Wednesday, December 28, 2011


With all the short posts 'round these parts, I worry that this blog is in danger of becoming a glorified tumblr. Fortunately, I like to live pretty dangerously. A real post is brewing, but in the interim I've had this sentence rattling around in my head for the past few weeks, courtesy of high modernism's first lady of semicolons:

"With intermittent shocks, sudden as the springs of a tiger, life emerges heaving its dark crest from the sea. It is to this we are attached; it is to this we are bound, as bodies to wild horses." -Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Downright haunting in its execution, sort of thrilling in its suggestion, I've been thinking about Woolf's sentence alongside Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "How to Return Home" (or, really, the entirety of their Tales from the Bad Years, links here and here). They strike some really useful intellectual dissonances in the way they frame my emergent twenties (and probably thirties and forties). Also, lately I find myself totally unmotivated to do any serious literary study without a good soundtrack. Grad schools, consider yourselves warned.

Bootleg performed by Krysta Rodriguez, who is vastly underrated, even if she is much older than I thought. Give K&L a few listens, give The Waves another read, and mull it over with me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Angst: The Day After

While we here on the Block try to reassemble ourselves after a holiday full of wine and questionable family encounters, we want to take this opportunity to wish you a happy Boxing Day. Whether you spent your holidays hiding from your family in a closet (literal or metaphorical), explaining to British relatives what Sam's Club was, having awkward wrestling matches with your father (again, literal or metaphorical), or discovering your dad's amateur pornography, we salute you for surviving. I'll leave you with a tune from mid- 90's Alanis Morissette, New Queer's resident angry grrrl/firebrand:

One of my favorite songs from one of my top five favorite albums. And we all know I don't do favorites very well. Here's to vetting some holiday angst/blues  with a good old-fashioned sing along. Be good(ish), folks.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Optimism/Pesimism or, You're so Neurotic, You Probably Think this Post is the Worst

I'm gonna open by reminding all involved that my subtitle is a play on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or You're so Paranoid, you Probably Think this Essay is About You," though, if I have to insist on a joke this hard, it probably isn't very funny. Isn't the first rule of comedy that you should never explain a joke or something?

I've spent some time lately thinking about my own critical habits, and the extent to which my reading habits inform the rest of my thought patterns. Put bluntly, I find myself thinking through my everyday interactions as I would a literary or cultural text. I certainly don't mean to apologize for this, if for no other reason than that I'm pretty committed to this act. The messiness of the day-to-day has a lot to tell us about a lot of stuff. I run into problems, however, when the pessimism (or, following Eve Sedgwick, the suspicion) around which my critical practice is situated starts to seep into my everyday life. I'm finding the quest to combat my fundamental pessimism provides me a moment to also reevaluate my reading habits. As part of my brief experiment in optimism, I wonder what it would mean to also infuse my textual reading habits with optimism. I want to spend a little time thinking about what optimistic reading would look like, and to examine this optimistic/pessimistic distinction alongside Eve Sedgwick's paranoid reading/reparative reading. My goal is not so much to expand her critical work, but rather to figure out what it would mean to rescue both my reading habits and interpersonal relationships from the monotony/general pessimism of suspicion.

I'm not embarrassed to admit that I find Sedgwick's reparative reading quite difficult, both in concept and in practice. What I admire most about the article though (and really, all of Touching, Feeling, the book-length project in which the essay appears), is how deliberately unmoored it is. In her introduction, Sedgwick is careful to point out that the essays of Touching, Feeling have resisted the constriction of a book-length argument, and, giving us a glimpse of the book's optimistic core, she insists that this is an enabling possibility, rather than a limitation.  Eve's optimism helps us expand the practice of reading: "I think it will leave us in a vastly better position to do justice to a wealth of characteristic, culturally central practices, many of which can well be called reparative, that emerge from queer experience but become invisible or illegible under a paranoid optic" (147). Among other things, she calls into being a critical practice that bridges gaps, seizes possibility, and might resign itself to a positive affective vocabulary. Paranoia, by contrast, lives in contradiction, is a theory of negative affects, and "places faith in exposure." In my simplest misrecognition, reparative reading does something and feels good about it.

