rhizomes.07 fall 2003

Passion Pink and Heroes
Joanna Frueh



[1] We want to be understood, in radical ways:  we want our essence, which is our complexity, seen, heard, and appreciated, and we long for someone else's simultaneously rich and basic vision of ourselves.  Some of us want to give as well as to receive this radical understanding.  In the mutuality of such giving and receiving, self-awareness grows, and loving is its foundation.

[2] I use love as a verb rather than a noun because if love is not active, it easily becomes a burden, even a boredom, a habit that we use in order to bury problems in our marriage or primary relationship.  "I love you" can be a gratuitous phrase.  It can be a passive statement, which, if unconsciously present, maintains partnered rituals of avoidance, hostility, or misunderstanding.

[3] Radical loving seeks and uncovers both our own and someone else's true colors.  Looking at someone's true colors, and revealing our own, is true love, in which we do our damnedest to be faithful to another person's soul and heart, their psychic quirks and messes, their self-deceptions, and their very particular beauties.  Fidelity of this sort is at least as difficult as monogamy, and it is not a component of romance in its classic form.

[4] In literature, such as the story of Tristan and Iseult or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, romance is doomed love.  Want, lack, futility, suffering, obstacles, insecurity, and instability:  most of us have felt these hallmarks of romance's apotheosis of pain, as if we have drunk a love potion that draws us into a passionate love of love itself.  Classically, romance is about compulsion, about emotions so intense that we have no control over them.  Indeed, we have fallen in love, as if some force has punched us in the gut and we've dropped at least to our knees in agony.  On our knees, we abnegate ourselves to the beloved, as if she or he were an unprincipled divinity, a sadistic god or goddess who demands obsession, composed in part and paradoxically of a narcissism that goads us to ignore the beloved by foregrounding our own feelings—or, more accurately, our own predicament.

[5] In the clutches and the clinches of romantic love, we believe that its intensity will rescue us from dullness, both our own and what too often feels like everybody else's.  In those clutches and clinches, we are dying for love, killing our ability for erotic connection with another human being. 

[6] When I use the word erotic I don't mean necessarily or only genital sexuality, although that may be a component of radical loving.  The erotic is rich, profound, and complex connection with the reality of another person.  It is not the desperate disconnect of classic romance, which generates love through the absence rather than the presence of the loved one.  In those circumstances, we have fallen for a fantasy, fallen for feeling that is overwhelming, yet that simultaneously is a travesty of erotic feeling.  We have fallen in love with love, because love feels more real than reality—that dullness that passes for life.

[7] A number of times I've been told that one's fantasy of sleeping with someone is better than the reality; and I've always disagreed.  Not in theory, but in the experience of flying rather than falling in love.  Then landing in the true colors of the beloved.  As Cyndi Lauper sings,

I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show

Radiance, authenticity, accuracy, fear, sight, and insight:  these are the avenues of faith in radical loving.  And I would rather take a leap of faith into the true colors of another human being than a leap of passion into the hellfires of romance.


[8] I'm going to exercise, lose weight, save money, spend more time with my family, control my temper.  The value of such New Year's Resolutions is their concreteness: I know what I'm doing, I know what I must do to achieve my goal.  Yet their value also contains their proposer's downfall because they easily become rigid and their means predictable.  In other words, they too readily or quickly lack fun, freedom, and expansiveness.  They lack psychic and spiritual adventure, and they end up enervating rather than energizing the well-intended.

[9] The New Year's resolution is too often about willing or wanting rather than being.  Willing entails controlling oneself in what's likely to be an unenjoyable way, and people don't like continuing activities or projects that don't provide pleasure.  Wanting not only thrusts accomplishment into the future; the psychology of wanting permits desire rather than fulfillment to motivate one's acting on a resolution.  

[10] It is scary to be rather than to want.  It is scary to be changed rather than to plan change or to wait for it.

