Category Archives: académico

When Worlds Collide: Part 3

tendenciesOver four years ago I posted my first academic world meets fetish world startle regarding a CFP email. Startling, but my field is lit and one happily grows to expect some BDSM study. It was only a week (or was it two now? I do blog slowly…) ago when I got another. I opened my email this week only to find another CFP startlingly titled:

Spanking and Poetry: A Conference on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

No, really, that’s what it says. But I do think CUNY (yes, City University of New York again) is, as the British say, taking the piss. The first sentence of the call reads (how had I not remembered this Sedgwick quote?)

“When I was a child the two most rhythmic things that happened to me were spanking and poetry.” (Sedgwick, Tendencies 182)

And then goes on to say

Eve Sedgwick lovingly, if none too gently, slapped open the sphincter-tight boundary rings of critical scholarship on the sexual and affective relations between bodies.

Sadly the kinky stuff mostly ends at this point save a couple of paper suggestions (Fisting-as-écriture and Shame and Generic Discipline respectively). But hey, if you like Sedgwick and want to go, check them out at their blog.

When Worlds Collide: Part 2


It’s always strange when my academic life meets up with my kink one.  It happened back in 2007 with a CFP (that’s “Call for Papers” in the larger world) and then again today.  Opening emails like this in my vanilla account is always a bit startling. 

[I’ve left the contact information in case any of my friends want to write a tedious academic paper on the science of pain and suffering.] 


Call for Papers
Annual Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference:
The Poetics of Pain: Aesthetics, Ideology, and Representation
February 25th-26th, 2010

Pain has always occupied a problematic space in any discipline investigating the human condition. The question of how to manage the unmediated experience of pain in the face of the social and ethical imperative to communicate it has spawned countless theories of and approaches to pain itself and its representation. This conference seeks to foster dialogue between a broad range of approaches to pain and suffering, including medical-scientific investigations of the neurological processes involved in the experience of pain, socio-historical analyses of the connection between individual pain and collective trauma and literary/linguistic inquiries into the possibilities and limitations of a poetics of pain. Theorists and thinkers will include, among others, Jean Amery, Elaine Scarry, Sade, Sacher-Masoch, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Ballard, Mirbeau and Kafka.

How can the ineffable sensation of physical torment be conveyed by its sufferer, or acknowledged by the other? How is individual suffering converted into collective experience? How, in turn, is an individual’s experience of pain socially determined? How do the varying discourses of pain bring the sufferer into contact with the world and break down the barriers between self and other? What are the conceptual mechanisms that guide our understanding of this physiological experience?

We invite papers from all disciplines approaching the subject from a variety of critical perspectives that explore the ways in which pain is articulated, narrativized, framed, interpreted, subjectivized, and imbued with meaning.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

• Torture, War
• Illness Narratives
• Medical and Diagnostic Language of Pain
• Sadomasochism – from Rousseau and de Sade to LGBT “Leather Scenes”
• Biopolitics
• Animality and Humanism
• Martyrdom and Religious Representations of Suffering
• Theaters of Cruelty
• Politicization of Pain and Collective Accounts of Past Suffering
• Violence and Politics
• Survivor Memoirs
• Victims of Crime and Assault
• Trauma and Testimony
• Physical Suffering in Light of the Cartesian Mind/Body Problem
• Religious and Secular Theodicies
• Victimhood, Voice and Agency
• Desire, pain and subjectivity.
• Technologies of Punishment
• Bioethics

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper by October 10th to Proposals should include the title of the paper, presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation. We also welcome panel proposals (3-4 papers).
The Graduate Center
The City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309

Thoughts on the “poetics of pain”? Bueller, Bueller? Anyone, anyone?

