Sunday, April 24, 2011

Have We the Patience to Endure?

...Hart Crane says yes, we do. This week I've been asked to blog my inspiration, in an effort to combat the exhaustion/burnout that April seems to have wrought. Short of blogging Adele's whole discography, I turn to a book that I flip through for inspiration, just about every time I write (unless my procrastination has made such a luxury unavailable). I'll start with an important preface: blogging about this makes me slightly uncomfortable, because its possibly to read such efforts as either artificially or sycophantically motivated. I'd tell you that this is not the case, but you're not likely to take my word for it.

What is this book, you ask? Michael Snediker's Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions, of course. I discovered the book a several semesters ago, and I'll admit that for Will Danger, Michael's prose was difficult and slow going at first, though easy/difficult might be a pretty useless way to measure someone's writing anyway. Lame/awesome might be a more appropriate system, and Queer Optimism obviously falls toward the awesome end of this proposed spectrum. The book absolutely takes time to get through, but the time is well worth taking. There is much here to learn on a sentence by sentence basis, both about optimism's workings and about writing more generally. The book has fun with its words, and reminds me that academic writing can be difficult, important, and fun, all at once. I am quite indebted to the recently-tenured Michael for a number of reasons: teaching me to think about affect, recovering Elizabeth Bishop's poetry for me, being one half of the team that kept me learning (and from getting lost) in my London adventures, and keeping me writing, even when my brain is running on empty.

I don't want this to turn into a book review, necessarily, because smarter/more useful people have already provided glowing reviews. Instead, I think I'll offer you some passages from the book, in the hopes that you might find in them the same inspiration to keep writing that I have.

"Even as I think there are some forms of hope worth defending, I'm not interested, for present purposes, in demarcating good and bad hopes, hegemonic and nonhegemonic attachments to futurity. To the extent that my own project seeks to recuperate optimism's potential critical interest by arguing for its separability from the promissory, I'm here insisting that there are ways of resisting a pernicious logic of 'reproductive futurism' besides embodying the death drive. If Edelman opines that all forms of optimism eventually lead to Little Orphan Annie singing 'Tomorrow,'... I oppositely insist that optimism's limited cultural and theoretical intelligibility calls not for its grandiose excoriation, but for its (no less grandiosely) being rethought along nonfutural lines" (23).

 "Exegesis lies beyond my aims, insofar as my ambition is less to explain these smiles (at worst, tantamount to explaining them away) than to argue for their collective value as a subject of inquiry...Why presume the indistinguishability of smiles and smirks? Why presume that a smile is not only a facade, but a facade for suffering? What does it say about Crane scholarship, and criticism more generally, that a smile, critically speaking, so seldom is allowed to be a smile? As such questions suggest, my subject is not only Crane's poetry, but also the specific manner in which this poetry as been understood and misunderstood" (44).

"I turn to anecdote in the realization of (and subsequently, in the wish to enact) the difficulty of sequestering feelings from metafeelings. Or to conjure Isabel Archer or Maggie Verver, the frustrating and exhilarating perviousness of thinking and living. Anecdotes, in their move to the subjective, sometimes are viewed as escapes from the discursive. I'm not telling this particular story as a retreat from the discursive or critical, but to note the strangeness of having felt like an allegory for my own subsequent academic work" (219).

Srsly, guys. Read it. The book does some really neat conceptual and linguistic things and has a remarkable knack for evaporating my writers block. Also, in keeping with the prompt for this inspiration-post: I found the weirdest thing in my copy of Queer Optimism. There's some Chipotle rice folded into a few pages which, in addition to being kind of gross, does more work to sum up my life than I'd like it to. I am Elizabeth Lemon.

Goodnight, folks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'm Not Dead, I Promise

Though if I were, please send the dedicated detectives of Manhattan SVU to investigate. Because let's be honest, if I'm going to be murdered, it would probably be a sex crime. and I'd definitely want Mariska to investigate.

Not dead, just sort of swamped. April is all-nighter season, after all. In penance, I promise a more substantive post this weekend and offer this fascinating video to tide you over:

I've been sort of mesmerized by this video since I discovered it, and I hope you are similarly enthralled. Join me in thinking about the intersections of radically different queer and feminist histories and the work that these intersections might do. God Bless Patti Smith. And Virginia Woolf.

Survive, folks. April is almost over.

