Peeledbanana

What Fucking Clayton Pettet Teaches Us About Cultural Rhetorics

Pettet in Ri Vu

by Ames Hawkins

Ri: Hey, I heard you got chosen to see the show. What did you think?

Vu: You mean “Art School Stole My Virginity.” Well, what I thought was that it was going to be about his virginity. I didn’t think it’d be about mine.

Ri: Really? You didn’t? I would have thought you’d have understood that.

Vu: Not exactly. Not like that.

Ri: So, you wanted to go, but you didn’t want to risk anything?

Vu: I’m not sure what you mean.

Ri: Are you saying you didn’t mean to press and push and pulse into spaces you hadn’t been? You didn’t mean to puncture?

Vu: Puncture wounds take a long time to heal, you know. It has to happen from the inside out.

Ri: Let me ask you then, what is risk?

Vu: Risk is an announcement.

R: That’s it?

Vu: Risk is an acceptance, a boundary.

Ri: And what else?

Vu: A banana. Risk is definitely a banana.

Ri: Then, what is vulnerability?

Vu: Vulnerability is an agreement.

Ri: What kind of an agreement?

Vu: An agreement to be human in the presence of another human. To understand that the banana has always been both your vulnerability and my risk.

Ri: So when there’s a reversal, there’s vulnerability?

Vu: Sometimes. Well, yes and no, I think. Definitely sometimes.

Ri: So, when there’s a reversal, you risk vulnerability.

Vu: OK, now you’ve lost me. What are you saying?

Ri: Think about it, perhaps like this: Risk is the content, vulnerability the form. Narrative precedes and takes precedence. Change the trajectory of the narrative and the rhythm, the arc of that story, and risk and vulnerability change places.

Vu: So would you let me puncture you? Tell you that I would like to stick my finger now, into your cock-cunt, tell you how beautiful your dick-clit is, how warm you are, how wet, how wonderful everything can be with just the right amount of pressure?

Ri: Well, if I did, I imagine that my cunt-cock would get hard, you know, feeling you there just with the tip of my finger, phalanges as fronds, as feathers of flesh.

Vu: Are you trying to tell me you want to put a banana in my mouth?

Ri: I am telling you I want to pucker and pulse.

Vu: Just to be clear, are you saying that this whole thing is just an ouroboros, and we have no way of knowing whether it’s risk swallowing vulnerability, or the other way round?

Ri: That’s one way of making a connection.

Vu: Are there other connections?

Ri: They are, in fact, limitless.

Vu: So what will it take to objectively review the ways we’ve switched places here, this risk, this vulnerability, this me, that you?

Ri: It takes hope, no?

Vu: Well, yes. It does. But not always.

Ri: Are you sure?

Vu: No. I am not sure of hope. Only the paradox of our desire for it. And passion. Puncture and pleasure. And presence and prescience. I am sure of objects and the abject through which we desire. Fairly certain of consent and dissent, and bliss as delight. Universal knowing and cosmic constellations. Connective concoctions and queer-up rejections. I am sure I won’t always know what it is I want, though I am pretty sure I could tell you right now. And I am sure that there’s something but what it is I can’t say. Maybe love, I have been thinking. But this is a conversation for another day.

Ri: I see. Thank you. I appreciate your honesty. You forgot one thing, yes?  

Vu: You’re right, Ri! I did!

Ri: And what is that, dear Vu?

Vu: No matter what, you want to keep your eyes peeled for the banana.

Letter to the Reader

Hello Dearest—

It was never my intention to keep anything from you, but I understand that you have your expectations. I have to admit, I really resist you telling me what to do, but as you well know, I so do not want to disappoint. So, even though I don’t exactly know how to do this, or how you’ll take it, here goes.

Have you ever noticed the occasional stack of books in the hallway, the alphabetic-detritus left by a professor in the wake of retirement or a mid-career office change? Usually, I walk right by these text-towers, all the old issues of academic journals, and outdated textbooks. I’m not interested in other people’s rejected volumes, their academic trash. But every once in a while, I feel the pull to take a closer look.

This might sound crazy, but it’s kind of like I can feel at least one of the books looking at me, as though it senses my innate, latent desire. It’s similar to that sensation I get in a bar, in this giant sea of people, when I can see/feel someone looking at me, trying to stealthily catch my eye. It’s so real that in that moment, I stop and turn around, expecting the book to be looking for someone else. But of course, I’m the only one there. And, well, the book isn’t really looking at me anyway, right?

The last time this happened was four, maybe even five years ago. I stood for a few minutes and stared before sliding the all-white prepublication paperback from its place in the stack: Stories and Essays of Mina Loy. Not Myrna, I noted. Mina. Huh. I had no idea who she was, and yet I felt as though I already knew her name. Maybe one of the female beatnicks, I thought, yet another woman forgotten and ignored.

I positioned the spine between the life line and Mound of Venus on my left hand, pressed right thumb to front-cover’s edge, and increased pressure ever so slightly so as to tick-release the pages open so I could peek inside. Had I seen what I had expected—traditional paragraphing for prose—I likely would have brusquely pulled my hand away, returning the book to the pile with a quick, dismissive flick of the wrist.

