The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Contemporary Metrosexuality III: Crimes of Fashion

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality? on September 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

The Fourth Article in our on-going Series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”

socks and sandals 1

by Michael Angelo Tata 


Which is the history of the epicene, the eerie man-child who retains a certain softness which may be read as feminine, but which also might resist such a reading, as with the Mafioso prince, the Chicano figure of the Pachuco, or the Spanish Don — even when that don is Don Ed Hardy, as the designer’s studded t-shirts boldly used to announce down the boulevards of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills circa 2006, back when it really seemed that Southern California might inherit the earth?

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead ( Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead
( Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

The affiliation of these smooth criminals with beauty seems to indicate that even if no infraction has occurred, it is still a crime for men to be beautiful, that to be beautiful, they must steal beauty from women, who are the proper keepers of this phenomenon of sensuality, their murders and burglaries of a piece with the aesthetic softness and smoothness they pilfer from the other side of a gender divide they raid in a project of corporeal and sartorial upbuilding.[1] For them, the beautiful remains foreign to masculinity at the same time that it is most at home there, as we learn from ornithology, producing a certain exoticism, their delicate features arriving from another place, a different land, a foreign clime: that is, from the zone of the feminine, where to be beautiful is to present a curvy and unencumbered landscape giving vision and touch the power to proceed without the hindrance of physical obstacle (the scratchy hair follicle) or the failure to form a viable expectation of repeating form or pattern (epidermal roughness and its inherent patchiness).

The various suavités and smoothnesses of these men mark their gender as thoroughly steeped in crime, the softness of their actions and apparitions not necessarily detracting from their masculinity, which is in fact enhanced by the infusion of attitude and action with qualities more traditionally feminine. For these men, the beautiful, the exotic and the criminal all flow together, their turgid waters creating a violent and vicious swirl whose eddies wash away the ‘natural’ roughness cleanly disassociated from femininity by 18th-century European aesthetic theory. These déluges erode the awkwardness of traditional masculinity, a state famously lamented by psychoanalyst J.C. Flügel, as I will shortly discuss, evening it out in the fabrication of a beauty that would completely feminize, were it not for the presence of criminal misconduct and ethical misbehavior in the form of cultural appropriation — or at minimum the potential for such an action to break out within the realm of aesthetic judgment, where a theory of beauty is toppled, quietly and smoothly, glossy yellow tape cordoning off an area where the philosopher forensically collects clues, as if he were the Dominick Dunne of delectation. As I will also examine in the work of Edmund Burke, for these creatures, male smoothness is the core disruptive quality, in that it obscures the rough or uneven, the true masculine aesthetic heritage, covering it over with a slick, calming veneer that is a tempting lure for the unsuspecting, tantalizing honey trap for the beauty of confused Sunday girls the world over, some of whom have a Y chromosome, but all of whom have at least one X. Whitney Houston beware: Bobby gonna getchya. If only these words weren’t retroactive.

How Could She Know? Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes

How Could She Know?
(Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes.

Undercover Sublimity


Outside of the ostensibly criminal, which announces an obvious connection between the aesthetically illicit and male beauty, as with the quintessential Dorian Gray paradigm, how are we to chart the transgressiveness of the man whose features defy the roughness and hirsuteness of masculinity at its darkness and most primal, this individual whose only crime is to reject his relegation to the realms of repulsion identified by J.C. Flügel in his Psychology of Clothes as beauty’s gutter and surfacing as, of all things, attractive? If he were to speak — and he might — what would the man who steals beauty, this beautiful criminal, he who criminalizes beauty, have to say to the metrosexual, this secret fire thief standing before us with smoothed cuticles, shrunken pores and just the right fabric to launch him into visibility? For, as I would argue, the metrosexual’s greatest crime is to warp the axis connecting the beautiful with the sublime, in doing so wreaking a variety of havoc on the gender scission whose furrows follow the split restraining a femininity defined by containability and impotence from a masculinity which defies containment in and of its magnitude and power. Hence the metrosexual risks incredulity and demands only submission, the purchasing of its credos on credit. Within a Western culture in which to be beautiful is to be dominated, he cannot be believed; within an American context in which masculinity and femininity operate according to a more divisive polarity, he is that mystical spot throwing social unity into paroxysm, the ultimate American Psycho whose schizoid capitalism smooths out and docilizes the social-symbolic in the name of an expediency that is narcissism’s motor.

Masculine Psychoglamour American Psycho: Materialism, Misogyny and Machismo Keith Phipps, et al.

