Draft for a presentation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies

Many methods cannot be named and many, even when named, are poorly described. One of these is the sensibility—unmistakably Medievalist, a variant of queer thought but hardly identical with it—that has gathered around, and against, historicism.

Method, as distinct from content, is one of the most difficult subjects of historiography, but there are special reasons why historicism engenders its salacious response, in the vicinity of queer Medieval Studies. First, cultural history shares its origins with the concept of the Renaissance, in the works of Michelet and Burckhardt, and their postulation of the Middle Ages as a negative antecedent to the unfolding of Modernity. Second, it is by means artificial and exaggerated that historicism gains purchase, predicated, as it is, on the postulation of decadence and its attendant transformations; thus, whether figured in dynamic cultural rebirth or its incineration, the possibility of darkness becomes an icon of sympathy among academic cliques inclined towards teleology. Analogously, historicism’s legibility of historical difference draws legitimation from concern over the health of humanist disciplinarity, conceived broadly. Therefore, categorical bodies, of both flesh and time, form a complex nexus that is also the site of related intellectual anxieties, with the historical meta-otherness of queer medieval subjectivities sometimes becoming the target of humanism’s historiographical guardian angels.

Consider Valerie Traub’s essay on “the new unhistoricism;” critiquing that concept, defined by Goldberg and Menon in 2005 as a “history… invested in suspending the determinate sexual and chronological differences while extending the possibilities of the nonhetero” (Goldberg and Menon 1609), Traub argues that attendant “miscategorization of the historian’s enterprise,” as teleological and normitivizing, “threatens not only to stall productive exchange between literary and historical studies… but also to deflect attention from the substantive methodological challenges still faced by those intent on crafting a queer historicism” (Traub 35). Thus, sexuality has been made to be an ancillary concern and, as has occurred so frequently elsewhere, it is here claimed that historiographical resistance breeds tragedy. In Traub’s view, to efface contingency, sequence, and consequence, in the study of medieval sexuality, means, also, to threaten the integrity of associate academic enterprise. Echoing Sontag: to name a method, to draw its contours and portray its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion; naming “unhistoricism,” Traub’s grave result is the anatomy of a methodological mistake. In its implications of decadent myopia, one is reminded of Jeffrey Hamburger’s critique that Michael Camille’s Image on the Edge, “by leapfrogging a generation of art-historical literature,” and “overlooking bibliography that has accumulated in other disciplines,” “celebrates the periphery but ends up by marginalizing it still further” (Hamburger 321, 327). Such attitudes are naïve, as bad taste in ideas only appears as a crisis when generative circumstances are ignored. Recall how Hamburger claims that Camille “trivializes the past, aggrandizes the present, and misrepresents them both,” in writing that culture war-era “‘senators and conservative watchdogs have made the body an ideological battle ground undrempt of by the medieval Inquisition’” (Hamburger 326l; by ignoring that the pillory of Helms et al as assuredly far from metaphorical, Hamburger negates Camille’s likely sensitivities (Camille being not only gay but also, around 1992, seeking funding from an increasingly vulnerable National Endowment for the Humanities).

As Sontag reminds us, “Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas” (Sontag) and as we know from Kant, taste is allergic to critique. Riffing on Camille, it’s thinkable that anxiety over the profanation of historiography makes it all the more crucial that its shaky status be counterposed with something even less stable, more base, and more illusory [cf. (Camille 26)]. Based on your attendance of this panel you are perhaps as sympathetic to this idea as I am, and join me in wondering where this counter-position might begin to exist. With glossy sentimentality it’s arguable that “the image on the edge” was both site and strategy for camp resistance; in the ludic registrations of the Word’s “free-floating and uncircumscribed pockets of independent life” (Camille 20), Camille’s book and concept embrace fugitive sensibilities in ways that, like camp, are at times embarrassing, solemn, and treatise-like. All the better. That the transience between Camille’s contingencies and that of his subject-matter are made literally apparent might exceed normative historiographical necessity but also flattens with an exuberance which is frighteningly visceral. Following this, I drift back to Eileen Joy’s 2007 comment that “[a]s a term, queer cannot be allowed to stray from what might be called its essential contingency’” (Joy). I do so to claim Camille’s roguish, parataxical, anti-periodic relationality evinces nothing less than the heterotopic urgency fuelling the man’s historical enterprise—he, of the “mind like shooting stars” (University of Chicago News Office). I do so also to argue, speculatively, that looming in such radical human becoming, thrown, explosively, across the spaceless universe of the read-and-written word, there exists an historical topography of encounter, with enormous possible usefulness.

Between Joy’s “[n]ot knowing in advance what precise forms our humanness does and will take” (Joy) and Camille’s radically present occupation of margins medieval and contemporary, I’d like to sketch a new gay writing position. Following Joy—and, I think, the course of the Babel Working Group, generally—I push against the anti-social thesis of Traub, Hamburger, et al, insisting, as they do, on teleoskeptical irreverence as an ethical betrayal of the humanities; rather, I seek an effusive and anti-limnent modus operandi, predicated on a history-as-intimacy, skipping, jubilantly, across time’s many imaginary frontiers. It is not historicist. It is also not queer, per se, at least not following Sedgwick’s 1993 definition, since there is really nothing anti-monolithic about it [cf. (Sedgwick 8), also cited by Traub]. It is lighthearted, it is carefree, it is brilliant. It says history was not, necessarily, but is and will be. Insofar as “gay” also implies divergence from what Joy calls “the certain fixity of sexual bifurcation in our biological history” (Joy), such a writing practice similarly emerges from and exists beside given historiography, but only with the sincerest of ambivalence.

Having said that I’d like to end with a reminder of the recursive potentialities of historiography, as sketched by Michel De Certeau in 1975. Outlining history’s political relation to the state, after Machiavelli, Guichardin, and, possibly, the Florentine chroniclers, De Certeau warns how rendering the historiographer as “the subject of action,” a “prince, whose objective is to ‘make history,” decomposes the limn of “power and… realities” into a space without qualities, the space of the blank page, and of writing, where the only element “imposed by an environment” is the tabula rasa of the historical imagination [cf. (de Certeau 2-9). In a slightly shuffled universe it may be possible for the historian to take such actions, so that history can be not derivations of power and contingency but instead a singular agent of the real: an empowered performance of epistemological creativity. Thanks.

 

Works Cited

Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge. London: Reaktion, 1992.

de Certeau, Michel. The Writing of History. Trans. Tom Conley. New York: Columbia UP, 1988 [1975].

Goldberg, Jonathan and Madhavi Menon. “Queering History.” PMLA 120.5 (2005): 1608-17.

