Monday, November 29, 2010

2007 Self-Reflexivity

I just found something I had written about writing from 3 years ago. Must have been for an interview that never got published and it is pre-publication of Girl on a Stick. I find it hard to believe I wrote it just for myself, but I found it in longhand. It was a little bizarre to read because to my memory I have never written about my artistic process before (I kinda hate to).

I think it's like taking photographs and stealing your soul when you dissect your OWN art too much (and possibly other people's, too).

It's like overanalysing GREAT SEX.

It's like living your life FULL-TIME on the Devil Facebook. It's like...

Well, it's like this. Kathleen on Art, specifically Writing, circa 2007:

I had my first novel published in 2001. It was called Mush. I got some nice reviews for it. Most reviews and personal feedback used the word "haunting". That's flattering, the idea that something born from my brain and life affects other people, like some movies like The Wicker Man, Donnie Darko, Lost in Translation, Event Horizon, Strange Days have affected me the day after. But I'm not trying to haunt anybody. Although I am doing paintings of ghosts. Some dreams do this haunting too; everyone knows this.

I think I like this "haunting" feeling.

But it's not a very pure emotion; it feels complex and perverse.

Many of my favourite authors (Atwood, Murakami, Ryman), painters (Kiefer, Chagall), singers/bands (Pulp, Tricky, Cadallaca), filmmakers (Maddin, Lynch) could be described as complex and perverse.

So at the end of the day I like the idea that Mush has haunted people.

What I've written since Mush is less "decaying" and more in the present, like second novel Girl on a Stick (which is a grab-you-by-the-neck-and-shake-you kind of present) and third novel He's Lucid, which is also "in the moment" (a phrase from acting class that troubles me but is apt when it needs to be), and is also calm, crazy and playful, though still also complex and perverse (I have had the most fun writing He's Lucid, and it feel it is written in my "truest voice", another writerly phrase that troubles me).

I think whatever I'm reading at the time colours what I'm writing.

When I was writing Mush in 1997 and 1998, I was also writing an MA dissertation on essentialist qualities of male (hard, dry, structured) and female (soft, wet, free) and how our society forces these dichotomies/assumptions on us when actually it's a bunch of bullshit. So the characters of Nicky and Carol (and Ellen as a mutable third way) were my way of labelling and then rejecting both masculinity and femininity. I was reading a lot of Foucault at the time and it probably shows. And I think I was re-reading Keri Hulme's The Bone People several times too, with its love of green, green nature and power dynamics mixed with dark sex and violence, and that probably shows too.

Halfway through my first draft of the feature film The Viva Voce Virus, I saw Mullholland Drive. That probably shows.

I was introduced to and then devoured Angela Carter all the way through the writing of Girl on a Stick. I think there was a little bit of Bulgakov reading going on, too. I was purposefully writing in a Tama Janowitz anti-chick lit style that I remembered from the early books of Bret Easton Ellis (I haven't read any recently).

Some of my recently published short stories like "The Werfox" and "Sister Six" were influenced by a freedom I felt after reading Frances Gapper's Absent Kisses short story collection. I realised that she was breaking all the rules and that I wanted to do that, too. Other short story influences would have to be the open-ended humanity of Ali Smith's work - and the wry freedom of Tove Jansson's Fair Play, which I was translating at the time.

HOWEVER. I am very careful not to read anything too similar in plot or theme WHILE I'm writing something. So, surprisingly, I did not read Surfacing by Maragret Atwood for the first time until after Mush had been published, and heard the details of Oryx & Crake only after I'd precisely plotted out the scope of He's Lucid. I was worried about crossover or subconscious plagiarism because Atwood is from a place very similar to my home and also I think I like to write lyrically (to be clear: I am not comparing myself to a Booker Prize winner in terms of quality). Likewise, I could see a lot of whimsy in my writing BEFORE I read Carter and Gapper, but reading them made me feel that I was allowed to be playful - and better yet, not care if it was right or wrong.

I think I have at least 4 separate writing styles: the Mush style (Mush, the short story "Winterland"); the open elliptical style (the short stories "Ring Us" and "Worms"; the verbose, Carteresque style (the short story "Scratch", parts of Girl on a Stick), the rambunctious, playful anarchic style (He's Lucid, "Sister Six"). Oh yes, and "genre" writing. Writing erotica for money and publication allowed me to work through these different styles and now I write using just what style I feel like at the time.

Usually there's an image in my head and I work towards that. I don't want to think too much about how I write (as opposed to what comes of what I write), because I don't want to over-analyse or pin it down. Right now it's flying free.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In just an interesting aside, my university is currently occupied at the moment (I let the students go a few minutes early from their tutorial so they could go to the protest). The anthropology department does not seem to be occupied, however... (security guard at the entrance, though, and all major buildings locked this morning).

I am reporting from the heart of Trotskyite resistance, the second-floor paleoanthropology lab of UCL, otherwise known as the bone room! People keep soldiering on here with their baboon craniometry.

Courage, comrades!

Monday, November 15, 2010



Last night I dreamt of whales, many of them. It felt kind of Jungian or something, I can't explain. I woke up in the middle of the night. It was such a gorgeous dream. At first I only saw one, but they were passing under a bridge I was near. Initially it seemed like a beach, but then it was a bridge like an aqueduct and they were going to survive. I went down to their level and got up close and saw one of them and its huge eye. It was gentle, beautiful, and it wasn't going to hurt me. I took a picture of all their grace in the water because I wasn't sure anyone was going to believe me. So fucking beautiful. I think I will do a painting of their tails.

The image feels rooted really deep inside me; I have seen it before.

I think I must have seen it somewhere before in real life as a kid.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trains of Stumptown (2008)

I.

No-no, yes-yes.
There are ways in which we yell
or whisper to them:
Ouija boards, lit candles in holy copses,
even someone from the future
walking over your grave,
you shudder in cramped delight,
your shoulderblades prescient
and bony science fiction,
an old Twilight Zone episode.

We write letters to them,
to which they never respond.
That is very rude.
We use the common business-school
salutation:
Dearly Departed.
And they never get back to us,
even with an R. S. V. P. S. V. P. S. V. P.
with rock sugar on top.
We will not beg.
Please.
We will not go on our knees.
Please.

There are ways in which
they are said to signal back:
coughing radio static, ouija boards, again, yes-yes,
like angels, they leave freckles when they kiss us,
or they roll over in fury;
bump their noses against lead-lined oak,
regarding those hideous curtains
we just put up in their former living room,
over our bisexuality,
over our marriage to a Jew,
over our habit of not scrubbing
behind a cistern clogged with hair and piss and dust.
Their mediums are often old themselves, bigots,
and frequently related to us.

There are no happy mediums.
All psychics eavesdrop on the late lamented, eventually.

Dimes are New World myths, star-spangled, shiny new:
and every time you spot a dime
someone dead is thinking of you.

Yes, dimes appear, we’ve heard it said
when we’ve been thought of
by someone dead.
Why not nickels or quarters? It makes no cents.
Those other grimy discs of steel
embossed with presidents.

And yes, the dime myth is especially frequent
amongst right-wing housewives,
who find dimes on streets, in garage corners.
The Christian wives say the dead person
is just telling us “hello”, innocent enough.
But perhaps the dead person (cut off in their prime)
is thinking about the man on the dime,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
who started up the health-care movement in the United States,
reminding us to pay more attention
to labor unions and social security
otherwise the dead person might not have died prematurely
from cancer bills they couldn’t pay.
That’s right, goodwives, they went before their time,
oh brother, can you spare a dime?
Yes-yes, no-no, hello-hello.
You fundie bitches.
That one was from Grandpa, who sent his best wishes.

Dimes, IM chats with the deceased,
who say how nice that you’re still kicking,
and that you have your health,
no vestigial guilt, just minor wealth,
spare change, something you might have willed
or been willed anyway,
the prettiest of coins, these thin-lipped peppered mints,
silver-scalloped edges flung all the way
across the U.S.A.
A Hansel-und-Gretel moment,
That’s what they do say.
The dead do like to say hello.
Bonjour and Guten Abend.
Willkomen, bienvenue, welcome.
The witch at the end of the long white tunnel
sharpens her teeth.
That is a joke.
That only happens if you mess with ouija boards.
No joke. Non-nicht joke.
Dimes are much safer, when all is said,
for communication with the dead.
One-way conversations are always on par.
We’ve unanswered prayers. They’ve got FDR.
Stay away from ouija boards.

II.

Portland is a town with cognitive-dissonance issues.
Portland is a town that,
having ditched its lively Stumptown moniker
and re-named Asylum Avenue
to shopping-district-friendly Hawthorne,
has never dealt with its 19th-century train problem.
The whistles go off on the hour through the night, loudly,
and probably explain why the citizens
drink so much dark-roasted Fair Trade coffee.

I walk Stumptown’s tracks in the rootless dark,
these cursed hoots mean I cannot sleep,
I leave dimes along the rails
for the carriages to crush to plate.
Such alchemy from one still kicking,
they say (admiringly).
This is why they call me the witch of Stumptown,
and why all the housewives phone me
when they need more than just hello.



Niceties (2006)



Central Oregon, grass seed capital of the world.
It would suck to have hay fever,
but luckily I am not a sufferer.

The mouth of the beast, now that I’m back in it,
always says have a nice day
and asks too many personal questions
during casual shopping transactions.
No, I have a girlfriend, actually.
I stayed in Europe for ten years
because it’s not legal in the United States
for me to bring her here.
Don’t you think that’s homophobic,
and aren’t you glad you asked? I am, nearly.

My country hoods its enemies and tortures them
with anal suppositories and menstrual pads
(fags and women the dirtiest threats conceivable,
from both sides of the electric fence).
Unspeakable. The government won’t speak out. Unspeakable.
The government at last speaks out,
and makes allusions to promoting torture,
but the beast never says sorry.
I mean, that’s Business Management 101, you never say sorry.

We don’t know the first thing about suffering.
Citizens float dead in the taint waters,
though Barbara Bush thinks it’s working out well for them.
Network, cable, FOX news, such pleasant manners.
A mouth (devoid of duct tape) drones on, it’s ceaseless.
You scum, unspeakable.
Have a nice day; it’s all good.

It’s now legal to spy on Average Joe.
Let’s make a good Patriot Act obediently.
Make a nation outraged, simply disgusted, over media cursing.
The FCC will worry for us, furrow its brow
and censor the Anglo-Saxon shit and fuck, also known as bad words.
Make a people mourn for lone white girls
while a quarter million in South Asia
slither back across the Styx with the undertow.