Masculine Psychoglamour
(American Psycho: Materialism, Misogyny and Machismo. Keith Phipps, et al.)

Within the confines of the aesthetics of the 18th-century English philosopher, political theorist and statesman Edmund Burke, the beautiful and the sublime find themselves at opposite ends of an abyss separating them permanently from one another, tied together by virtue of the experiences and encounters each describes as these arrange themselves on a spectrum according to whose optics a richly deranging sublimity remains radically apart from a delicate and comforting beauty: so beyond anything Newton, always the stranger in a dark room acting in the name of empirical neutrality, and yet paraphilically sharing a sensory register with the voyeur, could prismatize. Here, the classically beautiful is paradigmatically defined as an encounter between masculine subject and feminine object, the sublime as the contact which occurs between a masculine subject and masculine object, making the experience of beauty an interaction between male and female elements and hence fundamentally heterogenous, while leaving the experience of sublimity an interaction between and among male elements, and hence implicitly homogenous.[2]   Within the sexual mechanics accompanying Burke’s gendering of aesthetics, the problem of the metrosexual’s disruptiveness looms large, his unholy entente with beauty, and not sublimity, altering aesthetic as much as sexual and political history through his unexpected choices and the mondo alla riverso they usher in.

For Flügel, the irregularity of the male body had undergone a sort of repression, separated from beauty and kept hidden behind the drab garb of renunciation, which covered up the uncathectable in a package equally unattractive and drained of desirability, literally an/orexic: “In conformity with the ruling convention that woman is beautiful and man is not, there has grown up a very considerable intolerance of the male body; the characteristic signs of maleness, e.g. the greater hairiness, muscularity and angularity, are in some ways more apt to arouse embarrassment or repulsion than is the rounder and smoother (and of course much more familiar) female form” (208). The reason for this dis-affinity and disgust? For Flügel, the culprit is the phallus itself, which appears to exist in a relationship of inverse proportion with the penis in an adumbration of gender warrior Valerie Solanas’ famous theory of pussy envy presented in her pivotal SCUM Manifesto: “As previously suggested, this is perhaps due, at least in part, to a repression of phallicism; the worship of the phallus, so common at an earlier cultural level, has given place to an abhorrence of the male genitals, an abhorrence which has spread to some extent to the whole male body, which demands that it be decently hid in thick garments, non-provocative in form and colour” (209).

Consequently, as fashion revolutionaries and visionaries, perhaps even luminaries, if we play our cards right, “We must learn to tolerate the make body, and perhaps even to admire it — if only as counterpart to the female body, which we already idolise” (211-212). Disentangling male physique and fashion from the inhibitions weighing it down in this body which has taken on the stigma of the phallus, Flügel valiantly attempts to liberate men and to increase their virility, as the truest manliness “can be achieved by freedom rather than by a slavish subserviency to convention, ” and hence mandates innovation, free-thinking and nonconformity with rigid gender standards and mores that are in the end de-masculinizing, as they only require a thoughtless submission that is more the strategy of beauty (212).

Penisneid Takes a Bullet Lili Taylor in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

Penisneid Takes a Bullet
(Lili Taylor in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

In Burke’s account, smoothness figures largely in the experience of beauty as an aesthetic quality, as encoded into the precepts of his foundational 1757 treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, there being an implicit connection and consonance among frictionlessness, regularity, evenness and expectation. As I have already mentioned, the beautiful and the sublime inhabit opposite sides of an aesthetic divide separating the containable from the uncontainable, the submissive from that which demands our submission; inferentially, if it is women who are beautiful, then it must be men who are sublime, their angularities forming the harsh perpendiculars that characterize the powerful, the grand, the infinite.[3] The binarism of Burke’s text seems to mandate such a conclusion, especially when it is read projectively, even anachronistically, against Flügel’s sumptuary complaint, his argument that men have been relegated not to sublimity, but to ugliness, raising important interrogatives about what the sublime and the ugly have to say to one another – as if they were trapped in a Borgata elevator and forced to communicate against their will.

