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Course Syllabus: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Hello readers! As promised, here is the syllabus for a seminar that I’m currently teaching at Bowdoin College. The seminar is entitled (Im)Possible Lives: Young Adult Speculative Fiction, and it is currently offered under Bowdoin’s English Department and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program. The course description is as follows:

How do wizards, monsters, cyborgs, and dystopias shed light on precarious issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, poverty, and illness? This seminar examines representations of identity and difference in young adult speculative fiction—texts created for younger audiences that include elements from genres such as fantasy, horror, science fiction, and magical realism. Students not only analyze the approaches that writers implement to construct hypothetical settings and characters, but also examine how speculative young adult novels depict different possibilities for existing and mattering in the world.

There are many goals that I have for this course. For the most part, I want students to realize the ways in which the content and structure of contemporary YA speculative fiction is symptomatic of many of the political, environmental, and sociopolitical crises that we face today in American society. In literature, film, and media, many have been exploring the issue of who matters, or who doesn’t matter. Particularly in social media discourse, we have seen a rise in attitudes such as homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, sexism, elitism, and so on and so on. We are also developing greater awareness of the violence experienced by people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and immigrants. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to ignore violence (and violent discourse), and recent events have been pushing many of us to question the value and future of human life. Through these acts of hate and violence, however, many of us are recognizing the need for community, highlighting the importance of self-care, and developing a desire for safer, more collective ways of being and knowing.

I think that YA speculative fiction offers readers a unique opportunity to think through the aforementioned precarious issues, and I believe works in this genre will push my students and I to ask difficult questions and explore complex issues. Teaching this seminar is not going to be easy. It will involve difficult and tedious emotional and intellectual labor. But I think that my students and I will grow both as people and thinkers by the time the semester is through.

Part of what I find valuable about works categorized as YA speculative fiction is that they are often crafted with a Utopian bent, and they often envision alternatives to the suffocating and violent conditions of the present. Books in this genre are often exercises in positive affect, and they push readers to imagine, desire, and work for better ways of living in the world. Students and I will explore both the perks and the pitfalls of the ethical frameworks discussed in a selection of YA speculative novels that overtly include themes of gender, sexuality, race, and class. It is my hope that through this seminar, my students will not only learn more about themselves and their place in society, but they will also recognize the value and importance of narratives that deviate from normative paradigms. Furthermore, I hope that students will be able to recognize and discuss current and emerging trends in the genre of YA speculative fiction, especially the genre’s increasing penchant for non-traditional narrative forms and genre-blending.

Just in case you missed the link above, you can access my course syllabus by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it!

Pluto

Patrick McCabe’s [Breakfast on Pluto]

Front cover of Patrick McCabe's Breakfast on Pluto (1998)

Front cover of Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto (1998)

Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto is an unusual “coming-of-age” story (I’m using this term very loosely) focused on the growth and development of Patrick “Pussy” Braden, the illegitimate child of a priest and his teenage housekeeper. Due to his illegitimate birth, Patrick’s mother places her child in a Rinso box and abandons him in front of a foster home. Patrick grows up under the loose guidance of “Whiskers,” a foster mother with a penchant for drinking and chain smoking. From an early age, Patrick is characterized by his affinity for the dramatic, and he is also shown to develop a taste for dressing in women’s clothing and for actively sharing the fact that he is literally the son of a preacher-man. Pussy Braden is the narrator of her own story, and the novel itself is approached as a text that her psychiatrist, Dr. Terence, orders her to write to cope with the instabilities and heartbreaks of her life. Given the fact that the novel is a narrative fabricated by Patrick, one must remain skeptical in terms of the content that she shares. Not only is Pussy Braden a very scattered and disorganized writer, but there are also times when she deliberately writes about imaginary events or characters. 

As an adult, Patrick “Pussy” Braden embodies behaviors, attitudes, and practices that definitely cast her off as a marginal character. First and foremost, it is difficult to categorize her in terms of gender and sexuality. Pussy Braden fluctuates between representing herself as a man and representing herself as a women, she engages in sexual activity with members of both sexes, and other characters are ambiguous in terms of how they approach her–some characters even refer to her as a he and a she within the same sentence. Although the safest label to apply to Pussy Braden would be queer due to her open and unabashed embrace of non-normativity, the novel ultimately suggests that she thinks of herself as female. She often recognizes the difficulties that she has in terms of finding a man, and constantly faces heartbreak when she confronts the impossibility for her to bear children of her own. To further complicate Pussy Braden’s marginal identity, she works as a prostitute, and towards the novel’s conclusion, she is accused of planting a bomb that killed a British soldier that she was flirting with–the fact that she dresses as a woman leads the British forces to deduce that she is in disguise.

Breakfast on Pluto is a very queer novel in that it explores the difficulties of living in a life between borders or binaries. Pussy Braden, for instance, is born in the small Irish town of Tyreelin but later moves to London during the 1970s; however, she soon comes to notice that she does not fit in either place. The period in which the novel takes place is particularly important because it is a time where the tension between Ireland and London was at its peak. The unexpected changes within the global economy affected all societal sectors in London: shops and factories closed, the unemployment rate doubled, and the Irish Republican Army was engaging in an active and sustained bombing campaign focused on weakening the British Army’s earnestness to remain within Ireland. Thus, Pussy Braden is not only caught in the midst of a war between two countries, but she is also caught in a limbo-like state between two genders. Her illegitimate birth also places her within the outskirts of normativity and social acceptance.

Breakfast on Pluto is not your average novel of development. Although we do trace Patrick’s birth and experiences over a significant span of time, Pussy Braden is ultimately unable to find a place of belonging throughout her journey. The novel thus becomes a statement on Pussy’s inability to fit in a society that offers no comforts for alternative or hybrid modes of existence that deviate from the cultural dominant. The narrative is focused on Pussy’s resistance towards cultural norms, and a value of individualistic desires over the wants and demands of society. This is evidenced early in the novel, when a thirteen-year old Patrick writes essays in school describing his father’s affair with his mother. Although his teacher, Peepers Egan, tries to convince him to stop engaging in antisocial behavior and to try to “fit in,” Patrick adamantly replies “Oh, no. I haven’t the slightest intention of stopping it, Peeps, or trying to fit in either!” (11).

Although I thought the political strands discussed within the narrative were interesting, I thought that Pussy Braden’s gender and sex-related struggles were particularly illuminating in terms of illustrating her non-normative position within society, and the heartbreak usually associated with being caught in the borderlines between two worlds. She usually dreams about how different her life would be if she were born a biological female, but she recognizes how a “vagina all of [her] own” (36) is indeed an impossibility.

