A thorn in the side.
My interests in stock phrases and subgenres is partly
related to the baffling concealments I sense within their too-obvious
self presentations. The confusion of possible responses based in
the desire to both understand, to change, and to leave “the world”
or “the real”, would be and is something that also interests me
in writing; thus, the goal of the writing is built on sometimes
contradictory or competing claims, which manifest themselves in
shifts of style and genre within individual texts. I want the claims
to work themselves out, transformatively.
Mother’s delicate parts.
One could look at this complex of my own interests oddly
as a kind of model for family life or imagined society. Or a person.
I am interested for instance in the competing claims of erotic life,
knowledge and imagination with those of being a parent and the cultural
conditioning of what I would call “white bread/bred” motherhood
that not only de-eroticizes women who are mothers but conditions
itself to think of mothers as those whose imaginations are absorbed
only in relationship to children. There is then something dangerous
(it feels dangerous in any case) about the exploration of the erotic
imagination through and in writing with this “maternal” identity.
Assortment of tongues.
The cultural anxiety about keeping the adult eros separate
from the child, is not necessarily as deep or basic as the anxiety
over the child’s witnessing the primal scene even if the two might
be related. Indeed, I would say that even this primal fear may
very well be patriachally induced fear, a fear about violation that
codes potential witnessing of the primal scene with a powerful negativity.
The fear that a mother’s sexuality will dominate or control a child,
may be in part a projection of masculinist fancies of aggressivity.
A queen bee in a log jam.
A friend of mine recently taught one of my anthologized
poems1 to high
school students in her course on poetics. The poem, a satire of
Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, probably could not have been taught
in a public school. “The ventriloquist plunges his hand into her
ass and pulls it out screaming, minus a finger,” is one of the lines
in the poem. When I was asked to visit the class (members of which
are friends of my son who attends the same school) and discuss my
writings, I decided to read from and discuss a prose section of
the same piece in which I make use of Sade’s Philosophy in the
Bedroom. I very much appreciated my friend’s ability to sanction
writing with sexual content created by a woman in her classroom.
It is important I think to allow young people access to sophisticated
literature by women, including literature with sexual content.
Of course, the sophistication of the teacher, her ability to speak
to the students as individual readers of such a text is equally
important in this case. This is not simply about some superficial
notion of “health,” as if teaching poetry were a nutrition class.
It is about “honesty” and human sexuality and children’sand
particularly teenager’s concern with honesty. One aspect
of honesty withheld from children is that concerning adult—and particularly
“any woman’s”—erotic imagination. The withholding of this kind
of information from teenagers, contributes to their feelings of
Grazing on mystification tables and log’s rhythms.
In my other two essays on the subject of “motherhood”
I have focused on how I learned to write while being a mother in
respect to the manipulation of time in writing as conditioned by
the lived time with a child and the world experiences that entered
the lived time. Now that my child is a teenager, those startling
moments, when the child’s voice scissors through the enveloped time
of the writing-mother with a terse report or demand from his vivid
world, is no longer a defining event of the writing. His time is
much closer to adult time, and so another time has returned to me.
In this time, I am interested in thinking about the way my own intellectual
interests condition me as a artist, as they do and don’t influence
the child, who now in may respects has his own life.
Writing is about time: fable, mannerism, shovel.
In addition I want to insert something into the world
as an object, or thing, a communication and complex fact or act/
something that can not easily be taken back. Writing is an intervention
of which the full consequences can not be anticipated. The full
consequences of my life as a writer on my child also can not be
Never fully namable or objective.
Language creates things says Jacques Lacan. In the realm
of the child separating from the mother, the acquisition of language
on the part of the child makes the mother into an object.
She is a thick truck in heavy snow.
Of course the construction of women as objects in other
social discourses surrounds us familiarly and continuously. In
the classic noire detective novel, the femme fatale is
the object of desire of the detective and other men whom she manipulates
to such a degree that mayhem is created.
Renegade pink geraniums in a flower box.
Abigail Child’s film Mayhem is a brilliant deconstruction
of this genre. Focusing both on the noire heroines anxiety
as it is produced by male violence and the heroines unrepressed
sexuality, Child no only critiques but subverts the noire
conventions. Her subversion would not however be complete without
the films pasted-on happy ending: found footage of a playfully
pornographic narrative of two women making love with a goofy looking
“robber” masturbating at the fringes of their pleasure-making scene.
Child’s film explores specific generic fantasies related to the
questions of sexual repression and the nature of violence that exist
not only in art but in the “real” world.
Gossip and die in a bed of money.
At this very moment, there is “mayhem” in the U.S. government
played out in the cartoon of the U.S. Congress’s attempt at a coup
d’état over the President’s sexual misconduct and the politically
condoned murders of the people of Baghdad. There is no Congress
who has yet considered impeaching a president for illegally conducting
Sometimes one wishes to stay in bed.
