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Piv2-THE PAST YEAR SEEMS TO HAVE BEGUN an era of wishful tu-mescence. As the millennium winds down, gigantic oceanliners, errant asteroids, and the presidential priapus windup, bobbing full blown into the center of attention. Whilethe American cultural imaginary is pleasured with visionsof the Titanic knifing into the sea bottom up, astral bodiesplunging into the earth, and the chief executive initiatinghis intern, with a little blue $10 pill the pharmaceuticalimaginary seems to have solved the equipment failure forwhich all of these spectacular penetrations might compen-sate. If the beginning of the twentieth century is figured asthe big boat’s hubristic failure, the end is being advertisedas its happy (res)erection.
Certainly, despite the sudden appearance of fields of perky parts, the repeated image of the successfully-inter-pellated member is not only about a future rife with Tro-jan-buying octogenarians, or elder hostel parking lots filledwith rocking 70s sex vans. In fact, all this excitement isprobably not caused by the miracle pill at all. Rather, thepassion around Viagra is the highly suspicious tip of aniceberg, the reiterated symptom of a discursive formationwhich, while it could be just a desire to double your plea-sure, double your fun, seems most obviously to be about aspecifically gendered equation of potency and power. In-deed, if we accept the penetrating perspicacity of populistPenthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who tells us that “femi-nism has emasculated the American male, and that emas-culation has led to physical problems,” or the inspired in-sight of author Gay Talese who, currently writing a bookabout the penis, tells us that “the penis is a weapon, andmuch of society has been aimed at controlling it,” we mightbelieve that somehow the gentle genital has been thebobbed casualty of castrating Cassandras and the haplessvictim of unconstitutional background checks and 3-daywaiting periods (Time 4 May 98 56). If indeed social andpolitical power were somehow incarnated in the proverbial “big stick,” and if women’s rights advocates really had anuncontrollable craving to grasp the baton, then Guccionemight be right. And if this is indeed what Viagra is allabout, then women’s demand for a drug that intervenes inthe enzymatic chemistry of the penis makes sense as a de-sire for symbolic empowerment or at least continuing de-tente in the domestic short arms race.
But when women say “we want Viagra,” does that mean they are asking for power or merely for an equalopportunity for bliss? Feminists have traditionally been quitephobic about power. Regarded by many feminist activistsand writers of the 60s and 70s as the pernicious pith ofphallocracy, power became The Thing to Be Avoided inefforts to rethink more liberated cultural arrangements. Ti-Grace Atkinson, described as “the political pioneer of thewomen’s movement,” shuns power, stating that “in iden-tifying one’s interests with any power class, one therebymaintains the position of that class. As long as any classsystem is left standing, it stands on the backs of women”(73). Rita Laporte, writing in The Ladder between 1968and 1972 identifies power with specifically male organiza-tional psychology: “Only by banding together and follow-ing a leader can men find strength, for they are emotion-ally and spiritually weaker, more dependent and sheeplike,than women. This animal-like urge to band into groups,while giving the individual members a feeling of potency,also necessitates fighting to defend the prowess of theirleader against other, exactly similar groups” (109). Moretemperate feminists such as Betty Friedan and GloriaSteinem avoid even the appearance of any direct feministchallenge to male potency even if they indirectly contestgendered structures of power. Friedan, proposing a “NewLife Plan for Women” in the 1963 The Feminine Mystique,exhorts women to find a solution to what she refers to as“the problem that has no name” by redefining the termsand relations that already exist. She says, “we need a dras-tic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity that willpermit women to reach maturity, identity, completenessof self, without conflict with sexual fulfillment” (351).
Gloria Steinem is even more reassuring: “Men think thatonce women become liberated, it will mean no more sex for men. But what men don’t realize is that if women areliberated, there will be more sex and better” (Qtd. inLaporte 110–111).
