Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Oleanna: Here's the full text of the play.


Political Correctness

Oleanna is primarily a backlash against the American political correctness movement of the 1990s, which encouraged minimizing offensiveness in all aspects of life. Common examples include phrases like African- American replacing Black or African, gender neutrality in writing, and great concern about interpersonal behavior that could be construed as sexual in nature or intent. Political correctness teaches great sensitivity to situations in which sexual harassment may occur, and the action of Oleanna shows the characters within this framework. John is completely insensitive to the dangers of being in such a situation; he refuses to censor himself and constantly watch his own actions, and so he is charged with sexual harassment by Carol.
If taken to its logical extreme, this mandated sensitivity could become so invasive, so overpowering that every interpersonal act could be construed as sexual in nature and, as a result, punishable. Carol's admission that the charges may be false yet cannot be denied by the accused is the dangerous conclusion of this extreme form of political correctness. What began with good intent as a safeguard for the rights of everyone becomes an unstoppable tool for the malicious and the power-hungry. While the charges of rape and battery are somewhat extreme in such a situation, John's actions may be interpreted as sexual harassment by the letter of many laws, and his punishment is not by any means fantastical; what happens in Oleanna could very well happen in real life. By bringing this to life on the stage, the play suggests that the audience question its own judgment of what constitutes sexual harassment. To what extent is intent important, and to what extent is the offense in the eye of the beholder?

Higher Education

John is a professor who teaches a class on higher education; Carol is a student. Every scene in this play takes place in a professor's office at a college. Higher education is not only the backdrop for Oleanna, it also serves as a subject of ideological scrutiny. Mamet includes several thought-provoking barbs relating to the system. John questions the necessity of a college education and how much good it really does for students. For John, college is a ritualized form of "hazing," in which teachers go through the traditional motions, claiming that they are teaching while really inculcating the students with the belief that higher education is good and necessary. Teaching, for John, is nothing if not self-perpetuating; many students, he suggests, do not really learn, instead coming away with a firm belief that education is an unassailable good and that they have learned. Carol, however, takes this as an assault upon her right to an education, arguing that she and other students will take quite a bit out of an education for which they have worked very hard and that people like John make it more difficult for those students to learn because of their power roles. When John calls education no more than hazing, when
Carol cannot perform up to par in something that isn't even real but instead some meaningless ritual—if these characteristics make the case, she sees John and others of his status as mocking what she is working for, holding her confusion as a joke and not taking seriously a process which Carol and other students hold extremely dear to their own self-improvement. Behind the scenes, higher education in this play shows the contrast between the worth of the system and of its critiques, as well as the dangers of seeing only one of the two.


Communication is more important structurally than textually. The ringing phone ranges in role from an interruption in John's convincing rhetoric to a sort of deus ex machina that controls the lives of the characters on stage. John's interruptions express much of his character, and the clipped conversations hint at the characters' fundamental inability to understand each other. The action is constrained to one room and two characters, and the telephone is the only method of communication with the outside world. When the phone rings, it is for John, and only he is shown as communicating with someone else. Carol mentions a group of advisers several times, but there is no evidence that they exist or how she communicates with them. In this sense, the mere presence of the phone calls contrasts John, who communicates somewhat normally with others and leads a life outside of the office, with Carol, who, in the play itself, only communicates with John. The telephone calls back up John's claims to Carol; he does lead an outside life and have outside responsibilities, as the two sometimes cross over in the form of telephone communication.
Whatever John communicates through his speeches, the way they are constructed speaks volumes about his character. His use of more academic words and his frequent allusions both characterize him as well educated and perhaps haughty, and Carol certainly seems to think that he overuses big words in an attempt to belittle her. He begins the play repeatedly interrupting Carol, which shows his lack of concern for her right of speech and his own self-esteem. Social mores hold that interruption is impolite, but for one reason or another John regularly violates this rule. Similarly, when by the Act three Carol begins interrupting John, she is recognizing and taking advantage of her own power over him, which allows her to violate the rule and show disregard for his rights. How these two people communicate shows certain aspects of what they think about themselves and about each other.
Ultimately, Mamet is going as far as to ask what it means for two people to communicate and how much of what is intended is actually expressed through our methods of communication. His conclusions seem disheartening; the two are so incapable of communication that John must resort to clear, unambiguous physical action—serious violence—to finally express himself.



Mamet constantly uses interruptions as an example of rhetorical structure elucidating character. When John interrupts Carol, this tells us something about him—that he is arrogant and little concerned with what she says. Similarly, when they engage in a mutually interruptive conversation, we are seeing that their problems in conversation stem in part from their relative lack of concern for the role of the other in conversation; each would be equally happy if he or she were able to propound their views before a stone wall or a video camera. Interruptions are difficult to read and in actual performance are violent and disconcerting, and so Mamet returns to them as a method of showing the communication barriers between the characters.



When Carol is with John, she is following her own agenda and playing games with him, and so she hides her true feelings and motivations. While hiding her real thoughts and feelings may be believable in the context of the play, presenting us only with John's conception of Carol threatens her three-dimensionality and pushes her toward becoming symbolic. Instead of being a complex character with many conflicting aspects, Carol at times appears to be a caricature who is attacking John for being oppressive and not being politically correct; as such, we can see her as representing the politically correct movement. One interpretation of the final scene has it being symbolic of the real world attacking the virus of political correctness the best way it knows how, with force. This reading might even suggest that Mamet wishes us to excise the tumor and abandon political correctness altogether. This is definitely an oversimplification but looking at the play in this light—with Carol as symbolic of the politically correct movement as a whole—yields some interesting insight. It is important to note, however, that Mamet's body of work is almost entirely lacking in important symbolism and that he has been cast as a writer in a genre that is not interested in symbolism. It is doubtful that Mamet intended any overt symbolism in the play, and while reading it through the lens of a set symbols may be insightful and thought-provoking, it is more than likely not the author's wishes that any such set of symbols be exclusive.


Monday, August 28, 2006


“Aesop Rock introduced a raw, urgent, intelligent new sound designed to break the monotony of mainstream rap.” – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“Aesop’s voice is a rich, flat bass cut with a thin growl; through its resonance, he’s able to explore the variations within a timbre that gives access to a vast emotional range.” - SPIN

"The age of the hip-hop MC as soothsayer and scribe has probably reached its apex in the form of Aesop Rock, whose electric and mind-bending flow is surpassed only by the explosive imagery of his fables." – REMIX

“Bazooka Tooth’s rapid, stiletto-sharp style and grimy detail tagged Aesop as the intelligent, ethical savior of hip-hop, the hero who would right the bling-obsessed genre's moral compass…” – ROCKPILE

"Listening to Aesop Rock is like taking your brain on a futuristic urban hell-ride through pop culture. A brilliantly twisted journey into his psychotic abyss, 'Bazooka Tooth' mesmerizes with its astounding wordplay and constantly morphing beats, building on the underground hip-hop icon's burgeoning legend." - BOSTON HERALD

"Ace Rock is the shit. Always has been. Always will be. His baritone snarl is unmatched. He blasts hip-hop's semantic bar into the ozone with his unique knack for describing things in words you'd never dream of stringing together... He sounds more confident than ever." – FILTER

"'Bazooka Tooth's music is mainly his own, and his densely layered squiggles, samples and hardcore percussion are the aural equivalent of graffiti. Never mind that he's got a tongue like the subway's electrified rail and packs more sweet poetry into the album's empty spaces that the L train at rush hour." – PAPER MAGAZINE
by Claire Andre, Michael J. Meyer, Thomas Shanks, and Manuel Velasquez

Consistency—the absence of contradictions—has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. Ethics is supposed to provide us with a guide for moral living, and to do so it must be rational, and to be rational it must be free of contradictions. If a person said, "Open the window but don't open the window," we would be at loss as to what to do; the command is contradictory and thus irrational. In the same way, if our ethical principles and practices lack consistency, we, as rational people, will find ourselves at a loss as to what we ought to do and divided about how we ought to live.
Ethics requires consistency in the sense that our moral standards, actions, and values should not be contradictory. Examining our lives to uncover inconsistencies and then modifying our moral standards and behaviors so that they are consistent is an important part of moral development.
Where are we likely to uncover inconsistency? First, our moral standards may be inconsistent with each other. We discover these inconsistencies by looking at situations in which our standards would require incompatible behaviors. Suppose, for example, that I believe that it is wrong to disobey my employer, and also believe that it is wrong to harm innocent people. Then suppose that one day my employer insists that I work on a project that might cause harm to innocent people. The situation reveals an inconsistency between my moral standards. I can either obey my employer or I can avoid harming innocent people, but I cannot do both. To be consistent, I must modify one or both of these standards by examining the reasons I have for accepting them and weighing these reasons to see which standard is more important and worth retaining and which is less important and in need of modification.
A more important kind of inconsistency is that which can emerge when we apply our moral standards to different situations. To be consistent, we must apply the same moral standards to one situation that we apply to another unless we can show that the two situations differ in relevant ways. I might believe, for example, that I have a right to buy a home in any neighborhood I wish, because I hold that people should be free to live wherever they choose. Yet, I am among the first to oppose the sale of the house next door to a group of mentally retarded persons. But what is the difference between the two situations that justifies this difference in treatment? What is the difference that makes it all right for me to buy a home in any neighborhood, but not them?
There is another sense in which the need for consistency enters into ethics. We might hold consistent moral standards and apply them in consistent ways, but we may fail to be consistent in who we are as individuals. We often use the word "integrity" to refer to people who act in ways that are consistent with their beliefs. Here consistency means that a person's actions are in harmony with his or her inner values. Polonius, a character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, points out--perhaps with some exaggeration--how critical such integrity is to the moral life when he says to his son, Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Consistency in our lives also implies an inner integrity. It may be the case that a person's inner desires are allowed to conflict with each other. For example, a desire to be courageous or honest may be contradicted by a desire to avoid the inconvenience or pain that courage or honesty often requires. Allowing such a conflict is self-defeating because these desires are contradictory. To achieve consistency, we must work to shape our desires to produce a kind of internal harmony.
So central is consistency to ethics that some moralists have held that it is the whole of ethics. They have argued that if people consistently treat all human beings the same, they will always act ethically. Ethical behavior, they argue, is simply a matter of being consistent by extending to all persons the same respect and consideration that we claim for ourselves. The Bible itself seems to imply that ethics consists of nothing more than consistency with the words: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: this is the whole Law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12) This biblical verse sometimes has been interpreted as meaning that all of morality can be summed up in the requirement to avoid contradictions between what one thinks is appropriate for others and what one thinks is appropriate for oneself.
But is consistency all there is to ethics? We may be perfectly consistent with respect to our moral principles and values, yet our principles may be incorrect and our values misplaced. We may even be consistent in treating others as we treat ourselves, but this kind of consistency would hardly be the mark of a moral life if we happen to treat ourselves poorly.
We might say that while consistency is surely not sufficient for ethics, it is at least necessary for ethics. Ethics requires that there be consistency among our moral standards and in how we apply these standards. Ethics also requires a consistency between our ethical standards and our actions, as well as among our inner desires. Finally, ethics requires that there be consistency between how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.

