EILEEN MYLES AND THE MATHEMATICS OF GAY

Voltaire, admiring England, once remarked that religiously, the Unitarians were mathematically the best. It was the beauty and simplicity of the one.

Eileen Myles is one of those Sexual Unitarians; she does the one-sex thing.  She looks sort of like a man.  Her religion: Gay.

(We’re not really talking about sex here, but philosophy.)

The feelings can be glimpsed in her novel, Inferno:

Dan somebody from Emily’s couch was now purring into a mike almost entirely constructed out of duct tape.  Infinity Space was his and he moved the night along with his voice that was so soft and full of feeling. He was extremely nice to women in a way that made me suspect he was an asshole. He wasn’t feminist. He was just needy. Sometimes I’d wait for two hours to get up and read my poem and they just never called on me. Some woman all wrapped up in scarves was hunched over the list. She’d look up, scan the room and look down shaking her head. So much pressure.

As with all religious wars, it is not enough for the believer to believe; they must resent other beliefs.

“Dan somebody” is guilty of being “needy.”

But worse, “Dan somebody” is not “femin-ist.”

“Dan somebody” isn’t Unitarian; he believes in a second divinity:  “He was extremely nice to women.”

The passage also features a great amount of self-pity on the part of the narrator: waiting to read her poem.  They never called on her.  All that pressure.

The self-pity is a pent-up, passive self-pity.  She doesn’t stand up for herself, or engage with anyone, and we don’t really know what these others are like; they are referred to as “some” or “somebody.”  The most important thing is that she “suspects” the man who is “extremely nice to women” of being an “asshole,” and the second most important thing is that she is “never called on” to read her poem.

Eileen’s morbidity reflects the unitarian religious fanatic who tends to be morose and passive and lonely.

The gods, in their randy pluralism, are needy.  The gods, whatever they are, are always “suspected” of being up to something by the monist.

Most of us worship gods. The gods of Plato were exchanged for the gods of the Trinity.  But along came the Unitarians, rejecting  the divinity of the Son.  Judaism believes in One God, too, but Judaism was prior to the Son, and Judaism’s monism implied, and was pregnant with, other gods.  Unitarianism is the one religion which takes the many back into itself and makes monism the true All.  Eileen Myles is infused with the same sort of reversal.

Gods interact with each other.  Gods are in a constant quarrel between slavery and liberty.

God issues laws.  God demands we all be mon-ists.  ” He wasn’t feminist.  He was just needy.”

Just because someone is religiously a monist, however, doesn’t mean they cannot also be a gasbag and jibber-jabber all day long, and run here and there, and be vulgar and slangy.   Of course they can.  In fact, this is what unitarians tend to do.  The one tends to inflate, get large and all gas-baggy.

The monk is trying to get away from something, but the true monist, the true unitarian doesn’t have to do that, because there’s nothing to escape from; there is no this or that, or division, there’s no god chasing god, it’s all one,  and thus the only thing left to do is be pluralistic in one’s monism, as plural in every moment as one can possibly be, since the one always implies a reverse reaction, a big bang, a splattering of everything, which, rhetorically, is what Eileen aims at.  The monk seeks the cell, the monk hides, the monk contemplates division, the monk is in love; but the unitarian, the monist, is a traveler.

Eileen Myles is confident moving from one random place to another.  (This could be an aesthetic judgement, as well, which, it should be pointed out, is all we are interested in.)

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35 Comments

  1. Eileen Myles said,

    January 27, 2011 at 3:01 am

    This is brilliant. I feel so seen. I’m serious. And though I do look like a man I think I look like a cute man. That matters. This is such a smart odd piece. Huzzah, Scarriet!

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

      This is a classic monist position, and we see here the decadence of the monist as we typically see it in Oscar Wilde.

      ‘Cute’ is monist, for it transcends the sexes…well, sort of… for manly beauty is not possible with a little heart-shaped chin.

      Again, it comes back to mathematics.

      And make-up, of course.

      Cosmetics can make men pretty, but the woman trying to be a ‘cute man’ has a real uphill battle.