The last item of every news program,
(which lacks any statewide context,
let alone federal or international)
is always a dog-up-the-tree story.
Or cat. I forget.
The anchormen and women wink and sign off.
You know what that is?
That’s a four-letter word not permissible on live TV
by order of the Federal Communications Commission.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"I am for the birds, not for the cages in which people sometimes place them." - John Cage

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Winterland


UPDATE:
And... here is Jessica's wolf-sized wolfwoman print, which she has laid out so smoothly on her bed, the print all freaking gorgeous-like and everything.






(all images and text (c) Kathleen Bryson & Jessica Cheeseman 2010; illustrations by Jessica Cheeseman and text and lettering by Kathleen Bryson for the graphic novel Winterland, all such illustrations and text are from the copyright-protected graphic novel in progress)
www.facebook.com/winterlandgraphicnovel

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


(photo by Steve Lyon)


The purpose of art is not rarefied, intellectual distillate - it is life, intensified, brilliant life. - Alain Arias-Misson

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Female Ejaculation, BDSM, Lucid Dreaming and the Machine Fantasies of Theweleit's Freikorps

The London Institute

(IN) TOLERABLE STRUCTURES

The Mutable Category, Fluidity & the Internet


MA Independent Film & Video
Kathleen Bryson
December 1997

CONTENTS


ABSTRACT

I. CATEGORIES & STRUCTURES

II. OPPOSITIONS, FLUIDITY & THE INTERNET

a. GENDER/ TRANSGENDER
b. MALE/ FEMALE
c. HOMOSEXUAL/ HETEROSEXUAL
d. VERSION/ PER/VERSION
e. BODY/ MACHINE

III.CONCLUSION

IV.RESOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY


Abstract


This dissertation is about existing inside structures in which one does not fit. It is how structures are made tolerable by those who do not fit the structure's prescription through a concept I am calling the mutable category – through which one morphs the prescriptions and labels dictated by the structure. In this context, ideas of flow and rigidity are discussed through the examination of a series of binary structures and boundary trajectories with contemporary Western culture. A very specific aim in this examination is to highlight that many traits considered biological 'essences' in our society are in fact culturally ascribed. A result of these social prescriptions is the prevalence of unbalanced categorically dichotomised structures, where often one-half of a dichotomy is more normalised than the other.

I look at the Internet as a tool (or set of tools) through which to facilitate the morphing of heavily structured categories. I refer to observations of the Internet connecting it with 'feminine' qualities such as fluidity, uncontrollability, covertness, diffusedness. I make the point the 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are not biological essences of either sex, but rather that they are acculturated traits imposed by gender codification; this is filtered through a discussion of the Internet as a system where, theoretically, one's gender designation is not immediately available. In relation to this discussion of Internet gender and other points, I suggest the application of the mutable category as a tool through which to see how things can fit in and not fit in, simultaneously.


I. Categories and Structures

"Perhaps for women it is of particular importance that we find a language which allows us to recognise our part in intolerable structures- but in a way which renders us neither the victims nor the sole agents of our distress."



Essentialism involves, as the author of Essentially Speaking, Diana Fuss, puts it, "a belief in the real, true essence of things, the invariable and fixed properties which define the 'whatness' of a given entity"(Fuss, xi). Essentialism, in order to function, implies firstly a separation into groups and categories and, implicitly, labels with which to name these groups and boundaries to show where one group stops and another group begins. Secondly, essentialism, because of its belief in the influence of a biological 'whatness', an essence, often results in a normalising set of behaviours attributed to members of the different groups and categories. Once a norm has been fixed, the dichotomisation of social structures can occur because that which does not fit into or match what should be its prescribed biological essence is a per/version and, I would argue, a threat to a structure unless it is controlled within the structure . In a rigid structure, anything uncontrollable or difficult to understand is to be feared. It is likely that the same fears attached to the Internet as being mysterious and insidious can be compared to its, in our culture, feminine qualities: fluid, non-rigid, uncontrollable, deceptive- all of these in contrast to the given, rigid structure of normalised masculinity , which will be discussed in Section II of the paper.

This paper is about essentialism and the concepts of fluidity and borders/boundaries/labels and their limitations and advantages in regard to the Internet. It is about the division into categories and/or merging where one category 'begins' or 'ends'. Once something has been named, it represents a category apart from something else: a category has begun and a category has ended. The meanings attached to categories- norms or not- make up the world around us, and this world is dependent on these significations. Thus, our culture is in many ways dependent on labels as tools through which to better understand category meaning in a given structure.

A label is what names a category in a given structure. In this sense, the label as tool to understand meaning is an extension of a previous category distinction. As Marshall McLuhan, author of the groundbreaking Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, points out, at some point the medium (or extension) becomes the message. So the extension or label starts to be considered as 'natural' or 'primary' . Another extension, both cultural and physical, is the Internet, which is rapidly becoming a major 'message' in current Western culture. The labels, divisions and boundaries of the 'outside world' , the previously ascribed 'real' norms from the source 'real life' culture, are retained and occasionally mutated in on-line culture, amongst them labels often taken for granted, such as 'gender' or 'the body'. In a sense, the Internet is like any other new set of tools, where there have been borders established and bolstered on the Internet according to essentialist beliefs such as racism and sexism from its very naissance. The Internet is not a 'pure' category of a particular type of tool; it is not divorced from a cultural source .

It follows that class, sexuality and race are some of the many category distinctions which have been perpetuated on the Internet . If the idea that Western social structure contains a multitude of oppositional dichotomies (something almost universally disparaged in recent philosophical writings), related to the essentialism that was first noted in this paper, is momentarily accepted and looked at in its simplest terms, there seems to be within an essentialist structure a tendency to wish to divide things into preference, into 'better' or 'worse'- a strong "instinct" to rate options, to choose. The rating of options implies a hierarchical system. Hierarchy implies categories, by the very nature of how comparison functions. But isn't an 'instinct' to choose merely a tool in itself? An indecisive multi-cellular organism doesn't last for long. Tools make things easier, and the tool of categorising, or taken further, stereotyping, makes life easier because less thought has been needed; there have been short-cuts to impressions. On the same hand, organisms and species that experience ambiguity in what have hitherto seemed as functional, fairly rigid structures, and yet still manage to make a rapid choice are going to have an easier time 're-forming' the categories when it is necessary. As categories are mutable, as this paper discusses, this is probably going to be quite often. The recognition of morphing, mutable, fluid categories while still being able to categorise when necessary seems an efficient strategy. So, while rejecting categories, hierarchies and essentialist stereotyping as 'truths', in recognising their applicability in the context of a mutable system a useful tool can be had.

Following a discussion of various categories and dichotomies, this paper will explore how use of the Internet enhances and lets one 'practice' the exercise of mutable categories in several different ways. Particularly in regard to the categories with which we use to file human beings, there is a distinct difference between a category which is taught, experienced and then adapted- a mutable category, a tolerable structure- and one which is taught and retained without modification. An example might be the experiences of Beauty from the fairy-tale Beauty and the Beast. Beauty is a person who has been brought up with certain opinions and prejudices about a group of people, considering them monstrous, unattractive, ugly and evil. She then as an adult meets a member of the said group, the Beast, and the original information learned does not reflect the new experience. As a person who accepts that her learning could have been erroneous and who draws new conclusions, Beauty has the ability to mentally morph categories, while a person who remains inflexible in an opinion which has not proved applicable would retain a rather rigid outlook and would not adjust. In this particular tale, the Beast is ultimately revealed as essentially kind.

Even more significant is the situation where members of a socially recognised category believe themselves members of these particular categories by biological nature (essence) and change their behaviour accordingly.

"We have an extraordinary situation, where types seem to have been made ‘real’ and yet may not ultimately be true.” Harwood, p. 121

This particular situation is relevant to our concept of gender and the body and their implications in regard to both the Internet and sexuality .

At the same time, socially normalised categories highlight the belief that many things such as gender identification or sexuality do not seem to be chosen, when in fact they are. This is because the classifications themselves are only tools, and as such they have a role to play, which is to uphold the social structure through their wording and inferences. One example might be the category of 'heterosexuality', not often seen as a choice because we are so pre-conditioned into it in our culture that instead it seems 'natural'. The point is, a structure [culture] exists which is presenting an option as an enforced norm and as a strict and not-to-be-questioned concept. This is a rigid, non-morphing structure. When this acculturated structure already exists at the point of birth into this world, it is often given the credence of being 'natural'. For example, it is not often that the concept of a chosen heterosexuality comes into question; it is the per/version (non-heterosexuality) whose origins is questioned and examined. Even once an extremely oppositional category/culture has been created/responded (i.e. 'homosexuality'), the structure is still rigid and binary, as opposed to rigid and monary (where the alternative to heterosexuality was asexuality/celibacy rather than homosexuality).

When people use neither the terms of the version nor its flip-side in terms of self-definition and concept, when the particular per/version does not depend on a complete rejection of the version, their category (or rejection of category) becomes threatening to believers/practitioners on either side of a dichotomy, i.e. 'bisexuality', 'pansexuality', 'omnisexuality', 'paraphiliacs'. Because the definition cannot be controlled, it becomes insidious, its believers perverted or indecisive, considered "untrue" to themselves as they haven't yet taken on all definitions of either side of the binary split. This is one example of an enforcement of social boundaries. The fear of flow, of mutability, blurred categories and change challenges all holders of power, in exactly the way that the Internet does- the uncontrollable, the undefinable. It is possible that rumours connected to the idea of the Internet as deceptive, insidious, etc. are related to the concept of the Internet as Flow/Female/Uncontrollable as opposed to the strict regimens of the 'phallus'. Anything uncontrollable can be feared . The Internet, in many ways not an uncontrolled structure (the basic binarism of computer codes, the necessities of terminals, the particularities of Internet language and on-line behaviour), could in this sense be considered an uncontrollable fluid .