This article appeared originally in Issues in Ethics V1 N4 (Summer 1988)

Sunday, August 27, 2006



Thursday, August 24, 2006

by Paul Craig Roberts

After three years of war in Iraq, reporting and debate continue to ignore the key fact: The U.S. invasion was a mistake.
President Bush himself acknowledges this. He says the war was based on intelligence and the intelligence was wrong. So, then, what is right about the war? If we believe Bush, he would not have taken America and Iraq to war if he had been given correct, instead of incorrect, intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and connections to al-Qaeda.
In view of this, why is Bush intent on continuing the war? Why is it important to win a war that should not have happened and only happened because U.S. intelligence was mistaken?
The war is extremely expensive. It has cost thousands of dead and maimed Americans and tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis. The war has already cost $200-$300 billion and is being financed by foreign borrowing. Distinguished economists put the long term cost of the war to the U.S. in the $1-2 trillion range.
This is an enormous sum to spend on a war that President Bush says is based on mistaken intelligence. Why, then, does Bush continue to fight the war?
The mistaken war has damaged America's reputation, harmed our alliances, enraged Muslims against us, and radicalized Middle Eastern politics. The CIA reports that the war has provided al-Qaeda with recruitment and a training ground. The U.S. military is trying to ascertain whether its attempted occupation of Iraq is creating insurgents faster than they are being killed.
In view of the available facts, how can Bush in his State of the Union address tell Congress and the world that the U.S. is winning in Iraq? Why did Congress stand and applaud? What does it mean to win a war that should not have been started?
Having admitted that his invasion of Iraq is based on incorrect intelligence, why did Bush claim in his State of the Union address that his war in Iraq is central to the war against terrorism? He must mean that his mistake created terrorism where it did not exist, and, having created the terrorism, he must now fight it even if doing so creates yet more terrorists.
A rational response to Bush's mistake would be to remove the cause of the insurgency by apologizing for the mistake and withdrawing U.S. military forces. Neoconservatives say that the U.S. cannot withdraw because Iraq would fall into civil war. This is an admission that by removing Saddam Hussein, Bush created the conditions for civil war in Iraq. How, then, was removing Saddam Hussein a good thing?
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, entire villages and towns, families, careers, and public safety. What America has done to Iraq is a monstrous crime. And Bush says it is because of a mistake in intelligence.
A mistake in intelligence in more ways than one.
It is extraordinary that after admitting to erroneously starting a war, Bush wants to do it all over again – this time against a more formidable foe, Iran.
America's adulation of ignorance gives Bush a free hand to repeat his mistake on a larger scale. Karl Rove used 9/11 to recast Bush as the archetypal hero vowing retribution on those who struck at innocent America. Enamored of this role, Americans have ceased to think.
There is no sign of intelligence or accurate reporting on Iran in the newspapers, on television or even over PBS radio. It is never made clear that Iran's "defiance" is one orchestrated by the U.S. government, or that the "defiance" is limited to Iran's development of nuclear energy, not a weapons program. When Americans hear "nuclear defiance" over and over, they conclude that Iran is making nuclear weapons. Instead of informing the people, the media drive them toward acceptance of another war.
Bush has been picking a fight with Iran for a long time. He declared Iran to be part of an "axis of evil." He constantly demonizes Iran and threatens Iran with sanctions and military attack. Israel announced that if Bush doesn't attack Iran, Israel will. Bush disrupted Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors have found no weapons program in Iran. The media misreport it all as Iran's bad behavior, bad behavior that reflects bad intentions.
The explosive situation in the Middle East needs to be defused, not aggravated. The United States gains nothing by confirming its image as the hegemonic Great Satan.
Nothing is gained by the deaths and maiming of thousands and tens of thousands more people whose lives are thrown away to the purposes of blind propaganda.
Nothing is gained by the U.S. wasting more hundreds of billions dollars that are desperately needed for important and legitimate purposes.
Nothing is gained by the U.S. pressuring with threats and bribes other countries to line up with what they know to be a wrong and dangerous policy.
Nothing is gained by endangering oil flows and a Western transportation system dependent on the internal combustion engine.
Bush's approach is insane. It serves no legitimate purpose. There is no reason for it.
Why is it happening?
by Paul Craig Roberts

The conservative media will never recover from its role as Chief Sycophant for the Bush administration. Journalists who demanded that Clinton be held accountable for a minor sex scandal (Monica Lewinsky) and a minor financial scandal (Whitewater) now serve as apologists and propagandists for the Bush administration's major war scandals.
The Republican House of Representatives saw fit to impeach President Clinton for lying about sex. The same Republicans defend to the hilt Bush's lies that launched America into an unjustified war that has killed and maimed tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans, cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, ruined America's reputation, and lost forever the hearts and minds of Muslims.
No decent or sensible person can have confidence in journalists and politicians who take partisanship to such extreme lengths.
There is plenty of room in journalism and politics for arguments over issues and policies. But two solid years of lies is beyond the pale.
Conservative journalists and Republican politicians not only lie through their teeth, but also seek to destroy everyone who utters a word of dissent or truth.
For example, Tom Frank of The New Republic (once considered to be part of the hated "liberal press") recently expressed his thoughts in that unfortunate magazine. Frank wrote that dissenters from Bush's gratuitous war should be beaten and even killed. He expressed his wish that Arnold Schwarzenegger would punch Stan Goff in the face. He wrote that seeing Arundhati Roy taken out with a "bunker buster" would be a satisfying experience. As for Sherry Wolf and other dissenters, "I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation."
What have Stan Goff, Arundhati Roy, and Sherry Wolf done to inspire Tom Frank to reveal his brownshirted inner self?
A former Delta Force soldier, Goff joined up with Military Families Speak Out. Roy penned a defense of the right of Iraqis to resist military occupation, and Wolf agreed that Iraqis have a right to resist Bush's occupation of Iraq. Frank views beatings, arrests, interrogations, torture, and death as appropriate responses to these peaceful expressions of dissent.
Conservatives regard dissent as a serious offense, but they think it is treasonous to give the public real information, as contrasted with Fox "News" propaganda. Former Newt Gingrich operative and current Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley believes America's premier investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, should be arrested for treason and perhaps shot for warning Americans about the Bush administration's plans to start a war with Iran.
"Conservative" talk radio hosts and Republican politicians are foaming at the mouth over Ward Churchill, a University of Colorado professor of ethics. The professor's crime – and the crazed Republicans mean the word literally – is to have stated that the U.S. should apply to itself the same standards it applies to other countries.
Those conservatives who have not joined the New Brownshirts might ask themselves why the mighty Bush apparatus and its legions of propagandists and sycophants feel so threatened by a few expressions of dissent, a few facts, and a simple ethical statement. Could it be that they know that their edifice of lies will come crashing down if anyone is allowed to utter dissent or a word of truth?
The conservative media has blown its great chance to gain credibility by holding Bush accountable as it did Clinton. Instead, the conservative media and talk radio have shown themselves to be political partisans who fight against truth. Justify Bush at all costs is their operative rule.
At least the German press and the Soviet press were forced into these roles by Hitler and Stalin. The American conservative media willingly adopted the role on its own.
The function of a journalist is to speak truth to power and to hold accountable those with power. Abandoning this role, the conservative media cheers for war, incompetent leaders, and a police state.

