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Feints and Resolutions

I just finished Jaime Hernandez’s collected Locas, which was Steven’s birthday gift from his parents. (I know this means I’m probably a lousy wife for reading a gift book before its recipient gets a chance, but at least Steven is reading too and it’s not as if I hid it from him so I could finish first.) It ends beautifully, in exactly the way I wanted it to finish because I’m a sap and I want closure but not restrictive closure, and this was a particularly satisfying open-ended ending. I don’t want to say more because, as I said, Steven hasn’t read the book, and while we don’t generally avoid spoilers, it seems a bit cruel to completely unwrap his present for him.

What I’ll say instead is that the whole last story, “Bob Richardson,” is about the spirals we weave around ourselves, the way the identities Maggie and Hopey have created for themselves through their wishes and deeds circle in tighter until real pain and deceptions have to crash in on themselves to contain a new reality. And I know I shouldn’t say stories are “about” things, know that they contain multitudes, but all I mean is that it’s useful for me at the moment to look at the tightening gyre rather than other aspects of the story, which I’m about to contradict by talking about one of them. Best friends Maggie and Hopey love each other and have sex with each other sometimes and have sex with others sometimes and occasionally those times even overlap. Part of the narrative movement, its sway, is Maggie’s understanding of her sexuality and her relationship with Hopey. Hopey seems happily bisexual, or at least consistently bisexual even when not happy, but Maggie considers her situation more complex. Is she really a straight girl who’s willing to make an exception for Hopey (and is it ever true when people say that? I’m too biased to know.) or bisexual or is she really straight and her friendly love for Hopey has just crossed over into the sexual realm? And can she love anyone else as much as she loves Hopey or more or differently? And what about loving herself?

I read Eve Tushnet this morning arguing that lovers’ genders matter in shaping a relationship, and while I wouldn’t use some of the terminology she does, some of what she’s talking about seems to play out in Locas. I think you have to take it even farther, though, and say that not only does your gender matter but your orientation and your relationship history and cultural background and the (gendered) expectations that puts on you, at which point I’ve gotten far away from what Eve was trying to say. Her point, I think, was that gendered behaviors work in such a way that the Venn diagrams don’t overlap much between how Maggie behaves and views herself in her relationships with Hopey vs. any of the men in her life. As far as Locas goes, that seems to be true, but there’s the deeper problem that Hopey and Maggie have idealized their relationship while still treating each other badly. I suppose the real arc of the last story is how they figure out how to be genuine in what they want and who they are, but that’s practically what I was saying before anyway.

This sort of thing had already been on my mind, though, because while we were in New Orleans I finally managed to find a used copy of Emma Donoghue’s first novel, Stir-Fry. I know I could have ordered it online, but somehow the thrill of the chase kept me going for about 10 years, which is a scary thought. I read it as a sophomore in high school and it was a turning point for me, my first favorite book. I managed to change favorite books once a year or so three more times before giving up on the idea of such a thing, but they were all more literary and well-known, and this one remained my sort of personal secret. To go back to Maggie and Hopey a bit, finding the novel was like coming across a lost love and wondering what would have changed in it and knowing how much had changed in me. Can the Obscure Object of Desire measure up as (the book equivalent of) flesh and blood?

In Stir-Fry, shy 17-year-old Maria leaves her little Irish town to go to university and ends up subletting a room in the apartment of two older students, Ruth and Jael, who quickly become the center of her social world. It’s some time before she realizes they’re a lesbian couple, something she’s never had to address before. There are all sorts of swirling emotions, the kind that appealed so much to 14-year-old me, as Maria suddenly worries that her lack of interest in guys her own age means she’s a lesbian, too, and just doesn’t realize it, or that spending all her time with lesbians is going to keep her from ever successfully finding a boyfriend. Meanwhile Ruth and Jael have problems and are both confiding in Maria and dealing with the way they hid their romance from her and still hide it from family members and everyone not in carefully segmented parts of their worlds. Maria halfheartedly pursues male friends as part of pursuit of a “normal” life, and finds it’s not what she wants. Motherly, political Ruth decides to out herself when she speaks at a public meeting. Brash, sulky Jael wants to flirt more and be less responsible. Maria is frightened and entranced by them both. And then before Christmas there’s a sudden break in domestic tranquility and all three women are left re-evaluating and misunderstanding the ties between them. The not-so-shocking resolution involves the understanding that sometimes you just don’t know what you want, and that’s fine. What’s more important is to be able to enunciate to yourself (and, if necessary, to others) that you don’t know and that you aren’t sure and that you’re considering possible outcomes. Clearly this isn’t a story that survives on the shocking new insight in brings or on narrative intricacies, but it’s very well-written and I found myself recognizing phrases I’d scrawled down on the notepad beside my bed a decade ago. It remains one of my favorite of Donoghue’s books because of nostalgia as much as for its own merits, but its merits include the nostalgia. If I’d had Love and Rockets handy when I was 14, I might have read that, but instead I was stuck searching the library for things I’d found in the New York Times book reviews section to puzzle out what it means to be a smart girl, a misfit trying to figure out her place in the world. I didn’t get the same satisfying ending Locas had, but it didn’t end until 1996 anyway. One book ends in a car and one with an opened door, but the message is the same: the future is out there and (even if you don’t understand how this relationship thing works) you’re not alone. And sure enough, whether I’m with characters or real people, I’m not.


  1. Rose says:

    I don’t really feel like editing this, so I’m going to very briefly toss in a reaction to Eve’s piece on same-sex marriage and general love, because I’m not sure I was clear enough last night. Jim Henley heads in the direction I would have, because I think that even if everything Eve says is true, it has no bearing on whether same-sex relationships or any sort of relationships deserve legally recognized status.

