Friday, March 26, 2010

Note on the Gurlesque: Queering heterosexuality

The scope of the Gurlesque anthology is, as several people have suggested, quite focused. It is not meant to take account of all modes of gender performance or to suggest that one mode is in any way more vital than others.

For me, the Gurlesque is a fairly specific aesthetic sensibility, and the poetry in the anthology is illustrative of this sensibility.

I have previously referred to the Gurlesque as queering heterosexuality. The anthology is trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.

The Gurlesque is as much indebted to queer theory and culture as it is to subaltern studies and the historical avant-garde (and the book is framed as such).

Gurlesque poets subvert gender stereotypes by performing them, but this tactic is nothing new. Many subaltern groups have done exactly this. What is perhaps new, though, is the emergence of an aesthetic sensibility that suggests an alternative way of performing gender, one that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.

Lady Gaga, of course, is Gurlesque.

17 Comments:

Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Johannes, lady Gaga does indeed do what you suggest:

"The anthology is trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual."

But if that's really the goal of this anthology, then the anthology doesn't reach it. It reads as hetero performance. To put it bluntly, lady Gaga makes out with girls and boys equally; the 'gurls' performing in this anthology mostly make out with boys. Including more queer poets, at the very least those performing the queer femme, might have brought the book closer to its goal as you posit it. Amy has recently posted on this, as I'm sure you know:

http://amyking.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/my-visceral-thought/

10:35 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Also, it seems to me that "queering heterosexuality" and "trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual" are two different projects. The anthology may possibly succeed at the first, but I still don't think it succeeds at the second.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Oh -- sorry Johannes. I thought you posted this. Hi, Lara! My comments above should be addressed to you.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I have my own ideas about queer-ing. It's actually largely connecting with my ideas of the immigrant is kitsch and the violence that ensues. And the essay about The Shinig is largely about Lee Edelman's "No Future: Queerness and the Death Drive."

Johannes

12:34 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ana and Lara,

I read this again. I think Ana is right about "new category." I mean, I don't want a new category of identity. Enough of those.

I think Lara is right about the first part of the definition: the aesthetic is about "queering" gender roles. Not by mixing hetero and homo poets (I have no idea who's what), but through - as Lara says - a very specific aesthetic.

This specific queering aesthetic has a lot to do - in my mind at least, but I have been told I'm wrong by a lot of people - with inducing spasms (as in the Gaga video) and a kind of act of exaggeration, amplificiation that has a lot in common to my mind with Deleuze and Guattari's notion of "minor literature", taking certain features and blowing them up. Not, as noted in the comment field to my Gaga post, "parody" exactly,but certainly not entirely divorced from parody.

I plan to write more about this (how Aase Berg and Judy Grahn rework Plath, how Gaga reworks Tarantino, how Lynch reworks The Shining etc). And I think that it's important to note that this reworking is not parody exactly. The gurlesque poets seem to queer up a certain kind of kitschy femininity: but they don't parody it. That would be boring. I think Lara loves/relishes (in a perverse way) manuals for behaving like a southern belle and pearls and dance steps. It's not a rejection of this but an amplification of some kind, a spasmatic performance of this original "gender text." Maybe a perversion or inversion (in teh Victorian sense) rather than a subversion.

Johannes

1:15 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Hey, y'all,

I agree, Ana; those read like two different projects to me, too. The first one, the one that queers heterosexuality is the one that's most resonant for me. It's also one that Lara's own work does beautifully!

Also, Danielle-the-broken-record proclaims: MOST IMPORTANT to gurlesque is the amplification of a particular variety of gender performance. The 'girl' performance. A queered masculine heterosexuality (gak terminology!) does not a gurlesque make.

I agree with Johannes, too, that it's not about parodying. It's, too my thinking, more about the pathological ecstasy of the 'girl' performance. And, perhaps that's what drives it toward the hetero? The pathological element? Because to perform girl via queer sexuality--wouldn't that be much more about casting off the damaging pathology? Rejecting the pathology? Finding the pathology dull?

That's mostly what I'm saying over at Amy's blog, too. Yakkety-yakkety.

I'm totally having spasms of girlhood.

xoxo,
D

3:01 PM  
Blogger Gene Tanta said...

Hi, Johannes: I think I found a way into your text here, where you mention “a very specific aesthetic” because I’m interested in the humanist dream of precision (and how it relates to the duties and the sickening arrogance of the professional specialist). But maybe you don’t mean “specific” in a dissecting and cataloging sort of way? How do you mean "specific"?

What E.B. White says of humor might also go for the performative: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Not that I'm against details or care giving to texts! I'm not: it's just that details bring up intentionality and that opens the door to ...

He also said: “Be obscure clearly.” Whatever that means~

Getting into this blogging thing,
Gene

3:07 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

I stand by the core of what I've said, though: the Gurlesque is about queering heterosexuality via a very specific set of aesthetic strategies. It's an engagement with the male gaze. There's no question about that.

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

4:12 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I think "specific aesthetic strategy" is key - it's not all queerings.

J

5:00 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Danielle,

I have to tell you that I'm pretty bored by attempts to limit off what the gurlesque is supposed to be or not be. If it can include boys or clowns or gremlins. I just don't find it interesting to stabilize it like that.

