i’ve been thinking about performativity and what that could mean existentially. by performativity, i do not mean the ways in which we imitate or mime certain roles that society imposes upon us such as acting out or reproducing masculine values or 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 a man. but are we so sure? clearly we see 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 on the inside, 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? answer: undecidable. and that’s the point to the performance, to render normative assumptions problematic. to subvert and interminably delay objectification, categorization, socialization and petrification.
(isn’t the figure of christ precisely this ‘drag queen’? 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 thereby language’s phallic systematic hegemony.
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 masculine culture 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, 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. 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? 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 or 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 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, 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, 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. 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. 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. is it not the embodiment of a divine performance that was meant to deconstruct a prevailing symbolic 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.
to be continued…