Monday, August 21, 2006

by Michele Aaron, Indiana University Press, 2004

Dennis Cooper's work is crowded with characters who desire death, and littered with corpses. His novels tell of drugged-out yet attractive young men and the often older others who satisfy the boys' self-destructive urges as well as their own sadistic fantasies. His writing has been located within a contemporary American literary movement associated with New York's cutting edge writers in the 1980s and 1990s. Though it is termed by some critics as Downtown, Post-Punk or New Narrative, Elizabeth Young, Gary Coveney, and James Annesley prefer the adjective "blank" to describe this writing. While blank fictions have been characterized by their mixture of sex, death and, according to James Annesley, decadence, a more telling feature of Cooper's and others' work is their preoccupation with sexual self-endangerment. And it is in Cooper's work that the theme is most relentlessly presented: from Wrong, his collection of short stories, to Jerk, his collaboration with artist Nayland Blake, to his cycle of novels: Closer, Frisk, Guide, Try and Period. What is most remarkable about this work is Cooper's construction of the reader's complicity in such extreme representations. Despite the range of narrative stances employed - from the intense subjectivity of Closer's journal-format to the striking disinterest of Period's abstract screenplay - Cooper persistently casts the reader as an active party. It is the aim of this essay to demonstrate how Cooper uses various textual strategies to implicate and even graft his implied reader into the text.
Cooper's writing offers the open admission or affirmation of the desire for self-risk: characters explicitly wish for death and/or align themselves with the murder victim. From the punk in Closer who says to John "Kill me" (p. 12), to Brad in Jerk who "want[s] to go" (p. 17), Cooper's self-endangerers don't mince their words. Some of Cooper's characters deliberately, and often gleefully, align themselves with the victim. Joe, the central figure of the mystery novel that Frisk's narrator is writing, "studied the bone he'd found, occasionally rubbing his own bones by way of comparison. It almost matched the size and shape of the one in his forearm" (p. 42). The desire for death is expressed on each level of reality that the texts negotiate: by the characters in the books, by the characters in the novels within the books, and by Cooper's readers themselves, for there are those who send Cooper "fan letters, beseeching him to come and kill them."
It is important to note that this avowed desire for self-harm is not adequately explained by masochism: the character's self-destructiveness is neither exclusively sexual nor always in line with the theories of masochism. While many of the novels indulge in the theatricality of sadomasochism, with the punisher's cold stares and the submissive's plaintive posturings and wishful thinking, ultimately the characters' self-risk is to be distinguished from purely sexual concerns or preferences. In Cooper's work, sexual self-endangerment is predominantly about the prospect of death rather than the pleasure of pain. Sex provides the medium for self-endangerment (rather than self-risk the medium for sex, as in masochism).
Cooper's work stands out from other texts about sexualized self-harm in its relentless presentation of quintessential sexual self-endangerers conveyed through headily self-conscious and selfreflexive writing. Elizabeth Young notes that "Gay activists have found his necrophiliac emphasis on the torture and murder of teenage boys to be unconscionable." Yet if the unconscious is at the root of the unconscionable, the reader is always, at least in Cooper's work, implicated in it. Cooper's provocation sustains the most crucial and timely questions of contemporary notions of self and text through highlighting the consent and complicity of the implied reader.
Not only do Cooper's novels portray the trade in extreme sexual acts, they also acknowledge and feed the larger market for them within the American literary scene. Cooper's move from small and relatively obscure publishing houses like Sea Horse to much greater exposure with Serpent's Tail and Grove Press evidences his diminishing marginality. His books are remarkably alike thematically - there is no mystery about the content of a Cooper novel - and the readers' active and educated choice of this material - their consent to it - must to a certain extent be assumed; so too must their expectations and desires.
Both Elizabeth Young and Robert Siegle have discussed Cooper's readers' implication in the text in terms of their self-endangerment. Young finds the readers of Cooper's texts exposed - both revealed and unprotected - in their vulnerability or their status as potential victims:

The reader is from the start face to face with the central mystery and terror of
life. Nothing can shield him. Barthes says that the text must "cruise" the
reader. Cooper's text goes further. It is, as they say of serial
murderers, "trolling for prey."

Similarly, Siegle, with reference to Cooper's early work Safe, dismisses the usual security of the spectating reader:

In Safe, a character "says his sentences are like bars on a cage that
holds dangerous animals." The only thing wrong with applying the line to
Cooper's sentences is that his are more like the hinges on cage doors. The
sentences swing open on readers who have come as tourists to watch Cooper's
Blank Generation characters be exotic zoo creatures.

What is crucial in both these cases is the placement of the reader in relation to the dangers of the text: the reader is endangered by the threat posed by Cooper's writing. Further, Young notes the reader's potential complicity in these dangers rather than his or her passive relationship to them.
Roland Barthes is a key figure in any discussion of the reader's position in relation to the text. The shift to the reader as the site where meaning is produced is, for Barthes, the cause and proof of the "death of the author." The goal of literature is "to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text," a text which he calls "writerly" against the backdrop of the classic "readerly" text which is, as he continues, "its countervalue, its negative, reactive value: what can be read, but not written." The writerly text affords the liberation of meaning and of the reader's creativity; the text becomes "a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds."" Barthes's distinction between the "readerly" and "writerly" text - and ultimately between the authority of the writer and the agency of the reader - can be applied to Cooper. But while Downtown fiction is seen by Siegle as utterly writerly in its playfulness, Young finds Cooper hard to categorize. What can be distinguished (and what qualifies my claim of his extreme brand of writerliness or enforced participation by the reader) are two textual strategies or registers through which Cooper grafts the reader into the text -constituting, provoking, and ultimately relying upon the reader for the efficacy of the narrative, and demanding his or her reaction to and involvement in the texts' various but extreme provocations: one literary, the other cinematic. Before turning to the cinematics of his writing, I will continue to illustrate his use of the literary register to divulge the desire of the consenting reader.
Cooper constructs a position or presence for the reader in various self-reflexive ways. Primarily, in writing about reading and writing themselves, there is always a sense of the constitution of the reader within the text. In Frisk, the narrator-writer Dennis acknowledges the reader status of Julian, Marv, and Pierre, to whom he sends letters telling of his activities. That Frisk's and Guide's narrator-writers share the author's name firmly connects the textual with the extra-textual world - the writer inside the text with the writer outside the text, the reader inside the text with the reader outside the text. In Frisk, Dennis's confessed authorship, with his writings constituting the story, allows for the possibility that all the characters are fabrications so that there really are only Dennis and the acknowledged reader, who is both himself (as writer and reader of his work in progress) and the imagined reader of the writing inside the text. The other characters are all, potentially, his creations, yet he himself is just a fictional character. Dennis is thus everybody and nobody: the absent object and the fading subject. And so, ultimately, is the acknowledged reader. The only constant and trustworthy presence is our own. Whereas Cooper is only "virtually" present, long removed from writing the book and present only in his textual traces, the external reader is precisely marked by real presence. The untrustworthiness of the textual fantasy is more than a method of implicating the reader; it almost concretizes him or her in contrast.
Cooper's intense (and self-reflexive) confusion of reality and fantasy creates an especially fraught state of complicity for the reader, who is constantly thrown off balance by the wavering perspective created for him or her. This is, as Cooper acknowledges, his intention: "I'm interested in throwing people off, in disorienting them." Readers must negotiate the blurring of reality and their own disorientation; they are "forced" to acclimatize, to negotiate the validity of the narrative and thereby attempt to regain their balance. In an interview with Kasia Boddy, Cooper confirms this desire to actively involve and provoke the reader:

KB: On the one hand, there is an abundance of realistic detail and dialogue; on the other hand, you and your characters are always pointing out how mediated our experience of all that is. So you find yourself seduced into the realism and then jolted out of it.
DC: Yeah, hopefully. In Frisk, where I guess I was using that tactic most elaborately, there's so much set up for everything to be false. Perspectives shift. There's so much hearsay.

The reader's incited (or involuntary) negotiation of the fabricated reality of Cooper's works is not simply about repeating the (postmodernist) breaching of the divide between reader and text. It also foregrounds the reader's desire to be "seduced" and "jolted out of it." In Frisk, the moments when readers are most relaxed - surrendered to the fantasy - and most passive in their distance from Dennis are when his intrusion is most obvious: "[t]hought of Marv's naked white body twisted for sex reminds Pierre of saliva, which makes him picture his own dribbling into my mouth" (p. 73). Dennis re-enters the fantasy in a shocking reminder of his presence, through the first person. In another example, Dennis acknowledges his place within the fabrication, his fantasy of himself: "[m]y eyes looked kind of drugged. Amphetamine, maybe..." (p. 113). Narrative command is both paramount and lost within its endless poses. Dennis's authority is re-established but undermined - it is ultimately fallacious. Readers must deal endlessly with the provocation of the material and with a writer who keeps reminding us of our roles. I intend in what follows to distinguish Cooper's particular spotlighting of the reader both from a heritage of literature which exposes or even addresses an implied reader (there is no "dear reader" here) and from (other) metafictional or self-reflexive novels of the last thirty years that negotiate the mediated experience of late twentieth-century culture.


Cooper stages the reader's entry into the text explicitly through his play upon the reader's propensity to "fill in." It is worth noting, first, that Cooper sets up the need to fill in as fundamental to desire and fantasy:

You still have to fill in a lot to desire him. For example, I've filled the
Dutch boy's big lips with the words, "Kill me, Dennis," among other
things. . . . Otherwise he reminds me of every guy I've wanted to fuck and kill. (Frisk, p. 53)

The reader's proclivity to fill in is mapped elsewhere in Frisk; for example, the scene of Joe's murder is similarly provocative. He tells Gary that he doesn't want to be killed; however:

Joe gazed at the nipple . . . He lowered his eyes to the smudge of pre-come on
the head of his own cock. . . ."God, Gary, you know what?" he said. "I -" Stab.
(Frisk, p. 64)

The final "I" with its suffixed dash is an invitation to the reader to fill in the gap. Is it "I consent" - a confession of desire or the possibility of it? Is it the realization of pleasure, of subjectivity, of truth? Or is "I" enough as it is - a statement of existence, of a subject willing to be object, of an expression of consent? Cooper sets up the possibilities of the phrase and, through the play on the reader's propensity to fill in - to fantasize, to envisage, to participate - propels him or her on a complicitous course through the narrative.
Another key example comes, in Jerk, which seems thoroughly transgressive with its child-like images, expressions, and format; used to convey the sexual murders of young boys. A "this book belongs to" inset on the inside dover, with three blank lines beneath for the reader's name (and address presumably), explicitly demands the reader's ownership of the text.
Cooper's implicated reader doesn't just participate mentally in the wordplay employed by the writer; his participation is projected onto the page by Cooper literally inscribing a space for the reader. Cooper stages the reader's involvement in the text, forcing the reader to react to his textual provocation, which takes several forms. Cooper's writing is linguistically provocative: he blurs reality and fantasy, forcing readers to negotiate the validity of his representations in an involuntary quest for some kind of order. He also offers structured blanks or gaps which incite the reader to fill them in. It is emotionally provocative: Cooper depicts extreme images of sex and violence which demand psychic reaction. It is also physically provocative: his pornographic writing elicits involuntary sexual responses. The readers' responses can be said to be forced in as much as they consent and desire to read Cooper's novels but also in that they have involuntary reactions to them, reactions often represented in the texts and thereby both acknowledged and licensed. The reader's textual participation is charged with desire, consent, and personal investment.