As feminism has given rise to a questioning of the female role, so has it also enabled the same for masculinity, for people to attempt to address masculinity in terms of patriarchal structure, not solely as a desired structure. Foucault and Theweleit, both unique male theorists, can be included here in relation to patriarchal deconstruction, although I feel particularly Theweleit resorts at some stage to a predictable and unchallenging dichotomised essentialism, which will be discussed later. The structured masculinity Klaus Theweleit examines in Male Fantasies Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 is always in fear of "dissolution, a fear which obsessively takes the form of the deluge: the sea of blood, the flood, the swamp, the tidal wave."(Male Fantasies Vol. 2, p. xx,). Theweleit is (and to some extent Foucault is as well, i.e. Herculine Bardin) exceptional because in his methodology he goes directly to written sources of the post-World War I male German military group, the Freikorps, in order to draw his conclusions. What is more, the texts are presented in his studies so that the reader can 'see for herself or himself'. This is particularly effective as he is not just speculating about the attitudes of this group towards masculinity and femininity. This type of acculturated dichotomy fits in snugly with David Gilmore's (a 'new' male theorist and anthropologist) suggestion that manhood itself is a "social barrier that societies must erect against entropy, human enemies, the process of nature, time and all the human weaknesses that endanger group life." These categories of structure vs. the insidious non-structure again appear in discussions of the Internet -once again indicators of how arguments regarding our tools are reflected onto the tools themselves, in this case very basic oppositional dichotomies.

Divisions such as these result in a category which elevates itself above another, which ultimately is the purpose that categories serve- that is to say, divisions by which traditional binary thinking dictates that one half of a division must be superior [normalised] to the other half. Often in the relationship between the two categories, the non-normalised finds it difficult to challenge the norm, lacking equivalent power.

Granted, this in itself is a rather dichotomised reading of power and also implies an essentialist aspect to power. As Foucault points out, in an implementation of power the oppressed also collude, that "there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between ruler and ruled at the root of power relations", that "power is exercised at innumerable points" . Still, when structural inequalities such as economic (i.e. white male/black female earning power) dichotomies can be schematically and simply viewed, perhaps they can through dichotomising tools can be simplified and scaled down to such a skeletal level that this type of social dichotomy can be dealt with and, perhaps, equalised by naming it. This does not mean to imply that it is essential for power to consist of a dichotomy between Oppressed and Oppressor. What it might mean is that the conception of a mutable category could be more of a useful tool to per/verts than an all-encompassing, heavily dichotomised structure.

This paper will therefore address category choice and category norms, as well as the blurring, endings and beginnings of openings and limitations in regard to categories. To do this I am going to name and label and essentialise before I attempt to unname and unlabel and de-essentialise. Even were I to start with a rejection of categorisation and the 'truths' which lie beneath essentialism, I would run the risk of inadvertently setting up dichotomies through the argument itself , through the (inescapable) culturally structured tools I would be using (language, modes of argumentation), just as structures become rigid and codified in originally revolutionary institutions such as feminism.

The trick is to not be concerned with essence, to recognise both fluid and non-fluid categories simultaneously, and to thus challenge rigidity in binary/dichotomised categorising.

Once the use of essentialism to validate beliefs can be recognised in a variety of structures, it becomes easier to understand the multitude of difficulties with theorists such as Freud, whose arguments depend on essentialist beliefs of human nature. It is clarified how many arguments against and in favour of his own theories also 'play by the rules' by first accepting his particular beliefs on essential human nature. For example, arguing against Freudian theory would be simplified if we dismissed the idea of sexual difference as a first premise, as essentialist. We wouldn't be subject to individual, subjective interpretations telling us that a strong woman represents a phallus, because the phallus or lack of it or even a vulva replacement of it would not be an issue. Major problems associated with psychoanalysis and identification would disappear , as concepts of masculinities and of female spectatorship would not be purities nor, by implication, would transvestism be. The structured games would dissolve- apparently, we can't have that. However, even in the extremely essentialist, I feel, writings of Freud there seems to be evidence of an extraordinarily useful and apt get-out clause of a mutable category , i.e. his groundbreaking "polymorphous perversity" (and his cigars remaining, finally, only cigars). But ultimately a rejection of essential signifiers is also a rejection of coded rigidity, of enforced boundaries and, I would argue, of intolerable structures . But this might mean an end to, or at least, less respect for trained 'interpreters' of signs: academics, psychoanalysts, high-placed members of religious hierarchies. Indeed, as Charles Levin argues in his dissection of feminist Lacanian metatheory, even the Lacanian deconstruction as argued by feminist theorist Jacqueline Rose depends on "the Cartesian ontological split on a new level... on a hypostatization of systems"- rather than possessing the infallible fluidity usually attributed to (but not fully exhibited by) Lacanian thought. Because Rose argues in Lacanian terms- as Levin argues, in an essentialist system- her quite non-essential arguments such as "sexuality... as a piece of social writing" or "formless plasticity" are argued within an ordered system itself (Levin, p. 250). Could these contradictions be avoided in a more mutable system? Or is Levin assuming the impossible, that one can only argue against something by being outside it? I say this is impossible- because removing ourselves to a pure argument of objectivity sets up again a binary system. Jacqueline Rose argues against herself, as Levin suggests; but so, ultimately, does he as well. So do we all, as discourse, inevitably, takes place within a system and through the finite filter of language. Again, perhaps one strategy for dealing with this paradox might be to recognise essentialism as the tool it is, concurrently both an extension and a part of us (as I shall argue technology is later in the discussion of the body and machine). Perhaps this paradox will remain an unknown in argumentation. I am not claiming to know an answer (but perhaps that is exactly my point); I am suggesting only that mutable categories facilitate coping mechanisms.

Offered frequently as a pacifier to those who reject the idea of opposable dichotomies is the concept of a continuum, i.e. the Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation, with 100% heterosexual on one end and 100% homosexual on the other end and most people found somewhere in the middle. But even here the concept of opposable dichotomies persists, flip-siding, with either/or. The solace is that there is some fluctuation allowed in the "middle", although the basic binary structure remains the same; this concept of sexuality is also presented as "real". But the first premise, that of the categories themselves, is not real. We have a game built on a game. Or to put it in a more academic wording, we have a tool for stereotyping and simplifying complexities built on the back of another tool.

I will be citing the next section in whole, as it is both relevant and necessary for subsequent discussions in this paper:

"Male Fantasies is interested in how the body both organizes and expresses the politics of division between gender as a totalizing framework. Fascism, in Theweleit's view, is an extreme example of the political polarization of gender (not restricted to any biological division of the sexes). Feminized men are as repellent to the fascist mentality as masculine women. But, Theweleit goes further: for the male it is the woman within that constitutes the most radical threat to his own integrity. Two basic types of bodies exemplify the corporeal metaphysics at the heart of fascist perception. On one side there is the soft, fluid, and ultimately liquid female body which is a quintessentially negative "Other" lurking inside the male body. It is the subversive source of pleasure or pain which must be expurgated or sealed off. On the other there is the hard, organized, phallic body devoid of all internal viscera which finds its apotheosis in the machine. This body-machine is the acknowledged "utopia" of the fascist warrior... In the first volume, the fear and revulsion of the feminine manifests itself in the incessant invocation of metaphors of an engulging fluid, or flood, in the 'red tide', 'street of blood', 'bursting earth,', and in dirt, effluvia, streams, lava and emissions of all sorts", Benjamin, Foreword, Male Fantasies II.

This concentration by Theweleit on female fluidity- female flowing- contradicts the climactic 'phenomenon' of female ejaculation. This is how version and per/versions become problematic- by dependence on essentialist systems. You could either write a dozen treatises comparing and contrasting male ejaculation and female ejaculation... or, you could dismiss the entire first premises upon which these analyses are built- an emphasis on the normalised category of the phallus and the idea that men are essentially directed and climactic and that women are essentially diffused and etherized. I do not contest that some of these behaviours are disproportionately present in the sexes, but I don't believe these traits to be biologically essential- I believe them to be learned. That means recognising the sexual difference game for what it is: a structure. The question is, can it be morphed? In the situation regarding the primacy of ejaculation, the answer seems to be 'yes'. Women can ejaculate fluids, men can emit fluids (pre-come).

Does a process of 'category acculturation' explain how gendered behaviours became to be considered immediate and essential and not exterior or secondary? Are these behaviours 'tolerable structures' or unexplored cultural categories (that are socially recognised as essentials)? The deconstruction method entails destroying subjects from the inside, not the outside; stepping outside demands an objectivity which is not possible when one is reflexively immersed in the culture and so far a way in which to step outside one's own culture to look objectively at it has not been realised. Nor has the influence of one's own culture been able to be erased when looking upon a culture which is not one's own. Therefore, some degrees of deconstruction, of hybridity, of perversion seem to be needed in a challenge of an essentialist structure. These, too, can mean a mutable category.

My arguments concerning the transitory nature of the Internet and its fluent/fluid qualities relate both to acculturated dichotomisation by gender (the hard-dry/soft-wet split) and fear of 'uncontrollable fluidity' and also to the notion of the mutable category. This paper addresses some cybertheoretical binary splits, particularly issues surrounding the idea of a machine/body split. Implicit in this, of course, is the concept of the cyborg. I argue against the notion of cyborgism as alien or external (or a split from 'human'), and in this context I also argue against technology itself as external; I specifically address VR (virtual reality) and the Internet in this discussion.

Any tool, not just the 'mechanical' type such as the Internet, is technology, and technology for the purpose of this paper is going to be any extension/signifier, (not only, as McLuhan points out, the prosthetic or artificial). The human world in 1997 is a world dazzled by new tools (or perhaps it is a world dazzled by new applications, a world perhaps which has always had versions of these new inventions in relation to the category tool/technology). If in regard to tools and boundaries we think of previously opposable categories as categories simultaneously connected and separating (a substance more viscous than water, a flow which separates) can the postmodern /multicultural /relativistic/ heteroglossia simultaneously equal the monochromatic, paradigmatic, specific, oppositional? The answer might be yes.

"The South and the North are not territories but abstract places that appear only to relate to each other in terms of each other..."(Derrida, pp. 267-268)

In a discussion of fluidity, certainly staticity and fixity must be addressed, and Theweleit discusses this in his consideration of masculinity as a rigid structure. This fixity is referred to in psychoanalysis as well, I feel, usually with the idea of a fetish. Berkeley Kaite suggests that the idea of a fetish also prevents a boundary- this rather fluid interpretation is itself relatively mutable . In Sex, Lies & Videotape-Whither the Phallus?, Kaite cites Metz's observations that :

"the fetish in order to work, ideally must be isolated and ossified, [and] can be applied to the home video, in the sense that video cassettes (like photos) can be touched, handled, re-played, and its frames frozen and isolated. The aesthetic of the music video is frequently that of a rapid succession of still images, interspersed with the obviously fabricated singing and acting poses of the performers." Kaite, p. 179

This type of visual staticity could accordingly be applied to examples of rigidity in the Internet as well, particularly in regard to the World Wide Web. This is important because the Internet, too, can be seen as a fluid fixity, at times flowing and at times static, but never entirely solely of one thing. The desire to draw boundaries, category creation, between oneself and the Other still seems to be present on the Internet. Thus boundaries 'implicit' in the Internet can additionally be discussed in the realm of the mutable category: some might argue, perhaps, that the system language has been deconstructed down to the bare bones of hypertext and key words. The permeable boundaries and connective qualities of hypertext could be considered to simultaneously represent both bare schematicism and fluidity. Self-deletion of prior input and contributions to communities on line can act as a social boundary in cyberspace, distancing the social group from the one who is deleting. It is the social structure which is being mutated, for better or for worse. So while links are created and remain fluid, so do boundaries divide in cyberspace.