My interest in Child, my condemnation of the attack on
Baghdad, that I read the book title Psychoanalysis and the Family
and my faithful love of Go Dog Go, my disdain and fury at
the “moral” rights attempted coup using a young woman for
bait which they hook into each citizens mouth with neither approbation
or consent, certainly is to my child as present and powerful as
the events in and of themselves. I am a camera (object) that casts
a lens onto the world separate form the child but close to him.
He knows how to use a camera.
Groaning sheets turn to flags.
Because I am interested in questions of power, I cannot
ignore that my child is growing up in this world. I describe
the world through the demonstration of my interests. He knows also
that I spend much of my life working: that I am at this time in
his life, at least, “a producer.” He and I have a relationship
that as he gets older is increasingly decided by work. Up until
recently, he was less aware of my relationship to him through my
relationship to work. In my other two essays on the subject of
art and motherhood, I intercut his interruptions verbatim as I worked
on the essays. My approach to art making changed at his birth,
and the interruptions in the text performed and designated a relationship
to time I enacted as writer and mother in my work. Now we are much
more engaged in a body of overlapping work. Right now he is practicing
the piano with great attention.
Clicking with civil disobedience.
But I was talking about questions of power. My power
would only diminish if he did not have in a very real sense “his
own life.” The life that he and I live is along side, with, and
between each other as it has been for a long time.
in a vortex.
These questions of power get interesting when they come
to issues of female sexuality, to female aggression, to female ambition,
to the relationship of women to their own motherhood in respect
to the way “motherhood” in bourgeois society has been represented
historically by men and the way the artist confronts them in her
work when she is also a mother. For what she always experiences
is a discrepancy between the representation, her own experience,
and her art practice—all three. The event of motherhood only magnifies
the discrepancies which have always been present.
Love to present themselves as first blood.
from “There never Was a Rose Without a Thorn,” anthologized in Poems
for the millennium, Vol. II, ed., Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre
Joris. [back to text]
Scene 1: A charming and not so charming story
The little girl I mentioned earlier, who wasn’t particularly
awful, found refuge in a country garden, where she became very peaceably
absorbed, at an age when she was scarcely walking on her feet, in
the application of a good-sized stone to the skull of a little playmate
from next door, who was the person around whom she constructed her
first identifications. The deed of Cain does not require very great
motor sophistication to come to pass I the most spontaneous, I must
even say in the most triumphant, of fashions. She had no sense
of guilt – Me break Francis head. She spoke that with assurance
and peace of mind. Nonetheless, I still don’t predict a criminal
future for her. She simply displayed the most fundamental structure
of the human being on the imaginary plane – to destroy the person
who is the site of alienation.1
It is not only my mother who is absent from that house.2
My then seven year old son found himself flat on the
sidewalk in the school yard one day, as a friend seated on the small
of his back held his head between his hand and with a melancholy
repetitiveness pounded it into the cement sidewalk. I was the only
adult witness to this act, and I might not have been there at all
had I not arrived at school early that day for a meeting. As I
pulled the child away, my son declared in a rather affectless tone
that they were no longer friends. This event did indeed mark the
end of a nearly three-year-old friendship between them. It is not
one that I had the heart to encourage after my insistence that the
school and the parents speak to the attacking child purposefully
about his actions resulted in the suggestion that I had exaggerated
the event. This is not a charming story.
Above and beyond the psychological fact of aggression,
is the way that it is understood and addressed. Clearly humiliation—the
children’s, the schools, the parents, controlled the event. It
was an humiliation (underscored by fear of repercussions) born of
a lack of adult presence in combination with the mother’s presence,
who, in this case, does not fit into the correct category of adult.
But I am quite confident that the humiliation—the humiliation of
language, the suggestion of “exaggeration,” would have not been
passed on to me had I been the child’s father. Why? The father
would have been assumed to be already suffering the humiliation
of his son’s inability to defend himself. In other words, the underlying
question involves a subliminal cultural narrative about boys fighting,
and it goes something like: had our son picked a fight without
being able to defend himself? It is the father who is responsible
to the son for the narrative of attack and defense. Thus, the father
would have already been punished for his child being attacked and
his child’s potential culpability, for in not preparing his child
for the fight, he shares in the child’s shortcomings. Over and
over again it is their culpability in relationship to gendered narratives
that grant men “objectivity” as witnesses. It is a ubiquitous cultural
belief that women can not be objective in matters concerning their
children and that men can. And yet in some respect, the most fundamental
problem here was economic; the school was poor, and there was no
one being paid to supervise the children playing outdoors at that
time. The effects of lack of money, however, yield an emotionally
symbolic world of humiliation catalyzed by the presence of the mother.
Does not his power to humiliate touch on the domain of the femme
Scene II: Book jacket summary of a detective novel
in which the femme fatale is assigned the role of detective.
