Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Materiality of Hypomania

Guest Post by Alan S. Montroso

“Imagining human corporeality as trans-corporeality, in which the human is always intermeshed with the more-than-human world, underlines the extent to which the substance of the human is ultimately inseparable from ‘the environment’” 
Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures, 2


Crip Materiality, Part 1

When M invited me to contribute a guest-post to her blog for the second time, I decided I would challenge myself to overcome my reticence and write about my experiences being bipolar. I assumed I could approach the topic from a safe critical distance and examine the deeply personal with a sterilizing scholasticism.

I’ve started this post at least 8 times; I have pages and pages of notes, critical theory texts scattered around the house, I even have 3 of those sentences that so urgently need to manifest themselves they often spring to mind when one is performing the most quotidian tasks (you know, the sentences that wake you up at 3 in the morning, much to the dismay of your partner who must deal with your suddenly turning on the bedside light and frantically scrambling for pen and paper that you swore you left on the bed-stand just so you can scrawl that all-too-perfect sentence that won’t seem half so genius in the light of morning, the sentences that compel you to leap out of the shower still dripping wet and leaving a trail of water into your office just because you needed to write that baby down before you started skewing the syntax…). 

Yet I continue to find myself paralyzed, unable to progress beyond notes and sexy sentences. The thing is, I can’t be clinical about this, I can’t keep it professional, because it is NOT professional, because it is the total messiness of being manic depressive and there is no way to “come out” as bipolar that is tidy.

Sure, many of my notes and much of my plotting will likely manifest themselves here; as you can glean from the title above, I want to talk about the materiality of my hypomanic episodes. Not because it offers a safe critical distance, but because I am deeply curious about the ways in which my illness both affects and is affected by my environment, and by blogging about some of my experiences I am giving myself the opportunity to reflect on the topic and (hopefully) initiate a conversation. Also, while it is true that, as a bipolar person, I experience a great deal of depression and anxiety, I feel that those moods are far more frequently addressed and better understood than hypomania; therefore I plan to limit this exploration to my experiences with the up-swings of my disorder.

I must also add that, while I do still experience episodes of hypomania and depression, thanks to pharmaceutical intervention and a great deal of therapy, I am quite stable, I have been for years. Sure, there are times when my symptoms are severe enough that they challenge my ability to function at my very best, but I now have ways of coping with and overcoming those disabilities. 

Sadly, I must say this because I cannot have colleagues and future professional contacts assume that my being bipolar will somehow limit my performance as an academic, or think that I am a liability, or needy, or that the unpredictable nature of my bipolar episodes make me fickle, unmanageable and unreliable. I’m likely being overly cautious, but I haven’t had to “come out” since high school, and somehow coping with being a gay teen in Texas in the late 90s and early 2000s felt much safer than coming out bipolar as an adult.

Now, after a preface that might very well be longer than the body of this post (turns out, it isn’t), I commence:



Mental illnesses are, for the most part, invisible. Unlike race, gender, sexuality, disability, and other biologically reductive categories of difference which often include at least one distinctly visible element in their too limiting and too condemning definitions, one cannot identify the mentally ill by the tone of their skin, the curve of an Adam’s apple, a crutch or a wheelchair. Consequently, it is only too easy to limit the conversation about mental illness to the realm and language of phenomenology. Yet, I argue that there is a salient material quality to the experience of bipolar disorder, and to the hypomanic episode in particular, both in the ways the environment contributes to the shifting of moods and the ways that episodes manifest themselves in the things surrounding the hypomanic person.

I ought to offer something of a definition of my illness before I proceed. The DSM IV divides bipolar disorder into two distinct classifications, so creatively dubbed “Bipolar I” and “Bipolar II.” I belong to the second category. What this means is that I oscillate between episodes of depression and hypomania, with (hopefully) long periods of non-disturbed stasis between. The depressions can be crippling, perhaps even more so for a bipolar person since they often proceed from a manic state and, thus, the plunge into the stygian bowels of melancholy (blame the purple prose on my being a Lovecraft fan-boy) is so much deeper; but, as I mentioned above, I feel depression is addressed often enough that, although I am happy to contribute to the discussion at a future time, I am going to limit this blog-post to details about hypomania.

