Archive for the ‘Masturbation’ Category

The students – Megan Reback, Élan Stahl, and Hannah Levinson – used ‘the word’
during a public reading at John Jay High school
in a New York city suburb.

School principal Richard Leprine said the girls
were being punished because they disobeyed
an order not to use ‘the word.’

They used the word

Hang thee, young baggage!
Disobedient wretch.
I tell thee what – get thee to church Thursday
Or never after look me in the face
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!
My fingers itch …
Out on her.             [Capulet in Romeo and Juliet]

The three girls
were a bit older than Juliet would have been
when she disobeyed

When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow.
[Leprine in NYTimes, Mar 8, 2007]

The girls said they never made such agreement.   [NYTimes, Mar 8,2007]

Megan, Élan, and Hannah took turns reading an excerpt
from the play; then they read the
offending passage together:

My short skirt is a liberation flag in the
women’s army – they read – I declare
these streets, any streets, my vagina’s
country.   [from Monologues, “My Short Skirt”]

Readings of the play [The Vagina Monologues]
are a common fund-raiser for sexual assault
and battered women’s centres
because [Eve] Ensler
suspends royalty payments for groups combating
violence against women

Plate 1. Francesca Woodman: From Angel series, Rome, 1977. George and Betty Woodman.

Plate 2. Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978. George and Betty Woodman.

What happens when I read Giorgio Agamben and Jezebel On-line Gossip Zine simultaneously?

I finished reading Giorgio Agamben’s What is an Apparatus? His argument stems from how “Living Beings” are captured by “The Apparatus,” a Foucauldian term that Foucault doesn’t really define, but that too is Foucauldian, right? Anyway, the origin of The Apparatus, according to Agamben, is from a handful of second century C.E. Fathers of the Church who brainstormed about how oikonomia (Greek for the administration of the home) could operate theologically.  Said another way, they were trying to figure out how the Church might control every non-being and every being in the world.  God, they surmised could be the CEO who would entrusts his Son with the economy of man (a Gnostic reference) while God would maintain a powerful unity in the management of Western human history.

Oikonomia, as Agamben asserts, merges with the notion of Providence and begins to indicate the redemptive governance of the world and human history. Now, what is the translation of this fundamental Greek term in the writings of the Latin Father? Dispositio. // The Latin term dispositif, or apparatus, derives, comes therefore to take on the complex semantic sphere of the theological oikonomia. The “dispositifs” about which Foucault speaks are somehow linked to this theological legacy (11).

But how does this go from blueprint to live?  Agamben contends that Living Beings are captured by The Apparatus  (which comprises education, prisons, governments, laws, language, religion, military, etc) and within this “capture” there is a continual struggle; it is through this struggle that the Living Being is processed as a subject; in other words, the subjectification of us.  Objects are used to create a continuum of desires to keep the Living Beings captured and serviced conveniently through capitalism and include everything from the internet, microwaves, forks, mortgages, porn, cars, Jersey Shore, pencils, sex, IMacs, music, Facebook, bathroom tiles, cars, hot dogs, soy milk, Ritalin, etc … you get the picture.  These objects of desire are the power of The Apparatus.  The subjectified subject then uses their acquired objects and never-ending desires to masquerade in an assumed “identity” and environment – or this is “I” (who then goes through another division but that’s for another blog).

20th century icon of the fathers of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE). (courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)

So is it possible to escape a machine designed by well-bearded robed and haloed church patriarchs who wanted world domination and were basically afraid of sex?  Uhm, no.  However, Agamben does suggest a way to contend within this model:  “Profanation” … but this I’ll leave for another entry.

And this is where I stopped reading Agamben and opened the link to Jezebel, the on-line gossip website that has a tendency to subvert mainstream media and interrogate the very apparatus from which it sprung and through which it is maintained.  I wondered if I could apply Agamben to the “process” of subjectification in the discourse of gossip?  The etymology of “gossip” is from Old English godsibb or “godparent,” (God + sib relative) or the sponsor of a subject at their baptism.  Here, I quickly realized, the subjectification of a Living Being is clearly within The Apparatus’ blueprint and through time and mincing and dicing the word “gossip” became known as the “talk idly about the affairs of others with friends usually by women.”  In the very gendered etymology of gossip, the audience and conveyers are agents for “a God” infused Apparatus who enforce codes of morality.  Therefore if you gossip with moral indignation, with mean spiritedness, and with ill intentions you are a cog in the process of subjectifying Living Beings into something they are not in order to acquire your own denied desires to be used to construct your identity all of which is driven by capitalism.  There are, of course, “good” forms of gossip and anthropologists have also suggested that gossip is a method of survival to gain knowledge of others or for a subject to critically and constructively address their own subjectification; however; bottom-line, if the third party does not have an opportunity to speak, verify, and be understood the “gossip,” spoken over tea, takes its malicious course. Agamben writes about “friends,” how they are within the very word “philosophy,” and how, because friends share environments, is an entry point into politics.  More on this later …



Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.  ~H.G. Wells

The Penny Press of the mid nineteenth century introduced gossip columns, educational agendas, pages for religion and advertising, human interest stories, etc to the mainstream media as an alternative to papers with only political themes that were running a bit dry. The low cost for Penny Press production and for consumers served a massive demographic that was experiencing a rise in literacy. Which brings me to Jezebel, a name/symbol that is not without a biblical reference.  The story of Jezebel is told in 1st and 2nd Kings and has been over-subjectified through gossip, rumour, defamation, religious codes of conduct, patriarchy, institutionalization of the domestic, categorizing public and private, to name a few. Jezebel is a symbol, a trope, cemented into a vernacular as a fallen woman, manipulator, controller, promiscuous, immoral, false prophet masquerading her identity as a servant to a God.  Of course Jezebel’s side of the story, in keeping with the process of gossip and subjectification, is never told, never heard – the Apparatus and its players are not interested because the creation of “the other” (as a form of subjectification) is a prerequisite in the fabrication of their “moral” identities.  Jezebel was thrown to the dogs.  No, really … she was thrown to the dogs.

Jezebel, queen of Israel and priestess of Baal; King Ahab and the prophet Elijah

Gossip therefore has nothing really to do with the subject who is being scrutinized and subjectified whether it be Lohen in rehab, Lady Gaga’s footwear, Madonna’s take on masturbation, or the woman you don’t even know yet loathe, but has everything to do with one’s own struggle with power.  Jezebel, the woman, was constructed as a subject by religion and continually used as a figure in gossip, a symbol that is not only to be feared but perhaps the very figure you desire yourself to be. Demoralization, humiliation, slander, false accusations, and straight up lies toward “the other” become a means to reconstruct and uphold your own temporal “moral” identity, an elusive masquerade of an assumed self, who is manufactured because your Living Being is lost to you.

No wonder you’re so insecure.  I think that’s exactly what the second century beards had in mind.  Maybe you should think about whom you are actually working for the next time you gossip?

As Lisa, from The Simpsons, says:  No one even plays four square anymore, they just gossip.

“Augustine” is not her name:  she was named by the institution. At 15, Augustine was left at the Salpêtrière asylum in Paris in 1875 by her mother; she had already endured the brutality of sexual abuse throughout her young life. Augustine’s “hysterical attacks” had begun at the age of thirteen when, according to her testimony, she had been raped by her employer, a man who was also her mother’s lover.  When admitting her to Dr. Jean Martin Charcot’s “care,” Augustine stated that her perpetrator had threatened her with a razor (De Marneffe 88).

Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du Séminaire de Québec, fonds ancien.

I found Augustine in an essay by Elaine Showalter. She was mentioned briefly as an example of the cultural (re)production of the Shakespearean figure of Ophelia. Instead of reading through the passage, I paused to ask a simple, and as it turns out complex, question:  who are you?  Reading Augustine as a victim would have been possible; however, it would then not have allowed me to extend how I might begin to understand or hear what she might have been saying.  Her documented “hysterical” outbursts in her household were her objections to domestic violence, and her contained, managed and documented hysteria in response to the brutality and humilation she endured, along with 5,000 other girls and women, within another institution (the asylum),  I read as a discourse of resistance.

The project came to life as Tatiana and I walked home one winter’s night in Montreal:  we were talking about, oddly enough, hysteria.  We began to imagine, as the snow fell, three vertical frames that would be projected onto a wall and represent a figure’s response to Charcot’s violent reinvention of hysteria while he was director at the Salpêtrière asylum for  women in France. The figure inside each of the projected border-frames depicts the intra-activity, enfolding, and struggle with object, other, and self.

"Invention of Hysteria" by George Didi-Huberman

Our preoccupation with hysteria and how, as an ideology, it is associated with the body through varying forms of social and medical performances, could be combined through the disciplines of theatre and video art to explore the scenographic and the spatial, among others, and their relationships to power and agency.  What does hysteria mean?  How is it possible to represent hysteria when we have come to know it only through representations?  How can we translate the untranslatable? How could theatre provide a space to articulate the struggle held within these questions and potentially open “the word” for further inquiry?  These are the questions we continue to ask.