Cooper's texts both portray the market for representations of sexual self-endangerment and feed it: they cater to the desire of the reader. This desire is evidenced in the popularity of Cooper's work, but Cooper also highlights the reader's desire in other ways. First, as I have demonstrated, his playfulness, his blank writing's textual invitation to fill in, forces the reader to enter the scenarios and acknowledge/own his or her desires.20 Second, in his narrative focus on writing, the acknowledged reader (and his sexual involvement) stands in for the extratextual reader. Third, his writing exploits the reader's assumptions and reveals his or her consent to the texts.
Cooper's texts often center on writing - of novels (in Frisk, Try and Guide) or of magazines (in Guide and Try). In Frisk there is a particular emphasis upon the role of the reader. Dennis's letter writing is precisely about his search for a kindred spirit. His letters, which are the focus of the second half of the book, are meant to trigger the sexual desire of his readers. He hopes they will encourage someone to come and join him in his exploits. While his key recipient (and former lover) Julian journeys to Amsterdam to refuse the offer and dissuade Dennis from acting out his sadistic wishes, the self-destructive and sexually submissive Bobby (Julian's younger brother and another of Dennis's former lovers) decides to stay. Here, writing's unequivocal purpose is sexual provocation. Dennis's inscription of his extreme sexual practices is meant to excite the reader of his letter voyeuristically (just as Cooper's is meant to excite the reader of his books voyeuristically). That it is Bobby, the masochistic reader, who is won over demonstrates that these representations of sexual self-endangerment offer a masochistic voyeurism, as I suggested earlier in my claims that Cooper's reader is aligned with self-endangerment.
I am insisting, in other words, that readers have a sexual reaction to Cooper's texts. While Cooper's work has been seen as anti-porn, as parodying pornography's pretensions and as being itself decidedly non-erotic, his texts are all about characters' deliberate and graphic attempts to fulfill their sexual desires. Cooper might be deriding the utopianism and mechanical, inadequate eroticism of gay male porn, but to those uninterested, unable, or unwilling to accept his critical stance, his work appears as itself a form of Utopian porn, as a set of idealized fantasies of extreme practices. Given the blatant self-consciousness with which some characters, such as Dennis in Frisk, describe their sexual acts and mounting excitement to an acknowledged reader, the sexual effect on readers seems meant to be involuntary. This idea of the involuntarily desirous reader recalls Wayne Booth's claim that the reader's compulsory participation in a text is especially loaded when the text is pornographic but supposedly prohibitive of pleasure (because of the anti-pornographic stance of either the reader or, as has been suggested of Cooper, the writer). Yet, while Young states that Cooper's works "are not intended to excite the reader to orgasm", they are undoubtedly obscene, and Booth concedes that "[o]nly in intimacy with obscenity can one know what is obscene." I would suggest that Cooper's representation of sexual experiences and excitation inevitably incurs readerly involvement, which is laden with responsibility, given the inordinacy of the content. Cooper constantly stresses how desire works with repulsion, how characters and individuals are shocked to find themselves excited, and that desire and excitation are involuntary reactions that have little to do with wholesomeness. This is exemplified through Roger, the narrator of Try, whose disgust at the stench of Ziggy's body is incorporated into Roger's desire for him: "that stink, so generically B.O.-like to the casual sniff, came from him" (p. 110). Cooper's writing firmly instates sexual pleasure in seemingly unpleasant or unlikely situations (which could be seen as a kind of paradigm for the reader confronting this unconscionable pornographic material), and it encourages, as well as depicts, involuntary reactions in its graphic sexual images. In these ways it conveys and determines the reader's sexual involvement in the text.
Cooper makes the reader both aware of, and forced to share in, the arousal of the sexual selfendangerer. In Guide, for example, Cooper presents a snuff scene affording the victim sexual pleasure, then displaces this desire onto the reader. The character Chris craves his own sexual death, and when his lover Dennis refuses to provide it, he finds a willing sadist, the dwarf:

When he wouldn't or couldn't shut up, the dwarf stabbed him a half dozen times.
Chest, stomach, back. He fell backward. Things were way, way off game plan,
but . . . oh, well. The world was becoming so dreamlike that Chris didn't need
to reopen his eyes. But then he felt something down in his crotch that was
incomprehensible... (Guide, p. 86)

Accustomed to the kind of fiction Cooper writes, the reader is likely to believe that Chris's feeling in his crotch is an erection. The narrative then pauses, the next section starting with the "true" occurrence, that the dwarf has cut off his testicles, which are "resting three feet away, in the dwarf's tiny palm" (p. 87). Cooper exposes the reader's assumption of the involuntary sexual arousal; his writing relies on the reader's expectation of Chris's erection, forcing him or her to read it in. The narrative even pauses - yet another gap filled - to ensure the full effect. Although there is no "real" sexually aroused snuff victim here, investment in the conviction that there must be is shifted to the reader.
The almost contractual nature of this arrangement - the dangerous and powerful writer manipulating and pleasing, seducing and forcing, the knowing and willing reader - sounds very much like an S/M dynamic. While I would distance Cooper from both conservative and libertarian formulations of masochism, it is certainly important to acknowledge here how Cooper's desirous and consenting reader corresponds to the notion that it is the masochist who holds the power ultimately, who is the one "who controls the other's control." (After all, Cooper's manipulative writing is only manipulative when read.) As I have demonstrated, readers' active submission is performed precisely through their invited participation in the text, through, among other things, the kind of language games that Young sees as defining Barthesian writerliness.
Cooper grafts the reader into his texts through both content and style. His representation of extreme and provocative activities stimulates the reader's involuntary reactions; his self-reflexive focus upon story-telling constitutes the reader in the text, thereby offering a paradigm for his or her involvement; his literary playfulness - his use of blanks or pauses - draws out the reader's intervention and assumptions. But Cooper goes further. He imbues his images with the concreteness of spectacle and in so doing invokes the active pleasures of spectatorship which attend the "reader" of film.


Cooper's writing is not simply self-reflexive but also cinematic. Its staging of its own artificiality is frequently done on the level of the stylized and filmic construction of the visual image. Cooper's cinematics take place on two levels. First, in terms of content, his work demonstrates an absorption in and reflection of film culture, employing its vocabulary, techniques, and fascination with the visual. second, in terms of style, Cooper's descriptiveness can be seen to replicate the movement of the camera's eye and its techniques. These two levels work together to construct and emphasize spectatorial complicity, and, in so doing, continue Cooper's exploitation of the agency of the consuming reader.
In his book Fiction and the Camera Eye, Alan Spiegel identifies key characteristics of cinematographic writing - visualization through a partialized and affectless or neutral perspective, and through montage. What remains to be demonstrated is Cooper's relationship to this tradition of writing - which Spiegel traces from Flaubert through Finnegan's Wake, and distinguishes from the scenographie visual consciousness of earlier writers - and the relationship between Cooper's cinematic texts and the reader's complicity.
Cooper's writing provides gaze- and spectacle-saturated scenes of self-conscious cinematics. Not only is a profusion of graphic visual detail presented, it seems, by a roaming camera eye and frequent reference to film terminology and techniques, but often there is a photographer or filmmaker present. Cooper's characters actually make films - Alex in Closer, Ken in Try, David in Jerk, and Pam in Guide - or acknowledge their role as; directors in other ways (Dennis in Guide says of one of his fantasies: "[i]t's more like I'm directing a scene in a porn film" [p. 56]). Cooper's writing integrates both cinematic language and cinematic practice. For example, for Alex in Closer, "life is a series of gradual dissolves" (p. 70), and Dennis writes of Chris in Guide that "[h]e'd been slouched in between his friends, lost in daydreams. I starred in one, for a second" (p. 11).
However, Cooper also tends to cover a broad canvas depicting the larger scene or vista. Jerk, for example, favors the scenographic unified vision: the micro-proscenium of the puppet show, the body shots of the puppet photographs accompanying the text, which contrast with the close-ups of the photographs in Frisk. Similarly, Cooper combines and contrasts the dispassionate mobile perspective of the camera with the emotivity of subjective experience (as yet another example of the demystification of neutrality). Wrong perfectly illustrates Cooper's brand of cinematic writing, repetitive of the "'flat denotative function' that reproduces the viewpoint of the camera eye," but also dispelling its blankness - the neutrality of looking-implicit in the story's avowal of self-endangerment. The first four pages of Mike's murders read like a series of set directions and wandering affectless filming. These are followed by and contrasted to the subjective intensity of George's experience. When narrative focus is handed over to George it is done with an almost directorial technique - a wide pan from the body in the river to George, standing near other tourists, photographing it: "[h]is body splashed in the river, drifted off. .. . George looked out at the Hudson. He saw a dead body. He shot the rest of his roll of film" (p. 65). The imaging of Mike's death is set with a film-like quality: the "camera" moves with the change in focus and narrative perspective, meeting the requirements or expectations of the spectators. Their compulsion to view and status as witnesses are accentuated by their alignment with tourists.
Cooper combines the stagedness of the scenographie with the movement and partialization of film. He charges the camera's affectlessness with the power to implicate, all within texts doused in film culture. His cinematics are employed precisely to integrate and implicate readers, and, in their accentuation of voyeurism, to render them fully sexually complicit. This is achieved through his special form of (cinematically-invested) visual consciousness, which reworks the power of image-building for Cooper's own entangling ends.
Cooper's graphic visualizations heighten the effects of "imaging," as Ellen Esrick calls image-building in her study "The Reader's Eye", which attempts to instate visualization as a fundamental element of reader-response. Across the range of its effects noted in her conclusion lies imaging's ability to increase the text's power in a manner most pertinent to this discussion. It has the effect of "positioning] the reader within the text...within the perceptual sphere of a particular character or narrative voice" (p. 196). It also makes the text more memorable, "helps make a fictional world concrete" (p. 192), or simply (in being image-rich, a text) forces the reader to become more involved and give it more attention and time:

The reader who visualizes, whether in the service of dispassionate, cognitive
understanding or affectively charged interest, is generally spending more time
with the literary text than the reader who is reading without forming such
images ... he or she is [also] more likely to contemplate affectively intriguing
and disturbing aspects of the text. (Esrick, p. 193)

A good example is David's description of one of his father's anatomical pictures in Closer:

For instance, over my dad's shoulder, I'm trying not to distinguish a boy about
my age. His back is turned and where his ass used to be there's this thing that
looks half like drawn curtains and half like what's left of a cow once it gets
to the butcher's shop (Closer, p. 28).

