Readings for next Tuesday's class
(so far; two more websites expected soon from Ngoc):
one site: www.languageinindia.com/nov2001/foreign4.html
and two essays on reserve:
Janice Boddy, "Womb as Oasis: The Symbolic Context of Pharaonic Circumcision in Rural Northern Sudan." American Ethnologist (1982): 682-698.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, "Dueling Dualisms." Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. 1-29.
To Tamina, Kathryn, Michele, Lindsay H, Ngoc--
please plan, as last week's group did, to speak for about 5 minutes on your selection: where it came from, why you picked it, what interests you about it, how you think it intersects w/ our ongoing exploration. In addition (following up on Lauren's suggestion) would the 5 of you please decide together on a couple of questions that bring your essays together, so we can have a conversation that is a little less diffuse than last Thursday's?
Please and thanks and looking forward to this--
P.S. Last call to those of you who have not posted the abstracts of paper #3-4 and the bibliography.
Sarah was really pushing me in our last class on the question of the "failure" of language. Trying to articulate my thinking on this matter, I'd say that--following Lacan--I think that language always marks a loss, a gap, is always inadequate--but for that very reason we are called to continue to try to say what...cannot be said. Every discourse is insufficient, but for that reason we need to keep on talking, trying to get it "less wrong," if never actually "right" (and so I now withdraw that word "failure," and apologize for using it to Mary--and for laying it on all of you as well). Ever onward!
its a cool site so feel free to do some exploring.
in the first website you can find an article:
the second website :
feel free to explore the sites...it won't take long.
She grabs my tie and pulls me in, her breasts meeting mine: unbound by bra or tape. God, I want her. My lips press against hers and she wraps around my fingers as I feel her hands on my belt. I love undressing with the comfort of kisses and eyes staying on my body and hers as the ties, the shirts, the belts, her bra, my boxer briefs, the pants mix and mingle on the floor. I stand naked and watch her watching me. It's after my clothes fall to the floor that I let go of the perceptions, comments, looks, assumptions, judgments that have been placed on my body on my gender on my sex on my self. My vagina's hot watching her look at me. Eyes that I hope see my body my sex and don't box me as a woman. I'm naked and hot. This stripping left me free and ready. Her hand falls down my face, slides down my neck, cups my breast and pinches my already hard nipples. I watch her as she looks up at me, her lips smiling, inches from my cunt. My vagina. My pussy. In this strange place between reality, fantasy, lust, and passion, my gender is lost and found as she sucks my clit, giving me the best blowjob of my life. The best blowjob of my life. Orgasm lingers as I kiss juices from her lips, and can't understand why everything is so fucking gendered. Why my naked body screams woman. Why my fantasies label me as a man, and my gender, me... I'm still speechless from more than just that orgasm. She kisses me goodbye in the morning, I take a hot shower, and open the dresser drawers. Echoes resonate in my mind from too many questions. How can you want to put on that tie, those boxers, those briefs when you look so hot in a short jean skirt and a t-shirt ripped at the neck just low enough to hint at your beautiful, enticing breasts? Change the word "you" to the possessive "I" and use a more neutral word like "chest" instead of "breast", and you have not just this morning, but my every morning. As I feel the weight of my boxers in one hand and a pair of victoria's secret black underwear in the other, I can't help but notice—no, obsess—over the fact that my lover's eyes linger a little longer, my parents a little prouder when I dress—rather, dress up—like my societally assigned gender would suggest. But when I dress, and when I walk down the street, I'm eying the pretty girls (and some pretty boys too). Feeling the bulge in my crotch grow until everyone's staring at it, impressed. Daydreaming of walking up to one of them, saying, low and cool (pause)... the daydream always breaks off there, before I can speak, I get flustered, realizing my voice is about as low as that of a soprano in the Harlem boys' choir, and whatever is in my pants is probably the same rolled up sock that was there five minutes ago. And, my vagina's in there too. My vagina. It's not always my cunt, my pussy, my vagina. My. It's hard to put those two words together. Vagina is easy, women have them, they are red or purple or pink and gooky when you get a girl excited. My is a smaller word, but much harder. Possessive. I'm not possessive over my vagina, do not necessarily