Pussy’s biological struggles are linked with her desire to bear children despite her impossibility to do so, and she goes as far as to state the following: “if I did somehow manage to get a vagina, one think I was certain of, and I didn’t care even who it was with, was that I wanted at least ten of a family” (40). This desire to have many children is fueled mostly by the fact that Pussy Braden wants, first and foremost, to be loved–yet she finds it difficult to find love due to the temporary relationships she forms through the act of prostitution. This desire to raise children is rooted on the fact that she believes that even when she is ill and dying, they would travel far and wide to see her one last time before she passes away–and she takes this as a sign of true love. Despite Pussy’s selfish nature, her views toward love are very open and surprisingly unselfish. Although she wants children so she can love them and so that they can love her, she also knows that this love will continue to thrive even when she is no longer alive: “Everyone would my children love for they themselves knew love and shared it” (41). She also believes that when other people see the love she has for her children, no one would question whether or not they are hers because of her lack of a vagina:

There would be no one. And as my eyelids slowly closed and the tears pressed their way into the world, I’d clasp each hand and say goodbye, to each one adieu bid, safe in the knowledge that baby one and baby two, right up to baby ten, had all their lives been given it, and to the very end received it, that wonderful thing called love. (41)

On one hand, it can be said that children will enable Pussy to embrace a sense of motherhood and femininity that her biology prevents her from possessing. On the other hand, it becomes blatantly obvious that love is a power that Pussy craves to possess. Love becomes the thing that Pussy has always wanted, and it becomes the thing that is constantly denied to her. Her parents abandon her, thus preventing parental love to manifest; Pussy’s foster mother doesn’t show emotion or affections towards her, and she raises Pussy in atrocious living conditions; Pussy is unable to bear her own children to love; even when she grows attached to a man in her life, they somehow manage to die (her politician boyfriend, for instance, is brutally murdered; the soldier she flirts with at a bar explodes due to an IRA bombing; even Dr. Terence abandons her in the middle of her treatment).

Her thirst for love leads to potentially awkward and uncomfortable situations. For instance, Pussy dates a man she calls Bertie, who lives with his landlady, Louise. Louise lost her son due to a tragic bus accident, and her husband consequently abandons her. Pussy comforts Louise, and during this comforting, Louise kisses Pussy–and thus commences a very complicated relationship and love triangle between Pussy, Louise, and Bertie.

Pussy and Louise’s relationship is a strange mixture of maternal and sexual love. Louise asks Pussy to dress in her dead son’s jacket and short trousers. She also asks Pussy to address her as “Mammy,” and Pussy usually ends up sitting on Louise’s lap to suck on her nipple in order to simulate the act of breastfeeding. Although this first made Pussy uncomfortable, she eventually grows accustomed to her strange relationship with Louise: “After a while, I started to really like it, just sitting there on her knee and being engulfed by all this powdery warm flesh. I never wanted to get up in fact” (91). As can be expected, Bertie catches Pussy sucking on Louise’s nipple one day, and thus, both relationships are instantly dismantled. Not only does this uneasy and strange relationship add more fuel to Pussy’s limbo-like status within the world, but it also exemplifies the extent to which she desires to love and be loved.

One of the most heartbreaking instances in the novel is when Pussy is behind a creamery, searching for evidence to determine whether or not a woman named Martina slept with a man named Tommy McNamee. Pussy begins to imagine a lifetime of heartbreak for Martina if she sleeps with Tommy, mostly because she believes that “all he cared about was pleasuring himself and walking away then to boast about it” (105). She goes as far as to imagine Martina getting pregnant from her one-night stand with Tommy. Despite Pussy’s pleas, Martina sleeps with Tommy behind a creamery. Pussy goes behind the creamery hoping to find no semen, to thus rest assured that Tommy used a condom during sex. Much to Pussy’s dismay, she finds some semen spilled over a dockleaf, which causes her to have a breakdown:

I think it was because it seemed so ridiculous that such a minuscule amount of liquid could cause so much heartache. But which it did, as I’d always known, and consequently belonged in a world thousands of miles from the one I’d written of and dreamed for Terrence. Oh which he spoke so highly, saying that never before had he read anything like it. (107)

The passage above is significant for two reasons: first and foremost, it illustrates the fragility of Pussy’s perspective towards love, and how she laments the fact that small actions can have major consequences over the lives of people. After all, semen was the cause of Pussy’s existence, which can only be characterized as an existence repleted with sorry, angst, and heartache. Secondly, it demonstrates how Pussy is aware that her own writing, and even her hopes and expectations, deviate immensely from the reality that she is living. In due course, the novel makes it absolutely clear that the social conditions that Pussy finds herself in ultimately prevent her from having an easy or a livable life. One could only hope that the society we live in today is at least somewhat more evolved, open, and safe–that it is a society in which Patrick Pussy Bradens do not have to feel ashamed, alone, or unloved.

Work Cited

McCabe, Patrick. Breakfast on Pluto. London: Picador, 1998. Print.

mauricecover

On Happy Endings and Gay Fiction: E.M. Forster’s [Maurice]

Front cover of E.M. Forster's Maurice

Front cover of E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1971)

“A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam in the greenwood. […] Happiness is its keynote–which by the way has had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish.”

(E.M. Forster, Terminal note of Maurice – p. 236)

Maurice, a central text within the gay literary canon, is by far one of the bravest creative works written within the genre of LGBT literature; arguably, it is one of the bravest texts of the early twentieth century. The novel is an essence a Bildungsroman that traces the emotional development of the eponymous hero as he deals with the repercussions of being homosexual in Edwardian England. During his time at college, Maurice Christopher Hall becomes involved in a romantic (yet strictly chaste) relationship with his Cambridge colleague, Clive Durham, until the latter decides to marry a woman–leaving Maurice desolate and heartbroken. Through his attempts to “cure” his homosexuality through hypnosis and other means, Maurice meets Alec, a gatekeeper at the Durham estate. He becomes involved both romantically and sexually with Alec, and decides to start a life with him–all while affirming his “Wildean” identity to Clive as an act of socio-cultural resistance. As Maurice admirably states in his declaration of queer embodiment to Clive:

I was yours once till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now–I can’t hang about whining for ever–and he’s mine in a way that shocks you, but why don’t you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness? (230)

Although written by E.M. Forster during 1913-14, he refused to publish the book during his lifetime because of the negative legal and moralistic attitudes toward homosexuality that permeated England during the advent of the century. While bravery isn’t necessarily reflected in Forster’s (perfectly reasonable) decision to withhold publishing the text during his lifetime, it is reflected in the novel’s content: to envision a world, fictional or realistic, in which two men could “fall in love and remain in it” was beyond the scope of most modernist writers. It’s also brave in terms of its optimism, for in a world in which literary merit is driven by pain, suffering, depression, and unhappy endings, writing a novel with a happy ending is indeed a deviation from the grim albeit expected nature of the “literary.”

It is no coincidence, however, that Maurice was written just before World War I. One could only imagine how this optimism would be affected if the novel were written a year or two later. Forster did edit the novel during the 1960s, and it was known for having an epilogue in which Maurice’s younger sister (Kitty) encounters him and Alec working as woodcutters (and the consequent hatred she develops once she puts two and two together). Forster decided to discard this epilogue because the novel’s action is set in 1912, and the epilogue would’ve taken place a few years later in “the transformed England of the First World War (239). Thus, even though the novel is edited decades after it was written, its narrative essence and its optimistic outlook remained unchanged because it is meant to be approached as a snapshot of homosexual love during a period in which issues of class, aristocracy, politeness, and appearance are crucial to character development. This, in conjunction with the fact that the novel was published almost sixty years after it was written, leads it to be approached as a period piece (even though it was not written to be read this way).

