on style and being

“Chomsky remarks that when one speaks a language one knows a great deal that was never learned. The effort of criticism is to teach a language for what is never learned but comes as the gift of a language, is a poetry already written- an insight I derive from Shelley’s remark that every language is a relic of an abandoned cyclic poem.” –                       —- Harold Bloom

“I can’t worry about Masculinist geeks who don’t read books by women on principle, any more than I worry about lit-snob dweebs who don’t read genre literature on principle. I don’t write for bigots.”                                                                                                                           — Ursula K. LeGuin

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”                                                                                                              —Oscar Wilde

…nothing is absent. all you could know is here in front of you- everything is in the visible . elemental and ancestral knowledge are at the tip of your tongue, literally…

“In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world- in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings”. It is to turn the world into “this world”. (“This world”! as if there were any other.)”                        — Susan Sontag

“In place of a Hermeneutics we need an Erotics of Art.” —Sontag

“Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us,  the soul assumes the form of the body.”                                                                                                             — Jean Cocteau


“Even if one were to define style as the manner of our appearing, this by no means necessarily entails an opposition between a style that one assumes and ones “true” being. In fact, such a disjunction is extremely rare. In almost every case our manner of appearing is our manner of being. The mask is the face.”                                                                — Sontag

“In art, “content” is, as it were, the pretext, the goal, the lure which engages consciousness in essentially formal processes  of transformation.”                                            — Sontag

“The complex kind of willing that is embodied, and communicated, in a work of art both abolishes the world and encounters it in an extraordinary intense and specialized way. This double aspect of the will in art is succinctly expressed by Bayer when he says: “each work of art gives us the schematized, disengaged, a memory of a volition. Insofar as it is schematized, disengaged, a memory, the willing involved in art sets itself at a distance from the world. All of which hearkens back to Neitzsche’s famous statement in the birth of tragedy: “Art is not an imitation of nature but its metaphysical supplement, raised up beside it in  order to overcome it.”                                                                                                      —- Sontag

The idea that all great art is founded on distance on artificiality, on style, on what might be called “dehumanization”… But- the overcoming or transcending of the world in art is also a way of encountering the world and of training or educating the will to be in the world…


“Every style is a means of insisting on something.”          — Sontag


“In what language can impudence be spoken? A national language? Which one? A crossbreed language? How so?”                                                                                                   – Julia Kristeva in Colette


“Colette, who knew nothing of politics, dreamt only of revealing feminine jouissance. In fact, her alphabet of the world is an alphabet of feminine pleasure, subject to the pleasure of men but marked by an an incommensurable  difference from it. There is no emancipation of women without a liberation of women’s sexuality, which is fundamentally a bisexuality and a polyphonic sensuality: That is what Colette continually proclaims throughout her life and works, in a constant dialogue between what she calls “the pure” and “the impure”, describing herself from the outset as a ‘mental hermaphrodite’. ”  —Kristeva


“The formality of style is only an aspect of her participation in Being.”  -Kristeva, Colette



*Illustration by G.F Marlier

I Love Dick, Gravity and Grace, and self-negation/self-abasement as female mystical practice

This is an essay I have already posted elsewhere, but I’d like to have it up here as well, so for those who have already seen it, please excuse the repeat.



I love Dick is a stunning foray into the little-discussed mystical practice of ego-disintegration through relentless, unrequited love. Chris Kraus references and quotes Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace many times in the book- she also gave the title of that book to the film she is working on throughout the narrative- and I find this book to be indeed a brilliantly creative commentary on /extension of Weil’s thought. Kraus’ revelations of total humiliation, sexual exploitation, rejection, cruelty… The (common female) experience of being violated, erased, or both, simultaneously or in succession, of always being a plus-one, of being told implicitly or explicitly that one is not a “real intellectual”, that the work, if it includes or is built around a female first person perspective, is “narcissistic”, all are shards of shadow easily thrown from a Weil-ian prism.

Weil was a mystic of self-negation. Like Kraus (see Aliens and Anorexia), she had problems with eating all her life, preferring the power and authorship of self-denial to the physical fuel that is food. She was also a virgin and a person who voluntarily refused the range of earthly comforts in favor of ill-paid physical work. In other words, she placed the spiritual above the physical, and found a realm of autonomy there which she could not fully secure elsewhere.

Our culture tends to associate such self-denial in female-identified humans with weakness. We associate it with pathology, mental illness, self-loathing- with impressionable young women and girls effectively skewered on the male gaze.

We also seem to hold a collective erroneous assumption that women, and particularly young women, have no spiritual life to speak of seriously, or that those who do are somehow “not right”, “not properly female”.

Throughout history the denial of earthly nourishment has been a practice of yogis, gurus, monks and other spiritual seekers who seek to cultivate a state of transcendence, free of ego- who are trying, step-by-step to make it across the line to another, better, more true place. Incidentally, a place which exists outside of corporeality, and therefore outside of the biological sex that for most people for most of history, has spawned gendered life-scripts.

Taking away the mystical nature of women’s self-denial, of their self-exposure to elements that could destroy them, of their testing the limits of their own earthly bodies and in some cases insisting on being the authors of their own suffering and even of their own deaths, is yet another form of misogyny.

As for Dick…

Rumi was a Sufi mystic who sang the merits of doing the work of ego-dissolution in relationship. He says in his poem “Checkmate”-

“Those who make you return, for whatever reason, to God’s solitude, be grateful to them. Worry about the others who give you delicious comforts that keep you from prayer. Friends are enemies sometimes, and enemies friends.”


“If you can’t do this work yourself, don’t worry

You don’t even have to make a decision one way or another.

The Friend, who knows a lot more than you do,

Will bring difficulties, and grief, and sickness-

As medicine, as happiness,

As the essence of the moment when you’re beaten,

When you hear Checkmate, and can finally say

With Hallaj’s voice,

I trust you to kill me.”


The essential exchange here can be understood as one between two humans- a person and her “friend”, however, the “friend” in Rumi is also understood to be God- a divine intervention, and agent of ego-destruction that scours off the shell of human personality to reveal the divine presence in the one being broken down, allowing her to speak with the holy voice of Hallaj, to use this new voice in agreeing to her own destruction, which is actually, in effect, not a destruction at all but a transformation into something truer, more enlightened than what she was before.


In I love Dick, Dick seems most disturbed when he starts to suspect that this intelligent woman is using him not for sex (as others may be, like “Kayla”, the “Bimbo on the answering machine”), but as “the Friend”- as an ego-corrosive, as a vital male catalyst in a mystical and intellectual prostration.

What he, as intelligent as he is, has not been in any way prepared by his life and education to process, is that for her their relationship is so profoundly not about him and his dick, but about her and her enlightenment.

Chris says “let me be your lap dog” to Dick, thereby directing their sexual encounter to make herself lower- as low as she can be in relation to him. After all, we can only know our position in relation: She needs Dick because to be lower is to be lower than something or someone outside of oneself.

And somewhere Simone Weil intones:

“la pesanteur fait descendre, l’aile fait monter.:

quelle aile a la deuxieme puissance peut faire descendre sans pesanteur?”

(Gravity causes downward motion, a wing causes rising motion-

But what wing to the second power could cause a lowering without Gravity?)