I was really hoping to slide by without a real post for a while, but since my piece didn’t get picked up for Carnival of the Liberals (you should still really go see the stuff that did make it…), I actually have to write.

Damn.

Last couple days have been very hectic in a brainless sort of way (i’m writing this in two minute chunks as i do stuff around the house)…but i actually had some downtime this morning, and so as is my custom in waiting rooms, i read some po-co theory.

I’m working (very slowly) through Bhabha’s location of culture, as the blog title and nom de plume might suggest. And i’m trying to figure out my relationship with sly civility, especially as it relates to the culture of Yale Divinity. How much to I invest myself as a person who identifies with that school? In opposition to it?

There aren’t easy answers to this, obviously. But my thoughts so far. One of the things that underlies colonial (broadly defined) discourses is a narcissistic demand for love. As BelleDame discusses here (the comments are interesting, too), one of the ways that patriarchy expresses itself is by the unconditionality of affection which it idealizes in mothers and wives. I still register complaint on the term “mama’s boy” as used in the comments, as the production of the male demand for affection isn’t about bad/over/under loving a son by the mother, but the entire frame of cultural discourse. But I think this is overall, very accurate. The English/European?Western demands not just an obedient subject, but a grateful one as well. It is not enough that the Dobsons of the world insist that we be straight, we must affirm their vision of America as well. Bhabha puts it thus:

The Authoritarian demand can now only be justified if it is contain in the language of paranoia. The refusal to return and restore the image of authority to the eye of power has to be reinscribed as implacable aggression…coming from without: He hates me. …The frustrated wish ‘I want him to love me.’ turns into its opposite ‘I hate him’ and this through projection and the exclusion of the first person, ‘He hates me.’ (Location of Culture. 141)

What does this mean for a Yalie? The institution, like all others, relies continual assent, affirmation, and legitimization. To be opaque to the institution, to be in someway unreadable or resistant to its gaze, is to have the delusion of love go sour, as the selection describes.

Yet this is precisely what I’m planning on. YDS has a lot of institutional choices in front of it. Admissions, faculty selection, communication and decision making…all are up for grabs, and all of them have a say in how this school is structured. The problem is that I, and other students, have a different truth than the school does. The cultural momentum of YDS is the use of a certain language; of function and signification. Power is structured and expressed within that language. For instance, use of gender inclusive language is a “sign” of being in the progressive wing of the school. Using “he” and “him” marks you as participating in the conservative wing. Because gender inclusive terms are mandated, attendance of chapel services is usually self-restricted to mainline/liberal types. We had a service a while ago, blogged by the sponsoring prof here, that raised questions for me.

Using the litany of “male and female” from Genesis, the students who wrote the service affirmed sexuality as part of Creation. As is true of most Marquand services, it was reflective of (and included participation of) queer persons. But all of this is cis-gendered and binary.

So when I say to this school, that I had a problem with that worship service, and that it made me profoundly uncomfortable…they don’t much know what to do with that. Opposing “gender inclusive language” is a conservative trait. Because the school is “progressive” there is no legitimate “left” left after the school makes it’s stance.

I’ve removed the middle term of the equation, where YDS makes it’s definitional authority known, and sets the terms of debate. I give my unqualified answer to the questions of this instution, but without the “syntagmatic supports, codes, connotations, and cultural supports” there is a profound gap of meaning. The disorder of my speech is risky, and the chaotic nature of cultural negotiation may mean that the school will reassert it’s defintional authority over my words despite resistance, and react in ways that are harmful or counterproductive.

But I cannot just start speaking YDSese without cost. The structure of gender and orientation…not to mention, race, class, and a whole slew of other factors…is poorly concieved on an institutional level. I want to be very clear about that last part, as there are certain individuals who are exceptions and speak with great brilliance on such matters. Their alliance, example, and action are critical for me and my understanding of this situation. For instance, and restricting my commentary to senior faculty for the moment…the problem is obviously not with Emilie Townes. It’s in a school that spoken or unspoken, considers the hire of a high profile Womanist scholar active in queer issues as hitting the Marginal Trifecta of race, gender, and orientation…and thus relieving the school of taking further action when it comes to faculty diversity. It is my experience that individual cases of resistance and complication do not dismantle the system that selectively empowers them as exceptions, even if they are powerful and eloquent. But the talking point of many of the old alums is that “faculty just aren’t being choosen right,” and that the “idenity of the school is in trouble.” As a sly civilian in the face of power I say: “True!” But I have a completely different set of ideologies behind that.

When I speak my displeasure about hiring practices, gender language, and the state of the school…I seem to be confusing many people. I am not trying to decieve them, I simply do not share their assumptions and reference points. The words and conceptual vocabulary i use are oriented in a different way, turned away from the dominant discourse of Yale. It is no lie, but I am telling another truth. Am I becoming opaque and unreadable? Does resistance cloak my idenity and speech, leaving a screen on which power projects it’s unmet demand of love?

It is a hard demand to resist. I am here. I am a student who choses to submit to the academic discipline of religious studies at Yale. I owe much of my ability to write, think, and produce cultural commentary like this to the education of Yale and my undergraduate institution. But when the demand for love requires that I destablize and elide my own idenity…what breaks?

-sly

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