Given the fact that the novel was written so early during the twentieth century, it is surprising to see how forward-thinking the novel is in terms of its views on sex, homosexuality, and queerness. Maurice is shown from his early teens to sense some discomfort in terms of heterosexual courtship. This is particularly noticeable when Mr. Ducie is explaining the act of heterosexual intercourse (with diagrams and illustrations traced on sand) to a fourteen year-old Maurice at the beach. The young teen is unable to grasp the adult’s approach to the birds and the bees: “He was attentive, as was natural when he was the only one in the class, and he knew that the subject was serious and related to his own body. But he could not himself relate it; it fell to pieces as soon as Mr. Ducie put it together, like an impossible sum (7, emphasis mine). The design and mechanics of heterosexual intercourse do not mesh with Maurice’s sensibilities, thus linking homosexuality to organic or perhaps even genetic roots. Indeed, this biological perspective goes in accordance with the view of homosexuality as pathological during this period, and the hypnotist that attempts to cure Maurice of his “trouble” in the novel goes as far as to diagnose him with a case of “Congenital homosexuality” (167). This diagnosis may indeed seem problematic, but before jumping to conclusions, I want to focus my attention on an exchange that happens between Maurice and Lasker Jones (the hypnotist/therapist) during the last failed attempt to cure the former of his so-called ailment:

“And what’s to happen to me?” said Maurice, with a sudden drop in his voice. He spoke in despair, but Mr Lasker Jones had an answer to every question. “I’m afraid I can only advise you to live in some country that has adopted the Code Napoleon,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“France or Italy, for instance. There homosexuality is no longer criminal.”

“You mean that a Frenchman could share with a friend and yet not go to prison?”

“Share? Do you mean unite? If both are of age and avoid public indecency, certainly.”

“Will the law ever be that in England?”

“I doubt it. England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

Maurice understood. He was an Englishman himself, and only his troubles had kept him awake. He smiled sadly. “It comes to this then: there always have been people like me and always will be, and generally they have been persecuted.”

“That is so, Mr Hall; or, as psychiatry prefers to put it, there has been, is, and always will be every conceivable type of person. And you must remember that your type was once put to death in England.” (Forster 196)

Although homosexuality is approached as pathological in most of the novel, Lasker Jones and Maurice seem to come to the consensus that homosexuality is simply a way of being that has been policed and suppressed in an effort to further wedge the divide between the cultural and the natural. This passage is emancipatory in that it problematizes the view of homosexuals being unable to assimilate to cultural norms through an inversion of agency: the problem is not the homosexual’s inability to mesh with society, but rather, society’s inability to mesh with the homosexual (i.e. people who have existed, exist, and always will exist). This is precisely why a happy ending for the novel, as Forster put it, was imperative.

Forster could have played it safe to assure that Maurice was published during his lifetime: “If it ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well, for there is no pornography or seduction of minors” (236). But ending this novel in a tragedy would’ve not only followed the formula of countless other novels with gay content published during the time, but it also would go against the possibility of creating an active and effective identity politics. True, tragedy (and backwards feelings), in its own macabre way, has a way of inspiring and igniting a politics of identity; after all, it is pain that establishes the need for a politics of identity in the first place. However, considering all of the pain already portrayed in the novel, would it be necessary for characters to embrace death as a way of demonstrating the unfairness of the status quo? Forster suggests, in due course, that perhaps the shears needed to unravel the knot of (hetero)normativity are not found through death, solitude, and pain, but rather, through life, union, and happiness. Maurice, rather than basking in solitude, finds strength through Alec, and assures him that they “shan’t be parted no more, and that’s finished” (225). And although the forever-ness present within the lack of this parting may only be found in fiction, it is a fiction I’m willing to live through vicariously.

You can purchase a copy of Forster’s Maurice here.

Work Cited

Forster, E.M. Maurice. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1971. Print.

Can Dori's short-term memory loss be approached as a forgetting that facilitates a reconfiguration of kinship and being?

An Overview of Judith Halberstam’s [The Queer Art of Failure]

Front cover of Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure

Front cover of Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure

I usually steer away from aesthetic judgments when writing about theory books, but in this case, let me start by saying that Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure was an absolute joy to read. What else can one expect from a theory book that opens up with a quote from the Nickelodeon cartoon series, SpongeBob SquarePants? Not only is her book witty and deeply intelligent, but it constantly made me smile, and at times, laugh out loud. Given the fact that this book is centered on failure (and other elements discussed within the anti-social movement in queer theory), I find its use of humor and its use of clear prose absolutely refreshing and delightful.

Moving on to a discussion of the actual text, The Queer Art of Failure centers its attention on products of “low” theory and popular culture (particularly CGI animation movies) in order to devise alternatives from binary formulations and heteronormative traps such as futurity and linearity. Halberstam uses artifacts of popular and low culture to aid her discussion because she deems that they are “far more likely to reveal key terms and conditions of the dominant than an earnest and ‘knowing’ text” (60). Halberstam’s main premise is that success is a heternormative enterprise and invention, and that in capitalist societies, success “equates too easily to specific forms of reproductive maturity combined with wealth accumulation” (2).

Failure (and other events/practices related to failure, such as forgetfulness and stupidity), rather than being approached as the inability to comply with a social norm or standard, is viewed by Halberstam as a way of unveiling creative and more cooperative ways of existing in the world. Her queer critique of success as a capitalistic venture stems from the fact that people who live in capitalist systems can only achieve success through the failure of others. To make matters more complex, many tend to view failure as the product of one’s own doing rather than a result of the system itself–and they are expected to remain optimistic despite of the inability to comply with an expected norm. Thus, the book explores alternative ontological and epistemological routes in life that are pessimistic, but this pessimism doesn’t necessarily entail an existential aporia: “It is a book about failing well, failing often, and learning, in the words of Samuel Beckett, how to fail better” (24).

Halberstam shifts her focus to a discussion of animation, particularly CGI animation movies, in order to illustrate how they exemplify topics (such as revolution and transformation) and structures that deviate from linearity. She argues that these films, either deliberately or unintentionally “recognize that alternative forms of embodiment and desire are central to the struggle against corporate domination” (29) by envisioning the queer as a collective rather than a singularity. One of the films she makes reference to is Chicken Run (2000), in which the queer community of female chickens escape their impending doom (becoming the meaty product of chicken-pot pies) by collectively joining forces to build and power a plane to escape the farm. Rather than complying with domesticity, rather than subduing to the demands of the male rooster, and rather then accepting their culinary fate, they transcend their “natural” flightless fate by working as a group to escape (embracing their failure to comply with the norms of the farm). Halberstam mentions other movies, such as Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Over the Hedge, that promote collectivity over individuality as an alternative mode of existing in the world or as a way of achieving utopia.

Screen capture from Chicken Run (2000). The "queer" chickens work together to build this flying machine.

Screen capture from Chicken Run (2000). The “queer” chickens work together to build this flying machine.

Halberstam makes an interesting claim: she posits that revolutionary movies are aware of the fact that children are not invested in adult enterprises (in other words, children are queer in that they deviate from heteronormative expectations): “children are not coupled, they are not romantic, they do not have religious morality, they are not afraid of death or failure, they are collective creatures, they are in a constant state of rebellion against their parents, and they are not masters of their own domain” (47). Thus, cartoons become conventional and fail to be revolutionary when there is an overemphasis on the nuclear family or a “normative investment in coupled romance” (47). Thus, revolutionary CGI animation movies (which she refers to as Pixarvolt films) depict a world where the “little guys” are able to overcome obstacles, and where they are able to revolt against the “business world of the father and the domestic sphere of the mother” (47).

Halberstam shifts her attention to a discussion of forgetfulness and stupidity, arguing that similar to failure, they “work hand in hand to open up new and different ways of being in relation to time, truth, being, living, and dying” (55). After all,  forgetfulness can be approached as a failure to remember, and stupidity can be approached as a failure to be wise. In her efforts to forge the relationship between stupidity, forgetting, and other forms of being, she alludes to films such as Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000) and Finding Nemo (2003) as examples of narratives that approach forgetting as an act that “arrests the developmental and progressive narratives of heteronormativity” (60). In Dude, Where’s My Car, for instance, the main characters are known for their relaxed approach that allows them to be receptive to others while at the same time being permeable and manipulable. This relaxed approach can especially be seen in the scene where the characters engage in a queer encounter in an effort to “compete” with Fabio (the infamous male model), The characters’ nonchalance (which might be perceived as stupidity) after the kiss, is deemed to be emancipatory because it is in essence a kiss between to straight men, yet it does not cause them to flinch in disgust or react negatively in any way. The kiss is a non-issue, and although it can be approached as an inauthentic representation,  it can also be approached as a way of resisting “the earnestness of so many gay and lesbian texts” (67).