Oddly, in the thought of Burke, ugliness of this sort generates a proto-sublimity: “Ugliness I imagine likewise to be consistent enough with an idea of the sublime. But I would by no means insinuate that ugliness of itself is a sublime idea, unless united with such qualities as excite a strong terror” (III, XXI, Ugliness, 153).[4] Within Burke’s thought, we are thus presented with the dual paradigms of female beauty and a sublimity which reads as male or masculine. By examining the divide separating the two phenomena closer, we can gain valuable insights into the metrosexual theft of beauty, into what is particularly radical about the transformation of the masculine into a site of beauty where body and clothing achieve their most comprehensive rehabilitation to date, both in terms of the two renunciations they straddle: the tainted metonymy of the abjected phallus discussed by Flügel and the post-revolutionary sartorial reversal effected by the Great Male Renunciation as it re-codified male fashion into an experiment in ennui. This purloining is also generational, as first the Chelsea Boy took beauty from the feminine for himself, and the metrosexual then appropriated it for his own purposes; the chain of contraband marks the metrosexual as a secondary criminal, the individual through whom crime itself is criminalized.

Seen in this light, the smoothness of the manscaped and manicured metrosexual — hair removal rituals leaving his surfaces relatively friction-free and gym time causing the curves of his musculature to get “swole,” in the Bro Code — evoke Burke’s reflections on smoothness in general and its primary role in generating beauty. For Burke, the case is simple. Smoothness is “[a] quality so essential to beauty, that I do not now recollect any thing beautiful that is not smooth” (III, XIV, Smoothness, 148). In fact, so critical to beauty is smoothness that its effects can even operate synaesthetically, as demonstrated by Burke’s redefinition of gustatory sweetness as a species of smoothness.  For Burke’s speculative chemistry, sweetness, which of necessity involves the “perfect globe” that is sugar, conquers the palate by smoothing and soothing it:

Edmund Burke’s Dreamboat Wolf Boy Larry Gomez Hopes New Genetic Findings Can Care ‘Werewolf Syndrome

Edmund Burke’s Dreamboat
(“Wolf Boy Larry Gomez Hopes New Genetic Findings Can Care ‘Werewolf Syndrome”


If you have tried how smooth globular bodies, as the marbles with which boys amuse themselves, have affected the touch when they are rolled backward and forward and over one another, you will easily conceive how sweetness, which consists in a salt of such nature, affects the taste; for a single globe, (though somewhat pleasant to the feeling) yet by the regularity of its form, and the somewhat too sudden deviation of its parts from a right line, it is nothing near so pleasant to the touch as several globes, where the hand gently rises to one and falls to another; and this pleasure is greatly increased if the globes are in motion, and sliding over one another; for this soft variety prevents that weariness, which the uniform disposition of the several globes would otherwise produce (IV, XXI, Sweetness, Its Nature, 180).

The smooth is the sweet, each quality a reflection, perhaps a vision or version, of the other, leaving no room for secondary masculine features, like facial/body hair, or even the hardness of muscle, which disrupt the gratifying softness of the sucrescent and are hence expelled from the zone of the beautiful, which will tolerate no obstruction to movement.

As this passage evinces, for Burke, smoothness is so essential a quality to the phenomenon of beauty that other beautiful qualities, like sweetness, are able to be translated into it without remainder: it’s as if we are attempting to get two languages to correspond in an attempt to inspire the appropriate action. As regards beauty, that action would be renunciation, since with smoothness comes submission, as the words of the conclusion to Part III manifest: “For sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small; beauty should be smooth, and polished; the great, rugged and negligent; beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line, and when it deviates, it often makes a strong deviation; beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy; beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, even massive” (XXVII, The Sublime and Beautiful Compared, 157). And so beauty, as if by a principle of wabisabi, programmatically flashes its imperfections, lisping, simpering and openly flaunting its various weaknesses, all as a prelude to submitting to us via the logic of a “Beauty of Distress”: “Women are very sensible of this; for which reason, they learn to lisp, to totter in their walk, to counterfeit weakness, and even sickness” (III, IX, Perfection not the Cause of Beauty, 144). Small wonder that the affective state best exemplifying this aesthetic quality is melancholy, mourning’s torqued refraction.

Jacko Suavé Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal”

Jacko Suave
(Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal”


This Disquieting Relaxation

Pure Instrumentality Tool Academy Season 2

Pure Instrumentality
(Tool Academy Season 2.

