Friday, November 05, 2004

Exhuming Nature

Exhuming Nature: The Matter of Sex and Self

1. To Thine Own Self Be True

In the essays and writings we are looking at this week, in Fausto Sterling’s erudite exposition (literally as well as metaphorically) of intersex and its treatments and her dissection of the underlying problematics of the nature/nurture dichotomy as well as in the majority of other works we have looked at over the last few weeks we are running against a basic problem. This problem although it is recognized in linguistic and conceptual terms really needs to be faced head on…that of where exactly we are trying to arrive at when we begin to dismantle the trip wired room of sexuality in current discourse. One of the main features of much analysis of the character of sexuality it seems is focused on unmasking its “natural” pretensions. But once we have accepted that the making of the sexual personality, the person marked by sexuality is discursive modern and a complex process involving both biological and cultural factors although in what admixture and along what axis we have no way of knowing, where are we to go? The problem is that all this stripping of sexuality’s robe of “nature” implies a hierarchy…nature, being true, is preferable to the sham.

2. Going Digging

In fact this brings us back to the same reductions and difficulties associated with attempts to locate a female or homosexual brain. We are still looking for an inherent “truth”, an essential, measurable nature of mankind (sic), desiring knowledge of the true desires and needs of the natural man. Feeling ourselves in the modern world to be far distant from “nature’ we seek to exhume it and breathe life into its corpse. Fausto Sterling addresses this in her discussions of the two models of an individual through time, as if cloned and propelled by time machine into the distant past…she points first to an understanding of sexuality as fixed, as biocentric, genetic or con-genital(sic) that it seems is commonly held and is essentially bound up with the idea of the self-knowing individual, as well as with the primacy of genetic science and thus with the construction, as we might have it, of both the phallic human and the monstrous perfect. . If a basic nature for a pre-social individual is buried somewhere, an unlikely prospect if not an oxymoron in itself we might think, it may well be a series of dis-membered(sic) parts, the fragments before the first confrontation with the mirror, and thus basically outside of the individual as a concept. There is no body for us to breathe into. Quite apart from the ultimate futility of framing ourselves thus within a self evident economy of desire, I think perhaps it is necessary to admit that we have no real context for understanding our hypothetical corpse, our un-socialized human, the basic essence of man, if there is one, and would have him either savage or sage, monster or innocent. Thus such seeking out of the true nature of sex, or sexual identity only serves to bolster ideas it ostensibly seeks to rend.

3. Mask or Face

Indeed, instead of decrying the false nature of our sexual roles, our personhood, the sham of the constructed and synthetic, I feel it would be well advised, having made clear our dissatisfaction with the roles into which we have been cast, note that there is much freedom in the constructed…there is freedom to add subtract and change, while taking well into account the limitations of such an endeavor for the “individual” mind. This perhaps is to find a locus of power in a creative act that can belong to all. That is not to say that one should not fling spanners liberally into the epistemological works, but perhaps more in line with Fausto Sterling’s second model accept the human mind in all its complexities, (the only way to do which is to admit that we only partially understand it and that this inability will most likely persist---consequently, from a biological perspective too, there is no way in which we can “know ourselves”, and consequently no way in which we can be “true” to ourselves since we do not know what that self consists of), as not covered or clouded by the constructed, but as perhaps precisely to be located within the constructed. In other words masquerade is not womanliness, it is personhood, but the plethora of masks donned at various time are not so much the masks of a carnival as precisely the at once disposable and integrated faces of the mutable person.

4.Catch 22 and the Möbius Strip

Charging head on and skirting away in successive regressive advances, the model of the Möbius Strip as introduced into the current discussion by Fausto Sterling’s article, has been my undulating guide here, but in the self stated uncertainties we have visited above a certain anecdote comes to mind. “There is no such thing as absolute truth” was for a while a tattoo across my tongue, but I have since revised my tattoo…it now reads “There is no such thing as absolute truth…sometimes.” The certainty of my uncertainty came back to haunt me. I have at the centre of this ribbon of reasoning a basic uncertainty that must be thus be brought into the half light…a catch 22 that forms the essence of our ramble with the ants, and all other tentative stumbling in our afore mentioned trip wired room…at the risk of falling head first into a solipsistic pillow we must take up a position that in its destabilizing facility may very well destabilize any proclamations we seek to make. The task of picking a path through these shifting sands is then perhaps at its heart both a basic denial and requirement of those grappling with the practicalities and theories of living in the sexed and sexualized self.

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