Even if we might suspect that the ladies did protest too much, that eschewing power betrayed a wish for it, orthat by offering better sex, one could make a deal for lib-eration, most feminists have long since ceased to think thatthe connections among power, sexuality, and gender areso unilateral or simple. So while women insisting “we wantViagra” might appear to be another strident call for gen-der-blind equality premised on a sibling-rivalry competi-tion for the goodies, such an analysis, though probablyquite on target for some willing consumers, is primarily asuperficial reading appropriate to Fortune Magazine andsuch pundits as “postfeminist” Camille Paglia, who, echo-ing Talese in the Time magazine spread in May of 1998,informs us that “the erection is the last gasp of modernmanhood. If men can’t continue to produce erections,they’re going to evolve themselves right out of the humanspecies. I want men to re-examine, really re-examine whythey need this pill. Because they do need it, they need itright now. They need it to bolster themselves. They needit to stiffen their erections. It’s like the steel that they wouldget if they were at war.” But why do they need it? Despite Paglia’s articulate call to the pharmacopeia, I suspect that Viagra, the Ti-tanic, the Millennium, and Monica Lewinsky convergearound a spectre even more frightening than impotenceand have at stake something more vital and basic than ei-ther the upper hand in a gender war or pleasure past 50. Atfirst glance, it appears that Viagra is an instance of over-literalization; the Phallus has finally become just the penisand this penis is highly fallible. Viagra is the “objectivecorrelative” of the long erosion of patriarchal power, asthe metaphorical figure-heads of patriarchy—the father andthe Phallus—become too literal to perform their regulatoryfunctions.1 That Viagra can so easily elevate the organ points paradoxically to the organ’s organ-ness, deflating its power mystique, but at the same time suggesting that there exists ductions of Reproduction:Imaging Symbolic Change.
somewhere else a power that can fix it. This displacementof the Phallus into the bowels of transcorporate culture shifts the gendered terms of patriarchy from the comfort-ing binaries of complementary gender to the more per-plexing and unlocated functions of a more truly veiledPhallus finally detached from its human referent into realms Although we might characterize the twentieth century as a period during which at least some cultural activity has been aimed at covering over and compensating for the lossof the paternal metaphor; and even if on some level Viagrais perhaps the last, overly-literal magic bullet that salvagesthe Phallus in all its elevated grandeur, letting the dancebegin with a full head of Propecious locks is not as muchabout mere impotency, Rogaining lost youth, staving offdeath, or even revealing the Symbolic failure of patriarchyas it is about reasserting sexual difference—about makingsure boys are still boys and girls girls. If the spectre ofphallic potency looms like a Macy’s Thanksgiving day pa-rade balloon in the cultural imaginary, then its presence isnot so much about feared impotence (which, because ad-mitted and curable, is no longer really a fear), but is ratherabout an apprehension that the context within which phallicpotency is significant has disappeared. Viagra discourseworks to resecure ideas of complementary sexual differ-ence through which women are again rendered inferiorversions of men. This flip side of potency is indeed linkedto power through anxieties about the loss of Americannational primacy as transnational corporatism, cyber-markets, and globalism permeate traditional boundaries andlevel the imagined differences between them and us who-ever we or they are. Sexual difference then becomes thelocal, delusively natural evidence of the persistence of astructure of binary difference that contributes to the possi-bility of continued modes of dominance and discrimina-tion. Even if the Phallus has been shown to be deflatable,having one still counts as long as an epistemology of bi-nary oppositions continues to operate as the primary orga-nizer of cultural sense.
