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Semiotics Mailbag

Responses by Théophile, translated by Hypatia Sanders


Dear Théophile: My partner’s sexual praxis might conventionally be characterized as “kinky.” A favorite discursive intervention during foreplay is, “Let’s be someone else tonight.” Is (s)he problematizing core bourgeois paradigms of subjectivity and sexuality, or does (s)he have a crush on someone else?

Théophile Replies: I am disturbed by your use of the active voice. Until your woefully Modernist conception of yourself and your Schnauzer as a system of active agents with essential cores of identity that adopt “masks” at will dries up and blows away, your insistence on the presence of some “other” self outside of your “unified self” will continue to radically undermine the relationship. In the free-floating field of free play that is the funky postmodern lifestyle, your Little Beastie is ALWAYS AND ALREADY fucking ME.

Dear Théophile: My roommate and I recently had a dinner party. During the course of the dinner party, our white table cloth was stained with red wine. My penis-possessing roommate suggests that we pour salt on the wine to absorb and remove the stains. Is this act of erasure a patriarchal trick?

Théophile Replies: Your white tablecloth was stained with red wine. Your white tablecloth was stained.… This is too much. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Let the inscriptional evidence show that (my own (grammatically shifted) copy of) the predicate of your problematic has been parsed according to the power-packed discourse of normative grammar. I’m still not “sure” what you’re “talking about.” Aside from the color terms, containing the implicature of a Freudian signifier-contraption so hackneyed as to constitute an assault on my every orifice, (a RED STAIN yet?) the thing that interests (and being dressed for success in a white penis, I do mean interests, ones accruing from my investment, as in SOUTH AFRICA, interests that both overdetermine the direction of the proceeding response and give me the cultural capital necessary to (apparently) overwhelm any other response that this inquiry might have elicited) me here, the word-crack which I designate as the site of my analytical penetration, is the hyphen, that ligature between “penis” and “possessing.” I bet you think that such a grammatical entity isn’t HISTORICALLY DETERMINED. HA! I laugh in your face! Before post-structuralism, nobody knew that phrases and images and modes of discourse HAD HISTORIES! They probably didn’t know FRENCH, either, so they couldn’t make such multivalent puns as HISSTORY! I don’t know if you got that one, because the idea is so BRILLIANTLY SUBVERSIVE OF ALL YOU HOLD DEAR!!

Okay, honey. I will now DECONSTRUCT you. And there’s nothing you can do about it, because the essential contradiction that permeates the base, shaft, and dizz of the phallogocentric signifier is always and already engaged, in flagrante delecto, in the act of DECONSTRUCTING ITSELF!!! There IS NO first time, so come on: it’ll be easy and feel good, and it already happened.

First of all, since no discursive formation is natural, there is no essential reason that inheres in the nature of the linguistic desire motivating your inscriptive articulation for your identification of your roommate as “penis-possessing” to appear as such. Why not “bedicked?” “Enchoaded?” Perhaps you think that his gender is too deeply enschwanzed in his essential being for such designations. Well! You’ve got another thing coming, mister, and it ain’t inscribed between your legs.

Now that I have exposed the (inessentially) arbitrary nature of your pimply white ass, I will FORCE (since this is a power relation we’ve got going here, you and I, you gotta have FORCE) a re-reading. To wit: the POLITICAL act of de/ sig(n)ation committed 3 paragraphs ago (reading time as space, as we have been forced to do since the 19th century), worked to problematize, act excessively and unnecessarily upon, in short, to inflame the fabric of the text around the hyphen which (apparently) bonded your roomate’s “penis” to the participle (“possessing,” as if you didn’t know) by which he claimed it. To (falsely) follow the Great White Hunter Freud into the veldt of hair (a treacherous act of deFreuding), the female vagina may be equated with the nostril: moving from body to language, and taking the body with us, “That which is not pleasant of [your] vulva” (K 7924 obverse ii line 6), the heavy, stinky weight of the fleshy folds themselves is imposed on the supposedly abstract issue of the tongue; a (deliberately) crude phonetic analysis of the sound of “hyphen” renders the “ph” as an /f/, a labial, a sound articulated at the lips or labia, and allows us to equate it with the nasal sound /m/; we pronounce it: “hymen.”

By such an anal/ytic thrust, we have pierced the sexual/textual surface; stressing it so hard with the overreading performed above, we have brutally broken said hymen. Taking the maidenhead of the word, we find it now split, “penis” separated from “possessing,” aching with (semantic) loss but (so the story goes) ready for more analysis. But no more is necessary. For the defloration was a castration; the verbal adjective by which your roomate held the rod of phallic might has been severed from the “thing” itself. In fact, the predication of this discussion, the red stain, can now be seen as expressing not some manual error involving spilled wine, but the lost virtue of your roommate’s lesbian phallus. Provoking the livid issue of my analysis, your text has shown itself a “scheming, hustling two-time virgin” indeed. Minx. Rather than now asking “is heterosexuality even possible?” you should recall traditional Northern Greek practice: hang your stained cloth, like the bloody sheet of the first wedding night, out the window. Looking out, we will all see that now, doubly inscribed by the mother tongue, the regendered penis has detonated inside out, consummating itself. Tasty!

Dear Théophile: My boyfriend recently lost his job. He spends most of his time watching MTV, which is o.k., I suppose, inasmuch as MTV resists idealogical closure. However, when he watches “Coors Silver Bullet” commercials, he has a tendency to act out what is known as “air-guitar.” Air guitar bothers me, as it does my womyn friends. But, I’ve noticed that his left hand usually mimes chord progressions which subvert melodic authority by challenging oppressive tonal hierarchies, leading me to believe that it is an ironic emblematization of the Lacanian triad of having, being, and seeming. Nevertheless, I fear he is participating in ritualized phallic violence. Please advise.

[While Théophile has never shrunk from expounding on subjects with which he is not familiar, it is at all events useless to ask a Frenchman about rock and roll. After all, pretenses have their limits. — eds.]