Hamburger, Jeffrey. “Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art by Michael Camille.” The Art Bulletin 75.2 (1993).

Joy, Eileen. “Beyond Feminist, Gender, Queer, Everything Studies: Notes Toward an Enamored Medieval Studies.” 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies. Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2007. Online Publication. 30 March 2014. <http://www.siue.edu/babel/BABEL_Lonelyhearts_Ad.html&gt;.

Sedgwick, Eve K. Tendencies. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

Sontag, Susan. Notes on Camp. 1964. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/sontag-notesoncamp-1964.html&gt;.

Traub, Valerie. “The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies.” PMLA 128.1 (2013): 21-37.

University of Chicago News Office. Art Historian Michael Camille, 1958-2002. Chicago, 1 May 2002. Obituary. 10 4 2014. <http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/02/020501.camille.shtml&gt;.

Presented at Concordia University, March 2014

language of things pres 20140303

1. [SLIDE 2] Kant tells us that art is fiction.

Art, in the Kantian sense, includes things definitively standing apart from the world of theoretical and practical concerns, leading to their recognition as “fiction.” While a part of the objective world, art is constituted by man-made things, which is to say apparent only in human statements, gestures, and formal configurations. [PAUSE] What art does affects our lives; we would be less complete without it. And yet, according to Kant, it is not necessary to the perseverance of human life. Thus art, in the Kantian sense of the term, operates around a contrast between what is actual and artificial—a contrast between, for example, things we use and things which use us; between what is true and false, and what is neither true nor false; and between the straightforward and the devious.

[SLIDE 3] These assumptions have corollaries. Foremost among them is that in all contexts of aesthetic thought, the subject matter—art—provides a model of construction and fictional procedure, which determines the manipulation of the concepts we use to talk about it. Using concepts aesthetically means to use them in relation to references to things and situations of art. This is to say that aesthetic thought accepts implicitly that what it deals with is fictitious: it accepts that one is dealing with constructions and devices, with things which look as-if they are something, with configurations that appear as-if their conjunctions make a point. To think aesthetically is to think about these fictions, but it is not the same thing as thinking fictively. What art exemplifies, thinking can repeat: a mode of artificiality and the deviousness of constructions without counterparts.

[SLIDE 4] Kant comes closest to an explicit statement of this sort of fictional status of objects of aesthetic discourse in his discussion of imagination and aesthetic ideas: Section 49 of The Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. Imagination, called a “faculty” by Kant, is a “productive cognitive faculty,” not on par with sensibility, understanding, or reason. However, it is the only fully creative aspect of the mind which Kant allows, regarded as a mode of conjoint functioning of all mental capacities. But it is not creative ex nihilo; Kant writes “imagination is, namely, very powerful in creating, as it were, another nature, out of the material which the real one gives it.” He continues, “[o]ne can call such representations of the imagination ideas … because they at least strive toward something lying beyond the bounds of experience, and thus seek to approximate a presentation of concepts of reason, which gives them the appearance of an objective reality.” This “appearance of an objective reality” is what constitutes fiction, and compels one to use concepts which are suitable to ordinary things in a new way, which takes note of the semblance of character. This is done by making a language of things do the work for things in their own right—things which are the semblances that the as-if provides by and for imaginative construction, in the first place.

[SLIDE 5] What is the work these things can do? How can they become real? That is the subject of this talk.

2. [SLIDE 6] Even as much as it can be argued that the fact of consensus, within discussion of taste, necessarily renders art political (from a Kantian perspective), it often appears that art is ambivalent towards social change. Across the image ecology of late Modern visual culture, this is perhaps most true at those instances where art attempts to engender shifts in epistemology. It is time-based art, in particular, whose imagination so often configures a world, but does not lobby on its behalf. In this regard, let us consider David Joselit’s discussion of the work of Nam June Paik. In the opening chapter of his Feedback (2007), Joselit depicts Paik’s 1963 exhibition, “Exposition of Music-Electronic Television,” as a reparative representation television’s nascent and schismatic medium condition. Paik’s exhibit, sponsored by a local public broadcasting network and staged for eleven days in a gallery in Wuppertal, West Germany, featured thirteen televisions, tuned to the same program, and each displaying unique signal distortions, as a result of Paik’s modification of each televisions’ internal circuitry. Joselit writes that Paik’s “prepared TVs” reconcile the “antagonistic relationship between commodity and network.” As the audience might recall, Joselit sees this “antagonism” as “encoded” in the cover of a popular 1958 children’s book, All About Radio and Television. [SLIDE 7] According to Joselit’s formalist reading, the dust-jacket illustration of this book depicts “the gap between the television commodity, represented photographically, and the network, represented in abstract wave patterns;” Joselit contends that this illustration “insinuates a startling fact: the network and the commodity, though structurally linked… are profoundly dissimilar and even antagonistic.” In other words, it is here codified that TV’s airborne circulation of information and images is structurally dissimilar from the circulation of commodities, including televisions, which its broadcast facilitates. In contrast, Joselit notes that, in Paik’s 1963 exhibit, “the TV and the network were not allowed to remain separate, as they had been in the cover of Gould’s book. Rather, the ‘dematerialzied’ mobility of the network was stabilized as an object of spectatorship.”

Even if Paik’s modified televisions might, in Joselit’s terms, “evoke television’s unconscious”—with their swirling representations of the evening news operating as an anastrophic analog of Gould’s book’s abstract waves—the what Joselit calls “real social effect” of this specific instance remains ambiguous. In Kant’s terms I can say that Paik takes note of the television and network’s semblances of character, articulating a new reality on the valences of the existing one with, his re-imagination of signal reception and consumption. But this imagination seems to operate without intentions toward state power or even the field of visual art. It is only an imaginary construction; Paik is creating another nature out of (and in spite of) the material of the medium of television, but this representation of imagination is only an idea that strives towards the bounds of experience through chiasmic representation of existing cultural logics. It is only when examined from the perspective of art history, an on their own accord, that these actions have any meaning as a delineation of a possible historical condition.

