The Anti-Logos Weapon: Excesses of Meaning and Subjectivity in Mezangelle Poetry

1 December 2011

Mezangelle poetry is a form of electronic code poetry popularized by the avatarised avant-gardist, Australian multimedia artist Mez Breeze, a.k.a. Mez, a.k.a. Netwurker. The word mezangelle is adjective, noun and verb: mezangelle can refer to or describe the language in which Mez’s codeworks are written, while to mezangelle is to use, and operate within, this language. I would also argue that to mezangelle can also mean to engage more broadly with what N. Katherine Hayles has described as ‘experiments in multiple and interrelated semiotic systems’ N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature: page 22. as part of a boundary-disrupting play between natural human language and machine-readable code.

A close reading of mezangelle texts is interesting in itself; however, in this case I would like to deploy a wider reading of Mez’s works in order to draw out some of the feminist (and particularly poststructuralist feminist) implications of such linguistic play. In this spirit, I readily admit that, in this article I am only initially playing with these ideas, although I hope that my experiments may form the basis for further discovery.

In ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, Hélène Cixous calls for woman (that troubling universal feminine) to ‘write and thus to forge for herself the anti-logos weapon,’ in order to undermine the cultural privilege of phallogocentrism. It is arguable that Western culture, and particularly Western literary culture, remains to a great extent entrapped in the phallogocentric mode — privileging, in equal and interrelated ways, the autonomous male subject and the autonomous signifying word (the word that is tied to a single meaning, the logical logos). For Cixous, writing against this mode would entail the destruction of the binaries of masculine/feminine and logic/illogic and their replacement with a fluid, dynamic interplay of desire:

to want the two, as well as both, the ensemble of the one and the other, not fixed in sequences of struggle and expulsion or some form of death but infinitely dynamized by an incessant process of exchange from one subject to another. A process of different subjects knowing one another and beginning one another anew only from the living boundaries of the other: a multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of encounters and transformations of the same into the other and into the in-between …

This ‘in-between’ significantly disrupts both the dominance of the authoritative signifier, the word whose meaning is fixed and singular, and that of the autonomous, self-identical subject (by all accounts a Cartesian oversimplification). The in-between stands for the human subject whose identity is ever-changing (for example, in-between the binary determinations of gender), and for the fluid signifiers the meanings of which are indeterminate and which stand in-between comprehensibility and nonsense, logic and illogic.

It is clear that the dual operations of phallogocentrism — assuring the dominance of both phallos and logos — are closely connected, by means of the privileging of certain binary terms over their opposites. In language, logic is privileged over illogic, and these terms are associated, respectively, with their sexual counterparts: the male and female, masculine and feminine, phallus and vagina. The latter term in each pair is subordinated to the former, and the feminine is associated with illogicality along with any number of other subordinate terms: the body that is subordinate to the mind, the domestic that is less valued than the public, the fluid that is coded as unpleasant or unruly in relation to the culturally favourable solid. Indeed, feminine embodiment, domesticity, and fluidity (both physical and psychological) have been given significant attention in feminist literature in the past half-century.

This division between the fluid and the solid is linked by theorists such as Elizabeth Grosz to the binary division between the masculine and the feminine. Grosz makes the claim that ‘there remains a broadly common coding of the female body as a body which leaks, which bleeds, which is at the mercy of hormonal and reproductive functions’ and, as such, is caught up in a play of indeterminacy—the female body is constantly, and in many ways unpredictably, changing. Conversely, the male body, and particularly the phallus, has traditionally been coded as solid, self-identical and unchangeable, the dominating force that gives value to and defines the feminine and the model for psychoanalytic lack. Grosz suggests that the feminine experience of fluidity has been devalued by the phallicisation of the masculine body, which serves to solidify the threateningly pervasive qualities of flow that are experiences by all bodies regardless of sex. By effacing the fluid aspects of the body and by extension of the self, and by treating the male body as solid and self-contained, psychoanalytic and medical discourses shift the characteristics of permeability, openness, and more loaded characteristics of infectiousness and contamination, to be exclusively feminine. The root of this problem is the division of binary terms, and the solution is a reclamation of the positive value of the fluid, not as the opposite of the solid but as something that can fill the spaces between the binary terms and join them into what Cixous has termed ‘a moving, limitlessly changing ensemble,’ or what Deleuze and Guattari describe as an ‘assemblage’.

