Matricídio, or Queerness Explained to My Mother

By Diego Costa

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My home country of Brazil has always found a way to traverse my theoretical and creative practices. When I first moved to the United States to study filmmaking, my relationship to my homeland was filled with disavowal. It was as though if I were able to make art that was devoid of a national imprint I would, in turn, rid my body of its own Brazilian-ness and the horrors of a queer childhood besieged by Brazil’s phallic obsessions. That approach proved to be quite unsustainable and paralyzing. If I denied myself access to the very archive of images, words, and experiences that had spawned me into being, where was I to cull my ideas from?

It is in this context that my film PhD thesis film, Matricídio (2014), appears, as the culmination of a reluctant project of re-living the various insults that have founded me (faggot, feminine, foreign) in order to disarm them. Being able to embark on a film project that felt honest and conceptually sound meant coming to terms with that which was undeniable about myself, that is, what had actually happened to me. Or, rather, what had actually happened so that there could be a me. This, it turns out, involved accepting, and thus, re-signifying, and re-enacting, what felt like the shameful elements that structured my personal narrative.

Psychoanalysis proved to be as great a tool for making sense of the images that had become me as filmmaking itself. These fields of knowledge and practice – analysis and cinema — became intimately intertwined as my work progressed from experimental domestic film and video ethnographies to deeply theoretical musings on images (both moving and still) and sexual practices. There is a way in which the psychoanalytic scene metastasizes every other scene of the analysand’s life if analysis is to “work” at all.[1] This progress was like a very slow operation, a kind of extraction of the sting of the insult(s) – Brazilian, Latino, faggot – that had propelled me into adulthood.

There is a moment in Returning to Reims (2010), Didier Eribon’s auto-biographical rumination on class shame, when he describes the syphoning function of an insult — the way a word (faggot in his case) can shave off all possibilities of being except for one. For Eribon, the insult slants the history of the subject, ruling out and closing off potentialities in one repetitive linguistic coup. Eribon stresses the haunting quality of this insult, or “injurious interpellation,”[2] which is “a citation from the past.” The symbolic weight of its inheritance presses against the subject while founding him, as if chiseling his very body so that it is blown toward a particular direction. The subject is left with one single destiny.

This is precisely what my original attempt at making art that denied my Brazilian-ness, that even exorcised it, was meant to avoid – the idea that a specific signifier (like the one that expressed my place of provenance) could define and sentence me. Despite Eribon’s own reservations in regards to psychoanalysis, his argument echoes the logic of the Lacanian symbolic: The authority of words “matters more than the direct reality of the individual.” The word-cum-insult here wields the symbolic order like a scalpel that not only diminishes and discredits “direct reality,” but contaminates it as to make its experiencing impossible and disarming the multiplicity of alternative destinies that are latent in it.[3] In order to find the freeing latitudes within my Brazilian-ness through art I had to re-visit it and re-acquaint myself with it. There was, to be sure, more than one way of being Brazilian, including new ones that I could invent for myself if I were willing to expose myself. This meant having to return home, cinematically.

Eribon treats his calculated class exile, his seeking in an intellectual future the cure for the shame of his working class roots, as something divorceable from the domain of sexuation.[4] Yet he ends up at the very point where the shame of desire and the shame of social origin expose themselves as interlacing the same knot(s). By the end of his narrative, Eribon locates the terror that thrusts the first into the latter, on the very level of the word, hybridizing them (class and sex) beyond any hope for even analytical distinction. The word appears simultaneously as an inter-generational ghost and a destiny-carving prophesy. “To become gay is to become the target,” or rather, the fleshly entity of the word that defines, architects, and sentences him. If the word bourgeois served as the sign of his class antithesis, the word faggot appears as a target to run toward and away from, as he chips faggot away until it becomes intellectual — a redeemed kind of faggotry, it turns out.[5]

The gay subject emerges, then, as a kind of host, allowing (he has no alternatives) the word — faggot — to animate him, to (re-)assign him a (non-)place, if he is to live at all. For Luca Greco, the insult is an “inaugural scene.”[6] Here, gay subjectivity is necessarily the product of a linguistic violence that goes beyond some kind of universal violence (i.e., language) that originates the human subject tout court. My American exile had provided me with the opportunity to wash faggot away from the body, or, at least, from its outermost layer. But in the United States my Brazilian-ness, which was unmarked in Brazil, felt like an insult as it was the undeniable proof of my foreignness, the literalisation of my queerness.