    To keep talking about Locas, maybe my core problem with the argument is the idea that bisexuals can stand in for people who are (virtually) totally straight or gay. I’m not sure “people who’ve dated chicks and guys” really do have special insight into what it’s like to do only one or the other. Hopey keeps reminding Maggie that it’s not a bad thing when she (Maggie) doesn’t want to have sex with people she doesn’t find attractive, but clearly Maggie feels some guilt about this. As I recall, this only comes up in the context of other women, and Maggie is torn about whether she finds women attractive or wants to do so in order to be more like Hopey or whether she’s pretty close to straight most of the time. I wouldn’t say Maggie’s awkward, tentatively romantic relationships with women who aren’t Hopey are indicative of what it means to be in a same-sex relationship just because there are so many other factors at play. Similarly, she’s not in some kind of paradigmatically straight relationship when she lives with a man while both of them are wondering what will happen to them when Hopey comes back into her life.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, because I do think having a relationship with a man is typically different in certain ways from having one with a woman but so what? That’s the part that doesn’t make sense for me. Yes, worrying about being outed (if that’s an issue) is different from worrying about getting pregnant (when that’s an issue), but are the women Eve counsels really treating sex with men as if it were sex with women? I don’t think that’s really the best way to look at it, because it takes the system of difference Eve had set up and breaks it down to the point where nothing matters except bodies having sex, which I thought she was trying to get away from. While I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Men Just Suck aspect of Eve’s argument about women who end up at pregnancy clinics, I realize it’s emotional more than rational and that it doesn’t hold up to much of anything. I’m not sure if this difference idea holds up for people who don’t date chicks and guys (or at least want to), either, and so I’m left seeing how this impacts Eve (sort of) and Maggie and Hopey, but not how all these sorts of loves have anything to do with the people who love and their legal and emotional places in the world.

    — 26 January 2005 at 3:50 pm (Permalink)

  2. jamesmith3 says:

    I wish I could speak more intelligently on LOCAS, but it *is* that book I had as a kid. It occupies such a rarified place in my shriveled little heart, it’s hard to know what I really *think* about it.

    I wonder though– is there maybe a value in *not* defining Maggie? One of the things that was always so impressive about LOVE & ROCKETS was the way problems of gender/ethnic/(sub)cultural identity would float to the top in such an off-hand, fluid way. There were no “messages” or “very special” stories. And in a way that gives you freer reign to investigate who/what these people are. And while I think it’s perfectly sensible to say Hopey is bisexual, I almost think with Maggie you have to come up with something different, if at all. She doesn’t love *women*, she loves Hopey. And when she’s not with Hopey, she’s (mostly) with men, who all singularly fail at being Hopey. Regardless of whatever else she might be (female, chicana, a mechanic, straight, bi-curious, etc.), Maggie’s defining feature may be that she is the only truly monogamous character in the book. Hernandez’ driving theme (whatever the book may be *about*) almost seems to be that it’s Maggie’s capacity to love with this intensity that defines her most, and most makes her worthy of interest. I think.

    (It’s hard at this point, though, to filter out the things we’ve learned about them in the time since. L&R is still going on now, and some of Hernandez’ strongest moments are in the new series. Thankfully, it’ll only take another 15 years to get a Volume 2.)

    — 26 January 2005 at 3:55 pm (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    James, yup, definitely! I think the point definitely is the way that these terms don’t always work in real life, and I was trying to get at that by tying in Stir-Fry, but I honestly don’t expect anyone else to have read it. It’s the way that you can’t break anything/one down into constituent parts that makes Locas so successful, I think.

    I think really one of the moments that highlights this best is when Maggie accuses Hopey of not realizing the privilege she has in being able to use her biracial background to be white enough, to fit in when Maggie can’t. It’s ironic that Maggie does say this to someone who is biracial and bisexual and thus has a lot of opportunities to not quite fit in, but I think the real difference is that Maggie is always in flux whereas Hopey is ok with wholeheartedly throwing herself into whatever she’s doing at the moment and letting that define her. Maggie loves Hopey, but I think you’re right that it’s the only fixed part of her identity. There are lots of explanations about how she grew up only partly a part of her family and how she learned to hide characteristics she felt didn’t fit her image, but the core is that she knows she loves herself but doesn’t really know who she is. Hopey’s moments of self-doubt are dramatic because of their rarity, whereas Maggie’s whole personality is self-doubt and dissatisfaction with whatever she’s doing and whatever her alternatives seem to be.

    I’m going to need to get caught up on the rest of the story, since I’ve only read individual L&R issues in no order or relation to each other, but the ending was so perfect for me that I don’t want to do it quite yet. I’m not sure whether it could have been “that book” for me when I was 14, but it is for the person I now realize I was then, if that makes sense, and it holds a lot of resonance for the current me, too.

    — 26 January 2005 at 4:36 pm (Permalink)

  4. David Fiore says:

    this is all very good stuff!

    I’ll be re-reading Locas in a month or two, as we approach the work on my syllabus, so I’ll just listen for now…although I will say that this conception of identity (i.e. i am kind of the same person that I was yesterday because I love–or have a visceral faith in the existence of–the same person or people; NOT because of any inherited characteristics, or reactions/resistances to societal pressures) is the only one that I can accept at all… obviously, a more simplistic conception of identity can have a usefully porgressive political function, but I don’t see how it could mean anything to anyone on a personal/existential level…


    — 26 January 2005 at 5:21 pm (Permalink)

  5. jamesmith3 says:

    For the benefit of all parties involved, I will now avoid the debate wherein I argue the political and personal are not only parts of the same coin, but parts of the same side.