Another example of boundaries and limitations within the Internet is the overload of social censure from other participants people will experience if they post off-topic in news groups (breaking the structure of netiquette) (Shirky, p.22). Timothy May's "cypherpunk manifesto" addresses boundary/limitation/category parameters in regards to anonymity in the context of hacking a system. I think these above examples would certainly constitute mutable categories. Indeed, the possibility of the Internet for "identity hacking", as Dan Thu Nguyen and Jon Alexander refer to it in The Coming of Cyberspacetime, allows the tremendous potential to not only change your gender or hair colour on-line but also change your species- becoming a "cuddly, furry animal". The morphing qualities of the Internet resist categorisation at the same time as the very nature of mechanised technology invites staticity.


""'It isn't funny... Take it back. Call that story back,' said the audience by the end of the story, but the witch answered: 'It's already turned loose./It's already coming./It can't be called back.'""





II. Oppositions, Fluidity & the Internet



A. Gender / Transgender


"Others believe that they are all of both or neither of either- a third gender, so to speak, pioneers in their own fashion who must navigate the waters of a turbulent bipolar society in which one is forced to choose the gender box one will reside in. ... Labeling has been a way for us to find a common thread with which to bring us together. At the same time it has created expectations of what constitutes appropriate behavior. We have, in a sense, created our own boxes and our own limitations."


In a reading from an essentialist perspective, the boundaries of a category norm can be divided minutely into defining strata which show where the cut-off points of power begin and end. Essentialism is by implication rife with stratified power categories. When one-half of a dichotomy is normalised under the culture's terms and invested with more power than the other category, all of its divisions and strata are often argued by those who fall into the normalised category to be essences, such as the obviously false nineteenth century concept that 'whites' were innately intellectually superior to 'blacks'.

Language is a semi-fixed structure and what is more, one of the prime labeling devices (tools). But the rigid possibilities of this occasionally equally fluid tool is never more self-evident than when we as humans use language to label ourselves according to gender, usually in behaviourally essentialist terms. Usually we fall, under these labelling conditions, into one of two categories: male/female. Generally no Kinsey Scale exists here- since sex is thought to an either/or; it is not often an all(hermaphrodite)/nothing(neutered). Hermaphroditism constitutes an all-category rather than a mixed category, since we have only the two options available. As is visible from the previous sentence, we address biological sex and gendered codes of behaviour as near absolutes. Notions of dismissing the two dichotomised points are not common, at best, even transgender seems to refer to moving across dichotomised points (although this rather Kinseyesque word is certainly, I would argue, the most mutable category available). Many of the discussions surrounding transgenderism/transsexualism have taken highly essentialised platforms: admitting, perhaps, that the terms male and female are limiting and rigid and at the same time always assuming that gender does exist in some form (as in ‘trans/gender’) as a “true” category- that is to say, people do not often suggest an un/genderness.

But, one could argue, there are two sexes (and genders, in the terms of our cultural dictations of sexual difference), biologically essentially-speaking. Gender is cultural, sex is physical, and both terms are divided precisely in two, correct? To address this claim, first of all (and leaving aside the medical fact that one in a thousand babies is born with visibly 'mixed' female and male sexual organs, usually surgically 'corrected' immediately at birth) students of anatomy are well aware that most primary and secondary sexual characteristics culturally considered male-specific or female-specific are found in both sexes, vestigial or not, culturally acknowledged or not, i.e. clitoris/penis, labia/testicles, Skene’s gland/prostrate (and subsequent ejaculation ), nipples, facial hair. Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on the differences because, I would suspect, this is where the interests of the normalised category (male) lie: to emphasise difference and binarism, rather than similarities and fluid traits found in lesser and greater degrees in both sexes. What is more, according to Western culture, differences between the sexes are incredibly vast, and only one, true sex exists for each person. Foucault offers us a description of the centrality of sexual essentialism in Western society:

"Do we TRULY need a TRUE sex? With a persistence that borders on stubbornness, modern Western societies have answered in the affirmative. They have obstinately brought into play this question of a 'true sex' in an order of things where one might have imagined that all that counted was the reality of the body and the intensity of its pleasures. For a long time, however, such a demand was not made, as is proven by the history of the status which medicine and law have granted hermaphrodites Indeed it was a very long time before the postulate that a hermaphrodite must have a sex- a single, a true sex was formulated. For centuries, it was quite simply agreed that hermaphrodites had two." Foucault, Herculine, p. vii

What is more, the physiological concept that the sexes resemble each other more than they differ is not exactly new: "The Hippocratic description establishes a general isomorphism between the man's sexual act and that of the woman."(Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, pp. 127-128) The human species is notable in its lack of sexual dimorphism. There can be a near total overlap of visible (as opposed to experienced traits, such as ovulation) biological traits between females and males. But yet rigid codification (and subsequent behavioural dimorphism) is encouraged. And, as in Freud's "one sex", only one category (the male) is normalised. It does seem our language itself allows for little discussion on the subject of non-Gender, so instead it is important to look at some of the concepts of non-traditional gender designations- transgenderism and neuter, as both of these categories have bearing on the discussion of the Internet. In essence, I am going to 'play within the limits' of what our language permits in discussing a deconstruction of gender.

Just as there are plural examples of deconstruction within a system, particularly binary systems, there are attempts to go outside a system in order to question it, although, as I previously suggested, I question whether one can entirely escape the regimes of a system. A woman, it can be suggested, often still has to neuter herself to attain power. By becoming neuter, a female can become a thing which is unseen/unknown, possibly male and powerful through the secret of its indecipherability. A woman writing as P.D. James (neuter/unknown) has a different kind of power than a woman writing as a George Eliot (male), and both of these have different kinds of power than woman writing as a Jane Austen (female) or a Julie Edwards (the actress Julie Andrews writing under her less well-known 'married' name, a pseudonym, really.).

So it can therefore be questioned whether a woman in order to seize power in the mode of the normalised (male) category must stay single . By single in this context, I also mean neutered/unknown/unfucked/virginal/celibate/not owned by a man/ uses men for sex, not in love with men /lesbian. Because all of these strategies involve a partial rejection of the traditional heteropatriarchal female role: to challenge the normalised category, one can't entirely 'play by their rules', and women who use these strategies of 'transgenderism' in relation to cultural gender roles are mutating a category in order to gain some form of autonomy and control. This was a commonly discussed topic in the 1970s for 'heterosexual' feminists: how can one retain autonomy and still interact with men?

The tool of reconstruction in regards to borders/boundaries is about the 'positive' aspect to labels I previously referred to, an existing tolerable structure, particularly reconstruction as pioneered by French feminists such as Monique Wittig and Luce Irigaray. A tolerable structure recognises, probably, the process of the deconstruction and of reconstruction, reclaiming and re-naming by the disenfranchised.

What happens when a woman who is strongly female-identified (particularly one whose identification has resulted from struggle within a rigidly coded gender system like the heteropatriarchy) is stripped of her female gender identification in which hitherto she has had a strong investment (a feminist She with a capital S) to become a potential Internet neuter sitting before a computer screen, losing a positive identification with her previous She. Unless, of course, she cares to draw attention to her 'biological' femaleness on-line. Does she become just a neutered (or bi/polysexual) gender at the keyboard, able to 'pass' in an extreme which has probably never been 'allowed' at such a level? This can be a possibility, but it is important not to dismiss the fact that articles of clothing, telephone conversations (where the gender of the voice can be disguised), letter-writing, etc. have also been modes in the past by which to “pass” as another gender role than one’s own and, indeed, to exist as a transgendered person . Can't pen-pals and phone conversations give this "unseen quality"/anonymity, too ? I would argue that the net is different because of the amount of camouflage it provides, making it more useful 'practice' tool. Is this person (formerly She) then a more powerful being in cyberspace or a less powerful, castrated one? Perhaps the politics of minority such that she cannot or does not want to separate herself from that which makes her oppressed on the street? Perhaps this person has gained power/knowledge as a She in a binary system. This, too, her previously 'biological' identification, re-chosen in cyberspace can be a tolerable structure.

What of a man, sitting at the same keyboard- is he comfortable with giving up the social norm of his 'biological' gender to the extent that he feels comfortable enough to non-specify an on-line identity? How common is it that 'biological' men have to territorialise who they are in an on-line chatroom so they don't give up their privilege? Stone points out that in the Fujijitsu HABITAT, a MUD , men are choosing female identities more often then women choosing male identities, at a ratio of about four to one (Stone, p. 119). It may be occurring because the types of (occasionally advantageous) interactions women experience as members of a non-normalised category and as a result of cultural objectification (sexual attention, attractiveness) are precisely qualities which men will experience as on-line females, with the lucky proviso that if unwanted attention or harassment problems occur they can log out- a distinct advantage that 'biological' women don’t enjoy . Transvestism is a coded distinction from transsexuality, according to Andrea Cornwall: many transvestites wish to perform as feminine, not biologically become women. This could be an equivalent example of, as in the case of male-to-female on-line identities, male “appropriation” of a female role when it suits them.

Some chatrooms or BBS posting groups are pertinent in regard to social boundaries in that they attempt to enforce, for example, a one-gender-only or one-sexuality-only space , in an electronic environment where gender is considered to be fluid. I am not convinced that gender is as fluid as many claim it to be on-line; I think the process is more of a mask or cover. Regardless of not being able to see in order to distinguish sexual difference, there are other acculturated indicators of gender i.e. word usage, conversational systems which are affected by the binary, dichotomised and unequal gendered social system outside in the ‘real world’. And this is evidenced, I think, by the strategies employed on women-only sites in order to keep what they consider predatory and annoying males out of, for example, lesbian-only space, where new members are often quizzed about things in order to test whether or not they are lesbians- things that the type of men who 'creep' into chatrooms are unlikely to know. Apparently, men who pretend to be lesbians are usually quite easy to discern: they tend to introduce themselves as a 'standard' heterosexual male's female fantasy stereotype: "Hi, my name's Shawna, I'm 5'9", have long red hair and long legs and my measurements are 38-22-36." Most women, heterosexual, lesbian or not, apparently are unlikely to introduce themselves by their measurements- unless, perhaps, it is a fantasy role for them, too. And this is an important point- perhaps the lesbians querying the newcomer are making essentialist assumption regarding female behaviour, although it is more likely that they are stereotyping female behaviour in order to draw boundaries. The gender/sexuality masking implications of the Internet can boggle the mind- what if all the interrogating lesbians are men? What if a biological woman is pretending to be a man trying to hack in? No one knows the 'truth'. But behaviour may be one of the clues that the women on the site might take in order to be wary of the new comer until they have figured him or her out. If a man manages to successfully 'fool' them posing as a woman, then apparently he is not exhibiting discernible and standardised masculine behaviour. Perhaps in this sense he has become an on-line female.