Book jacket summary:
There is a gathering of women poets who write poems
primarily abut the betrayals of men.3
One evening, someone in the group declares that
we “all are writing about the same man.” Everyone agrees. Now
the question is, who is the man? What does it mean that we are
all writing about the same man? Is it Don Juan? It becomes apparent
that there are two male deities: one of them is Papa, who is present
everywhere and the other is Don Juan whose presence is not panoptic
and metaphoric but fragmentary, corporeal, and metonymic. If we
have been betrayed? We have known for a long time that Don Juan
and Papa are at odds, even if we just now realize that our feelings
of betrayal occur in respect to each of these characters: the protector
and the violator. Each keeps us in a savage state of sexual need.
Each of us sees the other as a femme fatale in a detective
novel. But we have an organization! We are all present at once.
The woman whose father’s wrath falls on her as her lover betrays
her for one of her friends. The woman, who loyal to her father’s
wrath, refuses the betrayer of her friend. She who has a family
and she who no longer has one. The femme fatale becomes
the detective. The object has become the agent who is to investigate
these feelings of “betrayal,” which are the invisible scars of endured
sexual need. The sign on our agency door reads “Mothers of Invention.”
We are accused of copyright or patent infringement—finally we have
entered the real world of law suits. Our business is solidified,
even if this side issue distracts us from our more noble cause.
Our suspicion is this: Don Juan and Pap are secretly in cahoots:
they may even be The Same Man. The worst of it is that all of our
children have been born under the sign of the same man…What is a
poet to do?
My father is the only one who remains present everywhere.4
Scene II: To speak to a child as if one lives in a matriarchal
society is probably impossible, for example5
The mother becomes very nervous about what she is
saying because she has formed herself as a sociological entity and
is in conflict then with the aesthetic. When her writing is not
aesthetic, it seems rather distracted, and emanation from the queen
with no country or a woman senator in an all-male assembly, or a
revolutionary without a purpose. It begs questions and opens itself
to attacks. The language of poetry falls away. She is left with
a few questions about those things one lives in and out of books.
She is told she ought not to have a picture on her book jacket with
her child because it would define her negatively as an author.
She is told great women poets do not have children. She says fuck
you and wishes later that she made a more comical response, borrowing
from Chandler’s detective Marlowe’s edgy ruminations and quips.
She possesses a radical sense of freedom even if she does feel a
little hurt. Like Marlowe, she closes herself in her office and
contemplates whether or not she should answer the phone. Your son
is missing seven homework assignments. He is resistant to grammar.
Even though she is not particularly resistant to grammar, she is
certain that he acquired the resistance from her. For she is resistant
to placement. Sometimes she is accused of obduracy. And closes
the blinds to her office. Sleeps on the couch. Doesn’t dust.
The only aesthetic objects in her office are the bottle of Makers
Mark and a decanter as sleek as modernity itself. Everything else
from keyboard to whisky glass, which she mostly uses for water,
fills her room with plain jane functionality that signals the presence
of a proprietor mostly stuck in her head.
II: Book jacket detective novel summary: in which the femme fatale
and the mother turn out to be the same woman
does the mother become the mother? She is a mess. Not because of
anything she has done or even said. But because mothers are the
shadows of children in novels and in theories about the family and
in theories about children and because they are simultaneously the
corporeal, ethical, and intellectual subjects of their own universes.
What's odd then about living in fact and fiction or the real and
poetry as if these categories were truly separate? Right now the
mother's son is driving around with two professors: one is a philosopher
of history and the other is his father, a scholar and a poet. Are
they talking about Kant and Habermas? And categories of value that
must be kept separate? What happens if there has never been a positive
category of value assigned to the mother that can be aligned with
rationality /economics/aesthetics or pleasure/doing good /disinterest.
The mother is a mess in the universe of classifications because
she is not assigned a role that can represent a category of value
that can be kept separate. Aesthetics and ethics are not that far
apart. Childbirth and sexuality are not that far apart. The fatal
attraction of the man to her is not that far away. It is separated
from the child who separates from her. Thus, the mother shadows
the child, catalogs his activities, keeps track of his arrangements.
She is dressed to kill and calls him on the phone to get an account
of his plans for making dinner and to suggest he try the onion soup
with the vadallia onions. So this is the life of our dear detective.
When the mother and the femme fatale become the detective, what
is she trying to find? Who is the murderer? And when the mother
and the femme fatale become the detective isn't she rather like
all the great male noire detectives that precede her? She is a mess
because she is alone, responsible for something outside of herself
which is intimately connected to her own private nature, a small
fish in a big pond. But no matter how small she makes herself, her
shadow is too large.
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I: Freud’s
papers on Technique [back to text]
Childhood (page 36) [back to text]
Thnks to my student
Jesse Deneaux for this concept based on his experience of a poetry
reading he attended. [back to text]
Ibid. (page 38) [back
Mark Poster, Critical
Theory of the Family [back to text]