Academic Fetish: Dirt and Imperial Leather

Wife and servant are the same, but only differ in the name. – Lady Chudleigh

I’ve literally been meaning to write about this book for years — like since I first read it in a seminar in 1997.  Although I’ve read lots of pretty kinky literature in classes, including Venus in Furs, this is one of the most interesting books on fetishes I’ve ever read.   It’s called Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest by academic Anne McClintock.

imperial-leather1What makes this book such a delight to the fetish reader?  Not its prose, which isn’t as hard to get through as Foucault, but is definitely of the post-modern, post-colonial critical style.  This isn’t meant as a complaint by the way, but more by way of a warning that you probably won’t want to buy this for pleasure reading unless you tend to read academic texts more generally.

imperial-leather2There’s a lot of good stuff in the book on issues of race and fetish as well as images of imperialism in 19th century popular culture.  But it’s Chapter 3: Race, Cross Dressing and the Cult of Domesticity that makes for the most amazing reading.   It’s an account of the secret marriage of upper class, Cambridge graduate and barrister, Arthur Munby and serving woman Hannah Cullwick whom he met on the street.  They had a secret romance and marriage (facts Arthur only revealed to his family a few weeks before his death) based, in part, on Munby’s fetishization of their class differences and her status as his “slave” (she wore a leather wrist band to denote her status as “owned” by him and a locked chain around her neck for which only he had the key as further proof of her bondage to him).  He was especially fond of seeing her during and after she had labored — “in her dirt” (see image on the right) as he called it.  Both Munby and Cullwick kept diaries of their experiences / relationship, which makes for detailed knowledge of their relationship.

This fetishizing of class and Cullwick’s servant status was immortalized by Munby who took contrasting photographs  of Hannah dressed as a fine lady (her secret status by marriage) when they traveled together, as a serving woman and as a slave.

imperial-leather3Cullwick was stunning as a model (I wish I could find more of the shots of her on-line).  She posed for Munby cross-dressed as a boy, as a laborer and even as a gentleman of his own class.   Their private games were of her slavery.  She addressed him as “Massa,” knelt at his feet, licked his boots and washed his feet (again, we know this from their diaries which he donated to Cambridge though sadly the accounts of her “training” were removed).

One of the things I found quite striking as an account of fetishizing work was this passage:

…she would arrange to theatrically scrub the front doorsteps on her knees as Munby sauntered down the street, languidly swinging his cane… Cullwick visited Munby frequently “in her dirt” after a grueling day’s work, her clothes dank and filthy, her face deliberately blackened with boot polish, her hands red and raw; only to pose later that same evening freshly dressed as an upper-class lady in finery.  They spent happy hours mulling over the ordeals of her workload, ritualistically counting and recounting the incredible number of boots she cleaned. (page 137)

With material like Munby’s photographs and diaries both left to work from, it’s not surprising that there are a number of books discussing the couple’s history.  What I like about Imperial Leather is McClintock’s enlightened discussion of S/M in relation to the couple.  She sees both its theater and the realities of power as distributed between the two people in this relationship.   This means that unlike other works, Imperial Leather reads Cullwick not as a victim, but as an actor in her own slavery.

As McClintock writes (paraphrasing Foucault):

To argue that in S/M “whoever is the ‘master’ has the power and whoever is the slave has not,” is to read theater for reality; it is to play the world forward.  The economy of S/M, however is the economy of conversion: master to slave, adult to baby, power to submission, man to woman, pain to pleasure, human to animal and back again…. S/M is a theater of transformation; it “plays the world backward.”

I wish I had time to write more about this, but will happily return to discussion of it should anyone be interested.  And, maybe, even if no one but me is.

Too Far From Normal?

discipline-and-punishMaybe it’s a sign that one has a rather serious fetish when, in the midst of discussing one’s research project and ones academic future with ones department graduate adviser, one is distracted almost mid sentence by reading the title of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish off of the professor’s office bookcase.  This despite having read the book many times, both for courses and research.  And knowing that the book is almost always on any English academic’s bookshelves, including ones own.

Not that I’m saying this happened to me last week or anything, mind.

(But yes, I have read the book many times.  For some reason my copy almost always falls open on the sketches of the spanking machine.)

