Khnopff, pastel drawing, 1889
the shallow know themselves.”
the word derived from the Latin in
(in) and vertere (to
turn), names the action of turning inward. And this is not any
ordinary self-reflection, but an in-turning that turns things upside
down and inside out. The noun “invert” names one who is
transformed by inversion – who else but the homosexual.
queer is a call to inversion, an in-turning that leads us to quiet
places in nature, where still, clear water upturns the known world.
And if a wandering youth is thirsty for a taste of this inverted
world, where all is soft, deep and unfamiliar, he might catch sight
of his own watery soul. Narcissus finds an image reflected in the
dark surface of a hidden pond –
a self who he thinks is someone else –
and he falls in love. The boy he yearns for is not the familiar
image of himself he could find in a bright-lit mirror. It is a
surprising, unfamiliar self –
fluid, secret, soulful.[ii]
love for the boy he finds deep in the forest, in the untouched pool
of still, clear water, can be described as an inversion
of the ordinary self-consciousness that can be acquired through
mirrors. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan describes the mirror-stage as
formative of self-consciousness. In the brittle plane of a mirror, a
child sees only surfaces. Reflections there say nothing of bodily
fluids, organic needs, and interior functions. All the eye perceives
in the mirror is an “I” who appears to be whole, complete, and
While still “sunk in motor incapacity and nursling dependence,”
a child overcomes fear by assuming an identity with the insentient
object he or she appears to be, in the mirror. The “I” is formed in this
mirror-stage as a self-consciousness that is separate and
self-sufficient. “I” forgets fear and danger. “I” repudiates
knowledge of time and space, where we are interwoven with an
intricate web of life. Yet no one has blood and breath apart from
this. So “I” must stay trapped in paranoid structures. “I am”
(historically, linguistically) as a self-sufficient entity,
disavowing identity with what it lacks. All that is other becomes
viewed as inessential. The subject inhabits a negatively
characterized world of objects. Jacques Lacan describes this “mirror
stage” as a misrecognition that comes to characterize the ego in
all its structures. He calls it a “knot of imaginary servitude
that love must always undo again, or sever.”[iv]
is one way to keep this self-sufficient self-consciousness going.
“Man” and “Woman” are other and opposite, separate,
distinct, composed of rejected attributes, negatively characterized.
In relationship “he” and “she” function as mirrors to one
another, offering up superficial images and reinforcing paranoid
disavowals of fear and mortal destiny. Within the patriarchal social
structures that surround and confound us, “woman” acts as object
to his subject. She guarantees his power by her service. He stays
trapped in the crippling misrecognition of his self-sufficiency. And
perhaps he is also trapped in unconscious envy of her privileged
access to feeling and to powerlessness.
someone of the same sex, gays and lesbians cannot stay in
comfortable assumptions of difference. We recognize our identity
with our lovers. We see and want our double, our self. But this is not the mirror-self, appearing
whole, complete, and independent. We catch a glimpse of the
fluid, soulful self – weeping, urinating, defecating, hungry, thirsty,
readily shattered, impossibly needy – in our lover’s eyes, arms, and asshole.
two women or two men love each other, no female (or feminized)
object stands opposite a male (or masculinized) subject. No one
guarantees his power by her service. Paul Monette describes “the
challenge two men fucking [make] to the slave laws of the
patriarchy. . . . the exchange of power, the wild circle of top and
Two men together make a “wild circle” of subject and object,
dependence and independence, separation and merging, passivity and
power. Being queer makes it possible to acknowledge strength and
weakness, authority and abjection, in a wild erotic round.
Difference does not derive from indifference. Objective
insufficiency need not be cast into an abyss inside self-knowledge;
it can be used, played with, cared for and loved as an aspect of
both self and other.
anxious self-certainty of ordinary self-consciousness can only be
achieved by the transcendence of objectivity. It is the objective
truth of separation and independence that guarantees one’s
insufficiency and need. An alternative consciousness lives in the
world of objects: organic, endangered bodies; trees and rain; food
and water; books and music; blood and skin. Grief, hunger, love and
laughter illuminate – at times with unendurable clarity –
the gap between individual and indivisible life. Instead of claiming
transcendent self-certainty through the repudiation of risk and
dependence, being queer means we can listen to uncertainty and live
in cognizance of incompletion. The endangered self, wanting what it
does not have, can only be loved through inversion.
unique relation with the dynamics of self-consciousness, lesbian and
gay people can claim rich capacities and sensibilities. We can want
more than the self-sufficient subject could ever dream of
not-having. We can acknowledge abject need without surrendering all
power. Despite and because of our objective limits, we can take a
chance on love. ▼
This idea is derived from Thomas Moore, 1992.
Jacques Lacan, 1977, (1-7).
Paul Monette, 1992, (144).