So, what the hell is hypomania, and why the “hypo”? There are a number of criteria for recognizing hypomania, which include elevated mood, hyperactivity, racing thoughts and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities (yes, this does often translate as an especially dynamic and enthusiastic libido). Unlike the full manic episode, which can result in aggression, psychosis and hallucinations, hypomania occasionally goes unnoticed by the individual experiencing it since many of its symptoms are pleasurable and do not always detract from a fully-functioning lifestyle. Hypomania can be marked by an increase in productivity, bursts of creativity, and a general sense of euphoria; for these reasons (I hope), I have actually heard people claim they wish they could experience a manic episode every now and again. And, to be honest, a hypomania is not always a regrettable or unpleasant experience.

Although it is rare, a hypomanic state can develop into a full manic episode if left untreated, or, as in my case, the decreased need for sleep (oh yes, add that as a criterion above) becomes an utter rejection of sleep, engendering a psychotic break (it is likely that the details of my one encounter with psychosis never come to light). And, even with the prefix “hypo” attached, the bipolar upswing can be jarring enough to interrupt the status quo of one’s being and profoundly alter the way one engages the world. Hyperactivity is often accompanied by increased anxiety, the need to get things done (often one specific task at which the hypomanic is convinced he is more proficient than everyone else at performing) becomes compulsion and a neglect of other vital quotidian activities, the racing thoughts erupt as verbal ejaculations of things you never, ever would have said before, and that enthusiastic libido…well…there are consequences to that as well (consequences I do NOT plan to address in this blog post).

But let’s return to that notion of materiality. When I am hypomanic, I am (insert idiom like “larger than life,” or “on top of the world” here). I feel connected, more connected than normal, to my environment and the objects that people it. I expand into the world; I am no longer flows but floods, no longer paths but highways, no longer flights but the goddamned curve of space-time that allows such movements to occur. Or, so I think. After many successful (if not always painless) returns from my journeys to planet grandiosity, I am able to reflect on the ways in which, for those days or weeks, hypomania disrupted my normal flows, created new paths and let me fly into the real, porous, pressing, vibrant, desiring materiality with which I create a trans-corporeal being. Henceforth, I am going to examine just a few of the ways, some subtle, some less so, in which my hypomanic being has affected and been affected by my environment. 


Vestum; or, Sartorial Symptoms 

One of the greatest challenges as a bipolar person is coping with the fact that I approach the world from 3 vastly distinct perspectives; depressed Alan encounters the world at a different pace, under a different light, from an angle almost incomprehensible to the hypomanic me. For this reason, it is common for bipolar folks to develop unique identities for each of the different mood states. I will henceforth refer to these “identities” as “avatars,” since I think the word “identity” is just too connotative for my purposes (FYI, psychiatric literature does, in fact, refer to these discrete bundles of personality traits as identities).

Although I’ve worked with my therapist for years to consolidate these vastly divergent personas into a more coherent being, traces, remnants and shadows of these avatars often make themselves known to me when I swing up or down. And these me’s really are quite different; they enjoy different music, have different taste in cinema, walk with a different gait, enjoy waking at different hours of the day, and I’m pretty sure that, should my depressed and hypomanic avatars meet each other at a bar, the depressed me would be disgusted by the gregariousness of hypomanic me, and the hypomanic me would find the depressed me too dreary and moribund to continue conversation (under what circumstances these two would end up at the same bar, apart from its being the last bar on earth, I can’t really imagine). However, so many of these experiences are internal, phenomenal, and mental; thus, to the casual observer or close friend alike, what must be the most obvious and visually apparent difference between my avatars is their divergent wardrobes.

Clothing is, of course, a deeply potent semiotic system; one’s attire may carry some ritual significance, may help unify a cultural group, announce socio-economic status, etc. For a bipolar person, this visual system helps mark the dramatic shift into a depressed or hypomanic episode; clothing announces the arrival of an avatar. When I am stable and/or depressed, my wardrobe selection is often dominated by the symbolic value of the clothing (does this outfit express my gloominess? Will this outfit pass as ‘high class’ at the restaurant? Does it look like I spent an hour putting together this ensemble, because I want to look like I wasn’t trying at all…) And there is certainly a symbolic element to the selection process when I am hypomanic; the desire to be connected to everything and everyone and the need to do so as swiftly as possible often means putting together costumes that will coerce others to gravitate towards me.

