March 15th, 2012 / 4:07 am
Word Spaces


I understand the necessity of addressing the issue of gender imbalance in the publishing industry–I understand that this is something that isn’t being talked about enough and needs to be talked about more, but part of me always wants to insist that the entire program that is feeding this dichotomy is where the real problem is. Positing the issue of statistical counts of biological Male vs. Female bodies in the publishing industry is excluding any outliers to this constructed binary, the opposition of Male to Female bodies inherently erasing any room for discussion of the gray area. That which lies between, or somewhere on a spectrum outside of this opposition, is completely eradicated.

Of course, statistical analysis of anything, where numbers reduce actualities and items must be rounded down or up because we as humans understand that .4 of a person doesn’t mean anything–this is a structural analysis that always seems to miss the forest for the trees. Even within the realm of women-bodied authored writing, there is (often) an insistent phallocentric pathos that leads the narrative, generally within the construct of heterosexual relationships (the penetrative function of the penis is ostensibly what we all actually mean when we use the term “patriarchy”). If we want this overwrought homogeneity of patriarchal rule to end we cannot simply count on the binary of female-bodied versus male-bodied authors divorced from their content to be the deciding factor that we focus on. This changes nothing. The function of phallocentrism immediately ignores any sort of feminist thought, immediately assuming the role of the prick as presence and the vagina as void/absence (though we must consider the fact that Kathy Acker is one of the few people I am aware of who was able to subvert the dominant paradigm while writing what is arguably phallocentric sex).

The three errors concerning desire are called lack, law, and signifier. It is one and the same error, an idealism that forms a pious conception of the unconscious. And it is futile to interpret these notions in terms of a combinative apparatus that makes of lack an empty position and no longer a deprivation, that turns the law into a rule of the game and no longer a commandment, and the signifier into a distributor and no longer a meaning, for these notions cannot be perverted from dragging their theological cortege behind–insufficiency of being, guilt, significations. (Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus)

Of course just adjusting this in writing won’t actually affect publishing, shit needs to work from the inside out rather than the outside in–this is a larger problem, this is a core problem. The entire-fucking-world is phallocentric, and systematically this is oppressive–not just to women, either. If we focus less on the engendered binaries that serve as nothing but oppressive categories and more-so on how writing is functioning as a persuasive mode of discourse (which, let’s face it, it does), then perhaps progression can be made.

Let’s temporarily eschew the obvious fact that liberalism is terrible and nowhere near far enough left to accomplish anything ever. Let’s ignore the fact that radicalism is the only way to make the world better because I don’t want to derail from the point here–as much as I might desire your dick, I don’t want to hear about it. This is inherently, perhaps, part of the problem I find with what has recently been claimed as “feminist” writing by younger women, this idea that to be progressive means to become transparent and gain control by documenting sexual exploits in a public realm. The problem with this is that most–if not all–of this writing is still privileging the phallus.

I’ve always found it ironic the way the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual” work. I understand that on a basic semantic level this is simply positing “male and female” as heterogeneous and “male and male” as homogeneous, because generally, from both a level of experience and a level of, I don’t know, objectivity, it’s heterosexuals who are closed off to a wide array of sexual experiences, whereas homosexuals, more specifically anyone who identifies as queer (I’ll avoid going into the separatist insistence of certain realms of “gayness” that is as limited as a stringent heterosexuality), are those whose sexual lives live in the world of the heterogeneous–binary denying worlds of desire.

As much as the world would be a better place if everyone were in some capacity queer (this would remove this terrible binary and open up the world to a heterogeneous zone of pleasure), I’ll concede to the assumption that not everyone is built that way (but really, it’s arguable that 1200 years of a patriarchy is enough to brainwash even at the most subconscious level), and provide an example of a text that is primarily ‘heterosexual’ in its construction, while maintaining an insistent theme of anti-phallocentricism: Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye. If you haven’t read it, here’s a link to a zipped PDF of it.

