Dupes: Makeup, Mimicry and Magic

In case you haven’t heard, some men, frequently ones on the internet, think that makeup is somehow a form of deception.

I mean, it’s right there in the word: makeup, make it up, she made it up, she invented it, it isn’t true. What a horrible can of worms this misogynistic cultural tendency to distrust women really is. Women are told, overtly and implicitly, that our value comes from our appearance and that there is a cosmetic solution to every flaw. But then we’re treated as tricky witches and modern Eves when we take those solutions into our own hands and use makeup in some way that seems inauthentic.

And who draws that line between just enough and too much, between MLBB (the beauty blogger abbreviation for My Lips But Better, that perfect shade that makes it seem like you’re just naturally rosy, glowy and fulsome) and OTT? Why are we so caught up on hiding the artistry, the skill, the time, and, oh god, the money, that we commit to beauty and makeup routines? I’ve spent hours of my life looking at beauty reviews, swatches, casting around for dupes for expensive and identifiable colours from designer brands. For people who can’t afford Mac’s Diva lipstick or Chanel’s Vamp nail polish, dupes are a way of attaining the necessary cultural cachet and giving the appearance of financial success as well as fashion savvy. The first lipstick was toooooo dark, the second lipstick was toooooo light, but the third lipstick, ooh, the third lipstick Goldilocks tried was juuuuust right!

But we distrust fakeness, whether we realise it or not. To duplicate, to put a copy in place of an original, is to deceive. But does makeup necessarily count as defacing or altering one’s original, ‘natural’ appearance? Can it function otherwise? Part of the devaluation of cosmetics is likely tied to the association between makeup, femininity and trickery–witches are notorious for changing their appearance in order to deceive, and within Christianity, the first woman is known almost exclusively for her role as a deceiver. But, considered as a form of skilled labour, one which requires a great deal of technical proficiency as well as creativity and experimentation, there is value in makeup that goes beyond one’s ability to look authentic.


Ursula chooses a less-is-more look for her time on dry land.

As it happens, this resentment of the inauthentic can be found throughout art history–it’s not just a makeup thing, but the province of almost any activity that deals with the appearance or representation of physical things. Art forgery, like banknote forgery, is considered a form of theft, regardless of the artistry that might be required, and, in fact, the more convincing the forger’s efforts the greater the crime. There is always the lingering aura of the original artistic genius, and even if a work looks like a real Rembrandt, has the same aesthetic affect, there is more than just aesthetics at stake. The exchange value of art is intrinsically tied to its originality.

(We can gloss Walter Benjamin on mechanical reproduction here: the more copies of something there are available, the less rare it is, the less value each copy has.)

Literature isn’t immune to this authenticity fetishism, either. KK Ruthven’s analysis of the subject in Faking Literature is a valuable resource for understanding the links between genius and authenticity in writing. She argues for redirecting our attention from a text’s provenance to its affect, and thus treating a ‘fake’ not as an inferior literary form but as a work of artistry in its own right.

“This redemptive manoeuvre puts a positive spin on the much despised simulacrum by redefining it as the site of creativity rather than the absence of reality.” (Ruthven, 2001: p. 86)

A ‘site of creativity’. Creativity of all sorts carries this dark shadow of the inauthentic, whether due to the belief that true creation is the province of God or due to a fear of immoral and dangerous deceptions. But makeup, like other art forms, can be redeemed if we recognise creation as a skill, a valuable imaginative and technical achievement. And for many people across the gender spectrum, being able to create and control their appearance is a crucial part of self-actualisation, self-care and survival. To make yourself up, whether by positioning yourself outside of what society wants to make you or functioning acceptably and legibly within social expectations, is a powerful act.


Brain Bytes #3: Acute Obtuse

Funny how, in maths class, I always thought of angles as absences–the empty spaces between two lines, or between a line and an axis. But when Roland Barthes mentions obtuseness in his discussion of the third meaning in Image-Music-Text, he says:

The word [obtuse] springs readily to mind and, miracle, when its etymology is unfolded, it already provides us with a theory of the supplementary meaning. Obtusus means that which is blunted, rounded in form. (Image-Music-Text, p.54-55)

It’s not the absence, but the object that would fill the absence. Obtusus, the blunt object. Likewise, the acute: from the Latin acūtus meaning sharpened, acuere, to sharpen, acus, the needle.

The point of an arrow versus the snub nose of a shovel.

Brain Bytes #2b: The Circuit of Psychoanalysis

[Pierre Bénichou] does not address the masochists, themselves; he does not have them talk. They would gladly talk. Were they to talk, however, they would enter a preformed, prefabricated circuit: the circuit of their myths and fantasies, including the circuit of that psychoanalysis whose ideas everyone today is more or less familiar with, a circuit in which each of us knows more or less in advance what is expected of us…

–Gilles Deleuze (2004). ‘Your Special “Desiring-Machines”: What Are They?’ in Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953-1974. Ed. by David Lapoujade. Trans. by Michael Taormina. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext[e]; p. 242.

And here is Deleuze on much the same subject: the preformed, prefabricated circuit into which the analysand enters, under the guise of freeing or relieving the unconscious.

