Transition: A fugue
English Studies in Canada
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IF ANXIETY IS THE LAST WORD in certainty, then transition has the last word in uncertainty.
Transitivism—like the child slapping the left side of another's face, only to touch the right side of his own in imagined pain—is the betrayal of transition by the mirror.
To be in transit is a question of ontology and agency, not of identity. To be in transition is to recognize that identity, however convenient, however comforting, however orienting, is not being. To be in transition, in transit, lays bare the otherwise naturalized, Oz-like mechanisms of identity, of language, of gender, sexuality, ethnicity that surround us. When we are in transit, we often experience anxiety, confusion, obstruction, and, occasionally, violence—emotional and sometimes physical. At moments like these, transition becomes intimately linked to metonymy—in order to travel, say, we experience an uncanny relation to our names—that is to say, our names—our identities—the things, the papers, the laminations we are asked to provide, to prove in order to keep moving—become strange on the tongue. [End Page 7]
Transition is a sign of love; it is a change of discourse. It places what it doesn't have in a space that will have none of it.
Transition is fetishized at our peril.
Transition makes a puzzle of the drive, as the farmer, the fox, the goose, and the grain will attest.
Transition is a metonymy; as such, it is a problem of desire. Transition is the condition for metaphor. Metaphor is transition's vehicle.
Transitioning is a deeply Brechtian gerund.
To be in transition is to watch Casablanca for the thirty-seventh time and be relieved that Ilsa goes off with Victor.
Lacan's notorious formulas of sexuation, occasionally misread as prescriptions for, or re-inscriptions of, masculine and feminine identity, are much more engaged with the question of ontology than with gender or the politics of sex as we generally name it. (We get the first hint in the phrase "there is no sexual relationship.") If gender is a performance, one that changes over time, no matter how discursively naturalized through repetition, then it is also the medium that is its message; it is an ontology—but marked by an agency borne of appearances, rather than of substances. Love, by the way, understands this—that's why it plays with gender so fiercely and so wittily; love shows us how gender is an ontology of appearances by occupying the gap—by revealing the hidden, repeated transitions, the hidden iterated transiting—between gender as identity and ontology as substance.
Gender acts like it is, in Lacanian terms, a singularity, what he calls a "One" that generates, adds onto itself, that supplements the symbolic reality we call gender roles (Encore 5–7). But the problem is that gender as One also produces the very effect that undermines its claims to purity, to nature, to its so-called intimate link to heterosexuality: the Real. The more we signify gender, the more we generate the Real of sexuality. So, when we say "sexuality is of the Real," it's not that the Real generates or stands metonymically for sexuality's being. Instead, the gap between sex and sexuality or, if you prefer, between sex as purely reproductive act and what we call sexiness points up a whole field of possibilities for jouissance that cannot be contained by the "One" of gender. If it could, then the "One" of gender would simply be "masculine" and would, in libidinal terms, not require the supplement "feminine" at all—and Freud of course told us that, in terms of libido, there is no such thing as two sexes ("Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" 140–41). For example, the psychotic policing of the feminine, the queer, and the trans in different reactionary cultures betrays the way in [End Page 8] which the masculine "One" perhaps unconsciously knows that the sexual difference, or the gender binary, or, in another register, the straight/queer binary reveals something much more disturbing: sexuality has nothing to do with nature at all. Indeed, gender (as sexual difference) has no ontology—masculinity and... collapse
Citation of this paper:
Pero, Allan. "Transition: A Fugue." ESC: English Studies in Canada, vol. 43 no. 2, 2017, p. 7-11. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/esc.2017.0029