    Maggie’s dissatisfaction with who she is and where she fits is interesting, because I think she’s always known what she is (even as that definition changes). The problem is that whatever definition she’s chosen is always at odds with the culture around her. And so– something David might agree with– her biggest problem may in fact be her desire to belong, full-stop. If she’d just accept being a square peg, she’d probably be okay.

    I’m curious what you thought of the earlier superhero elements? I thought of L&R when Steven last brought up the Spider-Man/romantic comedy angle. That morning, I’d been musing on the poster for the new Will Smith movie, and came up with the beginnings of a theory that an American actor’s career is in decline when he goes from action films to romantic comedies (largely because contemporary rom-coms suck). L&R– both Jaime’s and Gilbert’s stories– started out romantic sci-fi, and rather quickly sloughed off the sci-fi. What’s amazing to me is how natural this felt, and how– upon reflection– it didn’t seem weird to have them rubbing up against each other like that. (Though Gilbert’s earlier style always did list more toward the abstract).

    I am now officially rambling.

    — 26 January 2005 at 7:01 pm (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    Rambling is always welcome, James, because for one thing it makes me stick out less. To quickly and inadequately address Dave’s assertion about identity, though, I think that what “identity” in a simplistic political sense means is what David is already talking about, that affinity with a certain group or concept is a sort of love of something in which you and the someone are both in flux but still linked. I think Dave still won’t buy this, but I’m not sure I’m completely sold on such a relational view of self, even if I don’t have a better one. I want bootstraps!

    As for rockets and superheroes, I liked that having them seemed natural and not having them seemed natural. There’s still a potentially supernatural element in Izzy’s flies and the coincidences that govern the later, more naturalistic stories. Rena never stops being an almost-superheroic figure, even when her humanity and her flaws are on display, and Penny Century still has something special about her, whether super pheromones or something else. Even if the rockets and dinosaurs weren’t around (and it wasn’t clear they disappeared from the world, just that no one talked about them anymore) it didn’t seem that anything had really changed, that the world was any simpler or less goofy (which is not to say I thought it was goofy initially). It made me think of what David Welsh said about the first Scott Pilgrim book, that amazingly unrealistic things happen and it works because the characters never miss a stride or think any of it is odd. There was a lot of that going on when there were dinosaurs, and it didn’t really change once the dinosaurs weren’t around. There were still folks with horns and maybe even witches, but mostly the same family and friend dynamics that were at the heart of the story.

    I think I can speak for Steven to say that he’s entirely smitten with the one panel of talking gorillas in fedoras in the first story. Beyond that, he can talk for himself, but I’m going to have to go reread that post, though, because I think you’re onto something.

    — 26 January 2005 at 7:41 pm (Permalink)

  7. Eve Tushnet says:

    Hi–thanks for the link and the interesting comments! Am huge L&R fan. I just want to clarify one thing very fast: The post you’re quoting wasn’t intended as an argument against same-sex marriage, at all. I can understand why Jim read it that way, but I was initially kind of surprised that he had, because that really wasn’t what I was intending to talk about.

    I do think you’re right that the “treating sex with men as if it were sex with women” phrasing was dumb–I was reaching for cool rhetoric, and missed. Something blander like “not thinking about the possible repercussions of having sex with these guys” would be closer to what I should have said.


    — 26 January 2005 at 10:12 pm (Permalink)

  8. Eve says:

    ps: sorry for spammage, but wanted to say that Rose is also right that in the preg ctr situations it isn’t just about sex, the contact of bodies. It’s about, IMO, an array of gender differences and issues, some of which spring pretty directly from the differences in reproductive roles, some of which don’t.

    — 26 January 2005 at 10:41 pm (Permalink)

  9. David Fiore says:

    Rose, I think that makes sense…the “construction of identity through affinity with a certain group or conept”, I mean…although I still find it troubling…and way too easy, you know? I mean, concepts (or groups–which are also concepts) don’t have “bad days”, or behave inconsistently… so if you’re defining yourself primarily through your relationship with God, or “queerness”, or “femality”, or “working-classness”, or (when you throw this one in, it gets disturbing in a hurry) “whiteness”, you pretty much grease all of the intersubjective friction out of life–and without that, I don’t even understand what’s left! I went through a period in my teens, for maybe six months, where I defined myself primarily through my relationship to “vegetarian-ness”, and lemme tell you, for those six months I was an asshole (although I suppose there are those who might say that this has not changed!)–thankfully, I spent almost all of that period alone in my room…and that’s kind of the point, when you’re thinking that way, it doesn’t make any difference whether you leave your room or not!

    I do pretty much agree with James’ analysis of Maggie’s fundamental problem–but, obviously, the trick of becoming completely comfortable with our own “square-peggedness” is one that no human being has ever learned…which is why the dilemma (and our various attempts–both offensive and defensive–to “solve” it) structures just about every story that I love!

    also, James, I think you’re right about the current trajectory of male movie-star careers! What does that say about our culture? Especially when you consider that this “genre-hierarchy” is basically the reverse of that which was in place during the studio age, when aging male stars (almost of whom, regardless of their aptitude, wound up in romcoms during their twenties/thirties) invariably were “put out to pasture” in westerns and war pictures… (think of Jimmy Stewart’s career–a whole bunch of screwball comedies and melodramas. followed by all of those Anthony Mann westernswhich had least of the merit of being somewhat interesting, mixed with Hitchockian reprieves, in the fifties… and then consigned to the hell of pure action garbage like Bandolero! and The Flight of the Phoenix…even the major exception to this, the very early Destry Rides Again, isn’t really an exception, because it’s basically a screwball western)

    uh, this rambling is catching, apparently!


