Sunday, March 28, 2010

Embracing a Field of Cocks as a Performative Mode

I have been unclear. I will try again.

About a decade ago Arielle noticed (as did I) a set of emerging tendencies in younger female poets who were very interested in using high artifice and formal exaggeration to unsettle gender norms, often by toying with the male gaze.

This is a very limited description, of course. The anthology itself is a larger description. The anthology is only one of many possible descriptions of the Gurlesque.

* * *

Amy, I think you and Ana have misunderstood what I initially meant by “embrace.” By embrace, I mean a very specific, physical embrace. The embrace of the cock. Of a field of cocks. As a performative mode.

One can do this whether one is queer or straight, as evidenced by the anthology.

That is certainly not all the Gurlesque is. But it’s kicking around in there pretty hard.

You have a problem with all the cock in the book. One can/should have a problem with it.

You were initially saying you felt there was no queer subjectivity in the book. Then you started claiming that there were no queers.

Given that there are queers, bis, and straights in the book, it makes me think you are missing a very specific performance of queer in the book. I think this is totally valid.

But I will say it again: my sense is that the Gurlesque is about queering heterosexuality.

My sense of this is intentionally provisional. I’m open to anything anyone else wants to say.

But our discussion also raises the question of who gets to call queer. Who can say what/who gets called queer and what does not. I personally find this a very rich and useful discussion. One that is long overdue, particularly in feminist circles.

Danielle’s comments about Brenda S. also raise the question of mobile sexuality, of people who sexually identify as one thing at one point in their lives and then later as something else. Who have morphed chronologically between one identity and another. Who may continue to morph. A number of such people are represented in the anthology.


* * *

Gurlesque is an inherently unstable term, and I have no interest in further stabilizing it or in defining who can and can be "in" it. It's not a movement. It’s a fraught nest of questions, even more than it’s a fraught nest of claims. Thanks, Amy and Ana, for bringing yours to the table.

16 Comments:

Blogger Aaron Apps said...

Great series of posts/comments. I enjoyed reading them.

I think queerness is important. I guess one can widen or shrink the term Gurlesque to be more inclusive or exclusive. From what I’ve read, I thought GIRL was important to it. Maybe it is a section of a larger movement that hasn’t fully emerged? That is, if it is going to expand out into the full spectrum and away from a form of subversive feminist kitsch? (That feels a bit overly reductive, but I hope it makes the point.)

I tend to think that queer is more interesting as an umbrella term for deviant acts as opposed to normative (they-self) acts (which is not the say that the deviant acts aren’t civic or democratic). This is a confrontation with “the other” as something queer. Queer, here, might need to be authentic in some way? Otherwise it would seem to risk stereotypical and reductive interactions with the other (Orientalism comes to mind).

The necessitation of self-definition in gender structures seems blasé in the always-already deviant spectrum of ‘experimental’ poetry. Queer as simply homosexual is normative. Even in the military we’re moving from “don’t ask, don’t tell” toward “don’t ask, don’t slap your penis on my face without permission.”

LGBT(QPIO…) varieties of queer seem most poignant since they have yet to be legislated. I get that. There is also the queer that a poor person is under in capitalism (this still seems like the most poignant queer to me). The queer of skin color (“…if you have a racist mind, you’ll be alright/ the president is black but his house is all white…” –Jay-Z). The queer of the foreign. The queer of disability. And so on. Certain things aren’t queer: The suburban. The white. The capitalist. The fascist.

All of these queer forces are important to consider. What is one supposed to make of this?!: http://entertainment.blogs.foxnews.com/files/2010/03/McGee.jpg …while this body wears its queerness openly, it also wears its stasis with equal vigor.

The same might be said of this: http://freshnessandabove.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/lil-wayne-gq-2.jpg
"He’s a beast. He’s a dog. He’s a mother fucking problem/ Okay, you’re a goon, but what’s a goon to a goblin?/ Nothin’. Nothin’. You ain’t scaring nothin’." --Lil' Wayne (whose lyrics are often homophobic but who is on the other hand deeply subversive and prophetic).

