The Phallic Burden

Ken Domon, photography.

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
Gore Vidal

“…fear—a particular fear that has composed the very foundation of male selfhood from antiquity to the modern era, from the peasant villages of Afghanistan to the west wing of the American White House. It is the fear of being feminized. For many men, masculinity is a hard-won, yet precarious and brittle psychological achievement that must be constantly proven and defended. While the external factors may appear to be that which is most threatening—gay men in military shower rooms, feminist women in civilian bedrooms, or audible female footsteps in the Taliban-era marketplace—the actual threat that many men experience is an unconscious, internal one: the sense that they are not “real” men.”
Stephen J. Ducat (The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity)

“[e]quality between men and women cannot be achieved without a theory of gender as sexed and a rewriting of the rights of obligation of each sex, qua different, in social rights and obligation.”
Luce Irigaray (I Love to You: Sketch of A Possible Felicity in History)

“…and man owes his mental development more to his enemies than to his friends.”
Hans Vaihinger (The Philosophy of As If: A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind)

“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. “

Genesis 2: 21-22

In Thailand there is a large trans community. Almost entirely male to female. And like many of both sexes, in Thailand, a majority work in the sex trade. And they have an extensive clientele, mostly from Europe and North America. The word for tranny in Thai is *katoey*. There is even a walking street (last time I was in Bangkok, which is twenty some years ago) called Soi Katoey (and the well known Nana Plaza). The term Katoey was traditionally also about simply feminine gay men (originally from Khymer). There are documentaries about the Thai (and Cambodian and Laotian) trans communities, and it is estimated that there three thousand gender related surgeries a week in Bangkok alone.

Now, there are a couple of interesting aspects to the trans discussion. First is to note that the phenomenon of men performing themselves as women goes back to antiquity. Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat of the Yuan Dynasty, visited Cambodia in the 13th century and reported on the prevalence of *catamites*, and feminine pubescent boys who offered sexual favours to the foreigners visiting.

So there are two questions or topics, here (well, there are many more but for now) and one is that gender dysphoria is not a capitalist product. Capitalism and contemporary cultural forces may have shaped its expression but it has existed as long as societies have existed. And the second issue is more existential. And it is couched in a wider discussion regards the phallic. And it should be observed that the marketing of transgenderism in the West today profoundly distorts the issue. And seems double edged. I have noted before this strange phenomenon of *ugliness* that has appeared in media the last few years. Not just in trans related issues, but just everywhere. The *woke* guidelines, which are predicated on extreme tolerance (more on that below) seems to have served as a magnet for the grotesque.

The grotesque doesn’t appear in Thai katoey (or ladyboy, or the less perjorative *phet thi sam*). What accounts for the difference between Rachel Levine and Nong Tum? (Nong Tum is the star of the documentary Beautiful Boxer). And I am not particularly attacking Levine, though he/she probably deserves attack for being a trusted defender of Western imperialism. Or the aesthetics of the western *drag queen*. And this branches out into discussions of *camp* and gay subculture overall. The mainstreaming of gay culture has had curious implications and effects , both to heterosexual culture and to gay sub culture. I remember Gore Vidal’s impatience at gay culture saying “…it’s what you do, it’s not who you are”.

Tài jí tú (yìn-yáng) symbol at Lóng Hǔ Shān Daoist monastery

The history of art, dating back to the dawn of human life, is a history of homosexuality, in one sense. The numbers of gay artists is incalculable. But this begs the question of defining homosexuality. It is nearly impossible. I knew this ex con, black and from the mean streets of Harlem, who had been institutionally raised. From reform school to San Quentin. Most of his life had been spent inside. When I met him he was in his late forties. He has a remarkably smart guy. And his sexual preference was young white dudes. Masculine straight white guys. He told me women scared him. He had had sex with several but he preferred being the top in gay encounters. He added, ‘I fall in love with women, however. I never fall in love with these twink tricks’. Was he gay or straight? The cop out answer is to say he was ‘bi’. And truth is, I probably believe most everyone is bi. And in an infinite variety of ways. The problem with all this is the focus on *identity*. Eddie Bunker once joked that his advice to ex cons when they first got released after a long bit was just find a women and put a carrot on her stomach.

The entire woke campaign (and it IS marketed) is another example of the manufacturing of confusion. There is no real truth to the entire enterprise. I doubt anyone could find me an adequate definition. You can google *Define Woke* and get articles from The New Yorker, and NY Times, from Fox News et al. The short arc of transformation in meaning, of the word WOKE, is a short parable of how electronic media and corporate control of message creates false narratives. Obama looms over *wokeness*, and the NYTimes, of course, calls Obama and Bernie Sanders ‘the new left’. Confusion.

Ré Soupault, photography.

All this is by way of trying to grasp the psychoanalytical dimension of gender dysphoria. I remember back in the days when I trained at World Gym with hard core bodybuilders and power lifters and how many suffered rather extreme cases of, what was then called, body dysmorphia. But it was really one very specific flaw: they thought they were too small, weak looking, and frail. These were the largest guys on the planet. Many had the prefix *Big* attached to their names. Big Ralph, or Big Ron, etc. And that always struck me as amusing, but also a bit terrifying. They perceived a ‘lack’ in themselves. They did not measure up to the ideal they wanted for themselves. I remember guys who would not take off their sweat shirts in front of anyone. And these were, again, huge and very muscled and fit men. (the received wisdom in the bodybuilding community was scratch the surface of a bodybuilder and you find a shy weak bullied little boy).

There are several threads here, about the trans agenda. First is, there remains a lot of homeless (especially minority) trannies who need help and support. They still are not getting it. Second is the misogyny of much of the trans campaign. From biological men competing as women in sports, to the idea that transexuals are real women. No, they are transexuals. Period. There are two sexes, and all of western (and eastern and middle eastern) mythology and folk tales, legends, and fables are predicated on this opposition. Yin/Yang. This also begs the question of defining the word *real*. The western agenda vis a vis transgenderism is the only place one will find this policing of thought. This stuff will spread, however. Western media reaches all corners of the planet, today.