Johannes

5:21 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Hey, I'm typing this on my phone, more later. Anyway, I too felt (from reading Lara's & Johannes's post on g'esque quite extensively) that the project of the gurlesque was not only exploding heteropathology, as so many of it references are queer /q-friendly: Lady Gaga, Judith Butler, Riot Grrls- and I was disappointed the poets in the anthology didn't reflect that scope. I want to read the gurlesque of monkeys, martians, and queers. Tbc...hope all are enjoying the night.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Well, it's interesting to me. But if you want it to spin out exponentially into something bigger, or something you do, or whatev, go for it. I've got my bag, you get yours.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Johannes --

But at the same time, what is more destabilizing than production of a fear that one "cannot be a part of" something, because it is constructed from the outset to be its own kind of cultural foreignness? Isn't that part of what gives it political power, that it can't just absorb everything and everyone like a giant sponge?

11:43 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Sorry about phone-grammar above, I lost some s's - 'post' should be 'posts' & 'it references' should be 'its references.'

Anyway, as I read you all essentially figuring out Gurlesque in situ, I'm hearing contradictions, and I'm excited about those contradictions -- they are a lot of what initially attracted me to gurlesque. Here's a mashup of some of these contradictions:
~
-I have previously referred to the Gurlesque as queering heterosexuality.

-The anthology is trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.

-For me, the Gurlesque is a fairly specific aesthetic sensibility.

-...the aesthetic is about "queering" gender roles. Not by mixing hetero and homo poets (I have no idea who's what), but through - as Lara says - a very specific aesthetic.

-MOST IMPORTANT to gurlesque is the amplification of a particular variety of gender performance. The 'girl' performance. A queered masculine heterosexuality (gak terminology!) does not a gurlesque make.

-It's an engagement with the male gaze. ... Queer femme poets turn away from the pathology of the hetero. Gurlesque poets embrace the pathology.

-I have to tell you that I'm pretty bored by attempts to limit off what the gurlesque is supposed to be or not be. If it can include boys or clowns or gremlins. I just don't find it interesting to stabilize it like that.
~
Before saying why I find some of these contradictions so exciting, I want to address one that does bother me. Saying that queer femme poets turn away from the pathology of the hetero is reductive. Men are not the only wielders of the male gaze (see Laura Mulvey). Butch/femme & trans are all about queering the hetero binary (thus: they're queers), often by exaggerating and aping and owning in a way that to me is distinctively gurlesque. Queers deal with hetero pathology all the time and in many different ways. Saying no queer femme (and how about a queen?) embraces/amplifies the pathological aspect of the hetero binary -- well, you're kind of saying, queers can't queer in this specific way I'm interested in. Tres reductive. And just not true. Just watch the "Telephone" video and witness.

Yes, especially if you take Lady Gaga as a patron saint, it should be obvious that the exclusion of "true blue queers" from gurlesque is unnecessary -- Gaga herself is pretty queer and features queers in her work all the time. Yet, as you say, she's gurlesque. The moment of gender rupture in "Telephone" happens as soon as Gaga's stripped by butch guards & her blurred privates are (not) on display, and she makes out with Heather Cassils, the queer performance artist. I don't think Gurlesque the anthology is Lady Gaga yet. There are no blurred genitalia in this anthology, not really. And, very importantly, there is no Heather Cassils in this anthology. Again, for a book whose theory draws so fruitfully on the queer (Butler, Riot Grrrl, Gaga, the very term Gurlesque which was used for years - a decade? - & is still used by lesbian burlesque acts, as the almighty google tells us), not making an effort to include queer poets because you a priori theorize them out of your "specific aesthetic" (that's totally inspired by the queer!) is paradoxical. I really do think this anthology could have included queers, men, and martians, and that the careful subset it now includes flings it short of the aesthetic it reaches for. You know, there's some of us queers who were excited when we read your essays on the Gurlesque, Lara, and we (I) never for a minute thought we couldn't do it.

(cont'd below -- out of space)

1:46 AM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

(cont'd)
Why does the contradictory mashup of what Gurlesque can be (in this comment stream) excite me? Because I think that's what it's all about: the fray and the opening, the orifice. The rip in the pink fabric that reveals a vertiginous lining or a sore. The moment when, as Johannes writes, everyone in the diner is killed & Beyonce begins to spasm. These spasms by the way remind me so very much of Martin Arnold's "Alone Life Wastes Away, Andy Hardy," the experimental film where he throws Garland and Rooney into hilarious monster spasms. Johannes, I don't know if you've seen this, but I think it would be right down your alley:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzMvQtVEXok

The way Gurlesque here contracts then expands through contradictory definitions is wonderfully spasmodic, and, dare I say, grotesque. A seemingly well-dressed aesthetic suddenly questioning itself, chopping off some of its limbs to survive, severed limbs still wriggling in reminder -- I think that's f'ing great. I never thought Gurlesque was just girls covered in blood playing with my little pony. It's about the rupture, and queer IS the rupture -- to delimit their relationship in any way is, in my opinion, to stunt this baby's monstergrowth. And it's such a kawaii baby.

OK, I'm done talking about y'alls baby. To bed...

1:46 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ana,

Yes that's what I like about the gurlesque - and how that very word seems to have sent poetry into twitches.

Max,
I'm not saying it should be a sponge. I'm saying I find the over-defining definitions of gurlesque to not be interesting and in fact de-troubles the idea, makes it more shelv-able. I like the fact that it's not an anthology that proclaims "these are the greatest" or most exhaustive, but as a constellation of poets of some aesthetic affinities. BUt I think it's great that Lara and Arielle made an anthology not based on "greatness" or "importance" but just as a constellation, and a constellation that might generate discussion and new constellations etc.

Johannes

7:45 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

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.

7:41 AM  

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