3. [SLIDE 8] I’d like to reflect for two minutes on how Joselit’s agential fracturing of post-war art resonates with the aesthetic pessimism of Giorgio Agamben, who, in The Man Without Content, argues that Modern aesthetics is the result of a series of schisms: between artist and spectator, genius and taste, and form and matter. It is, perhaps, facile to make too much of the presence of these schisms in Joselit’s description of Paik’s “Exposition of Music-Electronic Television,” even if their flattening into the categories of “network” and “commodity” is quite eloquent. That, however, in Joselit’s narrative, Paik seeks not spiritual intervention, but only notional representation, is quite interesting, in context. One of the most striking aspects of The Man Without Content is Agamben’s corroboration of Hegel’s proclamation in “The Romantic form of Art” that (Modern) art creation was destined to continue indefinitely in a “self-annulling mode,” whereby essence is constantly externalized. Paik’s exhibit, per Joselit’s explanation, demonstrates an exemplary instance of this phenomenon, when Paik’s technological spectatorship, qua Joselit, casts the artist as a spritely servant to television’s medium condition, while also subversively upholding the metaphysical delineation of modern aesthetics’ purposive dialectical framework. Between Joselit’s effervescent malaise and Agamben’s turgid pessimism, the schismatic vision of Modernity confirms a banal and self-imposed defeatism, for the production of art in the modern era.

3A. [SLIDE 9] In asking what the language of things constitutive of imaginative construction can do, I’m trying to find a philosophical exit from the historiographical end-game of a castrated art practice. I’ve done this using some examples at hand, and inconclusively, and I apologize for that. Also a lot of the stakes of this investigation are unresolvedly personal, derived from my relationships with Joselit, performance art, and Houston, Texas—and I apologize for that as well. That said, in reconciling with the implication of my experiences in the ideated registers of my being a student of art history with more practical artistic leanings, I have gotten closer to a hermeneutic alternative to formalism’s entrapment of the artist-creator as such, a thing I have been seeking for some time.

Building on Agamben, I examine two instances where image-making assumes the circulatory logics of kitsch, where images are made for the express purpose of iconic flattening, and reproducibility. The point is to reimagine the aesthetics of the network and commodity through its associate image-making, to propose commodifications of the ontology of the circulation of information, and to examine the agency of its symbolic registration. I will discuss two intentionally iconic representations of networks which, due to their purpose of circulation, are also commodifications of the networks they portray.

4. [SLIDE 10] This is Leticia Aguirre. In April 2011, the Houston grandmother became the first person to host a so-called “Super Wi-Fi” network, when a transmitter was installed on the side of her house. The transmitter, developed by the Rice University lab of Dr. Edward Knightly, relays an internet connection, broadcast over low-frequencies, from a separate transmitter, 4000 feet away.

In this photograph, Ms. Aguirre holds an iPad2, given to her by Knightly’s lab to test the reliability of her new internet connection. There, the device’s built-in-camera projects a real-time image of Aguirre’s visually-obstructed face onto its “retina display,” and this digitized self-representation is in turn framed by Aguirre’s hands, arms, and torso, and curtain covered windows, behind. The photograph was taken by Eric Kayne, a local freelancer, and published on the website of a major daily newspaper in April of 2011.

Although its caption describes Aguirre, Kayne’s image is composed around the iPad. Located squarely in the central foreground of the photograph, its vivid screen dominates the field of view. Moreover, we only see Aguirre as a recognizable person in the device, where she is represented by a headshot-like depiction. Here Kayne has arrested a transformation from person to digitized abstraction, portraying Leticia-as-embodied flattened into an icon, and floating in a miasma of meat, fabric, and light. That these externalities are compositionally extraneous can be substantiated through visualization of the screen alone, [SLIDE 11] noting its compositional canniness, and then viewing the complete image without Aguirre’s face, and noting it’s uncanny partiality. In these isolations, we witness the cleavage of digital subject and animate flesh; Kayne has highlighted Aguirre’s newfound ontological ambiguity, with the iPad, in the foreground, recalling the symbolic violence of Knightly’s network, and its operations between the actual and virtual.

[SLIDE 12] Pursuant to its supporting grant, Knightly’s Super Wi-Fi network is mediated by sociological auditing mechanisms. Through onsite and remote interviews with end-users, Kayne’s lab monitors network usability, and then uses the data collected to make the network more reliable. This process has been named CODA—an acronym for “context driven network access.” As a signifier, “CODA” codifies information flow between Knightly’s lab, its experimental network, and the end-user(s) of that network. That CODA that makes the network possible is true both technically—since network function is predicated on usability—and pragmatically—since related auditing is a provision of NSF funding. As CODA mitigates the Super Wi-Fi network’s appearance to its end user, by mediating data-collection and related structural adjustments, Aguirre, Knightly’s lab, and his network become analogous instruments in CODA’s cybernetic circuitry. This is because, to enable a thing-like equivalency between people, spectrum, and digital information-flow, CODA necessarily simplifies human and digital complexity into actions and consequences. For example: CODA inherently transforms Aguirre into system errors, and seeks their eradication; it also depends on Aguirre, as a supplier of the inputs that give the mechanism its purpose. With regards to Aguirre’s malfeasant eradication, an ideal inherently lies beyond the bounds of possibility, demonstrating how CODA can only ever seek to approximate a presentation of Knighly’s experimental logic—which is what the acronym represents. It is an android imagination.

The performative registers of Knightly’s CODA are at turns entertaining and terrifying. CODA exploits Aguirre as a cybernetic reliability machine but abstracts as a necessity; regardless, the procedure fractures Aguirre’s subjectivity. Kayne represents this [SLIDE 13] and the transformation shown is appropriately partial and virtual. In this way Kayne commodifies a situation: be sutures complexities and allows their free circulation, including into this room.

5. [SLIDE 14] In November 2011, New York-based conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll rotated a house 180 degrees on its lot, in order to “make architecture perform.” The project, named prototype180, is located in the Houston neighborhood of Sharpstown, and is intended to catalyze urban innovation. In Carroll’s words,

While the rotation and relocation of the house on its lot interrupt the relation of the house to its context and to existing street typologies they also signal the altered life of the house as a space devoted to a program that will address the issue of aging first-ring suburbs and their futures.

What materializes this signal is the 3,000 individuals in city government, civic life, construction, and higher education, instigated within the performance, through Carroll’s related interactions; the rotation’s social, legal, and physical complexity required every individual’s contribution in order to be realized, and the interpersonal network will continue, in ongoing developments. [SLIDE 15, SLIDE 16]

What prototype180’s geometrical reflection performs is maintained, indefinitely, by a curated online presence. Under its eves, the house contains two cameras, which utilize Wi-Fi technology developed by Dr. Edward Knightly to broadcast individual live-feeds on the Internet. Through these cameras, the house transmits an impossible, doubled-vantage point, with certain effects. For example, online viewers must inherently make themselves absent from the digitally doubled gaze the house has constructed, as they view it, since to do so they see what they cannot from the standpoint of the human body, since people can only look one way at a time, they cannot look out from the precise view of the cameras (since the cameras are in the way), and in viewing a screen one is inherently not viewing the real analog of its representation. In this way, the house directs its gaze towards itself, and reconstitutes its physical reality as an unoccupiable vantage point, manifest in real space.

