Potato, potaeto, tomato, tomaeto!
Let's call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
(Lyrics from 'Let's Call the Whole Thing Off')
In response to my previous post Ingrid asked
Isn't the Toulouse Lautrec painting you chose of two women?First of all, I liked the picture because of its ambiguity. We can't tell whether the couple in the bed are in lust, in love, or have found a comfortable, companionate relationship. In fact, I doubt that many people looking at the painting would even be able to guess that both individuals are female, which, I thought, made it even more thought-provoking and open to multiple interpretations.*
A strange choice, as you would think there would be even less 'otherness' between same-sex lovers.
Secondly, I'm not convinced that biological differences between the sexes are the only, or even the most important source of 'otherness', even within heterosexual relationships. I've touched on the difference between 'sex' and 'gender' in the past, here and here, but here's a summary of the difference between the two terms:
One's sexual identity is prenatally organized as a function of the genetic-endocrine forces and emerges (is activated) with development. One's gender identity, recognition of how he or she is viewed in society, develops with post-natal experiences. It comes from general observation of society's norms and expectations and from comparing self with peers [...] and asking: "Who am I like and who am I not like?" "With which group, males/boys or females/girls am I similar or different?" (Diamond 2000)or, to put it another way,
Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.The expression of gender, then, differs across societies and has also changed over time. Allen and Feluga have noted that it was
Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.
So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender role as a 'man' or a 'woman' in society can be quite different cross culturally.
Eighteenth-century medical science paved the way for a strictly binary system of gender by "discovering" the incommensurable differences between male and female bodies. [...] Under this new system of sexual dimorphism, women and men were taken to be one another's opposites in most things. Whereas women were increasingly taken to be passive and passionless, for example, men were taken to be aggressive and sexually charged. Many of the truisms about gender behavior that contemporary sexuality studies works to dismantle (e.g. "boys will be boys") date from this period.Thus, character or personality differences were divided up between the sexes, reinforcing and strengthening the differences derived from biology. Yet many of the differences between the genders, because they derive from socialisation, have to be learned and are culturally specific. For example,
“Naturally” occurring or not, heterosexuality is highly organized by society and by culture. While you may argue that “heterosexuality is natural” or that you were “just born this way,” women didn’t enter this world knowing they wanted to wear a prom dress, practice something called “dating”, buy a white wedding gown, or play with a “My Size Bride Barbie.” Likewise, men did not exit the womb knowing they would one day have to buy a date a corsage or spend two months’ income to buy an engagement ring. (Ingraham 1999: 3-4)It is also interesting to note that despite the way in which Male and Female have been set up as opposites, ascribed different personality traits as well as physical difference and turned into the 'Other', many other differences persist which challenge gender's predominance as the main source of 'Otherness'. For example, although 'The nineteenth century was dominated by the idea of "natural" gender distinctions and by a conception of normative sexuality that was centered largely on the middle-class family' (Allen & Feluga), this in itself hints at class differences, and as Ingraham points out, by studying the 'norm' or the 'ideal' we can see which groups are thought to be furthest away from the ideal, 'Othered' as different and inferior:
The images bridal magazines present distort reality and unify particular beliefs about heterosexuality, race, class, and gender. In Bridal Gown Guide (1998), Denise and Alan Fields offer an observation about bridal magazines and race:'Otherness' deriving from non-gendered factors can also be used to intensify sexual attraction, for example I've previously discussed the ways in which a certain degree of racial 'Otherness' is used in romance novels to reinforce the existing gender dichotomy, particularly when the tall, dark, hard and virile sheik or Native American hero with chiselled features is contrasted with the shorter, pale, feminine Caucasian heroine with soft curves.
Only white people get married. Well, the major bridal magazines would never say that, but just take a look at the pictures. Page after page of Caucasian, size 8 models in $2,000 dresses. Just try to find a bride who’s black, Hispanic or Asian. Go ahead, take as long as you need to search. While you’re at it, try to discover an ad that features a bride who’s a size 22.
Three such industry distortions are revealed by this quote: race, class, and body size. (1999: 92-93)
According to Rosalind Gill and Elena Herdieckerhoff,
One of the key questions might be 'can romance be queered?' in the way that other cultural forms (arguably) have been. This would involve not simply replacing heterosexual protagonists with homosexual ones, but, more fundamentally questioning the very binaries on which conventional romance depends (male/female, gay/straight, virgin/whore, etc) (page 12)Certainly gay and lesbian romances demonstrate that binary oppositions and a sense of 'Otherness' can exist in relationships where such Otherness is not derived from the biological differences between the sex of the hero and heroine. This is something explored in many of Matthew Haldeman-Time's short stories [and I'd better put in an 'explicit gay sex' warning, for those who might be offended by them]. For example, in Ten Weird Things, we begin by learning that the two protagonists
just had nothing in common. After the first two days of conversation, they were out of things to talk about. Eric watched sports and news and MTV2; David watched sitcoms. Eric listened to Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park and Nirvana; David listened to Mozart and Sinatra and the Backstreet Boys. Eric liked to go out and get drunk and party; David liked to stay in the room and read. Eric was thinking about rushing a frat; David planned to apply to med school.Later, Eric thinks about how he
liked that David was different from himself. He even liked that he didn’t know that much about David, because that meant that he could learn more, and he wanted to learn more. He wanted to know David better.There's the same theme of otherness in Incredible and its sequel Stupid Question, in which one protagonist is a dedicated swimmer, the other is a goth; 'At 6’4”, Trent was at least six inches taller, and when Jason looked up at him, they both froze in place. Jason’s intense, dark eyes were made even more dramatic with eyeliner, and there was something guarded yet aggressive about his expression. Trent wanted him. He was mysterious'. There are also personality differences:
Trent smiled all of the time, Trent made everybody laugh, Trent made a new friend everywhere that he went. [...] Trent was the guy everyone liked, the guy who pulled off everything effortlessly, the guy who was fun and popular and always had a good time.