“In the wake of Freud, who mobilized to a varying degree the authors you mention, we took issue with the structuralist assumption that “meaning is a structure,” We believed instead that meaning was a process of heterogeneous logics, a polyphony of representations, a “trial,” a “dissemination,” a “revolt,” a “jouissance,” and a “pleasure”- but also a “violence,” an “abjection,” and a “horror.” In different ways, we tried to highlight the heterogeneous, contradictory, and multifaceted nature of the psychic apparatus, and thus of human experience itself. Our work produced a conception that broke free from what could properly be termed identificatory thinking.”
Julia Kristeva (Interviews)

Marketing itself produces tensions, psychologically. All advertising does. Now in the 21st century, the advertising of Bernays seems almost quaint. There has been developed and employed a marketing strategy that serves to produce a massive negative psychological library of rejected subject positions. Marketers realized that it was no longer enough to show dirty towels, a box of detergent, and then a clean towel. Today there are positions presented, intentionally, that are meant to be rejected. But it doesn’t stop there. There are tiers of identification with products or lifestyles which are known (by marketers) to be incompatible with life. That almost have to be rejected. It is a negative but fluid realm of identity markers. It is negative manipulation. Another version of coercive advertising was seen in the Covid phenomenon. The governments, and more, the big global NGOs (World Health Organization, CDC, etc) put out impossibly complex graphs and figures, intentionally confusing and contradictory. Meanwhile the mainstream media hammered away constantly on the threats, the absolute necessity of this new vaccine, and how irresponsible it was to not get the jab.

Hans Erni

“Freud’s interpretation of sacrificial rites, which inspired the anthropological works of the period, notably those of Robertson Smith, rely essentially on Freud’s own analytic experience, and particularly on his knowledge of obsessional neurosis, privileging the human being’s relationship to the phallus and the father. To this foundation, subsequent clinical analysis added the knowledge of the archaic states of the psyche, as revealed by depression, psychosis, and autism. The depressive stage reveals that language comes out of the loss of the sensory satisfactions obtained through maternal contact. Grieving for tactile, olfactory, auditory, and visual symbiosis is replaced first by hallucinations of the maternal face, then by its verbal designation. ”
Julia Kristeva (The Severed Head)

I think that in contemporary society the burden of the phallus has become acute. This is an engineered sense of failure or disappointment that seems connected in some way to gender dysphoria. The disappointment of defeat cuts across the entire society. I suspect almost certainly the ruling class suffer it the most. In fact this severe anxiety may play a role in the drive for power. And it may help explain the terror and self sabotage of the male children of the billionaire class. Robbed of the social space to ruthlessly climb their privileged phallus, they experience themselves as prematurally gelded. It is also racial. It is the white phallus — the imaginary white phallus, in particular, that casts this long dire shadow. This all pervading sense of disappointment manifests in countless ways; from mass shootings, to dependency on anti-depressants, to the nearly obsessive need for consensus.

And to introduce what is a sort of side bar, it is useful to look at the US political consultants and their need to remove the feminine from their candidates. George Bush, Sr was labeled a ‘wimp’ on the cover of TIME magazine. Dukakis went to absurd lengths to ‘butch it up’ on the campaign trail. But the most interesting moment in recent political spin was depicting Bush Sr., in political cartoons, as a women, as wearing women’s clothes. There was also the constant joking that Bush ‘served under Reagan’. There is a pretty decent old Rolling Stone article on Bush Sr. here:

If you can get past the paywall. (Rolling Stone is an odious publication it should be noted, but this is when Matt Taibbi wrote for them). The point was Bush Sr. was the classic political candidate in search of a phallus. For Papa George, eating pork rinds was not enough.

Flor Garduno, photography.

The selling of a president is the selling of his phallus. Even women candidates. The feminine interior, or sujectivity of contemporary men is a contested site. The West has no rituals outside of corporate owned spectator sports (more on this below). Spain had bullfighting ( I mean it still does, barely) and this was a ritual/art in which the matador was both man and woman. The bull was the phallus. The American political class lacks virility. It lacks *chi* if we could it in traditional chinese medical terms. This is true of the UK, too. Rishi Sunak is neurasthenic, a strange little boy with too short suit pants and the stupid smile of the servant plastered on his face. This is the paradoxical aspect of ruling class privilege. Sunak is both ruling class and a servant.

Movie homework:

Now Luce Irigaray looms as an interesting figure in gender discourse:

“Under the rule of patriarchy and capitalism, sexual difference only allows women to exist in relation to men and consequently forces women into the private sphere. Subjectivity becomes synonymous with masculinity, as we are enslaved by the binary of sexual difference and obsessed with consumption and the subsuming of others to ‘cultivate’ our identity. For Irigaray, we need to make it known that sexual difference is what underpins our culture and attempt to cultivate ourselves within ourselves, in order to break the dichotomous relationship that alienates us all, thus granting us access to true unmediated love and salvation. Irigaray’s sexual difference has been critiqued by many as essentialist and problematic in regard to queer, transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people.”
Jordan Ross (Luce Irigaray: The Queer Implications of Sexual Difference)

Jean-Christian Bourcart, photography.

Irigaray of course is starting from a very Lacanian perspective. She asks interesting questions, though. Her focus on language, a masculinized language, feels very to the point.

For Irigaray (and Lacan) the phallus is the master signifier. The little girl recognizes she lacks this signifier. (here is a place I think I might question things, but I will return to this….lets carry on….).

