We finally arrived, the day before what was supposed to be our delivery date, in San Francisco, exhausted, sun-burnt, stressed out, and at night. We knew that we should expect a strange, overstuffed couch sitting in our apartment, in addition to what we hoped was all of our own stuff. And there it was. I wish I had thought to have one of my friends take a picture of the apartment when it had all of our stuff, and all of the other customer’s stuff. It would have been insane.
We immediately noticed that there were big black scuffs on the freshly-painted white walls and plaster knocked off a corner in the hallway. We also noticed that a lot of our boxes looked like they had been tossed around violently. Many had corners and tops totally collapsed in, and were close to destroyed.
The next morning we set about documenting the damage. Photographing the walls, the door, the hallway corner. Photographing the damaged boxes. One box, a plastic filing cabinet, had 1/2 of its contents missing, which I later found dumped and crumpled (unfortunately, since some of it was artwork I was storing) in another plastic bin. One small painting had apparently been bent in half while still wrapped in bubble wrap, destroying both the frame and the handmade artwork (it had been a first wedding anniversary present I made for my husband). The back leg of our couch had been snapped off, and the upholstery torn off the bottom. And our large, antique mirror is still missing.
We haven’t finished unpacking, and we’re documenting as we go. But that seems to be most of it. I also heard from my cousin in Florida that they snapped one of the legs off of our heirloom great-grandmother’s mahogany dining room set.
I’ve texted the manager, and the driver, several times to try to track down our antique mirror. It doesn’t seem promising. We’re contacting furniture repair stores to see about fixing the leg on our sofa, but for now it’s totally useless. I’m not optimistic that I’ll get any money back for any of this damage. So I rescind the last thoughts of my part-3 post. Knowing now what I do, if I were to do it again, I would just suck it up and pay the double price for a pod. At least that way I’d have all my stuff, and not have destroyed the only piece of furniture we actually moved with us.
So, final thoughts: do not under any circumstances for any reason ever use Fidelity Moving Group. They are absolutely unprofessional, and your stuff will not be safe with them.
I don’t usually post calls for submissions on the blog, but this one is too exciting not to.
Call for Critical Writing on the Gurlesque
In the anthology Gurlesque: the new grrly, grostesque, burlesque poetics (Saturnalia, 2010),editors Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg gathered work from eighteen contemporary women poets who are “writing about and through femininity . . .brashly, playfully, provocatively, indulgently.” These poems have “unicorns inthem, and sequins, and swear words, and vomit.” Gurlesque alsoincludes eight visual artists whose work, like Gurlesque poetry, “assaults thenorms of acceptable female behavior by irreverently deploying genderstereotypes to subversive ends.”
The second edition of the anthology—an electronic edition to be published by Saturnalia in 2016—will feature the next wave of Gurlesque poetry alongside examples of visual art,videos, music, and fashion that fall under the rubric of this theory.
For the second edition,the original editors, along with new co-editor Becca Klaver, seek critical writing on the Gurlesque. Submissions of previously published pieces are welcome, but the author is responsible for attaining reprint rights without fees. Essays of any style and medium are welcome, and nontraditional scholarship, video essays, and other innovative forms are encouraged.
Please submit completedessays (no abstracts required) of 500-9,000 words by August 15,2014. If applicable, include in-text citations in MLA style and a Works Cited list. Submissions should be saved as Word documents named after the author(LastnameFirstname.doc) and sent as attachments to gurlesqueanthologyATgmailDOTcom
firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the email, include a brief cover letter with a bio and information,if any, about where the essay has appeared previously.
Essays should directly address the Gurlesque and might also address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
*critical race studies
*waves of feminism
*cuteness, camp, and kitsch
*capitalism, consumerism, and class
*literary predecessors of the Gurlesque
Though I’m still in the middle of the country, well, not exactly the middle anymore – now we’re in Arizona – and so the move has not finished because I still have to deal with getting a stranger’s couch out of my apartment when we arrive to San Francisco, I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience. The various other options we had. How I might have taken some precautions to make things go more smoothly.
Let’s start by saying that I’ve moved across the country (well, half-way, and back) four times, and on average for the last 16 years I’ve moved once every year. So I am, shall we say, an experienced mover. I have a packing system, it involves spreadsheets. I’ve packed my husband and I for four separate yet simultaneous moves (when I was going off to MFA school, and he was staying in Boston but moving to a smaller apartment, so some of our stuff had to go into storage at my dad’s and some at his grandmother’s) without missing a beat or a box. I am not a stranger to the complexities of moving.