[11] The New Year's resolutions that I listed all hinge on beauty and goodness.  No matter if your own resolutions include weight loss—a typical resolution--or working towards world peace—a resolution growing from the events of September 11—you want to be good—kind, generous, compassionate, loving—and beautiful—fit, healthy, radiant.

[12] If we let it, art opens us to being both beautiful and good.  This is because it exemplifies goodness and beauty; which has little if anything to do with subject or theme, with whether a work is abstract or figurative, but it has everything to do with love. 

[13] Recently I saw an art work that opened me in such a way.  Not everyone would have been embraced and penetrated as I was by it.  No matter, for our awakenings can happen in the most individual of ways.  Hiroshi Sugimoto's black-and-white video Accelerated Buddha entranced me as did no other work in the exhibition titled Facts of Life: Contemporary Japanese Art at London's Hayward Gallery.  Sugimoto videotaped 48 photos of the 1000 Buddha figures at the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays in Kyoto.  Over the video's 6-minute run, the images speed up and in the end the speed is so fast that the Buddhas become a visual buzz or hum.  They pretty much disappear altogether.  Yoga master Erich Schiffman writes about stillness as dynamic energy, like a top spinning very fast.  That's the kind of energy I perceived in Accelerated Buddha:  balance along with lightness—the shimmering of love.

[14] The charged stillness that art opens within us is Schiffman's stillness; which is peace, which itself is joy, which in turn is our awareness of love—of being in love, of being made of love (which is something that Schiffman writes about), of being love.

[15] Love does not happen through our willing it or wanting it.  (We all know the cliché that love comes to us when we least expect it.)  Love happens because we are available, open, vulnerable.

[16] A resolution requires that one "solve" a life problem by being firm, fixed, and determined.  However, what serves us better than re-solving is dis-solving—"disappearing" like the accelerated buddhas, cultivating the undetermined, softening ourselves into the unlimited and unbound strength of asserting something other than "I will..." and "I want..."  We can risk saying, "I am beautiful.  I am loving."  Yet more fearlessly, we can assert, "I am beauty. I am love."


[17] Chocolate cookbooks amaze me—their repetition of ingredients, which always develops into different concoctions having their particular pleasures.  Indeed, ingredients such as butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and cocoa or unsweetened chocolate seem immeasurably compatible, like Sade's and his libertines' strategic mixing of human bodies in the marquis's novels.

[18] Reading chocolate cookbooks is a lot like reading Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, if one proceeds cover to cover in each case.  Entertainment and pleasure are major themes in both, but the boundlessly repeating ingredients lead to tedium and then to a fascinating monotony, a drone of delights that lose their particularity and evolve into a tiresome magnitude. 

[19] I press on despite my boredom, determined to "taste" every recipe for sex and for chocolate.  I force myself past the libertines' progressively horrific tortures of their victims, Sade's glut of supremely gothic spice, and, in the cookbooks, past a surfeit of the food that I adore.  How many ways can you say how great it is to come?  how glorious a woman's ass is?  how satisfying it is to corrupt the innocent?  how necessary it is for family members to commit sex acts with one another?  how enjoyable it is to be evil?  how natural one is when cruel?  how useless are victims' pleas?  how wonderful a treat it is to eat feces?  How many ways can you reinvent the overcoming of goodness, the mutilation of a body, the infliction of pain?  And how much chocolate can my imagination consume?  how much semisweet or bittersweet chocolate broken into one half-ounce pieces or chopped into one quarter-inch pieces?  how many cups of unsweetened cocoa?  how many masses of walnuts and chocolate chips?  or mounds of chocolate creamy peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fudge with unsalted peanuts, ice cream sandwiched between chocolate cookies?  or platters filled with cakes themselves composed of two kinds of cake or caressed by three buttercreams or slathered with ganache enriched by toasted and then chopped hazelnuts or similarly complicated by pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, pecans, or macadamias?  or still more cakes, and tortes, whose chocolate flavor blends with caramel or mocha?  or lightens when combined with raspberries, strawberries, cherries, cranberries, oranges, apricots, or lemons?  or deepens with rum, Kahlúa, Kirsch, or Grand Marnier?  how many kisses, nougats, wafers, creams, pastes, balls, rolls, and peaks?  How many plates, piles, cups, stacks, and slices can I mentally digest?