“Irigaray puts it, ‘woman’s castration is defined as her having nothing you can see, as her having nothing.In her having nothing penile, in seeing that she has No Thing. Nothing Like man. That is to say, no sex/organ that can be seen in a form capable of founding its reality, reproducing its truth. Nothing to be seen is equivalent to having no thing. No being and no truth,’ (Speculum, 1985). The biological nature of the male sex organ allows it to present externally, and therefore is clearing missing in the little girl. Where prior to the development of an awareness of difference, the little girl was able to value and covet her own body. But what, ‘she thought she had, in her clitoris, [as] a significant phallic organ’ is exposed as a missing part.”
Alyson Lieberman (Accessing Women through Masculine Discourse: Luce Irigaray’s Embodied Syntax )

This is not a physical loss, but a psychological one. And as the little girl grows up, she doesn’t develop a penis. And this is key, the little girl cannot find a solution with her own body, so she searches outside this realm of the personal and subjective, searching out in the Phallic male world. The phallocentric world.

“The nonsymbolization of her desire for origin, of her relationship to her mother, and of her libido acts as a constant appeal to polymorphic repressions (be they melancholic, maniacal, schizophrenic, paranoiac…) She functions as a hole – that is where we would place it at its point of greatest efficiency, even in its implications of phobia for man too – in the elaboration of imaginary and symbolic processes. But this fault, this deficiency, this ‘hole,’ inevitably affords woman too few figurations, images,or representations by which to represent herself…she borrows signifiers but cannot make her mark, or re-mark upon them.”
Luce Irigaray (Speculum of the Other Woman)

Philippe Salaun, photography.

“The connection between sexuality and the larger representation field is central to both Freud and Irigaray. One way in which they defend the connection between language and early sexuality is the similarities in construction. The distinctions Freud creates between active/passive, penis/clitoris, “are interpretive modalities of the female function rigorously postulated by the pursuit of a certain game for which she will always find herself signed up without having begun to play,” (Speculum, 1985). The little girl is required to formulate her entire external and internal consciousness through a framework she has not created. Freud does not acknowledge his implicit negation of the feminine within his own theories, but he does stress the importance of repression in female sexuality in allowing for the masculine creation.”
Alyson Lieberman (Ibid)

The pursuit of a game she will always find herself signed up to play, but never beginning. This is quite profound, I think. The girl formultes her consciousness vis a vis a framework she has not herself created. Now, this also , in the 2020s, is a framework and language subsumed by advanced digital capitalism. The phallus is now mediated by the same problems that haunt all discussions of evidence or authenticity. The deep fake phallus.

But this leads us into a very deep rabbit hole, indeed. Foucault saw *epestime*, in a rather different way than, say, Aristotle. For Foucault it is closer to paradigm. The interesting part, though, is that Foucault sees the *epestime* as the framing unconsciousness of subjectivity. And here Foucault inches close to Jung, actually. It is the Architype, in one sense anyway. But back to our regular programming.

Simphiwe Ndzube

If the idea of an episteme is troubling, today, there are also historical perspectives worth noting. The Copernican Revolution. Man (not woman) was no longer the center of the Universe. Such shifts in society’s sense of itself are significant. But the master signifier remains anyway. Freud believed that prior to sexual development the small girl child and small boy child are identical, they are both ‘little men’ (!).

Now, Danielle Pope has an essay in a collection on Irigaray specifically on transexual and transgender idenity. What I find interesting is that in the first paragraph we find this: “These readings of Irigaray portray her as conservative and sympathetic to traditional gender stereotypes…” Gender stereotype? Meaning, I take it, an insistence on two genders. There is a critique, soon after, that Irigaray forces men and women to identify with their gender, and by extension with conservative social norms. This is nonsense, of course. One cannot not acknowledge one’s sex. What is done with that sex is, or can be, highly complex. What seems curious to me is that the new western (north American in particular) trans movement demands OTHERS identify with the transperson’s particular sexual identity. Irigaray has spent most of her career recuperating a sense of the female that at least partially frees itself from phallocentrism. This is important because the phallocentric aligns with class power and exchange value, with something that speaks to a fascist fantasy of virility and potency. The phallus is owned by the ruling class. They may know this isn’t literally true, but they behave as if it is. Now the other glaring issue with the transgender movement is the invasive and expensive surgery required. And often a lifelong dependency on pharmaceuticals. And this brings me back around to the political poverty of most transgender discourse.

The questions becomes, then, two fold. Are there radical anti-capitalist trans movements I don’t know about? And if not, if the prevailing sensibility is about identity and personal validation in one’s chosen sexual and/or gender position, then the movement inhabits a deeply reactionary political position.

The next question has to do with the crisis in masculinity, and the trans movement. American politics is about the perfect barometer for masculine insecurity in the West. The so called *wimp factor* has become a given for consultants running campaigns. Especially for national office. And for all the ‘drag queen storybook readings’, and Hollywood product, where one would think half the population was gay, for all the marketing (Nike signing a deal with Dylan Mulvaney) there remains a male fear of being seen as a ‘sissy’.

Sarvavid Album Leaf #24- Inner Mongolia; 18th century.

That Irigaray can be attacked for ‘gender stereotyping’ suggests that the Western (U.S.) trans movement finds itself, by default, aligning with US imperialism and a militarism. The White House press secretary advocates openly for trans-rights. She does not advocate for prisoners’ rights or even just worker’s rights. I cannot quite discount the possibility of trans soldiers in the near future. The identity construct is one that defaults to the status quo. Validation means institutional acceptance and acceptance by the organs of U.S. government policy. If Irigaray is deemed essentialist for positing two sexes, and her critique is reduced to reductive markers related to *identity*, then discourse has been shaped by Madison Avenue, and by extension so has politics in general. For the liberal bourgeoisie all this is viewed as ‘progress’, a progress in tolerance.And as such these narratives are more ruling class ideology. The only conclusion one can arrive at is that the trans movement is reactionary.

