Out Tomorrow: And the Maiden – Magdalen Burns

My new EP under the And the Maiden moniker, Magdalen Burns will be coming out tomorrow through SGFF Records. I’ll be doing a couple of radio interviews in the next week or two to discuss it in full but, suffice to say, Magdalen Burns is a  noise / industrial ambient exploration of the ugliness of the conflict with the TERF movement, and the beauty found in self-actualized queer and trans liberation.

The first run is limited to 10 physical copies, so don’t wait to get one!

 

Infantile Aggression, Queer Performance and Ambivalent Love: Kleinian Psychoanalysis and the Drag Cinema of Jack Smith

(Originally written November, 2016)

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Watching examples of Jack Smith’s drag performance in American underground cinema between the late 1950s and early 1960s, both in his own films and others’, one immediately notices recurrent themes of childhood, violence, female superiority and dark reflections on what one might label “alternative sexuality.” Whilst psychoanalytical interpretations of gender and sexuality in cinema are common within the Freudian and Lacanian schools, Kleinian perspectives on queer cinema are largely notable by their highly remiss absence, considering the uniqueness of Klein’s work for its interest in children and, often, children’s sexuality and aggression. It is the purpose of this essay to correct this, certainly by analysing Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1960), Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, 1963) and Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963) from a Kleinian perspective, but also by analysing these films as criticisms of that same perspective, or at the very least, of the “normality” whose achievement marks, for Klein, a successful treatment of the analysand. It is my intention to reveal that it is not merely through queer performances and narratives that this is achieved, but also through the cinematic form, itself.

Smith’s method and indeed philosophy of drag seems to presuppose queer theorist Kate Bornstein’s own: namely, the assertion that drag is not merely the potential mindful performance of multiple genders, but also “race, age, class, religions, sexuality, looks, disability, mental health, family and reproductive status, language, habitat, citizenship, political ideology and humanity.”[i] In Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1960), Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, 1963) and Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963) we can observe evidence – however fleeting – of almost all these statuses and notions being mined for parodic, performative potential. Crucial for the sake of this investigation, however, is age. In Little Stabs at Happiness, Smith is seen, dressed as a baby, whilst in Blonde Cobra, he is credited via the juvenile diminutive “Jacky Smith,” and relates the tale of “a little tweensy, microscopic little boy.”

In Klein’s documentation, Oedipal anxieties relating to castration seem to appear not only in seemingly heterosexual boys, but also in girls and boys displaying homosexual tendencies:

In uncovering bit by bit the primal scene I was able to gain access to Peter’s very strong passive homosexual attitude. After having depicted his parents’ coitus he had phantasies of coitus between three people. They aroused severe anxiety in him and were followed by other phantasies in which he was being copulated with by his father. These were portrayed in a game in which the toy dog or motor-car or engine – all signifying his father – climbed on to a cart or a man, which stood for himself in this process the cart would be injured or the man would have something bitten off; and then Peter would show much fear of, or great aggressiveness towards, the toy which represented his father.[ii]

However, the analysands are seen constantly to be fluctuating in their chosen roles during playtime and, it seems, more often than not portraying the abusive adult figure, “not only expressing his wish to reverse the roles, but also demonstrating how he feels that his parents or other people in authority behave towards him – or should behave.”[iii] The acts of violent play phantasy throughout The Psychoanalysis of Children therefore routinely exist in quantum states, in which both injured party and injurer may simultaneously and paradoxically hold both positions (“…the child was also the mother, turned into a child”[iv]). Thus, in Blonde Cobra, Smith’s recounting of one little boy burning the penis of another’s with a lit match, we can quite easily understand this not merely as a tale of psychotic sadism between two children, but as a very clear reflection of transferred persecution complex, centered around castration anxiety, not least of all because of the manner of Smith’s narration: Continue reading

Album of the Day: Body Void – Ruins

 

Criminally underrated, it feels even by Body Void themselves, Ruins was my introduction to the then Bay Area, now Vermont based “drone punk” trio. Preceding the wrenching direct address of gender dysphoria in their 2018 follow-up I Live Inside a Burning House, or the overt politicism of this year’s You Will Know the Fear You Forced Upon Us, the subject matter may appear here somewhat more garden-variety sludge metal in its existential torment, mirroring the themes of Grief, Corrupted and Noothgrush, but the starry backdrop to the cover image should not be misinterpreted as mere aestheticism. The sonic and lyrical affect throughout Ruins is entirely aligned with Thacker’s post-Schopenhauerian cosmic pessimism: “dark metphysics of negation, nothingness, and the non-human.” This the the blackness in which Thacker locates black metal, and the blackness of Keiji Haino’s So, Black is Myself , and its single track, “Wisdom that bless I, who live in the spiral joy born at the utter end of a black prayer.”

Within these pieces is located the swirling triumvirate of apotheosis, aphaireisis and apophasis. I am replete with such emptiness. I am empty with such horrific fullness. I feel everything, and thus I feel nothing. I am body. I am void.