[20] Human beings' creativity combines their vehicles of pleasure in endless patterns.  Obsessed with orifices and degradations, Sade designs performance pieces that a reader can picture as tableaus.  Connoisseurs of smooth, crisp, crunchy, melting, delicate, and sweet, chefs compose geometric figures—two- and three-dimensional triangles, diamonds, circles, squares, and hearts—and architectural oddities—wedding marvels and towers of miniature cupcakes.  Sade decorates his creations sometimes with outrageous costumes and often with excrement, urine, ejaculate, and blood.  Voices screaming imprecations, agonies, and orgasmic gratification accentuate his artful inventions.  Chefs decorate their creations with chocolate shavings, ruffles, stripes, leaves, discs, stars, and flowers, and we who read the recipes, then follow them or eat what results supply a vocal accompaniment of exclamatory moans, evidence that the material we have absorbed has entered our flesh as well as our minds.  We absorb Sade, too, through the flesh.  How indiscreet we are in soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body, unable to separate our senses from cookbook photographs and pornographic words on paper.

[21] So, I feel nauseous not only reading Sade but also reading the recipes.  My nausea surprises me, but epitome after epitome of pleasure, whether presented in Sade's world-as-whorehouse or cookbook authors' bordellos of chocolate, ultimately reneges on pleasure itself.


[22] When your heart has been hijacked, you probably don't look or sound so good.  You slump in your chair, stick your neck out when you're walking, arch your spine so that your buttocks punctuate the excessive curve that will give you back pain, raise your shoulders as close to your ears as possible and stiffen them into an armor that can never adequately protect you.  You contract your vagina and anus, you press together your lips, as if to shield some of your orifices from penetration; you internally grip your abdominal organs as if always anticipating a punch.  You breathe shallowly, sometimes so lightly that your voice softens to a mumble or a wave that quivers slightly.  Maybe your voice becomes prickly with a passion that drives people away; like the rose, you produce thorns in order to guard your beauty.  But unlike the rose, you may never even show the beauty that is yours.

[23] You very likely don't know that you're doing any of this.  Defense mechanisms don't announce their targets; and, as art historian Griselda Pollock writes in her book Differencing the Canon:  Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories, "The subject is always massively unknown to itself."

[24] Horror that penetrates us hijacks our hearts.  Hijack means to steal (something in transit) by force.  In the continual flux that is life on both grand and banal scales, our hearts are always in transit.  As a corporeal fact, the heart is stable:  it lives in the human chest, and, if we're healthy, our hearts beat steadily, whether speeding up with exertions and excitements that can be happy or tragic, or whether slowing down with relaxation and peace.  In this stability, the heart takes care of itself.  However, as an emotional, spiritual, and psychic reality, the heart is in continual passage from one state of love, understanding, or trauma to another.  As we grow up, we develop the ability to care for own heart in these passages, which range from the subtle and almost obscure to the blatantly cathartic.  When horror has penetrated us—sexual abuse, spousal abandonment, emotional absence; infidelities of myriad sorts; death, whether expected or not —that horror has hijacked our heart.  In its passages, a person's heart can be stolen by individuals and events.

[25] We call the resulting condition heartbreak, which may last forever after it has occurred and which may reside in our crumpled posture, our tight mouth, the surly tone of our voice.

[26] Every cell of our bodies grieves under the duress of heartbreak.

[27] I act to alleviate that condition in myself.  If I do not, I'm afraid that my heart will fester, become so damaged that it would likely kill me.  And festering hearts hurt other hearts.  I act to ensure that heartbreak won't last forever; because I know that love is the infinite emotion. 

