. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

Marry, Hang the Idiots….
October 31, 2008, 10:53 am
Filed under: Attachment, Belonging, Love, Politics, psychoanalysis, queerness, sexuality, supervalent_thought, writing | Tags:

I tried but failed to complete a challenge made a few days ago by Jaime Hovey to write something about Proposition 8 and the problem/desire of gay marriage, even though I’m neither enthusiastic about marriage as a political project or foundation for the good life; nor enjoy writing useless polemics only to be read by progressives who are as ambivalent as I am about bracketing the whole feminist/queer critique of marriage as moral aspiration and property right, let alone the routing of GLBTQ politics to appeals for normalizing statuses;nor enjoy writing something in haste when I am trying to learn to write beautifully, or at least more effectively.   But as my friend Kay Sera says, “Whatever.”

In any case, I am not about to cede civil rights to heterosexuals just because they have a sexual pattern that they like.  It’s a sexual pattern, not a way of life!  A way of life is a much richer and more complex thing than a sexual pattern.  That’s really all I’d like to say.

A way of life involves the cultivation of everyday habits, habits of reproducing life (work, care), of paying attention, of inattention, of intensities of focus that are serious and frivolous.  A way of life involves managing the habituated way you show up and the way you check out of relations you are having. A way of life is a thick space of connection, habit, aversion, demand, deference, and pragmatism, enriched by fantasies of what makes it worth maintaining, only some of which you can bear to own while others are more secreted.

A sexual object choice comparatively is a flat empirical episode that endures or not, that repeats or not, that explains you, or not.  What do I know about you when I know your sexual pattern?   When Alfred Adler invented the term “lifestyle” in 1929, he was talking about such patterning, the patterning that constitutes personality, not the normatively and morally saturated theatre of appearances that is now over-shaping the political in California.

A pattern is something, just not very much.  Proposition 8 performs that in its simplicity:  “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized
in California.”  Knowledge of someone’s sexual pattern ought to be less the result of curiosity than the beginning of it.  The anti-gay marriage movements want the state and the church to control curiosity, and to turn the enigma into an icon.  This is business as usual.

One wonders why, really, other people’s erotic choices produce anxieties that it can be hard to shake.  Why it is so easy to read another couple’s or community’s way of being as a vote for or against your own patterning, a mirror of your own desires and compromises, an incitement to feel defensive about the choices you’ve made and the relations you’ve made that you just fell into.  But for so many, sexual identity has to be a morally ordered stereotype because everything else in the intimate zones is so prone to instability.

The possibility of expanding the legal institution of marriage to any humans of age who want to marry is a generic reminder that intimacies are always vulnerable, being protected, neglected, expanding, atrophying, developing thinner and thicker membranes, and open to change that we are constantly trying to shape to our advantage. Intimacies, shaped by ambivalence and affect management, are themselves threatening to “recognize” and difficult to maintain.  If marriage is limited to heterosexuals, at least one quality of intimate life will seem invulnerable.

I believe that queers will win in the end.  Either gay marriage will go the way of interracial marriage after Loving v. Virginia and become conventional and non-controversial, or so many instruments of alternative coupling will develop that new institutions of intimacy will be available for everyone, or both!  The world is always ahead of the law as new forms for fantasy and for imagining what the good life incite new practices of attachment, care and carelessness, and community.  But sometimes the law has to play catch-up to the ways we already live.  This is why the gay marriage movement matters, and not just for the people excluded from the legal, but not the emotional, conventions.

The word “marry,” by the way, has two senses. Along with its vitacultural origin, it is an oath, from middle English. OED: “Expressing surprise, astonishment, outrage, etc., or used to give emphasis to one’s words. (Often in response to a question, expressing surprise or indignation that it should be asked).”  Marry, you need to ask?  Marry, you feel threatened by other people’s sexualities?  Marry, why are we worrying about other people’s intimacies when so many of our other life-giving infrastructures are crumbling?  Oh….

As Oliver Goldsmith wrote, “Marry, hang the ideot..to bring me such stuff.” (in the Vicar of Wakefield I. xii. 120  1816)

7 Comments so far
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I like the vulgar tongue usage: “to handcuff
together in order to conveyed to gaol.”

Comment by Kyla

…it leaves the kink in, you know?

Comment by Kyla

Love it. Thanks for this. The problem, of course, is that this particular “erotic pattern” is invested with over a thousand rights that you don’t get if you can’t have access to marriage. So marry, let’s decouple them! And who is more perfect to quote on such riotous silliness than Goldsmith? Great stuff.

Comment by Jaime

If this is a failure, I don’t need to see success. Thanks.

Comment by MC

I summarize: fuck marriage.

Comment by Mandy

[…] • Lauren Berlant: “Marry, Hang the Idiots” on gay and straight marriage. In any case, I am not about to cede civil rights to heterosexuals just because they have a sexual pattern that they like. It’s a sexual pattern, not a way of life! A way of life is a much richer and more complex thing than a sexual pattern. That’s really all I’d like to say. […]

Pingback by notes from the interblags: post election etc. | A Collage of Citations

Even when I was a clueless youngster I thought that what people do in their sexual lives tells me nothing interesting about them. Decades later, I find myself standing up in large rooms full of people saying the same thing: that sex does not mean the same thing to everyone. It is banal, but it is scandalous. I’m still working to understand it.

On a purely pragmatic level, the US may find it terribly inconvenient to lose all the educated professional migrants from Europe, for example, who have been able to marry or register civil unions. And who, if they get jobs in US corporations or universities, will not be able to ‘bring’ their spouses along.

Laura Agustin: Border Thinking: http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin

Comment by Laura Agustin

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