The fear of the loss of sexual difference is not a new anxiety. Feminism was read by some (such as Phyllis Schlaflyand Anita Bryant) as advocating a loss of sexual difference;one of the primary early ploys in the anti-feminist cam- paign of the late-60s and 70s was the obsessive reference tothe horror of unisex bathrooms and the more covert butequally appalling implication that feminists were all man-hating lesbians whose refusal to comply with the demandsof public femininity blurred the distinction between malesand females. The fear of the loss of sexual difference, how-ever, is not merely a fear spurred by feminism; it is moti-vated quite literally by the medical technologies oftranssexuality, the recognition of genetically intersexedbeings, and the disappearance of the reproductive neces-sity for all but gametes (and with cloning not even those)that all point to what Monique Wittig has argued and JudithButler elucidates in Gender Trouble: that gender is con-structed and performative rather than essential or true; thatoutside the Symbolic there are not simply two distinctlydefined opposing and complementary genders. And if sexualdifference is one imaginary site of a grounded guarantee ofdifference, then the loss of other kinds of clearly delineatedracial, ethnic, national, and even class oppositions couldalso contribute to this fear. Thus, disciplining behavior andappearances in terms of a binary gender code serves pur-poses beyond a simple reproductive logic. But what arethese purposes and what forms does this fear take? The Viagra obsession’s connection to epistemologies of gender and formations of imagined national power doesspur an inquiry into the character and stakes of a discursiveformation such as Foucault outlines in Archaeology of Knowl-edge. Though the rest of this paper will not be exactly aFoucauldian reading of sex/gender formations, I want tobegin by mapping the parameters of what would roughlyapproximate his notion of a discursive formation—“the in-terplay of the rules that make possible the appearance ofobjects during a given period of time”—in other words,what makes the Viagra phenomenon (including its inven-tion, marketing, popularity, and the question of its appli-cability to women) possible and necessary now? We mightanswer this question by analyzing “the interplay of the[ir]appearances and dispersion” of “themes, images, and opin-ions” to define “a field of strategic possibilities?” (37)—byidentifying the various and often contradictory phenom-ena that contribute to the field of anxiety and possibility to which Viagra might belong and the interests those con-tradictions serve.
I suggested above that Viagra is at least concurrent with an obsessive interest in the Titanic, some kind ofMillennial anxiety, a more shadowy obsession with objectshurtling to earth, and a prurient and smug fixation on BillClinton’s sexual experiences. I would add in addition tothese emblematic narratives of hubris, penetration and de-struction, several other cultural preoccupations and seem-ing inconsistencies. There is the enthusiastic erosion ofAffirmative Action, the odd alignment of feminists withinstead of against Clinton, the rise of the cigar, a fear ofuntrammeled immigration and uncontrolled racial mixing,Jerry Springer’s total captivation with transgender andtranssexuality, a fascination with large-eyed infantile alienswho both are and are not us, the Promisekeepers, the Klan,scads of adulterous politicians, and a series of rather oddstatements around Viagra itself.
In the Viagra category, there are at least six curious anomalies or contradictions, all of which point to Viagra’sunderlying stake in protecting sexual difference conceivedspecifically as gender complementarity hidden within an institutional discourse of equality—or at least equal access.3 1) Time magazine reports that Pfizer “leaving nothing to chance, has even requested and received the Vatican’s unofficial blessing for Viagra” (52). Presumably this sanc- tified sildenafil (the non-romantic generic name for Viagra)is used only to aid reproductive relations, but given Viagra’scotillion allure to the post-menopausal set, reproductionseems to be the last thing on the minds of the coitallyrejuvenated. But why else would the Vatican unofficiallystoop to consecrate a “quality-of-life” drug? 2) Another set of rather odd contradictions exists around the mention of the Viagran’s partner. Included asbelated acknowledgement that it takes two, the press con-sistently tags on the presumably sated partner at the endsof its declarations about customer satisfaction. After re-counting the Papal high sign, for example. Time announcesthat “All in all, a happy ending for American men, theirpartners, and especially Pfizer stockholders, who have seenthe value of their shares jump nearly 60% this year” (52).
Notwithstanding the all-too-literal parallel between Viagra’seffects on the direction of the market and sex organs, thatpartners (who could presumably be women or men, thoughthe press on Viagra so far makes impotence a heterosexualcondition) are mentioned in a list with stockholders pointsto the all-too-obvious profit motives of Viagra marketing,a campaign that thrives, as Paul Starr observes, on menrushing to be declared impotent. To determine the successof the drug, William Steers, University of Virginia urolo-gist, notes that the best measure would be spousal ques-tionnaires. But, he continues, “‘when you ask women aboutsex with their Viagra-enhanced husbands,…their responseis always lower than the men’s’” (Cohen 26). Indeed,women have been complaining to Dear Abby that theyaren’t so happy that their husbands have rediscovered theirold toys; increased sexual activity among previously benchedplayers has resulted in an increase in bladder infections andother maladies in women. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, sex ad-viser, warns that “Even if a man has an erection from floorto ceiling and can keep it that way for an hour, it will notbe pleasurable for a women if he is not sexually literate”(Time 56). Dr. Ruth’s common sense approach is curi-ously contradicted by an accompanying statement fromNancy Friday. “It is frightening,” Friday says, “to be amale these days. We are a performance-oriented society,and sex has always been to the woman’s advantage. Forsex to occur, all she has to do is lie there” (Time 56).
