The Madness Outside Gender The Madness Outsi:Travels with Don Quixote and Saint Foucault


In Kathy Acker's Don Quixote physical pain produces delirium through which the narrator gains access to the "truths" underlying her experiences in a series of deluded and delusional cultures. Moving through worlds where cultural horrors are visited on the body and learning from the "saints" who passionately embrace such experiences, she finds an identity in the momentary conjunction of passion and death. The intensity of her masochistic climaxes burns up the binarity of gender. Consequently, it is paradoxically through the body that Acker's narrator escapes the biological femaleness that always threatens to engulf her. My essay will explore this paradox in relation to the feminist debate with Michel Foucault over the significance of physical experience in the formation of gendered subjectivity, as that debate is staged in the writings of Judith Butler. To begin I will look at some of the ways Acker's politicizes love.

 "Foucault... was aLWAYS on the OUTSIDE." 


Don Quixote

What may be at once the most conventional and the most transgressive of the many strange narratives contained in Don Quixote is its recounting of a fragmented love story. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that it performs a postmortem on one, as befits a tale that begins with an abortion. But who are the lovers? The novel's characters change name and form as they momentarily inhabit the large number of texts that Acker "plagiarizes." For instance, the convergence of Lulu, Pygmalion, Wuthering Heights, Paradise Lost, Godzilla, Waiting for Godot, and Don Quixote in the section "TEXT 4: WEDEKIND'S WORDS," repeatedly transforms the protagonist so that she may speak disruptively from within numerous discourses. However, two characters remain, if not stable or consistent, at least identifiable as the main actors in the novel: Don Quixote and St Simeon. His omnipresence in the novel and his role as catalyst for the novel's meditations on love -- and sadomasochism -- seems seriously underestimated in the critical commentary Don Quixote has so far received.

The first reference to any specific love object is to "Simeon, Don Quixote's cowboy sidekick" (13). Because of Acker's much reiterated interest in the 1960s New York art scene, this evocation of the iconography of male prostitution as captured in Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey's Lonesome Cowboys (1969) -- not to mention John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969) -- immediately associates St Simeon with gender role transgression. Parker Tyler identifies the Lonesome Cowboys' "pre-Raphaelite" beauty as well as their parodic performance of Romeo and Juliet as important components of "the Warhol anti-culture machine," as is Viva's enactment of Juliet "in a formal riding costume" who stands in for "any woman who might" misread their beauty and self-absorption as an indication of homosexuality or "mistake it for heterosexuality" (188-89). As a "cowboy" St Simeon enters the novel defying fixed placement in either one of the two conventionally opposed genders.



As is ordinary for male prostitute "cowboys," St Simeon has had, from an early age, to submit to being used sexually in order to survive. At boarding school he quickly learns that for a teacher to give tea and sympathy is prohibited as "wrong," but that beating boys is an acceptable form of sexual expression (13). His response is, "I want to be wanted. I want to be flogged. I'm bad'" (14). This story precedes a retelling, from Cervantes, of the mad knight's attempt to save a boy from being beaten by his master, which, in Acker's version concludes, "The boy tried to enjoy the beating because his life couldn't be any other way" (15). This passive resignation both attracts and repels the narrator. The latter reaction is provoked by St Simeon's inability to take responsibility for his contributions to her sufferings under patriarchy, as when "the saint" asks who is to blame the abortion that has caused her infection. She responds, "Now either you actually don't love me or else you are so insane, you don't realize how much you've hurt me" (15). Yet still she values him because "St Simeon had taught her how . . . to consider someone of more importance than herself" (18). As the novel goes on to show us, this miracle was accomplished through her complete identification with him -- "the dog (or saint) and I're two peas in a pod" (102). Irreparably wounded, masochistic, angry, self-absorbed, and, in the terms of reasonable society insane, St Simeon is her mirror image, and the more so in that his gender identifications fluctuate with his moods and circumstances, as becomes even more apparent when he comes back to her in the form of a dog.