The first time we moved long-distances we did it the “traditional” college-student way: we rented a truck, packed it up, drove it, and unpacked it. It was horrible. In part because the truck we had was a 12′ truck, but we only had enough stuff for a cargo van, or maybe less. In part because it was extremely expensive (as one-way moves tend to be). And in part because I’m a nervous passenger already so driving a practically-empty 12′ Penske rental truck through the Pennsylvania foothills was probably the worst possible thing we could have done.
Learning from that move, when we moved me back for a year off, my brother and my father rented an Enterprise cargo van (round-trip), came out, packed it up, and then my brother and I drove back while my father flew. It cost about the same as the first way, but was slightly better because we were in a smaller truck when I thought for sure we would plummet to our doom off the rainy Pennsylvania foothills.
So then when we moved back to Iowa, together, we tried a third way. We packed and shipped with FedEx everything that wasn’t potentially breakable. And then everything else got packed into our car (that we had bought for my husband to use for his job in Iowa) that he and a friend drove out, while I just flew out with our cat. That worked well, and was about half the cost of the truck, so that’s what we did on the way back, too.
So that was a strong contender for this move, too, seeing as how we were definitely going to have to drive the car out anyway. I also checked with some friends who’d done this previously, and got estimates on Pods, and other pod-like services. Door-to-Door was the cheapest, in case you’re curious. But when my cousin told me about the movers she had used for her grandmother’s things from Illinois to Florida, and that she was going to use them again to inherit some of our great-grandmother’s furniture I was no longer in a position to keep, I decided to get a quote from them. And the rest is history (part 1 and part 2).
In retrospect, maybe the pod-like system would have been better. Maybe it would have been worth the almost double price-tag to be in control of the packing and unpacking, to schedule the pick-up and delivery. But maybe not. Because in retrospect there are definitely some things I could have done differently to make sure that things went more smoothly.
1. Been extremely firm about the earliest possible delivery date. It’s in the contract. And I don’t know why, but in an attempt to seem flexile and undemanding as a customer I made sure to tell them that “just in case” I had a friend out there with a spare set of keys. Which they took, apparently, to mean that they could deliver things whenever they wanted.
2. Numbered all of our boxes in purple or green sharpie (a color someone else is unlikely to have) 1/40, 2/40, 3/40 etc. That way it was clear exactly how many boxes were ours, and which ones they were. And written our last name on them.
3. Bought stickers to put on all the furniture and boxes that indicated they were ours. The moving company used a sticker system, but they only had three colors: red, green, and yellow. The likelihood (and in fact actuality) that someone else on the same truck would have the same color as ours was high. If, say, I had bought or printed out hot pink nautical star stickers to put on everything, that might have resulted in us getting our, and only our, things.
4. Get everything in writing. When the manager told me it would be all right to pay by credit card on the delivery, I took her word for it. If I had her put it in writing, there would have been no negotiating.
5. Asked for emergency contact information in case we needed to reach someone while their offices were closed (like all day on Sunday, the day of our delivery). This should not be negotiable. Either they have someone who can help us on a Sunday, or the delivery can’t take place on a Sunday. End of story.
If I had done those five things, and/or if we had just gotten our things delivered on or after the day that we had on the contract as the earliest possible delivery day, then I think the whole thing would have been a breeze, and we would be singing their praises. Provided nothing got broken, which, of course, is still to be seen. Hopefully there won’t be a part 4 to this, and I can just move on with my life already.
Oh, and actually that wasn’t the end of it.[Part one: pickup, and botched delivery before we arrived.] Today, June 9, I heard from my friend that the driver had contacted him (not me, not the manager or dispatcher) to get access back to our apartment. Because he had accidentally delivered someone else’s stuff as well as ours. I told my friend not to do anything, and that we would handle it, since I didn’t trust these people to figure out which stuff was ours without me there. He didn’t have the keys anymore anyway, he had left them with my other friend who lived in the neighborhood. I called the dispatcher/manager Sasha, who had called earlier in the morning to see how things went. Sidenote: when I told him how terribly things had gone, before finding out about this development, he asked why I hadn’t called. I told him I had tried calling three different phone numbers, the only ones I had. I asked him why he had scheduled our delivery a week before our earliest possible date, without calling me, and he said “well, that’s the only mistake I made.”
