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Archive for the ‘Genre: Theory’ Category

11. “Butch is a Noun,” S. Bear Bergman

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Memoirs of butchness.

This took me a very long time to read, especially for such a slim book. It really resonated with me and the complex gender I live. Bergman performs a chivalristic butchness that is aware of how problematic it can be for a masculine-gendered person to want care for feminine-gendered people.  Ze talks about hir love of femmes, on having hir butchness nurtured by femmes, on getting to nurture young butches. It’s all touching and left me with a lot to think about. I’d recommend it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it took you a few months to plod though, too (or if you read it in an hour).

Page count: 192

Page total: 3,001

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5. “Covering,” Kenji Yoshino

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I would think, I wish I were dead. I did not think of it as a suicidal thought. My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I”s. The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I”– the one I wanted to kill– was the gay “I” nested inside it. It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one. (8)

While I tried to speak calmly, Bill has since told me I failed. He said I reminded him of the dinner parties he was attending in those days. At the mainly straight parties, his age peers would jabber on about their children. At the gay dinners, they’d jabber on about their coming out. This made him think coming out is the closest many gay men will come to giving birth. The act of giving birth to oneself is miraculous and terrifying, but unlikely to be calm. (13-14)

It is worth quoting Yoshino’s definitions of a few terms at length.

My struggle to arrive at a gay identity occurred in three phases, which I could also trace in the lives of gay peers. In the first phase, I sought to become straight. When I went to the chapel at Oxford, I prayed not to be what I was. I will call this desire for conversion. In the second phase, I accepted my homosexuality, but concealed it from others. By the time I talked to Bill about his class, I was no longer trying to convert. I was, however, trying to hide my identity from my classmates. I will call this desire for passing. Finally, long after I had generally come out of the closet, I still muted my orientation by not writing on gay topics or engaging in public displays of affection. This was not the same as passing, because my colleges knew I was gay. Yet I did not know a word for this attempt to tone down my known gayness.
Then I found my word, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s book Stigma. Published in 1963, the book describes how various groups– including the disabled, the elderly, and the obese– manage their “spoiled” identities. After discussing passing, Goffman observes that “persons who are ready to admit the possession of a stigma… may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.” His calls this behavior “covering.” Goffman distinguishes passing from covering by noting that passing pertains to the visibility of a particular trait, while covering pertains to its obtrusiveness. He relates how Franklin Roosevelt always stationed himself behind a table before his advisers came in for a meeting. Roosevelt was not passing, since everyone knew he used a wheelchair. He was covering, downplaying his disability so people would focus on his more conventionally presidential qualities.” (17-18)

I could keep going and quote the entire book, but that should be enough to make you want to give Yoshino a high five. Not only is he immensely readable (which I am coming to feel more and more is something embodied theory must be), but his application of covering is very timely. This book is theory told through memoir and is poetic and incisive.

Page count: 203
Page total: 1,544

1. “Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race,” Patricia Williams

November 11, 2009 1 comment

I read this book for my Gender and Cultural Studies seminar. It’s very short, but pretty good. One of the things I liked about it is that it is one of relatively few materials we read that’s by a woman, and one of only two by a woman of color (the other was Chakravorty Spivak).

This book is a collection of speeches that constitute Williams’ lecture in the BBC Reith lecture series.

Page count: 74
Page total: 74

61. “The History of Sexuality: Volume One,” Michel Foucault

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

You know what? I am counting this one read even though, technically, I didn’t read all of it. You know why? Because fuck that, fuck Michel Foucault, and fuck you. One hundred and seventy-six pages of incredibly dense, oddly-punctuated, Frankfurt school1-informed shit and then you get to the end and Foucault doesn’t even give you this own theory of sexuality. He gives you an analytic. So that none of the criticism he levied against theory could be directed at him.

And the grand solution to the “imagined” problem of sexuality, the repressive hypothesis that he spends at least half the book documenting?

DON’T TALK ABOUT SEX, JUST HAVE GOOD SEX.

I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

I want to understand. Is “to the left” talking about sex? “Harder?” “I don’t want to dress up like a ballerina?” “Uh cuh stih tahk ahound iss ahll gahg”? Is “yes” talking about sex? “I’m not ready to get pregnant?” “I have a latex allergy?” I get the speaker’s benefit2 thing and I get that talking and theorizing are not doing but are you kidding me with this shit?

My professor seriously asked us if we thought that maybe this book was a joke, which is totally plausible. WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY EDUCATION ON A BOOK THAT MIGHT BE A JOKE? Why was this book so earth-shattering? Because of a version of history that Foucault admits could be termed “careless”? Because he manages to totally disregard intersecting identities? Because of the sort-of-interesting premise, if you are maybe a little high and interested in blowing your mind? Why would you make someone who wants to blow hir mind want to blow out hir brains? Is this real life?

If you will excuse me, I am going to click “publish,” then I am going to throw my computer out the window.

PS: I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts, Googlers of “Michel Foucault” + “History of Sexuality” + summary. I don’t usually make ball gag jokes and yell at my readers here, but I want to die.

Page count: 176
Page total: 24,109
(I’m giving myself partial credit. Not even in my bone-crushing anger would I cheat these numbers.)

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1. Do you know about this shit? Apparently some people were sort of just ripping off Marx, spouting his ideas as their own without really doing enough research and taking his hard-won, clearly-stated ideas as their own. Not after the Frankfurt School, which says that you should write things as obtusely as possible so that it is harder for people to 1) understand what you are saying, unless they are smart enough to really, really try and 2) lift your words out of context. Doesn’t Foucault make bucketloads more sense now?
2. The power people derive from talking about something “taboo,” which comes from the apparent breach of/disregard for society’s conventions