Loving this elusive and unplaceable being carries Don Quixote outside sanity, as it necessarily carries her beyond what the dominant culture of her era (or ours) recognizes as appropriate, rational attachment. The knight remarks, "It's sick to love someone beyond rationality, beyond a return (I love you you love me). Real love is sick.'" In deciding to actualize the "real love" she knows from books, "Don Quixote transformed sickness into a knightly tool." The next thing we are told is "one day St Simeon went away. Don Quixote couldn't bear to live without him" (18). "The Coming Of Night" is brought on by Don Quixote's awareness that the one she loves does not love her (101). St Simeon's return as a dog causes her to begin to see the human world from a radically alienated perspective and to analyze it rather than merely reacting to it. She identifies him as "the love of [her] life" and claims, "Evil enchanters such as Ronald Reagan and certain feminists, like Andrea Dworkin, who control the nexuses of government and culture're persecuting and will continue to persecute us" (101-02). Her identification of the enemies of her love as a cultural feminist and a president who went much further than most in fostering a capitalism based on "family values" is especially telling here. Obviously Dworkin, who argued explicitly that male and female experiences of masochism are utterly different and that all modes of male masochism are equally oppressive to women (150), would not support Don Quixote's efforts to understand St Simeon through attention to their shared experiences and sexual proclivities. Likewise Reagan is a foe to Don Quixote's attempt to transcend the capitalist mindset through acceptance of her love for St Simeon, perverse, materially disadvantageous, and nonfamilial as it is, as "real love."





 "Don Quixote's First Battle Against America" begins with her recognition that she can own nothing (104). "An example of my not owning St Simeon is that now St Simeon is living with someone else" (105). Her recognition that she cannot possess even her "slave," her "dog" is gradually transformed from a source of tragedy to a source of joy, as it helps her to let go of a too constricting understand of love as an exchange in which whatever one invests must be paid back by the other. Archaic saintly practices oppose the current fusion, in the name of sanity, of capitalist, religious, and feminist values like those argued for in Dworkin's Pornography: Men Possessing Women where the regulation of sexual expression is urged in order that women may own themselves. As Karmen MacKendrick observes, "In its construction of the erotic as the handmaiden of the procreative, contemporary Christianity lines up startlingly well with both Freudian biologism and capitalist culture--and even . . . with the traditional feminist demand for equal time in gratification" (66). MacKendrick shows in Counterpleasures, her study of the pleasures associated with the reception and infliction of pain, "In the everyday (non-ecstatic) economy of investment, expenditure is loss (and desire is lack . . .) . . . This is precisely the economy of productivity . . . The transgressive economy of excess links joy to desire such that one cannot increase without the other" (126). "Asceticism, of all of the counterpleasures, is most spectacularly ill-suited to consumer culture" (MacKendrick 71).





(MacKendrick 71)

St Simeon's asceticism seems initially misogynist because he speaks for a value system in which the physical, and with it the feminine, are debased. St Simeon philosophizes: "Traditionally the human world has been divided into men and women. Women're the cause of human suffering. For women are so intelligent they don't want anything to do with love." He goes on to speak from feminist theory on romance as a patriarchal construct ("Men have tried to get rid of their suffering . . . by simply lying, by saying that women live only for men's love"), but also to voice troubadour-like complaints about women's cold denial of love to men (27). In this mood he resembles what was probably a model for Acker's creation of the character, St Simeon de Stylites, perhaps as dramatized in Luis Buñuel's 1965 cult film, Simon of the Desert (Siméon le Stylite). In this postmodernist, anachronistic retelling of the saint's life, Claudio Brook plays a contemporary man trying to relive the life of the saint by becoming a pillar-sitting recluse in the Mexican desert. Tempted by the Devil in the form of a woman (Silvia Pinal), he ends up defeated, cynically observing the young in a disco. This St Simeon, like his original, manifests sainthood through withdrawal from the world, but in Acker's novel how much that form of self-torture (or any other chosen pain) is actually experienced as unpleasure is questioned by her emphasis on the perverse delights of masochism. "It is common but trite to see in asceticism or in s/m a hatred of the body, some pathological rage against physicality. Instead we should see here an intensified awareness of the physical and especially of physical sensation; and even for asceticism, a joy in that sensation" (MacKendrick 153; emphasis hers). This is certainly the case in Acker's representation of the abortion and the quest as ways to get beyond the normative channeling of eroticism into capitalist modes(Note1).


(MacKendrick 153; emphasis hers)