Saturday, April 14, 2012

The moral ambivalence of pornography

It is de rigeur among postmodern thinkers to denounce pornography and their numerous misgivings are certainly valid. Yet like all manifestations of postmodernity pornography occupies an equivocal position. And while its reductio ad absurdum is indisputable, its palpable forms of affirmation are equally cognizable.

The interesting thing about pornography is not just its reduction of sexuality into its constituents, a reductionism divested of emotional signification, but also its social grounding. This is ironical because it is in its absence of cultural signifiers, in its objectification of women and men that its ideology is predicated. However, the cultural appurtenances it purports to eschew, their social implications are indirectly reinstated in the form of stereotypes and collective notions of humanity. So while on the one hand it is I fuck, therefore i am, it is also on the other hand I fuck, because of who i am.. And in a time when polyglot alternative sexualities are proliferating the victimhood engendered, though primarily centered around women also crosses over to other realms where victimhood is ubiquitous as are the machinations of power.

Another aspect of porn is its fleshly, corporeal actualization of our collective fantasies and therefore it remains an abstraction, disconnected from everyday life. Big breasts, huge penises , hairy bears, schoolboys, twinks are all pornographic metonyms of what we, as a culture are obsessed with subconsciously. And the voyeur undergoes a depersonalization because what he views is an affirmation of the unconscious. At the same time it is a reflection of the in potentia nature of his/her desires. Certainly our collective fantasies may have their grounding in a parochial reality, a universalization of  ephemera but this propensity to atomize am entire race, culture, way of life on the basis of dehumanized , misleading representations is desecration. The black man is invariably imbued with a huge cock, lesbians and gays reduplicate heterosexual positions, all baroque variations of sexual excesses are underpinned by a variation of a fundamental premise which is the organ and the orifice.

The architectonics of sexualization take alarming forms when masochism, violence is presented as naturalized. The rictus of simultaneous pleasure and pain, the props, dildos, and other accoutrements not just compartmentalize but ratify violence, rationalizing it. And modes of sexual possibilities are tainted by this, rococo variants are experimented with . Another aspect of pornography is its adherence to and servicing of a hierarchical stratum of society. Its ironical that poor, struggling people become porn artists to subsist, only to cater to a elite coterie which can indulge its perversities.

There is no doubt that, within the kitschified interstices of porn, a process of initiation unfurls because sex is still taboo in many third world countries. Celluloid presentations demonstrate the physical forms lovemaking takes, different ways of doing it. Yet the vicarious thrill of the voyeur is twice removed from reality because , at a realistic level, within the world of porn, his realization of his drives is both unformed and unrealized. Also the gender, racial stereotyping that porn does unfortunately gets subsumed under the panoply of undifferentiated, primordial, ipso facto nature of sex itself. This process of submergence confirms notions about the 'other' , rendering the 'other' exotic only to exoticize them as objects of fantasy. The reality of three dimensional flesh and blood, its vagaries, intricacies and right to common humanity is denatured.

Undoubtedly pornography has emerged as a redoubtable institution and dispersed widely. Its attenuation and marketization commodify sexuality and its consumerist predispositions render its representation of sexuality imbued with the ideological underpinnings of those in power. We live in a time of censorship where dissentient statements are conveniently erased and thereby obliterating the possibility of awareness and self examination. It is up to us to interrogate porn's validity and while it can't be done away with, its institutionalization is complete, at least cognitive self  questioning would filter out its destructive and self destructive potentiality and make it as a postmodern phenomenon, ambivalent, replete with contradictions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The ubiquity of The Frost Fairs

I must admit to a huge partisanship about this poem. Because it is written by a gay poet whose incandescent sensibility is present in every fissure, every crevice, every interstice in this collection which it beautifully traverses, negotiating, probing, leaving space for new meanings, new layers of understanding and can, if you allow it, be a transcendent experience. Merging tradition and modernity, a dialectic between old and new, an unselfconscious intertextuality and a luminous awareness of life's transcendent possibilities, navigated through the corporeal, the quotidian yet imbued with a sense of epiphanic self revelation.

The fact of the poet's homosexuality permeates this work and a mirroring of his real life gay concerns, contextual reality underpins the entire work. This sensibility makes him the poet he is. And while as a fellow gay poet i appreciate his sensibility and celebrate a gay writer's work, especially poetry, which is scarce i would also be extremely weary of pigeonholing this amazing poet simply as being gay. His universality as an artist is irradiated by his sexual orientation and i would like to see an assimilation, a confluence between two dissociated forms of being, seamlessly coalesced.