But, something here was different. What I saw inspired in me excitement so acute that I shot an index finger as deep as I could, stretching fingers taught in order to splay wide the pages so I could have a closer look. It wasn’t what she said, exactly, though “Gertrude Stein” caught my eye. It was how she wrote, all the ways she was playing with form. Micro essays. Particularized punctuation. Segmentation. I skimmed the introduction, noting that these were written during the first half of the 20th century. Who was this writer? Why had I never heard of her before?

This wasn’t the beginning of a long-term relationship. I didn’t become inspired to spend all that much time reading these pages, or learning about Loy. But, I did become fascinated with one particular piece, a ten-part segmented essay presenting the imagined a conversation between two characters—Mi and Lo—that focuses on the definition and role of form. I didn’t get it when I read it the first, or second, or even third time. Not completely, anyway. What I finally came to understand is that it hadn’t been written for me to get. Not exactly.

“Mi Lo” was a way for Loy to explore her own thoughts about form—the work it does, the ways it impacts her affective and aesthetic decision-making as a writer. I’ve never spent the time doing a deep textual read of the piece because I couldn’t exactly find a way in. Each time I approach it head-on, it eludes me. As soon as I think I’ve figured it out, the point of entry shifts. “Mi Lo” lets me languish in her language, experience bliss through languaginal desire. As much as I want her—want to fuck her—she won’t let me inside.

Yet, “Mi Lo” offers me a different site of pleasure: an essayistic glory hole. She’s a piece of writing into which I can peer through every once in awhile, snatch a quick glimpse of what gets me hot about my own writing process. “Mi Lo” is hot textual-porn that allows me to become writerly-aroused.  

And that’s really all she’s ever been for me until recently, until I accepted the invitation to write a reflection and respond to the interactive panel presentation, “What ‘Fucking’ Clayton Pettet Teaches Us About Cultural Rhetorics,” I attended/participated in at the Cultural Rhetorics conference in East Lansing in October 2014.

From the second I started thinking about how to approach Pettet, I couldn’t get “Mi Lo” out of my mind. Not because the artists/writers do/do not identify as queer, but because they turns the tables in their work and insists that YOU, as viewer/reader come to occupy a queer subject position in order to get the idea.

I have no idea whether Mina Loy herself ever identified as anything other than heterosexual, but as for her work? There’s an argument to be made that its poetics and aesthetics align closely with what Joy Ladin describes as “Trans poetics”:

Like modernist poetics (remember those?), trans poetics transform meaning from a product provided by the poet [and/or artist/writer] into processes within the reader. Like post-modernist poetics (remember those?) trans poetics transform semantic processes within the reader [and/or viewer/participant] into self-reflective reflections on the lust for and impossibility of meaning, knowing being. (307)

Neither Pettet nor Loy are clearly identifiable as poets. I get that. But each of them—each of these pieces—invites and even requires that a reader/viewer/witness transform/translate the meanings they assume have been made by the artist/writer into conscious knowledge-making processes within us. Simultaneously, the pieces demand self-reflexive engagement with the site of one’s innate erotic relationship with/in text and textual lust.  

Another way of thinking about it? Pettet’s self-identification as a gay/queer man is heteronormed by any expectation of what it would mean for him to lose his virginity. Most of the audience/witnesses were so unable to queer the notion of virginity. They failed to entertain a definition that might include a range of orifice/caverns (sphincter/anus; labia/vagina; mouth/throat), explored/employed/penetrated motivated by something other than sexual arousal (though maybe some of the audience members did find the whole thing hot), by a member other than a penis: enter banana.

The desire to see him get fucked in the ass was so strong, so assumed, so NOT queer, that audience members could actually be relieved by the perverted act of fellating Pettet with a banana. Get it? Clayton likely lost his oral banana virginity that night, but this fucking paled in comparison to the way he fucked with you.

What’s Loy doing? Well, it might not be as explicit, but she’s also fucking with expectation and the reader by fucking with form. I could go on and on here, but Dearest, allow me to save that whole-body exploration for another day and finally tell you what you wanted to know.

“Ri Vu” is a response to Pettet and homage to both “Mi Lo” and Loy. “Mi Lo” helped me to reimagine the relationship between Risk and Vulnerability in a way that would queer rather than pin them down in academic prose, in a way that would demand more of the reader in terms of desire of translation, that they come to the page full of lust. “Ri Vu” allowed me to reimagine and play with the relationship between Risk and Vulnerability—the two ideas brought to our attention by the original panel members, ones we chatted about during our interactive reflection.

I used Loy’s form because there’s the sense that you’re overhearing a conversation that hasn’t been meant for you. It is always-never about you.

Apparently, I was somewhat successful, because as one astute, (if insecure) and generous, (if discipline-(mind)ed), first-virgin reviewer-reader notes:

I was confused by what “Ri” and “Vu” refer to. My intuition is that they are short for “Risk” and “Vulnerability”—personifications of them, in ways that show how these terms are confusing, their boundaries unstable. I liked the inclusion of this section, but I wonder if a mark in the title or somewhere to make this interpretation (if it’s correct) more explicit (or help readers interpret a little more).

I see you seeing the queer in here. I want you to know how much your words please me. I hope these marks—ones I made just for you—help.

With admiration and appreciation,

Ames