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Dr. Chase Dimock

Assistant Professor of English at Broward College and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

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As It Ought To Be

From the Same Source as Her Power: A Threnody for Adrienne Rich

How do we account for and preserve a writer’s power after she dies? At the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, any researcher who wants to access the lab books and notes of the legendary scientist Marie Curie must first sign a waiver acknowledging the danger of leafing through her papers. Over a hundred years after Curie’s discovery of radium and polonium, her lab book is still radioactive enough to set off a Geiger counter. Perhaps this is why when I heard of Adrienne Rich’s passing last month, I immediately thought of her 1974 poem “Power” about Marie Curie. Just as Curie’s words literally radiate from her pages with the physical properties of the power that she discovered, so too does Rich’s six decades of poetry continue to empower the reader with her social critique and introspection.

The Poetical is the Political

In the past few weeks, several obituaries and memorials have been written to commemorate the life of Adrienne Rich after she passed away from rheumatoid arthritis at age 82. In every remembrance, Rich’s status as a “feminist poet” comes to the forefront and in the process of assembling a biography, the age-old rift between politics and poetics, art for art’s sake versus art for raising social consciousness, is still being waged over Rich’s death. Most of Rich’s critics and detractors over the course of her career dismissed her work as overly polemical, accusing her of sacrificing poetics for politics, as if these are somehow mutually exclusive entities. As Rich herself once said, “One man said my politics trivialized my poetry…. I don’t think politics is trivial — it’s not trivial for me. And what is this thing called literature? It’s writing. It’s writing by all kinds of people. Including me.” For Rich and other feminists who came of age under the belief that “the personal is the political”, it was impossible for the deep introspection of poetry to not find the political oppression of gender and sexual non-conformists as inextricably determinative of one’s psyche and soul.  Rather, Rich would contend that to believe poetry could be written outside of the political is to naturalize one’s worldview and political privilege. Being “apolitical” is the privilege of those who have power.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

The Surreal Sex of Beauty: Jean Cocteau and Man Ray’s “Le Numéro Barbette”


In 1923, the American acrobat Vander Clyde better known by his stage name “Barbette” made his theater debut in Paris at the famed Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère and captivated the French artistic community with his show. Yet, his success was not merely due to his death-defying high wire or trapeze acts. Rather, what built his reputation and fame was his uncanny female impersonation as he performed his stunts. Most who saw Barbette for the first time were completely unaware of his true sex, but as Barbette’s renown grew in Paris, audiences poured in knowing they were witnessing the feminine graces of a man, yet captivated by how willingly they bought into the artful deception. During his days on the American Vaudeville circuit, Barbette’s revelation of his male gender at the end of his show may have shocked the audience, perhaps with laughter and the occasional moral offense, but in Paris, his act transcended the carnival aesthetic of oddities and shock value and was appreciated more as an art akin to ballet.

This appreciation for Barbette’s artistic sensibilities came as his act was embraced by the Parisian avant-garde and explored in the works of two surrealist artists, the French writer Jean Cocteau and the American photographer Man Ray. In 1926, Cocteau commissioned Man Ray to take a set of photographs chronicling Vander Clyde’s physical transformation into Barbette before a performance. In these photos, Man Ray presents Barbette in a stage half-way between average man and the over the top show girl outfit that completed Barbette as a character. Barbette’s wig is on and his face is made up, but his chest is bare and unmistakably a man’s. For Jean Cocteau, this state in between genders, in between sexes constitutes the essence of Barbette as neither a man impersonating or transformed into a woman, but instead as a being that takes advantage of the fluidity of aesthetics and theatrics to render gender and sex amorphous, constantly in a state of movement. I examine how surrealism supplied a discourse for theorizing an aesthetics for visualizing the possibilities of Barbette’s play of gender and yet how Cocteau and Man Ray had to work against the conventions of this fundamentally masculinist movement by examining the long repressed queer dimensions of the unconscious that even surrealism feared to unleash.

(Full article available at The Qouch)

Robert McAlmon’s Psychoanalyzed Girl and the Popularization of Psychoanalysis in America

A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises and he typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to publish works by such luminaries of the modernist movement as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Nathanael West. Yet, his own reputation as a writer never reached the heights of those that he helped.

As a bisexual man in what most presumed to be a marriage of convenience to lesbian poet Bryher (H.D.’s longtime partner), McAlmon was one of the first American writers to depict the queer subculture of American expatriates. In Distinguished Air: Grim Fairy Tales, he detailed the exploits of Berlin’s cabarets and in the recently rediscovered The Nightinghouls of Paris, he dished on the queer affairs of the writers that inhabited the bistros and bars of Montparnasse during the famed expatriate period. I have written on McAlmon’s biography and poetry in greater detail in this previous article.

The story below comes from McAlmon’s first book of fiction, A Hasty Bunch. James Joyce himself suggested the title to McAlmon, commenting on the speed with which he wrote the stories and their roughness. By reading just a few sentences of the story, it is apparent that Joyce’s judgment is well justified. “The Psychoanalyzed Girl” should be considered part of McAlmon’s juvenilia as its awkward phrasings search for the more polished voice of ironic detachment and sardonic wit that would come with his later, more mature work.