To analyze the title a bit Frost Fairs which is seemingly oxymoronic but a clever verbal pun. While frost conjures up visions of petrifaction fairs is a carnivalesque word, filled with possibilities of revelry, merry making, affirmation. And the here and now's combination with the putatively exotic reminds of Angela Carter's Nights at the circus which within a alien context makes the most excoriating observations. No such exoticism in Mc cullough. A quiet sense of the small things of everyday life, their sexual, social dynamics ripples outwards to encompass global themes which underscores the ubiquity of this marvelous collection.And this allies the work to Carter's because voices, culturally suppressed, deemed sexually deviant, are amply represented here and given a valid form of expression. Gays, transpeople become emblems in a vast panorama of polyglot sexual possibilities that makes a political statement without being ideological. And the cultural context the roads, the freeways, the bars, seemingly insignificant but part of Mc Cullough's cultural perspective is never just a nostalgic recollection in tranquility . An awareness of subterranean gay parallel lives, its sinewy, sinuous whisking down corridors of oneness, the essential loneliness, the prophylactic of memory and the joy of communion with the past, transmuted to the present constitutes this collection.

To take an example.

'I might realize Brighton doesn't exist
is being invented for our arrival
the shops plugged in, the prom laid on.
the smiles carved in random pebbles
there where buses have names
so we can get knocked down by dusty springfield'
                            -from-Reading o'Hara on the Brighton express'.

Now this beautiful poem engages in a colloquy between two gay poets. The humble delineation of Mc cullough's engagement is a bridge between a past and present gay culture, authenticating its presence, validating its co existence with another culture, the American, with British contiguity's. The act of reading is subversive in itself but the transcribing of it into paper redoubles its iconoclasm. The poet inhabits two realms. And Brighton, as the gay capital of UK becomes a back.drop for this tableau to be unfurled.

To take another example.

'where we turned off the dissolving path
to chance uncertain territory.'

'we followed the roaming fence and like
the rabbits, daring over marram were never caught out.

'two so close, from each other from our perspective
we swore, they must have occupied the same dream.

                                            -From 'Talacre'.

Again temporality, landscape becomes an arena for secret love lives, presumably gay, to be explored. These sites, these topographies are spaces where gay lives can eke out a singular mode of being untainted by heterosexual custom, unanesthetized by cloying analgesics, reveling in a oneness whose proclamation of its togetherness is never brash, or crass but unbelievably poignant.

Here is another dimension of it
'Overnight the thames began to move again
The ice beneath the frost fair cracks.

'Even now it carries his greatcoats whiff...
I'll write my dear sweet man, he said,
then squeezed my thigh and turned'

' There is no snow in new south wales...ran
outside to see a jackdaw flat on the lawn. It
must have fallen from the sky...its neck twisted
as though broken from seeing something incredible.
                          -from-The other side of winter'

This poem is a metonym for its eponymous title. Frost and fair comes together here. The panoply of  'merry go rounds and book stalls' is a strong counterpoint to the jackdaw. A feeling of something exciting and contraband emerges here because a substratum of  subversion underlies the iciness of winter and combines with the celebratory foreground of the fair. This is the simultaneous, alternating states of being of gay life and the dying jackdaw doesn't spell and end but a new beginning. Like a phoenix it dies, its incredulity leaving behind a space for something new to come into being.

This exploration of a gay context also combines with a strong sense of roots, the relocation and repossession, imaginatively of landscapes, now altered. Memory, like a photo's sepia tints embalms these moments of being, freezes them so that the reader can revisit these poems and relive, albeit with an evolved, enhanced parenthesis, the same experience. Mc cullough's language is crisp and lyrical. His images are arresting, his descriptive powers subtle. Form and content come together and language becomes both a signifer signifying the poetic content and a inviolable, self contained means of expression.