Jason didn’t know a lot of people like that. He’d never been that way, himself. He didn’t enjoy being the center of attention. He didn’t make friends easily.
- Allen, Emily & Dino Felluga. 'General Introduction to Theories of Gender & Sex', Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, Nov. 28, 2003, Purdue University.
- Diamond, Milton, 2000. 'Sex and Gender: Same or Different?', online version of a paper intended for publication in Feminism & Psychology (2000), 10.1: 46-54.
- Gill. Rosalind & Elena Herdieckerhoff, no date. 'Re-writing the romance? Chick lit after Bridget Jones', a forthcoming paper available in draft from the University of East London's Centre for Narrative Research.
- Ingraham, Chrys, 1999. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture (New York: Routledge).
* There's a description here of how Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings of lesbians became progressively less intimate, less indicative of passion between the couple. The sexual nature of the relationship between the women is immediately apparent in The Kiss (1892), less so in another painting titled In Bed (1892) and in the picture I used to illustrate my previous post, also titled In Bed (1893), one can see even less of the couple's faces or expressions. For the purposes of illustrating the blog post, this particular painting therefore left more space open to be explored by the viewer's imagination.
The image, of many different varieties of tomato, comes from Wikipedia.
I think there is probably only one true"difference" and that is he sexual difference. And I would argue that is not simply biological, but at least in part knotted through desire and language. No doubt the issue is not who has the penis, but it is , I think, who has the phallus and who is the phallus. Male and female desire circulate according to the difference in response to the phallus, in other words. The Other, by he way, cannot be known, so it remains a mystery.ReplyDelete
. . . a certain degree of racial 'Otherness' is used in romance novels to reinforce the existing gender dichotomy, particularly when the tall, dark, hard and virile sheik or Native American hero with chiselled features is contrasted with the shorter, pale, feminine Caucasian heroine with soft curvesReplyDelete
Not to speak of contrasting the age-old Carpathian, vampire, werewolfie, strange-looking alien with funny body parts with the delicate (or not so delicate), soft-bodied heroine! And if you've got a regular man, you can always compare him to demons and/or predators (preferably big cats) to get your point across. :)
I think there is probably only one true "difference" and that is the sexual difference"ReplyDelete
It's usually a fairly visible difference (in adults at least) but I'm not convinced that it's the most important one. Certainly it isn't in my experience in terms of relating to individuals as friends and colleagues. And, as Sandra points out, in romance it's constantly being reinforced and overlaid by other contrasts, as though the gender difference needed to be buttressed or the whole construct might begin to collapse.
That in itself makes me wonder if it's a case of 'the lady doth protest too much'. I mean, if the difference is so obvious, one would assume it should be immediately apparent from the characters having different thought processes etc. So why do we need to be constantly reminded that the hero is like an animal, that he has flat male nipples, that he's huge etc.? Of course, it does depend on the novel, some are high mimetic and heading off into the realm of myth, and you'd expect more contrast there.
Society also reinforces the contrast by visual means - for example, as Paoletti observes:
Despite several decades of women's adopting traditionally masculine garments and styling, there are still many differences between what is considered appropriate dress for men and women. These differences may be obvious (women wear high-heeled shoes, men do not) or subtle (women's shirt buttons are sewn on the left, men's are sewn on the right). Children in our society begin to learn these distinctions before they have started school [...]. Even in infancy, before the child can comprehend the meaning of such signals, pink or blue clothing identifies the gender to all observers. (1987: 136)
She goes on to point out that this 'Sexual "color coding" in the form of pink or blue clothing for infants was not common in this country until the 1920s' (1987: 136) and 'Perhaps part of the explanation is that it was not considered important [in the nineteenth century] to differentiate between boys and girls at such an early age. Instead it seems to have been very important to distinguish between children and adults' (1987: 139).
Paoletti, Jo B., 1987. 'Clothing and Gender in America: Children's Fashions, 1890-1920', Signs, 13.1: 136-143.
So why do we need to be constantly reminded that the hero is like an animal, that he has flat male nipples, that he's huge etc.?ReplyDelete
I suspect in many cases it's because the writer simply does not trust the intelligence or the memory of the reader -- especially if the novel is truly formulaic.
Maybe the writer subconsciously knows the novel and/or characters are not particularly memorable in the first place -- the repetition is a sort of overcompensation on the writer's part. Or it might serve to jog the writer's own memory, or strengthen the visualizations, during the writing process.
At any rate, being 'constantly reminded' has an unpleasant ring of nagging to it, and I find it to be somewhat condescending.
'Or it might serve to jog the writer's own memory, or strengthen the visualizations, during the writing process'ReplyDelete
I think you might be right about that, because the writer spends a lot longer writing the book than the reader will spend reading it, so while we may get from one page with a description like this to another page with a similar description quite rapidly, it may have taken the author days or even weeks. Although there should be editing and re-writing going on too, so that can't be the only reason that these descriptions stay in.