Carroll’s point, made virtually, is that prototype180 is inherently not what it appears; it is not so much an objectified singularity as it is as lenses on a city, focusing attention. In making this point, schisms between artist and spectator, form and matter, genius and taste, and network and commodity are all negated. Carroll has constructed a new view of Houston, it is that city’s various realities as well as that of the house that have made that view possible, and it was the possibilities that emerged in the process of prototype180’s creation that dictated the final outcome. It is appropriate, therefore, that the project’s circulation of images is facilitated by and as its most iconic element, since it is here precisely that schism has been replaced by a doubling suture. Or, as Carroll notes in her 2009 monograph, prototype180 “is an attempt to create a project that may lead double lives: between technology and art, between art and architecture, between architecture and technology, and between art or architecture and commerce. The result of these doublings is that the project will defy categorization, [existing] in multiple categories and negating those categories, so that it will not exist in the traditional sense, at all.” The website embodies this non-existence.

[SLIDE 17] I’ll end with a comparison.

Kayne’s photograph is a study in the representation of networked subjectivity, portraying CODA’s effect on Aguirre’s ontology. prototype180 is also a study in the representation of networked subjectivity, embodying various possibilities, to further a process already enacted. Both instantiate an ontological flattening, transforming studied information exchange and proposing an otherwise impossible new unity. One instance—that which is portrayed by Kayne—simplifies, the other—Carroll’s architectural performance—produces a complex ecology. I seek no judgment between these. Rather, I offer their representations to reflect on the efficacy of imaginative construction. Kayne’s picture pushes against CODA’s inherent abstraction, in effect reminding all that the system’s virtual fracturing of Aguirre’s person and internet usage is only virtual. Meanwhile, with its human face (Aguirre in the iPad), the network has become explicitly commodified by its use, by a person. Kayne does not offer a possible alternative mode of consuming Knighly’s network, instead he represents it, definitively, as an ambiguous and ongoing sociological process. In this sense, within Kayne’s photograph, it is possible to see Knightly’s experiment as fractured by its user, rather than fracturing its user, if one chooses to make this reading; it is CODA’s imaginative nature, as represented specifically by Kayne, makes this duality possible. Thus Kayne, the photographer, has a supreme agency in delineating the phenomenological modes of Knightly’s internet experiment.

Carroll uses a building’s online presence to direct the gaze of spectators towards their observation, to give materiality to a sociological process she has instigated. The website resists prototype180’s apparent materiality, pushing against the house’s objectification as sculpture, or even as an object, while still enabling the project’s circulation within the World Wide Web. Every spectator, in Houston, or online, becomes instantiated within the house’s emergent network of performer-stakeholders, effectively expanding the universe of possible urban innovations that was signaled by prototype180’s rotation. While prototype180.com does not completely frame reception of its projects “signal”—the house and its rotation has been written about in isolation on many occasions—it keeps the operative social networking possibilities open, and this is important.

Together Carroll and Kayne represent systems that work, where real change is made to occur by taking advantage of semblances of character, within the fictive arena of aesthetic commodities. That CODA effects Aguirre’s subjectivity and that prototype180 marshals intentions in the interest of local innovation has been effectively portrayed, to the extent that even those of us in this room could start to consider ourselves as a part of the circulation of things, people, and information that have been depicted. Kanye’s phonograph and Carroll’s house-website don’t really do anything, but they do represent in a manner with constative impact: they depict networks in fashions networks cannot themselves, to the effect of expanding possible relations within those networks and of those networks to the world. Imagination operates as if it can expand already given possibilities, and that is also what these images do. That the expansion is neither banal nor self-defeating is notable.

NOTE 1

Or, rather, homosexuality itself, even as an erotic orientation, even as a specifically sexual subjectivity, consists in a dissident way of feeling and relating to the world.

13

Noted: And yet Roland Barthes argues against constant refutation, as a modus operandi. Might his stance have emerged from the closet? How much is Halperin’s claim a generational one?

Addendum: How might the project of HtbG be compared to Barthes earlier work, especially Writing Degree Zero and Mythologies?

NOTE 2

…the common notion that there’s a right way to be gay.

13

Raises questions of fascism.

NOTE 3

So this entire project, trashy as it might seem at first, could actually help us get at something both elusive and profound.

16

What does trashy mean here? How might it have it’s roots in what has come to be identified as “gay shame?” How would this sentence and its meaning in context be inflected by a reconsideration of the use of the word trashy, and its possible substitution with other literary self-interpellations—like “insipid,” or “pointless,” or “uncultured,” or “unsophisticated?”

NOTE 4

In addition to the authors and books listed above, countless gay men have written learned, engaging, lovingly detailed studies of Hollywood cinema, the Broadway musical, grand opera, classical and popular music, style and fashion, interior decoration, and architectural design. But, with a few important exceptions (which I’ll discuss in later chapters), they have said nothing about the relation between gay men and those aesthetic forms, about the gayness of those non-gay forms, or about the reasons for gay men’s personal investment in them.1 Because for them, no doubt, gay male culture is not a problem. It’s not alien to them, and so they don’t need to make an effort to understand it. They already understand it. Which is why they feel no particular impulse to explain it, either to themselves or to others.

36

NOTE 5

My goal is to examine the figural and formal dimensions of some of the mainstream cultural objects that gay male culture appropriates and endows with queer value. I will seek meaning in style and I will look for queer content in form itself.2 for that purpose, what I need is not a large quantity of empirical data, but a thorough, detailed understanding of how some typical and particularly expressive gay male cultural practices actually work. The goal is to make style speak, to make sense of gay aesthetics—of the peculiar, anti-social brand of aesthetics in which gay male culture specializes—and to seize hold of social forms in all their specificity.

37

See “NOTE 1.”

NOTE 6

But so long as we cling to the notion that gayness is reducible to same-sex sexual object choice, that it has nothing to do with how we live or what we like, that our homosexuality is completely formed prior to and independent of any exposure to gay culture—and so long as we hold to that belief as to a kind of dogma—then the persistence of gay culture will remain a perpetual embarrassment, as well as an insoluble analytic puzzle.

61

NOTE 7

[Quoting Fellows] …the old saw about gay males being no different from straight males except for their sexual orientation. This notion developed as a central tenet of the gay rights movement since the 1970s… If outside our sex lives we gays are just like straights, then it must be only a stereotypical illusion that gay men are inordinately drawn to being house restorers and antiquarians—or interior designers, florists, hair stylists, fashion designers, and so forth. Now I t is clear to me that gay men really are extraordinarily attracted to these kinds of work. Rather than dismissing these realities as the stuff of stereotype, I see them as the stuff of archetype, significant truths worthy of exploration.

