sense, prior to colonization by capitalistic forces, prior to the identification with phallic language. indeed, not so easy when ‘yourself’ is written over by said culture. however, when that self is other than what is normative, things get interesting.
being chinese, or more generally being asian, in non-asian contexts is all too often associated with passivity, which is also associated with femininity in contrast to masculine aggressivity. in regards to the passivity mentioned in the jeremy lin message above, it’s not passivity.. only the appearance of it. for one, passivity, is a desire to listen before speaking. it can also be respect or reverence or hospitality. sure there’s pros and cons depending on situations. but within a masculine context, passivity will always represent a certain ‘lack’ or absence of a phallic signifier. but we should not be so quick to equate passivity with deficit, for it is only in the mode of passivity that we can ever come to know an Other or hear a Call. one cannot speak oneself into existence. prior to our self-assumption to the nominative position, we were given into existence by a dative, by a vocative- by being in the mode of passivity. which problematizes performance if performance is always an active phenomenon. can performance be passive? in a way that subverts auto-aggressive tendencies in capitalistic logic? that undermines the aggressivity of the masculine symbolic in general?
to a certain extent i can identify with this experience of being-passive. from what i’ve gathered so far, it seems like philosophy is not all that different from the normal working world where being aggressive goes a long way in networking, upward mobility, gaining social capital, etcetc. the thing is, for me, i cant do that performance and think or be creative at the same time. i cant force myself to be aggressive and simultaneously do philosophy. at least not honest philosophy..or work of a certain academic quality. i ‘lack’ a certain phallic quality that could be recognized and accepted as ‘good’ and ‘philosophy’. so does that mean there’s no future for me in this? unless i embrace a prevailing symbolic order? unless i embrace masculinity and violence against my own body, further disembodying myself? to what extent should i bracket myself and just embrace the act? these, the questions for any feminist academic. but this wouldnt be performativity anymore, it would not be resistance anymore than it’d be compliance. what the hell is performativity other than a form of resistance for the normal against the normal? performativity for minorities would be contrary to the point. but in regards to ‘becoming-minority’ (to borrow from deleuze, sorry for the name-drop) i’m struggling to see the point, if the point is for some of us to just be ourselves when being ourselves sustains the status quo and not being ourselves masks over who we are thus also…sustaining the status quo, the prevailing symbolic order.
in a world that reduces all images to the mirror-likeness reflected on our computer screens…what form of resistance is really possible anymore? form or fluidity? when drag queens are no longer shocking. when war is no longer shocking. when nothing is shocking anymore. at least… not when these are mediated via mirrors and screens. or stone tablets. or even the myth of a pre-reflective consciousness. what does it mean to have a body marked up and down by what is deeply personal/private? and is its representation in the public/political possible without simply being reduced to the phallic-same, reduced in reference to the masculine? are we so transitivistic that we need to wage war against our own bodies just to feel..what is searing to the touch, the other’s objectivizing gaze? for a brief second i had pinned some hopes on the concept of performativity. or problematicity. before realizing these were just empty conceptual veils reduplicating the minoritized experience for a majority. perhaps thats stating it rather crudely. and its always too early to abandon any idea. but seeing this ‘jeremy lin is a joke’ post triggered a dose of hyperreality for me. he IS passive. as am i. always as such relative to big brOther. who takes up the law of the father to repress the m/other. so now what? withdrawl? make war for signification? for an impossible equal representation? are we back at hegel and economy? is it really all just about an either/or of.. either master signifier or state of nature? either we assimilate ourselves into masculine/capitalistic logic or we descend into an anarchic war of all against all? is there no way out of this oedipal matrix?
relative to big brOther- for example, the capitalistic logic of the modern welfare state that imposes its normative values upon civil society- there can be no possibility of intersubjectivity, of any notion of ‘equal’ representation. the best we can hope for is difference in representation. a difference that is absent from washington. the left and right speak the same language- the language of the phallic-same- and reference the same symbolic order- that of economy. what performance then, can subvert, challenge or call into question in a public/political space this logic of the same? if we return to the dissimulating phenomenon of the drag queen, we realize that this figure is irreducible to any one category, indeed for this figure there can be no form of representation or re-presentation for the drag queen is herself already a re-presentation, an embodied representation. distinct from phallic representation that requires an object posited at a distance, the drag queen’s representation is one that is not spatially defined but immanently constituted. she is, insofar as she references her own bodily tension. and it’s important to remember here that perhaps what is at the root of human self-awakening is the realization that one’s bodily existence has been shackled and imprisoned, that it’s not until we feel our very own bodies confined and restricted that we begin to struggle against ‘evil’. it is embodiment that is at issue. the drag queen establishes her own counterpublic, her own party of governance in her performance and draws all queers together in resistance to the prevailing phallic regimes of power. precisely because of the outrage that one’s sex and one’s body can be regulated by some moral/political/phallic law. the drag queen- an undecidable performance that undermines preconceived categories of man/woman, straight/gay (however, the same performativity is also found in the maternal figure, she who is in space but also carries space within her body. but perhaps this is a topic better suited for another post when i write about architecture more explicitly).
