Friday, April 30, 2010

Locker Rooms: on exterior interiority





In my email inbox today, I received an intriguing proposition from "Sportsmen Asia," a Singapore-based website which teeters on the edge of the "open secret." Its concept is simple enough - a few dozen surreptitious "lockers" will be made available for hire in a dusty corner of Chinatown "away from prying eyes," enabling its patrons a sense of purchased security. Although I do not know the details of this enterprise (i.e. the limits on safety and purchased privacy, what is deemed a "storable item" in the box, or does the company impose a threshold on the sotrable), the immediate paradoxes of psychic space and its projective manifestations are made clear, albeit in the comic mode. It is worth noting that the idea of hiding-away pervades the enterprise of Sportsmen Asia. The company name is no more than a mask, a cover, a subterfuge which appears to appeal, on the surface, to fitness-inclined gentlemen. Beneath its misleading guise, however, is a throwback to the well-documented English "gentlemen's clubs" of the 19th Century. Put simply, Sportsmen Asia caters to a very select group of clientele. Ignoring for a moment the genereded implications, it's trade is remarkably queer, just have a look for yourself.

Could we say S.A. is properly queer? It offers no mode of identification except the communal experience of the pink-dollar that could as easily be used to shore up heterosexist desires. This, no doubt, begs the troubling question over queer capital: can the tenacity of capitalism indeed undermine the temporalized, apocalyptic, unsettling throes of queerness? As the owners of Sportsmen Asia have brilliantly shown, it can soundlessly transmorgify the symbolic resistance of ex-scribed, ex-temporalized, ex-iled queer space into its own signifier, the sign of the coin, the symbolic of global financial recognition. It's immediately amazing how quickly the acknowledgment of dangerous heterosexual spatio-temporalities governed by the linearity of the phallus and its fantasy of transparent disclosure threatens to fold up upon itself in another equally libidinous system driven by the flow of capital rather than the charge of skin (a question we may return to is whether the project of Capitalism, since it stabilizes the ex-spatialization of queer space through the dollar, as Edelman might say, returns metonymy to metaphor, disables the monetarily charged micro-spaces its ability to queer the "disclosed" outside in the filed of the heteronormative phallus). Is metonymy marketable? Or is Sportsmen Asia's brand of metonymy simply reminiscent of a flourishing circuitry of capital which, for its flaring moment, returns deferment and displacement to the "tyranny of the [homosexual] signifier"? Recall Edelman's critique of "gay" and "lesbian" lit crit.:

The questions, in short, demanded of us a willingness to assert and affirm a singular, recognizable, and therefore reproducible critical identity: to commodify lesbian and gay criticism by packaging it as a distinctive flavor of literary theory that might find its appropriate market share in the upscale economy of literary production. In the process these questions directed us to locate "homosexual difference" as a determinate entity rather than as an unstable differential relation, and they invited us to provide some general guidelines by which to define what constitutes the homosexual itself. (Edelman, "Homographesis," in Yale Journal of Criticism, 3:1, 1989)


Aside, the Locker Room project aligns other interiorities with queer ex-istence; the charged space of the locker room, of course, itself generates the dangerous - yet compellingly eroticizing - staging of homosociality. In the locker room, however, towels drop: the homosocial is left bare, its "members" jostling in (un)comfortably proximity. Conflicted desires thrash about viciously underneath a sea of calm nudity. Let us not forget that the concept of the "bathhouse," and the explicitly sexualized "sauna" (increasingly popular in Southeast Asia) transforms the hegemonic heteronormative neutral of hyper-masculine sociality into an electrified zone for "cruising" and the fulfillment of illicit (read: lawfully ambiguous) desires. Vis-a-vis Cary Howie, the threshold of the queer enclosure - it's enclosive function - borders on disclosure of the queer subject, but visibility happens literally at the threshold, and is never in itself complete, its borders leaving no cookie-cutter subject for easy alliance. The space of the Sauna is effortlessly recapitulated here; the danger of spatial danger still lurks. After all, is the idea of the "locker" the mediating passage between exteriority and queer (bathhouse) interiority? Paradoxically, what function does the "locker" serve in the sauna? Do the keys strapped around the ankles or wrists of its identity-obliterated folk seal something else other "protect" private possession? Or does the enclosed locker-space within the enclosure of queer space delimit the ultimate reversal within queer space: that is, the locking away of one's "proper" identity, ex-scribing one's queer subjectivity for a skin-taut tabula rasa of anonymity in which the historical particular is denied? From this view, the so-called "queer" space of the enclosure is but fantasy, it's "properly queer" zone, really, shut-away in the locker, ex-iled to interiority.

In the enclosure of the queer bathhouse, the most normative gesture would be to reject the ornamentations of the phallic Symbolic: the very codes which could eventually queer queerness itself. Seldom are words exchanged, seldom is identity revealed, codes govern the necessity for secrecy, but secrecy disables the radicant which demolishes both spaces, and prevents the queer from becoming mere repetition, a jukebox-language which plays the selfsame tune. What then, of Sportsmen Asia's locker room project? Does it not present us with a communal form of "shedding," of spatialized (albeit socialized) temporal dis-identification? Bodies (colliding in queer space) are exchanged for objects rubbing against each other; to be specific - shamefully charged materials which feed on excised abjection, leaving its users, its attached body-part, free to re-enter the Symbolic free of proximal shame, bartered through the (Capital) Symbolic itself. Put differently: is this queerness literally selling out by ex/en-closing in? Are patrons paying to demarcate, control, excise deviant eroticisms by returning it to the overdetermined flow of relations between homosexuals and heterosexuals, by confining it to the Laws and dynamics of homosociality?

And what of "prying eyes?" Whose "prying eyes"? In the discursive locale of the epistemological "locker room" space (not locker) within the Sauna, isn't the locker precisely meant to govern access to the "prying eyes" of individuals who may return the anonymity of metonymy (fleshy, identity-less bodies) to a "marked" form of existence by prying open one's suppressed Symbolic history? In the Bathhouse, 'safety' is guaranteed by de-marking one's libido organized by the (outside) Symbolic, throwing the sign of one's "phallus" into slippery play ("you can be anyone") simply a rejection of queerness? The queer is not, then enclosive function of communal desire, but the registral shift of enclosive/disclosive threat - of recognition, the possibility of bringing the play of (bodily) signs into being named, a name, an identity: a co-worker, a classmate, a colleague, a policeman, a statesperson, a senator, a father, a professional. The loops are endless - seizing the momentum of metonymy and bringing it back into the rigidity of metaphor, the electric circuit of signification, the "lightbulb" goes off. But the "lightbulb" goes off in a/c currents as well, frictional electricity governed by the very differential relation between opposing flows. The Locker Room Project then forcibly governs the spatio-temporalization of safe spaces, built upon an absolute understanding of the hermeticism of enclosures - be it the enclosure of one's public-private life on the verge of the visible (by normative communities), or the enclosure of the deviantly charged Sauna-space, which (falsely) proffers to castrate the flows between either communities. What queerness tries to locate (always impossibly), is the disjunctive, enclosive/disclosive momentum between registers, and the possibility of rupture within imagined, hermetic spaces. Metonymy is not marketable - irreducible to the signifier of queerness or the signifier of the coin, for to market is to designate a product which stabilizes the economy of desire.

1 comment:

Sugriib Biswas said...

This is by far the most beautiful home. I love everything about it. Thank you for sharing, what a treat, so sad to see these homes empty. Just wonder how full of life they would have been during their time of opulance with their owners. The tea parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Thanks again!
Century exterior