What I am wondering, alongside Sedgwick's critical optimism, is what it means for our reading practices (and our thought processes more broadly) to resist such pessimism. At what point in our lives (or really, my life) did gaps, uncertainties, eccentricities resolve into negativities rather than possibilities? Why do I find myself choosing suspicion (and the terror that comes along with suspicion) over the giddiness of possibility? Why do I find myself reading my year off/recent directionlessness as crippling, rather than wildly enabling? Queer theory tells me to enjoy incoherence, strategic illegibility, and getting lost, doesn't it?

In terms of both my reading practices and thought patterns, what if I stopped living in problematics? What if I stopped using disgusting grad student words like complicate, reexamine, and problematize, playing devil's advocate at every turn? Among other things, it'll make me a much more tolerable person (not forgetting, of course, that suspicion can be situationally useful). And who knows, maybe optimistically recalibrating my reading/thinking practices, in addition to being wildly generative, might actually be a little bit thrilling. Remember when reading and thinking were fun?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The World Only Spins Forward

I'm having a hard time sleeping. My brain is sort of spinning off its axis right now (read: melting out my ears), and I thought I'd try to blog my way out of it. After all, what use is a blog if I can't take my vacuous thoughts and foist them on you, my unsuspecting readers. I guess that presupposes anyone is reading this. They might not be.

I've been rereading Angels in America the past few nights. Cynic that I am, I understand that you might be tempted to roll your eyes. After all, every teenage gay boy with an HBO subscription and a chip on his shoulder likes to go on and on about how wonderful it is. And admittedly, in my most cynical moments, I find myself on the verge of dismissing the kind of identity politics which the play enacts. Maybe I'm just haunted by the ghost of 17 year old Will, who read Angels in America as the GREAT GAY MASTERPIECE. Gag me with a spoon.

And yet.

I really do think Angels in America (particularly the second part, Perestroika) contains some of the best (and most significant) writing by an American playwright. I've blogged about one of my favorite scenes before, but tonight, I'm tangled up in Harper's final monologue. Maybe it'll ease my racing brain to reread it in public:

"I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare like old cheesecloth, and that was frightening.

Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the sounds of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.

Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind and dreaming ahead. 
At least I think that's so" (275).

(Forgive me, techno-nub that I am, I cannot format for shit. Anyone have any advice?)

Honestly, I don't have an argument for the play. I don't totally know what Kushner means when he claims a painful progress, or later, when Prior resolutely tells us that the world only spins forward. I'm a little worried about what overthinking the play might do to my overall appreciation of the piece. Plus, honestly, the writing does enough intellectual and emotional heavy lifting for all of us. What I admire most about the Angels in America is its willingness to struggle with religion. Kushner really gets America's terrifying religious history stuck in his teeth and manages to locate hope in pre-millennial  New York City. His results are fascinating and alternately refreshing/terrifying. (Am I allowed to use "refreshing" to describe something that premiered 20 years ago?)

I'll conclude this late-night public reading first by demanding that you put the computer down and go read (or reread) the play. Second, I'll leave you with Perestroika's final monologue. In the epilogue, Prior and company are sitting on the rim of Bethesda Fountain in Central park. Prior closes:

"The fountain's not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer, it's a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you: More life.
The Great Work Begins" (280).

Incidentally, I saw a amazing performance of Perestroika in Silver Spring two years ago. Ah, that more theaters would stage this (admittedly really, really difficult) play.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mouthing Off, Shaking It Out

I guess I owe my (three or four) readers an apology. It's been a goal for my interim year to increase my aptitude for cultural analysis, both by pushing the limits of what I can force you to read get away with writing and by expanding this farce very serious writerly enterprise into unknown cultural waters. (A twofer for passive-aggressive strikethroughs!) I imagine this tiny slice of the blogosphere has become sort of tedious to wade through as of late, and for that I apologize. Look forward to much more banal (and therefore infinitely more interesting) posts as the holidays approach. Having now apologized, I will obviously continue in the exact same vein as before, which I suspect is exactly the sort of underhanded bullshit you've come to expect from me as a blogger. Sorry? I'm hoping you'll be mildly less furious if I begin the post with a really hilarious/accurate list. Did it work? Did it?