Following this thread of Grosz’s work, particularly in Volatile Bodies, I would suggest that both feminist and poststructuralist thought—via Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray on the one hand and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari on the other—are committed to overcoming phallogocentrism and binary logic by means of a philosophy of flow. In particular, it is Irigaray who makes the connection between the feminine and the pleasurable, stating that ‘[f]eminine pleasure has to remain inarticulate in language, in its own language, if it is not to threaten the underpinnings of logical operations’. Here, the feminine is allied with the inarticulate, that which is invisible under a phallogocentric regime that privileges logos. To dismantle logos, a feminist jouissance needs to be articulated — rather than simply answering masculine logic with its opposite, the feminist text needs to flow between these two poles, in a perpetual play of desire and deferral. Flow is, in this model, that which goes beyond or surpassed the binary, the ‘disruptive excess … that exceeds common sense’.

By adopting a philosophy of flow as part of contemporary literary criticism, it will be possible to follow Elizabeth Grosz in her project of ‘regarding the body [both the physical body of the subject and the textual corpus] as the threshold or borderline concept that hovers perilously and undecidably at the pivotal point of binary pairs’. In the case of mezangelle poetry, the text stands at a liminal point between sense and nonsense, logic and illogic, playing between these poles without privileging, or even admitting allegiance to, either extreme. As such, the poetic corpus fits into the Deleuzo-Guattarian model of the Body-without-Organs (BwO), which ‘is always swinging between the surfaces that stratify it and the plane that sets it free’ and which cannot be constrained by one unchanging position or composition. Perhaps unfortunately, the body can never completely destratify, can never fully attain the ideal fluidity divorced from the stratifications and crystallisations of socially-imposed orthodoxy. However, a body in continual movement is in fact favourable to the fully stratified organism on the one hand and the fully fluid, empty, and ‘catastrophic’ body on the other. The continual swinging between multiple positions, the deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation that does not reach an end, allows the BwO to function as the in-between, the dynamic assemblage that both encompasses and surpasses the poles of binary pairs.

On a metatextual level, Mez’s use of authorial avatars for her work can be seen as a movement between various positions (the name as position, the website as position), as well as between various models of selfhood that are all divorced from what would generally be considered the ‘real’. As I have already intimated, Mez is known variously as Mary-Ann Breeze, Mez Breeze, Mez, or Netwurker, depending on the context in which she is encountered — for example, she often self-referentially codes her authorial self as Mez in her works, signing on or off by that name, while Netwurker is her handle or username on websites including LiveJournal and Twitter. As well as this referential avatarism — the act of changing names — Mez also undertakes a great deal of her art practice within two-dimensional virtual space, for example her work with the group Third Faction, who operate within the massively multiplayer online game World Of Warcraft. The stated aim of Third Faction is ‘exposing binary systems in Synthetic Environments,’ and it is arguable that one of the binary systems thus exposed is the natural/synthetic divide, the division between real life and game life. Third Faction seeks to bring real-world ethics into a game world that quite significantly constrains character behaviour and endeavours to force specifically confrontational player-vs-player interaction[ref]A poignant example of the problematic morality of competitive online gaming can be seen in the ‘World of Warcraft Funeral Raid.’ Members of the Horde faction were holding an in-game memorial for a deceased player when Alliance player-characters attacked the funeral en-masse. This example, and the discussion which followed it, demonstrates the disjunction between ‘playing by the rules’, i.e. fighting members of the opposing team, and respecting the rights of the inhabitants of the game world. In contrast, one example of Third Faction’s non-combative projects is /hug or SlashHug, in which Third Faction members ‘bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield’ by providing aid to injured player-characters regardless of in-game alliances of race or faction.

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2 Responses to The Anti-Logos Weapon: Excesses of Meaning and Subjectivity in Mezangelle Poetry

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