61-2

NOTE 8

Unlike Fellows, I do not regard gender variance as the key to understanding gay male subjectivity. But the project of my class and of understanding gay this book agrees with his insofar  as it bucks the historical trends that are responsible for making gay male culture a permanent embarrassment to gay men—and that do so by constituting gay culture as inherently backward, archaic, unmasculine, unsexual, and therefore inassimilable to modern, normative gay identity. These are the same historical trends that have made the denial of any and all non-sexual differences between gay male culture that implies some sort of female identification or effeminacy. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] A similar denial persists, more surprisingly, throughout much writing in the academic field of “queer theory.” There it assumes the protective coloration of an axiomatic opposition to “essentialism”—the stubborn but ultimately untenable belief that social identities are grounded in some inherent property or nature or quality common to all the members of an identity-based group. The rejection of essentialism did not prevent the original founders of queer theory from asking, “What do queers want?” or from exploring the particularities of gay culture.46 But as queer theory has become institutionalized, the understandable reluctance to accept essentialist assumptions about lesbians and gay men has hardened into an automatic self-justifying dogmatism, a visceral impulse to preempt the merest acknowledgement or recognition of any cultural patterns or practices that might be distinctive to homosexuals.47

62-3

NOTED AND MODIFIED: How is this transphobic? What is its relation to Sedgwick?

ADDENDUM: Cf. Tom of Finland exhibition at MOCA.

NOTE 9

The very attention that queer theory has lavished on difference, intersectionality, and comparison has ended up screening out the question of how for a large segment of homosexual American men during the past century or so, being gay has been experienced through highly patterned forms of embodied sensibility—even as those patterns tend routinely to be disavowed by gay men in their efforts to escape “stereotypes” and “labels.” It is no accident that the studies of gay male culture that do focus most intensely on that question have tended to be undertaken by academics like Will Fellows and John Clum, who write at least in part for non-academic audiences, or by community-based intellectuals like Michael Bronski, Neil Bartlett, and David Nimons—all of whose work falls outside the canon of queer theory.49 [PARAGRAPH BREAK] The general denial of any and all homosexual specificity, especially cultural specificity, is an eloquent symptom of our current predicament. It testifies to the emergence of a powerful taboo, what legal theorist Kenji Yoshino has called a “new form of discrimination” that “targets minority cultures rather than minority persons.”50 We may value diversity and difference, but we flinch at the very notion that minorities might be culturally different.51 And anyway, gay culture in its manifold concrete manifestations often seems to be much to low-brow a topic for serious intellectual inquiry, which may also explain why many academic queer theorists—even especially some of the most prominent ones—tend to shy away from it.

63-4 (bold emphasis mine)

NOTE 10

If, for example, it actually were the case that African Americans largely defined themselves to themselves by their shared understanding that being Black implied a distinctive, unusual, or marked preference for fried chicken, ribs, and water melon (to use John’s example), I would not in fact be afraid to inquire into the cultural meanings that might be involved in the selective appropriation of those foods.52 Being Black, after all, can also be understood as a set of peculiar and defining cultural practices, though it is a rare event when such a model of Black identity makes its way into respectable political discourse—even as a joke. On January 21, 2008, in the debate before the Democratic Party’s electoral primary in South Carolina, Barack Obama was asked what he thought of Toni Morrison’s remark that Bill Clinton was the first black president. He replied, “I would have to investigate Bill’s dancing abilities.”53 Black writers and critical race theorists have recently taken up the topic of how to be Black” and have treated it as worthy of sustained investigation.54

65

How racist is this?

NOTE 11

Sexual desire is only one aspect of gay male desire. Sex is not the sum of queer pleasure. Gay desire seeks more than the achievement of gay identity. Gay identity does not answer to all the demands of gay desire. Gay identity is inadequate to the full expression of gay subjectivity. Gay identity may well register the fact of gay desire; it may even stand in for its wayward promptings, its unanticipated urges and satisfactions. But gay identity will not—it cannot—capture gay desire in all its subjective sweep and scope. It cannot express it. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Desire into identity will not go.

69

NOTE 12

[t]he current conditions under which gay people typically gain admittance to the public sphere—and to the official discourse of the news in particular: our difference from normal folk is at once hyped and disavowed.

86

NOTE 13

The closet operates here to conceal not homosexuality as identity or desire but homosexuality as queer affect, sensibility, subjectivity, identification, pleasure, habitus, gender style. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] What remains literally unspeakable is no longer the love that dare not speak its name. […] Instead, it is a less classifiable but still quite specific definition of faggotry: whatever it is in its particular that accounts for why so many countertenors are gay.

87

NOTES 14

To be fair to Daniels and Tommasini, no one in queer studies is talking, either. At least, no one seems to be in much of a hurry to tackle these questions.

88

Cf. Email, 1/16/2013

NOTE 15

[W]hen psychoanalytic thinkers advance their claim about desire exceeding identity, the main purpose, or outcome, is to destabilize heterosexual identity, to free homosexuality from identity—a procedure whose effect is ultimately not to undermine but to promote and to universalize homosexuality.3 […] I choose to take a different route, and to dramatize then limits of gay male identity by attending to the cultural practices and life experiences of gay subjects themselves.

90-91

Through what method?

NOTE 16

Gay culture’s hard-won ironic vision of the falseness and performative character of family sentiments also registers something more general and more profound about emotional expression. It reflects the very structure of the social life of feeling. In particular, it testifies to the inevitable gap between what is felt and what in any specific context is capable of being expressed.

268

NOTE 17

The tragic necessity of accepting, instead of refusing, the inevitable gap between feeling and its expression provides the point of the rebuke that Ajax addresses to Achilles in Book 9 of the Iliad. It is here that Achilles announces his intention to refuse any and all material compensation for the social degradation and emotional damage he has suffered from Agamemnon. Complaining that Achilles is “pitiless,” Ajax advances a radical argument that acknowledges the incommensurable distance in social life between what we feel and what we can do about it. That incommensurability, he implies, is at once a consequence of human mortality and a generative source of the symbolic social forms whose reparative functioning affords the sole means of bridging (but not closing) the gulf between human subjectivity and human sociality.

269-70

NOTE 18

In this context, the gap between feeling and expression is tragic, because it is the manifestation of a basic existential catastrophe—a fatal, irreparable, inescapable void in human meaning.

272

The gap between feeling and expression.

NOTE 19

For language itself is a realm of symbols to which we resort when, at the end of infancy, we discover that we have no direct means of expressing our longings, and no hope of obtaining what we want on our own.