Ok, now that you’ve read that, here’s a key passage from Allen S. Weiss’s brilliant essay “Demented, Deoedipalized, Deconstructed,” a reading of the story that follows up on Barthes’s canonical essay on the novella and incorporates Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus:

According to Catholic dogma, through a metaphoric relation, the wine symbolizes Christ’s blood and the wafer symbolizes Christ’s flesh; Sir Edmund’s blasphemous revision of this symbolism, with urine instead of wine and semen instead of wafer, metonymically symbolizes God as Phallus, God in the form of the Priapus. The tale’s anti-phallocratic theme is sustained: indeed, the phallus and God as transcendental signifiers are missing. While present in the nominalist structure of the sexual triangle, the phallus is lacking from the coordinating metaphoric series eye-egg-testicle. (The penis is only metonmically related to the testicle, as the Priapic God is metonymically related to the host as semen.)

The textual logic of Story of the Eye is organized by the alterations of the eye’s position on the sexual triangle, and by its metaphoric and metonymic variations. Thus the signification of the tale is not dependent upon the absolute position of a transcendent God; the position and significance of such a God itself is dependent upon the relation between the sexual triangle and the symbolic series eye-egg-testicle. This deus absconditus becomes a signified forever lost in an infinite play of signifiers: the signified “God” operates at best through a forlorn mode of identification, where “You are what you eat” (e.g., the bull’s balls or the lover’s sperm instead of the Eucharistic hosts). Such a God, therefore, may serve at best a fetishistic purpose. [ed. note: post-Nietzsche, we know that God, the ultimate patriarch, is dead]

Throughout the entire narrative, through many transgressive (in the Foucauldian sense) acts, the phallus is never privileged in relation to sex-act. Bataille understood as early as 1928 that that shit was played out.

This system of thought transcends theory though, it moves well into practice. I feel fortunate in the fact that I live, in terms of fluid sexuality, in what has to be the most heterogeneous zones of desire in America, if not the world. San Francisco is filled with trans- and hybridly identified sexualities, gender pronouns are never obvious and a male body dressing up in women’s clothes (and vice versa) cannot simply be labeled a fetishistic transvestism (though that’s not to say the Bay is perfect, there are still factions of fascistic homosexuality dominating more higher-income zones of living).

I met a beautiful goddess-diva ever-so briefly one night in San Francisco, a tumblr icon from Chicago, the future in the best way. Mark was fiercely ready for the future, she was ready, but something happened and now she’s no longer with us. I’d like to quote one of her tumblr posts:

I will not re-situate my ideas for a neoliberal framework

I think it’s fair for contemporary art to ask of its audience that they reframe themselves, not that the art come to the audience on their terms

I think it’s fair for contemporary art to accomplish work within a highly specific frame rather than make falsely broad statements

I think it’s fair to abide by the rules of the frame I choose rather than break the rules I choose to keep for the sake of a dominant paradigm

I believe Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”


tip the axis


I don’t care about your gaze


my tools belong to me


this conversation is tired

[from here]

Tags: , , , , ,


  1. Helen

      What about those who, while heterosexual (by experience and general inclination) are trying to write ‘queer’, if that is even a term that doesn’t come across as incredibly offensive some how (forgive my poor grasp of terminology). I’m writing a Bi female character whose awareness of lack is mother-linked and linked to being a failing immigrant. The hetero (phallologic) relationship she has is equally as unfulfilled as the gay one.

      Wanting to write this to fullness.  Sex scenes I can manage given time, but it’s all the rest, the self-image of queerness. How to go about this? Maybe just saturate in theory for a while. 

  2. Don

      “the penetrative function of the penis is ostensibly what we all actually mean when we use the term “patriarchy””

      That is not what I actually mean when I use the term “patriarchy”. Actually, I have no idea what “patriarchy” means when you use it to refer to the penetrative function of the penis.

  3. Don

      There is no unifying ‘self-image of queerness’ to capture in writing. I don’t think it’s possible to ‘write queer’ anymore than it is possible to ‘write white’, unless we accept the premise of essentialism (which is, ostensibly, what queer theory tried [but failed] to combat).