    — 26 January 2005 at 10:44 pm (Permalink)

  10. Rose says:

    I think I’m not explaining well, David, so I’ll try a little again. I don’t think you were trying to say that each of us has only one person we love and tie our Selves to, right? (As an aside, I think I finally understand why you always say gender doesn’t matter to you.) As far as I’m concerned, “identity” issues are all like that. Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re Vegetarian Dave and that’s all there is to you. In my version of your argument. In my case, I have personal links like the one you brought up to Steven and my family and even in a mild sense to this blog and its readers, and all of that is something I hitch myself to when I get up in the morning as me. But there’s more to me than that. It’s not a primary definition, but it matters that I’m a woman, even if what it means to be a woman isn’t static in my mind. Because I’m an atheist I don’t tie myself to God or God-driven things, but my Catholic parents would link their identities strongly to their conceptions of God (which have changed over time). I don’t look at those parts of myself as being unimportant just because they aren’t people-driven, since they shape the kinds of people-connections I am able to make. I don’t know that this is really how I think about life or identity, but it’s how I’d adapt your schema to fit my understanding better, at least.

    And I ignored James’s comments on this Will Smith romantic comedy entirely because I don’t want to go look and find out what is going on with it. I will have to think about the theory behind the comments, though, because I’m not coming up with a lot of good examples (Eastwood in Bridges of Madison County?) and yet it seems totally plausbile.

    — 26 January 2005 at 11:16 pm (Permalink)

  11. Sean T. Collins says:

    This is a very minor point, but isn’t Hopey a lesbian, rather than bisexual? I don’t remember her ever having any sort of romantic relationship with a guy. (She has sex with that Tex dude, but that’s it.)

    I guess it’s worth noting that I didn’t much care for LOCAS and therefore won’t get a lot of mileage out of a discussion of the nature of sexual identity as embodied in Maggie and Hopey, but I enjoy that you folks all enjoyed it.

    — 27 January 2005 at 3:04 am (Permalink)

  12. Jamesmith3 says:

    Well, don’t break your head on it, Rose– I’m not planning to. Basically, I think romantic comedies are Hollywood’s “pasture” these days, whereas that category was previously reserved for action/adventure films. And, like a lot of what’s wrong with Hollywood, you can probably center the “blame” somewhere between STAR WARS and DIE HARD. Romance used to make money, now explosions do. If you’re young(ish) and good-looking (or wear make-up well), you’re going to go for (and get) those roles with the most exposure. That used to be BRINGING UP BABY, now it’s INDEPENDENCE DAY.

    But Dave, I know you’re not going to settle for such an econ-centric view. I’m afraid I can’t see the bark without the leaves, you know?

    Anyway… I think your identity is a collection of things. Those experiences and people and affinities you claim, and those thrust upon you regardless, and the shit you come up with staring into a mirror. It is certainly “unfair” on a certain level, to say you are “X” because I define you as such. But that’s what language does, and I’m not sure how it would work otherwise. Hell, even without my various categories, I couldn’t claim *anything* as “me” if I hadn’t learned the words from someone or somewhere outside of me. And it’s that inability to ever completely integrate all these things which actually ensures that friction Dave’s talking about.

    I think, for instance, L&R would be a lot less interesting if we were entirely in Maggie’s head– if we didn’t have Hopey to actually receive (and rebuff) Maggie’s love, or Terry Downe to give her hell for it.

    — 27 January 2005 at 3:22 am (Permalink)

  13. David Fiore says:

    James wrote:
    “I think, for instance, L&R would be a lot less interesting if we were entirely in Maggie????????s head???????? if we didn????????t have Hopey to actually receive (and rebuff) Maggie????????s love, or Terry Downe to give her hell for it.”

    Absolutely! Maggie is “grounded” by her ultimate inability to ever get a permanent fix on Hopey…that’s one of the most fascinating and disturbing paradoxes in life–the moment that you get completely “comfortable” with a relationship is the very same moment that the relationship ceases to be a relationship…

    I guess this is my main problem with the whole idea of anchoring one’s identity to concepts (which, as projections of the mind, are very easy to cosy up to!) of any sort… still, when you put it the way that Rose does, I can see where I might be overstating my case… I mean, keeping an open mind and paying attention to/inserting yourself into the various debates that people engage in over the meaning of certain concepts (like “womanness”, “americanness”, etc.) can actually be a great way of “anchoring yourself to quicksand” and preserving the fluidity of identity that I’m privileging!

    oh yeah–James: I agree that economics IS the superficial factor driving this shift, but that still begs the question: why are more people willing to pay money for action than they used to be? Is it just because the technology’s better, and more “realistic” (in an Alex Ross kinda way)? Maybe. But that also doesn’t address the big shift that has occurred in the casting of action films themselves–i.e. when did they start needing the special effects AND the big stars? Take a look at the cast of King King, for instance… Fay Wray is cool, sure, but she wasn’t a star…and the rest of those guys are complete cyphers… the real stars were doing more humanistic projects… Brininging Up Baby is a bad example, because it was a notorious box-office flop, but I know what you’re saying, that’s the type of films that stars were expected to make… I suppose you could say that, in the age of Keanu Reeves, we are no longer sure of the distinction between “star” and “special effect”, and that this comes into focus most clearly in their pairing!

    time to watch Meet John Doe in class!


    — 27 January 2005 at 4:03 pm (Permalink)

  14. jamesmith3 says:

    BUB was a flop? Philistines. I love that movie.