Or maybe it's because for some people hyper-masculinity is part of the fantasy?
And I should probably have made it extra-clear that only a small percentage of the romances I've read are like this, and I think it works better in some of them than in others.
'Perhaps part of the explanation is that it was not considered important [in the nineteenth century] to differentiate between boys and girls at such an early age
My grandfather, who was born in 1919, got dressed in girls' clothes up until he was four or five (family was relatively poor, next older sibling was a girl, so he got the clothes that were handed down). So even as an adult he was known by a feminine version of his name "Karl"(namely "Kalla") in the town where he was born. :)
So why do we need to be constantly reminded that the hero is like an animal, that he has flat male nipples, that he's huge etc.?
Perhaps the appeal of romance lies in reading stories about bringing the Other and the self together. And the more different the Other is from oneself, the more hurdles have to be overcome and the more satisfying the ending?
Of course, when you look at quite a number of recent romances, especially in the paranormal subgenre, the kick-ass heroines have undermined the typical gender stereotypes. (All thanks to Buffy!)
I suspect in many cases it's because the writer simply does not trust the intelligence or the memory of the reader -- especially if the novel is truly formulaic.
Uh-oh. You do know, don't you, that this like waving a red flag around?
I should have said "the kick-ass heroines in particular". This phenomenon can be found in other subgenres, too, of course, and I should have thought of this because I'll be giving a paper more or less on this topic in three weeks from now. (Duh. I blame it on the late hour!) One of the things I find so interesting about Laurens's A RAKE'S VOW is the author's use of gender stereotypes: at the beginning, when Vance arrives at his godmother's country estate, the heroine slips and falls into his arms -- her soft body pressed against all his hard muscles -- the damsel in distress saved by the knight in shining armour. But in the course of the story these gender stereotypes start to shift. In the end, it is her who seduces him to seduce her. In addition, within their families, those tough, big demonish, devillish Cynster men are turned into pussycats and the women are those in power.ReplyDelete
In addition, within their families, those tough, big demonish, devillish Cynster men are turned into pussycats and the women are those in power.ReplyDelete
Not commenting on these books in particular, but I get the impression that in some novels it's still a gendered power/triumph at the end, in that it's the power of the heroine's femininity that 'tames' the hero.
Having a heroine who can seduce her hero is certainly different from the type/construct of femininity exemplified by the sweet, virginal Barbara Cartland type heroine, but I'm not sure that it automatically breaks down gender stereotypes. It may do in some cases, or it may play into a new construct of femininity which embraces a more overt sexuality for women (I'm thinking of Ariel Levy's critique of 'raunch culture', for example).
R. previously wrote:ReplyDelete
I suspect in many cases it's because the writer simply does not trust the intelligence or the memory of the reader -- especially if the novel is truly formulaic.
sandra schwab wrote:
Uh-oh. You do know, don't you, that this like waving a red flag around?
R. quips back:
But I like red. :)
In that case, you can keep the red flag flying! And it does match the tomatoes.ReplyDelete
But to be serious again, the words 'formulaic' and 'formula' are ones which have been used to denigrate the entire genre, so naturally romance authors and readers can be a bit touchy about them.
Oh, my,... my apologies, as no offense was intended. My comment is based on novels that I've actually read. I also read sf/f, adventure, suspense, mythology, folklore, historical, and mainstream -- I've encountered formulaic writing and plotting in all those as well.ReplyDelete
It's an observation, not a judgment or a condemnation,... much less a call to arms.
Cawelti says that 'formulas are ways in which specific cultural themes and stereotypes become embodied in more universal story archetypes' (page 6 of Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture).ReplyDelete
I think some romances are, as Frye puts it, 'high mimetic' so they tend towards archetypes/stereotypes and larger than life, mythic characters. Others are more 'low mimetic' and their authors are aiming for more realism.
'Formula' as used by Cawelti doesn't sound derogatory (though I'm not sure about the embodying of stereotypes part of his definition, as I think it perhaps applies more to the high mimetic examples of the genre, and less so to the low mimetic ones). It's when the term's used negatively (perhaps in conjunction with the phrase 'churned out') that romance authors (and many romance readers) begin to get a bit irate. For example, Leigh Michaels writes that:
I'm often asked about the “formula” for the romance. Many people—usually ones who have never read romance—are convinced that writing a romance novel is like carefully following a recipe. Put in a cup of this and a tablespoon of that (always the same ingredients, in the same proportion and the same order) and voila—you have a book!
One of these people asked if I used a computer, and when I said I did, she said, “Oh, that must make it easier, because I suppose once you choose the names and the eye color, it does the rest.” (Must be a very special computer. Anybody know where I can buy one?)
I think Sandra was just flagging up the fact that 'formula' can be a bit of a loaded term. (And apologies for the flag reference, it was intentional because I can't resist puns.)
I would say that most of the differences discussed here so far--formulaic or otherwise--are cultural differences, but there is an "essential"difference-sexuation, we could call it then, a sexual gap of sorts. Otherwise, how would anyone here account for the fact that men make up about 50% of the human species; women make up about 50%? Men desire the desire of the Other, but what do women desire? Perhaps they desire LOVE?ReplyDelete
Otherwise, how would anyone here account for the fact that men make up about 50% of the human species; women make up about 50%? Men desire the desire of the Other, but what do women desire? Perhaps they desire LOVE?ReplyDelete
The sex ratio has got to do with the reproduction of the species.