The need to think and identify the images conjured by David involves the reader in this extra interpretive work, affording a greater intimacy with the disturbing text through the recognition of these iconic images. In evoking "the psychodynamics of vision," imaging, of course, "promotes voyeuristic interests". In this way, Cooper must be seen to promote visual pleasures readily endorsed as voyeurism through the film culture context, and also by the attention to pornography. These visual pleasures, however, do not incur the safe distances so often associated with the objectifying scopophilic gaze.
The image-building triggered by the literary text has been thought of as a primary method of breaking down the distance between reader and text. The reader's mental construction or visualization of the written description requires a much more active input than is required of the cinema spectator, for whom the image is already constructed. Cooper's cinematic writing merges literary and cinematic provocations. It lends the mental process of image-building a charge of exteriority, making the virtuality of the reader's implication more concrete: what is going on in the reader's mind is projected onto the page, escaping the safe confines of either the sealed-off self or spectacle. Again, I am departing from the discussion of the reader/spectator's entry into the text as marked by identification, favoring what I see as a more convincing local mental process of entry. This is especially necessary with regard to such harsh narratives as Cooper's, which seem to problematize identification by undermining reality, shifting focus, and expressing the unconscionable. In other words, I am formulating a way of making readerly involvement undeniable, while still acknowledging the prohibitions of the text.
Cooper's appropriation of the cinematic lends his images a more graphic, dynamic, and implicating edge. A superb example is provided by Joe's death scene in Frisk. Here, as the image-building of literature combines with the montage effect and emotiveness of film, the flatness or matter-of-factness of Cooper's language gives way to the cleverest and most vivid of images. Cooper's staccato descriptions are presented like snapshots dissolving into each other, or in their rapid succession produce perhaps a (discontinuous) moving picture:

Joe gazed at the nipple. Then he gazed at the point of the knife. He raised his
eyes to Gary's tight little smile. He lowered his eyes to the smudge of pre-come
on the head of his own cock. When he shut his eyes a second later, the four
things - pink nipple, knife point, crinkly smile, white smudge - were
superimposed against the reddish darkness of his lids. It looked like a flower, (Frisk, p. 64)

The reader is not led to construct the sanitary, distant portrait of a neutral contemplative narration, but the character's lived experience of, or as, both image-building and montage. In Cooper, montage is central to the absorption of the reader into the text as it merges with image-building and gives way, finally, to the subjectivity of simile.
The intimacy of image-building becomes the shared spectacle of montage. Cooper's cinematics stage the inner world; they project the mechanics of the character's experience and with it the reader's, whose personal involvement in the text becomes part of a larger cultural landscape. Similarly, the frequent reminders of the fictitiousness of the characters' acts, and of the novels themselves, place the personal act of reading into the public realm of publication. The unfixed locus of narrative authority in Cooper's texts, as well as the multiple positions of identification offered, replicates the roaming and disinterested camera eye of an unrestricted film narration, while maintaining a nightmarish intimacy with the reader.35 If the novel has been seen to favor the "dramatization of inner conflict," and the film "extra-personal conflict," Cooper manages to involve both, making his world both radically personal and radically public. This could be seen as replicating an initial aim of classical cinema: to mask the industrialization of entertainment with the emphasis upon the individual - to manufacture intimacy. Although further fodder for the contention that his writing is cinematic, this combination also repeats a key idea of Cooper's writing and of this essay: that the experiences and desires of the individual (whether character or reader) are charged with cultural and political agency, that the representation of self-endangerment signifies both particular and more universal desires, and that both are politicized in contemporary western culture.
My emphasis on Cooper's cinematics is not simply confirming a 1990s susceptibility to visual culture or the usefulness of film theory (especially when investigating the representation of violence) or the postmodern prioritization of the image so central to Annesley's and others' analyses. Rather, Cooper's explicit flirtation with film heightens the grafting of the reader into the text, combining the state of implication inherent in engaging with a literary text with the complicity of voyeurism inherent in visualization: combining the privacy of reading with the publicity of spectatorship.
While the reader is forced to take up these positions and to experience these reactions, what I have also tried to show is how he or she desires and consents to this experience. Certain climactic scenes - for example, Joe's death in Frisk and Brad's death in Jerk - hinge upon and play with the victim's consent. In Jerk, the previously consenting masochist Brad changes his mind during the encounter. The reader is forced into the self-conscious position of being aware that Brad's consent is no longer there, and is thus made aware of his or her own consent. Cooper condones the questioning of consent which is found to be deceptive. But while his characters sway in their wishes (and his narratives sway in their focus), the reader is foregrounded as the sustained player. The characters change their minds, but the reader keeps reading. When the text is unconscionable, consent is necessarily risky - or perhaps it is precisely because the text elicits consent that it is deemed unconscionable. (Complicity has become a more useful standard for asserting the reader's implication, for consent is misleading - it is performed, undermined, and alibied - whereas complicity seems a more enduring or indisputable attribution.) The highlighting or even concretizing of the readers'desires and agency is not a vindication of their subjectivity - this is not the happy ending of the reassuring narrative. Rather, the reader is rendered present, participating in and consenting to the threatening, unsafe text; his or her expectations and engagement are, thus, unequivocable. The vulnerability, self-exposure, or fragility incurred by this position is exactly what is sought.
Cooper's texts are blank in that they can be characterized by the mapping of an empty space for the assumption and occupation by the reader. These structured blanks are not about the reader's participatory scouting for what is missing but about playfully integrating the reader into the text. This is the primary form and purpose of Cooper's blankness: to instate the complicitous reader. What I hope to have shown here is how Cooper's work challenges the qualities that have been associated by some with blank writing. Yet both his imitation of and departure from them serves to reiterate this primary form and purpose. Rather than being blank as in flat, atonal, or "uncommitted," his work is characterized by an (unavoidably politicized) affirmation of the desire for self-endangerment. This is conveyed through the multiple orders of representation in his cinematic texts. Rather than being blank, as in devoid of morality, Cooper's work exploits the cathartic potential of art.
Cooper's representations of self-endangerment do not symbolize and reinforce society's repressed desires; they are not about disavowal. Rather they expose the existence and pervasiveness of these reprehensible desires - it is disavowal that perpetuates them - and the avowing process of Cooper's work seeks to meet and treat these desires. Cooper's writing is explicit but frequently ironic or parodie. The clarity of any message is shrouded by the endless layerings of truth, so that his work is certainly "ambiguous and problematically blank." But the problem with his blankness is not, as others have seen it, that he fails to condemn the outrageous actions that he represents (or even to represent the pain of violence), but that the reader is forced to confront his or her desire for them. His loose style is tightly binding. Cooper's texts in their blankness command and confirm the reader's desire to fill in. They invite and even require the reader's input, interaction, and, ultimately, complicity. This is what I see as the key feature and function of Cooper's representation of self-endangerment: to firmly instate the reader and his or her cultural community within the desire for such depictions, thereby discharging the disavowal of self-endangerment and the hypocrisy surrounding it which typifies contemporary western culture.

Copyrights apply. Source: Journal of Modern Literature, (27;3), 2004, p. 115-127

ANATOLE FRANCE (April 16, 1844 – October 12, 1924)

Anatole France was the pen name of French author Jacques Anatole François Thibault. He was born in Paris, France, and died in Tours, Indre-et-Loire, France. The son of a bookseller, he spent most of his life around books. His father's bookstore was called the Librairie de France and from this name Jacques Anatole François Thibault took his nom-de plume. Anatole France studied at the Collège Stanislaus and after graduation he helped his father by working at his bookstore. After several years he secured the position of a cataloguer at Bacheline-Deflorenne and at Lemerre, and in 1876 he was appointed a librarian for the French Senate. Ironic, skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was elected to the French Academy in 1896 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921. Anatole France became known after the publication of Le crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881) where he looked back at the 18th century as a golden age. Its protagonist, skeptical old scholar Sylvester Bonnard, embodied France's own personality. The novel was praised for its elegant prose and won him a prize from the French Academy. In La rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque (1893) Anatole France ridiculed belief in the occult; and in Les opinions de Jerome Coignard (1893), France captures the atmosphere of the fin-de-siecle. Among France's later works is the L'Île des Pingouins (1908) where France satirizes the human nature by transforming penguins into humans - after the animals have been baptized in error by the near-sighted Abbot Mael. Anatole France's most profound novel is La Revolte des Anges (1914) where Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d'Esparvieu, falls in love, joins the revolutionary movement of angels, and toward the end he realizes that the overthrow of God is meaningless unless in ourselves and in ourselves alone we attack and destroy Ialdabaoth. In the 1920s France's writings were put on the index of Libri prohibiti.

Some Quotes

"It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil."
"Devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the risk of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing a personal one."
"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."
"An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't."
"Religion has done love a great service by making it a sin."
"In every well-governed state, wealth is a sacred thing; in democracies it is the only sacred thing."

