- Cruising the Performative: Interventions Into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Sexuality
Editors Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster have compiled a provocative anthology of essays on interdisciplinary performativity from their “Unnatural Acts” conference. Most of these writers focus on non-traditional performance spaces; Jane C. Desmond is one exception. In her “Performing ‘Nature’: Shamu at Sea World,” the performers are whales. Desmond brilliantly reads the manipulations of capital and the psychic imposition of “family values” onto the Shamu show, as it blurs and warps the nature/culture dichotomy. Michael E. McClellan provides a historical parallel in “‘If We Could Talk with the Animals,’” which recounts the anthropomorphization of elephants by eighteenth-century scientists, who projected heterosexual “romance” onto the elephants’ responses to the Paris Opera orchestra music played for them.
Class serves as a focal point for Ellen Brinks’s study of Barbet Schroeder’s giddy Single White Female, and the tripping point of Cynthia Fuchs’s “Michael Jackson’s Penis” and Jennifer DeVere Brody’s “Hyphen-Nations.” Brinks extends a Lacanian reading of lesbianism in Single White Female as mirror stage exchange into a more surprising Baudrillardian reading of identity as a commodity subject to laws of interchangeability. Brinks shows that the pathology of the film’s Hedy lies not so much in her closeted lesbianism but rather in the interchangeability that allows her to perform the heterosexual in her guise as Allie. Identity here is reduced solely to performance. Fuchs observes that Michael Jackson’s penis is a “problem” with cultural dimensions, but does not consider how Jacko’s fiscal potency quite literally affords him the psychopathologies which render his sexuality monstrous. Brody’s “Hyphen-Nations” champions pluralism and multiculturalism in the hyphenated American but does not answer a key question: as the privileged white classes develop strategies to retain their privilege and proponents of PC bring the margins to the center, what really remains at the margins?
Three essays specifically address issues concerning the performativity of national culture. Katrin Sieg’s “Deviance and Dissidence: Sexual Subjects of the Cold War” writes a chapter in the narrative of Marxism’s antagonistic relationship with homosexuality. Sieg discusses tensions between socially revolutionary and sexually reactionary thought during the communist rule of East Germany (GDR). Parama Roy’s “As the Master Saw Her” recounts Swami Vivekananda’s eschewal of the Indian tradition of the effeminized guru, a type later epitomized by Gandhi’s passive resistance, for a more Western masculinized version that would gain respect abroad. Employing this conscious strategy to further the cause of Indian nationalism, Vivekananda paradoxically sacrificed an aspect of his national cultural identity. Marta E. Savigliano’s “Tango and the Postmodern Uses of Passion” begins as an examination of the play of heterosexual roles on the Argentine dance floor, but evolves into a critique of the limits of a supposedly all-encompassing postmodernism. As passion marks the place where performance can become identity, Savigliano’s theorizing seems the converse of Brinks’s.
Ricardo Ortiz, Michael Davidson, and Richard Rambuss all deal with the performativity of gender and gender preference in literature. Ortiz’s “John Rechy and the Grammar of Ostentation” perceives Rechy’s obsessive use of the colon as a narcissistic exercise in literary self-performance and selfpresentation, taking place through the guise of Rechy’s hustler character, Johnny Rio. In his “Compulsory Homosociality: Charles Olson, Jack Spicer, and the Gender of Poetics,” Davidson, like Sieg, points out the ironies inherent in ostensibly revolutionary literary movements that embraced sexually reactionary positions. Both Spicer and Olson exiled the feminine and the female from their circles; in Olson’s case women literally sat outside the classroom. Rambuss’s excellent “Homodevotion” analyzes the homoerotics of Christ in the poetry of John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw, while using the Christian iconography of Jerry Douglas’s gay porn film More of a Man as a provocative counterpoint. As devotional poetry becomes homoerotic...