However, what is unique to the sartorial experience of my hypomanic avatar is the fact that the textile, the fabric of the clothing, is the single most important qualification in the selection process. When I am hypomanic, I cannot wear synthetic materials. Polyester, nylon, rayon; my skin recoils from these materials, as though it can only tolerate union with organic matter. If it’s not 100% cotton or linen, I can’t bear to have it touch my flesh (I recognize that there are other organic textiles, such as wool or hemp, but I will not wear wool for ethical reasons, and hemp…well…during a hypomanic episode in my youth, I found myself deeply entrenched in a university hippie culture, doing things I subsequently found so deeply unsettling that the slightest whiff of nag champa or the reverberations of a drum circle and I am instantly revolted and cowed by shame; hence, no hemp). My somatic responses to synthetics include itching, sweating and, occasionally, minor rashes, but I do not have any diagnosed chemical sensitivity and these reactions only occur when I am in a hypomanic state. Although I recognize that most clothing-related dermatitis emerges from allergies to the dyes and resins which are just as likely to be present in organic textiles as inorganic ones, synthetic fibers are less breathable, less porous, and more likely to trap sweat and bacteria; thus it is likely that the impermeable quality of synthetic clothing affects my dermal reaction during hypomania.



As much as my flesh is hypersensitive to inorganic textiles during a hypomanic episode, I have also, in the past, become keenly aware of the presence of other, often invisible, toxins and pollutants that flood our environments. It was during a hypomania that I first developed the desire to consume primarily organic produce; I was sure I could taste the harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides and noted an improvement in my energy and mood when I started eating organic foods (sure, the elevated mood was just as likely a consequence of the hypomania). I became an impassioned (albeit inept) gardener, convinced I simply couldn’t trust the food on grocery store shelves. I also gathered numerous houseplants because I felt stifled by the pollutants in the air of my very old home and trusted Sansevieria trifasciata, Chlorophytum comosum, and aloe to clear the formaldehyde and carbon monoxide I knew was invading my lungs.

Before this becomes too much a piece of eco-criticism, let me contend that it isn’t all about somatic responses to invisible environmental pollutants; often my hypomanic avatar just demands a drastic change of scenery. Our domiciles and the things we keep in them have profound influences on our moods, perhaps more so to the hypomanic who is constantly evaluating the way his environment shapes and marks his personality (I choose the pronoun “his” only because most of my generalizations about bipolar disorder are based on my personal experiences). Over the years I have learned to keep plenty of framed images in my home so I can change out the pictures when the need to redecorate overcomes me. Sometimes I am deeply affected by color; feeling increasingly agitated by the white walls in a rental home, I rushed out and too hurriedly smeared crimson paint all over my living room to create a more warm and womb-like atmosphere. During a recent hypomania, I felt oppressed by the sterile light of compact fluorescent bulbs and replaced most of the lights in my home with those energy-hungry Edison bulbs. Often I develop a sudden interest in a film genre or historical era and embellish my home with associated paraphernalia; other times I find the presence of excessive ornamentation over-stimulating and find comfort in a more Spartan existence.

Occasionally my hypomanic responses to my surroundings are marked by agitation and hostility. This becomes much more difficult to describe, but, often particular environments, familiar ones, suddenly become repugnant to me. I shun favorite restaurants because I suddenly have distaste for a cuisine I typically enjoy; I avoid grocery and drug stores because I notice too many SUVs in the parking lots; I can’t go to a favorite park because the trees are in artificial rows (or, during another hypomania, I avoided a different park because the trees were too oppressively close together). I’ve become intimidated by activities I generally find pleasurable and sought solace in places I’d formerly avoided. Although one benefit to all this tumult and anxiety is that I’ve opened and discovered new trajectories, I have to admit that such seemingly capriciousness and inconstancy has been an immense challenge for my partner with whom I share my life’s adventures.


Vocal Matters and Shameful Speech-Acts 

During a hypomanic state, racing thoughts often erupt as a violent current of speech I am incapable of restricting. Vocalizations might race from my mouth so quickly that the words are unintelligible, or (and much more regrettably), I lose the ability to filter the content and often relate personal details and share private anecdotes that are horribly embarrassing. After some of my more severe and unchecked hypomanic episodes I would work to sever my social relations and try to recede from view to avoid shame. Also, after a hypomania, I find myself with far more friends than I can maintain (the thing is, when you share incredibly personal details, people assume that you feel very close to them, that you are reaching out and establishing a bond of trust, because no one would share that kind of information with a stranger or casual acquaintance, right?) and feel burdened by either the effort requisite to maintain these new friendships or the uncomfortable severing of ties to people with whom I have no desire to perpetuate a relationship.

