Saturday, June 2, 2007

Well, aren't I just being the productive little writer today?

I had thought. I think I might have picked up on a possible incident of intertextuality between The Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Life of St. Mary of Egypt.

In Thecla, during one of the attempts to martyr Thecla in the arena, the lioness that is supposed to be turning out heroine into lunch instead comes to her aid. In the Life of St. Mary, a lion - male - pays respect to the Mary's corpse and then aids Father Zosima to dig a grave and bury her. In both cases the lion takes the action of licking the feet of the saint. It's probably not the strongest case ever for intertextuality, but I think that it suffices. At least as a place to start. So, now the question becomes, what light does this intertextuality shed on the Life of St. Mary?

I think it's fairly obvious that both lions indicate respect being paid to the saint, an acknowledgment of the saint's holiness. The major difference in the two is that Thecla is honored by a "she-lion" and Mary by a male lion. This contrast draws attention to the maleness of the lion who licks Mary's feet and digs her grave. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think that the presence of this lion associates Mary with maleness and contributes to the subversion of cohesive gender already present within the text.

Now why didn't I notice this when I was writing my paper? Oh well, I need to revise and lengthen the thing anyway.

Iconographic Binaries

The automatist's undoing
The whole world starts unscrewing
As time collapses and space warps
You see decay and ruin
I tell you "No, no no no"
You make such an exquisite corpse.
~Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I'm sitting at work again, digging into Beauvoir's The Second Sex, because I finished up Butler's Gender Trouble yesterday and still feel the need to continue my haphazard foray into feminism. And at some point, my mind wanders from Beauvoir's introduction back to Butler and then over to my recently discovered bosom buddies, the transvestite saints. Yet again, I found myself wondering -- why to the vast majority of icons depicting the transvestite saints portray them in women's clothing? After all, these were women who had donned men's clothing in order to pursue the ascetic life. Why put them in women's clothing, when they are basically remembered for successfully passing themselves off as men?

The transvestite saints do, I believe, disrupt and subvert the idea of separate and discrete sex and gender categories. Drag queens in reverse, they demonstrate that gender is performed, made of a grouping of attributes, rather than magically endowed in the form of a person's genitals. All their stories are, of course, filtered through centuries of retelling and editing by people with all sorts of agendas and biases, but it is legitimate to view them as signs that some Early Christians saw the Kingdom of God in terms that might resemble the ideas grouped today under the label of genderqueer.

But, as best I can tell, all of transvestite saints proper are returned to womanly garb by iconography. The only potential exception is Saint Mary of Egypt, whose hagiography shares many features with the hagiographies of the transvestite saints, but she is not precisely a cross-dresser.

The iconography of the transvestite saints that we have today is, while ancient and traditional, from a much more recent period of Christian development than the transvestite saints themselves. Thus, it reflects the concerns of a later time. The practice of cross-dressing, attested to by prohibitions from various councils, pre-dated the formation of an institutionalized, socialized church. It was a practice typically found in more radically counter-cultural Christian groups who tended to view human civilization as a product of the fall of humanity away from God's intentions. (And yet, the transvestite saints must have been extremely popular to have survived the transition into institutional Christianity at all.) The forms of iconography that we have today are from a period at which the institutional church had taken a fairly strong hold over Christianity in both the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire. The practice of iconography extends back much farther, but the earliest icons have been lost either to age or iconoclastic uprising.

My first thought was that the placing the transvestite saints in women's clothing could only be a sign of the institutionalized church's desire to preserve male and female, man and woman as discrete separate categories. After all, the intention of iconography is to reflect eternal realities and provide a window into heaven. So, iconography places holy cross-dressers back into women's clothing to communicate a message that you can try all you want to escape the category of woman, at the end of the day, in your ultimate existence, you are still a woman. A righteous woman, but a woman. Needless to say, this baby postmodern feminist doesn't much care for that idea.

The question then becomes, even if the preservation of gender binary was the intention, is that the effect of returning cross-dressing saints to women's clothing? After all, the idea of a righteous woman is, for Christianity, a somewhat transgressive idea because of the association of holiness and virtue with manliness for much of the history of Western thought.