    People will pay for what they have access to. If in one year there are 20 star-driven romances and 5 star-driven action films, I’ll bet you one buffalo-head nickel that the best-picture Oscar will go to a romance that year. Once it became apparent that even really bad action films could make money– not just at the box office, but in ancillary products– the weight shifted. Have you ever read EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS? It’s actually focused on the 70’s, but is relevant here for how it charts the shift brought about (inadvertantly) by Lucas and Spielberg.

    — 27 January 2005 at 7:21 pm (Permalink)

  15. Rose says:

    Great, now I have to read Heidegger AND Gadamer to contribute to this discussion, I’m afraid. Yes, James, I think we live in language. I don’t know if I think of “identity” much, really. To me that’s the word I use (again, this is coming from my history of activism and identity politics) to talk about shared traits rather than about ME ME ME. I don’t know what my identity is, but I could name some things it involves and incorporates, if that makes sense. So while I don’t think Dave’s on the wrong track with the idea of connection and ambiguity, I don’t think any of the things he calls “abstract” are actually unchanging. And I’m stopping now or else I’ll start talking about the pre-Socratics or something. Too much philosophy here (which is not in itself bad).

    Actually, no, I can sum up my position. Dave, why didn’t you watch I Heart Huckabees? It talks about all of this without talking about the gender/culture/whatever issues of identity you don’t like. Are we all connected in a blanket of existence, or is everything in life depressingly random? (I never did get business cards that list my profession as “Cruelty, Manipulation, Meaninglessness,” alas.) Or not quite either or not quite both? That’s my answer, basically.

    — 27 January 2005 at 7:25 pm (Permalink)

  16. David Fiore says:

    oh I agree Rose–there’s nothing fixed about the “abstract’…but people have always been very good at getting around this fact by comforting themselves with dogma (see Eve Tushnet)…For me–the trouble begins when concepts begin “issuing” imperatives (like “homosexual sex is wrong”; or, to take an example from my own sad past–”don’t be friends with carnivores”)…

    Huckabees–I want to see it! This just ain’t a movie-friendly town…I’ll probably rent it as soon as I come across it at the video store…


    — 27 January 2005 at 11:05 pm (Permalink)

  17. jamesmith3 says:

    The great aether has eaten my last post. Either that, or I was possessed by spam and didn’t know it.

    “Great, now I have to read Heidegger AND Gadamer to contribute to this discussion,”

    Good lord, I hope not– I’m about at my limits here as it is.

    — 27 January 2005 at 11:17 pm (Permalink)

  18. Rose says:

    James, you’re right about the ether (sort of)! I don’t know quite what’s up with our spam filter; it moderated me last night. So make sure you scroll up and see what James and Eve and Sean were saying when they weren’t able to say it if you’re into that sort of thing, gentle reader.

    And now I have about a billion responses to make.

    Sean, since this is the easiest, Hopey and Tex seem to have a long-running relationship and there are implications (I think) that she may have had at least casual sex with men in the past. In real life, I tend to let people define themselves, but that’s not always an option in fiction. I’m pretty sure there’s some textual evidence for bisexuality beyond Tex in the text, and I assume most bisexuality is not 50/50. But going by Eve’s initial reasoning, lesbians don’t end up accidentally pregnant when they have sex, and Hopey does. To me, that’s enough to make me think she had to deal with the implications of sex with men, etc.

    Eve, I guess I assumed it was part of a larger argument about SSM, that part of making an anti-SSM argument palatable to people who don’t accept moral reasoning is some understanding that same-sex and different-sex relationships are fundamentally different from one another. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made that leap, but I only meant to say that I thought it tied into your ongoing discussion on that subject rather than reduce all of what you were saying to be about marriage. I wasn’t sure if you were making an argument about marriage, but it seemed you were making an argument that could be part of a later argument about marriage.

    David, I guess I don’t exactly have a problem with moral imperatives. Yours isn’t “being friends with carnivores is wrong” anymore, but “eating meat is wrong for me.” I think the posts you’ve had about vegetarianism (not for a year or so, so you may be a very different you by now) are very similar to a lot of Eve’s posts, really. What she’s saying is, “Look, this is what I believe and why, and here are some arguments that may convince you to take it into your belief system.” Whether or not you’re convinced is up to you, of course, but it still seems to have subjective possibility. And she’s even trying to get away from the “identity” issues you dislike; since good Catholics will already agree with her, she’s trying to sway folks from other identity/affinity groups (as we called them back in my college days) as well as encourage conversation among like-minded Catholics. I know I’m not really talking about your conception of identity and I don’t think I Heart Huckabees will encapsulate it, either, but I do think you’ll like it. I know we’ll be snagging a copy as soon as we can, despite having seen it twice already.

    And finally back to James. I feel stupid, but I can’t even think of any mainstream romantic comedies not starring teenagers (and that seems like a slightly different breed) this year except 13 going on 30, which is interesting in that I assume Jennifer Garner is actually much worse as Elektra. I have no interest in testing that hypothesis. Did I just miss out, or am I not thinking of these things? And is there an earlier progression, because I remember thinking it was funny that Seann William Scott (and I know there’s something funny about the spelling of his name and apologize if I chose the wrong thing) was going to be in some action movie with The Rock instead of stoner comedies. Where are action heroes made? (Um, and I’m not arguing he is one, either…..) Your argument seems totally plausible, but since I sniff at action movies and let mainstream romantic comedies fly completely under my radar, I’m at a loss when it comes to finding proof.

