Robert Smith stars in the new Crystal Castles song, “Not In Love,” which I have been listening to non-stop over the past week or so. Mostly I wrote this an excuse to post this songs.
This song came up in my mind when I read Joyelle’s post about Let the Right One In (here’s my post from exoskeleton about the movie in the context of immigration and the welfare state, a not-unrelated-topic to this post).
Gothic art (The Cure for example) is often described in terms of femininity or androgony, and that’s certainly true. Judith Halberstam has a really good book called Skin Shows which is about gender-bending in the gothic, which shows for example how gothic art already in the 19th century was associated with women and prostitution (as opposed to serious, adult, masculine art).
You can see this quite obviously in The Cure and Robert Smith: the lipstick and smeared mascara, the effete/dandy-ish manners, and perhaps most importantly the over-emotionalism of the songs. Too much affect is of course feminine.
But I think you can also see the anachronism Joyelle evokes in her post. Their whole image seems a strange, monstrous mash-up of past eras: the make-up and haircut of Dr Caligari and German Expressionism/Die Neue Sachlichkeit, goofy weimarism (“lovecats” etc), the lipstick and hollywood-orientalism of Jack Smith etc. But also the childish basketball sneakers left without tied shoe strings. And referring to himself as a “boy” in “Boys Don’t Cry.”
And too much affect is of course also childish, immature. Plath is goth poetry for teenage girls: too hysterical, too much affect, too much confusion about the difference between the speaker of the poems and the poet who wrote the poems. All around, not enough adult distance. The way pro-Plath critics have tried to make her palatable: by emphasizing her craft and de-emphasizing her life.
Of course Kate Durbin makes this connection in her now legendary essay about teenage girls:
“A Teenage Girl Speaks As A Melodramatic, Hysterical Demon
The coffin lid lifts. A teenage girl opens her black painted mouth, and out issues the gravelly voice of an old man:
Say teenage girls are attention whores—fashion fanatics, shopaholics, sex crazed, shit-talkers, bulimics, classless gum crackers, & Plath addicts. Loitering between the dress-play innocence of childhood and the plain-clothed penance of womanhood, they parade in shopping malls, movie houses, & back bedrooms, as seething, sequinned receptacles of excessive emotions, hormones, desire.”
In a recent article for Huffington Post, after doing a good job of pointing out the absurdity of American poets constantly worrying about the threats of various kinds to american poets, Wayne Miller writes that one of the things he is worried about is that poets are too childish:
“• Childishness. I understand that poems written in the whiny idiom of a 15-year-old about Barbies and action figures and teenagery romance are, at their best, intended to approach seriousness through the back door. But, come on: we’re adults. We don’t need to apologize for having adult concerns. And if we haven’t stumbled upon them by the time we’re in our mid to late twenties, we should go looking for them. Call me stodgy.”
I can’t help but hear yet another person threatened by “gurlesque” writing in this quote. And this ties in perfectly for me with the other attempts to quarantine the gurlesque: that it’s not progressive (doesn’t “move us forward” as someone wrote) and that it is not properly “new.” It is stunted.
As Calinescu observes in Five Faces of Modernism, there is a direct tie between decadence, gothic and kitsch. Perhaps “anachronism” is part of the string that connects these. Miller invokes a number of “threats” that have been identified to American poetry (decadence, quietism, dadaism etc); what connects these is that they are attacked through the meants of anti-kitsch rhetoric.
In Anachronism and its Other, which Joyelle quotes in her post, Valerie Rohy writes about the connections between blackness, homoeroticism and “atavism” – how these have formed a kind of idea of the “stunted” development by the kind of progress-oriented, positivist thinking that Lee Edelman has called “reproductive futurism”. All these figures are linked to anachronism because they are stunted, undeveloped.
One interesting case: Rohy analyzes Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, pointing out that one of his arguments is that the gothic story (the 19th century story, the kind of writing DH Lawrence loved) – with its incest, homosexuality and interracial romances – interferes with the ability of the american novel to deal with adult romance and concerns.
Rohy writes: “Elaborating the dualistic structure of its title, Love and Death makes all love heterosexual: queer relations turn out not to be love at all, but instead another kind of death, for even when unconsummated, homosexuality joins gothic morbidity at the nether pole of this literary topography.” (17)