3) The most telling contradictions around Viagra ap- pear when women are included in formulations where theirinclusion really makes little sense. For example, Time givesus “One more nugget of possibly boring but crucial bio-chemistry: the erectile tissue in the penis has a finite num-ber of receptors for cyclic GMP [the relaxation chemical].
This means that a normally functioning man with adequatelevels of the chemical shouldn’t get any more bang for hisbuck by gobbling Viagra; the variations anyone feels in hisor her sexual response are due to factors outside the drug’spurview” (56). His or her response? Like a habit gonewrong, the thoughtless inclusion of women in penile for-mulations seems part of an ingrained practice of grammaticalparity where the conventional “his and her” makes a for- mulaic nod to gender equality. However, Fortune informsus parenthetically, “(Women also have erectile tissues)”(118), but no one ever mentions whether these tissues alsohave GMP, the specific chemical at stake here or specifiesany further where or what these “tissues” are.
4) The idea of women using Viagra assumes, like For- tune, that women possess some euphemistically designated“erectile tissues,” some abbreviated parenthetical versionof something like the penis, which is not a very new idea atall. Sigmund Freud saw the women’s clitoris as a little pe-nis while also denying such morphological similarity in fa-vor of anatomical complementarity, shifting his attention,as he presumed women did, from the clitoris of the woman’sinfantile masculine stage to the vagina of her mature femi- ninity.4 There is, however, a complex incompatibility in employing both a model of morphological similarity and a model of genital complementarity at the same time. If theyare similar, the parts just don’t add up; if they are comple-mentary, some get left out. The Viagra phenomenon im-ages women’s genitals as if they were simultaneously fin-ger and glove, without, of course, ever mentioning by nameor outside whispered parentheses anything but the vagina.
In fact as downright explicit as the press is about the peniswith diagrams, painfully detailed cross-sections, and firstperson reports on the particulars of posture, positing thatViagra might affect a part other than the vagina or somevague general genital area seems to be something that can-not be said, even parenthetically. Why not? Because de-spite the logical dependence on anatomical analogy, thepotential benefits of Viagra for women are all character-ized in the realm of complementarity. Not only does thisassume a heterosexual norm, it produces and enforces it bylimiting the ways sexual activity is perceived. At its heart,the notion of complementarity is always about heterosexu-ality.
Even though what is at stake here is sexual difference, morphological analogy and complementarity are really twoversions of sameness. While analogy would seem to sug-gest some initial difference, it depends upon finding andprivileging likeness. While complementarity would seemto suggest difference, it really renders differences as greater or lesser versions of the same. Shifting from analogy tocomplementarity, then, is like switching from parity to hi-erarchy, from equivalence to relativity. Morphological simi-larity does provide the logic by which Viagra might workfor women—a possibility mentioned sooner or later by ev-ery article discussing Viagra’s profitability. Viagra worksby blocking the action of the enzyme that breaks down thechemical (GMP) that enables the relaxation of erectile tis-sue. In relaxed tissue sexual excitement sends blood flow-ing to arteries which expand and cut off the veins thatotherwise balance the plumbing. Most descriptions ofViagra’s operation are not that detailed, being more theidea that sildenafil simply widens blood vessels, permittingblood to flood to appropriate areas, a description that per-mits continued fantasies of a women’s market.
With the continued glossing of Viagra’s actual opera- tion, its action becomes more generalized and we slide froma logic of analogy into the realm of genital complementarity.