There is, for the gay subject, no reserved space and no pre-fabricated logic of relationality when it comes to desire, which the normative subject may find, for instance, in the supposedly undeniable evidence of the biological body. Genital difference, and other fleshly fantasies, may appear as the answer for sets of questions that get answered before they could ever be posed: Who do I relate to and why? There is a space toward which the gay subject is thrown, or rather, a space toward which a certain mode of queerness gains gay status once it is thrown there, but no singular object to correspond to his desire. An essential variable of the fictive equation that aligns self and other is missing.

The gay subject is, thus, relegated to a field of sameness without a reserved other to desire him (back): A subject without objects, an object without subjects. The idea that gay desire is fuelled by sameness is friendly fire from heterosexuality’s own logical equivocations. The gay subject having to accept this fiction dooms him to look beyond his field of putative objects, to either mourn his lack of access or believe the hetero-masculine drag that others and himself resort to. An investment in sameness as a guarantor of legitimate hetero-masculinity through a dynamic of infection can thus be deployed. Masculinity rubs off: if the other’s masculinity is proper and I am like the other, so is mine.

This theatrical strategy (I believe that I am and/so I believe that you are) reaches its zenith in the recently viral emergence of the Brazilian figure of the g0y, who is a self-described heterosexual man who has sex with other self-described heterosexual men and whose heterosexual claim withstands the threat of gayness (the a of gay is replaced by a zero) through the logic of infectious symmetry of the presumed sameness between partners.[7] The reasoning that sustains the heterosexuality of the g0y is the same non-interstitial logic that renders the figure of the gay itself possible: an acceptance of a fantasy of ontological sameness as arbiter of the sexual rapport. As in an arm-wrestling match with no winners, the g0y and the gay depend on the standstill of forces to render their identity claim justifiable. The standoff guarantees the even distribution of forces between parties, one feeding off of the presumably legitimate hetero-masculinity of the other, and locking them into place. The referent adheres.[8]

Immigrating to the United States at a very young age placed me in a rather groundless position, but also a privileged one, as I was able to look back, or down, at Brazil as a thing separate from myself, and discover the qualities and textures of my own kinship to it. A similar process happened in relationship to the Mother, whose physical distance enabled me to explore different positions in relationship to Her. The literal gap between mother and child became the site where a difference between the authenticity of my own desire could be differentiated (to the extent that it can) from the desire I had always presumed she had for me — and which is always a dangerous, albeit generative, misinterpretation. A misinterpretation that in the film I reach back into images I had shot in my childhood as a basis for present-day performances to the camera involving my real-life mother, aunt, and their drag doppelgangers.

Matrice_poster

Born and raised in Brazil to Portuguese and Lebanese parents, I wore the interplay between theory and practice in my very name: Diego. Named after Zorro, the masked swordsman, according to my father, my mother attributed it to Diego Rivera, the unfaithful painter. From an early age I refused the weight of Zorro’s sword, which the masculinizing “o” with which our names ended, an “o” shaped like a shell guard suggested, but embraced the idea behind the brush of a painter who could only commit to desire. The difference between the theory driving the name and the practice of animating such burdens of filiation could only have amounted to something quite queer. As a child with a camcorder I got as a gift from my first trip to the United States at age 12, I utilized cinema to precisely obstruct my own face from view while capturing images of my family as though I wasn’t there. This exercise in simultaneous self-effacement and self-preservation became the primary archive out of which Matricídio was built.

The images of domestic drama, captured with the ferociousness of a stalker-son rejecting all parental pleas to put the camera down, was also the source for my previous film, The Parricide Sessions (2006), in which I utilized childhood images to stitch present-day psychodrama sessions with my real-life father, who played several of my past lovers in critical moments of our dead love affairs. The memories of a youth spent with “bad object choices” became the toolbox for a father-and-son narrative bricolage. The film tried to follow the spirit of what theorist Heather Love may call a “feeling backward”, that is a non-hagiographic scavenging of the (queerness of the) past with the openness to accept or (re-) discover the ambivalence, anxiety, pain, ugliness, failure, and shame as having constituted it.[9]

In Matricídio, femininity is deconstructed via psychodramatic re-enactments too, including a stand-in for the Mother in drag responding to the taunting questions of a child intent on re-membering h/Her history. The scene is at once an interrogation and a set of confessions, as the child demands the truth about an abortion and reveals a sartorial theft for which the then-maid had been blamed and fired. Largely script-less, observational, and collected slowly through several years of filming, it is like the brewing of tea leaves, or any other process of aging, whose meaning depends precisely on the endurance of time and whose nuances are borne out of the “dead time” that accumulates between one actual event or dramatic coup and the next. My approach was driven by filmic rules and constraints shared with the “actors” who were then allowed to play and speak back to the filmic rules themselves, interacting with the film through defiance.

