Houri Series

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houri1.gif, originally uploaded by Ululate.

What would be of most benefit to this sad girl with the scared eyes? Is she from a reform congregation? Is she one of those feminists? “The women do not need to dance because they are on a higher level than the men.” He squinted a little, trying to hit the right note with this hostile, melancholy American Jewess. He hoped to. “Do angels need to dance?”

I am tired of putting my head onto the bodies in masterpieces for now, so I am starting the Houri Series, which allows me to be exhibitionistic while “commenting on” orientalism, Levantine subjecthood, gender, dance kinetics, etc. The textual additions and Photoshop filters help to make this art, one hopes.

More at flickr, and more to come, unless the PC police get me first.

Here in the gynaeceum

Today I feel like… a large group of worms
with a flattened, unsegmented body, fleshy
and flawed and desirous of exaggerated
compliment. Fluttering or waving freely,
gaudy, ostentatious, conspicuous, and
impudent, my wingless wings are firm
and pulpy, like fruit, or like fleams,
especially those used for opening veins.
I am rigid and pliant, stiff and easily
bent, capable of modification by a group
of yellow pigments or a person who
flattens something. I guess that means
I am a Flathead, erroneously named by
confusion and marked by my windiness
of speech. I vulcanize a whole new rubber
tread on the bare underlayer of the fabric
of this verse, like a signal given by a drum or
bugle or a bend or turn as in a line or
wall. What is done in revenging puts a new
vamp on savagery, but with a dull or rounded
apex that draws back the veil of inadvertence
and undergoes diminutive revving. It vamps
again or anew, falling into an earlier, worse,
or less complex condition, like the flesh
at the edge of an incision that can be retracted,
or drawn back in, as in claws. High-pitched,
shrill, piercing, brilliant, intense, as a sharp flash
of light, it passes close to or skims the surface in
opposite directions parallel to the plane of the contact,
causing it to flow in a stream or fall in drops, let flow or drop,
send forth or spread about, or cause to flow off without
penetrating. Today I am about the size of a pigeon
and am related to the petrels and albatrosses, like
a leaf base enveloping a stem of grass, or membrane
around a muscle. She is the nominative case form,
her the objective, her or hers the possessive, and herself
the intensive and reflexive, except as in, “our dog is a she.”
This is a collection of sheeny things bound together, partly shaved,
like a regular fem or female animal: severe, intense, acute;
strong, biting and pungent; a kind of daisylike chrysanthemum
breaking or bursting into pieces suddenly. Here in the gynaeceum
I, costumed as a person or persons whose appearance or habits
are like those of a gypsy, release combinations that are free
to turn in any direction and will keep their original plan of rotation
no matter which way the wheel is turned. A circular or spiral motion;
whirl. Revolution. Vortex. Coil. (see tugging at the ear in perplexity)

My costume is coming along nicely.

Thinking about Suzanne’s recent post at Stephanie’s blog about shyness. It must be excruciating to be truly shy. I think I may be shy, in a way, but I have managed my shyness by morphing it into an extreme and parodic form of self-consciousness. Pure shyness strikes me as a form of hostility in that shy people seem only to be thinking of their own anxiety and discomfort instead of focusing on what their interlocutor might be experiencing. They block the two-way flows of energy between communicators, and to me, this is a kind of hostility. I tell this to my shy students, and sometimes they overcome the worst of their shyness by focusing on the other, sometimes not. I do try to be a model of not-shyness for them so that they can feel freer to communicate. I think I try to do this for the writing community as well, but it’s less easy to measure my effectiveness in that area.

What I do experience that is something like shyness is the horrible sensation, sometimes, of practically seeing my words come out of my mouth and hang there like leaden speech balloons. In an ugly void, where everyone’s staring. Somewhere (maybe quoted in a book review? recently?) I read a passage of fiction that described this phenomenon very cogently. I guess that writers in particular are prone to this syndrome; and I remember never feeling that way so much as in the Bay Area in the 80s. There was something almost pleasurable about that hyper-consciousness, but it was also stultifying. It’s fine to be self-conscious when I say things that come out winsome and snappy, because then I can be charmed by what’s in the balloons, but sometimes, especially when I’m in the midst of some rhetorical battle (not, perhaps, my strongest mode), the statements that come out of me seem wooden, wrong, and other.

Is my extreme self-consciousness in fact a kind of “false consciousness” (a phrase I was reminded of reading a review of abook on poverty in the Times today, in which a woman rationalizes her extreme poverty and alcoholism by saying that she must have committed some grave sins in previous lives)? Am I deceiving myself that I am reclaiming roses and ruffles, and that because everything I do is steeped in performative irony I am not buying into received notions of womanhood? That my parade of images of myself is not in fact a true narcissism but rather a going-to-extremes of self-consciousness in order to work through it, as an aspiring Buddhist might lose himself in alcohol and promiscuity on the way to enlightenment? Aw, hell.