but of course, when i speak of the drag queen, of resistance against a logic of capitalism that imposes petrified cultural norms upon everyone thereby reducing difference to the same, essentially rendering democracy a relationship between the government and itself as opposed to with the people…when i speak of these things is it not the figure of christ, the paradox of the ineffable with the embodied, that queers, indeed, queries, calls into question, calls into queeriness all of the above assumptions? if we re-read all i’ve written up to this point, have i not problematized the naive and superficial christian ideology of a personal relationship, not with christ, but with one’s self? christianity should never find itself so comfortable and normative with itself. it should always feel a bit queer, if not overwhelmingly so. if performativity seems self-defeating it is only when there is no more mystery left to keep private, keep secret, keep elusive to the phallic gaze. was it not the embodiment of a divine performance some two thousand years ago that was meant to deconstruct a prevailing symbolic (mosaic) order and reconstruct one anew? but our fatal mistake was in thinking christ a man. thus neutered. by assimilation, incorporation, and sublation into the very masculine economy s/he was meant to overcome. indeed, did we not crucify him/her? repetition of an oedipal drama? violence against the body that embodied the divine performance simply because we could not understand the performance? its hidden femininity? its inversion of space? of public space? political space? and architecture? of fluidity over form? an archi-texture? the first-material, the maternal fluidity? but ‘G_D’ had promised never to hit the reset button via another flood. indeed, this is what christ would have unveiled, another, perhaps final flood. the inversion of masculine form by feminine fluidity. of the external by the internal. death and rebirth by fluidity. not form. but we murdered him, and called it a sacrifice. thus the primary myth of sacrifice that represses a more primordial sacrifice- that of the mother. the closing of the womb. thus barred from rebirth, man must settle for death.
that last paragraph could be fleshed out into another thesis entirely. or two or three. there’s a lot of packed symbolic references that i have not explained. the point is, yet again, that sexual indifference, or the indifference towards sexual difference, represents for me, the end of human freedom, is the banner of nihilsm’s reign under which we’ve been living since time immemorial.
to be continued…
in 1967 the u.s. supreme court ruled to deport clive boutilier, a canadian, on the basis of his being homosexual. the decision was based on the immigration and nationality act of 1952 that stated “aliens afflicted with psychopathic personality…shall be excludable from admission into the united states.” the legislative history of this act reflected how congress interpreted ‘psychopathic’ to include homosexuality, an interpretation informed by psychiatry and the DSM-II (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, kinda like the bible of psychiatry).
now, the assumption might be that if homosexuality was included as a pathology in scientific literature by medical professionals then there’d be nothing more to argue. but this would be naive. for the medical sciences and health industries are far from being objective. in fact, by designating homosexuality as a mental illness psychiatry simply mirrored the values of a homophobic society interested in maintaining a certain status quo, imposing conformity upon society. for even if a majority of homosexuals turned out to be afflicted with mental illness, it would not necessarily follow that their being mentally ill was a result of their being homosexual, rather it would be just as plausible that their being mentally ill were actually caused by the oppressive forces of a homophobic world. their pathology would not be anymore due to intrinsic causes than extrinsic ones. and if intrinsic, the cause of pathology would be indifferent to sexual orientation, just as readily discovered in heterosexuals as in homosexuals.
the point of this post is not to defend homosexuality per se, rather the issue i’m trying to get at is that what people naively believe to be truisms are nearly always manufactured by society. they think they come to their ideas and beliefs by themselves through rational thought when in actuality they were coerced and pre-programmed to think along certain party lines. all this is just another example of how many of people’s values and beliefs are socially constructed and politically coerced. an example of how lobby groups and corporate interests manufacture public and political policies, in turn shaping societal norms and values. it is naive to believe that anyone can be invulnerable to such impositions, that one has shaped one’s own destiny in life of one’s own free will, and nihilistic to believe that such deception doesn’t warrant an active resistance against such evil and a transformation of how we live our lives or engage with our world. in an interview, robert spitzer, a psychiatrist acting as a consultant to the DSM-II, revealed how diseases became categorized as such not so much due to scientific facts but due to political coercion. when asked about how new diseases were included into the DSM:
and the scary result of such political coercion that is dismissive of diversity, and that only embraces its self-interests that reflects the dissolution of the democratic process, is that it produces morons like this guy (below) and many others like him who go around duping that part of the masses who are too lazy or disinterested to figure out for themselves the meaning to things. and we haven’t even begun to discuss how the online medium of communication only exacerbates and spreads such nihilism. although the DSM has since taken homosexuality off its manual of disorders, there are still morons who keep its seedy legacy alive. below is a comment that some poster left on this youtube video, to which i replied:
its been four decades since such gender issues were stricken from the DSM and yet, here we still are today feeling the effects of past lobbyists and regimes of the nihilistic status quo or the phallic discourse of the same…a repetition of the same, a return to the same. the violence of metaphysics has lasting temporal effects. meaning, the dogmatic adherence to apparent truths necessarily marginalizes, objectifies and does violence against those who fall outside the purview of such illusory and politically manufactured truths. but these ideas seep into consciousness and are petrified there as belief. set into stone. setting Others in stone. and so its our task to continue to break such stone tablets at the foot of mountains that write in fire.