Late afternoon into twilight, playing in the dark our first rehearsal, Paea, Xuan, Tara and Daniel together in one small part of the gloom lit with festoons. Today was mostly trying out a few things so I could see if I actually had a coherent idea, to try and not repeat myself, after all two months is far longer a time than any rehearsal I’ve had.
During Alison’s 42a I found a book of photographs that I’ve seen before and stupidly didn’t write the name of the artist, though managed to collect some that I had a more immediate emotional response to with my camera. I’d been thinking about establishing a body and identity through the memory associated with different parts, skin, bones, organs and from this through language. Butler talks about how gender is made legible through language and while this was particularly in reference to her conceptualising of the performativity of gender in reading Derrida’s reading of Kafka’s Before the Law I’ve been interested in this as I guess this verbal reiteration of memory.
One of the things that I am sure I have belabored in the past is the failure in theory to exist in the real world. This I think came originally from reading Deleuze and Guattari and that particular bunch of philosophers I’m fond of responding to the failure of Marxism after 1968. Or maybe I’m just imagining that. My attraction to Baudrillard was precisely the ease with which however confrontational his theorising, it could be transported off the page, to make real the imagining of another world.
So we started with these photos as an idea and a bunch of instructions, and pairs oddly for me one looking at the other while side by side through the diverted gaze of the mirrors, touching or probing or … all the conceivable possibilities of one set of flesh in contact with another, maybe as impartial as an examination or purposely antagonistic or like a lover, and what to say in response, what to say love grief sadness melancholy, happiness in whatever small location brought out of amnesia.
More reading of Judith Butler and then a turn to something uncomfortable for me. I mean really this is all about me, no? Lucky I had the beautiful Angela Carter to save me. In another instance of me photographing things, Angela whom I love for The Passion of New Eve wrote this in Sadean Women:
It is fair to say, that when pornography serves … to reinforce the prevailing system of values and ideas in a given society, it is tolerated; and when it does not, it is banned.
The moral pornographer would be an artist who uses pornographic material as part of the acceptance of the logic of the world of absolute sexual license for all the genders, and projects a model of the way such a world might work.
When pornography abandons its quality of existential solitude, and moves out of the kitsch area of timeless placeless fantasy and into the real world, then it loses the function of a safety valve. It begins to comment on real relations in the real world.
Somehow I’ve been thinking of The Rape of Lucretia these last few days, and spent a hurried half hour digging around the internet for copies of paintings, synopsis, bits of Benjamin Britten’s opera, not really sure where this particular thread was going. Something of imagining in the midst of this barbarity a fantasy of desire, much like enjoying being strangled.
How gender fits in with desire, beyond the simplification of ‘subject identity – object attraction’ about which Butler says, “I sought to understand some of the terror and anxiety that some people suffer in “becoming gay”, the fear of losing one’s place in gender or of not knowing who one will be if one sleeps with someone ostensibly of the “same” gender”. I think after years of living with her text I really need to far more coherent on this point.
Getting late and yawns and slack eyes and an encroaching subterranean daze. While the whole 春宫图 Chungongtu and Shunga thing first appeared at the same time as this awful personal dialogue, I don’t really want to return to this, it now belongs in hell. But something of it remains, so we started with biting, pinching, throwing, collapsing bodies. I’ve liked the idea of partnering flesh and skin, breast or cock or pussy or face, mouth, cheek, tongue, soft bits to grasp or prod. On its own at this late tired hour it was at turns strange and hysterical, falling while biting like Willem Defoe as Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire.
Enough. I’ll stop with Judith again, and for me some of the most profound few lines written on gender.
Female Trouble is also the title of the John Waters film that features Divine, the hero/heroine of Hairspray as well, whose impersonation of women implicitly suggests that gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real. His/her performance destabilises the very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates. Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatise the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established? Does being female constitute a “natural fact”, or a cultural performance, or is “naturalness” constituted through discursively constrained performative acts that produce the body through and within the categories of sex?