Two Short Stories by Anatole France (from authentic documents)

The Seven Wives of Bluebeard
The Story of the Duchess of Cicogne and of Monsieur de Boulingrin
by Cris Mayo, University of Illinois

The closet is commonly thought of as a small, isolated place where a distinct group of people hide. This assumption leads to school curricula addressing homosexuality as if it were only the concern of a small, distinct minority of students. However, this paper will argue, following Eve Sedgwick, that the closet occupies a more central position to the constitution of all sexualities. Thus, homosexuality is not a marginal force existing along side of heterosexuality but is central to the constitution of heterosexuality itself. In Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick contends that "an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition." Silences, Sedgwick contends, surround the closet, not just one silence, "but a silence that accrues particularity by fits and starts, in relation to the discourse that surrounds and differentially constitutes it." These multiple and contextual silences about homosexuality flow through curricular debates as much as through literature. The task of this paper will be to outline the silences and ignorances that continue to proliferate, as well as the silences that have had to shift when part of the closet is opened.
Recent curricular debates in New York have partially performed an opening of the closet, particularly with regard both to reforms in multicultural curriculum designed to represent gay life and to AIDS educational plans attempting to address the needs of sexually active students of all orientations and activities. Though these openings have been far from uncontested, one aspect of the conservative effort to close the closet had the ironic effect of making gayness more central to heterosexuality's own self-definition. These debates underscore Sedgwick's observation that homosexuality is inextricably tied to the meaning of heterosexuality, that through their binary relation each is constituted in contrast to the other. Yet at the same time, homosexuality figures as that which is irredeemably outside of the heterosexual norm. While deconstructionist readings have been criticized for attending largely to intrapsychic identity development and textual strategies, the same dynamics Sedgwick describes pervade public curricular debates.
Sedgwick contends that the closet is the site of origin of unstable binaries beyond those of hetero/homo. Indeed the closet and the open secret - knowledge in some sense known but not circulated, an active ignorance - form the structure of a range of other binaries. For the purposes of this paper, the tension between visibility and invisibility, ignorance and knowledge, and childhood and sexuality will be central to examining the power effects attending the heterosexual/homosexual binary. The suspicion entailed by the invisibility of deviance within communities has the double effect of acknowledging the constant presence of sexual difference while at the same time encouraging the performance of increasingly visible allegiances to heterosexuality. This allegiance to heterosexuality is performed through advocacy of "family values" or through advocacy of pre-heterosexual abstinent behavior - particularly in the form of "just say no." Students are not simply encouraged to personally decide to be abstinent but are encouraged to voice this as a public statement against deviance, including class lessons where students actually practice verbalizing "no" or attempt to find new and creative ways to do so. This kind of visible if somewhat embattled performance of heterosexuality is also present in the New Right campaign for a return to "family values." I want to argue this connection between the visible and invisible may provide a site of destabilization of the heterosexual/homosexual binary in a way that makes that binary and the careful boundary between the two terms increasingly difficult to maintain. Attempts to banish homosexuality, through publicly invoking it, actually make homosexuality more visible and contribute to the destabilization of heterosexuality. The point is not that the inadvertency of subversion of the binary is enough on its own however. Institutional and policy changes need to be made to ensure that proliferation of identity possibilities are nurtured, rather than actively repressed. George Chauncey's work on the history of gay life in New York points to the ways laws instituted in the late 1940s prohibiting homosexual behavior in public places removed from sight gay communities that had flourished since the early 1900s. While he and Sedgwick point to the ways that homosexuality and other sexualities emerge even when under prohibition, the point is not to make the closet an object of nostalgia or to suggest that all prohibition will be its own undoing and that is all we need to know. But the fact of inadvertent subversion and shift even in what might usually be considered firm categories points to the possibility of progressive change.
I will rely on Eve Sedgwick's distinction between minoritizing and universalizing models of identity to point out moments in curricular disputes that lend themselves to destabilizing the homo/hetero binary. The minoritizing model of identity marks out homosexuals as a distinct and quantifiable subgroup different from heterosexuality. The boundaries between the two identities are kept stable and clear in this model, which tries to conceive of homosexuality as something outside and away from the heterosexual norm. But Sedgwick contends that the universalizing model of identity may provide a more useful look at the complementarity, reliance, and mutual fragility of each term. According to Sedgwick's universalizing model of the hetero/homosexual binary, both terms:

actually subsist in a more unsettled and dynamic tacit relation according to
which, first, term B is not symmetrical with but subordinated to term A; but,
second, the ontologically valorized term A actually depends for its meaning on
the simultaneous subsumption and exclusion of term B; hence, third, the question
of priority between the supposed central and supposed marginal category of each
dyad is irresolvably unstable, an instability caused by the fact that term B is
constituted as at once internal and external to term A.[4]

Sedgwick's deconstructive reconceptualization of the relationship between homosexual and heterosexual helps to explain better not only the benefits of anti-homophobia education to those in the self-identified gay minority, but also to show the inevitable links and overlaps between all sexual identities and groups. This is not necessarily to argue that school policies that address the needs of gay and lesbians cannot helpfully use the minoritizing discourse. One example of the positive possibilities of the minoritizing discourse is the Harvey Milk School in New York City whose purpose is to enable gay and lesbian students to graduate from high school. The school was founded to enable students subject to constant harassment because of their sexual orientation to stay in school. But even the Harvey Milk School shows the inevitable complications of identity-based approaches because a substantial proportion of its students do not identify as gay, but are instead gender non-conforming and thus subject to harassment on those grounds, not on the grounds of sexual orientation per se.
The predominant discourse in public school curricula that addresses homosexuality is the minoritizing discourse. In AIDS as well as multicultural curricula, homosexual people are portrayed as a distinct minority, whether represented as a risk group for HIV or as a differently organized family structure. Neither the AIDS nor the Children of the Rainbow multicultural curricula attempt to trouble the boundaries of sexual identity. The controversy generated, however, does. And I want to suggest that there is something in the public nature of the curricular disputes, as well as something about their focus on extending even minoritizing information about sexuality to children that generates particular anxieties about the sexual orientation of children. I think these controversies provide the space for parental fears that their children will not be like them and possibly conservative anxieties that heterosexuality is not as certain as it seems. The moment that heterosexuals have to assert themselves as "heterosexual" or as members of "traditional families," the universalizing discourse creeps in; heterosexuality is no longer alone in the public eye and imagination.
AIDS-era additions to curricula show the overlap between the contemporary political visibility of gays and lesbians, coupled with an anxiety that homosexuality, despite stereotypes, does not always show. The advent of AIDS altered the public discussion of sexuality in ambivalent and contradictory ways. In part, AIDS provides a constant reminder of sexuality, but AIDS also reinforces connections between sexual behavior and contagion. This is particularly salient in a cultural context where there is a worry over invisible sexual deviance. The linkage between gayness and visible manifestations of disease provides some relief to the anxiety that gayness might be invisible. Simon Watney offers a stark example of how the minoritizing and universalizing discourses of sexuality overlap and contradict one another in a shifting interplay between visible and invisible. Watney observes that coverage of people with AIDS often focused on lesions associated with Kaposi's Sarcoma in representational schemes that at once reassure viewers that there are markers of AIDS and thus of homosexuality, while at the same time intoning warnings that HIV is not visible, and only testing can truly assure one that one has not been exposed to it. Similarly, a New York City subway campaign for HIV testing read, "You don't have AIDS. Now prove it," challenging even those with no particular concern to make visible the fact of their HIV-negativity by having an HIV test. Here we see the attempt to move back from the universalizing discourse which implies that anyone might be hiding HIV and homosexuality, through messages that demand a concerted effort to perform proof of non-membership in a suspect group. On the one hand, HIV and homosexuality might be anywhere, but on the other hand, there are ways to be certain of where they are. But these proofs are only temporary and the threat of one's implicatedness in HIV or in homosexuality become constant. This constant threat of the presence of either means that the visible proof of their opposite, non-seropositive status and heterosexuality must be performed in more explicitly public and embattled ways than previously. But these more panicked performances of dominant identities, by their panicked origins contradict their recuperative attempts. It is only because of the persistence of their opposite that they must change themselves. This parallels, I think, the development of "family values" that I will later explore.
With the AIDS epidemic also comes what Paula Treichler has referred to as "an epidemic of signification," where meanings of sexuality, gender, and disease multiply and splinter in unpredictable ways. There are wide ranging implications of this "epidemic of signification" in the area of AIDS education. The advent of AIDS has also underscored the extent to which sexuality is the site of multiple, fluid, and contradictory significatory practices. The meanings of sexuality and possibilities of sexual activity extend far beyond what can be grasped by adhering to even a clear homosexual/heterosexual binary. AIDS educators, particularly those associated with gay community-based projects noted that sexual identity was not always the central factor in determining which sexual activities a person might engage in. For some people, engaging in homosexual activity did not have the self-defining aspect as it did for others. A range of materials were developed in an attempt to accommodate the widest range of people possible, including materials highly contextualized in urban gay male subcultures, as well as materials directed at men who have sex with men but do not identify as gay. While gay community AIDS education projects realized early on in the epidemic that sexual identity was not coterminous with sexual activity, public school educational policy has been less attentive to the complicated relationship between sexual identity and sexual activity. This is largely because school policy, by adhering to the minoritizing model, avoids complicated questions about sexuality. But we will see that these efforts at containment spill over the boundaries of the heterosexual/homosexual boundary, making heterosexuality less and less sure of itself.

