"Queer is Hardly Just Who You Sleep With": Q&A with Masha Tupitsyn
Masha Tupitsyn writes about film, feminism, love, and being human in a media-drenched culture. Her new book, Love Dog, is a multimedia print version of a one-year blog project on love. The text is interspersed with film stills, URLs for movie clips and music videos, and more.
Love Dog feels like (one version of) what a book should be right now—a print text that's constantly in conversation with other texts and people and mediums.
Reading the book means following links elsewhere: watching clips of Say Anything and Bresson's Lancelot du lac, listening to love songs on YouTube, and reading dialogue from Wong Kar-wai films, then turning back to the book to see how Tupitsyn describes deep (and often disturbing) connections between all manner of cultural stimuli in an extended plea for deeper connection of all kinds. Tupitsyn is a serious intellectual and a passionate romantic, a critic who knows that criticism is a form of radical love. Ever serious but never dry, she fuses pop-culture critique, philosophy, and personal essay, and flits between different schools of feminist thought to ultimately offer a syncretistic, idiosyncratic feminism that feels hard won and very much her own.
JESSICA HOFFMAN: From your first book, Beauty Talk & Monsters, to Love Dog, I've been fascinated by how you write about gender roles in straight romantic/sexual relationships. I always feel like, on one hand, you are relentlessly focused on heterosexuality, and, on the other hand, you question and deeply consider gender roles and straight relationships in a way that feels very subversive, I want to say queer.
MASHA TUPITSYN: I don't think I focus on it to the exclusion of queer desire or sexuality, or that you can't be heterosexual and queer at the same time. I focus on heterosexual gender roles in capitalist patriarchy in all of its subtle and complex forms. I am also very interested in how masculinity works. At the end of the day my sexual relationships are with men and we live in a sexist society, so my focus is on how that dynamic/desire intersects with social and cultural norms, as well as how I experience those clashes and convergences as a feminist intellectual who is interested in radical love.
Queer is hardly just who you sleep with (it's more like how), so we need to get past those simple reductions. I don't think heterosexuality is always the same as heteronormativity, just as I don't think being gay is inherently radical anymore. I don't see a lot of relationship alternatives on offer even by gay culture these days.
Real love is queer when it's not purely tied to heteronormative status symbols, like marriage and children and the social arrangements that make it an acceptable project. As feminists we are mostly only allowed to talk about desire because desire is seen as transgressive and love is seen as old-fashioned. But I don't agree with that, and neither do other contemporary philosophers of love like bell hooks and Badiou.
Why did you choose a multimedia format to write about love?
With Love Dog something happened to me: I met someone, it rattled me to the core, and I felt called upon to write about it in some roundabout, uncategorizable way that would still examine all the other social, political, and philosophical issues that I have always been concerned with. Tumblr allowed me to write the kind of interactive, associative, experimental, and discursive criticism that I have always wanted to write and that directly responds to the digital structure that now informs and organizes our lives.
[Love Dog is the second in] a trilogy of writing on the Internet that began with LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film. It was the first book of film criticism written entirely on Twitter, and an exercise in criticism as a form of living. I did not know that [these books] would be part of a trilogy. I only knew that these projects were bigger than me just tweeting and blogging, that I had no interest in using social media without making some kind of critical intervention.
You write in Love Dog, "The camera is always on, so how do we live?" In particular, Love Dog often looks at how gender roles are presented in pop culture. For example, you wrote "As Seen on TV," one of my favorite entries in the book, after watching the "Independent Woman" episode of the PBS documentary America in Primetime. In it you talk about Don Draper, reality TV, the women of Grey's Anatomy, and a whole host of other TV representations of women's, and men's, lives. How do pop-culture stories about gender shape how we love?
The feminist scholar Susan Bordo writes, "We live in an empire ruled not by kings or even presidents, but images," which means media is part of everyone's life in increasingly pervasive and profound ways. Secondly, sexism is everybody's problem, just like feminism, to quote bell hooks, is for everybody. As hooks noted in a Bitch interview once, the dominant/subordinate paradigm is continually practiced by both men and women, in both straight relationships and gay relationships.
I really saw that in Blue Valentine. Ryan Gosling—whose family, not career and male status, is his life, in a way that has always been seen as normal for women—is shamed and warped, and worse, conflated with male domination and misogyny. And I realized, Oh, we really can't see the difference. We've mixed everything up. We're as threatened by the emotionally honest and accessible man as we are by the cold and withholding man (Cindy's father) and the abusive misogynist (Cindy's violent ex). And when a man is open and vulnerable, the woman is cold and withholding. (Watch an illustrative clip from Blue Valentine here.)
On one hand, film narratives describe the powerful longing we have for love and connection, but film continually gives us devastating examples of what love looks like. It rarely imagines or describes an alternative. So how are we going to work through this? That's what I am asking, for others and for myself.
What's your take on the relationship/s between feminism and romanticism?
I don't see feminism and romanticism as contradictory. That's why I wanted to embolden the female romantic in Love Dog. It's one of the reasons I revive the trope of female knighthood and chivalry that Kathy Acker summons in Don Quixote, which also features a love dog! In the book I begin one entry with this Acker quote: "…she conceived of the most insane idea that any woman can think of. Which is to love." It's the ethos of the book. Women are supposed to be the ones on the balcony, not the ones down below professing their love. We don't think the female romantic is romantic. We think she is a predator. We think she is desperate, unstable—Fatal Attraction, the cougar, the spinster, the troublemaker. But deep emotion in this age is a radical act.
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