[28] Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar affirms, "The mind when it contemplates an object is transformed into the shape of that object."  I observe the flowers unfolding in my garden--hibiscus, hollyhocks, roses, cosmos, and many more.  In their presence, inches from the centers of their scents and from the mind boggling nuances of their hues, I study their shapely colors, smells, and forms.  I imagine that even my massively unknown self is shifting as I collect myself in the flowers' shape, which is the shape of love.  And love, the infinite emotion, begins to redeem my cells.


[29] Play plumps us, enriches and amplifies us.  When we're full of pleasure, we're beautifully plump, like round hips and bellies, and like muscles too.  Play plumps all of a person, soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body.

[30] In play, we feel free, and play is an avenue to freedom.  Freedom is an unknown, a pleasure and a discipline that none of us will ever enjoy absolutely.  Because freedom is a dream, one that aesthetic and erotic pleasures, such as chocolate, music, dance, sex, art, and fashion, more readily enliven than do the many activities that shrink soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body.

[31] I wing, slide, shovel, dance, and see my way toward freedom. 

[32] I'm Aphrodite's girl.  The ancient Greek deity of fun and frolic, Aphrodite is the epitome of playing around.  Goddess of beauty, creativity, love, and sex, she wears her heart on her sleeve.  Frolicking with love can turn a girl into a heartbreaker and it can make her a slut—a term reclaimed by Third Wave feminists; it can make her a capricious bitch, which describes Aphrodite, and it can make her larger than life, which Aphrodite literally is when she reveals her true identity to her mortal lover, Anchises.  Frolicking with love—of a sport, a food, a lipstick, a friend, a dog, or a dream—is the point of play.  Play, like love, leads to unknown places.  It has no destination, it's unpredictable, like a conversation with your best friend or with a spirit-altering stranger.  The lightness of play has no agenda, doesn't press its case, lets a kiss occur.

[33] Aphrodite is the shimmering lightness of the unknown, of freedom, but she also carries a great deal of weight.  This is the weight of a dancer, of a flexible bodybuilder, of a muscular yogi; it's a weight so graceful that it moves apparently effortlessly, a weight so dense and rich, like the most delicious chocolate, that we know and feel its power clearly, but not because something or someone has imposed itself on us or has needed to impress us.  Aphroditean lightness allows words to be spoken, ideas to spark, and bodies to meet in ways that heaviness inhibits.         

[34] "To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life."  That's one of the most famous statements ever written by an art critic, and it appears in the Conclusion to English scholar Walter Pater's  Studies in the Renaissance, first published in 1873.  Maintaining Pater's flame is a dream, like freedom is.  Indeed, burning with a hard, gem-like flame is an image of freedom through passion:  by becoming utterly vulnerable to passion, by unceasingly seeking sensations of pleasure, one's flame paradoxically hardens, becomes more substantial.  When we burn with garnet and ruby fire, when we become solid in our passionate, and sometimes risky play, we simultaneously glimmer, we're light and radiant, like Aphrodite.  And, like her, we're beautiful.



[35] Pink doesn't carry the threat of red.  It is red's cognate, but we think of it as a paler version and therefore easier to take.  Red is bold and pink is demure; and this formulation of difference between red and pink reveals the trivializing association of pink with femininity, especially with the culturally sweetened notions of little girls' femininity.

[36] Our trifling treatment of pink defends against its potency.  I've read that when someone wears pink, she attracts love, or at the least, generates happiness in those who are looking at her.  Pink unblocks the heart and increases good feelings.  How well fashion designer Betsey Johnson understands this—the walls of her boutiques are painted fuchsia, and it's easy to find pink clothes in them.  Pink sells clothes because pink lifts spirits.

[37] Pink is frothy, piquant, fierce, and delicious, and we are delinquent hearts when we remain unconscious of pink's complexity and dynamism.

[38] Like red, pink is both a color and an idea.  Simply, pink is the color of love.  Why else do Valentines feature pink?  They feature red too, which is romantic passion; pink refreshes us with the many other delicacies and pleasures of romance.  Consequently, it embarrasses us—because we read delicate passions as feminine.