Time, like Fortune, parenthetically notes that “(the drug’smerits appear to be manifold; doctors think it might evenimprove the sexual response of postmenopausal women)”(52). For men Viagra is figured as aiding conservation-asaugmenting the account without simultaneously drainingit; for women Viagra might enhance the banking experi-ence. One doctor who thinks so is Dr. Jennifer Bermanwho not parenthetically, but in a little set-off box in Con-sumer Reports, suggests that Viagra might help women“by increasing blood flow to the genital area and allowingthe smooth muscles of the vagina to relax” (62). AmericanDruggist also informs us that “It has been theorized thatViagra could improve blood flow to women’s sexual or-gans, making intercourse more enjoyable and possibly re-lieving cases of vaginal dryness” (22). In terms of Viagra’scomplex process of negating the negator of the relaxer thatexpands, in males relaxed erectile tissue is actually the op-posite of what is meant; whereas, for women relaxed wettissue is exactly what is meant. As (I suspect) Berman isglossed again and again, the benefits of Viagra for womenturn increasingly into vaguely dislocated benefits to cou-pling in general. Viagra might permit women to performtheir recipient role better and more enjoyably, presumably 5) The plain fact is that despite Viagra’s auspicious beginnings as a prospective heart drug, official researchhas only just begun on Viagra and women which is inter-esting given the fact that Merck is quite forthright aboutPropecia’s threats to the unborn. While market interestsmight explain why hair loss remedies have been tested onwomen (since if the hidden secret for men has been impo-tence, then the recently outed secret for women is bald-ness), why didn’t these same interests pounce upon thefrigidity market? Because the problem isn’t that womenmight just lie there, but that “it” might just lie there. Phar-maceutical planners already perceived women as merelylesser passive recipients of male sexual activity who didn’treally need to elevate their mood. Even though the medi-cal profession has been increasingly reminded of its malebias (using male bodies as standard or neutral testing ter-rain, producing and marketing remedies for maladies thatmore visibly affect males), that Viagra goes from heart topart renders quite allegorically visible the continuedgendering of medical technology and its representationsthat suggest the ways medicine itself is bound up not onlywith commodity culture, but with policing sexual differ-ence as a biological-research founded medical fact which itat the same time constantly denies. As Kate Clinton ob-serves, “Viagra seemed to get PDA fast-track approval inabout ten minutes, while RU-486—the morning-after pillwhich women need now more than ever—has not beenapproved in this country despite years of trying. And Idoubt,” she continues, “that women will ever get a drugspecifically designed for their own sexual needs becausethat would involve more than the most anecdotal, ‘whenwe say men, we mean women, too’ research.” Analogy,while seeming to include women, actually enables theirerasure as specifically different entities.
6) The issue of insurance coverage for “quality-of-life” drugs such as Viagra, Rogaine, Propecia, and Retin-A alsomyopically focuses on the unfairness of a drug that is tooexpensive to let all men stand democratically equal amongtheir peers. The possible lack of insurance coverage for thisessential remedy prompted philanthropist Ace Greenberg to donate $1 million to provide the drug to guys unable toafford it—that’s 100,000 nights of rapture (Carlson 21).
It’s nice that Greenberg and more amazingly some insur-ance companies and HMO’s are willing to underwrite astiffening economy, but their continued refusal to pay forbirth control pills, abortion or other effects of such prow-ess again points to the ways the medical profession per-petuates and in fact underwrites ideologies of sexual differ-ence as a rationale for disparate treatment, especially in therealm of reproduction.5 One way to understand these contradictions and in- drugs covered by variousinsurance programs are consistencies is that Viagra is the outstanding figure head of a formation that simultaneously masks and enables the reestablishment of sexual difference perceived as binary and oppositional. The co-existing discourses of equality— women have “erectile tissues” too; complementarity—menare active uppies, women passive innies; and such institu-tional omissions as not doing research on women or pro-viding insurance coverage for women’s “quality-of-life”remedies or birth control constitute the complex mecha-nism through which an anatomically-based social practiceof sexual discrimination is revivified, re-rationalized, andre-naturalized.