Small Kindnesses

I used to be a really good student.  I’m not especially smarter than average, maybe even below average for a PhD student, but I was a really good student.  The sort that does extra work, not for praise, or at least not just for praise, but because I loved the work and was really excited about it.  This isn’t especially unusual either, I suspect.  Why else would someone work in literature after all?

Then my personal life fell apart and got put back together in a much happier way (divorce, romance, second marriage).  And then I got sick and sicker and sicker. Drugs.  Anxiety.  Therapy. Surgery.  And then I got better and better and better.  More surgery.

In the meantime, the university forced me to take my quals.  I passed. And then a whole lot of nothing. 

Last Spring / Summer? Maybe 20 pages of dissertation.  And a plan to finish in a year or so.

This Fall / Spring?  Another 65.  And a plan to finish in a year.

And, of course, meantime noises about graduate students taking too long to complete.  Them being pushed out.  I feared being told much the same.

Yesterday I swallowed my pride and wrote emails to my department’s Graduate Director (Professor K) and my own dissertation chair (Professor M).  Professor K emailed me back at once wanting to see me today.  I panicked, but made the meeting, armed only with a realistic completion plan and my trusty draft chapters..

It was wonderful. Professor K was nothing but supportive and encouraging.  Glad I was working away and happy I’d come to see him.  He advised me to meet with my chair, Professor M, as soon as possible. 

After I left his office, I noticed the door to Professor M’s office was open and stuck my head in.  We met for a few minutes, arranged a meeting for tomorrow afternoon and I walked back to my office. 

Suddenly I’m a PhD candidate in good standing.   And apparently have been all along.

Who knew?

When Worlds Collide

Okay this isn’t exactly my kink life meeting my academic life as I’m not a medivalist (I mostly do contemporary Chicana feminist literature with a dash of 19th century American to keep me from getting bored) but it’s getting close. 

And seeing that subject line in my university mailbox definitely counts as a startle.

Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies
10-13 May 2007
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo

We are looking for papers that deal with the various forms of, concerns
with, and issues surrounding both corporal and capital punishment in the
Anglo-Saxon period. Papers may address secular, ecclesiastical or combined
interests. Legal, historical, and literary treatments are all welcome.
Please submit abstracts for twenty-minute papers by 15 September to:

I snipped off the contact information.  But if you want to submit a paper, do let me know.  I’ll be happy to forward you the full text.

Mr. Chivalry and the Thoughtful Granddaughter

Okay, as some of you know, I work 50% (though currently 80%) time at a graduate assistant position at my university.  It’s not a bad job, though it can be both mind-numbingly dull at the same time it’s also very very stressful.  This is one of the stressful times as I try and complete paperwork so that students can graduate on time.

They have a lot riding on their degrees posting.  This I know.   I don’t just know it because I’m really smart and perceptive, but because I get at least one call every 15-20 minutes where someone uses the phrase "it’s really important that I graduate on time."  This is then followed by their life story, told so breathlessly I can’t stop them without interrupting them.  They’re either:

  1. about to leave the city/state/country, never to return
  2. don’t want to leave the country, but need their degree to post before their INS interview
  3. must be a PhD before they return to their home country or they’ll be inducted into the military (no, really, this one is for real).
  4. have landed their dream tenure-track job but must have a PhD in less than 5 days or the job will be taken away (this, so far, has never been found to be true)
  5. must have their degree post by the end of the week or they’ll be paid on an "acting" professor scale (this is usually the case when they claim 4).

I don’t mean to sound harsh about this.  I mean, I want them to graduate on-time too.  However, if my entire life were riding on my degree being processed and posted by mid August, I wouldn’t wait to submit my paperwork until the very last day (when we receive more than 1/2 of the term’s almost 300 student files).  It’s not brain surgery or anything, but there’s lots of bits of paper and signatures and the like that need to be stamped, verified and then entered into the computer database (making the process electronic means that something that used to take 20 minutes can now take up to 2 hours).