The voice itself, regardless of whether or not its utterances are meaningful, is a material manifestation of the hypomanic episodes. My voice increases and expands my presence in the world by establishing new flows and charting new cartographic territory. It is an extra-bodily part of my being that does real work by manifesting my presence in the space beyond my corporeal frame. Thus, the verbal effusions that occur during my hypomanic episodes are less important for the signifiers they bear and more valuable as a tool to broaden my being-in the world. I’m reminded of Jeffrey Cohen’s chapter on Margery Kempe in Medieval Identity Machines; JJC argues (and will forgive my incredibly reductive summary) that Kempe’s weeping serves as a means to enter into or disrupt various discourses from which she has been excluded. The rapid-fire verbal ejaculations of my hypomanias function similarly; they flood the various discourses from which I have likely excluded myself in past acts of self-exile during depressive episodes.

The racing thoughts that agitate my speech-acts and vocal presence also manifest themselves in my writing by way of parentheses. Years ago I discovered that I used parentheses far, far more often when I was in a hypomanic state than when I was stabilized or depressed. The thing about racing thoughts is, well, they are RACING and it is often too difficult to filter through them and determine which thoughts might be valid, relevant or important, and which are just superfluous noise. The solution to this is to write EVERYTHING, including those thoughts which, when hypomanic, I am unable to determine whether or not they are worth sharing. Thus, this extra bit of noise, these parasitic thoughts, manifest in my writing as an overabundance of parenthetical commentary. And I am generally comfortable with that, because this surplus, this noise that floods the space between the parentheses, makes a text more capacious and more inclusive.



While my depressed avatar works to disconnect itself from social and material flows during its egocentric melancholia, my hypomanic self feverishly establishes relations with as many objects as possible, attempting to suppress the cogito as it becomes more contiguous with its environment. Because of this increased networking with objects outside my corporeal limits, my hypomanic episodes leave so much material debris (to say nothing of the immaterial consequences, like the financial debt so many bipolar folk find themselves struggling with after grandiosity-fueled spending sprees). Possessions, relationships, skills; red walls, a closet filled with once-worn clothing, a back yard of half-cared –for vegetables; my world is constantly ornamented by the residue of my hypomanic episodes.

Continued on... 
Alan S. Montroso

Alan S. Montroso is an alliteration-appreciating, aspiring academic who presently resides in a noxious and occasionally noisome niche of northeast Ohio. Formerly a Jude the Obscure type, Alan will soon be enrolling in a graduate program somewhere much closer to the Atlantic Ocean where he plans to study critical theory, eco-materialism and medieval literature.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kids From Yesterday, Today: Shakespeare & New Moon

"You only live forever in the lights you make
When we were young we used to say
That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break
Now we are the kids from yesterday, today"

Danger Days, MCR

Working in trans, queer, and disability theory in the field of medieval literature, I have found myself compulsively seeking what Eve Sedgwick calls "reparative readings" of rejected persons, narratives, cultures, and even time periods. I have come to firmly believe that a smart reader makes a book smarter. While Twilight has been a public success, it remains an abject or guilty pleasure for many serious academics. In many respects, however, the things that attract readers to Twilight queerly reflect much of the allure of medieval literature; including shared relations to time, conflicts and magical realisms. Pulling Twilight and Medieval-Early Modern Literature together becomes not only a queer project of appropriating from the mainline but a medieval project of messing with the archive. Enjoy!


As I continue to read forward through the Twilight Saga, I keep getting pulled backward towards childhood and beyond, to ages that I don't remember and cannot reach without the aid of another; in this case, Shakespeare. Engaging with the English playwrights sonnet sequence in the context of queer embodiments, Aranye Fradenburg has invited me, through her contribution to Shakesqueer, "Momma's Boys," into a meditation on Power, Instability and Absence, which Resonates with my reading of the second book in the Twilight Saga, New Moon.

If in the Teen and 'Tween (or Middle) Ages we are stuck between reaching to exercise our own agency and being supervised or dominated by a parental figure, then Childhood or Early/Pre-M(e) Ages may be defined by an anxiety over the loss or impending loss of the Parent/Dom/Love-Object. In New Moon, Bella receives what many of her readers may have wished for her in the first book, an escape from her Vampire-stalker, Edward. The sudden loss is however shattering to her pysche and alters her liveliness. Likewise, as Fradenburg notes, Shakespeare's sonnets are steeped in the anxiety for a lost care-giver and lover, which has in turn, become imprinted on the childish poet.