The contradictions within this formation point to the presence of the same kinds of contradictions in other cir-cumstances in which gender parity seems to be eithergranted or highly defended against. In employment, edu-cation, and government a discourse of parity stands in theplace of and obscures the contradictory, still discrimina-tory practices of the institutions. Practically speaking, whatthis means is that in places where the greatest claims aremade for gender parity and where linguistic usage and su-perficial opportunity seem to reflect an awareness of gen-der oppression, etc., the institutional structure hosting suchenlightened discourse will in fact display a continued reli-ance on notions of complementarity and its corollaries ofimplied inferiority and defensible disparity. This translatesinto such conditions as fewer women in high paying jobs,“justified” lower average salaries for women, the contin-ued demeaning of women’s interests and projects, andpersistent expectations that women will in fact comply with This is not simply another example of a hypocritical front, window dressing, or the idea that it’s not what aninstitution says, it’s what it does that counts. It is insteadan entire complex wherein a simple transfer of terms througha common node—in this case most graphically the term“erectile tissue”—reestablishes a sexual difference rathercarelessly aligned with both gender and sexual role as anatural, scientific fact, a status which finally wrenches gen-der away from the neighborhood of the uncertain, squishy,and changeable. This structure of masked contradictionaround sexual difference is not foundational but reflective,providing one model by which rigid difference is main-tained while seemingly eroded, a dynamic that extends toother kinds of difference such as nationality, ethnicity, race,sexuality—which are also and by the same mechanism ofdynamic transference translated from similarity to opposi-tion. An example of this would be the contradictions thatplay out in the border areas of the American southwest.
While national policy endorses NAFTA which would seemto equalize trade partners and erase border barriers to trade,it also and at the same time begins erecting metal wallsalong the US-Mexico border in Arizona and jealously guardsthem from inquiry, photographs, and anything that might look like activism.6 If NAFTA seems to open things up, it does so to close them down, to distinguish and separate Mexicans and Americans, illegal and legal immigrants, lesserand better so as to enable continued exploitation of work-ers by exporting jobs to lower paying locales and threaten-ing the export of remaining jobs if workers ask too much.
As this dynamic plays out in the social realm, it is easy to see how a covert appeal to sexual difference translatesinto overt returns to the nostalgic fantasy of definitive gen-der roles in such groups as the Promisekeepers and theBaptist Church. But even their appeal to good old fash-ioned patriarchalism, premised on men’s again taking upthe responsibilities they had knavishly relinquished, is adiscourse of generosity and redistribution that masks a stakein definitive, God-given genders that become equated withthe two terms of sexual difference. In a circular logic, then,oppositional sexual difference provides the grounds for the distribution of authority and responsibility. It also easilyaccounts for the Jerry Springer phenomenon, since hisshows provide multitudes with the opportunity for cathar-sis around the uncertainties presented by his trans-guests.
Large-eyed infantile aliens negotiate the fear of a completelyalien difference by rendering aliens not only in familiar terms,but as children who pose no threat of difference at all.
But how does this jealous preservation of binary dif- ference work in relation to some of the other pervasivephenomena I mentioned at the beginning? Clinton cer-tainly doesn’t need Viagra, but that is exactly the point.
According to Republicans, who, if Dole is still a figure-head, do need Viagra, the problem with Clinton is that hedoesn’t know where the line is. He spends too much timeindiscriminately screwing around in his office and notenough time practicing the kinds of discrimination thatwould keep the distinctions between America and China,rich and poor, black and white, native and immigrant clear.
Without those distinctions America risks losing, not itsvirtue (which was already lost) or a moral ethic based onsexual difference (which is busy being reborn with the re-born), but our identity as an America Which Is Not Them—not Chinese or Mexican or gay. The evil here is not theThem whose condition of identifiable alterity contributesto the same old structure of oppositional difference, butthe Them who already incarnate the dissolution of rigidlines of distinction—those of mixed race, the transgendered,gay and lesbian, the unacculturated nonnative, and bordercrossers of all kinds. It is not a coincidence that the KuKlux Klan hates all of these pretty equally, since what theKlan objects to is not African-Americans per se, but inte-gration as a figuration of the possibility of racial mixing, oflosing the lines and hence the ability to discriminate andshore up their own identity. Clinton’s line-crossing alsoexplains in part why many feminists haven’t rushed to con-demn him. Not only do the policies of the current regimeseem more friendly to women and to liberal programs ofequal opportunity in general, but also with 30 years recentsavvy feminists might see obsessive Republican line-draw-ing, its simplistic binarisms, and its alignments with every-thing from HMO’s to the Christian Coalition as a little Losing the lines is like losing borders; losing borders dissolves the fiction of nation just as losing the fiction of nation endangers the notion of border. The loss of nation is a problem in a time when the nation is de trop anyway, when economic systems have become global and when the local has ceased to have much meaning or distinction. For now Viagra apparently functions to shore up nationhood, as its licensing and production are identified with an Ameri- can base and fantasmatic medical one-up-manship. And if the nation is pumped up with Viagra, so is its military which reportedly will spend $50 million to supply its troops and retirees with a Viagra that “sort of burst on the scene,” as a Pentagon spokesman put it in the New York Times.