Condoms and the Universalizing Discourse of Sexuality

Visibility of the previously invisible alters the way in which sexuality is addressed in public school curricula. This alteration of the accepted representation of sexuality is behind much of the controversy over high schools providing condoms to students in accordance with New York's public school AIDS education policy. There are many reasons for parental discomfort with the provision of condoms, including religious objections, a fear that sexual knowledge will move young people out of childhood and into sexuality too quickly, and also a fear connected to the very visibility of sexuality in the physical artifact of the condom itself. While certainly condoms seem to reinforce a version of sex as a penetrative act, they can also underscore the flexibility of sexual definition and activity. Condoms have the effect of technologically preventing the association between sex and reproduction. Not only does this open the possibility for acknowledging the obvious potential of recreational heterosexuality, but it additionally acknowledges the possibility for recreational homosexuality. If condoms prevent reproduction while allowing the activities usually associated with reproduction to continue then the claim that sex was meant to be - naturally, by god, by law - reproductive, is no longer as easily sustainable. Non-reproductive sexuality is technologically no longer an impossibility. Once this break is made, it is clear that other non-reproductive sexual activities can equally make the claim to denaturalizing and multiplying sexuality. This anxiety over the potential for shifting identities and activities potential in condom usage encouraged the conservative New York State Board of Regents to initially declare that information on condoms would not be provided to students:

The Surgeon General of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control, and
State and local Health departments have included condom use as one of the
strategies for further preventing the spread of HIV. The Board of Regents view
the use of condoms as extremely high risk behavior. The view that condoms should
or can be used as a way to reduce the risk of transmission of AIDS should not be

This policy decision in 1987 followed the early logic of public school AIDS education that attempted to make HIV the occasion for reinforcing a message of abstinence. This example points, I think, to the kind of active production of ignorance Sedgwick refers to as part of the epistemology of the closet. The open secret here is adolescent sexual behavior but the ignorance produced through this anti-condom message attempts to cover over that possibility. When it became clear in 1991 that rates of adolescent and perinatal HIV infection were steadily rising despite a heavy curricular emphasis on abstinence, the policy was changed to include information about condom usage. Interestingly, the swing vote in New York City's condom provision policy based her decision on the rates of seropositivity in infants, not in sexually active youth, reinforcing the distinction between innocent victims of HIV and more culpable, sexually active or drug injecting young people with HIV.
With condoms newly made more visible, the Central Board of Education remained uncomfortable with the idea of adolescent sexuality. To ensure that the abstinence message would not be overshadowed by access to condoms, the Board required that AIDS educators take an "Abstinence Oath," swearing that abstinence would be stressed in every lesson on AIDS prevention. This oath, coupled with state-developed classroom lessons encouraging students to improve their sexual decision-making skills through examining a range of ways to say "no" to sex, reinforces adolescent sexuality as an open secret. On the one hand, objections to condom provisions and to sex and AIDS education in general worry that such curricular materials will cause young people to be sexually active. On the other hand, adolescent sexuality already stands out as a problem. In a sense, the "Abstinence Oath" and the lessons in saying "no" attempt to make public professions fight against the visibility of adolescent sexuality. Certainly, the provision of condoms is not the only visible manifestation of adolescent sexuality, as hallway behavior, teenage pregnancy rates, and HIV rates among young adults attest. But attempts to teach safer sex to students means that schools acknowledge and even provide the possibility for sexual activity with minimized consequences.
While AIDS has made ignoring sexuality considerably more difficult, as we have seen in the condom example, even in the midst of opening the issue of adolescent sexuality, silences about adolescent sexuality may continue on even in spoken form. Likewise, health and education policy speaks about not speaking about homosexuality. Notably, the Helms Amendment forbade the use of federal funds in AIDS education that promoted homosexuality. Alabama requires that schools get permission from the State Health Agency to discuss homosexuality and Oklahoma requires that homosexuality only be discussed in relation to disease. In addition, what passes for public discussion of sexuality in public service announcements has more often bordered on the open secret than been informative. The "AIDS, get the facts" campaign, which does not actually attempt to give any "facts" beyond a phone number, as well as other messages showing young adults asserting that they can talk about sex, but never actually doing so, circulate information about the lack of information. These campaigns, as well as curricular prohibitions listed above, vacillate between producing ignorances and tantalizing viewers with just a glimpse into the closet. While there is room even in these obfuscatory campaigns for people to read themselves into the silences, this is clearly not enough in a context where people need access to information and strategies to help them avoid HIV.

Gay Visibility, Family Values and the Embattled Heterosexual "Minority"

Because in this country HIV is so closely associated with homosexuality, objections to the condom provision and AIDS education in general blended together with conservative objections to the gay-inclusive Children of the Rainbow multicultural curriculum. These objections showed the inability of conservatives to see homosexuality as anything but sexual, even though the first grade lessons that caused the controversy only described the variety of family structures possible, including same-gender couples. The overlap perceived between the two curricula come through in Queens Board President Mary Cummins's objection that the Children of the Rainbow lesson teaches "our kids that sodomy is acceptable but virginity is something weird."
In the course of their objections to gay-inclusive curricula, conservatives begin to cast themselves as embattled minorities and attempt to suggest that gays are essentially taking over the world. In a sense, this appears to be true as the conceptualization of sexuality turns from clear-cut minority/majority distinctions to the more universalizing account wherein the implication of dissent from heterosexuality is more pervasive. The world view of heterosexuals is altered in ways that challenge the family as natural and inevitable. Conservatives have often argued that inclusion of information on homosexuality represents an assault on the family and nature (this may seem hyperbolic, but my point is they are quite accurate). The increased visibility of homosexuality has encouraged the assertion of visible heterosexuality, often in the call to return to "family values." Certainly other social shifts or perceived shifts have led the New Right to trumpet a return to the family but I think that "family" rather than "traditional" indicates a particular attempt to bring heterosexuality, specifically marked as such, into the public in a way that provides a refuting reply to the call for gay pride. This is after all heterosexual pride but it is a pride that seems to feel it has not had to assert itself in quite this way before. As a public movement that bolsters heterosexuality against homosexuality, as opposed to against a generational shift in morals, the new "family values" is firmly cognizant of homosexuality as its enemy. That this is a battle to be fought out over the bodies of the young is clear in the New Right mobilizations to secure positions on school boards and to work on parental advisory committees charged with tailoring sex and AIDS educational curricula to local tastes. Indeed, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the greatest victories of the New Right had been in sex-related issues, particularly those regarding homosexuality. This trend is evident in public referenda overturning local ordinances against anti-gay discrimination.
While the intention of the opponents of New York City's gay-inclusive Children of the Rainbow multicultural curriculum was to ensure that information about gay outsiders did not make it into classrooms, I would also argue that substantial anxiety about the possibility of children becoming gay bleeds over into the seeming concern that outsiders will be allowed in. In other words, part of the anxiety is that those who are considered insiders will turn out to have been nascent outsiders all along. This fuels, I think, the dramatic worry over what information about homosexuality will do to children and also points to the shakiness of heterosexuality entailed by this aspect of the universalizing discourse. This becomes clear as conservative parents expressed fears that the "Children of the Rainbow" lessons on gay families were actually attempting to teach their children sodomy. Mixing criticism of the AIDS curriculum with criticism of the "Children of the Rainbow" curriculum, 50 people marched in City Hall Park chanting, "No way Jose, don't teach our children to be gay." Members of Concerned Parents for Educational Accountability "spoke of AIDS education and pedophilia in the same breath." One parent , pointing to a passage in "Children of the Rainbow" argued, "Now they're going to think that if any man touches me and I'm a little boy, it's O.K., or if any woman touches me and I'm a little girl, it's O.K." Clearly there was more than just a conflation of the two curricula going on, but also an airing of misconceptions equating gayness with child abuse, much like earlier parents' arguments that condoms and information about sex would take away their children's innocence. But these new arguments against gay influence in public schools move much further and suggest that the possibility of homosexuality exists for their children. The very embattled status of heterosexuality is reflected in the following characterization of what the new visibility of homosexuality would do to the family structure. According to one conservative the implementation of the Children of the Rainbow curriculum paralleled "what Hitler did before the war, before the Holocaust. He took the youngest children, probably in the first grade, brainwashed them for a couple of years and sent them home to snitch on their parents."
In response to the Children of the Rainbow curriculum, the conservative Family Defense Council called on members to "Help David overcome the Gay Goliath." In a city where there is no anti-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation and where the Christian Coalition, Family Defense Council, and Mary Cummins managed to bring down the Schools Chancellor and help defeat the mayor who appointed him, conservatives do not seem to occupy the position of David. Their pamphlets further attest to their victories and to their work on "combating pro-homosexual school curriculums and exposing the gay political agenda," warning readers that "although homosexuals are few in number, they are heavily funded and supported, in part, by our government." In their newsletter, the call for donations is placed directly below an article claiming "AIDS Gets Disproportionate Funding." Other articles document the corporations and organizations that support "radical homosexuals" - Webster's Dictionary, President Clinton, Clinton's health plan, NYNEX, the American Historical Association - all of which add up to making gays look quite powerful.
These fears about gayness encroaching on previously seemingly non-gay areas is a recognition that gayness is now, on the one hand, more visible and thus more likely to be a possibility of a lifestyle that may be lived in the public, and gayness is also, on the other hand, always potentially invisible. There is no way to recognize the basic gay or lesbian in the street; at least the activists helpfully attire themselves in distinctive ways, but otherwise the ability to sort sexualities is quite complicated - and in more ways than a simple heterosexual/homosexual binary allows for, as well. What conservative parents may have reasoned, then, was that they needed a way to perform their own sexuality and the public decisions and debates to remove or revise information on homosexuality served as a public ritual of heterosexual bonding. Unless one firmly asserts "family values" the potential that one's sexuality is in question is heightened.
Much of the response to these controversies does lead into a kind of politics that solidifies the binary of heterosexual/homosexual, but there is also the persistent intrusion of the universalizing discourse of sexuality as each term calls into question the isolation of the other. Instead of solidifying these identities another option is present through the persistent relation of gay to heterosexual and invisible to visible that broadens the range of diversity possible within communities and warns against too easily presuming the limits of community. The cost of this strong limit on community appears to be the persistent anxiety of invisible difference within. The controversies in New York City that entangled gay-inclusive multiculturalism with AIDS and a general fear of non-heterosexuality opened the conversation about community membership and about sexuality in ways that turned homosexuality from a lurking menace to a real substantial threat to previously seemingly fully accepted ways of life. Even while much of this change in perspective is still couched in terms of intolerance, the shift has occurred. And even while a backlash is possible, it begins from a different place than before. Heterosexuality no longer has unquestioned hegemony and homosexuality is no longer so clearly on the outside.
Sexuality became a crucial centerpiece of educational concerns during the controversies over the AIDS curriculum and "Children of the Rainbow." The very arguments and turmoil these issues brought out helped stimulate the largest turnout in school board elections in twelve years. An estimated 12.5 to 15 percent of those eligible voted in the elections. This was nearly double the usual rate and 90 percent greater than the previous board elections. The implementation and arguments over the curricula may not have been the finest version of democracy in practice, but the very acts of making public issues that were heavily in contention inspired people on all sides of both debates to become more politically active and to vote in elections that usually do not stir interest. The Christian Coalition's use of grassroots organizing seemed to have shaken up gay activists who had not been as concerned as they might have been with issues not directly related to AIDS and gay inclusion in curricula. Progressive coalitions formed and lobbied for progressive candidates. In the end, both sides claimed victory (it was, perhaps, the one thing they agreed on). The Christian Coalition claimed that 51 percent of its candidates had been elected to school boards. Progressives claimed to have won in "every area that was contested," getting progressive candidates onto conservative boards and winning a majority in two key conservative districts. The results did not settle any of the social issues that had sparked political activity on both sides, but the results did guarantee that debate would continue. While conservatives had been attempting to remove issues from children's consideration, they, if unintentionally, began a more visible public conversation on those very issues they did not consider appropriate for public discussion.