And if both men and women refuse to give up their 'biological' identities, it certainly might be for different reasons. The man might not want to lose prescribed male power, the woman might not want to lose hard-won, oppositionally attained power. If they give up their 'biological' gender identity on-line, either by not specifying it or by changing it, that 'biological' men and 'biological' women might also do this for different reasons according to their 'real' gender. One reading of these proposed situations might be that a man who becomes a woman loses social power, whereas the woman who becomes a man gains it. Of course, as I have discussed, gender identity is not quite so simple, but consideration of these differences might be beneficial in understanding the power differentials and dynamics between the female-to-male and the male-to-female transsexual . I would question that the Internet is as uncomplicated a gender playground as it is represented to be, where one sits down by a modem and immediately casts off the years of training in a structure and then dons it all again after a 'gender tourism' session at the Internet (or at the very least, enters a world again where other people don one of two genders available and believe them to be real things) upon leaving cyberspace .

In Italy, indeed, the concept of transgenderism and non-standard sexuality in cyberspace seemed so threatening to the government that a special police force broke into several homes in 1995 in the context of anti-terrorist rights of entry and under the auspices that Internet users had the “intent to subvert the democratic order” (Fuller, p. 36). “Transgender high-priestess of cybersex” Helena Velena spoke out against these civil rights violations, asserting that cybersex, specifically, was key to transgenderism.

“...it allows people to look at their inner feelings- to develop a new definition of themselves ... at a certain point, cybersex and transgenderism fuse together. Many transgendered people come out on the Net, because there they have the possibility of analysing themselves. They say ‘let’s try and see if I could be something different than what I am... They can experiment in a safe environment and see what happens... I believe the Net will play a big part in mutating gender identity. You start on the Net and then go out on the street fully transgendered...” Fuller, pp. 36-39

Helena Velena doesn’t address what a “fully transgendered” person might be- it would be nice to think that it doesn’t consist only of a woman “fully” becoming a man or vice versa, rather that there might be an acknowledgement of not simply having two gender categories from which to choose, that an equally dichotomised position has not merely been accepted without recognisance of a flow of gender “traits” apart from between two points, but circularly, mutably as well. Some recent Western subcultures which exist out of cyberspace, though, have shown a mutability re. standardised gender roles . And of course this is connected to why they are deemed 'sub'cultures and marginalised- they allow for fluidity within the doctrine of the dominant norm..

An interview with the comedian Eddie Izzard (a “heterosexual transvestite”, self-described “male lesbian”) is quite revealing as Izzard struggles to define himself within the rigid categories of Observer interviewer Lynn Barber by saying that he identifies as a woman and that it is the roles and labels as a male that he has difficulty with:

“This very male exterior...means you get treated by society in a certain way. And the reason why people end up with these exterior interests in clothes and make-up is that that is all that’s really THERE if you have that body- everybody is going to say you are a bloke, and everything you do in supposed to be within the confines of a bloke, and that’s too constricting and really boring.”

Izzard himself seems very at ease with his chosen role as a “male lesbian” [“happily cohabiting, not trapped in a man’s body"], but the interviewer is less so- as is evidenced by her various comments regarding issues of gender fluidity. For example, after Izzard remarks that he identifies with women, while also being attracted to them and rejecting all the givens of masculinity, she remarks that “it sounds almost like transsexism- would he really like to be a woman?”, as well as commenting that she finds it unrealistic that a teenage girl might enjoy playing football, climbing trees and wearing makeup at the same time. I mention this example as it seems very indicative of the rigidity of gender roles (not just sex as a 'biological trait') in our culture and the frustration and confusion people often display (in this case the interviewer) when they cannot slot something or someone into categories they take for granted and seem unable to flex.

Occasionally categories appear to mutate so entirely that they occupy the space of a new category (a cultural essence!) unto themselves. The writer Yvonne Rainier illustrates this in her attempt to create a new term for a gender category which does not exist, while still wanting to avoid the oppositional phrasing (and thinking) of man/non-man . It may be that this mutating to form a new distinction was once how gendered behaviour came to be considered as essential and not exterior or secondary within a said culture. ‘Real' purities and 'essences' can in this manner be ascribed to abstractions. When we believe and accept a binary either/or such as gender, there seems to be 'no way out' of a structure. The trick may be not only the non-acceptance, but also the active non-belief.

"In cyberspace the transgendered body is the natural body. The nets are spaces of transformation, identitiy factories in which bodies are meaning machines, and transgender- identity as performance, as play, as wrench in the smooth gears of the social apparatus of vision- is the ground state..."



B. Male / Female


"Maleness often hijacks personhood, thereby precluding the latter as a shared space for women and children...If we concentrate on 'being a man', we may become sidetracked into considering only ideals of male behavior."



This section will be focusing on Western masculinity in the discussion of male/female, not in order to further fetishise or empower masculinity more than it already has been, but in order to look at the normalised half of a dichotomy which is in some ways more codified and rigid than femaleness- not necessarily in relation to the amount of social control females experience as a result of this structure, but in terms of what the category is supposed to, stereotypically, represent:

“courage, endurance and toughness, lack of squeamishness when confronted with shocking or distasteful stimuli, avoidance of display of weakness in general, reticence about emotional or idealistic matters, and sexual competency.” Cornwall, p. 126.

That masculation could primarily be a result of a cultural process from birth cannot be emphasised enough. From time to time new reports regarding 'biological' behavioural differences between males and females surface, but not a single one of these studies has been able to separate the influence of a binary cultural system on the studies- of course not, it is impossible to do this as we are all participants upon birth within this system and cannot be objective. What is more, there are enough examples of non-standard behaviours available (i.e. passive sensitive men, active assertive women, people loving the ‘inappropriate' gender, etc.) to actually be 'evidence' against the essentialism of this type of socio-biological determinism: how is that so many have managed to 'slip through the cracks' of such a rigid structure, despite the fact that the structure is presented as essential from our birth , despite the fact that boy and girl children are treated disparately from birth (if not by the family, then by the culture), despite the fact that most humans grow up in a culture of heterosexual primacy based on this binary system, despite the fact that most people’s families of origin replicate or are pressured to replicate this primary structure. Most likely, the answer is that the rigid structure of heteropatriarchy is not built on an 'indisputable biological truth', any more than the inverse (homomatriarchy?) might be, were that alternative the more normalised category within a structure .

The heteropatriarchy tends to be built on an ideal of control and structure and, one of the two genders conceived in it is supposed to exemplify, stereotype, be shorthand for this type of rigidity: the male. Theweleit’s observations on a culture of rejection of what is not controlled is a quintessential part of becoming part of the club: to join a coded structure, you stress that you are not non-male, you stress that you are not female. The development of the rigid category is oppositional.

"In the second volume this visceral analysis is fleshed out to include the male 'physis'- the body as a mechanism for eluding the liquid, for incorporating or repelling undesired emotions, thoughts longings. The desire of the male's ego is to be freed from all that can be identified with the female body: with liquidity, with warmth, and above all with a sensuality that is responsive to other human beings. It produces a politics of 'steel hard' (Junger's term) men who 'struggle against the mass and femininity as a struggle to contain the soldier male's fear of desiring production of his own unconscious." Benjamin, Foreword

Implicit in these ideas of the Freikorps is that, though the female is uncontrollable and is therefore frightening, one should strive to control her. According to Theweleit, this is the manner in which the Freikorps fetishised their non-sexual “White Woman” as a paragon of female virtue. It is easy to see connections to such concepts as the Madonna/Whore here, or to a particular type of fetishised fixity of the female body as an object (fixed, controlled) in art movements through the ages. Theweleit and others connect this envisioned fixity- the machine, the masculine- with 'male' roles and activities such as war:

“War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metallization of the human body.” Marinetti, ref. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, ILLUMINATIONS, Walter Benjamin, Fontana, 1992.

And Walter Benjamin argues that war itself, as a mass movement is a behaviour “which particularly favours mechanical equipment” (Benjamin, 244) as a result of needing to control large groups of people. The element of the controlled structure might be another reason that the rigid gender, the masculine, is more encouraged in our culture to participate in controlled regimens: war, sport, religion, etc.

As the Internet was "designed to work in shreds from the beginning"(Shirky, p. xvi), there is no central mainframe and in many ways this makes it difficult to confront in basic 'masculine' structural terms. In the same way as it is difficult for members of an normalised category to understand non-members, the possibly secret ‘unknown’ knowledge of non-members is threatening to the status quo of the norm. At first glance (and historical examples abounding) Internet technology and mechanical technology in general look ideal for the employment of 'masculine' military operations , as indeed was its original purpose. The physical barriers of technology are present and in some situations cannot be surpassed . At the same time, there is no one authority, either, for whatever that means, one contributes to knowledge on the net and I believe that this is one factor which results in a mutable structure.

It is interesting that in the example below, hard/non-fluid 'male' military technology used fluid, non-linear technology as a weapon of war, precisely because its traits are the opposite of the 'male' war technology i.e. shredded, dissolute, unconventionally organised, etc., but 'strategic feminisation' doesn't seem an inappropriate word. An example of the diffused 'feminised' process at work in the Internet is e-mail, in that the messages are diffused, then brought back together at the end ; this process is called "packet switching" : the stereotype of circular 'female thinking', where decision is made after talking around a subject, with no precise categorised direction, is comparable. To people accustomed to a rigid structure, the question might be: what goes on out there in the mysterious ether, it might very well be threatening! People who prefer rigid structures (including masculinity) like to be able to follow and control a process at every step of the way. The irony, as Shirky points out is that despite development as such, the Internet was problematic to military technology:

"Indeed, in 1993, the United States Military proposed removing the entire military network (called the .mil domain) from direct contact with the Internet, because the openness of the network made it incompatible for military work." Shirky, p. xviii.