The description and marketing of Twilight has struck an ironic chord between the youth market and their "mothers." While I will abstain from defining the gender parameters of the book's readership so starkly, I will agree that the book functions within a logic of (managing/engaging) childishness. Stephenie Meyer, Twilight's author, admits to writing the book "with one kid on my knee and another at my feet." Shakespeare too freely directs his sonnets here to a "youth" and there to a "dark lady" which is simultaneously casts as both lover and mother. What comes from the loss of our vampire, our domme, our lady at a tender age?


"Many of my students" writes Fradenburg on Shakespeare's Sonnets, "find Will childish and narcissistic (he wines endlessly, he should get over it, he's a loser). We are often not comfortable when we see the infantile in the grown-up. But I argue that is exactly the view the Sonnet's permit" (F 321). Certainly Shakespeare appears very locked, compelled, out of (self) control in the Sonnets. Yet, is this so surprising? If many of them are about Love and Time/Aging, then are we not exactly situated among things which appear by definition to challenge our self-governance? Eros and Thanatos, well before Freud, are marked as checking the Will with powers outside of himself/itself.

Those that give us Life and those that give us Death, are not so easy to distinguish. Feeling with the childish Will, Fradenburg admits on one side (such as in Sonnet 110), "How could we not fall in love with those who give us life -- as we seek in turn to vivify those we love?" (325); and on the other (such as in Sonnet 35).  "Attachment happens whether or not children are well treated. Abused kids often defend their parents and fear being taken from them. Attachment may ensure survival, but... it is not designed to make us happy" (324). As those familiar with Sub/Dom or Age play, a Sub/Little may most love their Dom/Big when they are disciplining them.

Such a binding together of the self and the other, wherein the absence of one may mean the dissolution of the other, can have tragic consequences, as the Sonnets demonstrate. Shakespeare's Sonnet 143, which Fradenburg uses to introduce her essay, concludes with a desire for the absent mother to return so as to silence the desire/life of the infant: "Turn back to me, / and play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind: / So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will / if thou turn back, and my loud crying still" (Sonnet 143). There is a desire for the absent thing which can grow into a desire for absence itself. The depart inspire an uncontrollable feeling of being "parted" oneself, and that the remains of your life are no longer sustainable. In this case, the attainment of the beloved or else destruction (or both) seem to become two overwhelming trajectories. One cannot help but hear in this resonance, the plot and words of Romeo and Juliet, which begins Meyer's second book.


"These violent delights have violent ends / and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / which, as they kiss, consume," are the lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that open New Moon (II. VI). The book itself becomes structured along the lines of the play of these foolish children that cannot seem to wait, with the exile of the beloved (Edward/Romeo), opening up an opportunity for the alternative suitor (Jacob/Paris) to come in and offer up a more sustainable lifestyle, but which in the eyes of the lover (Bella/Juliet) is such an overwhelming loss that she contemplates and even feigns suicide (via jumping off a cliff/drugging), which is mistranslated to the absent lover by an unreliable source (Balthasar/Roselie), compelling the lover to attempt to take his life (via suicide by cop/poisoning). 

While this is on one hand, perhaps, a reductive allegorical reading of New Moon, it is openly invited by the book. The play is referenced throughout the book, with Bella reading it in school and at home, as she fawns over Edward; and Bella goes as far as to call Jacob her "Paris," a point which Meyer underlines by making that the chapter title.

Beyond the obvious, however, and bringing in Fradenburg's reading of Shakespeare as childish, we might find resonance between the Sub/Child author of the Sonnets and Bella. This consuming desire for the Powerful Dom/Parent, whether present or absent, is consistently marked by tradition as "inappropriate," writes Fradenburg, "for someone thirty years older [or in Bella's case, Edward is nearly 100 years older], thirty years younger [or 100 years younger]. The kind of love that makes a fool, a pervert, a stalker out of you" (F 317). The love certainly seems to make a stalker out of Edward (who even watches her while she sleeps), and consistently makes a fool out of Bella (so much it can be hard to read).