[39] Thoughts, images, and memories of little-girl pleasures and the pleasure of looking at little girls flood me as I stare in both delight and disbelief at the photographs in Mayumi Lake's charming, yet repellent trompe l'oeil porn that she titles Poo-Chi (1999-2000).  Floral-patterned flannel pajamas, polka dot dresses, organdy confections, knitted hats with pompom ties, soft and stiff cottons:  I remember my girlhood's happy fabrics and the cozy, cuddling materials whose sensuousness contributed to my capacity for eroticizing myself.  As a midlife woman who admires little girls' fashions and regularly wears Mary Janes with anklets, I remember, too, gazing at my labia, inquisitively and unshyly loving what I saw, which was the flesh that Lake fantasizes from disarmingly hilarious still lives of adult bodies and that she simultaneously suggests is luxurious to little girls themselves. 

[40] Poo-Chi's party-like mood takes me back to birthday gatherings, highlighted by cakes topped with pink, frosting roses, and to the fact that a lot of little girls are diva delicious, again, to themselves.  Pleasure is too often a dissipated condition in people's lives as they mature, but Poo-Chi's dressed-up "labia"—sweetly decorated, as are little girls' birthday cakes--invite us to understand how precious and special are girls' desire for their own pleasure and girls' love of that pleasure.  Such love and desire, encouraged by adults, stand a good chance of becoming a portion of the heart of girls' self-worth and of helping to maintain that self-worth through a lifetime.

[41] Dealing with girls' pleasures is audacious, even now, after the impact of Madonna's boldly sexual self-styling in the 1980s and after the daring reclamation of women's often-denigrated anatomy, in the early 1970s, by artists such as Hannah Wilke and Judy Chicago in works called cunt art by their feminist creators.  Girls' erotic pleasures—which are so much simply joy in their own bodies—remain taboo:  maybe the unexpected assertiveness of girlie pleasure is anarchic, revolutionary; maybe it can wreak havoc on a Western civilization that still perceives men's erotic pleasures as more permissible—both privately and publicly—than women's..

[42] In the ostensible service of morality, adult prudery fetishizes little girls' beauty and sensuality into pornographic imaginings of perfectly pure-skinned, shell-like vulvas.  The ripped pink panties in "Cheerleader Porn" and the rope in "Ozashiki Porn" tip the playfulness that energizes Poo-Chi into perversity, not all of which is evil:  child porn, women costumed in kiddie clothes for sex acts, some men's infantilizing of a woman in order to sexually arouse them.  Poo-Chi's nude "labia" and the series' five o'clock shadowy, thin and scraggly, and densely soft "pubic" hair conflate pre-pubescent, teenage, and grown women's bodies.  Lake uses the uniforms of pornography to disrobe it, and also to pinpoint some adult desires that need not elicit outrage from observers nor demand a practitioner's shame.  

[43] Pussy and cunt--the former, like the latter, reclaimed by feminists in order to celebrate female bodies and women's pleasure in and for themselves--do not connote the same thing.  Pussy has a light, amusing, even merry tone, whereas cunt delivers a more aggressive, blunter message, like the passionate imperative, "Fuck me."   Although Poo-Chi would not exist without the feminist invention of cunt art, its subjects are pussies, not cunts; they are more seductive than demanding (although a demanding femininity can be enormously seductive).  Highly theatricalized, tender, and never naughty—naughty is too facile a description--Poo-Chi's exuberant pussies enrich the vulval and vaginal aesthetics originated and developed by women artists for whom an erotics of women's bodies necessitates a visual representation and understanding of genital beauty.