want to possess a vagina, at least not the kind of vagina that Greg on the bus in high school used to leer towards as I passed his seat. "One of these days, I'm gonna teach you how to be a real woman", he told me, at least weekly. I'd try not to shudder and move on, pretending he didn't exist, pretending he wasn't rubbing his crotch. When he knocked me down in the lunchroom and I stared up at that khaki covered crotch, it gleamed even more: "this is what I have that you don't have, that gives me power over you", it seemed to say. Greg said he had to teach me how to be a "real woman" cuz he could see that, for me, "vagina" is not equal to "woman". What he didn't know is that "real woman" was never my goal. I am not a woman. The nubs and flaps of skin that are my sex between my legs are not my gender. That is more between my ears. I want my gender to be in my vagina, to be visible, to pop out and say, "look here! This is not the vagina of a woman, so don't touch me in the way you'd touch a woman. Touch me the way my wetness and my heat and my orgasms show you, and they will show you. Listen and hear my vagina rename itself; touch me there, where it can't claim that womanly label. But my gender is not where my orgasms are, it's in the way I walk, talk, sit, fuck, laugh, make others laugh with my charm, emulate my father, emulate those hot actors like Tom Cruise and Paul Newman whom my friends always wanted to fuck. I'd rather be those men and fuck my friends. Friends. Those that know you, understand you, relate to you. But they don't. Or maybe I'm just ashamed to tell them, to merely utter the word, "trans" because of the fear that it will stick to me. If it sticks to me, am I a man? Is my girlfriend a heterosexual? Do I want either of these things? I do not want to be imprisoned in a gray area that has no term, and has no haven. I do not want to feel ashamed. I want my vagina to speak. I want it to be proud of itself, and of this renamed, reclaimed, reconfigured body. I want to be proud of this renamed, reclaimed, re-imagined body. The thing is, I'm not supposed to be proud. I'm supposed to go to the good doctors and say, "I want a penis!" and "I'm a man trapped in a woman's body" and "I've always tried to pee standing up since I was two years old" (and I only played with GI Joe's and I hated dresses and I only hung out with boys, and always hated these breasts—never my breasts, always "these" breasts, or rather, "chest"). If the word "trans" clings to me, chains itself to me, is all of this true for my life, my gender, me? Maybe it is true for some people. Maybe some of it's true for me. Maybe I am a man and maybe I would be happier if I'd been born with a penis. Right now, I just don't know. I know that I have a vagina, and I know it feels good when somebody touches me. I know that I have been afraid to let people know what I have, to let them touch me down there and see that I like it. If I'm not afraid of my body, if I'm not ashamed of it, if I actually like—love—lust after being touched in that hole they've designated as female, then they tell me I'm not really trans, even if I want to be. That I just think I am, but that I can't be trans if I like my vagina or if I like to get fucked. Especially if I like to get fucked. So what it comes down to is that I'm not sure how I feel about my genitalia, not sure what to say anymore. My vagina, not my genitalia, sorry. No more safe, neutral words. It's too easy to pretend that I have non-gendered genitalia, that none of this matters. That when you ignore your parts, they don't exist, even if you've had three urinary tract infections this year so far and have never gone to get a pap smear. If I deny my vagina, how does it explain my existence? If I love my vagina, how does it explain my gender? If my sex partners enjoy my vagina, are they seeing me as a woman? Why does woman have to equal vagina? In saying that, is where I stand right now at this moment a safe space? Why do I have to pretend every day that I'm not thinking about this, that pretending not to think about it works? I'm sick of pretending. Sometimes I pretend I'm not having sex because I don't want to, when the real reason I don't have sex is that the gay boys ignore me and the dykes don't know what to do with me. If I want a straight girl, will that make me a straight boy? I am not a straight boy. I'm afraid of what my lover thinks when I—if I—take off my clothes. I think my body is sexy, its curves and appendages both, but do you? Are my breasts as sexy when I unbind at night? Or when I bind during the day? What do I have to hide in order to feel and be sexual? Do I have to hide... my vagina? My vagina will not hide anymore. My vagina's coming out, because not all guys have penises, and not all vagina-ed individuals are women. I am sick of being excluded and I refuse to be forcibly included. My vagina's coming out. And so am I.