The metrosexual is smooth, both in terms of his body — removal of the      hairiness that Flügel identified as male quality rendered repulsive, curvature of the muscles, even bronzing of his skin, all in an effort to even out the complexion and render it visually unperturbed, making him a sort of aesthetic geodesic — and attitude, as any glimpse of the products of Reality TV reveals: take, for example, the philandering of the men of Tool Academy 1 and 2, most of whom identify as smooth operators (it is no accident that they enter Season 1 thinking they are competing for the title “Mr. Awesome”). This logic is very much at work in Michael Jackson’s formulation of a “Smooth Criminal” (1987), and is so clearly what made him both “Bad” and “Dangerous,” as his album titles accurately proclaimed and as superstar Quilter Faith Ringgold recognized in her homage to the Prince of Pop in her hyperkinetic “Who’s Bad?” (1988).[5] The metrosexual’s master stroke is to remain in the position of the dark and powerful which Burke ascribed to sublimity proper, yet to take on the physical characteristics of this lisping, tottering creature whose softness, sweetness and delicacy melt us, our dissolution into its surfaces paralleling the disappearance of their gradations into one another silently, deftly and without apparent interruption. In this situation, the beautiful appears in the slot assigned to the sublime, therein introducing the immediate problem of novelty: how does this move affect us, and what, specifically, is the affect we experience in the wake of its grand switcheroo?

Moonwalking across the Point de Capiton (Who’s Bad? (1988) Faith Ringgold

Moonwalking across the Point de Capiton
(Who’s Bad? (1988) Faith Ringgold,

At the root, Burke’s dyadic approach to aesthetic and somatic experience creates two massive psychosexual pivots: the self-preservation on which sublimity turns, and the love on which beauty turns. These fixed points dictate the mechanics of Burke’s system-machine, which, once the initial passions are laid out, acts with the effect of billiard balls rolling around a pool table, or gears spinning in the interior of a watch, its horology marking time with surprising passion – and precision. In this system, desire operates according to a principle of pain-avoidance that would be simple, were the core of the sublime not this uncanny delight that we are able to feel when threatened with the prospect of annihilation which the sublime seems to promise imminently, insulating us from real danger through an always neutralizing distance.[6] All in all, “There can be no doubt that bodies that are rough and angular, rouse and vellicate the organs of feeling, causing a sense of pain, which consists in the violent tension or contradiction of the musclar fibres. On the contrary, the application of smooth bodies relax; gentle stroking with a smooth hand allays violent pains and cramps, and relaxes the suffering parts from their unnatural tension; and it has therefore very often no mean effect in removing swellings and obstructions” (IV, XX, Why Smoothness Is Beautiful, 178-179). The metro obviates a physical form of vellication at the same time that, metaphysically, he causes us to twitch, while beauty, thoroughly non-threatening and relaxing, relaxes us so much we lose even our grammar, as well as our senses of singularity and plurality. In Burke’s words, the application of smooth bodies relaxes, although, technically they should relax: evidently, in submitting to us, the beautiful object softens us a bit too much, causing us to lose our grip on order: this buttery smoothness ends up smoothing us out as well, a chocolate laxative we have mistaken for a Hershey Bar.

If the sublime makes us terrified, then it is the beautiful which causes us to be giddy, a word Burke never tires of using in this context: “Observe that part of a beautiful woman where she is perhaps the most beautiful, about the neck and breasts; the smoothness; the softness; the easy and insensible swell; the variety of the surface, which is never for the smallest space the same; the deceitful maze, through which the unsteady eye slides giddily, without knowing where to fix, or wither it is carried” (III, XV, Gradual Variation, 149).   For this en-giddied Burke, beauty finally leads from smooth bodies to smooth beds: “The sense of feeling is highly gratified with smooth bodies. A bed smoothly laid, and soft, that is, where the resistance is every way inconsiderable, is a great luxury, disposing to an universal relaxation, and inducing beyond any thing else, that species of it called sleep” (179). In this context, the metrosexual is our mattress, a place where we might sleep, or be prevented from sleeping, his smooth body melting into the corresponding smoothness of Egyptian cotton sheets undisturbed by the presence of bodies, a Lockean blank canvas disrupting claims to innatism while making of pleasure a source of novelty and openness.

Aunt Barbara: Beautiful Containment  New York Magazine

Aunt Barbara: Beautiful Containment
(New York Magazine

Like it or not, but this criminal is ours, and we must find a way of incorporating him onto our curio shelves or else he might send our meticulous ménagerie crashing down.  Through him, classic aesthetic categories which have infiltrated so much of our collective experiences across the years find themselves pulverized, even sublimated – it might even be correct to invoke sublation, if indeed the digital series is broken. This is the heart of his crime: that, after him, women and men alike lose their bearings aesthetically and somatically, trapped in a flurry of addled butterflies whose eyespots cannot take us in, yet expire trying: literally dying to see from the depths of a legendary psychasthenia making the body an experiment in amateur cartography. The map he presents us is criss-crossed by words we recognize, yet contains bodies of land and water we cannot identify as earthly — and still we must follow it, all other atlases having been incinerated at a clandestine book-burning where a secret society committed to the agonies of beauty roasts Vanitas by the side of ’Smores and the street plans of cities so far-flung they might as well have been extraterrestrial.