272

NOTE 20

Unless the inauthenticity intrinsic to the social expression of feeling is understood to be tragic and not comic—serious instead of ridiculous or deflating—tragedy cannot get the respect it is culturally entitled to.

273

NOTE 21

Gay male culture has therefore had to devise a number of remedies against the romaintic ills to which it is vulnerable. That, after all, is what camp is for. Camp is designed to puncture the romantic appeal of beauty, to mock the seriousness with which you might be tempted to endow your own emotions, especially your feelings of love and desire, and to deconstruct the kind of authenticity with which you might be tempted to invest them. Camp, as we have seen, is a practice internal to a dialectic in gay male culture that revolves around a series of oppositions between romance and disillusion, seriousness and unseriousness, authenticity and inauthenticity—between the unironic intensity of gay men’s desire for masculine beauty and the ironic deflation of that intensity. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Camp belongs to one side of that polarity. It is the antidote to romanticism. It breaks into the self-contained world of passionate desire and interrupts its unironic single-mindedness—its systematic exclusion of competing values, its obliviousness to tis larger social context, its obsessive focus on the desire object, and its refusal of alternate perspectives. Camp is a reminder of the artificiality of emotion, of authenticity as a performance. At the same time, camp is not the whole story. For it represents a challenge to the power of a feeling for which it knows itself to be no match. It does not seek or hope to conquer love, or to end our breathless, religious veneration of beauty. It merely strives to render their effects less toxic—by making the value and prestige of romantic love less axiomatic.

288

NOTE 22

Then the label [of melodrama] is applied to yourself, it can also exemplify the camp practice of inclusiveness—a communal practice that consists in refusing to exempt yourself from the universal deflation of other people’s pretentions to authenticity and seriousness, yet without forging all claims to be treated decently yourself.

291

NOTE 23

Far from being fatal to love, a camp sensibility is the result and expression of love’s self-knowledge. It indicates that the fusion of gay desire and gay sisterhood, of beauty and the camp, though never easy, is possible, and can happen. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] There is, in sum, an erotics of melodrama. At their wisest, gay men’s love relationships exemplify and embody it. And one of gay male culture’s jobs is to enshrine that erotics, to preserve it, to communicate it, and to transmit it.

295

On Camille and failure and the possibility of a gay writing position, through camp flatness, and a transmission of that possibility as such.

NOTE 24

But if melodrama has an erotics, it also has a politics.

295

Tell me who do you think I am?

Tell me who do you think you are?

You’re talking like you’re my father.

 

NOTE 24

[On the funeral of Vito Russo] Douglas Crimp, who recounts this incident and provides the background I just summarized, does so in the course of making a passionate and powerful plea for basing a progressive politics not on identity but on identification.

296

LG: Or just as good at just finding things out bc we don’t know the answer must exist. I’ve never understood a defeatist approach in regard to knowledge

LG: I am quite organized thank you

LG: I lolled and lolled at the thought of one of these fools editing my in design file; good luck people my work is done

LG: I asked for the written thing they turned in; how the fuck has this not only been given to me

LG: Still no response

 

Rooney: Everyone’s trying to suckceed.

Rooney: But I’m holdin’ on, yes I’m holdin’ on

LG: That was fun n all now I get what signe (one of my profs) does every day

 

[BOURBON]

 

NOTE 25

SJ: mmhm

The work of all gay male cultural politics can be summed up in a single, simple formula: to turn tragedy into melodrama.

297

Melodramatic appropriation of heteronormative modes as a defense posture… an exemplification of camp inclusiveness.

LG: Also I’m not sure what exactly these people are expecting as they never said so much so…

 

NOTE 26

The historical function of gay male culture has been—and its ongoing political task remains—to forge an ironic perspective on scenes of compulsory, socially validated and enforced performance, to decommission supposedly authentic social identities and return them to their status as willfully or witlessly iterated roles.

 

Rooney: Even if I try, try, you’re never going to leave me alone.

LG: Also half off the ride to see you!

LG: Even tho the mta was broken and that was the long train ride home ever but yay!

LG: And I made SO many mistakes during the site visit it’s good that…

Rooney: I can’t get enough.

Rooney: Cause you are my only friend. Yes you are my only friend.

LG: … No lavish parties or anything. But rent should be good. Congrats.

Rooney: It’s the same old story, it’s the same old movie, but when you’re with me it’s a masterpiece, because you are my only firend.

LG: I  can visit you and drive down Santa Monica and stars at pretty ppl.

 

[Bourbon]

LG: Stare***

 

NOTE 27

Heterosexuals don’t usually tell themselves that, by watching a film like Titanic, they are undertaking an initiation into the culture of heterosexuality [SHE’S TEXTING AGAIN NOW, BUT I WANT TO FINISH THIS ONE FIRST], into a very specific ideology of romantic love as a source of salvation [THE PHONE SCREEN IS SO BRIGHT], and into a literally catastrophic model of feminine gender identity [DO I SOUND LIKE GEORGE SAUNDERS?] as a calamitous condition requiring rescue (“he saved me, in every way that a person could be saved”) [I TOTALLY HAD A CRUSH ON THE GIRL WHO INTRODUCED ME TO GEORGE SAUNDERS. HER NAME... WHAT WAS HER NAME?].

324

LG: And the weather!

SJ: Yes, the weathes

SJ: It is warmer

[WRITES AND SENDS TEXT MESSAGES, EDITS TEXT ABOVE]

 

NOTE 28

Is bored, takes short break by browsing online used car listings.

Rooney: If I were you, I’d be hurting too, cause it’s all or nothing, all or nothing now. If you were me, I know you’d see-e-e, that it’s all or nothing, all or nothing now;

[USED CAR LISTINGS]

 

This is the one I want to get. 

Rooney: I got a funny feeling, I could smell that funny something, that was cooking at my place that night. I got the hunch, and the hunch don’t tell no lies.

 

[Did they plow the street?]

[Ugh, my headphone cord is tied in a knot…]

[They didn’t plow.]

[They don’t plow here much.]

 

[Roland is back from the bathroom]

Social constructions are not false, in other words, and it is mistaken to regard social analysis as implying that our fundamental intuitions about the world are erroneous or groundless. On the contrary, they are very well grounded—it’s just that they are grounded in our social existence, not the nature of things. To search for the social grounds of subjectivity is therefore not to invalidate people’s deepest feelings and intuitions or to reduce them to the status of mere illusions or delusions.3 [EMPTIES GLASS OF BOURBON] To search for the social grounds [THINKS OF SHOWING ROLAND HIS NOTES] of subjectivity is therefore not to invalidate people’s deepest feelings and intuitions or to reduce them to the status of mere illusions or delusions. [OH… I ALREADY TYPED THAT.]  It is, quite simply, to explain them.

