Wednesday, March 30, 2011

At Odds with Being Vulcan? - Düttman & Identity Politics in K/S

tags: homosexuality, identity, AIDS, alienation, feminism

Broke Trek - (for more silly [and tame] K/S, check out


“So, too, the fans appreciate gay men’s efforts to appreciate masculinity, and feel a sense of solidarity with them insofar as gay men also inhabit bodies that are a legal, moral, and religious battleground.” (Penley 130)

“In other words, when fighting the politics of the state…when denouncing the social stigmatization of the infected, the activist cannot avoid the dangers of an identification, of an equation of AIDS and homosexuality, by having recourse to a sexual ideal that has already been mourned.”  (Alexander García Düttmann’s At Odds With Aids: Things & Talking About a Virus, 54)

In his book, At Odds With Aids*,Düttmann talks about the way in which AIDS brings to the foreground a phenomenon of human identity which has always been true, but which AIDS makes undeniable – the Being-not-one with oneself of human identity. Or, in other words, the way in which human identity is always never complete in and of itself but always marked by other beings and by other spaces. For a person with AIDS, the disease becomes a huge part of that person’s identity – and yet the disease is the mark of another body, and a specific other time, that is separate from that person, that is not a part of them, but that still defines who they are. In such a way, AIDS makes blatant a fact that is inherent in the identity of every human being – our identities are all constantly defined by a Being-not-one, constantly defined by other beings, other times, other places, over which we have no control.

 In the passage I quote above, Düttmann is addressing the dilemma of the fact that when one is an activist and needs to mobilize people for something, often one has to do so under a banner of some sort, and in mobilizing in such a way, one always runs the risk of being identified with a homogenous identity that doesn’t actually exist. It is a passage which recalls the women in NASA whom Constance Penley discusses in NASA/TREK. Women like Sally Ride, Mae Jemison & Roberta Bondar found themselves frustrated with the way the world viewed them not simply as astronauts but as female/black/Canadian astronauts. Penley argues that it is such politicization of the female body (especially in space) which alienates female Star Trek fans from their own bodies, and draws them to slash fiction, and the body of the male (126-127).

Spock might raise an eyebrow at some of the logic here, which isn’t exactly crystal clear – or at least, which I struggled to follow when attempting to summarize it for the blog post (granted, I lack Spock’s superior Vulcan grasp of logic, so forgive my human flaws if I’m just missing something…) Penley simultaneously argues that women, alienated from their own bodies, turn to male bodies, and attempt to “write real men” (126). She argues that the ability to write “real men” requires the “retooling” (127) of masculinity, and that, simultaneously, K/Sers realize they may not see such “hoped-for ‘new’ or ‘transformed’ men” (127) in their lifetime. So, who are these “real” men who do not yet exist, whose masculine psyche and masculine bodies must be retooled and reimagined?  What exactly does Penley mean by "real"?

More importantly, and back to the point I was trying to make before I got really confused by the logic of Penley’s argument, why is it that female slash writers, alienated from their own politicized bodies, turn to the equally politicized body of the homosexual man? In this “retooling” of masculinity, isn’t the female slash writer again striving to find a homogeneous identity for men in the 23rd century? Many slash writers point to the portrayal of Kirk & Spock’s strong friendship as proof throughout the series of their sexual relationship with each other. Would the same type of friendship between female characters take on the same homosexual undertones, or is this not just the result of a falsely homogeneous definition of male identity, in which male friendship is only allowed to be displayed at a certain level of intensity before it must be construed as something else?**

Finally, it is striking that, of the two men, it is Spock’s body that the female slasher chooses to retool to resemble the female one through the representation of pon farr (Penley 130-131)In the absence of AIDS, Spock’s body seems to be the one which embodies the idea of a physical representation of Being-not-with-oneself. Indeed, Spock struggles throughout the original show with his own identity onboard the Enterprise – he must deal with the literal alienation from his own body, an alienation which is constantly marked by his own body. Spock’s body – his ears, his eyes, his green blood, his heart (below, and not behind, his lungs)–  makes blatant the nature of identity, the Being-not-one, which AIDS makes blatant today.

* We just read Alexander Düttmann’s At Odds With Aids in ENG 305 and I apologize in advance if I don’t do justice to Düttmann’s work in my presentation of it, because I’m still struggling to understand the whole piece myself…

** Courtesy of Wikipedia – “Yes, there's certainly some of that -- certainly with love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, the Greek ideal-- we never suggested in the series-- physical love between the two. But it's the-- we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century.” – Gene Roddenberry on the love between Kirk & Spock, from  Where No Man... The Authorized Biography of William Shatner (ISBN 0-441-88975-1; Ace Books, 1979, pp. 147-8)


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