So against this background we have two really special people who have been named Mr. Chivalry and the Thoughtful Granddaughter. 

I’ve never met either of these individuals.  Mr. Chivalry apparently has a job that’s so important he needed to send his wife to run around campus and collect all his needed paperwork and signatures.  In 100+ degree heat.  While she was (at least) nine months pregnant.  She’d rush into the office, holding paperwork in one hand, the other resting on the small of her back.  My boss and I agreed that with each day that passed (because of course paperwork over the summer involves a lot of chasing down elusive faculty) we could see the baby dropping.  We were afraid she was going to give birth to her child on the floor of the lobby. 

Meanwhile her husband was apparently at work in an air conditioned office and busy calling her to find new forms he’d "forgotten" to fill out over the 5 years he’d been getting his doctorate.  When we questioned why he wasn’t doing any of this errand running, she explained that he hadn’t wanted to ask for a half day off and waste a vacation day — he could have done in an afternoon what it took her a week of running to and fro — in order to fill out and file paperwork.  She, as he apparently had pointed out, was already off work anyway.  Her being 9 months pregnant didn’t seem to enter into his calculations. 

We encouraged her to seriously consider single motherhood. 

Thoughtful Granddaughter I know less about.  But apparently she’s Very Important (at least in her own mind) and chose to send her grandfather to do her paperwork on her behalf.  Her grandfather, who is at least 90 if he’s a day.  Her grandfather, who has an English vocabulary of less than 50 words and who was left to wander the campus dazed and bewildered.  Also in over 100 degree heat.  His granddaughter, I eventually figured out, was on her honeymoon.

I finally ended up walking him around campus and explaining at each location what he needed, buying him bottles of water so he wouldn’t stroke out in front of me.  Heaven help this chick if she ever shows her face around here.  By the end of the day I wanted to throttle her.

They’ve been signed off, the both of them.  Because it’s very important that they graduate on time. 

Besides, I just don’t ever want to hear from either of them again.

About Andrea

[because a week later, the net really needs another obit.]

Sorry friends, I’ve been away… surgery and recovery requiring the watching of a full season of 24 to bring me back to health. 

Anyway, A. wrote me last week to ask if I was going to blog about Andrea Dworkin.  Until then  I hadn’t really thought about it, even though twenty years ago I would have named Dworkin (and even more so radical feminists Catharine Mackinnon and Audre Lorde) as having inspired me to read feminism and identify as a feminist.  I’m not sure who first called her the Malcolm X of the women’s movement, but it was a great line  — Malcolm X said the problem was "white people" — Dworkin said the problem was "men."  She was able to inspire and bluntly name names.

More than that though, as Susie Bright writes in her own blog entry about Dworkin, as someone coming of age in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon were the first women to look at pornography and erotica (not that they would have made a fine distinction between the two) with a critical eye.  It existed for them — they showed clips in classes.  True, they showed it as examples of women being degraded by men (and they frequently were) and exploited, but they showed it.  I found it brilliant and so clear when they wrote (and said, for I heard both speak live several times in the 1980s when I was an undergraduate) that one of the reasons men were able to rape women and get away with it was that (heterosexual) sex was always assumed to be consensual.  They then posed the opposite question — what if it was assumed to be rape until the man proved otherwise (quotes that were so often misused to claim both women saw all sex as rape).  Then, they argued, rape trials could be about the man’s actions rather than the women’s history.

I broke intellectually with both as I tried to make sense of my own desires (especially the ones connected to BDSM) and found the framework both writers created to be limiting — in the manner of a young girl thinking about her heroes and wanting their approval, I would imagine sometimes how horrified they’d be (especially Dworkin with her history as an abused wife) with my embracing masochism.  I went on to discover Dorothy Allison and found a new way to think about my sexuality and desires.  And slowly over the last decade I’ve come to see these first feminist writers of mine as part of an earlier, more naive feminism.  Something I’ve outgrown.

