Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

What the Zizek?

Okay, so the coda of that last post? About not arguing with Zizek? Screw that.

Highsmith's Ripley is in a way disconnected from the reality of flesh, disgusted at the Real of life, of its cycle of generation and corruption. Marge, Dickie's girlfriend, provides an adequate characterization of Ripley: "...He isn't normal enough to have any kind of sex life." Insofar as such coldness characterizes a certain radical lesbian stance, one is tempted to claim that, rather than being a closet gay, the paradox of Ripley is that he is a male lesbian. This disengaged coldness that persists beneath all possible shifting identities gets somehow lost in the film. The true enigma of Ripley is why he persists in this shuddering coldness, retaining a psychotic disengagement from any passionate human attachment...

I do not appreciate or comprehend the proposed connection between "coldness" and radical lesbianism. Zizek doesn't equate (radical) lesbianism with abnormality, psychosis and self-delusion--but he comes close. How do you jump so fluidly from "not normal enough to have any kind of sex life" to "radical lesbian"? How could a word that denotes a preference for a certain kind of sexual partner ever describe someone who doesn't want any sexual partners? And could we have a little more problematization of Marge's "normal," please?

A primary criticism of lesbianism and lesbian feminism has been that it ignores the biological necessity and basis of heterosexuality--i.e., human reproduction. Historically, lesbian feminists have been attacked for perverting the "reality of flesh" and its "cycle of regeneration." Disengaged from the realities and comforts of straightness (and patriarchy), they are seen as unnatural, unaffectionate, irrational shrews, confused about their true womanly purpose. Zizek clearly did not intend to support this tradition of stereotyping, but his characterization of Ripley as a self-deluding, philophobic, asexual yet still somehow lesbian ice cube does more than a little to shore it up.

This logic reminds me of Jon Pareles reporting on S-K in the New York Times yesterday, suggesting that being an "openly gay" musician writing political lyrics makes you "tediously righteous" and didactic. Forgetting for a moment that he got some people's orientations mixed up, where's the necessary connection? He uses the word "gay" but it's in the context of women, and I wonder whether he would have made a similar comment while talking about gay male musicians. Lesbians get tagged as tediously righteous (cold, perhaps?) in a way that queer men rarely do, and gay men who openly politicize their sexualities can never match the perceived didacticism of queer women. This is because queer women as a group are assumed to imitate male heterosexuality, and queer men female heterosexuality. While a man "acting like" a woman can be cute, funny, and ultimately forgettable, he has no privilege to gain, no power to wrestle. When a woman "acts like" a man it's not funny, just threatening.

Maybe that's why they only let Keira Knightley stay kind of convincingly cross-dressed for about two minutes in PC2. After that it was nice, but awfully "don't worry, she's really a girl!" hair extension city.

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