Will Danger

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Coming Out of the LiveJournal Closet

This week I've been challenged to blog about something that makes me uncomfortable. Of course, when danger is your middle name, you scoff in the face of discomfort. It's taken me some time to decide what I might write about that causes me discomfort (short of commitment, human interaction, accountability, and the future, of course). What if I abandoned my faux-cool faux-intellectual detachment and blogged about something personal?

In the winter months of my junior year of high school, I did two things: first, I started a livejournal account, which I more or less actively maintained for the next three years of my life. I've spent some time recently thinking about the new interactions which social media enable, and come to realize a few things about my livejournalistic engagements.

First, though this didn't mean very much to me until recently, my livejournal is the longest writing project in which I've ever been involved. My most recent entry was this past January, bringing my total posts to 348, the majority of which were posted between 2005 and 2008. My eight livejournal friends (my closest real-world friends) and my numerous comments on their respective livejournals also suggests that this has also been the longest-running reading project in which I have ever engaged. Whether I want to admit it or not, my time on livejournal has played a significant role in shaping the way I engage and respond to texts, which is extremely interesting to a blogger for whom English grad school might be on the horizon (This would also be your cue to make a cheap, but well deserved, shot at my grammar and my ability to edit).

The founding of my livejournal, my first adventure in blogging, also coincided almost exactly with my decision to start the coming out process (temporally, I think I started coming out a week or two before I began my livejournal). Obviously, this is not to say that I came out because I started writing about myself online, or that I started blogging because I couldn't handle the (at times very stressful) public/private negotiations of secrecy that mark one's coming out. However, I'm coming to understand that the two were, for me, closely connected. At the very least, my insistence on making all of my entries "friends only" paralleled the kind of "friends only" attitude I took with my sexuality (I came out to my friends a significant amount of time before confronting the issue with either of my parents). Livejournal then, to some extent, helped me negotiate my coming out.

I remember the public nature of such a blog being absolutely terrifying to me; even then I spent a lot of time thinking about how public such a project could potentially be. I spent large quantities of time, at least in the beginning, thinking about what I could write or not in a particular entry and what information about me would be available to the world. I wonder though, if being forced to think about coming out in those terms, as a negotiation of publicity and privacy, actually helped me come out more easily. Rather than compounding my already-sizable anxiety about everyone discovering my secret, I think my livejournal helped concretize the process, enabling me to think about coming out in different terms, even if I wasn't quite aware of it. I wonder, was the way I thought about the telling/keeping of secrets and sharing of information in the "real world," most of all coming out, structured by my engagements with livejournal, at least on some level?

What's more, becoming comfortable with the process of writing about and around my coming out made me infinitely more comfortable with the process off-line. I can, in fact, think of at least two situations (each occurring a significant amount of time after my initial coming out)  in which I ended up coming out to people precisely because they had joined our expanding livejournal community, and it was going to start being weird if I denied them access to mine. My social media interactions both made coming out easier and gave me a little push to do it (something I think people need on occasion, especially me). This also suggests that I was starting to see a weird conflation between my digital interactions and my real ones. What does it mean for my coming out narrative to shift to "Oh, if you're gonna read my livejournal, I should tell you, I'm gay?" And this is not to mention the somewhat obvious and oft discussed point that once I understood it to be a safe space, my livejournal community provided me a place of digital acceptance and relatively judgment free social negotiations (complicated and made even cooler/more useful by the fact that all of my livejournal correspondences were my real-life best friends). 

One of my biggest fears in writing this blog is to become "the boy who cried queer," using the word so many times that it ends up not meaning very much, but I wonder if we can think about this experience in two ways. First, how might we understand the new forms of community and organizing which social media enable to be queer? In the case of my livejournal, my community was a new iteration of my already existing social network, whose workings (though they weren't always positive) feels decidedly queer. Secondly, do we see social media, the blogosphere in particular, to have unique effects on and present unique opportunities to its queer citizens? The wide distribution of the internet is changing coming out narratives and providing new ways for queers to organize, both socially and politically. Maybe social media isn't a queer technology, but we're certainly doing our best to make it one.

Have a good week, folks.

PS: I feel weird that there aren't many links in this post. For the sake of easing my mind, watch this (by now sort of dated) video, in which a bully victim fights back very harshly against his bully. And then this responding penny arcade comic, and let me know what your thoughts are. This alone might be enough to start a discussion. Remember my rule about blogging not being a spectator's sport? I was serious.