One of the most difficult questions we are left with after reading M Butterfly is how did Gallimard not notice that Song was a man? Or, if he did notice and not say anything, what does that say about Gallimard? As a fan of trashy television shows, I’ve often asked myself similar questions while watching the show “Catfish” on MTV. The show revolves around the concept of online dating and the eternal question that goes along with it: how do you know that the person you’re “dating” is who they say they are? “Catfish” follows the stories of individuals who have never met their significant other in person. The climax of each episode is when the couple finally meets and one of two things happens; either they both are who they say they are and they live happily ever after or one of them is not at all as their online profile displayed them and the other is devastated.
Both M Butterfly and “Catfish” question the idea of love and what it is about someone that we fall in love with. Whereas M Butterfly focuses mostly on gender (is Gallimard gay because he fell in love with a man?) “Catfish” gives us perspective on race, age, economic status, and whatever else makes up a person’s identity. In each of these cases, both with M Butterfly and in every episode of “Catfish,” before the truth of the beloved is found out, the person that the story follows believes him/herself to be madly in love. However, when they find out that the person they love isn’t who they thought he/she was, more often than not they return home, heartbroken and empty handed. So if these people are falling in love with personalities on the internet but the personalities don’t match the bodies imagined to go with them, are these people really falling in love? We like to imagine that we fall in love with a soul, not a body, but if difference between a 22-yr old Caucasian body and a 25-year old African American body is what makes or breaks the relationship, can we claim that love is blind? It is interesting to question M Butterfly through this lens. If Gallimard claims to be in love with Song, when looking at it through this lens, we have to assume he is also in love with Song’s body. Assuming at some point he would have run into some indication that Song is a man, perhaps we can assume that Gallimard is gay, or at least bi-curious. An interesting twist on this is in the movie when Song strips down in front of Gallimard and begs Gallimard to love him. However, in the movie, Gallimard seems disgusted by Song’s male body, much like the participants of “Catfish.” Using the lens of “Catfish,” we are able to see what sorts of characteristics (gender, race, etc.) influence love and can even take priority over pure chemistry.
Not a man and not ever able to be a woman, suspended nameless in the limbo state between existence and nonexistence” pg 77
From the first read of this sentence, the binaries being set up are glaringly apparent. “Man” is set opposite of “woman,” just as “existence” is contrasting “nonexistence” (77). Similarly, “suspended,” “nameless,” and “limbo” are all clustered together (77). Even the sentence structure itself follows these binary and cluster rules; the binary of man/woman is set opposite of the existence/nonexistence comparison with the suspended/nameless/limbo cluster floats alone in the middle. This double binary emphasizes the strict boundaries of the concepts of man/woman or existence/nonexistence, claiming that they leave no middle ground for any sort of womanly man, somewhat existence, etc. If something doesn’t fit into one of these categories, according to this sentence, it doesn’t even deserve a name.
A limbo state is not a desirable one. That is to say, no one actively seeks to end up in limbo. To be in limbo insinuates failure; that one wasn’t strong enough to make it to one end point or the other, and instead had to just sort of stop in the middle. With failure comes shame and so one could argue that being in limbo is shameful. As namelessness is paralleled with “the limbo state,” to be “nameless” must also be shameful (77). Humans express themselves through language; we have a word for everything we interact with in our lives. Therefore, to be “nameless” is the ultimate failure, because, according to human logic, if there isn’t a word for it, it must not exist or be important enough to acknowledge.
I believe that Mala and Tyler are able to connect on such a deep level because Mala doesn’t really use words. For her, words don’t hold the same power as they do for someone whose sole method of expression is through them. Since Mala doesn’t use words, she is able to just let Tyler be, rather than try to define him. For example, when Tyler tries on the dress, Mala pays no attention because “the outfit was not something to either congratulate or scorn – it simply was” (77). Mala doesn’t seek to define Tyler as gay or transsexual or whatever words someone might try to pin on him. He just “was” and no words were needed to categorize that.
What is the point of movement when movement indicates life and life indicates hope? I have neither life nor hope. Better than to fall in with the crumbling wainscot, to settle with the dust and be drawn up into someone’s nostrils. Daily we breathe the dead” (108)
Perhaps the most obvious syntactical choice in this passage is the structure of the first sentence. The “x begets y begets z” form instantly implies unflagging forward motion. Word choices such as “fall” and “drawn up” conjure the idea of a cycle, and the narrator’s repetition of words such as “life” and “dead” lead me to believe that ze is referring to the circle of life. To live, we must breathe. However, the narrator makes the point that the air we breathe, the key to life as many would argue, consists of the dead. That image in and of itself it wonderfully poetic.
