Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Unconditional (6/8)

I've been pondering a line from Simon Jarvis's (brilliant in normal as well as weird ways) The Unconditional, "double smash castrate Manhattan". The most obvious reference here is the September 11 Al Qaeda attack on Manhattan's Twin Towers. What bothers me is, why insist on bludgeoning? Castration is chemical or it is edged. The hijacked planes smashed into the towers, but the "castration" was done by heat.

Also, castration is already dual. Would a double castration be fourfold? Where is the "should have gone to Sex-spayers" extra pair accounted for? Is it just redundant, an oversight or kind of hyperbole? In a text which makes such frequent, taunting use of stacked modifiers and prefixes -- forcing the reader to run little gauntlets of logic gates -- it seems unlikely.

I like the idea of asking for a double cocktail like you might ask for a double whiskey, but I don't think its gets us anywhere.

This does though. Manhattan transfer is one of those Internet sex terms (felch, squick) which I can't help but suspect is quite disconnected from the practice it describes. Lifeworlds apart, the more so since the sense is contested and "I consent to be Manhattan transferred" probably means "poop in my ass," but maybe not. When you poop in Bronislaw Malinowski's ass over a number of years, he admits he is skeptical about the term's usefulness. What's crucial here is how the doubly-abject faecal phallus seems almost duple poop. Propriety implies that my turd and thy turd are twain.

Miranda July's incomparably sweet Me and You and Everybody We Know (2005) evokes pre-potty twaining utopianism:



The Twin Towers, moreover, were not exactly testicular. They were two phalluses.

I think Jarvis, with avidity typical of the dialectician, is indicating that the penis -- which we tend to treat as transcendentally phallic, as the standard for what it means to be monolithic -- already depends on a dual structure. That is, the bulk of the shaft of most cocks consists of two columns of erectile tissue (the corpora cavernosa. Another more slender column, the corpus spongiosum, which runs down between them, contains the urethra and is capped with the glans).

Continuing our season, another little facéd friend:



Sniffing the trail of the Manhattan transfer, we can recognise penectomy by vagina dentata as the moment in which the penis's repressed duality returns -- "my" phallus is finally "your" phallus. (Typically of "down there," the ultimate realisation coincides with death). As Linus Slug puts it, "I am often with double penis: heimlich und unheimlich."

A dermoid cyst is a tumor which may contain pockets of teeth and muscle (as well as bone, fat, sebum, blood, eyes etc.). "Of the actual dynamics of the eruption of ovarian teeth it is impossible to speak" (W. McAdam Eccles). Morphologically, dermoid cysts are the nearest we've got to vagina dentata -- and they're plainly inadequate.

These are final "vagina dentata ergo hakuna matata" moments of the arthouse B-movie Teeth (2007):



Teeth is a fervent, snap-dash coming-of-age yarn with a metal soundtrack. But it sort of posits an insouciant genderqueer primed to penectomise rapists.

Penile fracture, rupture of the tunica albuginea (chin and T-zone q.v.), is perhaps the closest functional correlate -- substituting, for an ideology of slice, a praxis of bludgeoning. Could the conditions of possibility of vagina dentata be cognitive, Jarvis asks, not anatomical? In a more generalised idiom of political activism, the question posed is this: how to transform an ensemble of risk concepts ("woman-on-top," "impact against the female pelvis or perineum and bending laterally") into a repertoire of resistance tactics? And then when would be best to have the workshop?

UPDATE: I just checked the line and it's actually "castrate Manhattan in a double smash", so. That makes more sense.

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