I discovered last spring that I am totally missing the language to write effectively about visual rhetoric. As part of the project to expand my critical arsenal, I've been doing a little reading around in the visual arts, most recently Deleuze's Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Join me, won't you, as I mouth off about something I know nothing about. Admittedly, Francis Bacon is an artist that I've only come to recently, but I find myself sort of entranced. It strikes me as a little useless to talk about liking/disliking his painting, since Bacon concerns himself most often with bodies, embodiment, and horror (in his introduction, Deleuze calls Bacon's painting "of a very special violence"). I will say instead that I am equal parts fascinated and repulsed by a lot of Bacon's work and that I find this tension extremely intellectually useful.

As compelled as I am by most of Deleuze's arguments surrounding Bacon, I get a little hung up on the way he discusses bodies in Bacon's painting. Primarily citing Figure at a Washbasin (1976, pictured above) and Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe (1963), Deleuze reads Bacon's bodies as trying to evacuate themselves of materiality (Deleuze uses the word "meat"). He reads these bodies as inhabiting a specific vanishing point (the washbasin, for example), through which they are trying to empty themselves, "to dismantle the face." This argument leaves me wondering, though, how we can be totally positive that evacuation is what we are witnessing. Painting, as an atemporal medium (a complicated and vaguely problematic statement), leaves us wondering about the direction of this evacuation. Said another way: Since we experience a painting as a static image, if a painting shows us half a body, who's to say whether the body is falling apart or coming together.  Rather than evacuation, I wonder what it would mean to establish consumption as the vantage point from which to read Bacon's bodies (understanding, of course, that a consumptive/consuming body is every bit as grotesque as a body emptying itself). Along this axis, Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe is less about a body/figure pulling itself apart than one assembling itself.

I don't necessarily want to contradict Deleuze's reading, so much as diverge from it. What would it mean to read Bacon's figures as taking in material, as making too much of themselves? To a certain extent, these consumptive bodies become resistant figures. They resist Bacon's figural aspirations and attempts to narrativize. Such hungry and ever-expanding flesh would slightly relocate the distinction between flesh and figure. Where in his first chapter, Deleuze reads Bacon's "round areas" as attempts to contain the body and "isolate the figure," these bodies would be incapable of isolation insofar as their hunger always keeps them in contact with the rest of the painting's environment.

I'll close with some quick thoughts: What do we make of painted bodies that resist the efforts of the painter/viewer? What happens when we think about consumption as a mode of resistance? How do consumptive bodies recalibrate Bacon's meditation on the powers of horror? How might self-assembling bodies mediate the thread of general attachment between painter/viewer and painting? More fundamentally, what would it mean to think about Bacon (or any painter) as a thinker, rather than an artist? (I'm really growing to hate the word artist) Why are you still reading this post when it has clearly lost its train of thought (if it ever had one)?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Watching Way Too Much TV: An American Horror Story

Over the past few days, I've had a nearly unprecedented amount of deadlineless time to read, write, and think, which has been really fantastic. Riding this new calm, I've also taken the opportunity (of course) to gulp down a new show, and I'll go ahead and say that everything you've heard about American Horror Story is true. The Ryan Murphy that birthed Nip/Tuck is back. Hallelujah. I've been itching to blog about Nip/Tuck for a while, and Ryan Murphy articulates similar thought patterns in both shows. Glee aside (sorry Glee fans), and despite his flair for absurdity/borderline homophobia, I really think Murphy is one of the most important (or at least interesting) writers on television.