[44] As I've written in a piece on gay director Todd Haynes's film Velvet Goldmine, which I adore, I call myself "pretty heterosexual."  Yet, as I identify with the breathtakingly gorgeous gay and bisexual fairy men in that film, I identify with the supersmart, poignant, and relentlessly hip 12-year-old butch and girlie lesbian in Sadie Benning's Flat Is BeautifulMy identification is not the issue; Benning's ability to charm the viewer is

[45] Neither her style nor subject is conventionally charming.  Featuring Pixelvision video and Super 8 film, Flat Is Beautiful features the kid heroine—and I do think she's heroic in her prosaic midwestern pathos—her mother, and mom's gay roommate.  They're all funny and provocatively melancholy.  They all possess a paradoxically dull and edgy loveliness that we recognize—identify with?—because we witness it every day, because we can testify to its joys, frustrations, and disappointments, because we, too, possess that same kind of loveliness.  Feminist art critic Arlene Raven, a self-identified lesbian, asserted in an interview that all of us feel queer sometimes."  She meant "queer" in a large sense, the way that many of today's scholars writing queer theory mean it—not fitting into the conventions of bourgeois behavior, feeling unfit for duty in the doldrums of middleclass mores, which inform societal expectations of behavior in the classes above and below the middle.

[46] The title Flat Is Beautiful can be read various ways.  One of them is this:  everyday reality feels flat to a lot of people; but if we don't perceive that flatness as beautiful, if we don't, through our aesthetic or sensual liveliness transform what appears to be drab into an occasion for soul-dancing, then we're dead--we've flat-lined our spirit.   

[47] Benning sees beauty in the low-key absurdities and dramas of daily life, mostly the familial life of just plain people, in an emotionally complex way.  In other words, Flat Is Beautiful, with its focus on a young lesbian heroine who is just plain people, is stirringly human.

[48] The fact that Benning's film is black-and-white but feels pink contributes to that stirringly human quality, to its ravenous intimacy.  Pink as in the interiors of Betsey Johnson's boutiques.  Pink as in the sweet tint of a baby's cheeks.  Pink as in human beings' aroused genitalia.  Pink as in a variety of flutters and vibrations of hearts in states of bafflement, self-doubt, and wistful love.  Pink as in a variety of passions.  Everyone wears a mask in Flat Is Beautiful.  But none of them can hide their wearer's pinkness.


[49] Katie, an eight-year-old girl, is visiting my home, and as she looks from a window into the garden, she asks, designating a particular bush, "What's that flower?"  "A rose," I answer.  "It's my favorite color!" she exclaims.  "Before you leave, let's go out and cut some of the roses for you," I offer.  "You pick the ones you'd like."   The roses are a dazzlingly deep, bright pink, which I, like Katie, love.  Her excitement, my gift, our shared aesthetic and sensual pleasure, and our time together in the garden—all of it is play.

[50] So is my purchase, a month after Katie's and my flower fun, of a lace thong in the same color as the roses.  And so is the creation, in my mind and speech, of an Aphrodite who would select the same lace thong for her lingerie collection; Aphrodite, whose flower is the rose and who, as an epitome of girlie girlness, I imagine as enchanted by the pinkest pinks.



[51] Blood and smoke; fire and yelling.  Beautiful men, dying men, weeping men.  Dead bodies.  These are the apocalyptic and aesthetically thrilling viscera of cinematic success, and we love them because they make up narratives of calling, mission, and passion, stories embedded in conditions and directions that many people feel are minimal or missing in their own lives.  Surely the narratives of movies such as director Ridley Scott's latest spectacle, Black Hawk Down, as well as other memorable or classic action films, like his Gladiator and Mel Gibson's Braveheart, engage us and create catharsis, dispelling our emotional tensions until daily life resumes its pressures. 

[52] I'm sure that I love Braveheart for reasons I state above, yet its hold on me is rooted in certain of the film's at once visually and emotionally aesthetic moments; and those kinds of moments are the ones that compel me, too, in Black Hawk Down and Gladiator.  They offer the viewer a complex catharsis, purging in such a way that ecstasy overcomes her being and, even months later, motivates visually and emotionally aesthetic actions.

[53] In Black Hawk Down, helicopters punctuate gray-blue sky over a dun-colored Mogadishu from which biblically magnificent pillars of smoke are rising:  the melancholy beauty of that image stays with me more than does anything else in the movie. 