John mc cullough is a marvelous poet. He is turning 34 and the fact that a few years back The frost fairs emergence into the literary scene is constantly affirmed by the poetic readings he still gives. The impalpable, evanescent texture of humanity becomes a crystallized reality and the demonstration of the poet's unwavering belief in the Lgbt cause, never pedagogical, never pedantic but imaginative shows his leanings as a social member, sensitized to suffering of his fellow men. This iridescent collection's opalescence, is undimmed. It will last because it goes beyond its integument and through daguerrotype dapples the surfaces of human experience with deft brush strokes and mingling the colors and hues of humaneness transfixes his work through time and space, beyond gender, beyond contemporaneity, rendering writing ethereal, rarefied and transcendent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Failed Death

Depression is such an indefinable state that the more i try to rationalize, to find a causal link that explains its whys and wherefores, the more it eludes me. This slipperiness, evasiveness is indicative of its profoundly insidious nature, the fact that it can encroach, creep up and shatter your equilibrium.It is inexplicable to those who haven't experienced it and while an imaginative leap would render its outer edges explicable, its inner reality is largely uncomprehended. One of the things i've learned is that depression is ubiquitous and everyone goes through it. Battling it is both an exercise of willpower and the ability to circumvent its insidious burgeoning insinuations. And while a neurochemical basis explains its presence and existence its constituents are unformulated and opaque.

Having been inoculated to psychiatry for 4 years my capitulation to its pharmaceutical depredations is complete. And as my psychiatrist assures me, bipolar is a lifelong illness and medication inevitably prolonged. My response to this expression of finality is ambivalent. And because i inhabit this realm my resistance to its encomiums and insignia is redoubled. Medication is essentially incarcerating and self destructive. Its efficacy and simultaneous damage remain unclear. Since, except for schizophrenia, the prescription is hit and miss, it becomes difficult to adjust to a long battle wherein uncertainty reigns. After being through 17 different drugs i have found a measure of stability. Whether this stability is a process of medicalisation or a succesful peregrination through the labyrinth of bipolarity remains indistinct.

I am aware that in thus exposing myself i run the risk of wrath from many quarters. Stigma is rampant and it is difficult to convince people about your volitionless succumbing to a force within yet beyond one. All i remember of that summer is my increasing disinclination to attend university. A sense of emptiness suffused me, an inarticulable emptiness, causeless and random. And i loved literature and so my absence was rationally unexplained. Unexamined also, by me, was the reality of my incipient sense of dread which became intransigent with the passing of time. I was in a limbo and suspended between being forced to live and wanting to die. This sense of loss and dispossession was interspersed with bouts of mania, resulting in importunate acts that intensified the guilt when i returned to sense of my distorted reality of depression.

I remember reading Susannah Kaysen's 'Girl interrupted' a book on her borderline personality and instantly identified myself with her. So convinced was i with this self diagnosis that later i misrepresented my illness to the psychiatrist who, instead of detailed examination of patterns of behavior instantly took me at face value. But to return to that limbo i began, imperceptibly, to slash my wrists, trying to physically make manifest my inner trauma. Then i started taking minor overdoses. My family misinterpreted my behavior as attention seeking. I also began to have severe, debilitating panic attacks. Love of kaysen commingled with the reality of hospitalization filled me with alternating excitement and dread.

Once admitted i came into contact with other mentally ill patients. A general ward is highly discomfiting. What with numerous patients and their attendants even to visit the loo is imbued with shame and embarrassment . All i remember is somehow procuring, from my mothers purse a vast collection of anti psychotics and consuming them. All i remember next is waking up in the I c u only to be told that i've been in coma for three days. Time, which seemed linear, suddenly becomes elastic and this absence of a minor chunk of my life is highly unnerving. Yet this lapse reaffirms the fact that though i would relapse, each descent would make me stronger. And this subliminal awareness is what has pulled me through. When you've reached a bottomless abyss, a point of no return, your readmittance to life is both frightening and welcome. Because i know that i've traversed inferno nothing could be worse and life, at least circumstantially, would be uneventful. The chemical component would be lodged intractably but at a cognitive level the worse storm has been tided over. And this is because depression, though physiological, has emotional ramifications. Your past becomes a desecrated space where all your irrational guilts and obsessions are funneled into your mind. And the self blame, for everything, even investing the tiniest of inadvertent transgressions with gargantuan proportions, exacerbates the emptiness.

Despite my ambiguity about medication i am thankful, after foundering aimlessly to have found a center whose centrality is evanescent and tremulous. But this kernel of luminosity propels me, both as a human and as a writer to acknowledge the inadmissible and thereby navigating it and emerging, if not triumphant, at least believing that change can be wrought and lives of other sufferers and their miseries alleviated. That is the creation of hope. That is hope.