It makes one ponder the difficulties of using open, democratically-styled mutable structures for covert, privileged and rigid activities, because ultimately the purpose seems to be defeated- in this case, openness did not seem to properly "enforce" a rigid structure .

Virtual space, imagined or the Internet, is implicitly more fluid and mutable than precisely articulated 'real' space. But is not the whole attempt of trying to 'label' and 'define' an abstract space- such as cyberspace- a "masculine trait, i.e. where Shirky thinks that cyberspace on the net is far "more visual and architectural than the text based networks that currently exist."(Shirky, p.4)? Or perhaps this shows a human desire for some form of structure in order to understand and visualise, no matter how mutable and polymorphous that particular structure is . Virtual space, as Stone points out, is not only our century’s new idea . Cybernetic particularities of mutability and flow are indubitably comprehensive yet open to arguments from all points of view. Stone's views on cyberspace, for example, solidify when she discusses a search for the technosocial. I find the whole idea of biosocial and technosocial controlled structure terrifying. This is not about freedom, this is about establishing frozen boundaries, until eventually categories will have no room at all in which to mutate- an extreme of 'masculinisation' of the on-line environment, as in the following excerpt:

"The predominant mode of these emergent forms is what I have called the technosocial, in playful appreciation of Paul Rabinow's theory of the biosocial. Rabinow describes describes biosociality as the gradual impolosion of the categories of nature and culture, exemplified in research into genetics as an extension of structures of civilization over areas formerly considered 'natural'. Rabinow says that "in biosociality, nature will be modeled on culture understood as practice; it will be known and remade through cultural technique; nature will finally become artificial, just as culture becomes natural...The objectivism of social factors is now giving way to... the beginnings of a redefinition and eventual operationalization of nature." When I look for new social forms in cyberspace, it is with this process in mind. I am seeking social structures in circumstances in which the technological is the natural, in which social space is computer code, consensual and hallucinatory." Stone, p. 38.

In the forthcoming section on the Body and the Machine I will be discussing the body/machine split, and whether technology is as new as it seems. But at this point I would now like to introduce into the discussion Donna Haraway's notion of the cyborg, which is a mutable category, it lets us see a way out of our essentialist structure through morphing the structures themselves . What is more, it references a cyborg which is specifically female . I am, however, going to be looking at a cyborg which is feminine, but not necessarily female, a cyborg which can be regarded as a technique/tool for perverting a masculine structure and is proved useful while remaining a non-essentially gendered being: with it (and as it) we can begin to explore mutations, blurring, interbreeding, the flowing of many categories, amongst them race and sexuality. Also, and Haraway mentions this as well , category norms can also make use of cyborg theory to sustain the structural paradigms. A recent example would be the Promise Keepers, an "all-male, Christian, Fundamentalist movement" who, as Ed Vulliany puts it in The Observer, have the genius to have "cut through both camps [of traditional and non-traditional masculinity]: These men never stop going on about their 'hearts and souls', yet they are about as 'post-sensitive' as you can get when it comes to the chain of command." (Vulliany, 15 October, 1997, The Observer), similar to Robert Bly's "Iron John" men's movement, where men are allowed to be sensitive within ritual spaces, but where there is an extreme essentialism regarding male behaviour, which is encouraged. Is this an example of the power of a mutable category through a partial concession to a 'new social order'? In regards to ‘accepted’ divergence within a structure, perhaps the power women have in a strict patriarchal structure is based on an idea of checks and balances , allowed power, rather than an outright challenge by partiality or hybridisation, so that the culture structure remains 'intact' even with allowances for (acceptable) divergences on the part of women. So the question then becomes, will using the dominant discourse of the norm further the emergence of non-normalised categories? I am hesitant to say that it does. ‘New feminists’ Arthur and Marilouise Kroker suggest that even as a blurring of categories takes place, the attached norms don't immediately dissolve, so that we get reflections of reflections of power which ultimately equal: power .

This is the problem of intolerable structures. It remains difficult to fight a system from the inside (the de-constructive mode) because the language and rules and signs remain those of norm (or version), and at best, if in fact the source of power is toppled (or blurred) or reversed, what results is often just a new occupant of the top seat (not a new system) reliant on previously spelled-out dichotomies and essentials . If no resistance occurs, then the culture remains a culture of simultaneous inversion and repression of the non-normalised category. And what happens when such a category attempts to challenge the structured status quo is often the territorialisation of the trangressor, so what was once frightening and threatening to the dominant category becomes 'safe' or 'sexy', conveniently categorised, not really mutating or morphing the structure whatsoever (an appropriate example might be Spice Girls Feminism- sexy, apolitical 'Girl Power'). In many ways it parrots the normalised patriarchal structure's dictations for women but (and this is an important 'but') then again, how do we know that it is not highly influencing members of a new generation of small girls to feel more powerful than they would otherwise and who act on this accordingly. This is, again, the downfall of easy categorisation (even of what could be considered ‘feminist’, as in the above example)- it is a stereotyping tool and does not represent everyone. The danger is that it claims to do just this. Otherwise we start believing that power, reversed, really does equal power.

My challenge to culturally-incorporated Spice Girls Feminism is that the first premises have never been sufficiently challenged, hybridised or cyborgised to negotiate a new understanding or change in the original, in this case patriarchal, structure. There are numerous examples of this, I believe: Republican African-Americans, most Freudian feminists, comic book 'heroines'. And again, in a long-term outlook, perhaps these have, after all, successfully ‘challenged’ the first premises of an elemental structure. Perhaps we tend to see things in short-term, i.e. the space of our own life-spans. Are these aforementioned cases examples of successful category fluidity or mainly a retainment of rigidity? I would argue that it is not successful in challenging the system if it becomes the system, with the proviso that perhaps the exception is if a system itself intensely mutates in order to incorporate, i.e. how members of the Internet community deals with AmericaOnLine newcomers, according to Shirky (Cultures of Internet). This would be in my opinion a tolerable structure . But this tolerable structure does not seem to occur until the actual binary-oppositional system of, for example, normalised gender categories, have been challenged and mutated, not merely challenged and untouched in a reverse-of-power strategy.

And this is why the intolerable dichotomised category structure is problematic even when it is inverted. 'Male/Female', and taken a step further into a same-sex culture of lesbianism, 'Butch/Femme', tend to only exist in a vacuum/or in a fetishised staticity if unaccompanied by their opposite Other, but only in essentialist gender systems. What is more, these first essentialist systems go on to establish new norms and prescriptions. Just because something is a result of a culture doesn't mean it is an innate. In regard to sexism/male-female boundaries on-line, "Programmers..believe there is no sexism in their games, just as they believe there is no sexism in their lives." (Stone, p. 162). The Internet and new technology retain in many ways the culture they sprang from. Even Virtual Reality, MUDs, the wonders of the Internet, Stone suggests, won't solve our society's inequalities, many based on essentialist beliefs- we have to do that, within our own system of per/version .

"I am transferred into the microsoft: aroused and electric."








C. Heterosexual / Homosexual



I referred to a 'culture of heterosexuality'. Just as I believe that it is impossible to discern biological from cultural factors regarding gender because of immersion in culture from birth, so do I also believe that it is impossible to prove the 'innateness' of any sexual preference. But, as in the argument regarding male and female behaviour in the previous section, the large number of those who do not fit the strongly acculturated given (heterosexuality) despite being brought up in that very culture does cast some doubt on heterosexuality’s 'elemental' nature. Scientists often turn to biology and animal observation or reproductive arguments to prove the essentialism and naturalness of heterosexuality- but they then often anthropomorphise their findings, for example, if one were to state 'this species of lizard usually has two or three wives' (as I once saw on a sign in the Djurgarden Zoo in Stockholm, Sweden), making their ‘research’ very circular. Additionally- although there has been some research on animal non-heterosexual sexual behaviour- it is most often ignored or, particularly in the case of other primates, described as 'practice-mating', 'grooming' or 'domination mounting' . For example, even masturbation, certainly a common enough occurrence, is rarely mentioned. I mention these as basic examples, but yet cultural academics have tried to make use of animal biological determinism, like socio-biological determinism on gender, as proof positive of essential sexuality categories.

There has been a great deal of writing recently concerning the development of the category 'homosexual' in the last two centuries, so I will not be specifically discussing homosexuality’s development, except in the case of oppositional development to another equally fabricated (mono)category: heterosexuality. Foucault, among others, has effectively pointed out the different ways of viewing gender, sexuality and sexual practices in other cultures, which serve to remind us that these other cultures had diverse ways of viewing sexuality , some occasionally as equally rigid as our own culture’s sexual prescriptions.

A culture of heterosexuality may result from members of our culture who have accepted the regimens of the normalised category would need to distinguish and self-define themselves from an Other in choosing a mate who, ideally, would be nothing like their (rigid, codified) ideal for themselves . Perhaps these distinctions might have once originally been based on superficial and relatively schematic physical differences, although this would hardly constitute a biological essentialism of sexual behaviour- just perhaps an explanation why some sexual behaviour might be deemed more 'natural' than other sexual behaviour. This acculturation may or may not have much to do with whom we deem it acceptable to fall in love. If a person, ostentatiously a member of the normalised category, would begin to exhibit behavioural traits of the ideal (or prescription) for the Other, then that would be threatening as it calls into question the 'reality' of the norm in the first place . It is not for nothing that men who engage in bisexual or homosexual behaviour are labelled effeminate, since they represent a threat to the coded structure itself. The revealing aside here is that in some present-day heteropatriarchal cultures, the man engaging in same-sex sexual behaviour who is 'fucked' (read: penetrated) as a woman is 'fucked' (read: penetrated) is considered a homosexual (a “gender traitor” in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) while the active, ‘penetrating’ participant retains his coded masculinity. It could even be suggested that as roles are slowly equalised in a culturally binary gender structure, so might the predominance of one type of sexual preference system diminish with the appearance of alternative preference categories also being there for the choosing. It is therefore difficult to separate discussion of 'gender' and 'sexuality', as Jeffrey Weeks points out in Pleasure Principles: “...sexual and gender identities were locked together: manhood, in particular, was defined by refusing the temptation of homosexuality.”(Weeks, 4).