[54] One of the most exquisite and powerful beginnings of any film I've seen is the first twelve minutes of Gladiator.  A man's hand glides through a wheat field, tenderly touching the tops of the stalks.  Next we're in an Imperial Roman military camp with soldiers preparing for battle, and we learn that the man whose body so gently loved the natural world is Maximus, the general who will soon lead his troops to victory.  The atmosphere is cold, wintry blue, a light snow falls now and then over the brutalities, and the magic of these opening scenes—intimate, magnificent, terrifying, sensually opulent—stirs in me the beginnings of an altered state that is the warrior's.  I am on an edge of ecstasy, wanting more.

[55] Russell Crowe's Maximus is beautiful—physically and emotionally—and he bleeds, yells, and dies.  However, his weeping scene stuns me more than all the gladiatorial showiness.  Sobbing as he gazes at the corpses of his wife and child, who have been savaged by Roman soldiers, Maximus becomes heartbreakingly human—because his loss manifests not only in tears but in the mucus that leaks from his nose, that he does not wipe away. 

[56] The memory of his wife and son drive Maximus's gladiatorial brilliance, and his sentience and corporeal pathos make him a particularly fascinating version of the hero as avenging angel.  So, too, is Mel Gibson's William Wallace, Scotland's medieval patriot leader, in Braveheart.  Wallace's battles for Scotland's freedom from England appear to stem from the murder of his wife, Murron, by an English garrison chief.  Avenging angel Wallace rides on horseback into the market where the devil—the garrison chief—has just slashed Murron's throat.  In slow motion, Wallace grows gradually larger onscreen as he comes closer to committing revenge.  Arms raised, hands behind his head in the classic gesture that says, I am not a threat, he is ravishing.

[57] Throughout the movie, blood flows around and from Wallace.  It paints his skin and clothes; splatters, stains, and smudges him with madders, scarlets, lakes, and crimsons, as if his clothes and skin were an Abstract Expressionist canvas.

[58] The mayhem of smoke, blood, and death in action films may dispirit us, but their gorgeousness may motivate us to caress the rose and iris petals in our gardens, to be vulnerable and courageous at the same time, to unbarricade our own borders into ecstasy. 


[59] The phallus:  central to manly being and sometimes synonymous with the centrally located penis of a man's body.  According to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, no one actually has the phallus, because, as the ultimate signifier of authority, it transcends the material body.  In its abstract power, the phallus, in Lacanian theory, is the Law of the Father, and from its ideological grandeur the phallus has ruled the psyches of women and men.  Part of this sovereignty plays in people's minds as a penis/phallus conflation; so, contrary to Lacan, men enjoy a close relation to the phallus and women end up lacking—both prick and power.  Supposedly, men lack the phallus, but their connection to the phallus is evident in historically male-dominated social structures and institutions—war, medicine, visual art, higher education, to list a few—structures and institutions that assert phallic influence:  man has laid down the law in his behalf.

[60] For centuries in the West, the phallus has represented virility with a simultaneously love struck and fearsome glory.  Loftier than the penis, the phallus is monumentally beautiful and silly, and, as a symbol of a sex's and a gender's power, it is without a female equivalent.  The phallus can swell a man's pride, not only in his virility but also in his very being.

[61] Webster's New World Dictionary gives the anatomical definition of phallus as "a) the penis or clitoris b) the undifferentiated embryonic tissue that develops into the penis or clitoris."  It also tells us that phallus derives from the Indo European base bhel-, to swell.  Having a clitoris, vulva, vagina, and uterus, women are more than the phallus.  Many contemporary feminist philosophers, scholars, and critics have argued that sexual difference is culturally rather than anatomically determined, that it has been inscribed in ancient and current myths; in popular and fine art; in narratives, images, practices, and behaviors throughout history and within our daily lives.  Women can swell beyond the phallus's limiting and culturally limited boundaries, beyond the shrunken reality of the phallus that is conflated with the penis.  Women can feel phallic wellbeing.  Indeed, I sometimes feel that I am a phallicly flirting array of corporeal pleasures.