Kiss between Chester and Jesse in Dude, Where's My Car (2000). Can this kiss be approached as emancipatory?

Kiss between Chester and Jesse in Dude, Where’s My Car (2000). Can this kiss be approached as emancipatory?

One of the more interesting discussions in Halberstam’s book centered around a discussion of forgetting, stupidity, and family within the Pixar film Finding Nemo. Halberstam mentions how the intent to break away the power of generation from the process of history is a queer project, precisely because “queer loves seek to uncouple change from the supposedly organic and immutable forms of family and inheritance” (70). Breaking away from family and forgetting family lineage becomes away of starting fresh even though it entails a failure from engaging in the heteronormative enterprise of the nuclear family. It is here that Halberstam begins to approach linearity and normative temporality, which favor longevity over the temporary, thus prioritizing family over other possible relationships that can be forged.

Can Dori's short-term memory loss be approached as a forgetting that facilitates a reconfiguration of kinship and being?

Can Dori’s short-term memory loss be approached as a forgetting that facilitates a reconfiguration of kinship and being?

Her examination of Finding Nemo thusly attempts to demonstrate what happens to queer characters when they forget their families and find alternative ways of relating and bonding with others. This is mostly exemplified by the character of Dori, who suffers from short-term memory loss. Since she can’t recall her relationship or her family due to the fact that she is constantly forgetting, she is forced to (happily) bond with other creatures in a fashion that avoids normative temporality. This, in addition to the fact that she can’t forge a romantic relationship with Marlin (Nemo’s father) due to her condition makes her a very queer character. Halberstam also notes that within Finding Nemo, the mother figure is absent from the narrative, leading to an erasure of the past that facilitates the visualization of new possibilities of being. Thus, forgetting provides a new way to remember, a way to move on from the failure of recollection, and even more so, a way of disconnecting the self from the linear and normative expectations of time, culture, and family.

You can purchase a copy of Halberstam’s book here.

Work Cited

Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.

Picture of Jo Calderone, Lady Gaga's male alter ego. Calderone represents the common place of gender performativity within contemporary society.

A Queer Overview of Judith Butler’s [Gender Trouble]

Front cover of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble

Front cover of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble

Rich, complex, difficult, and groundbreaking are just a few of the words that are usually associated with Judith Butler’s works. Despite the fact that her texts are often described as “tedious” and “overwrought,” reading Butler is well worth the effort, and I’m often amazed at the way she is able to wrestle with difficult ideas. Furthermore, I’m delighted by how she is able to add layers of complexity to the already complex domain of (gendered) identity politics. Gender Trouble, originally published in 1990, is not only considered to be one of the seminal texts of queer theory, but it brought into light many aspects of gender that we take for granted today (particularly the notion of gender performativity).

Picture of Jo Calderone, Lady Gaga's male alter ego. Calderone represents the common place of gender performativity within contemporary society.

Picture of Jo Calderone, Lady Gaga’s male alter ego. Calderone can be approached as an example of the ubiquitous and overt manifestation of gender performativity within popular culture.

Can a person “possess” a gender? Can a person “be” a gender? Or, can a person “act out” a gender? Even though many people may not be familiar with the concept of gender performativity, it is a phenomenon that is pervasive and somewhat obvious within contemporary society. The picture above shows pop sensation Lady Gaga assuming the role of her male alter ego, Jo Calderone, in Gaga’s attempt to blur the lines that are dichotomously imposed in society’s approaches towards gender and sex. Maleness and masculinity, in this case, are being performed through Lady Gaga’s actions and choices, rather than being a trait that pre-exists within the individual. Gender and sex, from Butler’s perspective, can be approached in a similar fashion to makeup in the sense of being a construction rather than an essential part of one’s being. However, keeping this metaphor of makeup in mind, it is important to realize that our surroundings and environment control (to some extent) the cosmetic options that are available to us. Gender is not ontological, but rather, it comes to existence through actions: “gender proves to be performative — that is, constituting the identity it is purported to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the dead” (25, emphasis mine).

Early on in Gender Trouble, Butler alludes to the notion of drag performances in order to illustrate how they disrupt the “very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates” (x). Since drag entails the performance of a gender that is supposedly opposite to one’s “true” gender, it pushes one to question the extent to which certain traits that are considered masculine or feminine are true, essential, and indivisible from the self. Rather than viewing drag as an imitation, Butler approaches it as an action that defines the parameters, boundaries, and practices that create the notion of gender in the first place. An important concept to keep in mind when approaching Butler’s notions of gender is the word style, which not only includes obvious factors such as clothing, but also includes other details such as composure, constitution, presentation, and above all, discourse. Butler thus defines gender as “the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (33).

Although performativity is the concept in Gender Trouble that tends to resonate among scholars of queer theory, performativity is simply a heuristic Butler uses to achieve her main goal. Tantalizingly, she questions whether the intent to have a feminist politics based on a common identity that binds all women is practical and useful, especially when considering that it is difficult, and arguably impossible, to find a common factor that all women share (unless, of course, we resort to biological notions of gender essentialism). This notion holds particularly true when intersecting gender with other domains of identity, including race, socio-economic status, culture, among others. As Butler eloquently puts it:

If one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive, not because a pregendered “person” transcends the specific paraphernalia of its gender, but because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. (3)

Feminist politics generally approach the concept of “women” and gender in universal terms, thriving on the assumption that there is a cross-cultural and cross-geographical quality or factor that ties a large group of people together. Butler rightfully points out that this feminist construction, even when designed with an emancipatory ideal in mind, can still be interpreted as damaging because it is not only designed to include and exclude certain individuals, but it fails to recognize and respect idiosyncratic differences. In simple terms, by establishing a factor as universal, one runs the risk of excluding all those who don’t fit within this particular model. This is why Butler suggests that “Without the compulsory expectation that feminists actions must be instituted from some stable, unified, and agreed upon identity, those actions might well get a quicker starts and seem more congenial to a number of ‘women’ for whom the meaning of the category is permanently moot” (15). Note that even with my use of the term women, there is an underlying assumption that I am able to label an entire community of individuals  based on an unstable, and perhaps ephemeral, trait–this is precisely something that Butler tries to challenge, but I ultimately question whether or not this is entirely possible or useful. After all, isn’t the notion of unity and community building crucial to a pragmatic rather than an academic approach to feminism? This is something I have to contemplate a bit more.

Butler ultimately connects the notion of performativity to feminist politics by questioning the “phantasmic” construction of the “we” that is nearly always invoked in matters of feminism. Despite the capability of “we” to connect people, it achieves this connection through exclusion while simultaneously denying the complexity of the issues at hand. When it comes to identity politics, many tend to assume that the identity exists prior to a political response. However, Butler asserts that “there need not be a ‘doer behind the deed,’ but that the ‘doer’ is variably constructed in and through the deed” (142). We are what we do. There is no such thing as a “self” that exists before one is immersed into a culture, and there is no such thing as a self being corrupted or metamorphosed by its surroundings (how can something be corrupted if it doesn’t exist a priori?). “There is only a taking up of the tools where they lie, where the very ‘taking up’ is enabled by the tool lying there” (145).