Klaus Theweleit, on the other hand, makes the point that it is not male homosexuality per se, but femininity that is so fearsome to regimented masculinity- male homosexuality becomes threatening in its relation to femininity. According to Theweleit's social interpretation, expressed male homosexuality is feminine, unexpressed military male homosexuality is masculine. He proposes that especially in military homosexuality that male misogyny/ homosexual desire is a reaction to undesired traits associated with women. Here Theweleit makes insufficient distinction between acculturated femininity and women. Also, to define male homosexuality as primarily a reaction to women and not as a behaviour on par with heterosexual relations privileges heterosexuality as a norm- though Theweleit did make a distinction between military 'unexpressed' homosexuality and sexual love between men. Theweleit doesn't sufficiently contest, I feel, the reason why certain traits are attributed to women and indeed Theweleit seems to accept that these 'fluid' traits are essential traits of women , so that in one way or another, the accumulation of his arguments seems to be that while the masculine behaviour detailed is clearly pathological, women are nevertheless essentially fluid/wet/uncontrolled. In addition, Theweleit doesn’t really challenge the structure even while he recognises its inequalities. In fact, his essentialism validates the inequalities of patriarchal structures and acculturated coding.

When men don’t follow masculinist codes of behaviour they are often accused of being homosexuals. Significantly, the fear of a dissolving patriarchal structure is represented as a contagious disease. Uncontrollable disease with its spreading and far-reaching traits again bears relation to the 'uncontrollable femininity' of the Internet. Of course, one of the mutable exceptions to the rule involves a man retaining some of his masculine privilege if he is actively 'fucking'/penetrating another man, as he is in control and not the 'woman' in the interaction.

An anxiety of women’s sexuality in the absence of men, while not being addressed fully in this paper, is also significant for its connection to the uncontrollable elements in a structure. One example given is women’s sexuality in relation to Carnival, where non-ascribed sexual and social behaviour can be acted out , similar to how Katie Argyle in Cultures of Internet describes the Internet as carnivalesque, breaking taboos in a transgression of cultural roles (p. 137). Is not Carnival a socially prescribed outlet of desires not normally deemed acceptable? Is this an example of normalised 'fluidity' within a structure? Social structures, it seems, often involve some form of catharsis to purge unwanted behaviour. This seems to be an example of regimented non-conformity, structures containing implicitly mutable behavioural prescriptions and, once more, ‘allowed divergences’.

Acculturated sexuality has to do with belonging to a human group, a category in Western society [heteropatriarchy, call it what you will...] which influences a large portion of individual 'choices' through prescribed category creation , in this case, a culture of heterosexuality. This applies to eroticism and erotic fantasies as well, for how can we separate ourselves from the fantasies of our culture? The traits which are in actuality culturally ascribed to categories of gender, sexuality or race, for example, start to be considered by large groups of people as essences, and are not challenged as they ought to be. This is why Theweleit can describe yet not entirely challenge the “male fantasies” of 'female' fluidity, dissoluteness, etc. in what seems to be essentialist, unquestioned terms. If a challenge to these codifications takes place and these 'female' traits aren’t considered biological essences, then it becomes more necessary to source, rather than just record cultural fantasies- as widespread “cultural fantasies” indicate accepted and uncontested norms of a structure .

Additionally important, and related to the idea of culturally ascribed 'essences', is the 'phenomenon' of people who, after not fitting into a normalised cultural category (i.e. heterosexuality), take on the dominant culture’s ascribed traits of the per/version- in the example of a 'homosexual acting like a homosexual' (camp, butch, frivolous, etc.) because this is what she or he associates with the category and how he or she can convince themselves that they embody the 'biologically determined essence' of homosexuality and can take pride in it . This is perpetuated by the gay and lesbian community by comments such as 'He’s such as queen, why doesn’t he just come out?' or 'I was always gay, I was a tomboy even when I was seven'. Notably, it is not necessary to detail how a heterosexuality receives an affirmed 'heterosexual' into its midst, because there is seldom any suggestion that heterosexuality might not be considered an essence of human behaviour, even in 1997. Again, however, perhaps the behavioural traits of an individual 'homosexual' actually have nothing to do with their sexuality at all. How can we determine the essence vs. culture split? The answer is that we cannot. And my response to this is that in the absence of provable essences (and this absence covers, inevitably, most essences), they cannot be assumed.


D. Version / Per/version



"Every deviant who has been denied privilege knows this with a certainty. We've been programmed to view different, deviant, as sick, weird, or perverted. We've been taught to view the "sickness" of difference as needing intervention by mental-health, medical and law-enforcement professionals. This seems insane to me. Without perverts, there is no creativity, no difference, no ability to see, feel, or hear anything new. Anyone different is by necessity perverted and deviant. Therefore, any thinking people must be deviants, perverts." Brandeis, p. 62.



Up until this point categories have been discussed in terms of their ultimate non-reality and occasional usefulness, looking at wide patterns and making generalities. When microscoped, categories do not and most likely should not be made to represent the individual. Perhaps if we were trained to recognise categories as mutable and systematic tools with purposes chosen by the user, our culture might become more relativistic and less rigid. In some ways, dependence on monary and binary systems has begun to morph into the heteroglossia of multiculturalism, and hopefully with this change some of the strict dichotomies and inequalities of system such as race, age, class and gender might also become more flexible.

Nearly every individual in a rigid social structure, examined closely enough, represents a perversion, for it is very difficult to constantly meet, unfailingly, all criteria. But yet the individual who succeeds at meeting this criteria (though certainly an exception) is considered the version. This is not to say all other perverted individuals represent a unified whole, either, for then again we would be flipping a dichotomy upside down. No, for the perverted differ from each other in their perversions; their communality is their dissimilarity from version.

If perversity is choosing the unscripted, fixity can still, perhaps, exist in the staticity of fetishisation. Of course, as discussed, this particular type of staticity certainly exists- and probably with greater frequency- within a structure as well. Some alternative sexual modes/"perversions" such as BDSM are rigidly codified but yet allow a certain degree of flow and mutuality. In fact some of the pleasures in these alternative modes are those reached in the fluency (i.e. transport, orgasm, clarity) after the mechanical (i.e. disciplinary spanking session): a transcendence of sorts.

Rather than the extremely common Freudian "polymorphous perversity" (which I would venture to suggest most people continue with throughout their lives in various degrees unless, as Theweleit's Freikorps, completely rigidified ), another type of perversity is the type people engage in after they realise they have been placed in heavily regimented systems: they actively choose perversity.

It would be difficult to discuss Internet structure without also discussing hacking as an active perversity (and I mean that in the best possible sense) within it- so even this relatively 'open' structure has its creative deviants. Stone labels these deviants as "novel and promising", while at the same time she points out that "this production and insertion of a play ethic like a mutation into the corporate genome is a specifically situated activity, one that is only possible for workers of a certain type and at a certain job level..." (Stone, p. 15)

So do perverts make their own versions- are they merely normalising within a smaller sphere than the socially ascribed structure? Probably, but there are also those who gain pleasure from the act of perversion itself as they find the forbidden attractive. I would think this could be present not only in sexuality or argumentation (language), but also in other highly scripted behavioural systems, such as food or religion. The concept of temptation of the forbidden is very antiquated indeed, I suspect.

So, perversion is not the "ultimate in separation, mother-murder" as Stoller would have it (Stoller, Perversion, 150), but a conscious choice to make a category mutable or, indeed, to reject a category altogether, consciously or not.

"They are hackers, perverting the codes, corrupting the transmissions, multiplying zeros, and teasing open new holes in the world. They are the edge of the new edge, unashamedly opportunist, entirely irresponsible, and committed only to the infiltration and corruption which already rues the day they left home."




E. Body / Machine



When a human being possesses non-organic matter as a physical tool and after a category has been created which recognises this matter as a tool (i.e. it has been named as a digging-stick, or a car, or a computer), there must be a point where its function as a channel through which a process is performed becomes automatic and unconscious- the action feels as if it comes through directly to the arm, to the steering wheel, to the keyboard. This process happens once it is known and no longer referential to the tool, a human in this sense becomes cyborg, part machine and at the same time human, i.e. the thoughts of a human painter go directly on the canvas. This can be connected to both the ideas that a culturalised category can become removed from the direct labelling process (the "medium becomes the message") to seem autonomous, and also to the idea that technology is not new: it is an extremely common process. McLuhan refers to this particular process as "numbing the body", in order to connect to an electronic prosthesis . Interestingly, this is also what physically happens to a human body during an REM dream state: the body is flooded by "paralysing signals" from the brain. So in effect, human beings (and other animals, likely), are "machinised" and extended even in neurobiological functions.

In this context we could be considered physiologically cyborg, both human and machine, once we learn 'by heart' to do a task. At the point when a task is 'learned by heart' and becomes automatic, there is a connection directly through to the organic human and one becomes fluent/fluid and can then be expressive, creative. Even something as simple as the way we move our limbs could be a result of this cybernetic learning process. We do not become proficient until we become channels through which processes are performed.

I agree with Deleuze when it is stated that reading "is a productive use of a literary machine- a schizoid exercise that extracts from the text its revolutionary force" (Deleuze, p. 135), primarily because I believe that it is in this act that we have become automatic and fluent- but I do not believe a distinction between the mechanical and the machine is necessary. As for 'biological' cyborg traits with ourselves, experiencing some of this century's newer media, such as television, film, VR and on-line Internet role-playing is very close to experiencing lucid dreaming as I have encountered it, lucid dreaming being a state in dreaming where not only is one aware that one is dreaming, but where one also can control to some extent the dream's environment. The fascination with, popularity and ubiquity of these mediums may be due to the fact that we may have experienced similar sensations even without these 'tools'. Stone even suggests the inverse . But television and film lack interactivity, and standard dreaming and drug hallucinations lack an element of constant control. Is it the combination of these two qualities, interactivity and control, that offer an 'equal' reality? The advantage of lucid dreaming over VR, of course, is the unpredictability of outcome, although control can also be a quotient in lucid dreaming, as some people can 'choose' what they want to experience in this type of dreaming. The interactivity/control element in new media (especially MUDs) is there for a key issue in 'non-linear reality'. Again, the distinction which relegates technology to a specific, elevated (or denigrated) category may be as 'natural' as anything else: a foot which kicks, a word to express, a computer command which connects.

In regard to McLuhan’s “numbness”, does the extension of the human into cyberspace require a numbing of the meat (Internet slang for the body, the 'flesh') at the terminal? Why is it necessary to believe that this split has to take place in order to transcend into cyberspace? As Katie Argyle points out in Cultures of Internet, her terminal body left behind certainly continues to react . Concepts of docile bodies or numbing doesn't seem to be precise or mutable enough here- the body still exists. There is no dichotomised mind/body split unless we want there to be . Perhaps the diffused, dissolute (read: 'feminine') and encompassing nature of the transcendent Internet experience, perhaps these indistinct bodily experiences are, as Bromberg suggests, what makes the Internet erotic . Regarding the eroticism of cybersex, the point at which sex begins has also had a bit of debate traditionally, the categories dictated for 'real' sex range from the vaginal penetration of a female by a male's penis to the more dissolute pleasures of skin being touched by skin, or other objects, or masturbation. Sex can also be defined as that which produces a sexual response in a person, and this looser definition allows cybersex to be discussed as 'real' sex .