[62] Once, when I was in a state of phallic wellbeing—feeling spatially large and full of bodily competency and pride, I was sitting on a couch leaning forward with my feet about a yard apart on the floor so that my legs were spread.  A man said to me, "That's an aggressive position."  I assumed from his comment that I was projecting manliness, but I was simply being comfortable, inadvertently displaying phallic wellbeing in an extremely feminine self-presentation: lipstick, long hair, garnet earrings and gold ring wrought like a serpent, a sweater and pants that fit me snugly, shoes with a short, curvaceous heel.

[63] I respect my phallic wellbeing, and it amuses me.  I've begun to swagger while walking city streets or shopping or entering the corridors where I teach, to move with a joyfully masculine rhythm.  My hips sway in a more than simplistically feminine pleasure.   Dictionaries define swagger in masculine terms:  a bold or lordly walk.  I never think of myself as sister to the models who strut the catwalk. I sway with the intoxication of being a man.  I'm also wary of my phallic wellbeing; I'm happy in my female body, happy in its mounds and swellings.  I could never be all man, a he-man, or only one kind of man.  I'm Orpheus, Ares, Narcissus; I'm Zeus in a good mood.  I'm an eight-year-old girl, a femme fatale, and a lady.  I'm an action hero and a fairy man.


[64] A transsexual rock star is probably not most people's image of a hero.  Police, firemen, soldiers, and the everywoman and everyman who rise to the occasion of crisis:  these are our conventional and deserving figures.  And they are pervading us, soul-and-mind-inseparable from body, in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington.   Yet Hedwig, the transsexual rock chanteuse of director John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is an inspiring and both literally and figuratively spectacular hero. 

[65] Rivetingly acted by Mitchell himself, Hedwig has been done dirt.  In her late twenties she was the victim of a botched sex-change surgery which leaves her with the mutilated genital flesh that she calls "the angry inch."  It is neither a penis nor a vagina or clitoris; and although I refer to Hedwig as "she," the currently correct term for a male-to-female transsexual, Hedwig is in-between male and female, feminine and masculine.  Because of that, she is nothing and she is everything. 

[66] Hedwig's mother and Luther, Hedwig's husband-to-be, an American soldier, press the operation on Hedwig—a necessity for her escape from East Germany as Luther's wife.  He abandons her in Kansas.  And Hedwig rises from the ashes of her dream of happiness with him:  she falls in love with herself, which is an act of mercy, as positive narcissism, and of tremendous courage.  In the trailer where Luther has left her, we see the transformation occur.  Hedwig's extravagant makeup that emphasizes eyes and lips, luxuriously trashy costume, and signature super-blonde Farrah Fawcett wig add up to a fabulously, brutally, campily, and poignantly sexy phoenix.  We are invited to identify and to participate in this heroic aesthetic and erotic self-creation, to become phoenixes rising from the ashes of our own devastations:  as Hedwig humorously extols self-worth in song, a cartoon Farrah Fawcett wig bounces above the words for an audience sing-along.

[67] Hero comes from words meaning protect and watchman.  Hedwig becomes the protector of love and knowledge.  She and Tommy Gnosis, her teenage lover, break up.  Gnosis means spiritual knowledge, and Hedwig has educated Tommy in the gnosis of his style, his rock history, his deepest self, his understanding of paradise.  Having stolen the songs that he and Hedwig created together, Tommy has become a star—which Hedwig hasn't yet.  And as she tours America fronting a band whose every tune is a warrior's anthem—devotions, in a popular idiom, to bodily and spiritual fortitude and beauty--Hedwig in her huge, glittering red lips and her red T-shirt patterned with hearts, is a monumental angry inch.  The East German doctor/butcher brought her within an inch of her sanity if not within an inch of her life; and times of personal, professional, and planetary crisis may bring us to the same places.  In these situations, we easily feel tiny, outraged:  we are angry inches.  In these situations, as in every moment, we are simultaneously living within inches of love, of calming conversations or intimate, desired touches: we are always within inches of being, like Hedwig, Valentines to each other, vigilant in love.