I'm not sure, though, how you're getting from the biological facts about sexual difference, to the conclusions about what men and women desire. In my previous blog post, I quoted from Esther Perel, who argues that all humans require mystery/otherness and according to Fisher the 'three basic mating drives' she described exist in both men and women.
Gosh, you were ready and waiting for that comment, weren't you?ReplyDelete
I think the stories about the most different 'other' I've read, have rather predictably been science fiction stories. I'd have to search for titles, and many of them are about friendship. I think Tiptree must have written a few.
But just staying on earth, someone you don't have a common language with, is probably too much otherness for most of us. Which is just the practical side of the different societies you mentioned. In practice not sharing the same native language is difficult enough for most couples.
And someone from another time - an age difference of 25 years amounts to a time warp nowadays, doesn't it?
Gosh, you were ready and waiting for that comment, weren't you?ReplyDelete
I was really taken aback by it, actually, because it hadn't even crossed my mind to think about Otherness solely or even primarily in terms of male/female. I mean, I notice that it's emphasised in romances, but I hadn't thought through the reason why that might be happening, and because it doesn't seem that important to me, it didn't affect my choice of picture.
That's one of the reasons I like blogging - I get interesting input from other people and it makes me think through my own assumptions and attitudes.
someone you don't have a common language with, is probably too much otherness for most of us
My parents don't have a common language. And neither did my mother's parents. In many ways, being 'Other' on a variety of levels has shaped who I am, and it's generally not been gender but all sorts of other types of difference that have made me Other, such as language, physical appearance, attitudes etc.
I've been thinking about this a bit more, and it seems to me that feeling 'Other' for non male/female reasons must be a fairly common experience and it's a theme that's found quite frequently in romance.ReplyDelete
Pamela Regis pointed out that in romances there is often
a scene or scenes [in which] the promised wedding is depicted, or some other celebration of the new community is staged, such as a dance or a fete. The emphasis here is on inclusion, and this scene is promised in every romance, even if it is not dramatized. Society has reconstituted itself around the new couple(s) and the community comes together to celebrate this. (2003: 28)
Sometimes this has nothing to do with 'Otherness' but is about something else, such as a restoration of justice, for example, but a lot of romances do seem to feature characters who feel 'Other' in the society as depicted at the beginning of the novel, but by the end have come to feel a part of the community and, therefore, have lost that lonely sense of Otherness they once had.
For example in Crusie's Welcome to Temptation the heroine has always felt different because she's from the 'other side of the tracks'. Or there are the many romance heroines who are wallflowers and/or bluestockings and so have few female friends as well as being ignored by men. To take a non-romance novel example, in Grease the heroine doesn't fit in because she's a 'good girl', she's just not 'cool'.
These types of 'Otherness' are resolved in romance. I think this is the issue underlying many of the romances where heroes and heroines head back to a small town, where they end up feeling part of a tightly knit community.
Jenny Crusie's written about community and she says that 'the reader will bond to the community in the book if the community appears to share her values, which means the characters would recognize her as one of their own if she came into the story and would invite her to sit down and stay'. That's what a lot of readers seem to be looking for: a community within the book that they themselves feel they can fit into.
One could think about that search for community as being an urge to escape the feeling of being 'Other' that many people feel on a daily basis.
Regis, Pamela, 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).
You were blogging about Eros and romantic love and mating. From the mere names heterosexuality and homosexuality surely the thought springs to mind that the opposite sex is seen as 'otherer' than the same sex?ReplyDelete
Surely your parents must have a common language by now? what I mean by a common language is a language they both can get by in. It need not be the native language of either. My Roumanian neighbour for instance spoke French with her husband when they first met. I think they still speak their own pidgin French together because it reminds them of the time they were newly-weds.
But I remember buying some cherries in the market in Stockholm from a vendor who may have been from Turkey. He spoke Swedish, but I don't. Most native Swedes speak English, but he didn't. We had no common language, so we had to resort to sign language. That's fine when you're buying cherries, but difficult when you're trying to have a conversation.
Having the same native language means that you often think the same about many things. Culture and language are often interwoven.
From the mere names heterosexuality and homosexuality surely the thought springs to mind that the opposite sex is seen as 'otherer' than the same sex?ReplyDelete
Not to my mind, evidently. To me it's a description of the biological sex of the people to whom an individual is sexually attracted. Like the label 'vegetarian' describes the food a person eats, but I don't think of that word in terms of whether the vegetable is more 'Other'. Though I suppose it could be thought of that way and that might be one factor in a decision to become a vegetarian, because animals killed to make meat are more similar to humans than, say, a tomato.
Surely your parents must have a common language by now? what I mean by a common language is a language they both can get by in. It need not be the native language of either.
Oh yes, of course. But every so often there are still misunderstandings based on the language difference and/or cultural differences.
We might say then that the cultural difference is the same as the language difference (Roumanian or French, for examples) at a superficial level--but then there is "the deep structure" of the language, a kind of universal grammar, as Chomsky might say,and it is this "deep structure" that we might want to think about, that people like Lacan or Zizek might then argue help to shape the subject and that we are subjected to. We enter this level of language in a way that creates our human sexual identity, in a sense. Boys have the phallus;girls are the phallus.Unlike animal sexuality, human sexuality always suffers from the objectification of our desire--so it is tied to the fantasy we have of the other. Human sexual coupling is never symmetrical in this regard-- who is on top, in other words--is always an issue--or whatever fantasy you desire. Nor does it matter whether we are talking about heterosexual or homosexual relations in this context. It is the desire of the other that you desire-- and that you fantsize about.ReplyDelete
girls are the phallusReplyDelete
Could you explain how that works? I suspect I'm thinking about this far more literally than you are, because I don't understand what you mean here.
human sexuality always suffers from the objectification of our desire--so it is tied to the fantasy we have of the other.