  2. Marcus Bales said,

    January 27, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Good for you, Eileen. The whole ‘looks like a man’ thing is ad hominem bullshit, and you’ve taken the high road in response to it. It’s one thing to disagree with your politics or poetics, but it’s bullshit to try to pretend that your non-volitional characteristics are grist for the political or pobiz mills. So good for you. Now Scarriet ought to apologize for that kind of crap.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Marcus,

      You are a cold, steel rod of p.c.

      I remember when the formalists were accused of being Reagan-ites.

      You are the cartoon opposite.

      Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        January 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm

        Nothing to do with pc, Tom; I am simply objecting to bad rhetoric. Mock her all you please for ‘dressing like a man’ and I’ll have no objection, because how she dresses is her choice. But her non-volitional physical appearance is not a choice, and is therefore off-limits as a critique of her poetry or her politics or her other opinions.

        I think her work looks more like diary entries and emails to an admiring coterie, all relineated to have a ragged right margin, and since she doesn’t use any meter at all I think she’s a prose writer and not a poet at all. But though I’ll be happy to criticize her work I will defend her, or anyone, against inappropriate rhetorical attacks.

      • Noochness said,

        January 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm

        Enough of the insults and anger and sadness,
        There’s only one month left ’til Scarriet March Madness!

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm

        I dunno, Marcus, I think you miss the forest for the trees.

        The whole person makes the whole art. By reducing everything to poetry v. prose and legislating against other sorts of observation, you unnecessarily limit philosophy.

        The person, Eileen Myles, is happy, but you are so whipped into a frenzy by the scornful nature of the doctrinaire and the p.c., that you strongly feel the need to make Scarriet apologize—who made Eileen happy! You insert where you ought not to insert and do not observe where you ought to observe. It seems to me you are amassing little armies against a lofty and sublime cloud.

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        January 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

        “By reducing everything to poetry v. prose and legislating against other sorts of observation, you unnecessarily limit philosophy.”

        I object to ad hominem attacks, not to all other sorts of observation beyond ‘poetry v. prose’. My objection to a narrow sort of fallacy does not mean I object to everything else you may say, philosophical or not. But really, Tom, one of the principal uses of philosophy is to avoid logical fallacies such as ad hominem!

        “The person, Eileen Myles, is happy”

        She says she’s happy to be seen; it doesn’t seem to me that she’s saying she’s happy to be insulted, though she does the self-deprecating humor thing very nicely to defuse your personal attack. And once again, good for her. But I’m sure she’d be happier to have her poetry and politics seen without gratuitous ad hominem comments.

        “The whole person makes the whole art.”

        There are very few circumstances in which non-volitional characteristics are important enough to consider — if this were a court and a witness said a man had committed the crime then “She looks like a man” would have some relevance.

        But unless you’re trying to say that her poetry is what it is because of her physical appearance “she looks like a man” is at least irrelevant. You wouldn’t say, were she lacking a leg “She’s one-legged” in the same sneering way you said “she looks like a man”, and you wouldn’t posit that her poetry was different from what it might have been were she bipedal — not unless you were trying to be merely gratuitously funny, perhaps.

        McCartney

        Heather Mills-McCartney and Sir Paul
        Are getting divorced. The press has lumped
        Her in with Anna Nichole Smith, and all
        Of those, but Heather says that she is stumped.
        “I didn’t know I leaned on him so much”,
        She said “but now I see he’s been my crutch.”

        “She’s hopping mad, “ a friend said, “She’s been scarred —
        And since McCartney’s given her the boot
        She’s channeling her grief into the suit
        And working hard as a one- …. She’s working hard;
        She’ll get her leg over and come out on top –
        She’s not waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

        The pre-nuptial agreement that she signed,
        Made it clear she must legally abandon
        Paul’s fortune. Even if the courts are kind
        She doesn’t really have a leg to stand on.
        And no one’s sure what Paul will have to do
        To find another woman to fill her shoe.

        Reporters shouted questions, such as whether
        He’d think of going down on one knee
        Again. Shocked, Paul walked out, saying he
        Preferred that they refer to her as “Heather”.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm

        Marcus,

        Ad hominem is not always fallacious. In this case it is relevant. Eileen voluntarily courts that look. You are being crudely lawyerly instead of philosophical. Your only objection simply has no standing.

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        January 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm

        Tom,

        Once again, ‘courting the look’ is different from ‘looks like a man’. If you’d said she ‘dresses like a man’ or ‘courts the look of a man’ there’s less likelihood of an ad hominem; but since you said she ‘looks like a man’ there is. It’s the difference between her non-volitional physical appearance and her volitional actions.