Crushed beneath the tide
Of emotions
Chest open wide

I am the planet
Surface scorched
Surrounded by ruins

My body filled with darkness
Eternal storm
Lost inside Jupiter’s eye
Razed

Eternity
Lives inside me
Watch me born from a star
Shoved dripping from a cosmic nursery

Eternity
Collapses inside me
Never never again
Look beneath our patterned existence

Monolith

 

Queer Financialisaton and the Zombie Oeconomicus

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Five years ago yesterday, I attended a “Welcome Workshop” at the London Gender Identity Clinic. Ostensibly held as a part apology, part information day to referred transgender individuals, already long overdue their first official appointment, these open days were (and indeed still are) in fact generally acknowledged to be a thinly veiled vetting process in and of themselves and, by way of introduction, lead clinician James Barrett wished to convey to diverse cross-section of a community famously replete with communist and anarchist sympathies several points of order:

  1. That the police were our friends and could be relied upon to defend our rights.
  2. Accordingly, we should avoid an overtly political existence.
  3. That, whilst openly expressed non-binary identities might be reasonable discursive fare for a “gender theory professor in Brighton,” they would not serve us as well in “the supermarkets of the inner city.” He indicated thus that he would assist us in living as any identity he believed we could “make fly.”
  4. That he was proud to serve the transgender community because, as he saw it, “treating gender dysphoria is good for the economy.” Dysphoric, dysmorphic and depressed subjects are unproductive workers – those who die through suicide or self-destructive misadventure even more so – and thus, the strictly administered distribution of hormonal and surgical technologies of microsurveillance could also operate as a mode of economic social reproduction.

Reading through Wendy Brown’s account of the neoliberal reconstitution of the state and subject in Undoing the Demos – and particularly her analysis of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address – it was impossible not to have this encounter replaying in my head. Brown’s astute commentary that “democratic state commitments to equality, liberty, inclusion and constitutionalism are now subordinate to the project of…capital enhancement…and, the speech implies, would be jettisoned if found to abate, rather than abet, economic goals” are entirely reflective of the transgender homo oeconomicus model against which I and my fellow “workshoppers” found ourselves being investigated: one not defined through political engagement, but rather one who would be weighed and measured on a basis of existential “success,” founded upon a distinctly calculated assessment of which classes and races could be afforded which state-endorsed genders: a uniquely pink, white, and baby blue striped form of human capital.

To return, for a moment, however, to Brown’s above criticism of the Obama address, I wish to invoke Slavoj Žižek’s observation that, throughout most of the 20th century, capitalism – at least experienced in the Western global north – was predicated on a basic, liberal semblance of democracy. Indeed, Brown herself acknowledges this: “liberal democracy has also carried – or monopolized, depending on your view – the language and promise of inclusive and shared political equality, freedom, and popular sovereignty.” Today, however, he offers the example of Singapore: a form of capitalism which is “brutally efficient, but no longer needs democracy” to grease the wheels of its multivalent dispositifs. Thus, the displacement of a Keynesian liberal capitalist ideal which might still contain a social safety net, a welfare state, is already in play and, indeed, has been for quite some time.

If I find myself disagreeing with Brown’s general assessment of the amorphous ubiquity of neoliberalism, it is only really a position against the overly-broad brushstrokes with which I see her illustrating the “developing / developed nations = hard / soft power applications” divide. Instead, I wish to propose a more insidious interpretation, which I am cautious not to found upon a position of white privilege that would overzealously co-opt postcolonial discourse for a uniquely Western class analysis Indeed, although the examples I shall provide pertain to the United Kingdom, I believe these may well have global ramifications (neoliberalism seeming to be as plastic as it is extensive), and I locate my analysis in the UK for the reasons a) it is my home country, thus it is my immediate go-to, and b) it is one of the key sites in the Fukuyamaist neoliberal turn, as predictably indicated by Brown’s consistent references to Margaret Thatcher.

But I digress: my contention with Brown is that, rather than discussing simply “hard” vs “soft” applications of power, what we should instead consider are the “soft” ramifications of “hard power,” and also the “hard” ramifications of “soft power.” I wish to indicate positively here Brown’s third noted ramification of financialization’s rendering human beings as human capital: “when everything is capital, labour disappears as a category, as does its collective form, class, taking with it the analytic basis for alienation, exploitation, and association among labourers” (38). Indeed, following the closure of the United Kingdom’s mines and factories (something achieved very much by the Thatcherite government’s implementation of “hard power”), many Conservatives in the UK would and do argue that the “working class” is now a meaningless concept. Few if any “means of production” in a Marxist understand are left extant and, accordingly, the ability not just to mobilise but even to vocalise one’s experience of the extraction of one’s surplus labour value is significantly reduced – a “soft” (i.e. social, ideological, discursive) intrusion of power which one may tentatively consider in relation to Spivak’s notion of the speechlessness of subalternity.

On the other side, I address the scope of “soft power’s” wilful ignorance and refusal to address the logistical implications of the acknowledgdly flammable cladding which adorned the Grenfell Tower social housing apartment block in the otherwise exceptionally affluent London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for the dual reasons of a) being the cheapest option for the council and b) being supposedly less of an “eyesore” for the project’s often-millionaire neighbours. The “hard” result ultimately being the deaths of 72 residents, and the injury of 70 more. I suggest the process of dehumanisation that reduces the subject to human capital allows for at the very least microcosmic necropolitical death-worlds, in which the impoverished homo oeconomicus experience the neoliberal landscape as the living dead. The zombie oeconomicus.

 

Album of the Day: Body Void – I Live Inside a Burning House