One of the central things which propel and participate in Bella's madness/foolishness/childishness during Edward's absence and removal of domination, is that he has become so inscribed in her psyche/being that she hears a phantom of his voice speaking to her. "Sonnets are about the way others live in our minds" writes Fradenburg, and perhaps Edward's infamous Lullaby for Bella, which he sings for her and which she replays, functions in a similar way after he is gone; "if you are alive in my mind -- or, rather, if that is where I have to talk to you, you are probably not around. But this is not just about controlling the locomotions of the other by incorporating them; it is about the way representation allows us to maintain and create links with people we cannot be with" (F 325). Indeed, it is the desire for hearing Edwards phantasmal voice that propels Bella to instigate them by foolish, dangerous acts, such as the jump from the cliff which results in Edward attempting suicide.

Of course, in Bella's case, unlike Juliet's, she is able to get to her beloved in time to prevent him from destroying himself. As a result, Edward returns (or turns back) like the "dark lady" in Shakespeare's sonnets and "silences" her crying by giving her both Love and Death simultaneously: he turns her into a vampire. The exchange comes along with a promise of marriage, so that for this child, she exists in a state of UnLife: caught between perpetual desire and destruction, Submission and Domination, childishness (Edward will ever be 17 years old and Bella 18) and age (they will live forever). In a sense, she comes to occupy (through the powers of supernatural vampirism) what Juliet and Shakespeare cannot: a paradox of sustaining and culminating opposites and being a kid from yesterday, today.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Undeath in the Tween Years: Chaucer & Twilight

"They're gonna clean up your looks 
with all the lies in the books...
They said all teenagers scare the living shit out of me
They could care less as long as someone'll bleed
So darken your clothes or strike a violent pose.
Maybe they will leave you alone, but not me"

Teenagers, MCR

Working in trans, queer, and disability theory in the field of medieval literature, I have found myself compulsively seeking what Eve Sedgwick calls "reparative readings" of rejected persons, narratives, cultures, and even time periods. I have come to firmly believe that a smart reader makes a book smarter. While Twilight has been a public success, it remains an abject or guilty pleasure for many serious academics. In many respects, however, the things that attract readers to Twilight queerly reflect much of the allure of medieval literature; including shared relations to time, conflicts and magical realisms. Pulling Twilight and Medieval-Early Modern Literature together becomes not only a queer project of appropriating from the mainline but a medieval project of messing with the archive. Enjoy!


Tween & Middle Ages

The teen years are not so far behind me that habits that grew up in that time of my life have totally transformed into their young adult version. Conversely, the experience of being a teen is not so enveloping of my day to day experience that I cannot see forests for the trees.

That said, spending my spring break dipping into the popular fiction of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (conveniently passed the time in which reading it would be significant and I will be able to be more charitable in my reading of the book) and the Prioress's Tale has brought up memories of a perspective that has lost a degree of intensity (although by no means relevancy) in my current circumstances: the experience of occupying a vulnerable position of power.

Living alongside Bella Swan as she began to be courted and dominated by Edward Cullen proved to be far less objectionable than I had anticipated. Asking myself why I am not more offended by the blatant chauvinism and stalker-like behavior of Edward, I came up with the answer, “well, isn’t that how any dom(inant), of any gender, would behave towards their sub(missive)?” Coming from a queer theoretical and subcultural perspective, the particularity of the Bella/Edward story resonated with the S(ub)/D(om) world I knew.

Indeed I'm not the first person to make the connection between the Twilight romance and Sub/Dom culuture, as evidenced by E.L. James, citing it as the inspiration for her book series 50 Shades of Grey.



Indeed, calling it a “resonance” rather than a representation, I feel does more justice to the literature as well as to the readership. Rather than pining down the book’s meaning or making it stand in for all male/female, all heterosexual, all human/non-human, all dom & sub, all x & y relationships allows the book to live and retreat into its own particularity which resists being instilled as an allegory or meta-story. It loses deific power as the universal love-story at the same time as it loses its demonic power as the universal story of patriarchal dominance. 

Instead, via resonance “something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there. A body that resonates does so according to its own mode” (the I.C., the Coming Insurrection 12).

The Invisible Committee’s (the I.C.) concept of resonance as a revolutionary mode, functions well as a mode of literary scholarship, because it allows us to bracket the question of direct causal or representative story-telling; i.e. Bella does not submit to Edward because she is a woman and he is a man, or because she is a sub and he is a dom, because she is a human and he is a vampire, because she is a X-ist and he is a Y-ist --- rather, Bella’s submission exists in its own world and may resonate with the experience of a human, submissive woman elsewhere but was not written as a result, as a cause, or any other direct reaction to her experience. 

“[Resonance] is not like a plague or a forest fire --- a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density” (I.C. 12-13).

