Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

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

Author: literaryvampire

How Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” works with Warner & “The Trouble With Normal”

Foucault’s thoughts on confession and sexuality in The History of Sexuality are reminiscent of Michael Warner (making the connection yet again), and that resemblance reveals a really large and overarching idea of the standards that queer people, as individuals with non-normative sexual identities, are held to. Foucault writes, “The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points, is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface; that if it fails to do so, this is because a constraint holds it in place, the violence of a power weighs it down, and it can finally be articulated only at the price of a kind of liberation” (60). When he says that “[confession] is so deeply ingrained in us” he means that society has, for so long, placed immense pressure and expectations on individuals with “secrets” to make them feel that way. The secrets he references are sexual acts, some of the most historically “locked-away” and “secret” of which are queer, which has been talked about in The Trouble With Normal with Michael Warner’s “list” of good and bad behaviors. Although his “bad” list – and writing, in general – extends to much more than just non-heterosexual sex acts, the stark difference between the good and bad, and the shame that comes along with it is exactly what causes the secrets that Foucault writes about people keeping (and being forced to confess). It is almost ironic, then, that people are forced to lock away parts of themselves via societal pressure and at the same time are compelled by that same society to confess the same things they locked up. Queer sex and sexuality becomes an almost “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation in which people are pulled in two very different directions – secrecy/shame and confession – that makes life that much harder for those individuals. One could even go so far as to say that this paradox is purposeful, because it has been traditionally effective at keeping queer individuals hidden away and quiet as they struggle between the two directions that they are forced to choose, and when queer people are subdued like that, it makes the “normal” people in society – the very traditional, heterosexual individuals, as Warner would probably say – more comfortable to live while thinking more of themselves and less of others in need.

Colorful language in Autobiography of Red (no, not THAT type of colorful language)

In Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson uses language inventively and creatively, pairing unlikely senses and concepts in a way that serves to make readers think more deeply about the text and to consider the ways in which language can play off itself to enhance the story’s intimate type of mysticism as it relates to the original ancient myth of Geryon. This novel revolves around color and the ways in which Anne Carson manipulates color to be a representation of Geryon’s self — “his small red shadow” (24) doesn’t literally mean that his shadow was red, but he himself and his wings, which are so closely tied to his sense of self, are red, red, red. When Geryon meets Herakles, however, colors shift, like how Herakles dreams of Geryon in yellow (which is, to Geryon, outrageous). In one passage, Carson pairs Herakles and his desire for sex with the color blue, writing (presumably as an observation of Geryon’s), “Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue saying,/Geryon please” (53). Here, blue is unexpected in several ways: “heat” suggests colors such as orange, yellow, or red, which are all warm colors, and blue is not a warm color. Additionally, blue, now associated with Herakles, is a near-contrasting color to red, which is Geryon’s “color”, further emphasizing the divide between Herakles and Geryon and shows how different and even perhaps wrong for each other they are.  The pairing of color with additional sensations gives Autobiography of Red more layers and additional, meaningful complexity.

On Reconciling Religion and Queerness in Mosaic of the Dark

What Eye Is This
Lisa Dordal

1. Twice Now I’ve Dreamed of Birds
What eye is this that rises
and falls, sudden flock
across a blue wake, billowing
as if body and sky
are one. As God becomes
the quarrel, becomes
confusion and descent,
fragment of exaltation. This
eye, this wisp of seeing
and being seen.

*I have only included “1. Twice Now I’ve Dreamed of Birds”, and not “2. Omniscience, Prayer, Pantheon”, because the second one was not as relevant to what I was writing about.

Some of the things which draw me to Lisa Dordal’s poetry the strongest are her usages of Biblical allusions and references to the Divine. I do not necessarily consider myself a religious person; religion is not something that comes easy to me, and I’ve tried. However, it seems that there is something inherently magnetizing about gems of religious references which are hidden in literature pertaining to matters of identity, particularly about queer identity, because the two, even as concepts, are so often at odds with each other (more by execution than design, but design is certainly not exempt from any blame). Queerness and religion are woven together in Mosaic of the Dark, as they are both fundamental elements of Dordal’s identity and of the events of her life thus far, and “1. Twice Now I’ve Dreamed of Birds” from “What Eye is This” (p. 62) caught my eye as invoking both of these.
This poem is a snapshot of the events of a brief dream (whether real or fake is not apparent, but so many of Dordal’s other poems draw on memory and raw experiences that I would expect it to have been an actual dream). It then transitions to God again, and to being seen, themes that have been appearing throughout the book.
I had the opportunity to ask Dordal about this, or rather, comment on how important it was to see as someone who has also realized that many of my deep-seated issues with identity and being seen have to do with the Catholic Church’s insistence on queer erasure. From what she said over the course of the evening, it seems she has most definitely been able to reconcile much of that, and she now holds a Masters in Divinity, and through her writing she has been able to find healing and closure.
In this class, through texts such as The Trouble With Normal by Michael Warner, it has been made apparent that standards placed upon queer individuals by the confines of religion are considered “bad” because of their normalcy. Sometimes, though, it is absolutely imperative that queer people reconcile their relationship with religion instead of ignoring their church’s doctrine entirely. In Lisa Dordal’s case, this has provided a sense of peace and a path of study/career path, and she now writes about it as a way of emphasizing the isolation that she, as a closeted lesbian felt (for many reasons, though – not solely because of religion, but that no doubt had an impact on her). I think that although Michael Warner may have made excellent points in arguing against the traditional values placed upon queer people by religion, Dordal demonstrates that reconciling one’s relationship with religion, as a queer individual, can be a way of freeing oneself and making oneself seen again.

What a lighthearted deflection of blame has to say about the narrator’s state of mind

“Perhaps I’m not meant to have any worldly goods. Perhaps they are blocking my spiritual progress and my lighter self continually chooses situations where I will be free of material burdens. It’s a comforting thought, slightly better than being a sucker…Judith’s bottom. I treasure it” (Winterson 76).

This quote comes just after the narrator had recounted the story of one of their ex-girlfriends, Judith, who once locked the narrator outside in the cold and then burned their clothes. The narrator has hypothesized that maybe the reason that they are often found caught in situations such as this one – facing ex-girlfriends who have turned hostile – is not a result of any fault of the narrator, but instead, anything but that. In this case, it’s that the universe has decided that the narrator is not meant to possess worldly goods, and their subconscious is what is creating these situations, ones in which it knows the narrator will end up losing something.

This way of thinking reoccurs quote frequently throughout the novel – not necessarily in terms of analyzing the reasons for which the narrator is losing their possessions, but in terms of the narrator placing the blame and searching for answers elsewhere. The narrator tries to look at the big picture, the “other” reason or explanation, when there may not even be one. Between the girlfriends (and girlfriends who are already married, specifically), the narrator is constantly waiting on heartbreak and is constantly waiting on change. It is the mark of an exhausted person who has grown tired of looking within themselves and has grown tired of trying to fix what drives them to always end up in situations that are prone to ending in disaster.

Much of the grappling for some external explanation is done in specific reference to love and time, which really lays bare some of the narrator’s inner demons; they are a hopeless romantic who still searches for hope, but they are afraid of commitment and are reluctant to show vulnerability, which is why they are always searching for another way of explaining their situation.

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