Work Cited

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

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Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History

feeling backward cover

Front cover of Heather Love’s Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History

We supposedly live in a time where it is “okay to be gay.” This growing sentiment can partially be accredited to the nationalization of gay media and representations in our society. When I was a child, finding gay representations in television and movies was a challenge–it was only in my teen years that gayness became commonplace with media. Ellen Degeneres came out in 1997. Dawson’s Creek portrayed the first  kiss ever aired in network television between two men in the USA. Will & Grace portrayed the lives of two gay men in New York City. Even shows targeted at children and teenagers, such as Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2009), had a gay protagonist within its ensemble. These representations portrayed not only the possibility of queers being accepted within society, but also the notion that LGBTQ people are no different than straight people.

Despite the ever-increasing positive representations of LGBTQ individuals in the media, despite the growing number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage, and despite the fact that we’re told that we live in a more accepting society, some LGBTQ individuals continue to face “backwards” feelings when it comes to sexuality, including but not limited to shame, regret, loss, depression, among others. I particularly think that with the current advent of LGBTQ censorship and oppression going on right now in Russia, backward feelings (which include depression, melancholia, despair, secrecy, among others) as pertaining to queerness have especially been under the radar during the past year. Gay acceptance is taken for granted, and any invocation of the dark past of queer identity is accused of being a non-progressive and archaic turn–but what happens when we consider communities labeled under the guise of LGBTQ that are still considered subaltern in a sense, such as queers of color, queers of low socio-economic status, queers in Russia, or even those who have been affected by AIDS? Is it possible that by focusing so much on the progress and on the positive aspects of LGBTQ politics, that we have come to ignore or brush aside the negative feelings and events that demanded a need for progress in the first place?

The questions above are just some of the ones that Heather Love explores in her book titled Feeling Backwards: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Her book begins by questioning the possibility of exploring the past of communities that have undergone historical injury: is it possible to explore the past without becoming consumed by it? Can history be explored and analyzed without letting it damage the possibility of a future? Through an exploration of various 19th and 20th century texts that contain homosexuality as an undertone or as an explicit topic, Love intends to create an “archive of feeling” (4) that would allow her to not only understand feelings of “queer” authors who wrote before the modern advent of homosexuality, but that will also allow one to asses the corporeal, psychic, and historical costs of homophobia. By focusing on backward feelings, Love intends to advocate futurity based on an explicit embrace of the past. She also argues that despite the privileging of progressive and emancipatory visions in queer politics, it is important to also focus on backwards feelings because they

serve as an index to the ruined state of the social world; they indicate continuities between the bad gay past and the present; and they show up the inadequacy of queer narratives of progress. Most important, they teach us that we do not know what is good for politics. (27)

Thus, Love tries to tell a history of 20th century representation that focuses on backwardness (shyness, failure, melancholia, loneliness, immaturity, self-hatred, etc.) in order to put the notion of “progress” into question, and to demonstrate that “in a moment where gays and lesbians have no excuse for feeling bad, the evocation of a long history of queer suffering provides, if not solace exactly, then at least relief” (146). The call for backwards feeling becomes even more relevant within queer studies and gay activism when realizing that backwardness has played a major role in defining queer politics in the first place. Love refers, for instance, to the re-appropriation of the term queer, which reclaimed the word “from its homophobic uses and turned to good use–while still maintaining its link to a history of damage–was crucial to the development of a queer intellectual method” (157).

What Love’s book makes absolutely clear is that it is impossible to even think of a transformative politics without possessing awareness of what (or why something) is being transformed. Within some approaches to queer theory and gay activism, there has been a trend in which the past has been discredited as no longer being relevant to the conditions of today’s society. Even more concerning is the fact that some scholars and activists have chosen to ignore the past completely. However, can we achieve progress and transformation only by turning our backs on the past? Love tantalizingly suggests that even though queers may feel compelled to envision a more Utopian future, an awareness of the injuries of queer history make this “orientation toward the future difficult to sustain” (162).  Most people are aware of the repercussions and costs of being queer. Given this awareness, the issue is not a matter of learning how to develop hope “in the face of despair”, but rather, learning how to “make a future backward enough even that the most reluctant among us might want to live there” (163). In other words, I take this to mean that the past has to be kept alive not to the extent that it will destroy us, but to the extent that it can provide some sense of comfort and recognition to queers who are apprehensive of their own queerness.

Work Cited

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard University Press, 2007. Print

Front Cover of Sara Ahmed's The Cultural Politics of Emotion

On Feelings, the Body, and Queer Grief: Sara Ahmed’s “The Cultural Politics of Emotion”

Front Cover of Sara Ahmed's The Cultural Politics of Emotion

Front Cover of Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion

I will begin by stating that Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion is a book that I was really looking forward to, mostly because it uses a multidisciplinary approach to comprehend how emotions are tied to notions such as culture and power. Even more so, the book explores how emotions, despite their apparent abstractness, are physically bound to the body and create a dichotomous split between the inside and outside world. What I thoroughly enjoyed about this read is that it really gave me a new way to think about emotions as physical manifestations that create or intensify boundaries (or the lack thereof). Ahmed truly has a gift for materializing abstract concepts in surprising ways, providing definitions for pain, hate, and love that are based purely on physical/concrete terms. The issue I had with this book, however, is that I felt that the discussion was at times scattered and too broad, ultimately making it difficult for me to establish strong connections and links across the chapters of the book. There were other times in which the discussion felt merely like a show and tell (here is an emotion, and here are some interesting things about this emotion). But all in all, this was a very thought-provoking read, and it is a book that I would like to revisit in order to better grasp its subtleties and nuances.

Ahmed’s book uses an approach that she calls ‘the sociology of emotion,’ a model that claims that emotions not only create boundaries between the inside and the outside, but that they also create a distinction between the individual and the social. Emotions tend to be categorized as very internal and individualistic processes, to the point in which what “I feel” is virtually impossible to accurately convey to others who surround me. Interestingly, Ahmed’s book is partially focused on the physical properties of emotions, including how they are tied to the body, how emotions develop and thrive thanks to their “stickiness” (their ability to unite bodies with particular signs), and the ties that exist between languages and emotions. By triangulating emotions, the body, and language, Ahmed tries to create a model that not only approaches emotions through a physical/bodily approach, but in tandem, she tries to explain how particular emotions (such as pain, shame, fear, love, and hate) affect larger phenomena such as culture, politics, and the self.

My favorite chapter within the book was the one titled “Queer Feelings,” which discusses why queer individuals are sometimes not recognized as subjects. This chapter also alludes to theories devised by Freud and Judith Butler in order to discussed what subjects can or can’t be mourned after death, and how melancholia can be converted into a powerful tool that helps ‘the queer’ to fulfill its mission to challenge the status quo. I want to briefly discuss this chapter, but before doing so, I want to share some quotes of Ahmed’s book that I found insightful and interesting. These quotes either provide insightful definitions that I would like to return to later on during my own research, or they discuss emotions in a way that hasn’t crossed my mind before.

