Magazine article Artforum International

Second Sex: Wayne Koestenbaum on "'My' Masculinity"

Magazine article Artforum International

Second Sex: Wayne Koestenbaum on "'My' Masculinity"

Article excerpt


IN 1994, I WROTE AN ESSAY--"'My' Masculinity"--for Artforum's "Man Trouble" feature, organized by Maurice Berger. Twenty-two years later, I revoke my earlier version and start the composition all over again. (Consider the two essays mismatched nipples.) Did anyone own masculinity in 1994? Aren't we finished with possessiveness--its sodden betrayals, its puerilities, its cuts?


I only half-mean what I say; identity remains in the half-meaning, the ruse I fall into when I begin this odd dance called thinking. I don't have an identity, only

   a vast fatigue--
   did I once call it
   a vast summational
   fatigue (but what
   am I summoning
   when I say "summational")?


Summing-up is the enemy of staggered discovery, and yet I feel nostalgia for thinkers, like Siegfried Kracauer, who confidently strike final poses: "Like emigrants gathering up their personal belongings, bourgeois literature gathers the effects of a household that will soon have to vacate its current site." Vacated up the wazoo, I seek new justifications for piecemeal introspection--methods for germinating a thought and then splitting the thought in half, as if the idea-morsel were to greet or devour itself. Vulnerability to self-division is a sufficiently stable platform for speech.


   A house on a
   horizon line has no
   interest in adjudicating
   debates. But we
   are not a house,
   we are a petty


"can I do this spiritual drag, collective agony wishful thinking," wrote kari edwards. I, too, wonder if I can do this drag of speaking or thinking collectively, drag of not being singular, drag of shedding the rags of self. Adrienne Rich once excoriated these rags as "personal weather." She opposed personal weather to "the great dark birds of history." Syllables shamed by birds of history can intoxicate the ear. Remix, please, a consciousness, nominally mine, governed by its enthrallments, and hell-bent on squeezing cadence out of thrall.


Few poets today can rival the unstoppered perversity and brilliant heedlessness of Ronaldo V. Wilson. Seeking shelter from the brutal weather of the normative, I turn to his newest book, Farther Traveler (2015), for the comfort that only extreme language about extreme situations can give. From his poem "Multiply": "Banged by 29 men, and you wanted some of them, / the red-ape, monstrous heaving, then sleep, / to wake, to be that cum bucket, filled." I repeat, as an under-the-breath mantra, the words cum bucket. How can I express strongly enough to you the quietude that arrives by repeating cum bucket and delving into its sonic riches, the u and the u, twinned vowels, an effect I was taught to call assonance?


Percy Bysshe Shelley's masochistic stances are a sweetly Christological template for cum-bucket consciousness--as when he writes (in the 1819 Prometheus Unbound, that proof-text of thralldom's occasional potential to become exalted flight), "Insufferable might! / God! spare me! I sustain not the quick flames, / The penetrating presence." Maybe Percy is impersonating a water goddess. An imploration arises from one person's voice, but then the words acquire naughty, independent life, apart from their originator. "I sustain not the quick flames" is a phrase that fits any circumstance, any occasion in which you wish to assert ambivalence. "I sustain not"--nearly oxymoronic--asserts the possibility of sustaining antitheses, of preserving antiphonal cacophonies.


Saw Nicola Tyson monoprint portraits today in New York at Petzel Gallery uptown. She painted them more than a decade ago. A decade ago I didn't know what a monoprint was. How could I claim to know what genders were, if I didn't understand monoprints? Tyson's procedure: Paint a glass plate and then press a piece of paper onto the wet original, which feeds its colorful essence to the recipient. …

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