But national affiliation merely masks and protects what are really the market monopolies of multinational corpora- tions who wish to safeguard their patents in inventive for- eign markets such as India, where Pfizer’s drug would be prohibitively expensive, but where enterprising pharma- ceutical companies rapidly produce cheaper knockups.8 The international desire to keep it up with the Joneses pro- motes border crossing in the form of black markets and the “illegal” expropriation of Pfizer’s formula in countries such as Japan where Viagra is not yet approved and mar- keted. And as of July, that was most of the world (since in July, 1998 Viagra had been approved in only 14 other coun-tries).
Like Viagra, the Titanic, resurrected in two competing versions, is also an emblem of barrier-breaking technol- ogy. The artifact Titanic discovered as a result of advanced technologies that enable the exploration of the deep ocean has resulted in several documentary replays of the Titanicdisaster that rue the monumental hubris of early twentiethcentury overreaching. This documentary Titanic representsthe product an overly proud culture that suffers the fate ofthe great equalizer, its technological superiority vanquishedby a badly placed iceberg. Playing out the same equality-masking oppositional difference dynamic as Viagra, on theone hand the Titanic is a symbol of class superiority andconscientiously patrolled borders (1st, 2nd, 3rd class) whosefate is destruction—a seeming parable of how insisting on distinctions and disturbing the limits of human achieve-ment becomes a matter for divine retribution. Its disas-trous end harmonic with millennial anxiety, the Titanic’srediscovery via sonar and deep-sea exploration equipmentis an example of how to monitor the borders between sur-face and depth, life and death, past and present, them andus as we pass into a potentially borderless future. The filmTitanic reproduces this dynamic in the more condensedform of a fictional tale of class border crossing, whose ro-mantic and democratic impetus is snuffed by spectacular,expensive, and prolonged scenes of destruction. The movieTitanic enjoys the opposite fate of its namesake; its hubrisreally paid off.
The Titanic, Clinton, and even errant asteroids and space aliens exist on the line between discrimination andindiscrimination, between distinction, order, and conser-vation and a lack of distinction, chaos, and expenditure—kind of like the difference between hard and soft. The co-existence of these phenomena brings these oppositions to-gether in a way that pays lip service to the progressive andinevitable dissolution of traditional boundaries while at thesame time functioning as a lesson against over-extensionand as a covert site for the reestablishment of the very op-positions and boundaries they seem to challenge. But whilethis reading of the dynamic played out through Viagra dis-course seems to provide a paradigm that links these manyphenomena, it, too, is finally a bit too easy, depending, asit does, on the same structures of binary thinking.
While I think that sexual difference is indeed the alibi of the discursive formation around Viagra, such salvagingactivity does imply an anxiety. If reenforcing sexual differ-ence can allay it, then what might such an anxiety be? Theclue or symptom to this yet other effect of Viagra dis-course exists in what has been the subject of fascination allalong—in the “erectile tissue” that serves as the transitiveterm between analogy and binary opposition, between onekind of same difference and another. What is at stake herefinally is, I think, warring concepts of difference itself. Thedynamic relation between analogy and complementarity isvery much a mechanism that reinforces a specific idea ofdifference as static, oppositional, and discernable. But “erec- tile tissue,” that euphemistic term that seems to designateidentity—the identity of tissues across sexes, the identity ofanalogy and complementarity—itself enacts a different kindof difference. “Erectile tissue” is never self-identical. Al-ways threatening change of some sort, erectile tissue is neverwhat we think it is. It demonstrates both catachresis andanamorphosis, models that return to Derrida’s differance.
where difference is constantly misapprehended, mis-perceived, or displaced and ungraspable. This difference isnot a structural appurtenance or principle, but is insteadthe deferring propensity that both enables difference andsuspends it. This different difference is part of what Fou-cault tries finally to describe in Archaeology of Knowledge,so in a sense it is fitting that this archaeology ends up atthe same point.