  • “The intensity of feelings like pain recalls us to our body surfaces: pain seizes me back to my body” (26). “Pain involves the violation or transgression of the border between inside and outside, and it is through this transgression that I feel the border in the first place” (27).
  • “Hate may respond to the particular, but it tends to do so by aligning the particular with the general; ‘I hate you because you are this or that’, where the ‘this’ or ‘that’ evokes a group that the individual comes to stand for or stand in for. Hatred may also work as a form of investment; it endows a particular other with meaning or power by locating them as a member of a group, which is then imagined as a form of positive residence (that is, as residing positively in the body of the individual)” (49).
  • “The fact that the hate crime involves a perception of a group in the body of the individual does not make the violence any less real or ‘directed’; this perception has material effects insofar as it is enacted through violence. That is, hate crime works a a form of violence against groups through violence against the bodies of individuals. Violence against other may be one way in which the other’s identity is fixed or sealed; the other is forced to embody a particular identity by and for the perpetrator of the crime, and that force involves harm or injury” (55).
  • On the difference between fear and anxiety: “Anxiety becomes an approach to objects rather than, as with fear, being produced by an object’s approach. This slide between fear and anxiety is affected by the passing by of the object” (66).
  • On fear and space: “fear works to align the bodily and social space: it works to enable some bodies to inhabit and move in public space through restricting the mobility of other bodies to spaces that are enclosed or contained. Spaces extend the mobility of some bodies; their freedom to move shapes the surface of spaces, whilst spaces surface as spaces through the uneven distribution of fear which allows spaces to become territories, claimed as rights by some bodies and not others” (70).
  • On disgust: “disgust is shaped by the relation between objects. Objects come to matter within disgust reactions not simply insofar as they oppose ‘the I’, but through their contact with other objects. […] Disgust hence operates as a contact zone; it is about how things come into contact with other things” (87).
  • “Disgust, therefore, as an imperative not only to expel, but to make that very expulsion stick to some things and not others, does not always work simply to conserve that which is legitimated as a form of collective existence” (99).
  • “Shame in exposing that which has been covered demands us to re-cover, such a re-covering would be a recovery from shame. Shame consumes the subject and burns on the surface of bodies that are presented to others, a burning that exposes the exposure, and which may be visible in the form of a blush, depending on the skin of the subject, which might or might not show shame through this ‘colouring'” (104).
  • On the reciprocity of love: “love survives the absence of reciprocity in the sense that pain of not being loved in return–if the emotion ‘stays with’ the object to which it has been directed–confirms the negation that would follow from the loss of the object. Even though love is a demand for reciprocity, it is also an emotion that lives with the failure of that demand often through an intensification of its affect (so, if you do not love me back, I may love you more as the pain of that non-loving is a sign of what it means not to have this love)” (130).

Since I am interested in queer theory and LGBTQ literature, I think it comes as no surprise that my favorite chapter of this book was the one on “Queer Feelings,”  in which Ahmed focuses her discussion on a bodily approach to heteronormativity, queerness, and grief. She approaches all of these by centering them on the notions of comfort and discomfort. According to Ahmed, comfort can either be approached as the complete integration of the self with an external object, or the seamless integration of a body with an exterior space. Ahmed thus approaches heteronormativity as a public comfort because it allows certain (heterosexual) bodies to extend into a space that has already assumed their shape, thus, they do not feel discomfort or a lack of belonging:

one feels better by the warmth of being faced by a world one has already taken in. One does not notice this as a world when one has been shaped by that world, and even acquired its shape. […] Queer subjects, when faced by the ‘comforts’ of heterosexuality may feel uncomfortable (the body does not ‘sink into’ a space that has already taken its shape). (148)

In addition to a discussion of (dis)comfort, I particularly enjoyed Ahmed’s discussion of queer grief, which centers its attention on how loss, mourning, melancholia, and comfort are attached to queer subjects, who by nature, must be recognized as real subjects in order to be grieved. Ahmed provides clarification in terms of the nature of a queer loss. While she admits queer grief does not imply that queer lives are existences that cannot be grieved, she focuses her attention on the fact that these grievances cannot be admitted or confessed in any way: “one has to recognise oneself as losing something before one can recognise oneself as losing something” (156).

In their analysis of grief as pertaining to unreal humans/subjects (subjects who come from “inferior” cultures that are dehumanized), both Butler and Ahmed allude to the Freudian differentiation between mourning and melancholia in order to illuminate their views. According to Freud, mourning entails a healthy process of grieving in which the living subject is able to let go of the memory of the dead subject. Melancholia, on the other hand, entails a “irrational” process in which the subject in morning and the “object” being mourned become one—in other words, the subject is unable to let go of the memory of the deceased. Whereas Freud views melancholia as pathological, Ahmed views it as a positive and productive trait when applied to unreal lives. This is because melancholia, unlike mourning, forces the subject to integrate the memory, or better said, the impression of the deceased into their own consciousness—giving the unreal a real existence that lives on through the melancholic. Furthermore, whereas mourning and the eventual rejection of the memory of the deceased implies a discomfort, melancholia entails absolute comfort with the memory of the departed. Ahmed thus proceeds to view grief as productive when it expresses itself through melancholia:

to lose another is not to lose one’s impressions, not all which are even conscious. To preserve an attachment is not to make an external other internal, but to keep one’s impressions alive, as aspects of one’s self that are both oneself and more than oneself, as a sign of one’s debt to others. One can let go of another as an outsider, but maintain one’s attachments, by keeping alive one’s impressions of the lost other. […] To grieve for others is to keep their impressions alive in the midst of their death. (160)

By keeping these impressions alive, the non-transcendence of queerness is kept alive as well, along with its inherent resistances to normativity. In Ahmed’s point of view, the melancholic integration of an unreal person permits a transcendence of queerness “that allows queer to do its work” in the first place (165). Part about what I love about this chapter is that it provides a model that can help counteract the view of the queer being associated with a lack of futurity, particularly since Ahmed’s view of queer grief through the melancholic subject allows the perpetuation of the queer body and the queer memory through the stickiness of signs. It is through this integration or queer impressions that queerness is given a shot at futurity, although it should be reiterated that queerness is not always given a chance to be integrated if it is not recognized.

Have you read Ahmed’s book? What are you impressions towards her physical/bodily approach towards emotions? What do you think of her chapter on queer feelings, especially when concerning her use of Freudian psychoanalysis?

Work Cited

Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Deviant Cover

Sample Chapter of my Young Adult Novel, “Deviant”

What I have here is a young adult novel that I’ve been working on for a while. The title of this work is Deviant, and in essence, it is my ultimate dream project because it combines all of the genres I adore: dystopia, science fiction,  coming-of-age, and yes, romance. The themes of gender, humanities and the arts, and politics are very prominent throughout the entire work.

This novel takes a different approach to the coming-of-age genre. Although it has three main characters, the novel is peppered with preludes and interludes that tell the separate yet complementary stories of other characters. This constant deviance from the main plot serves to highlight the flaws and issues of the dystopic society without compromising the action and budding romance present in the main plot. The prelude and the interludes simply enhance the reader’s understanding of the tensions and problems that the main characters face.

As of now I only have about four chapters left to finish. But what I’m desperately looking for right now is some good (constructive) feedback. In this post, I’ve shared the first chapter/prelude of my young adult novel. It is not the final version of the chapter, and it is still subject to change. Do you think the novel seems interesting and/or worthwhile? Does this first chapter grab your attention? Does it make you want to read more? Any and all feedback is more than welcome.

Deviant Cover

Chapter I: A Prelude

Amethyst

I rest behind the garbage bin, trying to catch my breath. I don’t know what’s more brutal… walking barefoot through the snow, or running through a city in the middle of the night with nothing but a hospital gown on. My feet are blistered. Shades of periwinkle overlap the bruises and scabs peppered all over my legs. I can’t remember the last time I had sensation in my toes. I huddle my legs against my chest in an effort to retain the little body heat I have left. Either I’ll die out here in the cold, or they’ll catch me. Either way, I don’t think I’m going to last much longer.