Bella (in Twilight), Sub/Dom Culture, the Coming Insurrection, and myself, all resonate together through this reading (as the very form of this reading), in part because we are all concerned about power. Each of us exist as submissive bodies that yearn for dominance or else to become dominant, but experience our position in relation to power as ever under threat, as unstable, inconstant, and contingent.


Teen Vampires

The experience of the Sub, the Teenager, and the Human strike a common chord: here we are regarded as powerful, but always with the permission of something else, there we are outright dominated, and ever in both and between there is a sense that our power might be taken away.

The Dominants, Parents, the Vampire, may give us room to stand with them as equals but the moment that we move counter to their wishes for us, they might insist on their privilege over us to bring us back in line. We have power insofar as other powers abstain from exercising their power and desire over us. The Scholar, like the Doms, the 'Rents, the Vamps, desires the submissive body to be independent but fears that it might run too far away or get into danger, thus putting them beyond our power to feed off their life-blood and affection.

Edward’s hold on Bella, keeping her close and yet resistant to either devour her or make her into a thing equal to and like him (a vampire), evidences this tension. Bella calls Edward out on this treatment: i.e. giving her piggy-back rides (279), watching her while she sleeps (293), dancing with her feet standing on his, telling him that this behavior makes her "feel like I'm five years old" (488). Indeed, it is an extension of Bella’s contingent power with her father, and to the reader, which gives her a life of her own only insofar as they do not insist on pinning her down.


Undead Choirboys

Such resonance moves between texts, harmonizing with the song of the Prioress’s boy in Geoffrey Chaucer's the Canterbury Tales. There, he is given a voice through song, but given only the form, not yet trusted with the meaning of the words (he could not understand Latin, "For he so yong and tendre was of age"). There, he walks through the Jewish quarter of the city to school, on the contingency that they allow him to pass (for a time) unhindered.

The Jewish population too exists in this city in a "Iewerye" (a ghetto), on the contingency that they are not expelled, pay additional taxes, function as the bankers for the city, and generally submit to the dominant Christian overlords (from which the child descends and with which his song resonates). At a moment when the boy passes through the Jewish Quarter, singing his song of the Mother Mary (the Ave Marie and Alma Redemptoris)  a few members of the Jewish population are convinced by an oppositional Satanic spirit to reject the sonic dominance of the child; silencing him with death. In this moment of rupture, the silencing violence against the Jewish people of the ghetto reaches a breaking point, resulting in an another act of violence that spurs on the murders being put to death and even heavier domination of the "Iewerye." Power breeds resistance which can be co-opted (by the city and the narrator) to justify further oppression. Even death is no escape.

Miraculously, the child is brought back to a kind of contingent unlife by the intervention of a parental (Mother Mary) figure, who with the help of an enchanted grain ("[which] she leyde... up-on [his] tonge"), his song continues despite his death. This child’s particularity continues to resonate and exercise power, as a sonic agent of the dominant religion and Mother Mary in particular, with the physically powerful Jewish men/adults, with parents, with other children, with the unliving, with vampires, with teen-agers, with Bella/Edward, and with us.


Un/de(te)r-mined/ Lives

The power of the Prioress’s Tale and the boy’s song is contingent on the reader, but its vulnerable efficacy has persisted in a partially alive/autonomous state as well as in a partially dead, passé, pinned-down tradition of medieval literature. The Text and the boy are both undead vampires in a sense, sucking life-blood from the reader, just as we are drawn to it and bite into it for nourishment. This unlife has thus allowed the boy’s singing dead body to continue on for centuries until it can sit (literally and literar-ily) on the shelf next to Bella and Edward. 

The resonance of vulnerable power-positions and power-plays continues to connect them with my lived experience.

While the particularity of the Prioress’s song-boy and Stephenie Meyer’s teen-vampires are in a sense removed from my current circumstances, I continue to harmonize with their song of feeling uncertain about one’s position in a community, the feeling that one’s autonomy and life are contingent on dominant forces not exercising their power over me, shutting down my song and closing my book. And yet, this resonance reminds me also of all I will never know of the unlife of teens, boys, and vampires. What comes next for such Un/de(te)r-minded Lives?

To quote Twilight: Eclipse, "who the hell knows? This isn't the time to make hard and fast decisions, this is the time to make mistakes... to change your mind and change it again, because nothing is permanent." In other words, Things Transform, and that involves the demands for support in undeterred undetermined lives.