    — 27 January 2005 at 11:37 pm (Permalink)

  19. David Fiore says:


    this might sound like casuistry, but I genuinely believe that there’s a difference between the imperatives that Eve is heeding and my own ideas about vegetarianism (and yeah, I’m the same me that I was last year, at least in this regard!)…to wit–a Catholic (especially a believer who has experienced the desire in question!) who believes that homosexuality is “sinful” is basically agreeing to live their life according to a pattern laid down by a book or priest, or maybe God (do Catholics believe in direct encounters with the Holy Spirit now? Not sure… they used to kill ya for talkin’ that way)… when I talk about not eating animals, and never using them as means instead of ends, it’s because I see them as beings whose reality trumps my own needs… it’s not about my behaviour (sinful or saintly), it’s about their rights (what I owe to others–not to some conceptual Other)… my unwillingness to eat them comes from the same place as my unwllingness to eat–or abuse–people… I’m not looking for any kind of a reward for this…

    I will say that, in its early stages, my vegetarianism was very much analogous to a doctrinaire Christian’s belief system–I was one of the “saved” because I was living right, and as far as I was concerned, everyone else could go to Hell (if I had ever actually believed in Hell, that is!)… but my resolve crumbled, because there are just too many people out there that I liked, and I no longer would even want to believe in a system that punished persistent carnivores as Catholicism punishes unrepentant sinners… the last hurdle, for me, was giving up the notion that I could never date/love/etc. anyone who ate meat… in my very early twenties, I still believed this, and, back then, my girlfriend and I often slipped into some very Cotton Matherish delight at the thought of carnivores “reaping the whirlwind” (she was always a little more into it than I was–and I seriously worried that she would one day make good on some of her more murderous promises!)… I guess “vegetarianism” was still a part of my identity/metaphysics then–but, at this point, I’d say it’s just a part of my life…

    does that make any sense?


    — 28 January 2005 at 1:17 am (Permalink)

  20. Rose says:

    I guess I was talking about you sharing the same sort of discursive purpose rather than having parallel belief systems. I do disagree with your characterization of Catholicism a bit. I mean, really, the whole idea of a sin is that it’s something you want to do and have to stop yourself from carrying out. Otherwise what would be the point? I’m being glib for no real reason, but this is in many ways my “family of origin” and I know (still) how satisfying the pain of self-denial and self-sacrifice is. Maybe someday I’ll write about my patron saint and all the missteps I took in following her template, but for now I’ll leave it as this, I think. One thing I particularly respect about Catholicism, Islam and Judaism is that they’re religions with strong (and sometimes subverted or misdirected) intellectual traditions, with the idea (perhaps most explicit in Islam) that God created us to think our way to him, that our purpose here is to reason out our purpose. I know your experiences have been different from mine and that I had at worst some mildly negative ones, to the point that for years I had a recurring dream that I would just start yelling in the middle of mass that anyone in the church could give the sermon since the priest just recycled them from the last time the readings had come around and that the jokes were never funny anyway. But although I disagree with Eve about same-sex marriage and plenty of other things, I think you’re not giving her enough credit. She’s a person, not a pawn, and even if you think it’s false consciousness, at least it’s consciousness, right?

    Shifting, I want to ask about something you said. How is some part of your life not part of your identity, though? I’m interested to hear about that. Much as I dislike aspects of working for a nasty multinational corporation, that I’m willing to do so in order to feed us and have a cozy place to live says something about me. I think the whole problem probably boils down to the definitional trouble we’ve already been having.

    — 28 January 2005 at 1:52 am (Permalink)

  21. David Fiore says:

    “She????????s a person, not a pawn, and even if you think it????????s false consciousness, at least it????????s consciousness, right?”

    ah–but that’s what’s so maddening about it! (Catholic converts in general, I mean…it seems to me that most, or let’s say many, born-and-bred Catholics, like my entire family, for instance, don’t take this intellectual approach to the religion) Sure, there’s the Thomist tradition, but, then again–that kind of reasoning (as distinguished from the kind of “radical choice”/decisionist theory that comes out of existentialism–i.e. the world is fucked and there is no “right” choice…but make one!) is only possible if you accept God (or some equally metaphysical substitute) as a first principle…and the Catholic God–wholly embodied in law–makes a very convenient first principle indeed!

    I mean, I’m sure a part of my hostility comes from studying so many promising 19th century romantics/proto-existentialists who flipped out and made a grab for “certainty” by converting…it’s not really a “conversion experience” at all–it’s the ultimate in conscious rationalization…it’s saying–”if God exists, then I can live by instrumental reason alone”; or, yeah, in other words: “please, can I be a pawn?”

    oh well, I guess that’s enough of that!

    on “life and identity”–it’s a tricky question, of course, and I don’t claim to know exactly what I meant by that…but let’s see…I mean, for me, “life” is reducible to one very complex kernel: i.e. there’s “me” and there’s “the world”… it sounds simple, but of course it isn’t–because I can’t be me without a world I can believe in to interact with, and the world can’t be the world (so far as I’m concerned, from my subjective vantage) without me to assent to its reality! Everything, then, becomes a problem of ego-boundaries…how much “me-ness” do I have to hang onto in order to get something out of existence? And, on the other hand, how do I know when I’ve tresspassed further against the only things that make living worthwhile (other beings) than is absolutely necessary in order to maintain myself as appreciative denizen of the world? And, of course, part of that necessary tresspassing occurs when, in a society like ours, I have to go out there and grab enough cash to keep the ol’ bod and mind in working order…that applied more to my life as a three-day-a-week book store employee (where I really couldn’t help treating a lot of customers as rungs upon the ladder of my own survival) than to my current existence as a student/teacher…but then again, maybe my students aren’t as into the class I am! I’m not sure if that helps tie this kind of thinking into the situation from your own life Rose, but, well, you can let me know if it does!

    yikes! I’d better do some reading for my seminars!