Anyway, I called Sasha back to ask him about this mistake, and he seemed like he didn’t know about it. Then the driver called me to tell me that he had accidentally moved someone else’s things into our apartment. I told him that I would try to arrange access, but only if I could talk to the other customer. I wasn’t convinced that anyone from Fidelity was competent to tell the other persons’ stuff from ours. Next thing I know I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. No introduction, nothing by text, just a phone call.
The other customer, Murali, was obviously distressed, and upset with the company as well. I told him that I thought I could get them access, but only if he went with them. He agreed. Then I had to try to get ahold of my friend at work, figure out when she could get there to let people in, field endless anxious texts from Murali (understandably), and try to get ahold of Sasha to see if another driver was able to do this. This took dozens of texts, four or five phone calls that seemed to result in no actual communication with Sasha, and me finally telling Murali that he had to call Fidelity to figure out the truck, driver, and movers. Over the course of 3 hours while we were driving through Missouri.
In our first conversation Murali told me that the original driver, Jared, had been supposed to deliver his things after our delivery on the 8th. He called Murali that afternoon and told him he was “running late” after leaving our delivery, and that he’d be there by 8pm. Then he called and said he’d be there by 11pm. Then he told him sometime around noon on the 9th. All of this before he’d contacted my friend with keys (he didn’t call me until I had called Sasha to tell him about everything). This led me to believe that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to our apartment without letting anyone know about it. Only after failing did he try to call my friend to get back in, without letting Fidelity or me know. No evidence of this, but why else would he keep telling Murali he was “on his way” without getting in touch with me (or my friend whose number he had) to get legitimate access to the apartment.
Anyway, I left it for Murali to arrange the movers, and got confirmation from my friend that they would be there at 7 (not 5:30 as they had originally said). She texted while they were there saying things were underway and I thought finally this was all over. Nope.
After the movers and Murali left, my friend called to say that they had not been able to move out Murali’s couch, which was still in our apartment. She said they tried, but had started damaging the door and wall and she told them to stop. She also said that even though it was different people than yesterday, they were even less professional. Just minutes after arriving, two of the movers got into an extremely aggressive argument, one threatening the other. They kept arguing the whole way through, and, ultimately weren’t able to get Murali’s couch out of the apartment.
Now, I still have to deal with someone else’s couch when I get there. This nightmare just seems never-ending. So tired. So stressed. And pretty helpless, in Albuquerque.
Moving with Fidelity Moving Group
The estimate was extremely low, almost unreasonably so, but Manisha seemed professional, and was very reassuring. The estimate was for 40 medium UHaul boxes, a 3-person couch, a queen sized mattress, a cedar chest, and a large piece of artwork, and was $1100 from Providence to San Francisco, including carrying up 2 large flights of stairs in San Francisco.
The communication was bad from the beginning. Manisha told me that we would get a call to arrange the pick-up time the day before, but when 5 pm came and went and we hadn’t heard from them I called. I got Maya, the manager with whom the rest of my interactions took place. She was brusque and said that she was just starting to call people and we’d get a call later. A few hours later I got a call from my cousins who are getting some of our furniture and who had referred us to the moving company. Instead of calling us they called him – it seemed then that they had just confused our two moves since they were originating in the same place. He told us, with them on the other phone, that between 1-2 PM was the time the movers would come to start the moves.
We were staying at my mother’s the night before the move, in Boston, and decided to get back to the apartment 2 hours before the movers were supposed to come, so we got there just after 11 am. The movers were already there, had just arrived and were waiting for us, much to my surprise. Apparently, they had been told to get there at 11 for “Dave” and 1 for me, even though the day before the scheduler told David 1 pm for both moves. Sloppy,
The movers themselves seemed fine, and did a professional job handling the move, though they damaged part of our apartment that we have to pay for out of our security deposit ($150). Once all our stuff, and not David’s, was loaded in they showed us that it took 525 cubic feet, about twice what the estimate was. This would double our move costs. Because the estimate was absurdly low, we had anticipated that it would cost more, so agreed, and paid half of the new cost, $1050 over the phone with Maya using a credit card. When I spoke with her I told her that if we weren’t there when the driver delivered the things we’d have a friend with keys, but we would have to pay the balance with the same card. She said that was fine.