Do you mean that we always objectify the sexual partner, or are you meaning something more subtle than that?
Human sexual coupling is never symmetrical in this regard-- who is on top, in other words--is always an issue--or whatever fantasy you desire
Again, I'm not sure if I'm understanding you correctly, but if couples alternate the asymmetry so that they take turns in being 'on top' then does that make each position less 'othered'?
I hope this helps to clarify what I am trying to say-- let me know either way:ReplyDelete
A.) "girls are the phallus"--for Lacan, for example,the boy has the phallus (and enters into "the name of the father"--that is, the symbolic order of language); by contrast, the girl, who is barred from "the name of the father" is the Other; she does not, in other words, have the phallus. But, and this is positive, because the Other lacks the phallus, she gains the benefit of being the phallus--in love, she becomes what she does not have.
b. "The human sexual relation objectifies desire"-- that is, we fantasize about the partner in sexed relations--it is not simply that we make the partner an object (although we might sometimes), but we are never "with" our partner as such--that is, we are with our fantasy. In this sense, by the way, we, as modern or post-modern sexed couples, are still very much part of the courtly love tradition.
c.) "There is no symmetry"--that is, all sexed relations are somewhat s/m relations-in the sense, we either have the phallus (the subject position) or we are the phallus (being called to the object position). I am not sure how this would make each position less "othered" though. It does suggest however that both homosexual and heterosexual relations are structured in similar ways.Who has the phallus ? Who has which sex toy? Who is on top? Etc.--in endless variations.
Thanks, yes, that's clearer.ReplyDelete
she does not, in other words, have the phallus. But, and this is positive, because the Other lacks the phallus, she gains the benefit of being the phallus--in love, she becomes what she does not have.
Yes, but that seems to imply that she becomes an object, whereas the boy posesses an object and is still himself. And what about saying that the Other lacks a uterus, but in love, he becomes what he does not have and becomes a uterus? I've certainly come across little boys with uterus envy (at least, they'd like to get pregnant and have babies and are quite put out when told that this is not going to be a possibility for them).
I think that the underlying point is not really about sexual organs, though, but about power, and so it doesn't have to be gendered, which is the point you make later. But the theory about penis envy seems to have been based on the assumption that women wanted to be men and felt physically incomplete, whereas I suspect that in fact what they probably wanted was to have some power/independence/to be respected.
we are never "with" our partner as such--that is, we are with our fantasy. In this sense, by the way, we, as modern or post-modern sexed couples, are still very much part of the courtly love tradition
I'm not sure about this. How do you know that everyone is with their fantasy? I suspect this might be more true if the couple are strongly under the influence of romantic love, but I suspect it's less likely to be true if the lust or companionate love systems are predominating.
we either have the phallus (the subject position) or we are the phallus (being called to the object position).
But from what you said before, it could be argued that each person, in their own eyes, is the subject, because he or she objectifies the other.
I'd suggest, that there may be times when they both co-operate so that neither has more power. And there may also be times when it's clear that any power imbalance is temporary, so it's a game, a role, rather than real objectification.
Well, yes, we are clearly not talking about biology, but about desire and language (and to some extent at least, power, as you suggest). One might argue, for example, as you do in a different way, that what the boy does lack is what the girl has--and I would agree--that is why we get "the name of the father" perhaps and why the girl is then barred from that name.ReplyDelete
But I would disagree with you on some of your other points. For example, it seems impossible to me to imagine that the sexed couple could ever achieve a symmetrical relationship: that is, one in which "neither has more power" (as you put it). The so-called companionate relationship, or the wedding that achieves community (as you suggested earlier)does serve perhaps as a kind of game, a role, a parade, a masquerade,etc.--but , I would suggest, that is only a symptom masking the inevitable trauma of difference just below that surface. I am glad we have weddings and romance novelists who create commmunity, by the way, but that doesn't necesarily relieve us of all that terror of the Other lurking beneath , or behind, these moments of happiness and good cheer. Does it?
I've enjoyed this back and forth, Laura and Anonymous, and wish I had more time to respond at length. Briefly, though, a thoughts:ReplyDelete
1) "girls are the phallus"; "the name of / no of the father"--I'm not sure what is gained, phinally, by using Lacanian terms. Color me Francophobe, but they strike me as, well, melodramatic, just as "terror of the Other" and "trauma of difference" do. Why the fretful rhetoric, A? What makes the fear inevitable? Before I can even discuss such points, I'd want them paraphrased into calmer tones, even russet yeas and honest kersey noes, as Shakespeare says. What precisely about desire and language and power do you mean?