        As I said above, there are circumstances when using non-volitional characteristics are not ad hominem, but those are pretty well-circumscribed circumstances. The notion that ‘the whole person’ writes the poem so ‘the whole person’ is vulnerable to any attack is not merely nonsense, it’s nonsense on rollerskates.

        The point of setting aside such generally-fallacious notions as ad hominem is precisely to help keep conversations civil. Civility inheres largely in each interlocutor accepting that their opinions and their selves are NOT the same, and thus that an attack on their opinions is NOT an attack on their selves. The moment you aver that there is no distinction between self and opinion, the moment you say ‘the whole person’ is vulnerable to any attack, you are simply wrong

        Even when some physical characteristic is important to the discussion, not all of them are. In the court-room example above, for instance, that ‘she looks like a man’ may be relevant, but it’s ad hominem to say “and she’s left-handed, too!” — unless, of course handedness is relevant to the case.

        Human history is replete with people willing to conflate personal characteristics with some kind of sin or wrong. Don’t be one of them.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 29, 2011 at 3:24 am

        Marcus,

        “Once again” is right. You are the proverbial dog with a bone, and all because you object to “looks like a man” (and she looks like a man!) instead of…what?…”appears like a man?” Would that make it better?

        I’m afraid what you are doing, dear fellow, is replacing civility as a means with civility as an end.

        If my philosophical argument is intact (and it is) your diverting the discussion away from philosophy to civility is…well, uncivil.

        Is civility the whole point here? I could sound like English people in a Hollywood film, if you’d like. I could affect that very well, if that’s what we’re after. And we’d all look splendid.

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        January 29, 2011 at 4:29 am

        The point of ad hominem is that the truth of the matter is no matter. She might be left-handed, or one-legged, or red-headed, or whatever other non-volitional characteristic you care to name, and it STILL wouldn’t be relevant to your point. We all have physical characteristics subject to mockery, and it is, I’m afraid, your insistence that such a physical characteristic has anything to do with her poetry or politics that keeps us at this nonsense — particularly when the difference between “She looks like a man” (non-volitional) and “She dresses like a man” (volitional) is so clear.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

        Marcus,

        All you are doing (over and over) is defining “ad hominem.” I know what the phrase means. You seem stuck on this.

        Why do you insist on construing an insult out of ‘looks like a man?’

        Does ‘looking like a man’ have the same value as ‘one-legged?’ It sort of depends on a gazillion things, but contextually you are far from the road, fixed on a single, shallow, school-boy interpretation of the ancient phrase ‘ad hominem.’

        Why do insist on watering down philosophy with false virtue?

        How can you begin to contemplate the philosophy of lesbianism and the mathematics of gay when you object to the phrase ‘looks like a man’ in a discussion of the lesbian poet, Eileen Myles?

        Even if I did not believe—like Byron—that virtues are feelings rather than principles, yet I am aghast, still, at your moral pick, which seems calculated to strangle lesbian philosophy in the crib.

        Let me quote E. Myles on the piece: “This is brilliant. I feel so seen.”

        Don’t you think your objection looks awfully pedantic in light of this?

        Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      January 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      “Why do you insist on construing an insult out of ‘looks like a man?’”

      Because it’s gratuitous, irrelevant, and ad hominem. Even if she does both ‘look like a man’ and ‘court the look’, so what? No one comments on my poems with ‘he’s really tall’ or ‘he’s really athletic’ or ‘he has a purty mouth’ — and if they did, I’d take it as ad hominem. Not every ad hominem is an insult, of course, but every ad hominem is irrelevant and gratuitous.

      “Does ‘looking like a man’ have the same value as ‘one-legged?’”

      Yes, in this context, it does — and it’s as irrelevant as ‘one-legged’ would be, too. That’s why it’s ad hominem, even if Ms Myles doesn’t take it as an insult.

      “Why do insist on watering down philosophy with false virtue?”

      Why do you insist on a sophistic interpretation of philosophy? It is ‘love of wisdom’, after all, not ‘love of winning the argument’. The latter would make you a sophist, not a philosopher.