  4. Megan Milks

      i love this, mike. i need more time to digest and respond fully but for now just thanks. RIP calloutqueen: chicago’s mourning hard.

  5. Don

      Opposing phallocentric sex or phallocentrism, per se, seems homophobic to me and maybe captures the central misandrist homophobia of feminism and queer theory (ie. the implicit or explicit trajectory of the ‘queer project’ is hegemony of androgyny and the destruction of masculinity [which means the destruction of homosexuality – which is inevitably phallocentric and masculine]). The ‘queer project’ is also developing its own form of body fascism, with the demand of hegemonic androgyny connected to the hegemony of skinny ‘androgynous’ bodies (hatred of the Rubenesque female body and the muscular man body, etc).

      Contrary to what you write here, I find the increasingly androgynous heterosexuality (and also queerness, which is different than homosexuality) to be “heterogeneous–binary denying worlds of desire” (that phrase captures perfectly the ethos of the economy – think Marx’s line about how in capitalism everything that is solid turns to dust), but homosexuality is stubbornly masculinist and phallocentric.

  6. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I think it’d be fun to take everything written and reverse all the genders/make the genders completely ambiguous.

  7. Brooks Sterritt

      I loved reading this. However, I can’t help but think you’ve used some common heterosexual critiques of homosexuality against heterosexuality itself: that heterosexuality is the product of “brainwashing,” that the world would be a better place without the existence of any completely hetero desire, that it is not a “natural” state. As if any state is natural.

  8. shaun gannon


  9. Erik Stinson

      thought this would be about romance novels vs. hard sci-fi :(

  10. Anonymous

       The penis has been, and is, the most feared image in culture.  No true progress will happen until this dread is negated.

  11. Melissa Broder

      “I think it’s fair for contemporary art to ask of its audience that they reframe themselves, not that the art come to the audience on their terms”

      Wish i didn’t care about the gaze.

      Does anyone TRULY not care about the gaze?

  12. lorian long

      thank you for writing this, mike.

  13. M. Kitchell

      this sort of seems like the same assumptions that lie behind the concept of “reverse racism”– like, cool, but you seem to have forgotten that there’s a difference in the repeated systematic oppression of marginalized sexualities and, you know, just bigoted paranoia

  14. Zach Dodson

      thank you mike. chicago is reeling.

  15. Anonymous

      i don’t equate sub-rock living with never having read some horny french philosopher. that sounds like a systematically oppressive class-centric comment.

  16. Michael J. Martin

      “As if any state is natural.”

      Sounds nice. But what does that mean?

  17. Brooks Sterritt

      I totally agree that there is a different kind of systematic repression that occurs, but (yes, similar to “reverse racism”) any kind of bigotry is fucked, no matter from which direction it occurs. Is one “more fucked” than the other? I don’t know. (i should add that this was one of the more thought provoking posts i have seen on here lately)

  18. Brooks Sterritt

      “No state is natural” is the first sentence of a belletristic essay I’m writing titled “Penetration Station.”

  19. deadgod

      The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.  Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes.  Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.  All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.  All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober sense his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.

      The Communist Manifesto

      Marx was a Shakespeare fan.  He might have had ringing in his head these lines of Henry Bolingbroke and Hamlet (respectively):

      O God! that one might read the book of fate,
      And see the revolution of the times
      Make mountains level, and the continent,
      Weary of solid firmness, melt itself
      Into the sea!

      O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
      Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

  20. Don

      Like in Cesar Aira’s ‘How I Became a Nun’.

  21. deadgod

      There once was peculyer Francine.
      Teats grapefruits.  Each nip a tanjrine.
      Tomato-ass tight.
      Cunt:  citric delight. —
      Equine Penis! versat I’ll Francine!

  22. Anonymous

       Harold and the Purple Crayon

  23. Don

      “…the phallus is never privileged in relation to sex-act. Bataille understood as early as 1928 that that shit was played out.”