Johan Eddebo arrived at a similar conclusion in his post: “Transgender ideology and the rainbow ISA additionally imbues the imperial system of domination with this aura of the saviour, of the white knight champion for the oppressed and down-trodden, in that only capitalism’s technology can adequately allow for people’s innate and sacred individual natures to fully flourish, to come to their true expression. And this is also reflected in the fundamentally reactionary political attitudes of the contemporary proponents, quite the far cry from Stonewall. “
Johan Eddebo (The reactionary misogyny of contemporary transgender ideology)

But this still begs a few questions. While it is clear that acceptance for gay people, for queer culture, is indeed progress, this new tolerance has inextricably linked itself to various other intolerances. And the U.S. as a political entity is now entwined with American culture in a way far greater than it ever has been. The intolerance, for example, toward socialism and communism is almost total. This ties in with a discussion of language. And again, Irigaray is correct that discourse, language, and all its definitions, remains staunchly phallocentric. Language (or how it is used as a general statement) has incrementally devolved into sloganeering and jingoism, scolding and stigmatizing. And probably social media has played a not insignificant role in this. And here is perhaps my actual point; the transgender movement is itself acutely phallocentric. And it worth pondering why (at least until very recently) the Thai trans community did not present that way. I am not an expert on Thai transexuals, and this may well be my misreading, but I did live in Bangkok for a bit (thirty years ago) and that was my sense. That said, Bangkok is now thee #1 destination for gender reassignment surgeries. (now called gender affirming surgeries. Sigh). It is important to examine the (per Irigaray) phallocentrism of language. But I think it’s misguided, at the very least, to start thinking that history being changed to herstory or theirstory fixes anything. I suspect it cements the phallocentrism further in fact. Language is historical. To legislate (sic) for gender correctives in pro nouns or really anywhere is a kind of historical denial. As paradoxical as this may seem, I think it at the least invites a deeper reading of the semiotics of capitalist masculinity and femininity.

A final footnote observation. The U.S. gay culture (queer culture if you prefer) is visibly white and male ( I think it’s safe to say). And the most policed neighborhoods in American cities are the gay areas. Gay culture understandably made a pact with law enforcement (to protect themselves) and the result are neighborhoods over regulated, and surveilled, and this has bled into the personalities of gay white men. The outlaw queer figure of John Rechy or Jean Genet is now Pete Buttigieg (or Ned Price or Arlando Teller or Rufus Gifford et al). Yes there are a number of gay women in positions of influence, and this absolutely a good. Under normal circumstances. But this is the Imperialist government of the West. Karine Jean-Pierre, the black lesbian deputy press secretary does not register as a positive. You are the minions of the Empire. I have no final take away except that the survival instinct in gay communities led to a deal with the Devil, and the Devil always gets paid.

“When I am beset by abjection, the twisted braid of affects and thoughts I call by such a name does not have, properly speaking, a definable object. The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. What is abject, is not my correlative, which, providing me with someone or something else as support, would allow me to be more or less
detached and autonomous. The abject, has only one quality of the object-that of being opposed to I. If the object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture oa desire for meaning, which, as a matter of fact, makes me, ceaselessly and infinitely homologous to it, what is abject, on the the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses.”

Julia Kristeva (Powers of Horror)

unknown European painter. Wellcome Library, London. 1790 apprx.

Another aspect regarding the precipitous rise in gender disphoria has to do with the effects of chemicals on hormones. Not to mention, for a whole host of reasons, the dramatic drop in fertility, globally. Certainly there are economic determinants that discourage many from having children But that doesn’t cause drops in fertility, which has been charted globally for over a decade. But I think there is, in addition, another deeper cause, and it accompanies the erosion of meaning, the erosion of self, and of narrative. A fear of potency is yet another aspect, one that I touch on below. (it is a not unironic aspect of heavy steroid use that it has an effect on sperm counts and sperm motility, as well as testicular development in youth). The toxic stew that contemporary westerners live with and in (and really, the entire planet lives in) has almost an almost undeniable connection to subjectivity in the young.


It probably goes without saying that global capitalism is where the buck stops on all this. And I was thinking the other day how relevant Hans Vaihinger’s work is, again, today.

“It must be remembered that the object of the world of ideas as a whole is not the portrayal of reality — this would be an utterly impossible task — but rather to provide us with an instrument for finding our way about more easily in this world.”
Hans Vaihinger (Ibid)

Vaihinger wrote his famous work (The Philosophy of As If { Die Philosophie des Als Ob} ) when still rather young. It was not published until he was in his fifties (in 1911) but had been written, or most of it, decades earlier. The premise in a crude reductive description is that we can never see (or experience) the real structure of the world around us. To compensate, and make further thinking possible, we invent systems of thought that we sort of pretend correspond to reality. He cites electromagnetic radiation, and protons. One cannot see these things but it is useful to trust they exist in order to build better systems of thought. Vaihinger called these ‘fictions’. The doctrine is fictionalism. Today, Vaihinger has found a new popularity and is seen in relation to modeling. But I think this misses what I find so revealing in his work, and that is that this is a recognition or realization of the wrong turn taken by post Enlightenment thought. And it relates to (again referencing Beller) the particular turns of technological innovation, and the expedient direction for research (for example). The force of capitalism, and its joined at the hip twin, white supremacism, needed a justification for racial explanations, hierarchies of race and cataloging of populations, in the interest of control. It is possible one can see fictionalisms reaching their apex with The Third Reich (or today, which in a sense is the 4th Reich).

Domenico Beccafumi (Tanquil, 1512. ) detail

And fictionalism relates to technology, too. Take electricity. Nothing happens without it. Computers don’t happen without it.

Here is the U.S. Energy Administration definition of electricity:

“Electrons usually remain a constant distance from the atom’s nucleus in precise shells. The shell closest to the nucleus can hold two electrons. The next shell can hold up to eight. The outer shells can hold even more. Some atoms with many protons can have as many as seven shells with electrons in them.
The electrons in the shells closest to the nucleus have a strong force of attraction to the protons. Sometimes, the electrons in an atom’s outermost shells do not have a strong force of attraction to the protons. These electrons can be pushed out of their orbits. Applying a force can make them shift from one atom to another. These shifting electrons are electricity.”