Fluid and mutable language, of which one example might be poetry or even the shifting grammar of Internet text , is often the non-normalised complement to 'proper' language . As Shirky suggests, Internet IRC writing could certainly be argued as a 'real' language as much as any other language is- it has the immediate traits of speech, people often refer to 'conversations' on IRC, in which they were 'talking' rather than 'writing' to another person. No longer a referential, secondary category, fluency is attained: IRC conversations become 'real'; the once-static category mutated so entirely that it occupied the space of a new situation or category- the journey from non-normalised to normalised- could be considered to have taken place.

Two new dichotomised cyber-categories seem to be quickly sneaking up on us: the distinctions between 'real' and 'unreal' ('RL'[real-life] vs. 'on-line'. There can be an important distinction between one's on-line girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s) and one's partner(s) in 'real life'. Perhaps their distinctions will eventually diminish, or change, as the set of tools called the Internet becomes more culturally 'natural' and automatic, diminishing what seems to be a cultural need for a controlled structure (in the labelling of experiences, if nothing else).

Amongst other types of role-playing, such as MUDs or SCA tournaments in our culture, there is a sub/culture connected with sex which is deemed as perverted- BDSM, which was previously mentioned in this paper, also called 'powerplay'. Now, there are several reasons why this type of sex play is threatening (not the least of which is that in our culture one is not encouraged to associate sexual union with play), but the aspects of BDSM in which I am interested are that 1) it involves powerplay as a game and 2) that fact that superficially it is highly regimented and scripted, including codes of dress, behaviour and etiquette. The difference between BDSM and the larger patriarchal structure may not seem apparent to a casual observer, other than a possible reconstruction (particularly if it is women-only play), but in BDSM two things vary from a rigid structure in important ways: the sm 'scene' involves, in theory, a consent between both Top/Administer/Dominant and Bottom/Recipient/Submissive and what is more, both Top and Bottom agree on a 'safeword', which immediately stops the scene and returns to 'real time'. This is a prime example of a tolerable structure which is both highly codified and fluid (fascist-flow, perhaps?) for those within it, but the implications for on-line BDSM-play (which is widely varied on the Internet) are enormous. In real-life BDSM, communication is key. Codings are sometimes explained through a 'hanky system', where tops, bottoms and switches wear handkerchiefs signalling their taste for different acts and which role they want to assume that day. These acts can range from light bondage ('flagging' [showing] a grey handkerchief) to flagging orange for 'anything goes'. Now in cyberspace, unless someone is self-administering spanks, etc. under instruction , the interaction is primarily more of a mental play of domination/submission than sado/masochism (the former is more about domination play, the latter, generally, about bodily sensation). If someone is 'flagging orange' on-line, to what limit can the top in this interaction go? Can they fantasise about killing a person who fantasises about being killed ? How useful are safewords in this interaction, where physical accountability, combined with the anonymity of the Internet, is diminished? A responsible top, of course, would still respect a previously agreed safeword, even if typed. And a sensible top or bottom would simply log out, if requests were too much emotionally. But this details why there does seem to be an important on-line/RL split distinction for the BDSM community, for what primarily seems to be mental safety reasons.

“Interrogate the Internet”, an organised on-line forum which collaborate and publish as an entity, state that virtual encounters “have real-life effects: they are transformative of consciousness. Like drug experiences, people carry their virtual memories into the real world in significant ways.” They argue against the idea that the body left behind has become a docile body , arguing that the 'essence' of a person’s body (essentialism?) is carried through into cyberspace, so that incorporeality exists as a myth . Now, these ideas necessitate a belief in a reality of some sort of body just to the same extent as those who believe in a dichotomised mind/body split. The difference is that “Interrogate the Internet” don’t necessarily require the split (a split which is especially supported by the dichotomisation in Western Christian culture). Still, the body is a physical boundary and no amount of theorising will dismiss that fact . What of Stone's multiplicity of bodies in cyberspace- are these staked-out territories or transcendent (or is the question of multiplicity one of essentialism, as Fuss suggests?)? Maybe the crucial response to these questions is not a 'yes' or 'no', but a 'why'. Haraway addresses why in A Cyborg Manifesto:

"Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalisations, i.e. as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other. Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move- the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange." Haraway, p. 164.

Foucault’s observations of the Ancient Greek term enkrateia (“the dynamics of a domination of oneself by oneself and the effort this demands.”[Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p. 165]) does not freely translate into the English tongue, but perhaps the word stoicism comes closest, as a "masculine" drawing of boundaries and a closing of oneself. Does this seem to happen when one is terminal-bound at the Internet? On the contrary, one is opened up, borders are dissolved. There is not a concretised body/mind split. One is feminised into the Internet.

Haraway discusses cyborgism as a process of translation. I agree with this, but particularly, maybe, it is not just the intellectual or social hybridism, maybe it is not just the modified physical cyborg body, but maybe, physiologically as well, cyborgism is one of the few structures to which we can say we as humans naturally and essentially belong. What are humans if not permeable sets of systems, constantly acting as flows? As Jennifer Bloomer puts it, "the body is in a sense, a multiply-constituted hatchery, a messy assemblage of flows- blood, organic matter, libidinal, synaptic, psychic".(HM, p. 15). But all of this is set in structured processes- digestive, arousal, menstrual- and within permeable 'containers' (bone, skin).

"Communications sciences and biology are constructions of natural-technical objects of knowledge in which the difference between machine and organism is thoroughly blurred; mind, body and tool are on very intimate terms." Haraway, p. 165.

Blurred and extended, we live in a codified and labelled world. And within our label as human beings and anything else, those of us who are per/verts have the potential to be sub/verts, mutable categories in ourselves; the Internet reminds us of this. We move and flow, we are not entirely rigid, we are masculine and feminine. Cyborg. Hybrid. Mutable Categories.


"Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other."




III. Conclusion




I am going to juxtapose three quotes in relation to ideas of flow and disconnectedness, the first by Klaus Theweleit, the second by Sadie Plant, the third by Clay Shirky.

"Flows have no specific object. The first goal of flowing is simply that it happen (and only later that it seek something out). Writers have seldom given names to the streams in and on which desires flow towards unknown human futures. They are oceans, rivers, springs, surges, or simply waters, the endless movement of this matter without form." Theweleit, vol. I, p. 165

"... if fluidity has been configured as a matter of deprivation and disadvantage in the past, it is a positive advantage in a feminized future for which identity is nothing more than a liability... Her very inability to concentrate now connects her with the parallel processings of machines which function without unified control." Plant, p. 177.

"The net is not that useful as an information source... often poorly categorised, spotty, and irrelevant... [learning to find what is there]... frequently ends with either no information or far too much too information of the wrong sort... Why is the net so popular even though it is not very useful for gathering information- which has been touted as its great promise?" Shirky, p. 7.


Theweleit, not concerned specifically with cybernetic theory except in the sense of the machinised male body, makes the comment that flows tend to initially lack objects. The phrase is echoed in Shirky's suggestion that there is no specific direction when surfing the web, that what one encounters ends up being just that, what one encounters, without a preconception in the sense of a goal ; he goes on to suggest that it is its "poor categorisation" that makes the Internet so popular and exciting. Now Plant takes this idea even one step further, stating that it is precisely those qualities associated with (acculturated into) the feminine that will provide excellent tools on-line: the non-goal-seeking, the lack of objects (of a 'masculine' need for rigid codification in order to preserve a norm)- the fluidity of mutable categories are all going to serve and be familiar to the feminine human (man or woman) in cyberspace.

Within this context of fluidity I have addressed as a strategy an opportunistic morphing of categories. Through an examination of essentialism, I have given examples of the rigidity of culturally essentialist structures which present options as enforced norms. At the same time, I recognised the occasional usefulness and applicability of stereotyping in the context of a mutable system.

I compared a fear of flow and mutability to a fear of femininity and the Internet, as ‘uncontrolled’ factors. All the same, I rejected that women are essentially feminine. Rather, I argued that women, as the acculturated members of a non-normalised category, learn to be ‘feminine’. I contrast this with acculturated rigid masculinity and consider the undefinability, irresolution and undefinability of the feminine as radically challenging rigid, masculine structures. In the course of this argument, I suggest that nonetheless, because of the boundaries of our own culture, we cannot wholly work outside it, thus some degrees of deconstruction, hybridisation and perversion seem to be necessary.

In the speculation over hybridism, I discussed both ‘fluid’ activities with rigid structures and ‘rigid’ activities within fluid structures in connection with the Internet and social gender/sexuality prescriptions. I refer to a culture of heterosexuality, and of an essentialist belief system based on sexual dimorphism.

I discuss a type of ‘chosen’ hybridism- active perversity, and my example for this within the Internet is hacking. I use Haraway’s concept of a cyborg as a device of translation of a mutable category, although I make the distinction that I do not, like Haraway, believe that a cyborg is essentially female, rather that it is feminine. I would argue along with Haraway, however, if her point was (and I believe this is her point) that many women and other per/verts tend to be cyborgised, hybridised into structures which do not name them, or name them as less than a norm.

This is the way out of an intolerable structure: recognise the game as merely that. Cheat at that game; use all of its per/versions, all of its reconstructions, all of its deconstructions. It is, after all, only a game- but what isn’t? Throw the rulebook into the ether and let it float back to you, modified and mutant.


IV. Resources/Bibliography


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Online Resources
"Ambitious Bitch" Gender fluidity CD-Rom
http://www.bent.org/mail/wwc-l/ WWC BBS resource
http://www.fifth-mountain.com:80/~irc BDSM Resource
http://geekgirl ‘Riotgrrrl’-type site
http://www.homealive.org/ ‘Neofeminist’- type site
http://www.pinkflamingo.com Erotic On-line Directory
http://www.powerotic.com/Jane/ Erotic On-line Directory
http://www.renaissoft.com./~dee/femdom/ (IRC) IRC WWW-site
http://www.shadebeyondgray.com/inside.html BDSM website
http://www.stormyleather.com BDSM resource
http://www.superior.net/~poopsie/comflirt.htm BDSM Resource
telnet ironrose Women’s BDSM Chatline