This essay and the essay located below are published on this blog as a matter of consideration. I neither agree or disagree with the content of either essay, but rather have published them to illustrate one of numerous lines of discourse risen from Eve Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet.
by Maureen Ford, Lakehead University

In "Performance Anxiety: Sexuality and School Controversy," Cris Mayo utilizes deconstructive strategies from Eve Sedgwick's text, Epistemology of the Closet, to illustrate the ways in which conservative resistance to AIDS and gay-inclusive multicultural curricula ironically undermine, rather than reinforce, the stability of the homosexual/heterosexual binary. Describing the shifting discursive ground as a partial opening of the closet, Mayo suggests that new possibilities for progressive action are available in the wake of the controversy. Mayo's inquiry follows the lead Sedgwick articulates in the following passage from Epistemology of the Closet:

About the foundational impossibilities of modern homo/heterosexual definition,
the questions we have been essaying so far have been, not how this incoherent
dispensation can be rationalized away or set straight, not what it means or even
how it means, but what it makes happen, and how.

If I understand her correctly, what the New York State curriculum controversies "make happen," in Mayo's view, is a significantly different opening of the homosexual closet, an opening that occurs not as an effect of a minoritizing politics (such as was spawned by Stonewall, or as is exemplified by the slogan "Gay and Proud") but, rather, an opening that occurs as an effect of conservative resistance in the shape of performative heterosexuality. In Mayo's words, "attempts to banish homosexuality, through publicly invoking [the heterosexual/homosexual binary] actually make homosexuality more visible."
It is this increased visibility which augers well for possibilities of progressive change, says Mayo, at least in so far as increased visibility can be coupled with institutional measures aimed at ensuring that diverse identity possibilities are nurtured.
I think that Mayo's analysis is provocative. Her project speaks to me on two different levels: first, as a substantive study of sexuality discourses and the progressive, anti-homophobic social action that they make possible; and, second, as a metatheoretical study of what Sedgwick calls an epistemology of the closet. Both of these concerns are of interest to philosophers of education, the former on the basis of its analysis of anti-homophobic curricula, and the latter on the basis of its potential to analyze the construction of "open secrets" or, synonymously, "active ignorance," within philosophy of education discourse.
Mayo considers the contradictory relation of minoritizing and universalizing sexuality discourses to be the most crucial element of Sedgwick's deconstruction of sexuality discourse. This is not to say, however, that it can be considered in isolation from Sedgwick's accounts of the logic of homo/heterosexual binaries or the silencing effects of active ignorance, which is to say, technologies of the "open secret." Each of these additional strategies plays an integral role in Mayo's account of the shift in conservative discourse on sexuality. The silencing effects of active ignorance occur, for instance, as conservatives first ignore, then muzzle, then paint as threatening to the sanctity of the family, accounts of sexuality that stand outside the narrow confines of heterosexual, reproductive sex. Nonetheless, for Mayo it is the encroachment of universalizing perspectives upon conservative discourse that is the most salient pattern.
Mayo's analysis of the Rainbow curriculum illuminated most strongly for me the movement within conservative positions from the minoritizing position of simply excluding from school programs references to "minority" life choices, to the fully performative heterosexuality of certain educational campaigns: for instance, the "just say no (to sex; to perverted sex)" and "family values" campaigns. It is clear, from this line of inference, that one of the major premises of minoritizing sexual discourse, the complete alterity of homo/heterosexuality, has been abandoned. As Mayo says: conservative parents "needed a way to perform their own sexuality, and the public decisions and debates to remove or revise information on homosexuality served as a public ritual of heterosexuality. "Unless one firmly asserts family values," Mayo continues, "the potential that one's sexuality is in question is heightened."
I am convinced, by Mayo's account, that the conservative resistance she describes does effect a shift in the discursive ground on which sexualities debates are carried out; however, I think that alternative readings of the discursive impact of conservative resistance can be supported through reference to Sedgwick's deconstructive strategies. I attempt to spell out here one possible alternative reading; nonetheless, I want to make it clear that I see my reading as one that stands alongside, and in creative tension to, the one Mayo has set out. I do not aim to supplant the reading that Mayo has provided; indeed, my reading is indebted to the insightful observations Mayo has made with respect to the discursive path of that resistance.
Where Mayo emphasizes the significance in shifts between minoritizing and universalizing discourses, I want, for the sake of further inquiry, to emphasize changes in the nature of epistemic warrant associated with the "open secret." In particular, I suggest that the possibility of connecting the issue of visibility with the strategy of "active ignorance" is a direct effect of conservative rhetoric against progressive curricula. In this brief space, let me simply list two considerations in support of this alternative reading.
First, I expect that the shifts Mayo identifies between minoritizing and universalizing discourses are temporary and local. Sedgwick indicates that both perspectives can be seen in most accounts of sexuality since the nineteenth century. Second, and most important, for me, the movement toward a universalizing discourse in one area of curriculum in no way precludes a preference for minoritizing discourse in another area of curriculum. It seem plausible, and even likely, that conservatives who move in the direction of performative heterosexuality in order to combat the Rainbow curricula in one moment, will be quick to enforce government limitations on AIDS education for homosexuals in the next. Sedgwick's analysis of juridical double binds, in which various jurists cite contradictory perspectives in the same or related rulings, seems to suggest strongly that when conservatives utilize universalizing discourse, they feel confident in their ability to do so without undermining the credibility of minoritizing positions they might also want to take.
In contrast to Mayo's confidence that shifting discursive positions works against the salience of the homo/heterosexual binary and, as a consequence, in favor of progressive action, I expect that in many, if not most social contexts, conservatives have a lot of room to invoke completely contradictory positions with impunity. Nonetheless, I believe that Mayo's assessment of the overall effects of the controversy over school curricula is accurate. The ground has shifted in such a way that any backlash, should it be mounted, would of necessity begin from a different place. My view is that conservatives have underestimated the discursive impact of the loss of their unmitigated access to "the open secret." As Elizabeth Spelman astutely recognized, privilege works best when it does not have to name itself. Only so long as conservatives were able to resist intrusion of public spaces (like curricula) by feigning ignorance of homosexual alternatives, be they of a minoritizing view or a universalizing view, were they able to maintain the privilege of heterosexual invisibility (and, hence, ubiquity).
In closing, I want to mention briefly two questions that neither Mayo nor I have been able to address, and then I want to comment briefly on the broader implications of this line of inquiry for philosophy of education discourse.
First, I think it is absolutely necessary, politically and epistemologically, to note the active ignorance implicit within analyses of homo/heterosexual binaries that do not attend to gender differences. I am reminded by Sedgwick's analysis, as by the current discussion, of the time-worn joke about all of those invisible lesbians. In school contexts, with HIV and gay-inclusive curricula central in our focus, the astounding persistence of the lack of attention paid to the specificity of lesbian experiences demands attention. If not today, then soon!
The other set of questions I would raise follows on the recognition that contradictory discourses can work in conservatives' favor just as easily as they can work against them. Sedgwick makes this recognition a cornerstone of her analysis. She writes:

And rather than embrace an idealist faith in the necessarily, immanently self-
corrosive efficacy of the contradictions inherent to these definitional
binarisms, I will suggest instead that contests for discursive power can be
specified as competitions for the material or rhetorical leverage required to
set the terms of, and profit in some way from, the operations of such an
incoherence of definition.

Once again, those of us who would pursue further the kinds of analysis that Mayo and Sedgwick have made possible have our work cut out for us as we attempt to identify the kinds of conditions and political strategies that will favor anti-homophobic effects of discourses.
Finally, I want to draw attention to the second "outing" that occurs as we consider Mayo's project. Apart from the substantive understandings she engenders through her analysis of conservative resistance to progressive school curricula, the very fact of her presentation effects at least a partial opening of the closet at PES. Specific dynamics of silence are interrupted. Having now attended to the dynamics of the "open secret" as it functioned in one particular curricular debate in New York State, we at PES can not participate in active ignorance of hetero/homosexual binaries within philosophy of education discourse in the same way, with the same silence, as before this session. With this observation in mind then, I want to close my commentary with a strong endorsement for the ways Mayo has managed to put a foot in our particular closet door.