They then loaded David’s furniture and because they couldn’t reach him I paid $700 on the same card for the first half of his move. Once they left I felt relieved – they seemed professional, even if the communication was a little difficult.
On the paperwork we indicated that the earliest date possible we could receive delivery was 6/15/2014 since we had to drive across the country with our car. We are driving currently, and the first part of our route took us through Canada where we did not have cell phone service. On June 7 when we got back into the US I had two messages from Maya, and one from the driver of the truck saying that he was going to be in San Francisco on June 8, a Sunday, a week before our “earliest possible delivery” and would need $1325 in cash or he was going to put our things in a storage unit.
Maya’s first message was about the $700 charge for the first half of David’s move, which she was going to refund to us and put on David’s card. Fine. The second message was that the driver was going to be in San Francisco on Sunday and she urgently needed to talk to us. I returned the call less than an hour later, but no one answered. I called three separate numbers to try to reach someone at Fidelity, the toll-free number listed on their website, the local number listed on their website, and the phone number from which Maya’s call came. I left a message on two of the numbers, and the third just rang and rang. I also called the driver and left him a message. Two hours later on Saturday I tried reaching both the driver and Maya or anyone else at the moving company again. No one was available.
The morning of June 8 I texted the driver again to ask him to please call me. He did, and was extremely rude, essentially saying that it didn’t matter what Maya had told me the only way he would deliver our things is if our friend paid him $1325 in cash. And the reason it was more than the first half was because of a $275 “shuttle fee” for taking a truck into San Francisco. Why that wasn’t included in our original quote I have no idea.
We spent the next 4 hours in Morris, IL where we had stopped for the night the night before trying to find a way to transfer that amount of money to our friend. Not that this is Fidelity’s fault exactly. But Western Union would’t allow us to transfer that sum of money online or over the phone, and the only Western Union locations that would take a card (credit or debit) were over 2 hours away. THe driver told us he’d be there by noon, San Francisco time, so we didn’t have time to drive the 2 hours out of our way to a Western Union location. We also tried, at the driver’s suggestion, MoneyGram, but had the same problems. We finally asked my father to help us and since he lives in Boston he was able to get to a bank, withdraw the cash, and go to a Western Union location, where he had to transfer it in two seperate installments to two of our friends in San Francisco. This was all terribly stressful, and given that it was happening on a Sunday morning when we were in the middle of nowhere Illinois, nowhere near our bank, or any bank for that matter, we were rendered essentially helpless. Now is where a good company would have provided support. But predictably there was literally no one available at Fidelity to talk to. If you’re going to schedule deliveries on a Sunday, a week ahead of schedule, you should at least provide someone to talk to when things go inevitably wrong.
If only that were the last of it. When the driver finally showed up at 3 he gave our friends a hard time about where he was going to park the truck, even though the landlord made available the parking lot in the back which has direct access to the building. He ended up calling me, and I told him that the parking lot was available and he asked “with access to the elevator?” I responded that there was no elevator, that it was 2 long flights up, the equivalent of 3 flights, as I indicated and is documented both in the quote and in the paperwork signed at pick-up. He then hung up on me. Apparently, according to our friends, they chose to double park on the street instead. Not sure why, since the previous tenants (other friends) were able to use the back stairs and parking lot with no trouble to move their belongings in and out.
Then the driver asked one of our friends how he was supposed to pay the 2 additional movers he had with him. I explained that as far as we knew the company was paying the movers, and we were only responsible for the additional $1325. Then the driver called me to tell me that I “had to take care of him because of the stairs” which I told him we had already paid for 3 flights worth. He insisted that because there were 2 large flights we owed him additional money, and I told him that’s why we had told Fidelity 3 flights and been charged for 3 flights as part of the original estimate. He said he’d “take my word for it” and I offered to text him the paperwork showing that. He said that would be good, so I did, and he responded by saying “but that doesn’t prove you’ve paid for it.” I told him, by text, that I didn’t understand what he meant, because it was part of the original price, and so included in the $1050 we had paid at pick-up and the $1325 we had managed to get him **in cash** today. He said not to worry about it and he’d bring it up with Fidelity tomorrow. Again, here is where it would have been extremely useful to have been able to call someone at the moving company.