And to ‘stick’ with the problem of the penis—there is probably something queer about the penis in this epoch as this organ that is outside of the body. Sexual entrails. The penis as queer meat rather than as a measuring stick for male vigor. I think heterosexual men on the queer fringes of culture see that as well. And if the I/Eye is phallic, it is becoming queered too.

I think this makes a good example:
http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/794083148_7bMGq-L.jpg

I like it especially because it references Chat Roulette. There are all sorts of random images of penis (usually masturbating) on Chat Roulette—none of them do or mean much—they’re just another image among many others. Indeed, they’re on the least interesting end of the spectrum of encounters to be had on this media. The penis is just a mild-queer meat-spectacle here. The whole of the experience is a series of joyful and intimate encounters amid the post-human. It is what this is.

5:50 PM  
Blogger et said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

I've re-read your response again, Lara, and I still fail to see how it accounts for this statement of yours:

“Queer femme poets turn away from the pathology of the hetero. Gurlesque poets embrace the pathology."

That statement clearly indicates that there is no space for queer femmes in the gurlesque. But that was before your rhetoric changed once more.

Reactive, shifting rhetoric is not a conversation. I'd love to have one.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ana,

Though clumsily put (queer being way too general of a term), the way I interpreted that statement was that you guys defined queer poetry as that which does not include a cock, arguing that there wasn't enough non-cock poetry. This is in fact Lara trying to have a conversation with you.

You guys have been incredibly moralistic and, to my eyes, not particularly interested in having a "conversation". Mincing words, ceasing every opportunity to attack instead of trying to have a conversation: that's not going to lead anywhere interesting.

I really like both you and Amy, so I've been quite surprised at the vehemence of you arguing.

Experimental Poetry has gotten way too moralistic.

Also, you guys have "failed to account" for why not anybody - publicly identified as "queer" or not - can use queer theory to make sense of our culture. That's a crazy idea as far as I'm concerned. Afterall queer theory is largely concerned with heteronormativity and such. It's a very insightful way of reading culture.

Maybe I've misunderstood you in this regard.

Also, I've read you dismissing "the little girl" element of the gurlesque. This is perhaps the most interesting element of the gurlesque as far as I'm concerned, and the most radical. See Kate Durbin's manifesto for example, or Lara's Action, Yes essay on Aase Berg's guinea pigs.

I still think the best analysis of "gurlesque" was Joyelle's quip (over dinner with Lara G. and Dodie Bellamy) that the gurlesque is "the rejection of empowerment." I think it's this sensibility that has made it - an in particular the little girl aspect of it - the most provocative, most controversial "movement" since the inception of the Internet.

Of course, it's a quip that ties in with Lee Edelman's queer theory "No Future" book. So perhaps Joyelle - a member of "The Lesbian Avengers" at Harvard - is not allowed to use it.

Johannes

6:59 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

Ana, first off, you are misquoting me.

I said: "Queer poetics turn away from the pathology of the hetero, and that is a very excellent thing. Gurlesque poetics embrace and interrogate the pathology."

I assume someone who's queer can perform in either of these modes, Gurlesque or queer, both of which are available to them. The presence of queers and bis in the anthology is evidence of this.

Unlike you, perhaps, I do not assume a queer person can only perform in one mode.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Lara, no, I am quoting you verbatim. Please look at your first comment on this post:
http://exoskeleton-johannes.blogspot.com/2010/03/note-on-gurlesque-queering.html
This is what you say, verbatim:
Queer femme poets turn away from the pathology of the hetero. Gurlesque poets embrace the pathology.

I think this is what we are stumbling over. Johannes, as a friend, reads this statement more generously, as a 'clumsy attempt to have a conversation.' I must confess that as someone who could easily be identified as a 'femme queer poet,' I read that statement as exclusionary, and a reductive definition of what a queer femme poet can/does write. And it made me doubt that an attempt was made to include queers in the anthology. I took this statement at its word. I guess that's the 'mincing words/moralistic' part?