Johnson begins by describing a Nintendo game that was a favorite of my son's a few years ago, Zelda: Ocarina of Time: "The plot belongs squarely to the archaic world of fairy tales--a young boy armed with magic spells sets off to rescue the princess....what you're supposed to do...takes hours of exploration and trial and error....But if you see that opacity as part of the art...then the whole experience changes: you're exploring the world of the game and the rules of the game at the same time....
I think [this generation has] developed another skill, one that almost looks like patience: they are more tolerant of being out of control, more tolerant of that exploratory phase where the rules don't all make sense, and where few goals have been clearly defined. In other words, they are uniquely equipped to embrace the more oblique control system of emergent software. The hard work for tomorrow's interactive design will be exploring the tolerance--that suspension of control--in ways that enlighten us, in ways that move beyond the insulting residue of princesses and magic spells."
Jan Richards, webmistress for Serendip, and I spent this morning wrestling your praxis papers/bibliographies into shape for posting. You can find them now @ http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/thinksex/web3/index.html or on the last link (to Praxis Site Papers) on the course homepage.
If you have questions about how yours turned out, send them to Jan, okay? (w/ a copy to me, since I'm learning under her tutelage and right along w/ you folks).
As per my last posting, my current guiding insight is that of "emergent systems." I've just finished Steven Johnson's Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities,and Software, and pass along now another passage from that book, which encourages me as we limp along together, figuring out how to play this game....
"Narrative has always been about the mix of invention and repetition; stories seem like stories because they follow rules that we've learned to recognize, but the stories that we most love are ones that surprise us in some way, that break rules in the telling. They are a mix of the familiar and the strange: too much of the former, and they seem stable, formulaic; too much of the latter, and they cease to be stories. We love narrative genres--dectective, romance, action-adventure--but the word generic is always used as a pejorative....
that battle over control that underlines any work of emergent software, particularly a work that aims to entertain us, runs parallel to the clash beween repetion and invention in the art of the storyteller. A good yarn surprises us, but not too much.... great [web] designers...are control artists--they have a feel for that middle ground between free will and the nursing home, for the thin line between too much order and too little. They have a feel for the edges."
"So they had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom she had the most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments, the discussions, were the great thing: the love-making and connection were only a sort of primative revision and a bit of an anticlimax. One was less in love with the boy afterwards, and a little inclined to hate him, as if he had trespassed on one's privacy and inner freedom...this sex business was one of the most ancient and sordid connections and subjections...Women had always known there was something better...The beautiful, free power of a woman was infinately more wonderful than any sexual love. The only thing was that men lagged so far behind...the insisted on the sex thing like dogs."
"...she could use this sex thing to have power over him. For she had only to hold herself back in sexual intercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the crisis: and then she could prolong the connection and achieve her orgasm and her crisis while he was merely her tool."
"But then she soon learnt to hold him to keep him there inside her when his crisis was over. And there he was generous and curiously potent; he stayed firm inside her, given to her, while she was active...wildly, passionately active, coming to her own crisis. And he felt the frenzy of her achieving her own orgasmic satisfaction from his hard, erect passivity, he had a curious sense of pride and satisfaction."
One reaction I have: A small group of us were talking after class outside English house stating how we felt that the signs for words that were less sexually explicit were the most beautiful and erotic, (for example, the sign for the word "neck"). I was wondering why Iris didnt choose to contrast the song she used--- which contained blatant bodily sexual language--- with a song that was describing sex using less explicit language. an example of the latter would be, pulling a song from debra's mix cds, peaches n' cream song by 112. the hook for the song is:
Peaches and cream
I need it 'cause you know
That I'm a fiend...
It's even better when
It's with ice cream
Know what I mean
Peaches and cream
Now, I know that this song is describing a woman's vagina. However, when translated into ASL, would it look as sexually graphic as the song we saw in class today? I dont meant to sound like I am picking at small things. I am just wondering how the translation would look. I think a lot of my reaction to what I saw today was from the overtly explicit signs such as the one in which it is the two spread out fingers and the tongue in between them (i think that meant oral sex on a woman?) I think it would be interesting to see the less blatant verbal language translated through ASL and see our interpretation of it...