Brain Bytes #2: The Psychoanalytic Method

“The original and insidious character of the psychoanalytic method thus resides in its conducting a minimal lifting of the constraints that weigh on discourse ordinarily, and in engendering the illusion that through it certain singularities of desire might gain expression, especially in the field of sexuality … [Psychoanalysis operates through] some all-purpose formulae, some encouragement on the basis of which, in principle, a free expression is authorized. But only in principle! Because, in fact, very little use is made of this enunciative licence, any slight impulse to free up the ‘analysand’ running into the apparatus of the cure …”
— Felix Guattari (2003/1989). Schizoanalytic Cartographies, trans. by Andrew Goffey. London: Bloomsbury; p. 43.


In other words: psychoanalysis offers the illusion that you are free to articulate all of your desires or feelings or thoughts that go beyond what society will accept, but actually you’re only free to articulate things that fit into the psychoanalytic model. You can’t be unique or idiosyncratic or ‘singular’ because you’re still just part of a systematised program of expression.

In other other words: AHAHAHAHA this is in the context of Guattari talking about how psychoanalysis and religion are structured in really similar ways in that they offer the illusoin of freedom but actually impose a bunch of new constraints, LOL SNAP psychoanalysis/organised religion DOUBLE SNAP.

In other other other words: I finally called my psychologist about making a new appointment (the first since December) even though LOL LET’S JUST SAY I’M A BIT SCEPTICAL OF THE WHOLE DANCE.

Femini-Series Part 3: Man, Hating Feminists

I don’t hate men.

In the sense that ‘men’ just means the 50.2% of humans who have been identified as male*, I can’t claim to hate them all. I like a lot of them. They’re some of my favourite people. And I certainly don’t hate men for being misguided, poorly informed, or for being constrained by the same cultural constructions of gender as I am. However, I have a big problem with maleness—the cultural construction of it, the representations of it, and the way that ‘men’ and ‘women’ internalise particular ideas of gender behaviour based on inequitable cultural models. Continue reading

The Overflow

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the blog–any time I’ve been able to step beyond the confines of minor depression, I’ve been caught up in an article I’m writing about tattooing, faciality, the limits of the self and processes of signification. It’s an ekphrastic piece for a compilation that may never see the light of day, and I’m drawing on Nazi imagery along with French poststructuralism and it’s been a bit of a mad project, so far. But one that’s also immensely exciting. It’s making the small steps back to ‘normalcy’ just a little easier.

It’s a sparkling constellation of ideas and tangents: Deleuze and Guattari, bodily faces and surfaces, bloodletting, BDSM, sadism and masochism, willingness and the will, Nietzsche (maybe), Derrida (definitely), the tympan, the overflow, the Vitruvian water clock, the swastika, the claws of the Reichsadler, the tattooing needle. Continue reading

Femini-Series Part 1: Teach The Children Well

I know that, in the past fortnight, a lot of people have read Clementine Ford’s article at dailylife.com.au about the cultural sanctions on women’s sexual and reproductive freedom.  The commentary about that article, along with other discussions centring on recent, primarily American, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, is proof enough that this is an area that deserves further cultural examination—one that shouldn’t be hidden or silenced.

This article was significant to me not only for its position on feminism, but also because it came less than a week after I taught a class of 2nd-year creative writing students about patriarchy. I told the class what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar meant by the Angel in the House and the monstrous feminine. I told them that Gilbert and Gubar were writing specifically about literary representations of women in the nineteenth century. I told them about the selflessness of the angel. I told them about the demonization of women’s sexual behaviour. I used examples from James Bond: Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye. I told them about Laura Mulvey and the theory of the male gaze and how the advent of moving pictures resulted in a certain kind of psychoanalytic approach to film theory to try to account for how exactly filmic images of women serve to objectify them sexually. Continue reading

Schizoanalysis and Hermeneutics

Yesterday (March 7th 2012) I attended a lunchtime seminar by Prof. Ian Buchanan, who numbers among the pre-eminent Deleuze and Guattari scholars currently writing and who works here at the University of Wollongong*. Prof. Buchanan was primarily focused on drawing the distinction between psychoanalysis and Deleuzo-Guattarian schizoanalysis, which in some ways is tangential to my own uses of rhizomatics, but also can be seen as the foundational move of rhizomatics, the point from which it begins its line of flight. Continue reading

Culler, Chomsky, competence

… he [Jonathan Culler] prefers Noam Chomsky’s distinction between ‘competence’ and ‘performance’ to Saussure’s between ‘langue‘ and ‘parole‘. The notion of ‘competence’ has the advantage of being closely associated with the speaker of a language; Chomsky showed that the starting point for an understanding of language was the native speaker’s ability to produce and comprehend well-formed sentences on the basis of an unconsciouslyassimilated knowledge of the language system.

Raman Selden (1997), A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf; p. 118.


I have to acknowledge that I haven’t read any Chomsky, but this section from Selden makes me wonder about the ways that literary theory has focused on either the reader or the writer or the text. Selden actually makes that distinction in his introduction. However, what I think is missing from both intentional (author-based) and affective (reader-based) analyses is the idea that reading and writing, or consuming and producing more broadly, often occur in tandem. So is it possible to develop a mode of analysis that can account for both moves–that deals with the ‘ability to produce and comprehend’ at the same time? This idea of ‘competence’ would seem to suggest that production and comprehension rely on the same knowledge, the same ability, have the same root. It’s quite a humanist point of view, which probably explains why, as a dedicated formalist, I’m so uncomfortable about it. But it’s always seemed a little fallacious to separate the writer and the reader when the writer spends so much time consuming either his own work or others’, and the reader spends so much time producing either new communications or interpretations of previously given texts.