These men, metropolitan in the extreme, underscore the mappy ‘legend’ of the legendary, as once again their confabulations and fables produce a glimpse of the fabulous close, but out of reach; centered, they experience no mirror stage disruptions, and do not technically even mimic their gay older brothers, but those of us who regard them certainly undergo the loss of spatial awareness and subsumption by dark space that sociologist Roger Caillois famously described in his seminal work on mimicry as a sort of sickly dis-identification belonging to the lost creature unable to separate itself from an environment that absorbs it completely via a camouflage anticipating psychosis.[7] Through the laws of usufruct, we siphon off a portion of the metrosexual’s pleasure for ourselves, following the delirious Deleuzian coprs sans organes’ lead and applying it to our surface counterproductively as joyful appurtenance while that famous Law central to Lacan and his heirs monitors our EKG carefully and with great interest. Yes, it is shopping for stem cells.

If Roger Caillois Designed Menswear Dsquared, Spring/Summer 2014

If Roger Caillois Designed Menswear
(Dsquared, Spring/Summer 2014





Boileau, Nicolas. Œuvres Completes. Paris: French and European Publications, 1966.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. In Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Enquiry and Other Pre-revolutionary Writings. London: Penguin, 1998.

Caillois, Roger. The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader. Trans. Claudine

Frank and Camille Naish. Raleigh-Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

_______. The Writing of Stones. Trans. Barbara Bray. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985.

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, in The Concept of Irony/Notes on Schelling’s Berlin Lectures. Trans. Howard V. and

Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Easton Ellis, Bret. American Psycho. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1991.

Flügel, J.C. The Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth Press, 1950.

Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Book XI. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

____. Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge,

1972-1973, Book XX. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von. L’Esthétique que de la Laideur, Suivi de Diderot à  Pétersbourg. Trans. Georges-Paul Villa. Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1967.

_______. Venus in Furs. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. NewYork: Penguin Classics, 2000.

Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 1996.

Tata, Michael Angelo. “The Homoerotic Truth of the Sublime: A Philography.”  rhizomes. 2012 (Issue #24).

Wallace, Michele. “Michael Jackson, Black Modernisms and ‘The Ecstasy of Communication,’” in Invisibility Blues: from Pop to Theory. London: Verso, 1990.



Tool Academy 1. 495 Productions: VH1, January—March 2009.

Tool Academy II. 495 Productions: VH1, August 2009—present.


End Notes

[1] The word “upbuilding” (opbyggelig) is intimately Kierkegaard’s; in using it, I refer primarily to the Ultimatum from Either/Or II (“The Upbuilding That Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong”), as well as to the tension between Socratic irony and edification in The Concept of Irony. For the metros, the trick is to secularize the opbyggelig, and yet in doing so still retain the isolation from the blanknesses of Socratic irony that the concept demands in order for the “building” to proceed upward in the erection of that strange piece of architecture that is the metrosexual, who puts the “building” in “upbuilding” and literalizes the metaphor of erection. One final riff: as did the Chelsea Boy before him, the metro spins the upbuilding, turning it into a sort of out-building, as muscle fibers grow outward from the body, one style supplants another without sublation, and, overall, a sort of horizontality that is of a piece with postmodern rhizomation prevails.

[2] I presented this take on Burkean aesthetics some time ago in a paper called “S/ubliMe” at a Valentine’s conference at Fordham University in New York City; it has since appeared in the journal rhizomes with a new preface. My idea was that since in Burke’s system the beautiful is overtly the feminine, and describes the relation between a gazing/hearing/attending male and an objectified female presence, then the sublime, which presumably involves the same male spectator as he achieves contact with something decidedly un-feminine, describes a situation either homosocial or homosexual, depending on one’s reading of the violence of sublimity. For this project, I took Nicolas Boileau’s idea of the sublime as rape/ravishment at its word.