We’ll see when we get there next week, but hopefully at least all our stuff arrived and is intact. This has been an extremely unpleasant, stressful process with absolutely poor communication and no customer support to speak of throughout. If I had known a month ago what I know now, I would have paid a lot more to have been spared the nightmare of stress this has been.
I’ve never really been afraid of the dark, which is odd because I’m an anxious person in general and the dark is a primal fear. I’m clinically phobic of spiders, and of heights, and it turns out thanks to a good friend one summer I was able to prioritize those fears. I am more afraid of spiders than of heights. We were on a bus day-trip into Albania, to see the spectacular ruins at Butrint, curving along narrow dirt roads. This was our third such trip, so I (and she) knew I would need some literal hand-holding as I cried silently, my imagination sending us to our deaths at every turn. She narrated the landscape for me, just talking to keep me unfocused, describing the flat prairie of Iowa where we both were in school. She described the rolling farmland that surrounded us back home, and then the bizzare half-built buildings that surrounded us on the road in Albania. The driver told us that they had been built without permits, and that what happened is developers would start to build, and then the government would stop them, leaving the half-made carcasses of buildings in their wake. Many of these were not up to code, as was obvious by their tilting exposed foundations and collapsing floors and roofs. Heroic though her efforts were, she was running out of things to describe when she exclaimed in delight “Look! A spider!” I jumped in my seat, and she quickly added “It’s on the outside of the window.” But in that moment I learned something about myself that I didn’t previously know: spiders are scarier than heights.
The dark on the other hand always felt comfortable to me. Comforting. Safe. I’ve always been a night owl, and I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, in pervasively brightly-lit neighborhood. I had nothing to fear then from the dark, in fact, what I would have called the dark I know now barely qualifies as darkness at all. A teenager in Boston staying up all night there was enough ambient light in the city to read by easily. I’m not much of a nature person, and I’ve spent most of my life living in or near cities, and when I travel I travel to other cities. Like most people my age living in an industrialized country, I hadn’t ever really known the night. Until two summers ago, when we went on a week vacation to Acadia National Park in Maine.
This book talks about individual experience of the dark in terms of deprivation, of pollution, of biological necessity, of spiritual and psychological necessity, and in terms of wonder. The wonder that I felt that night in Acadia when we just happened to have been outside by firelight long enough that my eyes were more adjusted to the dark than they’ve ever been before, and I just happened to look up, and it happened that it was a clear, moonless night. It was brief, but exquisitely transformative. I’d never seen anything like it before. The Milky Way. A year later, traveling in rural Peru, we took a brief cold moment to go outside, stand around for a few minutes to let our eyes adjust, and stare up at the Southern Hemisphere view of the Milky Way. Even more impressive, even more astonishing. These are my two darkest nights. I hope to have many more.
The End of Night covers ever imaginable facet of the issue of our fleeting darkness. That we take for granted our mostly starless skies in the same way that a hundred years ago most people would have taken for granted the sight of the Milky Way, even in the city. That 90% of people growing up in the U.S. now will grow up without ever seeing the starry sky. That light is not a simple good in the world, where more means better. Light is not unambiguous. It has an ethics.
Electric light especially, but earlier forms of lighting the nights had their own ethical complications, more obvious now to a modern mind. Whale oil, for example. Not just an ethics of animal cruelty and exploitation, but also of the exploitation of humans. Or, something horrifying to my sensibilities, that Shetland Islanders would kill and store hundreds of storm pestrels (a blubbery seabird), thread wicks down their throats, and light them on fire for a torch. Our nearly pathological fear of the dark has resulted in some gruesome acts. Especially when you consider that on most clear nights there is enough natural light for the human eye to see by. Not just from the zodiacal light, but from atmospheric reflection, and the moon much of the time.
But electric light, and the relative cheapness of energy, has a whole different set of ethical complications. There are the obvious energy ethics: only 4% of the energy used to light a lightbulb is used to make light. The rest is wasted and dissipated primarily as heat at the power source, through the transmission, and then at the light source. That it costs on the order of millions of dollars a night to light up a mid-sized city, and that money is coming from taxpayers. There are obvious ecological issues too: lights at night damage the environment in a way that is almost unimaginable because of its pervasiveness. Nocturnal animals have their biorhythms disrupted, their mating and breeding patterns altered, their feeding and migratory patterns damaged. Those are long-term issues. Short-term issues go like this: one night, in Georgia, 50,000 migrating birds followed a light at an airport (this is called “light trapped,” and its very common) and plunged straight into the ground, dying on impact.