This is fictionalism. Pretty much nobody quite knows what electricity is. Do an engine search for Converting Electrical Energy and see what you get. I mean this pretty basic stuff, but there are a lot of what Vaihinger would call fictions. Statistics are another realm rife with fictionalism. If someone says, there is a one in ten billion chance you will get hit by a bus today, what does that mean? It means, well, dont worry about getting hit by a bus. The statistical probability is window dressing.

Another footnote on endocrine disruptors. I wrote about it way back in 2005

Ed Herman back in 1998 wrote of corporate chemical abuse

Why so little attention has been given to chemical affects on in-utero development and on children in general is a mystery. Or perhaps not such a mystery. The burden of the Phallic is one means of psychological retreat that is taking place in multiple registers. I think there are several layers to each register. The obsessive gun ownership in the U.S. is certainly compensatory for white anxiety. For white sexual disappointment. The gun, then, is such an obvious and overdetermined symbol as to be almost a joke at this point, but nonetheless, sometimes a gun really is just a penis.

Francisco Goya (Bullight in Divided Ring, detail) 1825

Allow me one more quote from Vaihinger…

“The branching plant always appears connected with the same sensation of green, and this definite combinations of sensations is for the mind at first accidental. But it does not remain so. From the mechanism of sensation comes the form of Thing and attribute. There arises the object “tree” and its attribute “green.” The first group of sensations —that of the shape — represents the object, the other — green — the attribute. The particular units of this relationship are then apportioned to the different sensations. But the matter by no means ends here. The leaves drop off — the tree becomes leafless. How, after that, can the relation of the object to its attribute be applied to the residual perception of the branching plant? Apparently only because the visible is regarded as a property of an invisible thing. Not only, then, is the general relation (thing and attribute) mentally added to the world directly given, but one member in the relationship is projected into the realm of the imaginary and changed into pure fiction.”
Hans Vaihinger (Ibid)

What Vaihinger is pointing out, in a probably over lengthy and exhaustive manner, is how humans have become conditioned to accept the inaccuracy of everyday language, of common logic, as well. We have come to accept that the various classificatory procedures initiated by science in the 18th century, are in fact extraordinarily inadequate. But, one might object, you are writing this blog post on a computer, linked to a world wide web etc etc etc. These procedures allowed science to send rockets to outer space, land men on the moon, find treatments for all manner of illness and disease. Yes, all true, although probably some of those treatments were iatrogenic killers themselves, and probably as more centuries pass, humans will find that Enlightenment reason came at an extraordinary price in terms of intellectual compromises.

James Hillman touches on something directly related in his book Healing Fiction. Hillman notes (something I have said over and over on this blog) that everything is, finally, a narrative. Case histories, autobiographies of patients, or a doctor’s empirical notes.

“Much could be said about empiricism in psychotherapy. I want only to touch it and only in one respect. One of the reasons for empiricism in philosophy, according to A. J. Ayer is “the egocentric predicament.” Empiricism prevents solipsism; it gets us out of the circle of our minds by pointing to public, demonstrable events for corroboration. Empiricism is not only a defense against Platonism (innate ideas, universals, deductive idealism), it is, psychologically, that fantasy which makes us feel safe from solipsism, its isolation, its paranoid potentialities.”
James Hillman (Healing Fiction: On Freud, Jung, Adler)

Richard Artschwager

“One day I came across him there, blinking through the window up at the sun, and moving his head from side to side in a curious manner. He took me by the arm and said he wanted to show me something. He said I must look at the sun with eyes half shut, and I could see the sun’s phallus. If I moved my head from side to side the sun-phallus would move too, and that was the origin of the wind. I made this observation about 1906. In the course of the year 1910, when I was engrossed in mythological studies, a book of Dieterich’s came into my hands. It was part of the so-called Paris magic papyrus and was thought by Dieterich to be a liturgy of the Mithraic cult.”
Carl Jung (Collected Works, 318)

There is an addendum a bit later: “…in certain medieval paintings this tube is actually depicted as a sort of hose-pipe reaching down from heaven under the robe of Mary. In it the Holy Ghost flies down in the form of a dove to impregnate the Virgin CW8 ¶ 319 (i)As we know from the miracle of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost was originally conceived as a mighty rushing wind, the,“the wind that bloweth where it listeth.” In a Latin text we read: “Animo descensus per orbem solis tribuitur” (They say that the spirit descends through the disc of the sun). This conception is common to the whole of late classical and medieval philosophy.”

I am reminded of Lawrence’s remark, at the end of his life, when he was doing more painting than writing:

“I put a phallus in each one of my pictures somewhere. And I paint no picture that won’t shock people’s castrated social spirituality. I do this out of positive belief that the phallus is a great sacred image: it represents a deep, deep life which has been denied in us, and is still denied.”
D. H. Lawrence (Letter to Earl Brewster)

The point here is that psychoanalysis helped clarify the fictionalism of much of western thinking overall.

“Freud’s crucial discovery that the stories he was being told were psychological happenings dressed as history and experienced as remembered events was the first recognition in modern psychology of psychic reality independent of other realities. It was, further, a recognition of the independence of memory from history and history from memory. There is history that is not remembered-forgetting, distortion, denial, repressing; there is also memory that is not historical-screen memories, confabulations, and those tales told him of early sexual trauma and primal scenes that had not occurred in the literal historical past.”
James Hillman (Ibid)

And, in the terms of what I am calling the phallic burden there is an importance to recognizing the non historical memory. There is also the problem with, obviously, the reductionism of identity thinking.

Rosso Fiorntino (Angel Playing the Lute, 1518)

The current marketing and endorsement of the transgender movement (sic) feels disquietingly like a way to absolve major chemical manufacturers, as well as furthering the branding of everything, including oneself. There are clear markers for a mental health crisis in the West, although as defined by the medical establishment I’d not trust any of the specifics.

On a more sociological level, the gay culture is overrepresented by white gay men.