Nonetheless what I find fascinating about this piece is its place as a cultural artifact of the influence of psychoanalysis on the Lost Generation of American writers. McAlmon’s opinion in this story is none too favorable. He satirizes the hyperawareness and self-centeredness that psychoanalytic therapy causes in his friend Dania, depicting her as perpetually self-analyzing and becoming progressively more alienated from her own reality as she obsesses over self-knowledge at the expense of self-experience.

(Full article available at The Qouch)

I Was a Male Chat-bot: The Turing Test, Artificial Intelligence, and Gender Online

Three summers ago, I made ten dollars an hour plus commission portraying “Jessica”, an online shopping assistant program designed by InQ serving the WhiteFence.com website. On WhiteFence.com, a customer can purchase phone, cable, internet service, and other products specific to their address. If any questions about the products or ordering procedure were to arise, the customer could initiate an online chat with Jessica simply by clicking on her picture in the upper right hand of the page. Jessica looked the part of an intelligent and congenial assistant with blond hair pulled back, a collared white shirt, and a pair of stylish librarian glasses. However, this image of Jessica rarely resembled the individual who answers questions as Jessica. In fact, in the first two months of the WhiteFence.com account, all of the agents working as Jessica were males of ages 20-40. The InQ office was filled with Jessicas working on different websites such as bellsouth.com, sprint.com and vonage.com, all corresponding to roughly similar pictures of the blond, attractive woman ready to answer all your questions. As agents, we were encouraged to maintain our “Jessica” identity at all times. Jessica provided a human face for the website, a form of branding which personalizes an online experience usually marked by anonymity. The overwhelming majority of customers fully bought into the Jessica masquerade, often typing personal testimonies of their trials and tribulations in trying to get their phone connected and appealing to Jessica’s implied sense of personal concern and warmth. Jessica was always sympathetic, but she was also a saleswoman, trained to guide customers to the latest long distance plans and rebates so she could make a fifty cent commission on each sale.

(Full article available on As It Ought To Be)

Removed from Society: The Prison System and the Geography of Nowhere

As the threat of Hurricane Irene loomed off the eastern coast last week, it was discovered mere hours before its arrival in New York that despite the city’s historic mandatory evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents, there was no plan to evacuate the estimated 14,000 prisoners held on Rikers Island. With the swift and efficient evacuation of the free citizens of New York, Mayor Bloomberg and the city government were praised by the media for taking steps to avoid a possible Hurricane Katrina style catastrophe. Yet, by failing to evacuate the prisoners of Rikers Island, they set themselves up to the possibility of replicating one of the most egregious episodes of human rights abuses surrounding Hurricane Katrina: the abandonment of the prisoners of the Orleans Parish Prison. According to the ACLU, prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison were left locked in their cells as the flood reached the prison and were left without food or water for days until they were evacuated.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

The Problem With Gay Capital

It seems as though every week in the world of LGBT activism there is a new company that comes out as an enemy of the community. We immediately speak of boycotts, launch anti-company X groups on Facebook, and launch into personal declarations of “I’ll never shop there again” and “product X sucks anyway, product Y is much better”. The most recent corporation to be placed in the position of company X is Chick-Fil-A, which was exposed as having sponsored the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s “Art of Marriage” conference. Chick-Fil-A is a particularly transparent and accessible target for LGBT activists because they have made relatively no attempt to conceal the conservative Christian values of their founder S. Truitt Cathy or the conservative causes to which they have donated funds. Other corporations that have recently been the talk of an LGBT boycott include Target, Coors, and Domino’s for their donations to conservative lobbying organizations and think tanks. Yet, as we compile and edit our lists of boycotted companies versus “gay friendly” companies, the specific reasons why they merited their positions becomes obscured and ultimately they retain only the mere label of being good or bad for gays under the broad assumption that one political stance could be in the equal interest of all LGBT identifying individuals.

(Full article available on As It Ought To Be)

Dispatch from West Hollywood: A Booklist on the Pre-History of Pride

June is GLBT Pride month, which means for most (including myself) festivals, parades, 18-dollar cosmopolitans, and picking glitter out of my hair until early August. At the West Hollywood Pride parade last weekend, the marching pageantry of floats and performers compressed the collective unconscious of gay culture into a one mile long rainbow yoking together sobering identity politics with unfettered bacchanalia under the all-encompassing banner of pride. We queue the Trevor Project volunteers and their solemn reminder of queer youth suicide a few slots after a float filled with go-go boys in Speedos and yet somehow neither disrespect the memory of those tragically never given the chance to join us nor completely kill the buzz of merriment and libido. Rather it reminds us of the broad spectrum of what we must fight for: the right to be subjects of our own desire. This is a desire that ranges from a teenager’s right to realize his or her gender and sexual identity without shame or persecution to an adult’s right to mould and sculpt their own body into the shape of their own desire.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

Robert McAlmon: A Lost Voice of the Lost Generation

A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises. He typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses, and due to the convoluted system of notes and addendums in Joyce’s manuscript, the voice of Molly Bloom that the first generation of readers received was actually McAlmon’s interpretation of Joyce’s. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to publish works by such luminaries of the modernist movement as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Nathanael West. Yet, his own reputation as a writer never reached the heights of those that he helped.

(Full Article at As It Ought To Be)

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