The more I thought, the more it seemed to me that the impossibility of creating a cohesive image out of the transvestite saint adds to the genderqueerness of their existence. If the holy cross-dresser slips neatly from the category of woman into the category of a man, the gender binary remains intact and unquestioned. One is either a man or one is a woman, and one must belong to a discrete category. However, because the transvestite saints are slipping back and forth between the categories -- living as a man, but being revealed as a woman in death, celebrated in hagiography for performing the gender of man, but memorialized in egg tempera in woman's garb -- they show the categories to be permeable and far away from discrete. The transvestite saint is a man or a woman. The transvestite saint is man and woman, combining and confusing the categories in the saint's body, revealing them to be permeable and mixable, rather than separate and discrete. The portrayal of the transvestite saints in women's clothing iconography, while it's intention might have been to enforce a gender binary, actually contributes to the queering of the categories of gender and sex! And perhaps indicates by this breakdown something about the nature of the eternal.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Faces Come Out of the Rain

You know, I think I might have managed to become stranger than I was previously.

Oh well, nothing wrong with that. Have I mentioned I like cats?

This handsome young fellow is named Bernard. Because it occured to me one morning that he should be named Bernard. And you don't question random morning recognitions like that.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

So why didn't J.C. say anything about homosexuality?

The "What do we do with homosexuality?" thread was revived over at the Facebook CofC discussion board after stalemating and sitting idle for a month or so. (And on the same day that I'm approaching the home stretch on one of the founding texts of Queer theory!) Interestingly enough, the topic was resurrected with a post from a young gay man sharing his experience with the CofC.

So, with the combination of Judith Butler, Peter Brown, and the reminder that people still think that repeating Bible citations claiming male prostitutes won't enter the kingdom equals an argument spinning about through my head at work, I -- in between noting which building had been locked in the log book -- started thinking. What does it mean that Jesus never said anything (or, at least, wasn't reported to have said anything) about homosexuality?

I then thought about the transvestite saints and the eunuchs and the numerous early Christians who believed that gender and sex were a mark of the fall and would be erased within the kingdom of heaven. At this point, it crosses my mind that if sex and gender are in applicable in the kingdom of heaven, then the categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality become incoherent and meaningless as well. So, if J.C. ascribed to/knew/recognized/wanted to publish the word that sex and gender simply are not the ultimate reality and identity of a person, he wouldn't say much of anything about homosexuality or heterosexuality because the categories would have been irrelevant and nonsensical.

And well, it seems like as good of an explanation as any for why the Bible is virtually silent on the issue of homosexuality, despite the hijackers of Christianity shrilling claiming that homosexuality is greatest problem faced by the world today. Because, you know, just because the founders of a religion were concerned with other matters doesn't mean that Christians today should bother with taking care of the poor or anything. No, no, of course not.

Then I realized, I have way, way too much time on my little hands.

(edited 06/04 to add a clause I skipped over)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I got a Rejection Slip!

And it was a rejection slip with ink! Which means someone actually read the story before deciding not to publish it! Woohoo! I feel like a "real" writer now.

(Isn't sad that I'm happy about a rejection slip?)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Keira Knightley has Magic Legs

(hate to think of what search strings that'll attract)

Just got back from the third Pirates movie. I have no intentions of any real spoilers, just a handful of comments, but one or two might make it in, depending on what you count as a spoiler.

1) Very, very dark humor. The tone for the whole movie is set by the opening scene. Which is a mass execution. With a moment of very morbid humor as one of the victims isn't tall enough to reach the noose. It's well...let's say the amount of human suffering in this movie almost pushes it past the point of being enjoyable. The director was walking a thin rope. I'll have to watch again before I can say how well or badly he did.

2) Johnny Depp -- brilliantly pointless!

3) Can I give Davy Jones a hug? He and Tia Dalma have what is arguably the best scene in the movie.

4) Barbossa. I do believe I am also in love with him. Or at least want to hug him, the little scoundrel!

5) The title of this post: Keira Knightley has magic legs. Despite having spent the entire movie running about on pirate ships with flithy men with their teeth rottening out, her legs are perfectly devoid of hair at the end. An obvious give to the myth that women were naturally endowed with hairless legs! (Why, yes, I do realize it's Disney, it's ridiculous and over the top anyway, and this movie is based in myth with not a shred of reality. It still struck me as a THINGS DON'T WORK THAT WAY moment.) I was also a little disturbed by the exploitation of potential places to hide weapons on a female body for a cheap laugh. That went past the extreme dark humor into flat out inappropriate.