This recipe aimed at making room for the excess of the film’s concepts without accounting for them in a calculated manner. I might ask my mother to speak about the happiest day of her life (the day her mother and father took her to the doctor to have her throat operated on, it turns out), and simply watch what she does with the prompt. At times I simply film her at home, like an outspoken Jeanne Dielman of sorts, rolling pineapple candy or hanging clothes to dry while complaining, and laughing at, her labour. When I film my aunt, who was an omnipresent figure in my childhood as a blond and more-permissive double of my mother, I simply ask her to exist, eat, or open the window. Existing for her means taking care of the former family servant, Domingas, who she “inherited” when both of my grandparents died. Domingas was, essentially, a slave of the family since she was a little girl, later upgraded into the official (and perverse) title of “adopted sister,” finally becoming the inheritance nobody wants once her care-taking skills could not be put to good use anymore.

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The fact that my filmic position has not changed from the inadvertent archives of family intimacy accumulated in my childhood to the present-day capturing of these performances of Brazilian femininity is nothing short of uncanny. The queer boy is still there, and while my mother was reluctant to partake in the film at first, the actors are largely cooperative in the making of Matricídio. Even the father seems a little jealous for being relegated to the margins of the film. My face is effaced here too, just as it was in the images collected in the 1990s, except when it takes on a feminine persona and is, then, not my face at all, or perhaps, too much of my face to actually count as myself.

m_5

A fundamental part of this process was to treat the actual filming of these images with the camera as a kind of educated sponge, allowing the images it captured to dictate its narrative. In this ludic game, the camera was to be an informed receptacle for what was before it. A more calculated sense of control, of conscious (re-)signification was to be deployed only later, in the editing room. This way of organizing the images and producing them, aimed at taking the unconscious as method, object of study, and intimate archive. I wanted to wait and see what the images told me, whether I’d wait 20 years, as in the images of childhood, or a few months, the process was the same. The process was my refusal to concoct artifices, instead, bearing witness to that which had already been concocted for myself, in order for myself to be.

Here the unconscious speaks when licensed by a filmic space that is coded by a mix of rules and spontaneity. In disrupting how we think about filmic rules and the filmmaker’s own perverse position vis-à-vis her subjects (particularly the documentarian), I highlight the presence of the researcher and the media-maker as always already subjects of the artifact – film or text. The space for the unconscious to speak, to be rendered visible, and to, in at least one scene, scream, is both ludic and rigorous, like the unconscious itself. Its rules come to the surface once it is allowed to roam, and we are prepared to listen, and listen well. I recognize elements of this approach in the recent emergence of experimental essay films that enlist the aid of family video archives, family members (de facto and imaginary), and the rehashing of previously unarticulated memory by the filmmaker herself. Examples include Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2012), Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003), Petra Costa’s Elena (2012), Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnes (2008), and Gastón Solnicki’s Papirosen 2011).

One’s methodology is, of course, in a constant state of flux. The time spent trying to figure out how one’s work is akin not just to the attempts at recognizing the structure of one’s desire in the scene of analysis but also to analysis’ own interminable cure. A methodology, in this manner, is a way of speaking, which evolves and which, while it allows for new absorption, can never completely rid itself of its inheritances. This amalgam, then, which comprises my research methodology, is teeming with inadvertent digital archives, queerness, sex, Brazil, the literary, the essayistic, and the ludic. And with the practice of film and writing, but mostly the practice of being a desiring and speaking subject aware that the moment one is in the domain of language, one is in the domain of the lie.

 


[1] Giancarlo Cornejo expresses this paralyzing effect of disavowal in all-structuring authenticities of the self (“I just can’t rid myself from the ‘I’”) and suggests a way out of such a bind when he writes, “In the beginning I thought it would be a good idea to use the third singular person ‘he’ to refer to myself; but the words just don’t flow.” Cornejo, “La Guerra Declarada Contra El Niño Afeminado: Una Autoetnografia ‘Queer’,” Iconos 39, 2011, 80. My translation.

[2] “interpellation injurieuse.” Didier Eribon, Retour à Reims (Paris: Flammarion, 2010), 245. My translation.

