Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Only femmes bleed, and since there was a full moon last night, like a she-wolf or one of the cat people skinning herself into pussycat form, I began singing Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Let Go” again, all over again. But let me start at the beginning, about 24 hours ago...

...There I was, watching Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” for the 100th time, when something new happened. Like the previous 99 viewings, I was bedazzled by the menacing cheerfulness of Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge; Kim Novak’s moonglow performance as Madeleine—all silver hair and spacealien-in-trance linereading; then Novak’s knockout transformation into Judy, the brassy brunette without a brassiere. But last night, during the film’s last few minutes, when Jimmy Stewart is sadistically dragging Novak up the belltower, I burst into tears, and couldn’t stop shaking.

I saw the close-up of Novak’s feet, bound in black patent stilettos, floating up the step ladder, as the rest of her--unseen--was being dragged up violently, and my usually vacuum-sealed tear ducts burst open and my body shook like Novak-as-Judy’s. Did I see myself as Novak to some sadistic male in my past? Probably. Still, what an embarrassing, illogical hysteria. Then I realized why I had been so weirdly depressed for the past week. Why I, who always preferred salt and vinegar to sugar, was eating Newman’s Oreo cookie after cookie. Why I had eaten a half jar of peanut butter in one sitting—with just a spoon. Why I gobbled up the Easter-pastel egg-lemon soup (courtesy of Greek Mama P) with its herb-and-rice meatballs (five of them), then proceeded to use the Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cake mix I’d had for almost two years to make a sheetcake with coconut glaze (no cream cheese in the house) and eat two big slices. I was having my period.

Of course, I didn’t literally have a period—I don’t have ovaries, even though most of the people in my life do. What I think about as a “period” is the way in which my emotional pain becomes cyclic, and ends up giving a necessary rhythm to my life. The emotional effect of being “female” is biologically mechanized: the day she starts bleeding, the physical body is no longer an organic part of a girl’s general sense of being, but becomes a “thing.” Suddenly, the girl realizes that there is a huge part of her body that does not have to answer to her consciousness; one that has a pulse and mind of its own. Menstruation underscores the fact that her body is not consonant with the idea of herself, but merely and importantly, her possession.

The vagina, with its pour of shocking blood, turns the body into a thing that resists you. Like a VCR you can’t program, like a computer that blips out at random, like a contact lens that has been worn too long, like a CD that skips inexplicably, like a book that won't get read and won’t fit in your purse, like the purse you love but whose handle keeps falling apart, like a pair of jeans that your ass can no longer fit into, like a sweater that is accidentally shrunken to doll-size in the dryer, your vagina FIGHTS BACK.

In contrast, the penis is not a thing, it’s not anything. The penis is a stupid organ that is easily pleased and integrated into the body’s instinctual lurch towards ease: you just have to rub for a few minutes, and ploop! The liquid is smelly but pale and unthreatening as VitaSoy. The vagina is difficult, resistant. The vagina fights your desire to live a life without crests and waves, it fights your utopian and unrealistic wish to live a smooth and uncurdled life of comfort. This is the proverbial curse and but also the blessing of the feminine condition, for the cream will rise. Without the valleys, how will you recognize the peaks? Bleeding monthly is a reminder, a regulator of this feminine condition.

I don’t have a vagina, but I have a mouth. I don’t menstruate in blood but in songs and a voice. In her novel Corregidora, Gayl Jones has her bluesinger protagonist Ursa equate her vagina with her singing mouth: talking of singing a “new world song,” she declares: “It ain’t a pussy down there, it’s a whole world.” The video above—the close-up of my lips, unlipsticked—is a portrait of my pussy, singing its song. It’s the inverse of lipsynching...maybe let’s call it “lipsticking. The voice is not just not female but inadequate. Like the vagina that bleeds without checking in with its owner, the voice that pours out of my mouth fights my desire for a smooth, unwrinkled femininity. My voice is lumpy like the brown clotted-chocolate menses.

My lips in tight close-up are like the lips of an over-stimulated vulva. It’s an homage (via Marilyn Minter) to the very femininity telegraphed by the original video for “Can’t Let Go.” The song, released as a single in 1991, was the single that broke her chain of number one hits—she’d had her first five hits go to number one—and is often called her first “failure” song (it went "only" to number two). But I’ve always loved this one, this song of stalkery everlasting love. It’s not only my favorite Mariah song, it’s probably my favorite song of all time. The fact that it broke Mariah's winning streak on the Billboard charts makes the song itself a bit of a bleeding vagina. It’s the song that reminded the baby Mariah (then 21 years old!) that she could not be a capitalist “baby” all of her days. In this way, the song itself “fought” against Mariah as she knew herself to be at that time. Prophetically, the gorgeous video is all about her mouth. Shot in black and white, the video marks the first time that Mariah wears her hair straightened—and in a chic high beehive. She looks like a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait, and indeed, the soft-focus shots of Mariah singing are intercut with various still lifes—roses and orchids—that cites Mapplethorpe’s vulval orchids still lifes.

But above all, there's the mouth:

This is Mariah as Gayl Jones’s bluesinger heroine. This is the Mariah that became my mirror, the pre-Mrs. Nick Cannon (God bless her) who said that she could never be a “spokesperson for any kind of marriage” that she couldn’t imagine having children because her records were her “kids.” In 1991, when Mariah bled, she bled not blood-chocolate, but voice seared in liquid black blood vinyl.

I don’t have a vagina, but I do have a mouth. I don’t have tampons but I do have (writing) pads with which to sop up my inevitable blood-voice-chocolate. And you’re reading it right careful not to get your hands too stained...


Anonymous said...

HI Joon, I saw the lecture you gave at RISD with Carry Moyer and Deborah Bright. I also hear constantly about you through people who have taken your classes. My work deals with issues of identity and sexuality, the body, and lately, feminism. I'm very excited to have you as a professor next semester.


Jessica said...

Yet, invariably, us women, us delicate flowers, use our periods as an excuse, "oh I'm sorry, I'm on my period, I'm sorry I yelled, I'm sorry I cried." But I'm with you, in that it's a incredibly powerful thing, not something to apologize for. Perhaps, it is unleashing your true existence, where you as a person are meant to yell at whatever you yelled at, or cry at whatever you cried at, but you can't bring yourself, normally, to act that way.

Men never apologize for thinking with their dicks, and we write it off as something they just can't control.

(and honestly, I don't even know what to think about our mimi, I heard she was looking at nursery room furniture...)

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

"Our Lips Are Not Sealed"