“These millennial white gay men have also grown up in the context of rapidly growing and highly visible movements for ‘equality’ and ‘gay rights.’ The efforts of lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender, queer, and similarly identified (LGBTQ) people have spanned a diverse range of efforts to reform and dismantle systems of power and privilege, including heterosexism(Cohen, 2005); however, the most widely recognized of these efforts, especially recently, have been those that have pursued social and legal inclusion through marriage, employment nondiscrimination, and military service (Bell & Binnie, 2000; Farrow, 2011; Olson, 2010; Stein,2002). These strategies seek to not only conform to dominant neoliberal politics and rhetoric, but also enhance dominant forms of neoliberalism (Duggan, 2004). However, these movements exist alongside and are predated by radical queer liberation movements that challenge the institutions to which equality movements seek access (Cohen, 1997; Cohen, 2005; Stein, 2002). Critiques of the priorities and strategies for ‘equality’ have largely come from the those who have been excluded by these movements and stand to lose the most with the maintenance of existing institutions and norms – e.g., working class and poor people, women, trans*3 people, people of Color, bisexuals, and queer people…”
Alex Kulick (How Gay Stayed White)

I looked up Mr. Kulick and he prefers the pronoun *they*. This is how his CV begins “Alex Kulick is a graduate student in sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara. Their research focuses on the processes and outcomes of collective social change efforts, with a particular focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and similarly identified communities.” (UCSB)

Rachid Koraïchi

Chris Conner, in 2022, wrote a piece for Salon. He was asking why so many gay and LGBT people identify as Republican and espouse right wing authoritarian values.

“While the gay and LGBT+ community may seem like an odd place for the seeds of right-wing extremism to take root and sprout, the culture that has been built post-Stonewall is one that has been increasingly commodified and, as such, increasingly exclusive. { } Most gay men come to realize early on that, within gay culture, there is premium placed on being white, young, physically fit, and attractive by Western European cultural standards. Those who deviate from those cultural expectations are treated as less than — and where one is placed within this hierarchy determines one’s access to participate in queer culture. My own work has sought to look at this, and also ask why some gay men choose to date only those at the top of this hierarchy.”
Chris Conner (Why is far-right ideology taking hold in LGBT+ communities?)

It is interesting that for both Kulick and Conner (far less for Conner probably) an introductory course on Marx would help. Inclusion means inclusion within capitalism. Inclusion is obedience and deference to ruling class values. And all that entails. Much of how the ‘far right’ is described is taken from cartoon cliches spouted at White House press briefings. The alt-right, Q-anon, etc are a very useful prop for the ‘liberal’ establishment to increase surveillance and policing. The gay community was largely pro-lockdown and pro protocols. Pro vaccinations and authoritarian in there attitudes to those dissenting. Gay and Lesbian adults were overwhelmingly pro vaccination ( gay minorities were slightly less pro vax). Inclusion, I guess.

I think, if I am being reductive, that what I call the phallic burden, is an acute anxiety born of the physiological effects of chemical pollution, endocrine disruptors most of all, but also processed food, the use of pesticides and the prevalence of micro plastics. Children are born with less vitality and lack robustness. But also an anxiety that comes with the loss of meaning and reason over all. The denial of the phallus, of potency, results (in a circuitous way) with the idea that artificial birth wombs are better for humankind, that giving birth is a medical problem, a form of illness even, and men can be *real* women; the realness for such men is a flight from self. (Even asking what is *real* is a ridiculous question.) A flight into another persona, another newly minted self. A dependent self. A cultic belief in technology is a retreat from the material world. It is a psychological retreat from the trauma of daily life in the Spectacle.

The phallus is not a penis. It is many things, a dream penis in one sense. The solar phallus up to 21st century quantum theory, where big bangs (sic) initiate the cosmos. Big bangs and Black Holes. Our language remains masculine, colonialist, and capitalist.

“Again it was Freud who rediscovered the difference between perceptual and imaginative images. Actual pictures – Mom and Pop in bed on Saturday afternoon – did not have the recollecting power, the symptom-making force, of the story and images of The Primal Scene. To paraphrase Casey: a trauma is not what happened but the way we see what happened. A trauma is not a pathological event but a pathologized image, an image that has become “intolerable” as López-Pedraza puts it. If we are ill because of these intolerable images, we get well because of imagination. Poesis as therapy.”
James Hillman (Ibid)

William Kentridge

“We are all human beings now, standing in the rubble of a destroyed literate society, looking at the ruins of education, family, and child protection. Technology has destroyed interrelations in the human community that have taken centuries to develop. The breaking of human beings’ connection to land has harmed everyone. We are drowning in uncontrollable floods of information. We are living among dispirited and agonized teenagers who can’t find any hope. Genuine work is disappearing, and we are becoming aware of a persistent infantilizing of men and women, a process already far advanced.”
Robert Bly (The Sibling Society)

I will end with a poem (quoted by Bly and translated by him) by Pablo Neruda.

It so happens I am sick of being a man.
It so happens that I walk into tailor shops and movie houses dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.
The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens, no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