“The sign,” as Jacques Derrida asserts, “represents the present in its absence … .When we cannot grasp or show the thing, state the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we go through the detour of the sign ….The sign, in this sense, is deferred presence” (9).  In a similar way, Artaud speaks about the struggle of language when deciphering life:  “When we speak the word ‘life,’ it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach” (13).  A young girl named Augustine, therefore, is both Derrida’s “deferred” and Artaud’s “fluctuating center.”  For the installation, we are exploring, in different ways, the language found in theatre or, as Artaud suggests, “that which is half-way between gesture and thought” (89). As an iconic image of hysteria, Augustine was entered into medical discourse through Shakespeare, theatre and images, and those symbols still feed into how we come understand the “signs” that detour us from that which can never be reached – the being of hysteria, resistance and ourselves.

Charcot used patients like Augustine to represent hysteria to international audiences including physicians, writers, artists, scientists, and scholars.  All patient interviews were transcribed.  It is in Charcot’s transcriptions of Augustine, where he represents her in his “theatre of medicine” as Ophelia-like, that her uncontained silence reveals her explicit resistance to his scientific model of hysteria.  This is where I heard Augustine’s resistance: in her found monologue, a young woman resisting the institution of medicine:

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

What do you know about medicine? … I don’t want to feel you near me!

Augustine’s hysteria was a disruption of a patriarchal and institutionalized force that unified a discoursive structure which continues to govern how the female body is represented.  The video installation is an attempt to open the opportunity to discuss how the intra-disciplinary practice of theatre and video art, as well as its historical and contemporary architecture could be disrupted to a/effect space, location, geography on character/actor/identity; how historical locations remains spatially present; how borders, borderlands, and liminality in theatre/performance is a process of resistance against the violence of institutional geography, history, religion, borders, and ultimately leads to, when recognized, the (re) construction of sovereign forces and engagement among the performing present absent body and space.

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

I won’t uncross my legs! … Oh! You really did hurt me ….

No, you won’t manage! … Help! … Camel! Lout! Good-for-nothing! …

Pardon me!  Pardon me, Monsieur!  Leave me alone …. It’s impossible! …

(IPS, 11:146-146) [1]

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

After years of being held against her will by Charcot and after her many attempts to escape the institution, one morning Augustine dressed herself as a man and walked out of the front doors of the asylum into the streets of Paris.

[1] Didi-Huberman, Georges. Translated by Alisa Hartz. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere. Massachusetts: MIT, 1982. 83.

… there is a clementine, a cup of green jasmine tea, two cats, and the word Trauerspiel. From this odd catalogue, I’d like to begin with the “mourning play” because, well, I think it is as good a place as any to begin.  In “The Origin of German Tragic Drama,” Walter Benjamin describes Trauerspiel as being unlike Tragedy which is rooted in myth, and instead finds its difference by being grounded in history (16).  But what exactly is the work that needs to be done to separate the mythical out from the historical or the transcendental from the material?  This blog is not necessarily rooted in the 19th century, but it is a site of rupture from which oranges, tea, and the feral, as well as other possible tangents might emerge…

“The drama, more than any other literary form, needs a resonance of history” (48)

And don’t get me wrong, I agree that this would seem, at first glance,  a rather morose way to send off a blog on its initial voyage:  “go and play in sorrow and stuff!”  But of course there’s more going on here.  Benjamin insists that Tragedy is performed in silence whereas the Baroque Trauerspiel is anything but that : it’s rather noisy.  Tragedy does not need an audience.  Trauerspiel demands one.  What happens when the silence sewn up in Tragedy is ripped open to reveal all the historical threads?  More directly:  to hear them:  “For how justified are we in accepting that what people describe as tragic as tragic” (38). What happens to Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar when they are read through this Baroque lens, as Benjamin suggests? And further, what happens when these plays and their ubiquitous themes (power, betrayal, and love) are adapted into 19th century media, People magazine, in trial and state execution transcripts, and detention sites, etc; what happens when the sovereign and beast are no longer dichotomized but are one?  What does the Trauerspiel, in its very “primal leap” into being or Ursprung, give us access to?

Indeed this is where the task of the investigator begins, for [they] cannot regard such a fact as certain until its innermost structure appears to be so essential as to reveal it as an origin (46).

And for Benjamin, as for Foucault, Dilthey, Derrida, Spivak, and for all curious and questioning beings:  this is an endless task …