June 14, 2011
autumn was train rides burning gold into my retinas in the shape of little trees blowing by me at a speed i could not understand.
winter burning orange safety suits of men on the tracks. they stuck out loudly against dull fields, the noise of the train quieting their screaming chatter into gaping mouths that bare teeth but say nothing.
spring is dog shit surfacing from underneath melting snowbanks. the smell draws other buried objects to the surface. people take to their closets with brooms. skeletons rattle in their dustpans.
heaps of trash on fire sending black smoke clouds into the sky. memory burning alive on the lawn. but nothing in nature disappears. the trash is out of the garage, off the lawn, no longer pink and ruffled or heart-shaped, but the microscopic black bits of it will stay in our atmosphere forever. maybe one day, when the hot smog lowers over a city you are visiting, heavy with summer, a particle from your past will land on your ice cream. spoiling the vanilla.
As I riffle through the piles of recommended and not so subtly requisite white european cis-focused feminist theory teetering around my thesis, I am constantly distracted by all that good stuff so lovingly termed “junk.” What I have in my pants (and in the top drawer of my nightstand) is relentlessly churned into metaphor around patriarchy and the resistance thereof. As I tenderly reflect on my tender (and not so tender) bits, I wonder why, goddess, why? Ok, I’m removing my tongue from my cheek now to swirl it around the issue… or maybe I’ll apply my long, hard pen to the question. Let me throw something (one of the many tangents to my thesis) at you. Tell me what you think, ok?
Hilde Heynen includes Irigaray in a short list of post-structuralists who, in their efforts to drive forward a feminist literary practice, “reject linearity and transparency, but rather write in a way that underscores the ambivalent and paradoxical character of language, thus evoking a multiplicity and endless dissemination of meaning.” Heynen goes on the explain that for Irigaray, as for Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous, “the key-metaphor which (…) harbors the promise of a subversive culture capable of undermining the dominant phallogocentrism is the metaphor of the feminine.” (Hilde Heynen, Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2005) 6.)
Coming from an embodied queer/trans perspective, I personally reject the linguistic connection of abstract considerations of the feminine and masculine to the yonic and phallic respectively. Even more broadly, I prefer to situate masculinity and femininity in the rather more precise behavioural and aesthetic sphere of human identity performance. I see both the benefits and dangers of applying the metaphor of the feminine to any project on a conceptual level, especially one created by women. The historical and patriarchal classification of the work of women as strictly feminine, whatever that may mean, need not be repeated in antipatriarhcal work. Feminist does not necessarily mean feminine. This should be obvious. Furthermore, there have been so many interpretations of the designation feminine that is has become a washed out concept. This is not to say that I disavow the multiplicity of understandings of this concept. On the contrary, I welcome the further development of understandings of femininity; I simply feel that the designation “phallogocentic” and its implicit association with masculinity is out of place in the analysis of structures and methodologies. What is masculine about linearity? Are we to constantly rely on the metaphor of the phallus to underscore what does not work about the prescriptive notion of history based on capitalist, eurocentric notions of progress? I know of too many feminine phalli to accept such latently transphobic, essentialist theory. For that matter, what is feminine about ambivalence and multiplicity? Are there not a multitude of masculinities modelling and moulding a vast array of butch-spectrum gender expressions? The yonic contains just as much metaphorical potential for linear trajectory as does the phallic, which in its turn contains the notions of the open-ended and multi-nodal.
That being said, I follow the logic of the Irigarian understanding as far as there is historical precedent for her designations. The patriarchal relegation of women to structures ruled by prescribed notions of the feminine can be identified among the roots of logic for their exclusion from mainstream history. A linear form of history has worked to foster this exclusion for generations, sustaining the dominant narrative as such. Rigidity is certainly a part of the conceptual understanding of such a system. The bodily analogy is far to tempting, yet far too much the archaic oversimplification. I will not call this trait masculine. I have seem feminine forms of rigidity both radical and traditional. The tightly bound trope of the Domme, a hyper-feminine figure for certain, is a favourite example. The metaphor of femininity is so vastly polysemous, as is that of masculinity. The constant redefinition of the terms is crucial to the proliferation of partial perspectives that vastly out number and may one day overpower the dominant narrative. (For more on the partial perspective see Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Feminist Studies 14:3 (Autumn, 1988).)
As I constantly redefine the terms for myself, I can feel my gut rejecting a one-sided connection to genitalia. Phalli can be and are so much more than a symbol of patriarchy. I cherish them and will not cede their image to the washington monument and friends.
Longest footnote ever.