But of course, what’s been lost in this more subtle, nuanced feminism is the ability to hear someone  bold.  My favorite Dworkin moment was the story of her longtime rivalry with Allen Ginsberg, who apparently said (I’ve always imagined) pompously "you know, the Right wants me in jail."  Dworkin supposedly responded, "yes, I know.  They’re so sentimental.  I’d kill you."  Where are the women now pointing out sexism?  I feel sometimes like we’ve all become so timid.  Afraid, perhaps, of being labeled naive ourselves.

Or worse.

When I’d listen to people (actually, mainly male professors and their students) raging against Mackinnon and Dworkin’s writings (and, as often, things neither had actually written, but thoughts that were attributed to them anyway), it was horrifying how often Dworkin’s appearance was used to explain her being "anti-male".  She was "fat" and "hairy" and so interested in rape because no man would ever want her.  I remember pointing out to a male undergrad who commented that Dworkin was utterly undesirable and that it was impossible to imagine any man might be attracted to her, that (at the time) she’d lived with the same man for close to 20 years, he refused to believe me until what I’d told him was confirmed by one of our professors.  Mackinnon, on the other hand, was considered "almost pretty" by our classmates and that seemed, somehow, to make her support of Dworkin’s theories incomprehensible. 

I’ve wondered sometimes how much fear of being called feminist that vilification of Dworkin created.  interestingly, Dworkin is blamed for that too — basically for daring to be fat and ungroomed in the public eye.  For being an icon of feminism and not being beautiful.   Who are we left with?  Naomi Wolfe?  Camila Paglia?  Feh!

I know who I’d rather read or listen to, however much her inflexibility might anger me.

For all that they might well have disagreed with where my feminism has led me, and even more so for the choices I’ve embraced in my sexuality, I mourn the passing of Andrea Dworkin as I did that of Audre Lorde.  There is a beauty in the radical.  And, Andrea had something far more important than a perfect body.  She had a brilliant mind and a quick wit and the world is poorer for her loss.


About race

“He says there’s no such thing as race.”
She shrugged. “He’s right you know. About it all being constructed. But” –she turned to me, looking at me intently–“that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
From Caucasia by Danzy Senna

A few years ago I received a Ford Fellowship. It’s made a big difference in my ability to work on my Ph.D.. The Ford Foundation has funded these fellowships for more than twenty years with the stated goal of increasing the numbers of faculty from underrepresented minority groups. The fellowship was awarded based on merit, but applicants had to be African American, Chicano, Native American or Pacific Islander to be considered.

The fellowship is more than money (though the money helps). It’s about being part of a community of scholars of color. There’s an annual conference where current and former fellows meet to discuss research and also to support and mentor each other. (In fact, a number of fellows who are further advanced in their careers donate money so there can be more fellowships offered each year.) I’m not going to argue that Ph.D. students of color experience overt racism on a regular basis. I don’t and I don’t think that’s the case for many of us. But it can be very lonely. However diverse undergraduate programs may have become, graduate programs look basically as white as they ever did. There’s a lot of different reasons, but that’s the way it is. So we look forward to seeing each other. The internet helps the most isolated by allowing us to be part of a virtual community.

This summer, the Ford Foundation sent the Fellows a letter explaining that the Fellowship was being changed from one that was based on race to one that was based on “diversity.” I guess I should have seen it coming. Affirmative Action has lost a number of legal battles, which have left an odd situation where it’s apparently okay for a university to give preference to children of alums, but not to students of color. Meanwhile, the “news” that race isn’t determined by biology, but rather, is constructed socially, has led people like Ward Connerly to argue that since race isn’t “real” the solution to racism is to abolish race as any sort of legal or public construction.

As one fellow said mournfully this summer “It’s not that I don’t like white scholars. I hate seeing us lose the one place we had of our own. Where we could be ourselves and comfortable one weekend a year.”

I’m trying to be positive about the changes. But what I feel in my heart is that for scholars of color there really is no easy place to be.