I take a deep breath, look up, and exhale. A large cloud of steam escapes my mouth. The cloudy wisps tango into the air until they dissipate. If only I were like the steam. If only I can disappear into thin air. I gently turn around and bend on my knees. I wonder if they managed to keep up with me. I grab the corners of the garbage bin with my fingers and I slowly tilt my head to the side. The three figures stand ominously across the street. Damn. I was too desperate to cover my footprints in the snow. I led them right to me.

I blow some steam into my hands, hoping to give them even a few seconds of heat and consolation. It’s useless. My fingers are a sickly shade of purple. I see a darkened alley nearby. Maybe if I make a run for it, they won’t catch me. I grab a crushed soda can near the bin. This is it. I launch the can towards the opposite direction of the alley. I hear the metallic clash a few meters away.

I run. Well, I stumble. I’m beginning to lose my ability to balance myself. My feet are warning me that they can’t handle much more pressure. I feel a beam of light hit the side of my face as I head towards the alley. So much for my distraction.

I head towards the alley and reach a fence. Seriously, a fence? I thought fences in dark alleys were only used to make escape sequences dramatic in action films. The movie’s hero is chased by the villains and he or she dramatically climbs the fence and jumps over it. That’s not happening here. Between my frozen feet and my frostbitten fingers, it would be a miracle if I could climb half a meter. I frantically look around. The windows of the adjacent buildings are also too high for me to climb. I’m trapped.

I sit on the ground, knees against my legs. I lean my back against the cold brick of the one of the buildings. Flurries continue to fall from the heavens. I can hear footsteps approaching. Bursts of bright light invade my pupils. I cover my eyes, shielding them from the gleam of the three flashlights. My back presses firmly against the grimy wall. The rough texture of the brick perforates my skin. Sweat pours down my soiled hair.  My chest heaves back and forth. A continuous flow of steam escapes my mouth. My carnation pink hospital gown offers little protection from the wind and the snow. I always knew that they would find me, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon.

“I d-don’t care w-what you d-do or say. I’m n-never going b-b-back there.”

I’m not afraid. I’m freezing. Too bad my stuttering makes me seem like a coward. I have to show them that I’m not afraid. I stand up. My fragile body shivers and quakes as I try to straighten up my body. I shake my head side to side, dusting off the snowflakes that have accumulated over the crown of my head. I take another deep breath. This time, I pronounce the worlds loudly and clearly without stuttering.

“Did you hear me? I…am never…going back.”

Two of the flashlights turn off; the other points directly at my face. Two men in black suits and cerulean ties grab me by each arm. The remaining light is soon consumed by the darkness.  Even without the flashlights on, I can see their faces quite clearly. It seems that even the moon has a luminous interest in this recent development of events. The moon shining. The snow falling. What a lovely night this would’ve been under different circumstances.

There she is, staring at me with her cold, calculating, eyes—one glows with a yellowish hue, like the eyes of the panther. I can’t distinguish the color of the other eye, but it is much darker than the one on the left.

She loosens up her ponytail. Auburn hair begins to flow freely. Her flawless alabaster skin reflects the moonlight, and her bright pink dress suit, on the verge of a neon tone, could be spotted miles away in pure darkness. She reminds me of those brightly colored frogs that live in the Amazons, distinguished by their dazzling colors that serve as a warning to other creatures. Even animals know not to mess with beasts that don extravagant, bright-colored coats. Who knew that someone so beautiful could be so… menacing. Yet the beauty is a lie. Inside of that captivating shell, all that resides is ugliness. She’s a mummy within a jewel incrusted sarcophagus. I’m not one to be fooled.

“Well, Amethyst, it seems like you thought you could escape the Hub yet again. But as you very well know, nobody escapes. Deviants such as yourself can never leave, at least not until reparations are finalized. I must say, however, that your attempt to escape was quite a… noble effort. Ineffective, but very noble indeed.”

“There’s s-s-still p-plenty of time for me to es-ca-ca-cape.” No. I started stuttering again. The woman chuckles. Seems like she’s amused.

“Did you hear that, boys? Amethyst still thinks she has a shot at freedom. Little girls and their big dreams. Dreams are for weaklings, darling.”

“At least I’m c-capable of dreaming. M-monsters like you never dream.” Even with the two guards grasping my arms, it’s still getting harder to stand by the minute. I can’t collapse on the floor. I can’t let them see any more signs of weakness.

She steps towards me. Her eyes scan me top to bottom, basking in the pathetic visage in front of her. My bloody face. My bruised knees. My shivering body. She must be enjoying this spectacle. She leans toward my face. Her mouth is about two inches away from my own. She softly closes her eyes and whispers, “True. But that’s because monsters inhabit the realm of nightmares. And guess what, my dear Amethyst? Nightmares are still dreams. Cooperate, or I’ll make sure that you’re living a nightmare for the rest of your meager, pathetic existence.” She says this with a demeanor that is both calm and serene. Now I’m beginning to feel afraid. I try to respond, but no words come out of my mouth. Only steam does.

“Denise knows better than to try and escape. She knows that we can repair her” says the woman, still inches away from my face.

Denise. For a moment, I nearly forgot about her. I tried to let her know of my plan to escape. I wanted her to come with me. The Hub, however, is very cautious with its administration. It would be a shame to allow a relapse to occur within its premises.

My mind wanders off to my time in the Hub. I recall the cramped white room with nothing but a bunk bed, a sink, and a toilet. My cellmate was a seventeen year-old boy named Trevor. He was clearly ashamed about his recruitment to the Hub. It could be worse. Enrollment in the Hub was usually one of the lighter punishments for Deviants like us.

He would toss and turn while sleeping at night, whimpering the name of a person that I didn’t know. A person that he refused to talk to me about. When I first mentioned this name, he cupped one hand over my mouth and just stared straight into my eyes. With his other hand, he gently made a zipping motion across his lips. I perfectly understood who this person was.

Trevor and I had known each other since our first year in the Culture and Communication Center. I was seven when I first met him. Our assigned Center is the least popular of all the training centers, and we knew that. Understandably, we weren’t excited to be there, but it’s not like we have much of a choice in terms of what center we are assigned to at that age. Although we briefly talked during the first couple of years, we soon grew apart. Who knew that we would one day be cellmates at the Hub?

The transgression that led to my imprisonment happened about four months ago. All it took was one moment. One moment to obliterate years of work and effort. One moment to destroy a lifetime of possibility. When it happened, Denise and I knew we were doomed. Hopeless. Lost. The Régime doesn’t take these matters lightly—and although it’s been decades since all the cells in the Hub have been full, you occasionally see one or two new faces in the dining hall every month or so. Denise and I were the unlucky ones this time. You can never be too careful here… the Régime is always watching, in addition to listening.

The agent stands in front of me, breathing heavily on my face, with a pocket placed firmly into her hand. I know what comes next. We all do. We’ve been warned about the penalties for multiple transgressions. We all knew the protocol that Hub-Masters usually followed when pursuing an escapee. Knowing what comes next, I looked at her adamantly with a sense of valor.

“Leave…Denise… out of this.” I’m losing my breath.

“Oh Amethyst, just drop the act of courage and valor. You already look pathetic. Do you want to actually be pathetic as well?”

I can’t take it anymore. With all my might, I yank my arms away from the guards and I lunge at her, trying my best to knock her into the snow. With any luck, her head will bash into the pavement. I lock my arms around her, but she barely budges. I must be way weaker than I thought I was. Not even adrenaline can save me now. She grabs me by my hair and tosses me on the ground. I look up and see those eyes. They truly do look monstrous in the moonlight.

