Part II - MN, EQ, etc
First, to address a couple of the points that came up in the comments, so they don't get lost:
[Note from Mac: (Here's a bibliography for Elizabeth Grosz, by the way, for those of us less familiar with modern feminist critical theory and philosophy than Eileen.) If you're interested, here's an essay available online: "Sexual Difference and the Problem of Essentialism."]
Okay -- from the comment: I think you will see that I am: first, arguing that "queer" can never divorce itself from "woman," which will always--on a cultural level, anyway--be the foundation of "queer" [in the eyes of, say, the most hetero-normative communities]; and second, arguing, mainly following Elizabeth Grosz [a feminist, I might add] that, evolutionary-biological-wise, we are, all of us "hetero-queer"
Right -- that's all well and good, as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn't go far enough. So let's push the idea a bit, eh? The idea that the concept of queer cannot be divorced from the perception of woman, and therefore fear of queerness = misogyny, has been around very nearly as long as I've been alive, at least. It goes in sort of chicken-and-egg circles, though, unless you can introduce something new into the equation.
To find something new there, we're going to have to make some extrapolations, and maybe even a leap or two. That is, we have to get to the "So what?" part and apply the raw idea in a way that it has relevance. We can do that. And maybe we can do that without the academic-speak wanking that mostly just serves, frankly, to obfuscate the discussion.
Eileen points out that one way to push the idea is to assert, as feminist Elizabeth Grosz does, the "hetero-queer" spectrum "produced through endlessly transmogrifying yet partially dimorphically fixed chains of sexual difference" which is a start -- but not all that helpful, honestly, in terms of defending the relevance of the assertion that "queer" cannot be divorced from "woman."
I would assert, by way of explanation, that while queer = other, and woman = other -- and indeed the two are therefore inextricably related -- both concepts function as facets of sexuality, and sexual otherness. That is, this is all rather bigger than academic feminism. This is art and life -- or more specifically, in terms of literature, it's all about sex and death. This is where squick and squee live, and like the Jungian shadow-self we touched on with Ishmael and Queequeg, there's no getting away from it. Which, I think, is what Eileen Joy and Eizabeth Grosz are both getting at (just neither quickly nor directly enough to suit my own impatient nature.)
To put it plainly, and then work backwards: This all strongly suggests that we are all other.
Grosz said in an interview:
. . . the thing is that acts don’t have an "other." Only Subjects have an "other," and in a way, that’s partly the advantage of the Deleuzean model over the Hegelianism or psychoanalysis, in which there can’t be a self without an "other." Therefore the "other" has a peculiar control over the subject and the subject has to negotiate with the other as its compromise for existing in a world peopled by others. The beauty of Deleuze’s model is that it’s not clear that we need an "other" and, if there is one, we have no capacity to master this "other."To restate: "The beauty of Deleuze’s model is that it’s not clear that we need an 'other' and, if there is one, we have no capacity to master this 'other.'"
The tension around mastering the other has worn a lot of different faces, as long as humans have been writing stories down. Ultimately, the way this plays out in our literature is that part that's most interesting to me, because it's reflective of the way we've thought about it all, and how the way we talk about it, and write about it, is changing and evolving.
I rather think Grosz states it upside down. It's not that there is no other. It's that there is no us.
The fear and tension and need to master other is about seeing ourselves "through a glass darkly" and the inherent terror of that confrontation. To be other is to be inarguably outside the bounds of the safety of community acceptance -- whatever that community may be.
That is, other is all about sex and death. For our purposes, other is how we examine and define our squick and squee.
(And here I'm going to crib shamelessly from myself. You can find the original posts here, and here -- but here's the part pertaining to this discussion:)
Aristotle asserted in The Poetics, "Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies." (IV)
That's about squick. It's important. It's also a complex concept. Exciting and engaging stories can find my squick button, without actually pushing my face in it--it's related to the Blair Witch Project phenomenon, whereby that which is unseen is so much scarier and ickier than anything seen clearly--but you can't help looking anyway.
There are ancient human aversions as powerful today as ever--fiction gives us a tool to examine those hot-buttons, safely. So Aristotle is pretty clearly onto something real when he talks about catharsis--even though the word itself isn't present in The Poetics:
|Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes Place. This is the |
impression we should receive from hearing the story of the Oedipus. But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle is a less artistic method, and dependent on extraneous aids. Those who employ spectacular means to create a sense not of the terrible but only of the monstrous, are strangers to the purpose of Tragedy; for we must not demand of Tragedy any and every kind of pleasure, but only that which is
proper to it. And since the pleasure which the poet should afford is that which comes from pity and fear through imitation, it is evident that this quality must be impressed upon the incidents.