The term “erectile tissue” is a catachresis, never really referring to what anyone means by it. If “erectile tissue”refers to something other than a penis, then to what doesit refer, since any other specific referent is missing, at leastin Viagra discourse? In women the term “erectile tissue” isparenthetical, existing between two graphic lips, otherwiseunlocated, a part rather than a whole. “Erectile tissue” is afloating signifier which isn’t erect in the common meaningof the term at all. But in what ways can the term “erectiletissue” even refer to the penis, its most obvious signified?The term “erectile tissue” seems larger than the penis, in-cluding the penis and as yet other unlocated stuff. To equatethe penis and erectile tissue is to make the penis larger thanit is, which of course is the function of Viagra. And if thepenis merely belongs to the set of things comprised oferectile tissue, then it too is only a part instead of the wholewhich is never what we mean by penis. The referent of“erectile tissue,” then, is evasive, unstable, constantly dis-placed, enacting not a semantic game, but a difference thatis never where or what it seems to be.
If catachresis provides a linguistic model for a different difference existing as an additional glitch between signifierand signified, anamorphosis provides another prototype inthe realm of the visual where the phallic function, at leastaccording to some psychoanalysts, gains its significance.
“Imagine a tattoo,” Jacques Lacan suggests, “traced on the sexual organ ad hoc in the state of repose and assumingits…developed form in another state” (88).9 Djuna Barnes’ Dr. O’Connor described one that, “at a stretch spelled 16). The difference performed by Lacan’s fantasy anamorphosis is not the difference in the tattoo from small to large, but rather exists in the techniques of distortion and inverted perspective, in the range of points that link the tattoo’s graduated images to some imaginary may lend itself…to all theparanoiac ambiguities, and Cartesian perspective where we rather than the image, rather than the tattooed penis, are really the center. If we remove the imaginary Cartesian grid—the image as we suppose it to be—and with it our centered selves, then the tattoo’s Dali. I will go so far as tosay that this fascination anamorphic range of appearances enacts a free-flowing quadrated version of differences in the constantly shifting relations among the various possible points of observation (the viewer, the implied center point of an implied per- spective, points of mixed perspective) and the range of allpossible appearances (like the image stamped on a deflat-ing balloon) as these shift through time, all of which are,practically speaking impossible to pin down but which canonly be graphed on the parabolas of quadratic equationsor better in the ungrounded curves of Riemannian or dif-ferential geometry.10 This version of difference seems a com- plex form of comparison, relativity, or graduated variation, but without the Cartesian center or a Euclidean reference point, it has no mooring in an oppositional grid and no Viagra discourse works hard to muster, consolidate, and organize differences around a single point, “balanced,” assume “that the n-dimensional ‘curved’ space as Time poetically describes it, “on the delicate fulcrum of an erection” (4 May 1998, 57). Its panic is neither about impotence nor the kind of cruel slight made by Zeida Fitzgerald on the adequacy of Scott’s equipment, allayed actual ‘flat tangent space’to be attached” (Sklar 42).
by Hemingway’s wise explanation of perspectival foreshort- ening.11 As much as Viagra discourse, like Hemingway, tries to remove potency, adequacy, gender, and sexuality from the mistaken realms of perspective back into the do- main of measurable fact, the widespread presence of these efforts may signal the more exciting possibility that suchoppositional difference can no longer be permanently re-trieved, that the differance that keeps sliding away oper- ates less and less as a mode of discrimination and oppres- sion and more as a mode that makes such discriminations less and less possible. Even if Viagra is conservative in all its biochemical and cultural functions, it is so because the fulcrum itself has either crumbled, is so proliferated as to be meaningless, or the human species has evolved itself finally beyond the last gasp of modem manhood.12 Works Cited
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