There are also human ethics here. Electric light at night, especially blue light (the ever-increasing majority of the light we experience) is a known carcinogen. As in causes cancer. It’s also linked to increased depression, anxiety, obesity, miscarriages, and diabetes, to name just a few. The disruption of human circadian rhythms is a serious health problem, and the American Medical Association has adopted a resolution against light trespass, the primary cause of these disruptions. Most of us who live in communities (really, of any size) experience significant light disruption. But people who work the night shift experience worse. That’s about 20% of the current workforce in the U.S., and that demographic made up of a disproportionate number of women and ethnic minorities.
And what about safety? Well, actually, all the studies done on the relationship between lighting and crime show something similar: that there is no positive impact of increased brightness on crime. In some studies, the opposite has been shown: that brighter areas are more likely to have crime. The military has consulted with lighting experts, and this result has been replicated. More light is actually more dangerous, on so many levels.
This book is an absolute trove of information about light and darkness. But it’s also expertly written, extremely enjoyable to read. It engages not just with numbers and studies and explanations of the Bortle scale (which measures the darkness of the sky, 1 being the darkest), but with the idea of the dark. Artistically and culturally, spiritually and psychologically, we need the dark. And this book makes an informed and compelling case for preserving this natural resource, along with the others we are already fighting for.
(Since this is International Dark Sky Week, let me also recommend you visit darksky.org)
Just re-read Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” thanks to a friend of mine reminding me how phenomenal it is. I’ve been thinking a lot about erotic energy recently. A few weeks ago a different friend gave me Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” to read, and it was revelatory. As I was reading it, I felt as though it was revealing me to myself. I don’t know that anything has ever made me feel so intensely engaged in all my life.
It’s actually been a kind of terrifying thing, in a way. I read it, and read it again, and realized that this was in large part the framework for myself I’d been looking for. And to find it now, at the end of my time in grad school, when I’m about to not have time anymore to devote to figuring this stuff out really, has been spectacularly hard.
I only remember feeling this chaotic, this frenzied, once before in my life, and it was when I became a punk. Punk, in some way, touched a part of me that was waiting to be given permission to exist. A release, a feeling of some sort of framework to make sense of the chaos of my mind and soul. I have a punk rock soul. That was sixteen years ago, and I really never expected to encounter another thing that felt so important. Another framework for seeing myself in the world, or for clearly thinking about what it is I am already in the world.
I’ve written before about the cycle of academia, how this time of year is the world time of year for someone like me, who craves constant newness in terms of stimulation and yet hates change. Not only is the semester ending, and taking with it all the productive routines built around its structure, but (right on schedule) my grad student time is ending. I’ve been a grad student for a long time, and now I’m going to be in the world more fully than I have been in a sense since I was a punk rock street kid. Without the structure of school, I look ahead and see chaos.
That chaos is both exciting and terrifying. The potential is there, if I can focus it. Focus me. And this new cyborg-poet-punk (and definitively not cyberpunk, but perhaps more on that later) framework is what I hope will provide that focus.
So whirling through this is the erotic. While reading “A Cyborg Manifesto” I kept thinking about objectification. Haraway talks about two intellectual gestures that are both reductive: totalizing (looking for a single unified self/worldview) and reductive. Objectification in feminist theory gets a lot of attention, and I’m interested in it along these terms because it’s both totalizing and reductive. But reading this made me wonder if there was a way of objectifying that was reverent, that was additive rather than reductive. By reverent I do not mean worship-full, which is just another way of reducing and simplifying. But to treat a complex system (me) as an object in a way that adds value and complexity, rather than reduces value and complexity.
And I’m thinking about this in erotic terms, of course. Because objectifying women is almost always a question of who owns erotic power. And when women participate in their own objectification (see: Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Béyonce, etc.) people of are two minds about it, neither of which I find satisfying. On the one hand, it can be seen as an aggressively empowering act, to claim ones own body as a site of erotic desire not only for yourself but for others. To be unafraid of the potential (sometimes explosive) of erotic power. On the other, and these are some of the charges leveled at Miley, it can be seen as nothing more than submitting to and participating in a system of power that imposes its standards and expectations on women-as-objects. There is nothing truly revolutionary or empowering about merely operating within the system of power as simultaneously an agent and a subject. The goal is to subvert or at least divert the actual ideology.