      “Even if I did not believe—like Byron—that virtues are feelings rather than principles, yet I am aghast, still, at your moral pick, which seems calculated to strangle lesbian philosophy in the crib.”

      Not every lesbian ‘looks like a man’, or wants to. What one looks like or doesn’t look like is leagues away from being of the essence of being a lesbian, or gay, or straight, or whatever.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm

        Marcus,

        You are the one who is trying to ‘win the argument’ at all costs.

        You are hopelessly New Critical even when it’s not relevant.

        There is no law that says one cannot range in philosophy; I am pursuing all avenues in the pursuit of truth, while you stand guard with your pedantic spear.

        You say, “Not every lesbian looks like a man” as if this ends the argument: Gender’s appearance is out, then? Gender and appearance do not belong in this discussion? Are you kidding me?

        The island of your argument grows smaller by the hour.

        Tom

    • Eileen Myles said,

      February 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      no you don’t understand – I like looking like a man. I mean to. All my clothes are men’s. I’d be out of my mind if I didn’t anticipate and welcome that remark. I didn’t think it was mean spirited. In fact I liked it.

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

        yah, we always assume being ‘boxed in’ or ‘defined’ is bad, but it isn’t, necessarily. It can be thrilling, empowering. Eileen and I are right, Marcus. You’re just being a pedant. A well-meaning one, of course..

      • Marcus Bales said,

        February 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm

        Pedantically then: it doesn’t matter if the subject of the ad hominem likes it, or its progenitor declares no apology will be forthcoming. It’s still ad hominem. I leave the two of you decide who’s top and who’s bottom, and I wish you the joy of it.

        A whore and a queer in Khartoum
        Spent a week in a dim little room
        Debating all night
        On who had the right
        To do what and with what and to whom.

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 9, 2011 at 7:51 pm

        Give some people a latin phrase and you’ll never see the end of it.

        It’s not for me to separate a schoolboy from his Horace.

        Absit invidia.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        February 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm

        They’d pawned all their textbooks, apart
        From two, each one close to a heart.
        But that money’s gone,
        So now do they pawn
        The Horace before the Descartes?

  3. Noochness said,

    January 27, 2011 at 9:25 am

    http://www.jubilat.org/n18/myles.html

  4. Noochness said,

    January 27, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I love her chutzpah, her boldness, her daring,
    And really don’t give a fig ’bout what she’s wearing.

  5. Noochinator said,

    January 29, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    http://www.eileenmyles.com/infernoexc.php

  6. mlclark said,

    January 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I suspect the case for the “legitimacy” of the comment “looks sort of like a man” might be arrived at simply by reading the entire paragraph in which it is situated:

    “Eileen Myles is one of those Sexual Unitarians; she does the one-sex thing. She looks sort of like a man. Her religion: Gay.”

    I have difficulty believing that anyone not put off by the term “one-sex thing,” which is clearly tethered a) by colon to the elevated notion of “Sexual Unitarianism” in the phrase directly prior to it, and b) by its own, cheeky formation to the realm of artificial gambit, would then stumble upon the subsequent line and interpret it in isolation.

    Yes, “looks like a man” is a phrase with extensive use as insult in common parlance, but framed amid a highly rhetorical series of statements, with the statement directly prior to it already inverting the use of “thing” to better serve in the language of critical analysis, the former construct becomes as performative as gender itself.

    That said, I feel as though a discursive leap is being made between the following two lines of argument:

    “Eileen’s morbidity reflects the unitarian religious fanatic who tends to be morose and passive and lonely.

    The gods, in their randy pluralism, are needy. The gods, whatever they are, are always “suspected” of being up to something by the monist.”

    You do later outline oppositions between pluralistic and monistic god-beliefs and functions, but the piece might be made stronger with a line more clearly asserting the transition between “Dan somebody” as believer, and “Dan somebody” as living host to the pluralistic gods themselves, such that all his actions and failings become directly equivocal to the actions and failings of his gods, and the discourse then transcends from the realm of purely believer-oriented interactions, to direct combat between their gods and god.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 31, 2011 at 12:31 am

      ML,

      I think you are right to focus on “Dan Somebody.”

      It seems Eileen resents him the way an Old Testament Christian would resent a fornicator.

