New Writing
Virginia Woolf

Inappropriated Others
Co-ordinated by Jeanne Heuving

Kevin Killian -- “Kylie Minogue and the Ignorance of the West”

Dodie Bellamy -- “Fat Chance”

Christine Stewart -- “St. Augustine”

Jeanne Heuving

Inappropriated Others

Perhaps there is nothing more reassuring to existing social orders than a love story in which boy pursues girl and they live happily ever after.  This romance plot has been criticized by multiple feminist, and now queer, critics—not only for how it is gendered, but also for how it authorizes heteropatriarchy.

            Yet, while it is easy to criticize this plot for how it typically produces gender and sexuality, what about love itself?  Is the very plot of a lover intensely pursuing a beloved inherently retrogressive?    Many psychologists and cultural theorists, particularly those who study object relations theories, would seem to wish to correct for intense, obsessive love through an emphasis on relations of reciprocity and exchange.   And, many avant garde writers attempt to void positionality itself, opting for an erotics of language.

            But is this cultural transformation so simply in the offing?  Or even desirable?  Roland Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse responds to this dilemma by turning a lover’s heightened utterances into an array of discourses.  He would seem to want to have it both ways, inscribing intense love declarations, singularly experienced and delivered; yet dispersing (if multiplying) their energies by arranging them as fragments through alphabetized topics.   Taking his discourses from some of the most revered literary sources from classical times onwards, Barthes barely hints at the difference his own homosexuality might make to these writings. Nor does he address the complex cultural and historical realities from which these love writings are produced, side stepping political and social issues in order to locate an entirely delicious love, “warranted by no one.” 

            The writers in this section actively take on the position of a lover besotted by a beloved.  And, in each piece, the writers transgress those lover and beloved relations that serve to underwrite existing social orders.  This happens, in part, because each lover is not a heterosexual male who through his love for his female beloved constitutes his literary authority.  But also, perhaps more importantly, the lovers are drawn to inappropriate beloveds—engaging in intense acts of inappropriation.

            In his pursuit of the elusive Australian pop singer, Kylie Minogue, Kevin Killian extols her precisely because she “will never win any awards, for nothing.”  Kylie “is a second-or third-rate talent more precious than any of a number of big time genuises.”   In his familiar patois, eschewing the proper in all its manifestation, including stately diction, Kevin decamps his own camp gestures, attempting to keep Kylie from being consumed by a culture-making machine—or at least keeping a place within cultural formation that doesn’t overwrite unsettling desires through an appropriating, finely wrought expression.  Speaking of himself and other gay admirers of Kylie, Kevin writes, “Kylie fans re-settle the unsettling haunt of sexuality by our insistence on customization—adapting, subverting its broad strikes to our own homey use.  It’s this impulse—gears shifting downward from public to private—that Kylie understands and illuminates beautifully… there’s an empty, spooky sigh at the heart of this work.”

            Dodie Bellamy also takes on an inappropriate other—only to deliver him and her female narrator, Carla Moran, to further inappropriation.  In having a relationship with a man she met through email, Carla, a poet, meditates on how this relationship is “writing made flesh.”  Attempting initially to disguise her love connection with Ed from even casual bystanders—because he is fat—Lala, as Carla is sometimes called, comes to identify with him: “I watch fat men now, this secret ostracized world of ridicule and invisibility.  I feel scorn for the mainstream, the hip, the cool.”  As Ed comes to distance himself from Carla, the narrative exfoliates into brilliant phantasmagoric passages in which Lala explores what it means to be rejected by the culturally abjected:  “I dreamt I was having trouble shitting and began pulling whole cabbage leaves out my butt.  I showed them to Ed and he said I needed to chew my food better…. The specially attuned don’t realize I’m a ghost—until one day they wake up and the mansion we’ve been flirting through is burnt out and strewn with leaves.  A little girl in an antique dress leads Ed to my tombstone.”

            Christine Stewart pursues an inverse strategy to Kevin and Dodie, telling how her anonymity, her illicit love, constitutes St. Augustine’s holy reverence. She draws attention to how his cultural dignity and power are constituted through her “lush obscurity,” remarking “I did not kill your corrupt authority—I gave it life.”

She addresses St. Augustine:

            Do you recognize your own unique cupidity,
            your over-souled package
            that central radiating genitalia,
            that generates mutiny in my vehicle.

She breaks down his dignified removal by “moving towards” him:  “St Augustine, if you speak the words father or kitchen / you will split the sides of your mouth./  Instead I will kiss the sides of your mouth.”

            Roland Barthes concludes A Lover’s Discourse by considering the subject of  “vouloir-saisir / will-to-possess.”  Quoting Nietzsche, he writes, "I do not want to replace the intense throes of passion by ‘an impoverished life, the will-to-die, the great lassitude.’ The N.W.P [the non-will-to-possess] is not on the side of kindness, the N.W.P. is intense, dry….”   While if in the concluding section of his book, Barthes offers a number of sublime considerations to the issue of how possessive or non-possessive one should be with respect to one’s beloved, he does quite clearly state how overly chastened desire may not be “on the side of kindness.”    And here “kindness” should be read, as a dispensation of the subject toward others, toward kind through kindness.  If there is one quality that all three inappropriating writings in this section share it is their kindness toward,  rather than binary differentiation from, the others they pursue.

BIO: Jeanne Heuving has published critical work on several modernist and contemporary innovative women writers, including the book Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore. A section from her multi-genre manuscript “Snowball” appears in HOW2 (Issue 4). Her work has also appeared as a chapbook, Offering (bcc press), and in Common Knowledge, Talisman, and Clear Cut. She is an associate professor at the University of Washington, Bothell, and on the graduate faculty of the University of Washington. She is a recipient of NEH and Fulbright research grants and is a member of the Subtext Collective.

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