[3] Slavoj Žižek recognizes the logic of the symbolic order (the symbolic mandate of words matter more than the subject’s “direct reality,” whatever that is) in the structure of the fetish. In fetishistic disavowal one knows, but still. One knows that one is castrated (by language) but still projects castration (or, lack) onto the female other as her exclusivity, a move that gets to the root of the fetish as organizing all sexuality. Žižek, With or Without Passion?: What’s Wrong With Fundamentalism – Part Ihttp://www.lacan.com/zizpassion.htm (last accessed May 15, 2015).

[4] Sexuation, Lacan’s term for the Subject’s positionality vis-à-vis the real of Desire, relates to but also against the more commonly used term sexuality, which is borne out of “the classificatory ambitions of nineteenth-century sexology.” James Penney, “Concluding (Un)Queer Theoretical Postscript,” in The World of Perversion: Psychoanalysis and The Impossible Absolute of Desire (SUNY Press, 2006), 216.

[5] Eribon, Retour à Reims, p. 202. Freud linked artistic creation to not just scientific activity, but to the symptom more generally and dreams in the way each works to protect the subject against the lived experience. Dominique Suchet, “De L’Invité à La Relique,” L’Artiste et Le Psychanalyste, edited by Joyce McDougall(Paris: PUF, 2008), 143.

[6] In Jérémy Patinier, “La Face Cachée du Genre,” interview with Luca Greco, Miroir/Miroirs 2, Issue 1, 2014, 21. My translation.

[7] G0ys are allowed to masturbate and have oral sex with one another, but no penetration, which would inevitably introduce difference, namely, an unwelcome feminine position, and undo their identificatory claims of horizontality. The origin of the term lies in the analogy between a gay man minus his gayness and “zero beverages” sold in Brazil, such as “Coke Zero,” which is like any other regular soda, “minus the sugar.” Anon. “Conheça Os ‘g0ys’, Homens Que Se Relacionam Entre Si, Mas Dizem Não Ser Gays,” Extra, April 17, 2014, accessed May 15, 2015, http://extra.globo.com/noticias/mundo/conheca-os-g0ys-homens-que-se-relacionam-entre-si-mas-dizem-nao-ser-gays-12218506.html

[8] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Hill and Wang, 2010), 6.

[9] Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and The Politics of Queer History (Harvard University Press, 2009).

 

Notes on Contributor

Diego Costa is a Brazilian-born PhD candidate in the interdisciplinary Media Arts + Practice program at the University of Southern California. His work is engaged in the interplay between digital technology, desire, and sexual practices. Costa is the co-founder of the Queer Psychoanalytic Society (www.theqouch.com), a film critic for Slant Magazine (www.slantmagazine.com), and a contributor to the Brasil Post (www.brasilpost.com.br).

 

Bibliography

Anon. “Conheça Os ‘g0ys’, Homens Que Se Relacionam Entre Si, Mas Dizem Não Ser Gays.” In Extra, April 17, 2014. Accessed May 15, 2015,
http://extra.globo.com/noticias/mundo/conheca-os-g0ys-homens-que-se-relacionam-entre-si-mas-dizem-nao-ser-gays-12218506.html

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Hill and Wang, 2010.

Cornejo, Giancarlo. “La Guerra Declarada Contra El Niño Afeminado: Una Autoetnografia ‘Queer’.” In Iconos 39, 2011.

Eribon, Didier. Retour à Reims. Paris: Flammarion, 2010.

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and The Politics of Queer History. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Patinier, Jérémy. “‘La Face Cachée du Genre’,” interview with Luca Greco. In Miroir/Miroirs 2, Issue 1, 2014.

Penney, James. “Concluding (Un)Queer Theoretical Postscript.” In The World of Perversion: Psychoanalysis and The Impossible Absolute of Desire. SUNY Press, 2006.

Suchet, Dominique. “De L’Invité à La Relique.” In L’Artiste et Le Psychanalyste, edited by Joyce McDougall. Paris: PUF, 2008.

Žižek, Slavoj. With or Without Passion?: What’s Wrong With Fundamentalism – Part I. Accessed May 15, 2015. http://www.lacan.com/zizpassion.htmhttp://www.lacan.com/zizpassion.htm

 

Filmography

Elena (Petra Costa, 2012).

Matricídio (Diego Costa, 2014).

Papirosen (Gastón Solnicki, 2011).

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012).

Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003).

The Beaches of Agnes (Agnès Varda, 2008).

The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000).