Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Author: Scout Meredith Best


“The obligation to confess is now relayed to us through so many points, is so deeply ingrained in us that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us.” (Foucault)

Intriguing in the rest of the Foucault’s discussion of confession, these sentences are also particularly pertinent to the larger theme of queer studies. In this work, Foucault debates the role of confession and how, in his view, the “Western man has become a confessing animal.” The choice of wording of this observation that confession has become an “obligation” only serves to highlight how that, even if we see confession as an act of sharing between those who we chose to confide in, it is ultimately expected of us. After all, are our confidants really our confidants if there is no obligation of confession? Without the norm of confession, there is not a sense of being a confidant and this obligation we are expected to uphold is “so deeply ingrained in us” that we willing continue to cater the norm.

On that note, it is interesting to consider that society at large has created a norm of confession that is looming over us as a monolith—a constraining power in essence. This can relate to Foucault’s wording of “points.” Earlier in the essay, he discusses how one confesses or “is forced to confess” to a myriad of figures, usually of authority. He cites examples such as parents, doctors, educators, “to those one loves.” This is interesting because these examples are a demonstration of how these “points” have taught, or “relayed,” this sense of obligation to confess as a method of both control and of intimacy.  From a young age, our parents and educators, some of the most influential people in shaping thought processes, have introduced the theme of confession into our lives, perhaps to a detrimental effect. Because we are obligated to uphold these norms in our own spheres, we may place those same expectations on others as well, creating a cycle of constraining power.

Expanding into the wider sphere of queer studies, confession is reminiscent of the idea of coming “out.” There may be a perceived obligation of the need to “confess” to the world about who one truly is. The thought that we are “constrained” by an outer power—perhaps in this context the encompassing idea of heteronormativity—forces the idea that one is obligated to throw off these confines and come out and that if we do not do so, we are somehow hiding our true selves.  Worse, perhaps this perceived sense translates into feeling like we have betrayed the trust or assumptions of the other “points” from whom we have learned the mechanisms of confession.


Invention is synonymous with both discovery and exploration. In Autobiography of Red, the theme of discovery runs throughout the book but is also tied to the exploration of South America and the use of the Quechua language. Geryon, a Greek, is exploring Argentina when he encounters his ex-lover Herakles and winds up going on a trip to Peru. Through his explorations of Peru and Argentina, Geryon seems to find more peace in his state as a “man in transition.” (60) Perhaps his sense of discovery is also inadvertently connected to the inventive use of Quechua. The history of this language has parallels to Geryon’s experience; it was almost destroyed (by the Spanish), but ultimately survived and is still widely spoken in Peru and Bolivia. Likewise, Geryon was almost destroyed by his lover but, towards the end of the book, seems to make steps towards spreading his own wings through encouragement. This can be evidenced in when Ancash tells Geryon that he “wants to see you use those wings.” (144) His encouragement seems to follow the path of Carson’s use of Quechua. This language is beginning to make a comeback in Peru and Bolivia through governmental backing but in Autobiography of Red, Herakles even sings in Quechua. (113) To use this language in her book, Carson is truly thinking beyond the typical paradigm of the use of Spanish and the normal experience to dive into the more hidden layer of languages and to tie the experiences of Geryon toQuechua.

Kissing Energy

“Kissing energy we call it.

But all they see is


This passage is striking in its relevance to the issues of the modern day as well as its tie-in to Mosaic of the Dark as a whole. To start, the words that seem to have an emphasis in these lines are “they” and “we.” This contrast of us/them is apt in Dortal’s book because of its closeness to the difference of being queer or straight. In this book of discovery, this theme comes up repeatedly. The “unseen..thing” of the relationship that these two women have are obvious to them but less so to those who are looking to hurt them. This “something” may be an analogy for what is nagging at Dordal as she looks to find herself. There is something different about her that prompts a feeling of introspection and is also a question but until she realizes that she is queer, there is a confused sense of kissing energy for her. What now seems so obvious to those in the relationship is actually blurry to the outside world, for better or for worse.

Even the wording of “kissing energy” invokes an inside connection. This energy is captured within a closed system of those who are connected. The outside forces may not be able to see what is happening within the system even if they can sense a connection of energy between the parts of the system.

In the terms of larger queer studies, this poem is connected to the tragic violence that many queer people face.  “The Lies that Saved Us”  focuses on the sense of insecurity that a queer couple feels. They “lie like Abraham” just to feel safe. Their connection is noted but is a case of mistaking their identity rather than who they truly are. People think the couple are sisters and think they “have figured out some secret code” when the couple plays along. This line just serves to reinforce the misconceptions that queer couples may feel obligated to uphold to protect their safety. Once again, this plays to the trope of the collection of poems about identity—hidden and otherwise. These women “know the power in things unseen” and are able to use that power to protect themselves as well as to seemingly create an inside sense of connections that the world can misperceive.


“For carpet makers and cloth weavers all over the world, the challenge of knots lies in the rules of its surprises. Knots can change but they must be well behaved. An informal knot is a messy knot. Louise and I were held by a single loop of love. The cord passing round our bodies had no sharp twists or sinister turns. Our wrists were not tied and there was no noose about our neck.” (pg 87.)

The narrator states that they and Louise are held together “by a single loop of love.” The idealistic version of being held together that is presented by the narrator is an indication that they are ready to change. Even by noting the word single, the narrator implies that this sense of love and well-being is not more constraining for one than another. It is a shared loop. Perhaps in an illusion to her restless past affairs, the narrator specifically addresses that their “wrists were not tied” and there is “no noose about our neck.” This relationship is mutually desired and one is not tying the other down. The narrator’s other relationships appear “informal” and messy in comparison to Louise. Many times, the narrator implied that they felt constrained by being in a relationship or that their affair of the moment was not fully prepared to give up what she had to completely be with the narrator—often her relationship with her husband. This relationship with Louise seems different—it is not informal and there are no “sinister turns.” Of course, this is ironic because the most “sinister turn” of all is tied up inside Louise. What seems so idyllic actually will become undone in dramatic form.

The narrator also seems to be using the descriptions of the knots as a metaphor for their own change that happens to them as they fall for Louise. They say that “knots can change but they must be well behaved.”  Knots—especially tangled ones—are incredibly complicated. Instead of tangling this new relationship with complications, the narrator will be “well behaved.”  They do not want a messy knot here. Every knot can be untangled. There is always a “rule” to organizing the “surprises.” It is just a matter of finding what rules undo the complications. In this case, the narrator is the knot who becomes untangled by Louise.

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