2. The idea of a "symmetrical" relationship strikes me as a philosophical abstraction, rather than a description of actual human behavior. (Even the geometric diction suggests that we're talking about abstractions here, no?) "Equal" relationships are working at a similar level of abstraction, except when we get to particular cases: equal in ability to dispose of property, for example, or equal in ability to refuse sex at will without being beaten. Raise the level of abstracton high enough, and you can prove anything impossible--surely Derrida has taught us that by now, but to what end? To say that it is impossible to have a relationship in which both partners are equally powerful in every way at every moment just doesn't seem to me to say very much of interest, finally, about actual people and actual relationships. Again, the diction here seems revealing: to speak of the "trauma of difference" isn't necessarily any more true than to speak of, well, difference. I'm tempted to lay down a Cavellian card here: this emphasis on the philosophical impossibility of perfect symmetry is really a way of avoiding, denying, masking (choose your verb) the evidence of ordinary, less-than-perfect symmetry that is all around us, and thus of avoiding its claims on us (of justice, of comfort, and the like).
3. Anonymous writes: "we are never "with" our partner as such--that is, we are with our fantasy. In this sense, by the way, we, as modern or post-modern sexed couples, are still very much part of the courtly love tradition." Isn't this just our old friend Kant? We're never "with" anything; never know anything as such, but only our ideas about it, since everything-in-itself lies on the far side of the great noumenal / phenomenal divide? We kiss the wall's lips, like poor Pyramus and Thisbe, but never one another's?
This thought has sometimes scared me, in certain moods and at certain times. As Emerson says, it threatens to ruin the kingdoms of mortal friendship and love ("Experience"). Against which, though, I cite Cavell once more: the itch to insist on some perfect knowledge or perfect "with"-ness is an evasion of the claims made upon us by the imperfect knowledge, imperfect companionship we DO have, and have had all along.
There's a vast area between my perfect freedom from illusions about / fantasies about / ideas about some "you" and my complete inability to deal with "you" as a separate self beyond my fantasies about you--which might be to say, between God and a stalker. We live in that terrain, move back and forth across it, all the time, and it's only in rare circumstances that we throw down the epistemological trump card and walk away from the table. Whenever I see that move, I ask "why does this person make it, precisely now? What motivates the gesture?" That usually yields me more satifying material than questions about epistemology per se. (Not "is Emerson right" but "why did such questions haunt you at one point in your marriage, but not two decades later?")
If you want a philosophical description of the claim of the Other upon us, could it be that Levinas, not Lacan, is the homme of the hour? And to what extent is your inquiry directed at debunking "moments of happiness and good cheer," of playing the skeleton at the feast, for whatever reason, rather than a neutral pursuit of "truth"? Those are the questions I'd pose in return, mon semblable, mon frere!
Blimey, I'll never be as eloquent as Eric!ReplyDelete
Interesting exchange, though. I wanted to offer a thought on: 'impossible to me to imagine that the sexed couple could ever achieve a symmetrical relationship: that is, one in which "neither has more power'
Like Eric, I wondered what the 'symmetrical relationship' actually means. Of course it would be entirely possible, in practical terms, for a couple to acheive parity of, say, earnings, housework, political power.
But I suspect you mean something less tangible here. How does one measure 'symmetry'? The field of human experience is so vast, and a couple operate on so many different levels and in so many different spheres that (even a non-'sexed' couple) could never achieve 'symmetry', nor would it be desirable for them to do so.
One person is stronger in certain areas, so they naturally predominate in that area. If we reduce it to the sexual arena alone, then absolutely it's possible to achieve symmetry. As Laura said, it's a game, an alternation, a knowing power exchange.
The point I'm trying to make is that 'Otherness' does not necessarily imply a hierarchy. There are more roles than 'top' and 'bottom'. If we remove qualitative judgements or power 'quotas' from the equation, 'otherness' means merely difference, not a winner and a loser. I think the confusion tends to arise, perhaps, because there are two players in a relationship. Doesn't mean that the relationship itself is binary opposition. There are many different shades of 'otherness'.
I don't know if I'm making much sense here, but I know what I mean!
One last thought on this, which came to me last night.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure that I would agree with A that "there is probably only one true 'difference' and that is he sexual difference." I can think of others, most radically Emerson's distinction between the "me" and the "not-me," which for Emerson includes everything other than consciousness, even my own body.
On the other hand, there are times when I find the fact of sexual difference utterly fascinating, even haunting, in precisely the way that A probably means. It's a visible, anatomical instance of the privacy of perception--that is, it reminds me, again and again, that there are bodily sensations I can neither feel (as I can't feel anyone else's) nor imagine (as they have no real counterpart in my own bodily experience).
Recent romance fiction sometimes reminds me of that limit to my imagination, since in it I come across descriptions of male arousal or desire that ring utterly false: characters who say or think or feel things that seem dead wrong to me. (Desire flaring or coiling in a hero's "belly" or tightening in the pit of his stomach for example. I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean!)
Is this a "trauma" or "terror"? Not really--but, again, there are moods and moments when the deep strangeness of sexual difference asserts itself (I won't say "rears its ugly head!) as a figure or instance of the limits of my imagination, and these give me some sense of what Anonymous must mean.
I come across descriptions of male arousal or desire that ring utterly false: characters who say or think or feel things that seem dead wrong to me. (Desire flaring or coiling in a hero's "belly" or tightening in the pit of his stomach for example. I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean!)ReplyDelete
I've come across examples of desire flaring or coiling in a heroine's stomach area, and I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean either. I suspect it's either a euphemism or a metaphor. Like when 'muscles tighten' in the hero's groin when what I suppose is really being referred to involves not muscles but an increase in blood flow.
what the boy does lack is what the girl has--and I would agree--that is why we get "the name of the father" perhaps and why the girl is then barred from that name.ReplyDelete
I'm still thinking about this. How does the girl not have "the name of the father"? I've got the same surname as my father and I've kept it, despite getting married. In Spain (and much of South America) it's normal for all children to have both their parents' surnames, and no-one changes name on marriage.