Aristotle talked about catharsis in terms of music, in Politics, so we know he thought about it. The etymology of the word says a lot about how he thinks this all works: "catharsis from Gk. katharsis "purging, cleansing," from kathairein "to purify, purge," from katharsos "pure."
From a decent essay about the Poetics:
|The word catharsis drops out of the Poetics because the word wonder, to rhaumaston, replaces it, first in chapter 9, where Aristotle argues that pity and fear arise most of all where wonder does, and finally in chapters 24 and 25, where he singles out wonder as the aim of the poetic art itself, into which the aim of tragedy in particular merges. Ask yourself how you feel at the end of a tragedy. You have witnessed horrible things and felt painful feelings, but the mark of tragedy is that it brings you out the other side. Aristotle's use of the word catharsis is not a technical reference to purgation or purification but a beautiful metaphor for the peculiar tragic pleasure, the feeling of being washed or cleansed.|
This section the Poetics is particularly relevant in terms of squick and squee buttons. In fiction, for instance, a successful piece of writing can find your squick button and make you like it -- because it's ultimately about human truth: we're attracted and repelled by the blood mingled with rain on the pavement and the flashing lights from the emergency vehicles, because "oh my god that could be me..." but then, to push it even a step further, "and what is that thing crouched in the driver's seat . . ? And is it eating . . . ohmygod it is!"
That's the "pity and fear" part of the reader/writer exchange -- empathy and identification.
When a written work gives that to us, it's enormously gratifying. We can try out these emotions in a safe context, and we understand ourselves and the world all the better for it.
Let's return to this quote from The Poetics: "Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated." (IV)
Aristotle takes as given the concept of art imitating life, or mimesis, and the Poetics is primarily preoccupied with the mechanics of how that works, and how a poem or song or play or painting is made--and what constitutes success. And if indeed, poetry (or fiction, now, since we've broadened our understanding of story) is about imitating life, then it very much is a process of discovery, right?
Because at its very best, a story says something true. Or rather, more accurately, something True. That truth is already existent and external to the not-yet-created text. It just is. That means it's got to be something intrinsic to human experience -- something we all can know, and acknowledge, and can understand--even if it's at first unfamiliar. At some point, we should recognize, "Ah, yes. I know this truth. This is exactly how it really is."
Because the truth the story or poem tells to us is already there. It exists, with or without the frame of the words and the story. The more perfectly framed and expressed, though, the better the imitation. The more perfect the picture not just of the world inside the story, that is, not just the constructed details of economics and clothing and characters and landscape--but of something much more abstract and important, something humanly True--the more perfect that word-picture, the more accessible the underlying and informing reality becomes.
That brings us to Kip's comment:
kiplet said...There are a couple of things I want to specifically address in what Kip is saying. I suspect he's very smartly seen immediately where this is all headed -- but he brings up a couple of questions.
But: the Magical Negro isn’t always about the good and dead equation. There’s also something of an apology there (a self-serving apology), and something of an excuse or justification (though pathetic tea at both): see? They do have power! Though it’s power that doesn’t work so well in our dominant context of lawyers, guns, and money. (Perhaps because it’s so earthy and rhythmic . . .)Why is it, though, that the Magical Negro doesn't ever survive the end of the story, then? The trope character pretty reliably either dies (Mother Abigail from The Stand) or else vanishes as mysteriously as s/he arrived.
So, no. I don't think it's actually changed that much. I think it's just trying to burrow underground, out of the light of social and cultural change.
Perhaps because the sexual other has always been found, even within one’s tribe, but the ability to have and hold a racial other, closely enough that its implicit threat must be subsumed but not obliterated, is with isolated exceptions a much more modern phenomenon?
Actually, I'd assert that racial other is essentially about sexual other. And I think Kip pretty clearly knows that. Let's look again at his sentence from the last point, " . . . see? They do have power! Though it’s power that doesn’t work so well in our dominant context of lawyers, guns, and money. (Perhaps because it’s so earthy and rhythmic . . .)"
Errr, well yes. All that "earthy, rhythmic" stuff is terrifying unless you have a really big gun with which to compensate.
In terms of examining other, then, we've been constructing stories from the beginning of storytelling to explain and examine the threat to our communities from Outside. That threat is specifically sexual in nature. That's how other works our squick buttons and our squee buttons at the same time, and why we just can't put it down.
In part IV, we'll finally leave off all the introducing of ideas, and take this to some of those stories themselves, as illustration of what we've been talking about so far. Magic is very queer stuff indeed, and always has been, in pretty much every sense of the word.