“This is not a preface.” That’s what I would write. It is a jumping off point for my fervid dreams. Sometimes I think that all I have is my fantasies. They keep me warm at night while offering me my muse as well as my angst. So, in other words, there is no moment for me that can stand off on its own. Everything accumulates. Everything repeats as well. Uncanny, huh?
I find myself in this crazy space where everything old is new again. You’ll understand as I proceed. Before I became a photographer, I journaled and wrote poetry rather prolifically. I had the annoying habit of merging personal journals with literary criticism. Consider it part trying to show how brilliant I was, part trying to have folks really understand me and part really wanting to shock and horrify folks . . . especially the beautiful young women who were always just ‘good’ friends. I’d put the journals I wrote in ‘zine form and then give copies out to friends and some of the strippers I visited on a weekly basis. For instance, I published a few things of note in Confessions Of The Male Lesbian (issue 2) in August of 1999. My favorite author has always been William Faulkner. In that issue, I wrote a critical essay on Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury through the screen of philosopher Julia Kristeva’s theories on abjection. Kristeva writes:
The abject is related to perversion. The sense of abjection that I experience is anchored in the superego. The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law: but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them. It kills in the name of life – a progressive despot; it lives at the behest of death – an operator in genetic experimentations; it curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit – a cynic (and a psychoanalyst); it establishes narcissistic power pretending to reveal the abyss – an artist who practices his art as a “business.” Corruption is its most common, most obvious appearance. That is the socialized appearance of the abject. [Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. 16]
This was Kristeva’s working definition of abjection. Back then, when I quoted Kristeva, it was a definition that made me think of the serial killer or the corrupt politician and so forth. Into our lives a little corruption must come though, I suppose. I would much rather immerse myself in this working definition than to allow myself to be the true believer with that singular, righteous purpose. Those are the the people in the world who truly scare me. One must acknowledge the pointlessness, the limitation. It is as Quentin Compson’s father instructed him in The Sound And The Fury: “Quentin, I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reductio ad absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” This is abjection. It is not a static thing but rather a road, an accumulation, a repetition, a dispersal. Abjection is “the other.” It, abjection, is something external that is out of the individual’s control. It repulses us as the sour milk in the carton does. Quentin Compson’s journey to the abyss is abjection at its finest. At the beginning of Quentin’s monologue, Quentin is remembering the words of his father that I cited above. Time is an issue central to criticism of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. In Quentin’s situation, it represents one huge external factor that Quentin has little control of. When Quentin breaks the timepiece, it represents a ritualistic gesture on his part to conquer what he has little to no control of. To return to the idea of sour milk, Kristeva writes: “Along with sight-clouding dizziness, nausea makes me balk at that milk cream, separates me from the mother and father who proffer it. “I” want none of that element, sign of their desire; “I” do not want to listen, “I” do not assimilate it, “I” expel it.” [Kristeva 3] The gesture of Quentin breaking the watch is Quentin demarcating the universe and creating one of his own. The question should be: “To what end is Quentin doing this?” One answer may be that Quentin is creating the one space that makes his suicide not only possible but inevitable. Kristeva writes: “The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging, or refusing. Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter – since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection.” [Kristeva 8] As this represents Quentin’s demarcation, this represents mine, a mission statement meant to accompany my photography a few months back:
I have a growing distaste for anything mainstream. Much of this stems from a reality that the majority of people will always allow the dollar to be their guide rather than passion or any real conviction. We live in a world where it is too commonplace to hate what you don’t understand, to label that which is different as inferior, wrong or perverted. We live in a world where to be different, unless that difference is co-opted by the mainstream, is to be rendered bound and gagged. So, as an artist I revel in shadow and light and that which rebels. Intricate ink over the human body, piercings, and plays of dominance and submission are but a small portion of my subject matter. My love of black and white imagery, I think, is an aesthetic choice. In a way, it mocks all of the binary oppositions that society holds so dear. In my world, there is only the beauty in the difference and expression.Perhaps my thoughts and the artist statement that stems from them pales in comparison to Quentin’s gesture. Knowing my mind though, I will say that it reeks of death. I am a deject and I willfully choose to separate myself . . . to create a strange world that makes sense to me. I don’t feel as if I’ve adequately expressed my reasons for wanting to do this though. Here is where I elaborate further, going into that second piece of literary criticism that I engaged in issue 2 of Confessions of the Male Lesbian. As I wrote, fear is an ideal place to begin. For example, fear is at the core of all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry (another huge favorite). Fear is the entity slithering underfoot, the serpent preeminent in several of her poems. The serpent represents several things. All cause angst. It represents knowledge, male potency, and death. That the average student of poetry knows Dickinson was a recluse and that she never married should come as no surprise. Dickinson’s controlling fear ordains this. This fear exists for Dickinson in the shadow of the male. For instance, in Dickinson’s poem number 754:
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun-
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified-
And carried Me away-
The stanza reveals a woman’s life as it relates to a man. I too know that the measure of my success with women defines me as a man. Though I am told this is untrue and unhealthy, this has not been exorcised from my consciousness. Dickinson’s story is that she lived in the shadow of her father. Perhaps, in some way, all of her suitors had to measure up to his presence. The fact that she never married seems to argue that no one did ever measure up.