Ok, but isn’t there something more to it? Both of those seem absurdly simplistic. We cannot take our ideology-glasses off (thanks, Zizek, for that awesome phrase) and so no matter what we’re doing we’re participating within the cultural constructs that inform everything from the smallest most private moment to the overarching structures of power and meaning and culture. So even the “revolutionary” acts of sexual empowerment (the pill, women’s lib, Roe v. Wade, Madonna—yes, I put Madonna there—the queer movement, etc.) change the way we participate but not the system within which we participate. Or if the change is happening it is happening by accretion rather than by dissolution.
In other words, rather than dismantling the systems of cultural power and significance we live within (and mostly can’t even see, though we can look at some parts, there are always more layers and more hidden structures), we can accrete new meanings onto them. Because we can’t refuse to participate (just like not voting doesn’t dismantle the democracy, or delegitimize it, because the structures are consumingly enduring) in a meaningful way, we can choose to participate in a meaningful way. And that meaning can slowly, over time, with use, accrete to create new structures of meaning. Like the way language evolves through use.
So can that be applied to the erotic? Haraway identifies sex (both pleasure and reproduction, separately) as an important site of self-coding for new imaginative possibilities. She says towards the end: “‘We’ did not choose to be cyborgs, but choice grounds a liberal politics and epistemology that imagines the reproduction of individuals before the wider replications of ‘texts’. … A cyborg body is not innocent … Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be sin, but an an aspect of embodiment. … Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment.”
As I see it, choice can become eclipsed as the ideological imaginative force by consent (and transgender politics and theory perhaps can expand that view further). So, I did not choose to be a biological woman, but I consent to it. I consent while resisting, redefining, splicing various ideas of what it is to be a woman together to create a woman that ever more closely resembles me, while understanding that a resemblance can never be more than approximation (and hence the partiality of connection even at its utmost). A simulacra of my identity, figured through the imagined perceptions of the world, the various lenses magnifying some parts. “Our bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity.” (Haraway).
Which transitions to what Lorde says early on in her brief essay: “The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” Eros, born of chaos, the primary connective and creative power. My body as a site of expansive and deep power. In the way that I understand Haraway to predicate cyborg identity on fluidity, permeability, expansiveness, boundaries as a porous site of contact rather than enclosure and exclusion, openness and adaptiveness that embraces multiplicity, and paradox, and pleasure, it seems to me that the erotic is an obvious site of that. Lorde: “Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy… my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible…”
The erotic as a core component of the cyborg; perhaps the component that allows the cyborg to expand and be hybrid. To establish tenuous and partial contacts with external beings: humans, animals, machines, all of this falls under the possibility of the erotic connection. Because the erotic cannot be reduced, as Lorde says, to the merely pornographic. Or rather it is almost always already reduced to the pornographic, and in order to use it as a driving force for expansion into the world (in a cyborg sense) it must not be reduced to that. Rather, it must be allowed its complexity and its desire, the urge for connection (that is always partial, and so never fully sated, which is what gives it its continuous drive I think). “To share the power of each other’s feelings is different from using another’s feelings as we would use a Kleenex. When we look the other way from our experience, erotic or otherwise, we use rather than share the feelings of those others who participate in the experience with us. And use without consent of the used is abuse.”
So a looking away, a reduction either in a totalizing or simplifying way, these are use without consent. The cyborg erotic demands looking, and seeing with complexity rather than simplification. To “make connection with our similarities and our differences.” And in this way the kind of objectification I imagine, a cyborg erotic, is more like a lens, a focus, one that does not operate through metonymy to reduce a complex whole to its part, nor as a disfigurement to separate one part from the others for analysis or desire. One that does not discount the chaos, one that permeates the boundaries between
Aside: When looking for an image to accompany this post, I realized how often the concept of “cyborg sex” is used as a machining-the-erotic; but what about eroticizing-the-machine? Also, there’s a sort of disgust/horror element to most of these images that is troubling, because it seems to allude to a state of being less-than human rather than imaging other ways of being human and more.