As I prepare to think through the first couple episodes,  I suppose I'll start with a spoiler alert, though I'm having a hard time thinking about this show in spoiled/unspoiled terms. Sure, if you're a reader who hasn't seen it, I'm going to be forced to bring you up to speed. I'm not particularly worried about this, though, because American Horror Story doesn't strike me as a show that is particularly concerned with revelation. Unlike a lot of the other lame shows I watch (Lost, Heroes, Supernatural), the show's primary tension is not "what's going to happen?!?" Your viewing may even be enhanced by the knowledge that Adelaide (my favorite character) dies in the fourth episode, with no word yet on whether or not she is going to haunt the house.  Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, Jack Halberstam has me reconsidering the ways in which we extract/create meaning from cultural texts, but I'll set that aside for the moment.

American Horror Story follows the exploits of three family members who have just moved into one of LA's most haunted houses as they encounter a bizarre cast of characters, including a creepy maid (who is simultaneously dead, young, and old), a toddlers-and-tiaras-type next door neighbor, her daughter Adelaide, and a teenage sociopath named Tate. Five episodes into the series, and I'm not totally convinced I've met a single living character. Ghosts are everywhere in this fucking show and they are by far its least interesting feature. 

In trying to write this, I'm chasing all kinds of different intellectual threads. We might, for example, talk about Ryan Murphy's American Dream, the source material for his Horror Story. It's quite lovely (if unsatisfying tidy) that the terrifying American family, and not the terrifying American ghost, is what most haunts the audience. I would, at some point, like to think about the way in which several of the show's characters (mother, daughter, ghost-maid) are animated by horror. Fear alternately defeats and energizes the story's characters, and I wonder if these fears (the fear of adultery, the fear of being discovered as a liar, the fear of home invasion) make the family most legible as a unit. Do the characters make most sense as a family when they are scared, and what other kinds of legibility does fear enable?

Because I've just finished reading Robert McRuer's Crip Theory, and because she's awesome/terrifying, I want to start with Adelaide. Addie, who has Down's syndrome, is portrayed as a kind of oracle-figure insofar as she knows just about everything about the house and has befriended most of the ghosts. Physically disabled as she is, Addie provides an interesting figure through which to read the events of the show. More than anything, Addie longs to be a "pretty girl" (the vague irony being that almost all of the show's pretty girls die violent deaths). I wonder if we might read Addie as a surprisingly complex intersection of disability, desire, and violence (her abuse is also obliquely informed by her mother's sexuality). The fact that Addie is disabled enables certain kinds of previously inaccessible knowledge, so that even if Addie can't understand that it isn't ok to break into someone's house, she can understand that there are ghosts in the house when the family cannot. Addie's physical difference reorganizes her world and differently structures her capacity for knowledge. Addie's understanding of the house's secrets and, more importantly, her total lack of fear emerges through her disability. Given the fact that Addie occupies such a fascinating position within the show, what do we make of her sudden, unearned death (other than just being pissed about it)?

In closing, I'm sort of curious as to what it means to call something an American Horror Story. As I've said earlier, a simplistic reading of the show casts the nuclear family and accompanying American Dream as the real heart of the show's horror. The family's desperate desire to reassemble and insist on itself inspires terror that has nothing to do with ghosts, but I think this reading is sort of uninspired. Instead, I wonder what it means to think about ghosts (and their accompanying cultural baggage) in distinctly American terms. To my mind, telling a haunted house story indicates, on some level, a desire to claim that people matter (before and after she dies, the father's mistress insists over and over again that "she matters"). Ghost stories present the possibility that people can, for better and worse, impress themselves on a location. As unromantically as I can think it, ghost stories reflect a desire for permanence and a desperate need to matter. Is wanting to matter particularly American? Are the narratives which people attach being American all that different than a ghost hunt?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, American Horror Story is a ghost story that is most compelling when totally evacuated of the supernatural. It leaves me wondering (somewhat redundantly/obnoxiously) about the ways the living haunt one another, the stories we tell ourselves, and the way we impress ourselves upon locations and bodies. Welcome back, Ryan Murphy, and thanks for a TV show that is unafraid to be absolutely terrifying.