      Again, I don’t understand this. When two men have sex with each other, the phallus will almost always be privileged. When a man masturbates, the phallus will probably be privileged. That isn’t “played out”.

      This kind of “shit was played out” comment is a kind of sexual moralism… attempting to induce guilt in people who don’t do “transgressive” sex acts (not even sure what “transgressive” means re: sex in the age of internet pornography). People who are turned on by phalluses will tend to “privilege” them in their sex acts and how they write about sex. People who are primarily turned on by X will tend to “privilege” X in their sex acts and how they write about sex. That shit isn’t “played out”.

      The constant search for something new and transgressive is the ethos of capital.

  24. Anonymous

      this post gave me the feeling of sweeping a bunch of papers and books off a table
      what has always been odd / unwieldy to me about desire is its social component
      you touch on this when you mention you feel fortunate living there, san francisco

  25. Anonymous

      the abyss

  26. deadgod

      I’m also puzzled by “shit [is now] played out”.  If shit’s played out, then there’s nothing about it even for an historian to talk about.  –and certainly nothing political for anybody to revolutionize or transform.

  27. Anonymous

       having opinions on where everyone else should be in their sexual evolution is somehow a way to talk about being civilized
      civilization is going on here
      we’re doing a recap
      a huddle
      i agree with your questioning of that word choice

  28. Dave K.

      yup, gender is weird.

  29. Michael J. Martin

      Answer the question. Seriously.

  30. Brooks Sterritt

      Could’ve/should’ve said “No state is purely natural.” Sexuality has cultural as well as natural progenitors.

  31. jade dead

      are you serious?  

  32. Anonymous

       Did it seem like I was being fucking silly?

  33. M. Kitchell

      i would say that yes one is severely more fucked than the other

  34. M. Kitchell

      absolutely nothing i’ve stated in the above essay privileges the skinny body in the least

  35. M. Kitchell

      when i was still in college i refused to write with gender pronouns for almost two years. people who knew i was a fag always assumed a male/male relationship when i depicted desire, whereas in workshops & shit, people who did not know of my queerness assumed a male/female dynamic. it was an interesting experiment, but i’d rather be explicitly queer than allow context to dictate.

  36. M. Kitchell

      wasn’t going to respond to this b/c ultimately i think that everything stated here is really just so fucking amazingly dumb, but i’ll just quote the goddess mark (r.i.p.) instead:

  37. jade dead

      I guess no, just really really dumb. If you think this I don’t know how to start any conversation about what we just read.  Besides the phallus as a cultural image that transcends sex and rules everything we talk and think about, consider its “opposite” (only in binary terms, which I dont think are adequate to describe sex or bodies, at all, but just consider) the vagina/cunt/pussy as a purely sexual image/object.  For centuries, cunts have been persecuted, subjected, enslaved and raped by the faillus.  IF IT AND THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE IT RULES OUR SOCIETY, HOW CAN YOU THINK IT IS A FEARED OBJECT??  The “most feared image in culture” can not be possessed by those in ultimate power (cis white male), in fact is the most celebrated image in culture next to whiteness.

  38. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Yeah, that’s fair. But I’m really glad you did that. Fucking with readers is the best!

  39. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Yeah, that’ll work. But I’m thinking more along the lines of a Dashiell Hammett. “The Thin Lady,” or something.

  40. deadgod

      The idea is that anything predicated of ‘nature’ is produced by and reflects – reproduces – a cultural matrix.  One can’t know for sure if a discourse which attempts to disclose or indicate ‘nature’ isn’t misleading one’s attention in a culturally specific way, because one’s attention is being led culturally.

      The ‘natural’ object – which category includes the object ‘nature’ – is known subjectively, (in this case) in that it’s a product of the subjection of the world to culturally determined understanding.

      Even to say that there is no ‘nature’ except that “nature” generated culturally is to make a supra-cultural claim–an irrational assertion on its own terms.

      The idea that ‘nature’ is a cultural construction doesn’t mean that some particular ‘natural’ discourse is factually or morally wrong, but it does entail political-economic, social, and otherwise perspectival orientation of that discourse.

