Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My midterm project idea

This is my idea for a midterm is a story that I've begun writing. I want to emphasize the technique that I am using, so hopefully some can give insight or different perspective to what I have planned so far.

The story is about a character "Alex" is essentially genderless until the story almost "lends" to him one through interaction with and judgment by others. He is essentially a straight male who ends up with a man by the end of the first day (thus is bi). When s/he wakes up, she is returned to being "straight" and genderless, until interaction though others teaches the reader that Alex is a girl. The second half of the story is essentially the same, she wakes up with the man from the night before, but ends up with a girl by the end of the second day. [Note: This is an oversimplification, there are serious omissions already.]

My goal here is to almost write from the viewpoint of "He" and "She" as is done in the Lyotard reading we did, except I want to expand on it as a technique for writing that is separated by gender. But my goal here is also to bring to life a quote that resonated strongly with me, from the book "Read my lips" by Riki Anne Wilchins. It's about a transsexual, which is not what my story is about, but it has a bold message about gender as a social construct, the quote is as follows:

"Since her status and legitimacy as a woman will always be at risk, always be determined by and dependent on others, she may find that her lack of contact with sensation grows along with a nagging sense of bodily disorientation. She will wake one day to find herself lost within the unfamiliar landscape of her own body, like a nomad in some strange and foreign desert, surrounded by unknown landmarks, and inhabited by those whose alien features, and distant ways, she can no longer recognize."

So I want to hopefully capture this: A lack of self which grows into a changing person, which emphasizes gender as not just it pertains to a human but how "gender" can in itself be captured in a writing style or technique, like in Lyotard. I also want to bring out this "disorientation," and I think her point in that was so show the disorientation one goes through when they change their gender at a later age, because that individual thinks they know the world until it shifts massively due only to clothing. This to me is the difference of gender: One that can shatter our perception of the world, yet is completely false and invented.

Expanding on the "disorientation" note, I want to keep the reader caught into my way of thinking as it is purely aesthetic. This is not just a "story" but a narrative, so another technique I want to use is quoting other texts. Some religious texts that I love: The Tao Te Ching, Dhammapada, Bhagavad Gita, Liber 777 (and other Qabalistic writings of Aleister Crowley), The Torah, as well as Timothy Leary (his books VERY closely follow and expand on other texts and ideas: The Tao Te Ching, Kabbalah, Tibetan Book of the Dead). Basically, I want to take pertinent quotes about the duality/fragmentation of things as well as about the individual in itself, and use them to underline the reading whether it seems pertinent or not. This is because I want to keep the reader in a state where they realize that this is not a simple story.


Adam Johns said...

One of the most interesting dilemmas I encounter is a teacher is this: how do I deal with genuine ambition when I encounter it? My instincts are to welcome insanely ambitions work - the more insane and the more ambitious the better - but with a couple cautionary notes.

This reads to me more like the description of a book than of a 10 or 20 page project. That doesn't mean you can't accomplish some substantial part of your ambition (which is nothing less, it seems, than an spiritual-aesthetic deconstruction of gender itself -- good for you) within a small(ish) space, but it does demand focus.

I don't have a suggestion for a single "right" way to do this, but your interest in religion seems like a smart starting point...

These texts, most especially the Tao Te Ching, are stylistically radically distinct from most Western writing.

"Know the strength of man,
But keep a woman's care!
Be the stream of the universe!
Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more." (Verse 28, Feng & English)

Here's my argument: many of the texts you are interested in are _not_ narratives -- the Tao Te Ching and Dhammapadda especially. They aren't about events or their representation. One might almost call them anti-narratives.

The verse above first seems interested in "man," then in "woman," then urges that we become like children (hey, Jesus says that too!): gender dissolves into the state of childhood (I think - knowing Chinese would obviously help here).

Here's my point: you're interested in both discrete changes in gender (as in Alex's case) but also a fluidity which precedes/follows/undergirds gender. Discrete changes, of course, make for good narratives: "I was x, now I'm y." Utter or primordial fluidity doesn't make for much of a narrative, though (note the Bible's disinterest in anything about primordial chaos other than God's shaping thereof).

My speculation: you're at least as interested in questioning narrative as such as you are in doing it.

In a Taoist way, of course (think Chuang Tzu), there may be a way of writing an anti-narrative through narrative.

I wonder if that was useful at all...

Jessica S. said...

I am *so* glad you realized the "like a child" part of this. It seemed vivid to me that our notions of gender are drilled into us at young age, and to learn about it at the age of 20+ is really almost returning us to that root, that "not being" from which being comes to be. And I think you are seeing it as such a primordial notion that it is lent to an ontological approach to examine it.

(Not)Being at the age of 20 throws you off a lot, it's disorienting, and I would love to give the reader some of that feeling.

I see your distinction between what does and doesn't make a good narrative, but I think my approach thus far is leading towards your "anti-narrative through narrative".

Right now, I am just planning on getting some results ready to show you. As well, I am looking forward to some more feedback over the blog (if anybody is brave enough). This way, if I am not steering in the right direction, I can get helpful feedback to keep this from ending up as an incomplete book (I think I'll be okay on that note).