Again, I'm probably being prosaic and that wasn't what Lacan was meaning at all. I also have trouble accepting the theories about how children separate from the care-giving mother and want to get the attention of the father/authority figure because in my family it was the father who was the care-giver. So, on both a literal and a metaphorical level, my ideas of fatherhood are probably a little different from either Freud's or Lacan's.
Laura writes: "I've come across examples of desire flaring or coiling in a heroine's stomach area, and I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean either."ReplyDelete
Well! Who knows, then? Maybe the fundamental distinction isn't between the sexes, but between the hidden race of stomach-flarers and the rest of us. I thought it was some, you know, female thing. (Grin.)
I'm with you about the fatherhood issue as well, Laura. I simply can't map the Freudian & post-Freudian theory onto the lived practice I witnessed growing up, let alone onto my own children's experience.
Well, thanks. This entire discussion has been very helpful to me. A few working comments though before I leave the topic here: First, Eric asks: "What makes the fear (of "difference" I guess) inevitable?" We might say it is both fear and fascination--and I would suggest part of the answer is "death," and part is "birth." Second,, there is an important consideration that Eric raises soon after his question:As he says: "less-than-perfect symmetry" makes claims on us--of justice, comfort, and so on. That I totally agree with, and it could lead to a very powerful argument that we have not yet touched on, I think--which, unfortuantely, we'll have to save for another time. However, I do want to point out here that "less-than-perfect symmetry" (imperfect knowledge)leads not only to claims for justice, etc, but also to most of the contemporary problems we face--that is, injustice, discomfort, violence, and so on. This is part of the reason that I think we need to wrestle with this "trauma of difference" (which is not just "difference" but the trauma of it.) Third, Eric also suggests that perhaps instead of playing the skeleton at the feast, we (I?) should engage in neutral pursuit of truth--I only wish we could do that. The skeleton at the feast might though remind us of the need for dialectic (or dialogue), and it might just shake us up a little. On the other side, I have serious doubts about the human ability to engage in a "neutral pursuit" of truth. I do believe in the pursuit of truth--but shudder at the notion that a human being in such pursuit ever remains "neutral." Fourth, I admire Eric's discussion of "sexual difference" at "the limits of imagination"--that is just about right, in my view, in terms of what I am trying to suggest about "sexual difference" (and the trauma connected to it). Finally both Laura and Eric seem to believe that if theory cannot be mapped on our own lived experience, we might as well abandon theory. I doubt they really mean this exactly as I put it, but perhaps we all can acknowledge that theory might just outstrip our lived experience at times--and perhaps we need to catch up with the theory rather than ask the theory to catch up with us? Anyway, please keep thinking!!--and thanks again.ReplyDelete
Finally both Laura and Eric seem to believe that if theory cannot be mapped on our own lived experience, we might as well abandon theory.ReplyDelete
Or find a different theory. Freudian and Lacanian theory tells *me* (perhaps not others) more about Freud and Lacan and their anxieties than about the world.
Foucault (god help me) rings more true to me. Martin Seligman works for Eric, from what he's said. I think Lacan and Freud are too simplistic and too blinkered in their white, middle-class, male world to really account for anything I experience.
Just a thought.
Oh, we're not done yet, A--not by a long shot! Don't leave the topic so soon!ReplyDelete
You say that our "fear and fascination" with difference stems from "birth and death." I doubt both of those causes, and suspect that if we're both afraid of and drawn to difference, it's because both xenophobia and xenophilia are innate characteristics of the human character, and probably of primate behavior more generally; the ratio between them will vary from person to person, however, in ways that are visible from early childhood onward. (When pushed to the wall, I guess I'm more a sociobiologist than a psychoanalyst or philosopher.)
2. You point out that "'less-than-perfect symmetry' (imperfect knowledge) leads not only to claims for justice, etc, but also to most of the contemporary problems we face--that is, injustice, discomfort, violence, and so on. This is part of the reason that I think we need to wrestle with this "trauma of difference" (which is not just "difference" but the trauma of it.)" Fair enough! But by the same token, to "wrestle" that trauma does not mean to deny the chance that the trauma can be eased, that xenophilia can exist, that perfect "symmetry" may be neither imaginable nor desirable. I'm not sure there's all that much substance to this point on either side, because I'm not sure that the perfection / imperfection model is all that useful in describing actual couples (this despite having used it, at length, in my own first book on love poetry!)
3. You miss my point when it comes to neutrality, A. I (too) don't see a "neutral pursuit of truth" as the goal here. Rather, I'd like to see you (us) being more openly temperamental in our criticism, more open about the degree to which mood and temperament determine our conclusions, shapes our rhetoric, and so on, once we leave the realm of hard science behind. "As I am, so I see," says Emerson; your inclination to read difference as trauma and to see the HEA as fundamentally untrue is not, I think, more 'realistic' or 'theoretically solid' than my own more chipper account of such things. I think we need to take our differences on such matters seriously, but also treat them lightly, with no pretense to objectivity on either side. (Except, as I say, when empiricism weighs in. Like Whitman, I shout hurrahs for positive science. Blame it on my youth.)