I don't know if a queer person/writer can operate in a non-queer mode. I'll have to think on that one. I tend to think that a queer writer always writes a queer poetics, + whatever other mode they layer on top of it. Like the gurlesque (?).

I've been pretty constructive in explaining what I thought gurlesque was/could do. I reveled in its inconsistencies and spasms. (See my comments in the post I link to above.) And I appreciate and value the girly (the sweater I'm currently wearing is sparkly.)

Johannes, I don't know if you've read Amy's & my latest posts - hers especially talks about what a queered-cock might look like in a poem (ie Tamiko Beyer's 'my fist a dick'). Queer poets 'owning' the queer cock is different from non-queer poets embracing the cock - that's why I think it's so important vocal queers be a part of this project. See also my post re who can or cannot use queer theory - I don't think I ever limit that possibility. (Esp. when it comes to Joyelle, whose poems and theoretical writing I've read with great interest and often re-posted, etc.)

"Gurlesque is a rejection of empowerment." That is something to think on. I can dig it like I can dig gays rejecting marriage as a faulty structure they shouldn't have to aspire to. Perhaps I will read this book again with this sensibility in mind. I'm not sure that makes the gurlesque
'the most provocative, most controversial "movement" since the inception of the Internet,' though.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ana,

Lara changed her entry; what's wrong with that? I read that as "poetics" when I first read it; or else it would be strange.

Yes, I think it's mincing, because I think the better way would be to approach Lara to clarify what she meant.

I haven't read your latest posts, but they sound interesting. That suggests that the anthology is doing some good work.

I think the gurlesque is by far the most controversial thing in poetry since the Internet. I have not come across anything so repeatedly policed and dismissed and so seldom actually engaged with. There are countless examples of this. While Conceptual Poetry gets spread in Poetry Magazine and Poets and Writers and have bloggers proclaim their controverisalness and avant-gardiness on the Harriet Blog, I see constant anxiety about the Gurlesque (even from friends and poets who have something to do with it). The proof is in the pudding.

Johannes

8:16 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Well, I did not read it as "poetics." I can't read minds. I read it as it read: "poets." And I did think it was strange and problematic. But still engaged Lara in that comment stream quite constructively.

Critique is not the same as policing, and I've done my best to engage in the former. If the Gurlesque aims to be all that it says (and that you say it is), it'll withstand & absorb critique quite nicely.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

What's the relation between Gurlesque and Flarf?

Are the two compatible?

Curious.

Is Nada Gordon Gurlesque?

11:00 AM  
Blogger et said...

Just chiming in to say I agree with Johannes here:


I think the gurlesque is by far the most controversial thing in poetry since the Internet. I have not come across anything so repeatedly policed and dismissed and so seldom actually engaged with.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

Kent, I think I am gurlesque, yes.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, it seems to me that Nada's poetry is gurlesque.

Johannes

12:33 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

OK, but this raises the question: Do the editors of the anthology think so, too? Since Gordon has for some time been one of *the most* prominent women poets practicing "on the edge" writing, why wasn't she included?

And if indeed she should have been, then might we start thinking of Flarf and Gurlesque as sharing a "space of affect," or purpose, that would put them within a similar tendency, so to speak?

I ask this, partly, because Johannes has expressed skepticism, to put it mildly, about Flarf in the past!

I think I'm asking something relevant here-- something within the spirit of the "unfolding definition" of Gurlesque that Lara Glenum refers to above, anyway...

6:34 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I think Nada's in the anthology.

I'm not sure how interesting this discussion is, Kent. Do you propose a taxonomic study of the two terms? That sounds tiring.

Johannes

6:51 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Oh, she IS? OK, sorry.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Yep, Nada's in the anthology, and quoted in one of the introductory essays.

And in a talk I am giving on girl culture, Gurlesque, demons & tulle, for which I wish I could channel Nada's creamy-dreamy-KITTY voice 'cause I cain't sing worth a lick!

I'm don't understand why gurlesque & flarf tactics wouldn't overlap in some practices, or why that would be controversial. I taught KSM & Chelsey Minnis back-to-back this semester. Funz. And well received!

9:43 AM  

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