Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The girl is important to Gurlesque II

To be clear, this is my thinking about gender & the Gurlesque. Lara says she'd consider Johannes Goransson & Mayakovsky (to name just two men) Gurlesque. I wouldn't--I'd consider their work of an affinity-aesthetic yet unnamed. Perhaps I'm over-specializing, but I suspect there are a number of highly specific categories with gender-bender affinity, and each of them would be important not only for the bending, but for the mode of bending. A Written on the Body category, for instance, shouldn't be lumped in with the kitschy performance of the feminine, or the hypermasculine, or etc. And I should clarify that I don't believe in an essentially feminine or masculine experience, but I do believe that girls/women and boys/men experience significantly different culturing in the US and abroad, and while we question, challenge, and subvert the binary, we also remain to some degree subject to it.

Questions I'll advance answer to:

1. Could a man/male/masculine manifestation write a Gurlesque poem? Sure, but the speaker to my thinking, would still have to reside in some manifestation of feminine. Or the poem would have to mess with femininity a la the grotesque/burlesque/girly kitsch/etc. that Lara & Arielle describe. I don't think Lara (or Arielle?) agrees with me on this point, and you may find me changing my tune if I see poems + persuasions.

2. Does a human need female biology to perform feminine? No, of course not. But the way girls/women/feminine manifestations are cultured cannot be divorced from our notions about the female body. Consider: testosterone, from testicle, from the Latin root meaning to testify. Estrogen? From oestrus, Latin for gadfly or frenzy. Culture informs biology informs culture...and this to me seems quite central to the poets in whom Gurlesque has been identified. It's vital to examine how these poets confront the powers that police and define female bodies. Further, the female body has long been a site on which aesthetic camps planted flag in a way the male body has not, so there is some very different, necessary work to be done on that stomping ground.

Other questions that seem to be nagging at the borders of discussion:

3. Does the Gurlesque envision gender as a spectrum? Or some other non-binary model? (Answer probably = yes.) And, if so, would that be more significant than, or overwrite the work it does to interrogate explicitly feminine gender roles and the cultural responses to the female form?

4. Do the Gurlesque poets go drag? Do they mess with masculinity? Do they create types neither masculine nor feminine?

5. If so, #4, are those Gurlesque things they do, or are those things they do in addition to the Gurlesque?

There's also discussion afoot over at Johannes Goransson's.



Blogger Kate Durbin said...

Damn, these are all good questions, Danielle! It does seem that the gender spectrum you point out is one area where more critical attention could be paid. Even if there are poets (male or female) performing masculinity in a similar way to how the gurlesque poets perform femininity—well, even that seems restrictive in that it's still kind of binary/neat (why not fuck with both--even early Gwen Stefani comes to mind, with her boys track pants and mans boots coinciding with her sequinned bras and too-much makeup....) But if you are fucking with both, that doesn’t seem gurlesque or boyesque, but genderbendingesque—though I’m not sure that some gurlesque work isn’t already doing that anyway, and how do you parcel out the differences when labeling? In any case, I think I’ve reached my esque limit for the evening…

3:56 AM  
Blogger D said...

Thanks, Kate! That's a good question too, re: the parceling... Hmmm....

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this posting! I think it's really interesting the way you're arguing for the micro-level, for lots of titled "movements," not a consolidation, and yet this field very much relates to, perhaps depends, on the macro, as it implicitly involves the massively big subject of gender/the human-body. Testicle/Testimony: whoa, I did not know that, and find it unsurprising and unfortunate. Although this is problematic/old-fashioned, I wonder if gay men in fact do have an experience far closer to the Gurlesque than to a more manly campsite, or perhaps it's its own deal because, well, it's largely a heterosexuaL discourse, or at-least far more specifically a heterosexual one: now that, almost lol, is a MAJOR binary in which I don't have much faith in the spectrum view, as lovely/utopical as it is. Ok, this likely doesn't make enough sense--apologies!

Adam Strauss

1:23 PM  
Blogger D said...

Hey, Adam,

Thanks...something I wonder about a lot. There's good language out there about Gurlesque's relationship to queering, but I don't have my head around it yet. I think many Gurlesque poems work with hetero framing because the hetero relationship is a hyperbolic site of power distribution that gets passed off as "natural" (shudder). It's valuable terrain for abjection. I'm working on this idea (via a review I'm s'posed to be writing about Lara's book) about queering heterosexuality...

What I'm curious about with gay men & their relationship to performing gender on the page--they're coming out of being cultured as boys/men, so it's definitely different than being cultured as girl/woman (micro-climates!), but, on the other hand, there's the commonality between Gurlesque poets and gay men poets of pointing to the binary and saying that's a prison, that's deranged, a refusal to properly reproduce the norm...

1:41 PM  
Blogger Kristi Maxwell said...

I engage with the concept of the Gurlesque through a few of the poets consistently grouped under it (and others, not). For instance, to me, Lara Glenum’s projects exploit the masquerade of femininity and are strategically crass with the seeming effect of breaking open any lingering puritanical expectations inflicted not only on the body marked female, but also on “the poem.” While something like Joan Retallack’s notion of the experimental feminine seems to be able to operate from variously gendered and ungendered positionalities, the project(s) of the Gurlesque, as I understand it, seems to demand that one adopt a strategic feminine positionality to carry out its work. I stress the word strategic here.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Kristi Maxwell said...

Oops - I meant a strategic female (not feminine) positionality.

1:57 PM  
Blogger D said...

I'm so slow on this, but wanted to say that's great: "strategic female positionality"!

I think of the Gurlesque in some ways as a response to what Elisabeth Bronfen identifies in Over Her Dead Body, the relationship (legacy Poe) of the female corpse to the poetic.

No reason the poet would have to be female...

1:12 AM  

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