[3] In Burke’s Enquiry, the angular first enters the picture in II, VII, Vastness: “A perpendicular has more force in forming the sublime, than an inclined plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken surface seem stronger than where it is smooth and polished” (114). Within the context of my discussion, “angularity” is a strange term; its opposite appears to be the “melted-into” (as in “to have those parts not angular, but melted as it were into each other” (III, XVIII, Recapitulation, 151)). For Flügel, as quoted above, “angularity” is one of the features shared by men which precludes them from being beautiful. For Burke, beauty, which is feminine, knows nothing of the angular. For example: “…[T]o be graceful, it is requisite that there be no appearance of difficulty; there is required a small inflexion of the body; and a composure of the parts, in such a manner, as not to incumber each other, nor to be divided by sharp and sudden angles. In this case, this roundness, this delicacy of attitude and motion, it is that all the magic of grace consists, and what is called its je ne sais quoi…” (III, XXII, Grace, 153). Interestingly enough, it is in this same section, dedicated to grace, that Burke mentions his only substantive reference to human male beauty: statues of Antinous. Outside of Antinous, the only other ‘attractive’ males are ornithological: the peacock, the drake (III, Section XVII, Beauty in Color, 151).

[4] I do not yet raise the problem of an aesthetic of ugliness of the sort described by Sacher-Masoch in Venus in Furs and, more acutely, his Aesthetics of Ugliness, but it is here, just out of earshot, waiting to speak, interjecting insights into the mechanics of male sexuality and its commitment to the fetish.

[5] Ringgold’s daughter Michele Wallace describes this quilt and Jackson’s badness in her Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory (see the chapter “Michael Jackson, Black Modernisms and ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’” ).

[6] The unwieldiness of the sublime comes at us early on in the text, as Burke identifies its corresponding affect as delight, defined as negative pleasure, or the sensation that obtains when a pain is removed (I, IV, Of Delight and Pleasure, as Opposed to Each Other, 83-84). In Burke’s algebra—or is it a calculus?— pleasure is positive when it relates to something present, and negative when it relates to something absent. The sublime is not sublime if it presses too closely, since then we would actually be in danger, and not be able to have the requisite distance to appreciate it as aesthetic experience (it would appear as brute somatism, sympathetically triggering a flight or flight). While this essay is not the place to delve deeply into Burke’s controversial Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), I would point out in passing that, for Burke, the French Revolution could not be read as sublime, since it pressed too closely (for example, it disrupted a balance of power, and set itself up as an example to be emulated), causing Burke to be unable to enjoy it—and certainly not, according to a principle of delight. In essence, the French Revolution obviated the beautiful, while it de-distanced the sublime, eradicating the protective space separating spectator from annihilating object, and hence had to be rejected on both counts.

[7] Lacan’s theory of the gaze owes much to Caillois’ idea of mimicry as legendary psychasthenia, or that condition according to which an individual loses itself in its environment through acts of absorption. For example, reading Caillois’ essay against the chapters comprising the section “Of the Gaze as objet petit a” in Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (67-119) opens Lacan and psychoanalysis to the strange possibilities associated with Caillois’ entomological (and mineral) surrealism, as the essays in Edge of Surrealism demonstrate (Lacan seems to ignore the mineral). See also his The Writing of Stones. I would ideally suggest looking at his “The Praying Mantis: From Biology to Psychoanalysis” (1934) with one eye and Lacan’s theory of female sexuation (for example, “A Love Letter,“ Encore, 78-89) with the other. Basically, the space separating the two mathemes defining the female seems to call forth a shocking violence that is an effect of pataphysical entrapment – something we see at extreme places in the Animal Kingdom as a rare moment of biological truth.

About the Author



Michael Angelo Tata is the Executive Editor of the Sydney-based electronic journal of literature, art and new media nebu[lab] and a member of the editorial collectives of the journals Kritikos and rhizomes. His Andy Warhol: Sublime Superficiality arrived to critical acclaim from Intertheory Press in 2010. His lyric essays on poetics, psychoanalysis and philosophy appear most recently in the collections The Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein and Neurology and Modernity: A Cultural History of Nervous Systems, 1800-1950 as well as the British journal Parallax (Routledge). His poetry and graffiti are featured in the British journal Rattle and in the American journal Xanadu. He also writes reviews of contemporary Aesthetics titles for Temple University’s and Mount Holyoke College’s Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

  1. The social role male and his mutations. Permission to be more masculine or feminine ebbs and flows by appearance. The curious differences within the continuum of feminine male to masculine male, and also withing the gay culture is the same continuum, masculine to feminine. Question is, is the main motive to ‘attract’ or ‘be me now’ or sometimes both? Brought up a lot of interesting questions for me. Great writing.

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