      So when we talk about sex, for example, we’re not talking as stable things about a stable thing, but rather are already interacting – already in conversation – with ‘world’ (and ourself/ves) transformatively.  –which interaction is what’s meant by “construction” (a temptingly objectively naive term).

      When we talk about sex, what we say is already interested, and that means some – likewise interested – skepticism of the usefulness and truthfulness of the talk is warranted.

      I think Brooks is suggesting to Impossible that Impossible understands this interestedness but is talking about sex as though Impossible were communicating the perspective-independent thing “sex”.

  41. Anonymous

      Haha! Mike the all-too-possible.

  42. Don

      Another thought: sex research has demonstrated that in practice there is no normative sexuality. All sexuality is heterogeneous, including heterosexuality (which, like homosexuality, has only existed as a social-sexual category for a few centuries). The idea that the sexual lives in queers or whomever are more exciting or varied than the sexual lives of heterosexuals is a commonly held idea in popular culture, but I don’t think any study of sexual practice has ever demonstrated this to be true.

  43. Don


      People cutting off their own dicks is fine, but the idea of cutting off all dicks (even symbolically) is misandrist and homophobic. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the quotation you provide speaks to what I commented earlier.

  44. Anonymous


      You actually believe the phallus rules everything we talk and think about?  LOL  Sauron’s cock ring may bind most, but not all.  Also, your wording leads me to believe you think all men share a collective penis.  Once again, I LOL.

      In my reality, women usually are accepting of homosexuals.  Heterosexual men not so much.  Homophobia’s foundation is the fear of another man’s penis.  But it isn’t actually about the penis, but the threat to personal power it represents.

      All that bad shit men have done to women, can be done to men, and the ‘great oppressors’ know this as fact.  In lucid terms: a (insecure) man’s greatest fear is a penis not his own.

      Another maxim of my reality: Women and men share an equal hatred for a transvestite’s existence.  I’ve seen women act as oppressors.  You’re living in a cartoon bubble if you believe otherwise.

      What I find interesting is the way society thinks about transgenders compared to transvestites.  Once the penis is gone, a lot of hatred disappears, or is converted to scared curiosity, and the transgender is viewed more as a retard than a threat. 

      The above applies only to transvestite/gender males.  I admit, I have no experience with women who become men, or dress up as men.

      “For centuries, cunts have been persecuted, subjected, enslaved and raped by the faillus.”

      Yes, the vagina has been persecuted.  It has also been celebrated.  Do I really need to cite examples?

      In language there are a million ways to reference or describe a vagina.  What is there, like, 5 or 6 terms for a penis?

      Phallus is also used to describe a clitoris.  Funny.


      How the fuck can you not?

      “The ‘most feared image in culture’ can not be possessed by those in
      ultimate power (cis white male), in fact is the most celebrated image in
      culture next to whiteness.”

      It can’t?  A third time, I LOL.

      To circle back to your first sentence. “I guess no, just really really dumb. If you think this I don’t know how to start any conversation about what we just read.”

      To be honest, I’m not interested in starting or furthering a conversation about what we just read.  This article is nothing more than ego jelqing.

      You don’t change perceptions by being a coward and sitting in a room hypothesizing over a bunch of academic bullshit.

      San Francisco is an ivory castle.  Of course Mike thinks it an awesome place.  I bet they make terrific smoothies in that heaven.

      But I live in the real world and act accordingly.

      Mother Theresa > precious Giles.

  45. M. Kitchell

      your “real world” is what i’m trying to get away from

  46. Anonymous

      I think it’s fair to be suspicious of any claims that “the world would be a better place if everyone were [x].” Viewed in context it’s not as worrisome as when one of the wannabefascists makes it, and I’m not interested at all in the reverse-racism style of argument, but still. It’s a bit of nastiness that I don’t think really helps the rest of the piece.