      Further, we don’t know whether “Dan Somebody” is seducing women merely to sleep with them, or simply being proactive in selecting a mate; or, some combination of both; or, he could just be a jerk, or, there is just something about him that Eileen doesn’t like.

      I am not now reviewing the novel, nor censoring Eileen’s feelings, which are, of course, legitimate. My only interest is how this impinges on the mathematics of gay in terms of religion, which is roughly how I would describe my seat-of-the-pants thesis.

      Tom

  7. January 31, 2011 at 12:06 am

    .

    Bewildered

    How reconcile this paradox,
    this Creator who loves creation,
    with the brutality and blood
    that makes it turn,
    the endless flow of life,
    forms granted their existence
    by the eating of each other,
    the bewildered, starving young
    still awaiting their dead mother?

    How resolve this lack of compassion,
    this cruelly designed summation
    by the One who loves us all,
    those lost to fire and fang and flood
    or blown from nests in storms?

    We will reason, for we are human,
    and create our fine Religions
    which our reason then deforms.

    Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns-New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  8. Noochinator said,

    February 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    “All women know themselves beautiful. All it needs is for the beauty to be called out of them, for the eye to see it and then it flowers; for the patch of ground in ther beings where the feminine has its roots to be sunned and watered. All women know this, no matter how broken and brainwashed they are by the merchants touting the fairy-dolls: they know seriously and honestly where their beauty lies, as they know precisely, even lacking the experience, what true mating is.” — from Annie: The Female Experience by Anne Zoltan (1973)

    • mlclark said,

      February 5, 2011 at 11:52 pm

      Codswallop.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        February 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm

        agreed: codswallop.

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 8, 2011 at 2:28 am

        I’ll see your codswallop and raise you two flibbertigibbets.

        Agreed that Zoltan excerpt is banal.

        Nooch will quote the comprehensive and sunny when he feels things have become too intellectually harsh; but sometimes the comprehensive and sunny is merely a bright blank. Wisdom tends to feel her way among the cracks and bumps and shadows. I make no apology for the dim din conjured up by the: Mathematics of Gay.

        Tom

  9. Noochinator said,

    February 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    … [Betsey] had a vision—not so much of the emancipation of her sex as the enslavement of the male.

    Routine progress—a feminine President and a distaff Senate—did not appear in Betsey’s reverie. Indeed, in her vision the work of the world was still largely done by men, although this had been enlarged to include housework and shopping. She smiled at the thought of a man bent over an ironing board; a man dusting a table; a man basting a roast. In her vision all the public statuary commemorating great men would be overthrown and dragged off to the dump. Generals on horseback, priests in robes, solons in tailcoats, aviators, explorers, inventors, poets and philosophers would be replaced by attractive representations of the female. Women would be granted complete sexual independence and would make love to strangers as casually as they bought a pocketbook, and coming home in the evening they would brazenly describe to their depressed husbands (sprinkling Adolph’s meat tenderizer on the London broil) the high points of their erotic adventures. She would not go so far as to imagine any legislation that would actually restrict the rights of men; but she saw them as so browbeaten, colorless and depressed that they would have lost the chance to be taken seriously.

    —from The Wapshot Scandal by John Cheever

    • Eileen Myles said,

      February 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      John Cheever always gets it wrong. BTW he’s gay. I think this passage reminds me of John Ashbery’s description of something as swapping one’s one-eyed horse for a blind one. No sane woman would think reversing postions was the cure or even pleasurable as a response to sexism. It’s silliness, the Cheever quote.

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm

        When it comes to sex, one aye will do, but two ayes is better. Hey, has anyone seen my 3-eyed horse?

        The question is, can two infinite sets exist?

        “he’s gay.” Aren’t there as many different ways to ‘be gay’ as there are to ‘be straight?’

        Is this either/or? Must it be? Can it be? Should it be?

        Aye? Aye? Aye? Aye?

        No?

      • Noochness said,

        February 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

        He did sire two children
        (Or at least that’s what they say—
        It’s impossible to know for sure
        Without testing DNA).

        I’m guessing from women he got tenderness,
        And got raw sexual pleasure from men—
        Though the depths of another’s sexuality
        Will always be beyond my ken.
        Best to leave it well alone,
        For I can barely plumb my own!

  10. thomasbrady said,

    February 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I suppose if you have had a kid,
    You can hang “I was straight” on your coffin lid.


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