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  1. Thank you John, for this. The current trans “discourse” or whatever it is, is something I’ve been mulling over lately. It seems very manufactured to me, very much pattern recognition, and very soc media pushed. Recently I was talking to someone who said that, among certain FB friends of his, “TERF” had become the new Putin Apologist or the new Anti-Vaxxer, i.e. someone to be automatically hated. A phantom bogey man, excuse the non-pun. But this seems somehow all very forced, very cartoony and dependent on social media. I don’t see this on the street.
    When I was in my late teens, I used to sneak in (well they didn’t really card anyone so I wasn’t really sneaking) to a gay black club in Chicago called Den One. This was the mid/late 70s. People went there to dance all night. Everything else was kind of secondary. But it was also a favorite hang out of drag queens, and some trans, mostly black or Latino. They were almost all drop-dead gorgeous, with impeccable style, makeup, clothes, hair, not like the bad Kabuki/John Waters style seen now (again, mostly on the internet). Some had sugar daddies, often white and of course older. They were all nice to me. Or, really, to everyone. I remember being sick in the bathroom once and two drag queens, were helping me get cleaned up, etc. Well I was a teen, as I said, and from a pretty strict religious background, so these were some of the warmest people I’d ever met.
    I don’t see anything like that going on with the trans or gay world today—and you’re right, what remains of the “gay scene,” at least the visible one, has become very white and gated-community. Den One was subject to raids, for drugs ostensibly. And there were lots of those, but the “white” gay bars were not raided nearly as much. Some still exist, albeit in a kind of “ironic” way for lack of a better term. Referencing some glory day of white gayness that never existed. And already at that time very apart from any Stonewall memory of radicalism.
    The ugliness aspect is new. It is, I think, as you’ve pointed out, very much a part of the current trans thing, but it’s bigger and pre-dates it. I remember on the subway once in the mid 90s being kind of shocked at a subway ad, because the drawing that accompanied it was so ugly, so self-consciously crude and silly, and I remember thinking, “we’re supposed to want this product because we’re cool enough to “get” that this picture is cool?” I felt the same way about South Park—that it wasn’t funny, and the animation was self consciously crude, which was supposed to somehow be something to “get”. A no-risk proof of one’s savvy. It seems to reify self-hatred somehow.
    But really, a lot of what is going on now has “life”, I think, almost entirely on the internet. I said above, the Anti-Vaxxer morphs into the Putin Apologist morphs into the TERF, and none of it is examined at all. You assume an identity and you buy the “likes” and hates of that identity. But all done while staring into at a tiny rectangle or a slightly bigger screen. I don’t really see this happening around me, in the physical world.
    I’m still mulling the phallic burden. “The little girl is required to formulate her entire external and internal consciousness through a framework she has not created.” That is interesting. Norman O. Brown in Life Against Death discusses the castration complex (alongside Oedipal), and has this to say: “One of the advantages of eliminating the threatening father from the theoretical picture, is that it makes clear that there is no way of keeping the castration complex for the psychology of males without admitting at the same time the theorem which appears to have raised much stiffer opposition, penis-envy in women.” I have a lot of issues with it, as one might imagine. And of course Brown in his book is also offering his idea of the polymorphous and perverse, as opposed to strictly genital sexuality. (And then there’s Mary with the holy bird and the tube in her ear.) Which I think Irigaray also does, but I haven’t read her. But the very idea of gender dysphoria, as we imagine it now, needs an examination of Freud, one without the “tolerance” gloss or tolerance censorship. I’m glad you referenced Irigaray, I will have to read her.

  2. John Steppling says:

    that story about Den One mirrors my experiences back then, too. The trans scene and even just drag scene — which where i encountered it was 90% black and latino —- was warm and funny and very smart. It crossed cultural paths with pimp culture, too, at the time. But then this is forty some years ago. And you are certainly right that most of the current visibility is marketing, and its naturally mostly white.

  3. Regino Robainas says:

    It is somewhat sad, amd understandable vecause
    they too are specialists without suitable
    horizoms, how many of the aesthitically inclined,
    lack an elementary appreciation of the sacred poetry
    embedded in Mathematics.

    Far from only being concerned with instrumental
    predictibility, nonlinear studies explores phenomena
    like the Butterfly Effect. And beyond the, by now,
    obvious examples like Pythogerean mysteries & golden
    middle of yore, Euler enhanced our underlstanding of
    the many and the One. Recall high school math’s dictum
    that 1 raised to any power, even infinity, remains
    1. But if you add an infinitesimally small microquantity
    to 1 & raised that ensemble to the power of infinity,
    you get E. And E is more than 1 & slightly more than 2.
    Eros and Creation in a puzzle. E then generates all imaginary &
    complex numbers which are essential for
    an appreciation of ligght & electromagnetism. As I see it,
    the aesthete’s prejudice against Mathematics &
    Science is just as provincial as the Stem’s blindness to
    Art, Theatre & Religion.

    And, even in Differential Equations we use the method of
    “informed” guessing to arrive at a solution. Better to
    guess than to calculate!, as F N proclaimed. And ironically
    in my former field of Control Theory Error is the Master that
    guide us in the Dark.

  4. I could hear Robert reading that poem when I — unexpectedly– saw that at the end … I heard him read that poem a few times and one of the many remarkable things about him was that he could say, in prose or poetry, deep ,deep, dark truths about this mess of a civilization and the next moment he would tell some hilarious anecdote that would have you rolling on the floor.

  5. Interesting post!

    Hmmm… I was reading a discussion on Chasseguet-Smirgel’s work, maybe a review or something, in which an analyst wrote of how people forget the creative, positive phallus; ‘the sword which creates life’ as he put it. It reminded me of the image here of the sun in Jung’s quote.