    — 28 January 2005 at 3:49 am (Permalink)

  22. Teresa says:

    I am having difficulty following all the various strands of this conversation across different blogs so forgive me if I mischaracterize anyone’s position. I value the discussion about sexual identity that Rose has started. I linked out to Eve’s blog to read what she had to say–I am not familiar with her history of posts on the topic of same-sex love, and she seems to have made a correction here to what she originally posted. However, she seems to have some objections to same-sex relationships in general, which, as a lesbian, I found painful to read. And that’s the problem I have with the general tenor of this discussion about identity, especially as forwarded by Dave, whose opinions I typically enjoy reading a great deal. There is too much talk of choice in association, and too little of the real circumstances that define how we must live in the world. If your identity is in some way defined by legal constraints, for example, the distance between a political identity and an “existential” identity may be quite short indeed.

    — 30 January 2005 at 5:39 pm (Permalink)

  23. David Fiore says:

    Teresa wrote:
    “…If your identity is in some way defined by legal constraints, for example, the distance between a political identity and an ???????existential?????? identity may be quite short indeed.”

    no question Teresa…and I suppose that what I’m trying to do might come across as rather horribly insensitive to the plight of those whose daily lives bring them into collision with these legal/political constraints far more often than mine does…but I hope you know that, while the particular rhetoric that I’m spouting here may be lacking in this respect, my real commitments are not nearly so obtuse!

    the key, for me, is to argue against the confusion of a “political” identity with an “existential” one…Oppression is always the main enemy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one, and the “internalization of political identity” (through clinging to the “badge of oppression”, after the oppression has subsided)–as expressed most notably by political afiliation based upon “ethnic identity” in places like Quebec, can cause an awful lot of mischief!

    Despite the dangers inherent in “universalization”, I think it’s important that we continue to strive toward an understanding of what we owe toward all humans (and others!), no matter what their historical or current political circumstances are…because the world just keeps getting smaller!


    — 31 January 2005 at 12:34 am (Permalink)

  24. Rose says:


    I’m still thinking through a lot of things you’ve said. Sure, converts tend to be very dogmatic, but I sort of think that’s their job. They’ve made a conscious choice to redefine themselves and then want to cleave as closely to that redefinition as they can manage. I just have a hard time criticizing people for taking that path when I can understand its appeal, but I don’t have a teleological view of things in quite the same way you do. You talk about a need for universalism, but my thinking is more that Catholics have to figure out how to still be Catholic and do that, which I think is what Eve and others are grappling with, how to be accepting and genuine. I don’t think I am explaining this well.

    And I’m with Teresa on how hard it is to jump to the universalism you espouse for people who are still caught up in the everyday weight of identity issues. To turn things away from sexual orientation a bit, what I was thinking of in your talks about the “me/world” setup is that for me identity is about how I construct and understand the “me.”

    While you’ve talked a lot about your opposition to Quebecois separatist movements, in some sense I’m not comfortable with that. You’re saying, “Look, get over yourselves; you’re not oppressed anymore,” but that’s what people in power often say and I don’t believe they’re always right. While this may or may not be true in your situation, I think my tendency is to separate the individuals from their collective groups in situations like these, which I think explains our differing responses to Eve’s Catholicism.

    I don’t want to be told how I should feel or be, but it’s also something I want to figure out. As you know, I spent several years running a support group for other survivors of sexual assault, and I see that as an identity issue. You can’t deny that you’ve been raped or molested and can’t repress that, but how do you work to make something so negative a part of a healthy self? To me, that’s an identity issue, and I’m not sure how you would separate it. And so when I’m thinking about identity it’s things like that, where there are tensions on the inside and the outside. And much as I’d like to be able to talk about “existential” identity while glossing over the “political” side, it’s just not viable for me in my life as I see it. That doesn’t mean I can’t differentiate between the two, but I also can’t think about just one. Does that make anything any clearer? I doubt it!

    — 31 January 2005 at 3:45 pm (Permalink)

  25. David Fiore says:

    hmm…well, sure, there’s a lot of food for thought in there…and, you know, I can absolutely get behind the kinds of identity issues that concern you (not that it matters what I think!)…because they are based in experience, not an escape from same…

    I’m the last person to recommend forgetting anything that’s happened–all I write about is memory–and there’s no question that our personal histories will mark us for life (i.e. my family are drunks–I don’t drink; my best friends, when I was a kid, were animals–and I’ve spent a lot of my time since then trying to express my gratitude; my “ethnic identity” stands astride the major line of demarcation in Quebec–and so I direct my ire against that border itself, etc… I could really go on and on, I suppose–the point is not that my choice was inevitable…I could have, for example, just chosen to drink too, and blame it on the ol’ Irish heritage, as my mom does; and there was nothing forcing me to generalize from the pets I loved to the whole animal kingdom, but the pets sure helped; and I could have frantically embraced an ethnic identity, as many people–my sister, for instance, defined herself by her “Irishness” in her teens–after a brief neo-Nazi phase–and then, when that stopped working for her, she tried “Italianness”… but that my history did set help to frame the debate for me!)

    Here’s the thing though–when I hear you speak, I do hear a “transhistorical you” there, not a representative of some group or other–and if I am preaching here, that’s what I’m preaching in favour of…the things that happen to us are real, and we have to react to them, but it’s our “existential identity” that allows to remember that none of these things ever defines us completely…and the emblem of that instability, for me, is hostility to all doctrine and certainty…

    my problem with Catholicism is that, is you take it seriously, it’s nothing less than a foreclosure upon that kind of freedom, because it makes all of the decisions for you…same thing with the troubles in Quebec: it’s no longer about taking pride in a heritage of oppression…it’s about presenting a united front against an impure other (Quebecois separatists often describe themselves as “pure laine”) and triumphing over it (according to Jacques Parizeau, the last referendum on sovereignty was compromised by “money and the ethnic vote”…in Quebec, “ethnie” now stands for any person of non-british origin who refuses to help “pure laine” Quebecers to found their ethnically pure state–I am not exaggerating the creepiness of this!)

    anyway–I think we’re probably more in agreement here than it seems…we’re just emphasisizing different aspects of what I agree is an indissoluble dyad…or am I wrong?