ETA: So, in my bumping about the interweb ramblings, it seems I have suddenly managed to land myself within the top ten of Google hits, at least at one point last night, for searches regarding the legs of Miss Keira Knightley. In fact, I do believed I have just received my first spam comment, which while it expresses a rather revolting sentiment and abuses the English language, I have decided for the time being to leave up. Anyhoo, because I am a little frightened by being in the top ten for searches that I do believe were purposed to find photo's of Keira Knightley's legs or more prurient discussions of her legs, the radical feminist within me would like to comment that it is rather disgusting behavior to reduce the value of a woman to whether or not her legs are "thick" or "shapley" or "smooth" or "hairy" or whatever. And frankly, I didn't notice what her legs looked like because I was too busy thinking that there was no way under the sun that they could be that hairless!

At this point, I will digress into stating that I think the portrayal of Elizabeth Swan in the Pirates movies -- while far from a feminist's dreams come true (please see above notes regarding cheap laughs) -- is quite refreshing. After all, it's not every day that we get a film or a series of films in which the leading lady develops from a damsel in distress and the object of our hero's desires into her own independent operative, acting to further her own goals, which may or may not be a cross-purposes with those of the hero. And, she's also damn kick-ass. And Keira Knightley isn't even the main eye candy of the film, kudos to Orlando Bloom for, by his pretty-boy status, adding some genderfuck into the mix with oh, so, sexy chest scars.

Further, I would like to note that this blogger endorses the crazy notion that most beauty standards are misogynistic and imposed upon women by the patriarchy for whatever reason. (See this post from Laura, Of I'm Not a Feminist, But... for more on that.) Therefore, this blogger hasn't shaved her won legs in nearly a year and has no intentions of doing so at anypoint in the near future. Why? Because of the revolutionary notion that my legs do not exist for the benefit of someone else's thrills but exist mostly to get me from point A to point B and somwhere after that for my own thrills and chills. My legs -- I will shave them if I want, and won't shave them if I don't want.

But, wait, I hear the chorus now chanting that, but Keira Knightley is an actress and puts her legs up for view by the denizens of the world. She should give the audience what they want -- smooth, hairless legs! A straw man, to whom I can only reply: Keira Knightley is an actress. She is paid to act, not to satisfy your culturally inflicted need for hairless legs on women. Does the dominant culture use actresses to satisfy their sexual fantasy? Yes. Should they? No, probably not. And they particularly shouldn't do so based on a single physical attribute of the woman in question. Love/lust after Keira Knightley because she's had a tendency to play women who are rather awesome and manage at least some degree of independent existence. Not because of her legs!

Thank you. I will now go eat a sausage, zuchinni, and sweet corn casserole. Because sausage is a particularly tasty form of tasty, tasty murder!

More Movie Mutterings...And Some Instrumental Music Mumblings

I picked up a copy of The Aviator today. It was an incredibly good movie the first time around, and I'm more impressed on the second viewing. Excellent acting aside, the cinematography was just something else. I'll need to watch it again to try and unravel just what is going on the over saturation of color, but it's pretty nifty.

And now to move from commentary to just ripping off my betters... *cough* ...reporting.

I went to my aunt and uncle's church this morning. The story behind this particularly congregation --the persona non grata of many of the more "established" Maury County CofC's -- is that they broke off from one of the other CofCs in the county several years ago. I'm not sure what the real reasons were, at this point, I don't think it matters. At any rate the new church, Maury Hills was promptly accused of sacrificing chickens in the CofC gossip mill. (My uncle laughs and says KFC does a nice job at fixing up the sacrificial chickens.) They've since tried to make it their goal to be a congregation for people who have been burned by others within the CofC. They've also caused a hullabaloo by holding an annual joint worship service with the county's single Disciples of Christ congregation on the anniversary of the split between the Disciples and the Churches. (Anyone else think the Disciples walked away the rhetorically superior name?) My comment on the former is that I can make it through a whole worship service without any uncontrollable twitches. On the latter, I think that's just really nifty. Basically, I like them. So, anyway, those familar with CofC bickering can guess what the hullabaloo over having a joint worship service with the DofC was --

-- Instrumental music! (In fact, the junior preacher at the well-established CofC -- Westies, for those of you who know my code -- previously attended by yours truly was recently reported to have preached on how you can't use any instruments in a worship service. Except a tuning fork. I kinda wish I had witnessed these Bible gymnastics first hand. They must have been impressive to get that conclusion! ETA: His message was not endorsed by the elders, or most of the congregation.)

But back to the first CofC mentioned, Maury Hills. Today their preacher spoke on the issue of instrumental music versus a capella singing. (My aunt commented that he actually looked nervous.) And in a nutshell, his message was this: we have a capella rather than instrumental music as a matter of choice, not a matter of command. And most profoundly, he finished up his sermon with the thought: what if the only thing God hears is the worshipper's heart?