I was in my usual ambivalent state during class yesterday: on the one hand delighting the "emergent system" that's evolving in the context of this class, @ the elements which arise when I'm not trying to control what happens, such as Iris's astonishing performance, for which many, many thanks ...).
on the other hand, I found myself very impatient that we weren't "getting far enough," "working hard enough," "trying hard enough" to push the envelope of what we already know. As you may remember, all my questions had to do w/ the notions of categories: WHAT distinguishes music from text, as an expression of sexuality? WHAT constitutes the category "fetish"? Lauren defined it as "a unique way of getting off, different from the mainstream." But what happens, in that definition, to Samuel Delany's challenge in "Aversion/Perversion/Diversion" (the essay we read on 9/10/02) to the "myth of the solitary fetish" (126), the attempt to "dissolve normal/abnormal" (138), to declare all we do "perverse"?
Likewise, given yesterday's presentations, what is left "outside" the category of "art"? Did the distinction on which this class was founded--that we are exploring here the ways in which sex finds its way into language--come undone when Monica presented various sexual positions as forms of art, as body language? (I'm reminded here of HY's early lament: "why can't we let sex be language-less, natural in own language?...sex IS a language and has a language all its own. Translation is futile.") IS sex itself a language? An art? How then are we defining art? --and who gets to do the defining?
I made reference in class to a talk by Arthur Danto, "Beauty and the Definition of Art," which I heard @ Haverford on 11/7/02. Danto began with an essay by Clement Greenberg, who saw modernism as a radical reduction, a conceptual cleansing, fed by a puritannical fervor to get rid of all that is extrinsic (so painting, for instance, is purged of all illusion, all depth, and becomes essential "flatness"). Danto juxtaposed that modernist aesthetic with subsequent movements which attempted to close the gap between art and life, to transfigure everyday life by studying the aesthetic of everyday objects. Pairs of objects became available that were entirely alike in appearance, but one was "art," the other not. Inspired by Suzuki's Zen Buddhism, Brecht's Fluxus, and John Cage's seminar on performance art, artists began creating objects which were not distinguishable in outward appearance from not-art. What accounted for the difference? There were no conventional criteria left for distinguishing Duchamp's "readymades" from a garage collection, dance from sitting still, "whatever is heard" from music, a row of bricks from sculpture. Fluxus challenged all the received conceptions of art that grounded its distinction from the everyday: exclusiveness, individuality, rarity, inspiration, skill, commodity values...little survived the avant garde experiment, Danto explained, except for a definition of art as "an artifact on which persons acting on behalf of the art world chose as a candidate." The task of art critics continued to be to explain "wherein its excellence consists"--not its beauty, because the point could be to elicit disgust in the viewer, or simply to evoke some powerful reaction.
Does any of THAT take us somewhere we haven't been before?
Pushy as always,
Anne P.S. The handout about final presentations had some omissions; here are the revisions, which I've also posted on the online syllabus:
Day 25: Tues, Dec. 3 Sarah H, HY, Maggie, Fritz, Nia
Day 26: Thurs, Dec. 5 Ngoc, Monica, Emily, Iris, Lindsay F, Jill
Day 27: Tues, Dec. 10 Bea, Lindsay U, Nancy, Tamina, Sheri
Day 28: Thurs, Dec. 12 Elisa, Jenny, Jess, Chelsea, Deborah
6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16: Kathryn, Michelle, Sarah M,Lauren H, Masha
However, this kind of skirts around the main question: Why is the use of the body in communication considered sexual/sensual? Maybe its because "body language" (all language that depends on the body for its expression) brings us back to our own and others' physicality, our physical bodies, and therefore our sexual bodies. Sign language and other forms of body language focus on the physical aspect of humans, rather than the mental. But still -what is it about the human body and bodily expression that is so sexual? Mental communication doesn't equal non-sexual, and physical communication doesn't equal sexual, so then what aspect of sexuality is drawn out only in physical communication, and not mental? THe attention it draws to the physical body? Does it bring us back to our primal (sexual) urges or something? I'm confused!!!