Several of Dickinson’s works tend to have a relationship of companionship with one another. The instances of fear and the serpent are one example. Another example appears to be companion poems on truth and trust. Truth is another central theme in Dickinson’s poetry. Truth has an elusive quality. For example, in “I like a look of Agony”:
I like a look of Agony
Because I know it’s true-
Men do not sham Convulsion
Nor simulate, a Throe-
The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death-
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.
Dickinson, trusting no one, begins to see truth only in madness. How can everyone else be happy when she is not? This is how the litany usually goes. Dickinson in number 435:
Much Madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-
Much Sense – the starkest Madness-
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail-
Assent – and you are sane-
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous-
And handled with a Chain-
This is the point where Dickinson begins to demarcate the universe and create her own. She is approaching abjection, separating herself from all that she fears and doesn’t trust. Reality and truth are blinding. Reality has to be modified to become palatable. Dickinson in number 1129:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind-
Self-deception and creating a universe of your own demand that you create your own truth. Is it any wonder that my personal mantra is “let the mundane become the epic?” First, though, before I completely let go, I find myself bartering with God. “I’ll be good, I promise,” I say. “Just give me what I want, whatever that might be.” When there is no ready answer, isolation becomes a way of life. The ultimate fantasy is death. Death is romantic at first. There are the dreams of the elaborate ritual, the letting go. Then, as in everything else, reality interposes itself enough to let the dreamer know that the fantasy is a sham. There is nothing epic in death. Dickinson in poem number 449:
I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room-
He questioned softly “Why I failed?”
For Beauty”, I replied-
“And I – for Truth – Themselves are One-
We Brethren, are” He said-
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night-
We talked between the Rooms-
Until the Moss had reached our lips-
And covered up – our names-
Truth and beauty, the catalysts for fantasy, are revealed as finite concepts. They do not transcend the death of the individual dreamer. Once this is realized, something significant happens. The dreamer retains hope or retreats into a joyless, isolated existence. With hope, there is the chance for apotheosis, the death of fear. Without hope, there is only sadness and decay.
I would add an addendum to this some seven and a half years after I wrote it. Photography at one point saved my life. But as with anything, you reach a point where it is not not enough. I worship Beauty but find myself confronting the all-consuming spectre of Time.
“Subset.” Now we get to the point. As, I wrote in the beginning, “this is not a preface.” There is no point of origin. The words I wrote were playful reference to the theory of deconstruction advanced by French theorist Jacques Derrida. In a nutshell, Derrida’s philosophy was a an elaborate critique of Western metaphysics. Everyday thought and language is structured in binary oppositions: good vs. evil, being vs. nothingness, presence vs. absence, truth vs. error, identity vs. difference, mind vs. matter, man vs. woman, soul vs. body, life vs. death, nature vs. culture, speech vs. writing. We create hierarchies, with the second term in each pair being inferior to the first. Deconstruction as a method, then, is a form of textual vandalism that seeks to undo these meanings and re-construct them. For the longest time, I have been enamored with Derrida’s philosophy simply to be afforded the opportunity to play at the edges or in the margins with language (as I do in my own way with my photography). Ah, but belief systems are constantly modified.
As Camille Paglia writes: “In the beginning was nature. The background from which and against which our ideas of God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem. We cannot hope to understand sex and gender until we clarify our attitude toward nature. Sex is subset to nature [my emphasis . . BH]. Sex is the natural in man.” [Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. 1] There is no getting beyond it. Ultimately, everything is about sex and ultimately fear. Society is constructed out of this fear. Culture, religion, language, institutions – all are products of the flight from this fear. And, the irony of ironies, all prohibitions [imund] stem from the natural in man as well.