I black out momentarily. I open my eyes and notice one of the guard’s boots embedded within my abdomen. The other guard swings his foot. I black out once again. Yes, that’s blood dripping out of my mouth.

I spit out the blood and watch the crimson masterpiece that I created on the silver snow. I lay the side of my head on the red-tinged snow. “I can’t be repaired. I refuse to be repaired” I whisper, loud enough for them to hear me.

The woman gives me a half smile and pulls out the roll of parchment that I was expecting to see. Parchment. How old-fashioned. How traditional. One of my history instructors back at the Center mentioned that all agencies belonging to the Régime use parchment for most of their official documents. It makes them feel as if they were in touch with history. The days when Deviants were nowhere to be found. The days when the entire population upheld the virtues of purity and dignity. Strangely, with my act of defiance, I feel like I have fully embraced both of those virtues.

She unrolls the parchment and reads the proclamation in a stern and cold voice. Even the snow seems warm in comparison to that voice. I know the proclamation by heart—I saw it all the time in movies and television shows repeatedly, all telling the story of people who dare defy the fourth natural law. To add insult to injury, they even made the proclamation rhyme—a lullaby uttered right before our final sleep. It sounds just like I expect it to sound, but with my name and borough mentioned in the first verse. Rhymes used to always calm me down as a kid. This rhyme manages to finish the snow’s job of freezing the blood running through my veins.

Amethyst Jacobson of the South-western Borough,

The Régime has been clear, its stipulations were thorough.

Your defiance of nature, and a will that won’t bend,

Leaves us no choice but to uphold and defend

The revered mandate of the fourth natural law:

your sacrifice will bring order and peace to us all.”

As she finished the proclamation, she kneels down on the floor and pulls out a syringe from her pocket. She pulls out a vial with a rose-colored liquid and fills the syringe. I don’t even feel the needle piercing my flesh. I never thought I would die this way. I always thought I’d be old, surrounded by my loved ones, dying in the warmth of my bedroom.

I feel the heat draining away from my body. My chest tightens. No more steam escapes from my mouth. My eyes are open, but now, all I see is darkness. My spirit breaks as I realize that for me, there is no white light at the end tunnel.

ALL RIGHTS TO THIS POST RESERVED BY AUTHOR

Published by Angel Daniel Matos

Copyright 2013 © by Angel Daniel Matos

SuperXclusivo's La Comay

Dethroning “La Comay”: A Rhetorical View of the Issue

SuperXclusivo's La Comay

SuperXclusivo’s La Comay

When a country considers a puppet a legitimate source of news and information, you know that there is something questionable and downright baffling going on. Above is the picture of the infamous puppet known as La Comay (puppeteered by actor Kobo Santarrosa), the hostess of the #1 showed aired in WAPA television titled SuperXclusivo, which is seen mostly by Puerto Rican audiences in and out of the island.

I was never a fan of the show. Although on one hand this could be due to how downright creepy the puppet is, it mostly has to do with how judicious, unethical, and biased La Comay’s so-called reporting process is. Unfortunately, I have had to deal with her ridiculous commentary more than I would like to, for the show is a staple within Puerto Rican communities, and many of my family members watch it religiously.

As a news article points out in Latino Rebels, the show “is a bastion of all that is bad about mass entertainment—the yellow journalism, the unethical investigative tactics, the flat-out misreporting, the playing to the lowest common denominator.” I have found myself appalled with some of the discussions that take place in the show. Perhaps the most “memorable” moment I had with La Comay was during late 2010, when Ricky Martin announced that he would ultimately like to get married in Puerto Rico, where gay marriage is currently illegal. Unsurprisingly, La Comay responded to this with contempt and disgust–and she was already in hot water when she called Ricky Martin a pato (the Spanish pejorative equivalent to the English word “fag”) after he publicly came out of the closet. Needless to say, La Comay faced serious backlash from these remarks, to the point that she had to air a public apology for her socially irresponsible use of language.

Recently, there has been a call to boycott SuperXclusivo, which has been fueled immensely by the use of social media and networks (particularly Twitter and Facebook). As of now, the boycott’s official Facebook page has over 73,500 likes, and its official Twitter page has over 4,000 followers. These numbers are slowly but steadily growing.

Although the causes and the implications of the boycott have been discussed extensively by other sources such as the Huffington Postin a nutshell, it was mostly sparked by the death of publicist José Enrique Gómez Saladín. La Comay implied that José Enrique deserved his fate because he was “looking for it,” and she even went as far as to posit that he was involved in gay prostitution scandals without having concrete evidence on these matters. The boycott has been quite successful, and numerous companies have retracted their sponsorship of the show.

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Companies and enterprises that have retracted their sponsorship of “SuperXclusivo” after the boycott began. Taken from the boycott’s official Facebook page.

It is interesting that many have posited that this boycott is compromising freedom of speech and of press, and that it is leading to an unprecedented degree of social and cultural censorship. Others that I personally know are simply downright angry at the possibility of their lovely puppet disappearing from the small screen. However, from a humanistic perspective, the boycott is not about censorship or oppression, but rather, it is targeted at eliminating hatred and discrimination from primetime television–and trust me, there is enough hate and violence as is within the island. There is a difference between portraying honest and unbiased news, and fabricating honesty with malicious intent solely for the sake of boosting ratings. La Comay must be commended for knowing that it’s not just what you say, but it is mostly how you say it… but what is the cost of this so-called honesty? Does the news really need to be embellished with lies, deceit, and hatred?

On one hand, delivering “news” in La Comay’s fashion is definitely a way to reach an audience. People do tune in, after all, in order to determine what scandalous or outrageous thing she will say next–living up to her catchphrase ¡Que bochinche! (“What a commotion!”). The show’s immense outreach has also led to an increase in La Comay’s authority. Let’s face it: La Comay has so much power and influence over the Puerto Rican population that even prominent figures such as the island’s governor, Luis Fortuño, are interviewed in the show. Yes, even the most powerful political figure in the island found himself “coerced” to share his perspectives on a scandal in SuperXclusivo, a show devoted to slanderous news and gossip. To demonstrate the ridiculousness of this notion, think of it as the equivalent of Barrack Obama being interviewed by Perez Hilton.

My concern is the following: although La Comay gains authority through her use of questionable pathos, at what point do ethics challenge this authority? It is simply a matter of how things are being said? Even more importantly, when do we stop approaching La Comay’s ideas as entertainment and start approaching them as ideas?

True, we have all the duty to fight censorship. We have freedom of speech and freedom of press, and nobody should suppress one’s desire to express their thoughts and opinions. The “problem” with ideas, however, is that they not only carry ideological weight, but they are also not isolated within a vacuum. Ideas are part of a circuitous network of exchange and deliberation. Ideas always have consequences.

Even more so, although we have the right to say anything that comes to mind, we have to keep in mind that anything that is said or written can have repercussions (both negative and positive). At the end of the day, La Comay has all the right in the world to say what she thinks and feels–as long as she is willing to accept the consequences that come with doing so. In this case, however, it is easy to hind behind the mask of a puppet. At first glance, it can be said that the man underneath the hideous fabric shell believes that anything said under the disguise is said for the sake of entertainment. However, matters become convoluted when realizing that the puppet approaches her work as serious reporting and investigation. The fact that “truth” must be delivered under the guise of a puppet leaves me pondering and questioning the scope and purpose of what is being said.

Ultimately, I am simply amazed with the fact that  so many people have become the puppet’s marionettes. Oh, the irony.

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