  47. marshall mallicoat

      I read some shit on the internet. One guy said the phrase “all that is solid melts into air” is from the 1888 English translation by Samuel Moore ( He points out an interesting passage in Shakespeare’s Tempest (Act IV, scene 1):

       “Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
      As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
      Are melted into air, into thin air:
      And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
      The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
      The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
      Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
      And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
      Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
      As dreams are made on; and our little life
      Is rounded with a sleep.”

      The dust/air distinction depends maybe on how you translate the German “verdampft” in:

      “Alles Ständische und Stehende verdampft, alles Heilige wird entweiht,
      und die Menschen sind endlich gezwungen, ihre Lebensstellung, ihre
      gegenseitigen Beziehungen mit nüchternen Augen anzusehen.”

      I don’t know German. I guess “verdampft” is a conjugation of “verdampfen ,” which means like “to vaporize, evaporate.” I couldn’t find an etymology online. “Dampf” seems to be a cognate with the English “damp.”

  48. Brooks Sterritt

      I agree. Though neither are desirable.

  49. Anonymous

       Yeah, Mike, I know what you’re about.

      Email me when your try becomes an escape:

  50. deadgod

      Excellent catch.  I’d tried to remember a line from The Tempest that might pertain, but was too lazy to persist in searching for it.

      Here’s my translation of the M/E sentence:  “All fixed and stilled things evaporate, all holy things become desecrated, and people are finally compelled to look with sober eyes at their [social] life-position, their reciprocal relations.”

      For comparison to Moore, here’s the first English translation, done by a very interesting woman named Helen Macfarlane (whom I’d never heard of):

      Everything fixed and stable vanishes, everything holy and venerable is desecrated, and men are forced to look at their mutual relations, at the problem of Life, in the soberest, most matter of fact way.

      The reason, I’m guessing, that the Moore translation – pretty free! – is nearly universally favored now is that it was “edited and annotated” (and prefaced in its first publication) by Engels himself.  –admittedly 40 years after its composition, but that’s going to be the authentic imprimatur.

      I looked at the major prose (Wieland) and verse (Schlegel-Tieck) translations (into Deutsch) available to Marx in ca. 1847, but their word choices don’t seem to have affected the German phrase so redolent in Moore’s English.  Here are the three relevant verbs in Prospero’s fragment that you’ve (re-)quoted and the respective German words:

      Sh:  melted
      Wieland:  zerschlossen [shut] to slam apart
      S-T:  aufgeloest dissolved

      Sh:  dissolve
      Wieland:  zerschmelzen to melt away
      S-T:  untergehn sink/’perish’

      Sh:  faded
      Wieland: verschwundnen to dwindle away
      S-T:  erblasst blanched

      It seems to me at least a good chance that Moore, anyway, was influenced by Shakespeare’s marvelous bombast.  In the first two fragments (that I quoted above), solid is melted into liquid, and melted into liquid and resolved into dew.  In the Tempest phrasing, spirits are melted into airMelting solid into air seems easily possible as a Shakespearean echo.

      Of course, it could also be phrasing that Moore, or Moore and Engels, got from a contemporary chemistry text!  –or from their own imaginations.

  51. mimi
  52. mimi
  53. deadgod

      Yes, ‘everything solid sublimates’ might be the physical-chemically most vigorous translation.  verdampfen does mean ‘evaporate’, but we say, metaphorically, that ‘the throng evaporated’, ‘the first-place lead evaporated’, and so on, of “solid” things dissolved so rapidly into separated ‘molecules’ that a liquid phase is, as it were, skipped.  Moore (or him and Engels) chooses a word (‘melt’) that interpolates liquidity – as the German word (and its most literal translation into English) has it ‘in’ it to do – .

      ‘Bourgeois society atomizes class solidarity.’  –Is Marx’s critique of political economy not relevant today?

  54. bett williams

      Mike…Emily and I are hardcore adoring you right now.  Great article.

  55. M. Kitchell

      after i swept the papers and books off the table i set the table on fire and watched it turn to ash

  56. Anonymous

      sounds like some kind of magick ritual

  57. Anonymous