This got a little more scattered than I meant. In my defense, twenty-four hours ago, I hadn't seen a single episode of the show. And blogging means never having to say you're sorry. For the tl;dr among us, I offer this much smarter comic and this infinitely more funny other comic. And then I beg you to lengthen your attention spans. Have a good week, folks.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Throwing Wine Even Something That Gets You on a Reality Show?

Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes; like a tree nymph, falling from the branches; like a lazy quarter-lifer, finally working up the nerve to re-enter the blogosphere. That's right, assholes, Will Danger is back. My first order of business is an apology for the nearly 6 month gap since my last post. At least partially, I'll blame it on the overly involved and bureaucracy-laden PhD application process that has absorbed a lot of my reading/writing efforts over the past few months. I am happy to say though, that it is finally winding down. I made the deliberate choice not to blog the process, if for no other reason than that I thought I'd spare my (few) loyal readers from 60 different (and differently obnoxious) freak-out posts. That doesn't really excuse my total absence from the blogosphere, though. In partial penance for my long absence from these rainbow-encrusted halls, I offer two links:

The first has been making its way around teh interwebz over the past week (Full disclosure: sentimentalist that I am, I tend to roll my eyes at a video like this, mostly because I understand it to be the latest in a long line of tear-jerking attempts to win a mostly useless political sympathy. Don't get me wrong, it's adorable and all. I just won't be mad at you if you decide to skip it).

The second, courtesy of the geniuses at Hark! a Vagrant, has been burning a hole in my e-pocket for quite some time. I'll leave it sans commentary, because Spiderman usually speaks for himself.

In my lengthy absence, lots of things have happened in the world, none of which I am particularly qualified to comment on (but totally would have anyway). In no particular order: Wall Street dun got occupied (and then violent), Florence released a new album, horrors were staged on several University campuses (I'm looking at you Penn, Berkeley, and Davis), and Community got awesome (and then canceled). Short the intellectual fortitude for a serious post, and because my only other option would be to blog my near-unemployment, I think it's time Will Danger returned to his roots. I gotta be honest with you folks, I've spent a large portion of the past few months trying to jump through intellectual hoops for anonymous admissions committees, so I'm looking to unwind with something a little more banal (never giving up hope, of course, that my meaningless blogging might actually mean something).

New Queer regulars know reality TV to be a foundational part of my intellectual sensibility (my interactions with other people may or may not be fundamentally shaped by the idea that there is an invisible audience watching me, and that I am secretly a character everyone loves to hate. I'm not here to make friends). Though there is a new season of the Real World and an ANTM All-Star cycle on tv right now (my cup runneth over), I actually want to spend some time talking through a show I had never heard of until about a month ago: The A-List New York. It appears to be Logo's (gay-er) version of the Real Housewives, and a certain Austinite is convinced that my desire to watch it means that I am Algernon-ing. Maybe he's right. The show follows several gay men with absurd disposable incomes as they pick completely meaningless fights, whiten their teeth, and drink all the throwing wine. Don't get me wrong, it is a really terrible show.

But I am hooked. 

The 18 year old in me is obviously a little annoyed to find yet another show about fabulous gay men being fabulous, and wonders when we can expect Disappointing-Gay-Best-Friend The Series. However, I am also left wondering what we might learn from these people, about the aerodynamics of white wine, if nothing else. Frankly, I'm too fascinated by grown men having slap-fights on the streets of New York to worry about much else.

I'll close with a quick to-do list for December:
Gather my tattered scraps of dignity and use them as camera filters for my Real World audition tape.
Begin training for my eventual porn career.
Celebrate Tyra Bank's birthday in the only manner appropriate (yellow sundress).
Oh, and I guess it's probably time to get a grown-up job, but I'm not holding my breath.

It's good to be back, folks. Bundle up for the impending winter weather. But more importantly, be fabulous, throw wine to your heart's content, and never, ever, be here to make friends.