    I can hear the cats fighting outside…

    The males fight for terf and ladies. How pertinent to the post and all of this, in a big way. Towards the end of the post, in the Neruda poem, he’s sick of it all, maybe a little more melancholy and profound than that, but he’s tired of being a ‘man.’ You relate that transexualism is a flight from self, reality, that concept the Spectacle. Between the Spectacle and microplastic toxins dementing the biochemical processes, ‘stunting the brood’ to say it ugly, I’m allowed because I’m included in the crop, we need a social-psychology covering the development of the ego, libidinal phases, oedipus- we’re all going wrong because nobody has read Levi-Strauss, everybody’s busy with Foucault. In the early soviet union, probably mainly due to housing shortages, but also in revolutionary praxis, there were experiments with different structures of family and raising kids. I think lots of people know about this stuff, but everyone forgets about it when we talk trans.
    In Levi-Strauss’s work, The Primitive Sex Life of Savages, we can see a link between property, kinship structure, cultural-symbolic taboo and myth, and sexual practice and relations of ‘social reproduction’ generally. According to him, and the observations of I think several generations of anthropologists studying the kinship structure, family life, and relation dynamics of these small island tribes, there was no male homosexuality on the islands- they only cackled at the thought of two guys doing it. They didn’t repress sexual. When you reach puberty, they had rites and rituals and introductory practices of mature genital heterosexuality. But because the infants and children were cared for in extended family structures, with a good connection to their mothers and aunts and yadayadayada, they have a healthier attitude towards sex, their own jewels male and female, and towards feelings generally. We don’t really embrace our feelings, when it comes to social humiliation, rage, anger, hatred, bitterness, frustration; we’re all supposed to staunch it and BE HAPPY. I have to throw in here that our society is super-lacking in the sort of communal, spiritual rituals which you’ve related to theatre and which must be incredibly cathartic, libidinal social joys. We don’t have any of that to release the pressure. And pressure, we do have- we are living in the society from starship troopers.
    So I think your method of comparison, with the Thai trannies, is useful. The Arab’s also had practices of homosexuality and probably an etiology of it not too different from what’s really going on in our own society.
    These are profound mysteries, I admit, but I think we’re all forgetting that the key word here is ‘sissy.’ Nobody wants to be a punk bitch. Perversity is a kind of a revolt, a consolation prize, and a soothing of the ego when the anxiety produced by our competitive, capitalistic society (fight over terf, resources, like cats, for women, to ‘succeed’ biologically) this anxiety is overwhelming to an ego not strong enough (from pre-oedipal phases, from family dynamic and relations, economic and social circumstances, life) to repress the terror of the castration-threat of the Law, in puberty, in the male-male rivalry for girls. We have no maternity leave, the pressure on the working family, babies are not being cared for. This is crucial because the challenges of puberty and adulthood will present overwhelming anxiety (related to the fear-as-an-idea, feminization, castration, defeat) must emerge and be expressed consciously in a libidinized compulsion. Low self-esteem is huge in all of this. I’m not shaming or moralizing. This is a summary of theory drawn from clinical material over many generations of scholars, who were more than scientists. In the perverse practices, sometimes they are finding exactly that love and care they sorely lacked in oral, anal, tactile zones and sexual practices, with various symbolic meanings attached to them, ‘Daddy,’ ‘Mommy’ and relations therein. It’s funny to me how we’re all still shy about all this stuff. I guess it’s better if we are.
    That’s my theory and experience anyway. & I think that’s how it works in a gross society like ours. Women terrify me, but only because of my raising and relation to the Law in my life. We can’t forget social-psychology and psychotherapy in all of this- in dropping these discourses out of the water, we’re also avoiding the inconvenient truths of our reactionary, Christian, patriarchal society, all about private property, accumulation, fetishism and power. Where is woman in all of this? Structurally she was an object of exchange between men, men had subject position in the structure of the family but had to (still have to) fight for subject position in ‘the world.’ I think men and women are the same nowadays. Somebody remarked a few years ago, an early trans-sceptic, how the whole gender pluralism is really just genderlessness, sexuallessness.
    & I agree with Deleuze that you should always beware of childish, egoless innocence in a grown ass adult. They’re harboring something. Not to say that it’s evil- it’s all very human. This is all how we preserve our souls in some broken way in this world. Still we’re working with concepts of biological success and failure. We could probably do away with natural selection entirely if we wanted to, but why? That would only create communism. We don’t want that!

    I wonder what you think of all this? The stupid moral questions of decadence, the negative connotation of perversity, all of that’s hogwash, but still- we have to recognize the human enjoyment of power; and ‘twists and kinks.’ the enjoyment of domination, submission, belonging, taking somebody by the ass, escaping intolerable anxiety- I guess the argument would be then that capitalist society is a little too harsh and brutal, and if everyone had support, there would be no more trannies. This is all at the heart of the knot, but really, this is adaptive behaviour to structural bounds which restrict and twist one’s ego, and mould you into something which can survive- staunch your feelings- get them out in the bedroom, on a canvas, somehow, it’s all the same, it’s all communication- even war, but then we have to impose values somewhere. The other is still there if they’re receptive too. Is there anybody out there? The downward sword, the phallic cross, the flag planted in virgin soil; being a sissy is a kind of stultified revolt against the whole order of reality. Spite is the reaction to Sadism, and Sadism is the reaction to Spite. I think every Christian tied to a tree, shot with arrows, has the Roman archer in his own mind. This is all a kind of communication, a tale of woe and joy, sorrow and forgiveness.

    The concept of the ‘sissy’ is key in this discussion. What is a sissy? A sissy is abused and has their boundaries crushed. We can’t forget the ego, the hierarchy, competition, desire. Public school is what creates trannies and mass shooters, I should know because I was almost both of those at one point or another. Really, I’m a masochist, a good Christian boy who said the pledge of allegiance already ironically in kindergarten. I was 10 and I could sense that 911 was a lie. They’re so mighty and powerful and yet they let that little tower get blown up. That little tower got blown up and now they’re off to war. They say we should all be scared. I’m on a school bus in Arizona. You’re all hysterical. Ours is a time of ruthlessness, hypocrisy, power is the only value- it seems like we’re all desperate and it’s a mad dash for the rays of light, to sip from the well of nectar…

    I’ve learned a lot reading your blog over the years. Immense gratitude.

  6. John Steppling says:

    Very interesting comment, Niko. Especially that paragraph on Levi Strauss. I am reminded of reich’s The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality, a book he wrote back in 1931. Also a recent poll had americans who identify as gay or trans at 7%. A big increase from twenty years ago. But more remarkable is that those born after 1997, one in four identify as queer or trans. This is amazing. One has to think on kinship rituals and ceremonies and how this society so lacks assistance for youth transitioning into adulthood. And also how adulthood is so postponed (often forever). And prison society makes the sissy the bottom rung on the power ladder. Symbolically turned into a woman, and symbolically castrated. Much to consider .

  7. Wow that Reich book is right on the mark. that’s him talking about the Sexual life of savages- It was MALINOWSKI’s book, the sex life of savages (what a dumb fucking title, but such a great study) not Levy-Strauss. Levy-Strauss is relevant because of his structuralism. Somehow they’re melded in my mind together on these questions.

  8. John Steppling says:

    my bad, too. Thanks.

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