While my explication of the passage could end there, with that dark yet beautiful image, I think that it connects really well to Judith Halberstam’s piece called “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.” Halberstam introduces to us the idea of “queer time” (1). The heteronormative timeline is generally considered to play out as follows: birth, school, job, spouse, kids, retirement, and finally death. However, Halberstam poses the idea of “queer time” that breaks this timeline, as it focuses on “other logics of location, movement, and identification” rather than “reproduction” (1). The narrator actually addresses this idea in a passage soon after the one I chose to analyze, listing the “characteristics of living things” that she was taught in school. In fact, ze goes on to say, “I don’t want to reproduce, I want to make something entirely new” (108).
Halberstam’s idea of “queer time” allows us to eliminate reproduction from the list of “characteristics of living things” that exacerbate the narrator (108). In fact, of all the aspects of life that “queer time” allows us to move around or eliminate, birth and death are the only two constants. We will all be born, and our lives will all push forward until we die, our dust mixing into the atmosphere to sustain the new life to come. Beyond that, it is fair to say that nothing else is constant. We our slaves to our own desires, but our own desires are just that; our own. Just as desires vary from person to person, so should the characteristics and timelines of our lives. Perhaps if the narrator was able to read some of Halberstam’s work, ze would struggle less with how zir own wants and desires don’t fit into the supposed timeline we’re all supposed to follow.
A precise emotion seeks a precise expression. If what I feel is not precise then should I call it love?” (Winterson, 10)
This passage immediately drew me in, despite its brevity, because of the simple eloquence of its phrasing. In a mere two sentences, the narrator turns the widely accepted idea of ‘love’ on its head, questioning how we define our feelings and what ‘love’ actually means. The narrator poses an almost scientific theory, in the vein of Newton’s third law of motion (every action must have an equal and opposite reaction,) essentially stating that every precise emotion must be expressed through equal precision. This opposition is itself then juxtaposed with the concept that if an emotion is not precise, it may not be expressed precisely. In fact, the word “precise” is repeated three times, drawing special focus to the concept of precision and inviting the reader to question if it is possible define an emotion precisely in the first place. We all think we know what ‘love’ is, but if we were to ask everyone who is in ‘love’ to define what ‘love’ is, it is unlikely that we would end up with two identical definitions. By that logic, if those feelings of affection most of us seem to experience are imprecise and individual-specific, should we even be allowed to define them as ‘love’?
I believe that Sedgwick’s idea of queer, “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances, and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning,” can help us cope with this issue (8). Humans are pattern-seeking animals and therefore seek definitions, particularly for those things that scare or confuse us, such as imprecise emotions. Labels and clichés make us feel safe, assuring us that we are not the only ones experiencing the perplexing emotions that we do when we say, fall in ‘love.’ However, perhaps we overuse these clichés, forcing ourselves to shave down our emotions into precise pegs that easily fit in the holes we’ve made for them. We’ve streamlined ‘love,’ cutting out any room for the “…gaps, overlaps, dissonances…” that Sedgwick speaks of by “embracing one identity or one set of tastes as though they were universally shared, or should be” as Warner argues (Sedgwick, 8)(Warner, 1). As a result, we invite shame into the equation and push it on those whose idea of ‘love’ is more of a square peg than a round one. Perhaps if we were to utilize Sedgwick’s idea of queer as a precise expression of imprecise emotions, we would be more at ease (and therefore hopefully less condemnatory) with emotions that don’t identically match our own.
“Even as good shone upon the countenance of one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other. Evil besides (which I must still believe to be the lethal side of man) had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay” (pg 45.)
Most simply, this passage is referring to the two sides of Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll. It describes how evidently evil and good his two personas were, respectively. The passage claims that evil had literally made an “imprint of deformity and decay” on Mr. Hyde’s person. However, the more interesting part of this passage does not come from its literal meaning. What drew me to this passage was the dichotomy presented of the good and evil that exists in every person. The passage claims that good and evil are entirely distinguishable and yet it is common knowledge that every human has both good and evil sides. Another particularly interesting moment is when the speaker feels the need to point out that evil may not necessarily be bad or “lethal.” While it is his personal belief is that evil is in fact bad, the fact that he notifies the reader of his opinion at all, rather than relying on a general understanding of the term evil, is unusual and draws attention to this particular passage.
This passage is led me to consider two interesting theories. The first is that, while humans are composed of multiple sides and traits, only those that are “imprint[ed]” on our bodies (those that are physically manifested) may serve as identifiers to those around us. As good and evil appear so glaringly when physically manifested, according to this passage, a person will be categorized as “good” or “evil” based on their appearances when, in reality, they may contain qualities of both sides. Secondly, the passage draws our attention to the fact that the meanings of words are fluid and ever changing. This passage caused me to question whether or not “evil” always means the same thing. I would say no, that its definition is ever changing depending on the context it finds itself in. While in this context evil may mean lethal, in many others it does not. Following that logic, even the labels we push onto other people based on how they present themselves to the world can’t truly serve their intended purpose, for, like“evil”, they too are just words whose definitions are fluid and ever changing.