[Thinks about showing the notes, decides not to.]

[Roland shuts some of the lights off in the apartment]

 

NOTE [… what number?] [SCROLLS, CHECKS] 29

[TURNS PAGE] Historically, there has been a tendency to conceptualize the sexual practices and gender identities of gay men separately from each other ,to give one priority and to treat the other—if at all—only as a mere consequence of the first. The result has been either to promote sexuality at the expense of gender or to privilege gender over sexuality. The post-[FIXES ERRORS] Stonewall

Rooney: How could we know in a heartbeat, things could never be the same? It’s your little brother’s dream to be on the same team someday.

            gay movement tried to do the former; third sex theories generally do the latter. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Since homosexuality ha… [ADJUSTS FOR MISTYPE] h… had for so long been treated as a psychological ambormality or pathology consisting in sex-role reversal or gender inversion, a prominent strain in post-Stonewall gay male political thought and culture attempted to sever homosexuality from gender and to preset [NO] present it as a purely sexual orientation, having to do entirely with sexual object-choice and thereby proving to be fully consistent with nortmative [NO] normative sexuality. [NO] masculinity.

[BREATHES, GETS GLASS OF WATER, AFTER TYPING OUT ACTIONS]

[PEES, TALKS WITH ROLAND ABOUT DINNER, AND SAVES AND CLOSES, INTENDING TO EAT A SLICE OF CHEESE, PLAY A VIDEO GAME, AND ATTEND A SKYPE MEETING]

author photo

Notes on Sexuality & Space

by Samuel Ray Jacobson

Dead Letter Office (for BABEL Working Group)

FORTHCOMING: Winter 2014

Sexuality & Space (Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) contains the proceedings of an eponymous 1990 conference at Princeton University, and was both the first and last book-length publication dedicated to a comprehensive discourse on sexual identity, as addressed from within the discipline of architecture. In this book I argue that, to the extent that feminist theorists conspicuously ignored in architectural discourse and practice are addressed by Sexuality & Space, its interdisciplinary exchange, in which theories of sexuality are reread in architectural terms, and architecture is reread in sexual terms, has the effect of asserting the very silence that its inquiry ostensibly alleviated. This is a result of the volume’s particular and strategic historicization of its cultural condition. By carefully examining the constative impact of literary style within Sexuality & Space—that is, by looking at how the use of language, therein, impacts that document’s inscription of its historical context—I have come to a better understanding of how that publication was both the beginning and end of the conversation it sought to inaugurate.

Notes on Sexuality & Space analyzes three related essays from that publication: Laura Mulvey’s “Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity,” Beatriz Colomina’s “The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism,” and Mark Wigley’s “Untitled: The Housing of Gender.” Paying close attention to word choice, syntax, and the order in which ideas unfold as they are read, I develop a comprehensive narrative of how these three essays together paradoxically instantiate and negate a shared discourse. Each essay has been given a corresponding chapter; the method, generally speaking, has been close reading.

In the broadest possible terms, it is the intention of the book to come to an understanding of how text happens in the context of architectural discourse. In the discipline of architecture the written word is often viewed with suspicion; for people who create spaces it is difficult to trust what cannot be touched. For the first time, I try to understand how architecture’s theoretical spaces are constituted by its authors, and to interrogate the materiality of language therein: to understand how our texts configure their successors, to interrogate the particular cordoning off of disruptive intimacies within our field and to deconstruct their effects through taxonomy, and, most importantly, to assert the embodied agency that inevitably underlies the ontology of the author as an architect of text. Sexuality & Space has been the site of my investigation; it could have occurred elsewhere.

FROM AN EMAIL

Paul Rudolph fascinates me, both because of my sympathy with Brutalism and the puzzling open secret of his sexuality, as related to his queer status in the canon of Architectural Modernism (some people include him, some never mention him, a pattern shared with Johnson, among others). I would argue Rudolph is partly to blame for the inconsistencies of his legacy. As I tried to write about several years ago–auditing a class taught by David Joselit, at Yale–it’s evident from his interviews that Rudolph was inordinately canny in negotiating perceptions of difference at the scale of the streetscape. The Art & Architecture Building (New Haven CT, 1963) is an excellent example of that; consider the following statements, in his April 1964 interview with Architect, that “Yale’s buildings are unified in the sense that they are all masonry, dependent on their light and shadow for effect” and are also “large buildings that are actually broken down in terms of scale so that they often read as clusters of buildings rather than a single building.” Are these statements true of Yale’s buildings? Yes, but the truth of the statements is more a matter of clever architechtonic convenience than it is a critical evaluation of the downtown New Haven streetscape: Rudolph portraying New Haven in a manner than naturalizes his design. In other words, Rudoldph has made his revolutionary intervention disappear, in the rhetoric of the interview. As a good architect I will also mention that his drawings do the same; consider this contemporaneous elevation of Chapel Street.

Elevation of Chapel Street Buildings. Paul Rudloph, 1964. Courtesy of the Yale Visual Resources Center, Accession Number D01005 – 193

Elevation of Chapel Street Buildings. Paul Rudloph, 1964. Courtesy of the Yale Visual Resources Center, Accession Number D01005 – 193

As I wrote for David (badly), the A&A Building can be read as an architechtonic diagram of Rudolph’s hierarchical design pedagogy, with the gaze of various levels of students and faculty controlled such that those who Rudolph wants observing others are made to do so through the organization of spaces within the building’s famous terrace-scheme; there is, additionally, a controlling of views to the exterior such that movement through Rudolph’s sectional hierarchy of art allows for greater and greater visual access to the streetscape. Thus first year sculptors, lecturers, and graphic designers are relegated to the blindness of the basement, with the liturgical event of speaking before an audience occupying the symbolically important (but also entirely contained) double height space between; study and research occupy the ground floor, a space for interaction with the street and the epistemological and literal infestation of architecture with literary and bipedal forces from the outside world; one then moves up to exhibition space, also easily accessed from outside and gazed upon by the A&A’s newest architectural students and more advanced sculptors (who are also given the first views of the street); later design students and city planners are granted an analogous, autonomous set of spaces in the two stories above, and painters and additional city planners get the spaces above that, looking only onto the street. The conclusion of this sequence is the rooftop apartment, the only space in the building with clear visual command of the city, reserved for the director of the school and his dignitaries.