    — 31 January 2005 at 4:27 pm (Permalink)

  26. Rose says:

    I said earlier I needed Gadamer, and I sort of do. (I’m falling for the old fellow again, it seems, although not enough that I’ve gone back to the primary texts yet.) I’m just troubled by a dogma that consists of rejecting dogma. I realize the rationale for it, but it leaves me just as skeptical.

    For Gadamer, that was a critique of the Enlightenment, that the base force of the Enlightenment was to root out and reject all prejudice. And yet having this prejudice against prejudice at its core kept it (by necessity) from fulfilling its mission. Gadamer’s point was that we have to bring our messy historicities into our world and can’t think we can reallly carve them away with science. We are made of poetry and words and the stories that come before us and come into us (and I’m probably stretching him here, but he’s too dead to care by now). In your terms, or my way of using your terms, the problem is that rejecting this individualized identity means rejecting the opportunity for people to define themselves by clinging to those strands of history.

    I saw a lot of people come to college and decide to become more left-wing than they’d been before, and they dealt with this in different ways. Many times it meant claiming poverty or suddenly making a big deal out of being Jewish or calling themselves Communists. For some of them, the change took and became a part of their identities, but for others it was just a way of fitting in so that they didn’t feel they were talking down to the students who legitimately were poor or black or queer. And it meant some of them were talking down to others, but it worked itself out in the end, mostly. I could watch the change overnight, and like you with your sister, thought some of it was pretty silly, but they were trying to figure out who they were in relation to the things that had meaning to them, and because I understood that I didn’t let it bother me too much. It was none of my business how they got to making sense, and I guess that’s still the attitude I have. While I might think certain choices are bad or ridiculous, I don’t know that any of them are categorically. I’m trying to think of a good reason to be a neo-Nazi, but I can sort of imagine at least the amount of pain and alienation and self-hatred that could drive someone to it (but presumably doesn’t drive all of them). Maybe I’m just more interested in storyarcs or something.

    But I think the fundamental problem I have is that I don’t think anyone says “my identity is THIS and nothing else!” If you’re going to claim Irishness, you’d better be willing to weigh in on whether you’re Protestant or Catholic or neither if you want to join that identity group, because there are other things that matter. And that’s why I say gender and sexual orientation and all the rest of these things matter to different degrees in different people, but that they are still fundamental to identity. I don’t think that it’s our existential identity that keeps us from being subsumed by any one way of being, but is just generally being that does. I think I’m not seeing the opposition you’re setting up very clearly, but maybe the words just don’t work that way.

    — 1 February 2005 at 3:05 am (Permalink)

  27. Teresa says:

    David, I think I understand your intent, so don’t fret that I might be thinking you are obtuse. I was really just trying to throw my weight on the side of history in this discussion, but I’m afraid that may have been interpreted as an assertion of identity politics. Well, I guess it was an assertion of identity politics, insofar as I did claim, “hey, I’m a lesbian, and this is what I think about X,” but that was really just a vulgar, shortcut way of getting your attention.

    — 1 February 2005 at 5:25 am (Permalink)

  28. David Fiore says:

    hey Teresa–I’m glad you felt like chiming in, and there’s no question that, anytime someone makes the kind of noises that I’ve been making here, they risk coming across as (or, worse, actually being!) indifferent to the plight of those who just “don’t fit” into their ostensibly (and, for me, still hoped-for) “universalist model”… I draw the line whenever theory threatens real people’s lives, and our only reliable indicator of when that line has been crossed is the honest opinions of those who are so threatened! (Rose’s point about the Enlightenment is pretty hard to dispute, as well)

    and yet, and yet… about the whole gadamer thing… I really don’t know enough about his thought to say anything about it in itself…but the way Rose represents him makes him sound like a neo-Herderian of some sort (i.e. a romantic opponent of the Enlightenment who seems willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that all identities are, in effect, repudiations of an Other…again, I formed a lot of these opinions out of experiences in good ol’ Quebec–and don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to go back there! it IS fascinatng, and full of story arcs, Rose!–where every single person is under pressure every single day to define themselves as either “anglophones”, “francophones”, or “allophones”… to pick one is to choose your enemies… as a person who could’ve chosen any of them, I prefered not to, as Bartleby would say… if I’m going to have enemies, I’d rather have them choose me! For instance–I’m not opposed to Catholicism until it goes political and tries to tell people, including me and my friends, that there is a “correct” form of sexual expression, etc…

    If I had to boil it down to a simple statement–I guess now I would say that identity/life= experience + interpretation… we all have different experiences, but our urge to interpret is universal, and I that’s why I cling to it as a possible bridge of sympathy across the treacherous chasm of “difference” which has so often freed humans to make a hell of this world.

    time to discuss Watchmen with my class!


    — 1 February 2005 at 5:27 pm (Permalink)

  29. David Fiore says:

    damn Rose–I just noticed that you were posting at the same time as me–I didn’t read your last comment yet–but I will when I get home tonight!


    — 1 February 2005 at 5:28 pm (Permalink)

  30. David Fiore says:

    hmm….I guess I didn’t miss anything! Must’ve been a trick of the light! Sorry for the last useless comment–and this one!


    — 1 February 2005 at 9:18 pm (Permalink)