4. Finally, on that note, I have to disagree with you about theory. Your nicely turned phrase about needing our lives to catch up with the theory strikes me as a recipe for disaster, frankly. Theory isn't an end in itself; it's a theory about something, aspiring to empirical, which is to say testable and debunkable, truth. Otherwise it's not theory, but dogma. Perhaps, though, you're saying something less radical, and more sagely with that bit about "catching up" with theory: "I, too, once thought as you do now, but the years have taught me that my earlier, happier take on things was wrong, and I suspect that they will teach you that, too." If so, I'm certainly willing to listen. If you just want me to take Freud's or Lacan's or Plato's word for something against my own lived experience, you've got a hard road ahead.
(P.S. to Sarah: Aren't Seligman and Foucault just as white, male, and middle-class as Freud and Lacan? Those aren't the restrictive variables, I think.)
Ok E--- mon semblable, mon frere--we are of course not done. How could we be??ReplyDelete
On point #1: I would say, with gentleness and respect, that the sociobiologist cannot easily measure (or even speak about) the experience of the corpse (the dead body) nor can he speak about the birth experience (unless he happens to be a mother)--and that I hope sets up the issue, in part, for future discussion (not right now though) about , and helps perhaps to clarify "too, "sexual difference" as I am trying to speak about it. How do you or I, for example, know what the body of the mother knows, the unspeakable moment of birth, and how do any of us know about the unspeakable moment of death? That is , to change the tone, a real nuisance to me, mon frere, and it does not make me particularly happy unless I don't think about it. So I do give considerable credit to the philosophers and psychoanalysts here--and continue to be drawn to their couch and their texts! In this regard, I would also mention in brief passing that the sociobiologists and neurobioligists seem to be catching up with much of what Freud had to say--something, as we know, that the poets understood long before Freud or the hard scientists. So perhaps it is not that lived experience needs to catch up with theory but that science needs to catch up with literature? I do not pretend to be a sage on such matters, believe me.
On point #2: Fair enough, mon frere, we are , alas, too mortal, I would say too. That vulnerable wound is perhaps the sticking point though. Achilles and Ahab both knew how the afflicition led to revenge--no?
On point #3: Yes, here too, I would agree--"we are what we see"--the transparent eyeball is also Blake's vision of imaginative expansion--and I embrace all of that when I can. And, yes, "pretense to objectivity" can only lead to trouble--"a recipe for disater," as you put it in a different mood,--but, I might add here, if I can, that 'seeing"is not the same as "eating"--and although we are what we see, we are not necessarily just what we eat----what can we cook up there? I ask you. What is the psychological recipe for that?-- we are talking about "partial drives" here (scopic, oral?), are we not?
Point #4: On this last, but certainly not really final point (I hope)--I will evoke , by paraphrase, a Talmudic text, which has always suggested to me that just because we cannot see it at the moment, or prove that it exists, we should not necessarily diminish the possibility that it is true or that it really does exist. So, as I am sure (probably?), we both agree--yes, happiness deserves more focus and attention in our lives--and, yes, we need to keep the vision without doubt, otherwise all the stars will go out! But I remain traumatized too-- although I wish it were otherwise.
I now return to reading student essays in the midst of the summer heat.
the sociobiologist cannot easily measure (or even speak about) the experience of the corpse (the dead body) nor can he speak about the birth experience (unless he happens to be a mother)--and that I hope sets up the issue, in part, for future discussion (not right now though) about , and helps perhaps to clarify "too, "sexual difference" as I am trying to speak about it. How do you or I, for example, know what the body of the mother knows, the unspeakable moment of birth, and how do any of us know about the unspeakable moment of death?ReplyDelete
Well, from personal experience, I can say that the 'unspeakable moment of birth' can be pretty prosaic. It may, or may not, involve pain (depending on whether anesthetics are in use) but the two parts about pregnancy/motherhood that were weirdest to me were (1) seeing something moving inside my body and it making the whole surface of my stomach ripple. It looks and feels like you've been invaded by an alien. And (2) newborn babies look quite strange, not really human at all.
But once you start to give birth, you can't stop, so you just have to get on with it and, if there's pain and no pain relief, cope with the pain as best you can. I expect it's the same with death.
I wonder if it's not so much death as the corpse which causes fear/anxiety, because the corpse reminds us that
as you are now, so once was I,
as I am now, so shall you be
therefore prepare to follow me.
And babies, rather than the moment of giving birth, do something similar. Someone actually giving birth is probably far too busy to think about this but babies, like corpses are liminal beings. Corpses speak of our future, babies remind us of our past, that there was a time when we, the adults, did not exist.
I don't see the connection with 'sexual difference', though, and I'm not sure why you seem to assume that the sociobiologist is male (or are you just using 'he' because it's more elegant than (s)he or she/he etc. ?).
Eric, well, don't know about Seligman, but Foucault was incredibly gay and seriously kinky and that adds a certain perspective to things that one doesn't get otherwise (quick check that Lacan wasn't gay and out--whew, no). FWIW.ReplyDelete
And birth is just....well, another bodily function, really. I don't think my partner was any less blown away by it than I was when it happened, even though it was my body. It's miraculous, sure, but then, so is a heartbeat, or an orgasm--they're just more prosaic, so they don't seem as miraculous. I think Laura is right, it's the product of birth and death, both of which are unable to communicate about their state, that create the anxiety and wonder in those of us who are conscious.