Yale Art + Architecture Building, section G-9. Paul Rudolph, 1964. Courtesy of the Yale Visual Resources Center, accession number D01005 – 050

Yale Art + Architecture Building, section G-9. Paul Rudolph, 1964. Courtesy of the Yale Visual Resources Center, accession number D01005 – 050

The disciplinary set-up here is clear: architecture in its ideal form rises out of but is ultimately autonomous from the city it takes as its setting; pedagogy is the process of introducing individuals to that condition, and allowing them to achieve greater levels of remove from and formal command, expressed though visual agency, attained in concert with increased skill. It is a lonely journey, concluding with a complete panoramic ability, predicated on conspicuous invisibility. Reading laterally, one can say that Rudolph sees the condition of becoming an architect as similar to that of the contingent erasures of “the closet,” as it existed within the urban conditions of twentieth century America: ignorance, interpellation, and initial and internalized search for meaning, followed by more particularized, isolated, and externally-aware explorations, and finally lonely and untouchable awareness. Given the lapses between the philosophies of architectural practice and the domestic and public architectures of the containment of sexual expression characteristic of the evolution of architectural Modernity (outlined most comprehensively, if also problematically, by Wigley’s various historiographies of the subject, from Alberti to Semper to Corb et al) I think the possible and uncanny relationship between Rudolph’s disciplinary outlook and personal decorum of sexual self-knowledge is entirely feasible if not wholly unavoidable.

So I wrote several years ago. As it happens my partner works in the building next door, and lives around the corner. In my many walks past the renamed, renovated “Rudolph Building,” I’ve come to realize that it expresses Rudolph’s geometry of the architectural-sexual mind in iconic fashion on Chapel Street, where there is a sort of punctuated obelisk. On its flat, filleted corners, the sculptor, Robert Engman, includes the names of his mentors (Kubler and Albers come to mind immediately, Rudolph is listed as well); the guts of this concrete thing are partially evacuated by complexly-curved, smooth-surfaced abscesses; at its base, it is inscribed with the word “STRAIGHT.” Thus we come to my reason for writing you, since in many ways the condition materialized is that of the warped grid, in the sense that orthagonality is here simultaneously signified, in geometry and concrete and language, and also negated, by the abscesses and the irony of the application of the word “straight” to a thing which both is and is not that, within the work of a person whose relation to the description was intentionally ambiguous. As I see it, here both architecture and sexuality are portrayed as anamorphic conditions: the integration of political (in the sense of identity being determined by public and external consensus) and utopic (in the sense of ontology, personal and disciplinary, being dependent upon a central void, and therefore inherently occupying a sort of non-existent space) energies to create forms and formats for subjectivity that are only apparent through the parallax of intellection and paranoid representation.

The question this all poses to me is: what to do? Given my history, which includes a number of negative interactions with sexuality or my sexuality with views of architectural disciplinarity (that is, interactions whereby anything other than compulsory heterosexuality and monogamous cohabitation are configured as outside the concern of design and its representation; interest in any sexual identity other than the transparent and cryptic hegemony of Modernist, masculinist, generally eschatological authorial hero worship is interpellated as beyond the concern of architecture studies; and resistance to either concern appears as either or both professional and intellectual weakness, stemming from a deep-seated and persistent confusion of masculinity with intellectual and artistic prowess) it is of a level of importance rivalling that of the motivation of identity politics that I seek to narrate what I, for political reasons, aim to represent not only as a plausible reading of Rudolph’s building but also as its reality. To that end (among others) I’m fascinated the idea of anomaly as precious. For me it begs the question of what to do about the disambiguation of anomalies that have been *intentionally* covered: situations of present disappearance, related to the interface of gender and sexuality with the space/reality of the public. This is to say that through Rudolph I am considering our conversation, as it might apply to a revolutionary interest in the lapses, excesses, and eccentric ambiguities, related to sexual identity and practice, that one might label “queer.”  As the present condition of Queer Theory demonstrates, the identification of eccentricity is not enough to sustain a politically or intellectually effective discours. So I am trying to forge ways of moving forward. One, which I circled around in the thesis and book, is a negotiation of intellectual apoplexy, pushing through impairment or impossibility with means of verbal and syntactical and graphic effusion. As I mentioned in our conversation, if I could figure out a more productive alternative to this tiresome and tiring methodology I would consider my work a success. I guess I would phrase that desire through the question: how does one represent bad faith in such a way that minimizes the imposition of a particular ideological perspective; in other words, is it possible to represent something that has been made to disappear, faithfully?

 

FROM ANOTHER EMAIL

Since September I’ve been living around the corner from the recently renamed and renovated “Rudolph Building.” As you’ll recall, during our conversation I brought up Robert Engman’s sculptural contribution to the “Art and Architecture Building,” as it was originally known. Contemporaneous with the 1963 structure, this obelisk-like concrete column features a series of complex-curvature voids in its interior, aligned vertically, through the height of the sculpture; these voids direct the gravitational loads imposed on the sculpture towards its corners, which are inscribed with the names of Engman’s mentors and colleagues (among them: Kubler, Albers, and Rudolph). At its base, the sculpture is inscribed with the word “STRAIGHT.”

You can read Art at Yale’s entry on the structure here: http://www.yale.edu/publicart/column.html

Given my reading of Rudolph’s architectural pedagogy, as manifest in the parti of his “A&A Building,” I believe it is appropriate to read this object as a material diagram of a particular disciplinary identity in mid-twentieth century America. The route of self-formation implied is as follows: in assuming the status of the art or architectural practitioner, the self is evacuated, with the purposive forces of both intellect and action flowing towards a reification of disciplinary dictum, based on adherence to given precepts; likewise, all imposed forces in Engman’s column are directed towards the names of those individuals of pedagogical import not only to himself, but also to the interdisciplinary model of art and architectural practice embodied by Rudolph’s building. The sculptor’s work is supported by those who have influenced him.

It is the possibly ironic inclusion of the word STRAIGHT at the base of the column (is it? isn’t it?) which invites some conceptual porosity between this model of professionalism, or practice, or praxis, and the body of ellipses, lapses, and masquerading performances constitutive of the “closet,” as it came to be understood in the discourses of or that would become Queer Theory, at the close of the twentieth century. Of course, with the lack of either clear material signification towards this reading, or a given archive to support my claim, this porosity exists only in the parallax view of obliquity and paranoia. Possible responses include apoplexy, or a slightly softer and more speculative metaphysics; which is to say, allowing present and embodied realities to start to enter into the story.

 

FROM A LUNCHTIME WALK

Engman's "Column." Chapel Street, New Haven, December 2013. Photograph by the author.

Engman’s “Column.” Chapel Street, New Haven, December 2013. Photograph by the author. Click to read note.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 787 other followers