The Bad Witch Goes Around Her Elbow to Scratch Her Arse: An Extended Metaphor

Mm ba ba de

Um bum ba de

Um bu bu bum da de

“Under Pressure” – Queen (w/David Bowie). Hot Space

The Bad Witch is in her comfort zone: under pressure.

I start a new class tomorrow – a compressed class: seventeen-weeks’ worth of literary material in five weeks (with a late drop/add date and Memorial Day off, eeek). By “new class” I don’t mean “new shining faces eager to engage in scholarly adventures,” I mean, “I ain’t never taught none of this before – and I don’t think I’ve even read most of it before.”

That’s a thing about specializing in something, isn’t it? You become an expert in your shite but when it comes to other people’s shite, you’re in the dark. Sometimes while in the dark, we get a little skeered and act a fool, don’t we? Show our arse a little? When we don’t know the potholes and the precipices and the wildlife and the flora of a joint, we get a little – hmmm – defensive. We’ll go with defensive.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not skeered of a bunch of twenty year olds with entitled chips on their shoulders because I haven’t read Mary Rowlandson since the 1990s – the subject matter isn’t in questions. I’m a Lit teacher. I could teach the writings of King Kamehameha (if he had, in fact, written any) and make some sort of sense out of them.[1] While I teach (predominantly Long-Twentieth-Century American) Literature and Film, my actual specialism is Literary Theory – including Rhetorical Theory.[2] This means that not only do I like words and appreciate their innate power, but I know how to wield them. My tool of preference is extended-metaphor.

Let me take the long way around my subject – the scenic route, if you will – and share a little story about grad school. We doctoral students had to do a stint of “student-teaching” with a seasoned mentor of the (tenured) faculty before we could teach Literature courses.[3] I adored my co-teacher but he was um – a – well, old-school.[4] We’ll go with old-school. He has won four Fulbright Scholarships in his lifetime, all in English-speaking countries (the most prized of locations), has received research awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other research funds including a Breeden Grant; he has published more than one article per year of my life-span and eight full-length books on Post Colonial theory, criticism, and literature. In short, he’s brilliant and prolific. However, his specialism is “to 1975.” That means that he only has the first-wave of feminism under his belt (right where he likes it). A self-professed “skirt-chaser,” he has had had flings with the daughters of many-a canonized author. Though in the grips of advancing MS which made him unable to chase skirts with his legs anymore, he sure could get phallus all over some perfectly good Virginia Woolfe. Brilliant as he was, he was old-school.

Remember these Reeses commercials? Oh, the veiled sexual innuendo . . . (go ahead, click it!)

This is just to point out to you that I do not believe that brilliance has to be all-encompassing. But, if you take a gander at my post on Evolution, you will see that I think we should, from time to time – um – er – grow, we’ll go with grow.

Lots of people over-identify with their traditions and get a little bent out of shape when someone else doesn’t tow their party line. I get it. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. There’s power in numbers – Foucaldian “swarms.” It’s why the Catholic Church is so big on The Proliferation of the Faith; the more you have in your camp, the more validation you have that you are right and everyone else is – well, um, Heathen. Might as well go with Heathen.

But, guess what? Much like a colonized monad or Spivakian subalturn,  I don’t actually appreciate it when someone – particularly a representative of a colonizing force like Wicca – speaks for me. Worse yet, over me.[5] Just as the accomplished Dr. Beast used to schmear phallogocentrism all over a text, I get hackled when someone comes along and schmears Wicca all over my non-Wiccan (yet authentically Witchy) thoughts. And it’s not because I don’t “know no better.” Eff that. I know Wicca, I understand Wicca, I studied Wicca (see my education post, if you care to) under a mentor who was trained more 1940s proto-Tubal Cain than Robert Cochrane himself.[6] I also outgrew the teachings of my early 20s. Don’t we all?

And just like Dr. Beast, I find some Wiccans insightful when discussing their own subject matter. However, I also find that (just like Dr. Beast) they understand things outside of their specialism, but have a hard time integrating the information into a conversation.[7] Unfortunately, like Dr. Beast – I identify a few of their (sometimes endearing) idiosyncrasies as nothing more than skirt-chasing. Just like Dr. Beast’s ideas, and first wave feminism, I find that some Wiccans’ ideas are foundational and necessary. But would Judith Butler or Toril Moi say, “That deBeauvoir chick was inspired; we should go back to those ideas.” No. While Simone deBeauvoir was fecking fantastic – Sartre wouldn’t shag a hack, now would he? – she was fantastic in post-War Europe. She opened the door, sure. But we didn’t just stand there and look at it, amazed at the openness of the door, now did we? No, we crossed the threshold, walked through, and ramped it up.[8] OK, that got a little ranty. But hear me out. Just because feminist theory uses deBeauvoir as a launching point does not devalue her work. It just makes it – um, let’s see – old-school. Can I use old-school twice?

Likewise just because I use old-school Wicca (and by “old-school,” I mean 1960s-80s, not ancient Craft – ancient Witchcraft does not = Wicca) as a launching point to do my own thing, doesn’t mean I don’t value it at all. It’s just “not for me.” And, like I did with Dr. Beast’s work, I feel the personal need to move beyond 1975. Come along with me through this’a’here open door if you want to. Open a new window if you don’t. Either way, it’s where I’m headed.

B, Q, 93

[1] My analogy is this: if one is skilled in woodwork and having practice with pine, handing her a block of Cyprus isn’t going to suddenly make her incompetent. She’ll just have to find all the new grooves. And she will. Her first tiki might not be flawless, but it will still look like a tiki.

[2] In grad school, SKW and I were the oddballs that figured rhetoric was about words and messages and that literature was also about words and messages and that somehow the two might have something to do with each other. Boy, do we know how to buck a system or what, sister?

[3] Sure, they’d throw us in the deep end of Freshman Composition (the more challenging subject to teach well) with little or no training whatsoever, but we had to co-teach the subject in which we had been studying through a Master’s degree and well into a Doctorate. Get the bureaucratic picture?

[4] He, like Crowley, called himself “The Beast.”

[5] No, Mr. Izzard, I don’t have a flag. I never needed one until Puritanical settlers showed up.

[6] Please don’t write to me about this. It’s called hyperbole.

[7] I have one acquaintance who regurgitates memorized blocks of information about trads like 1734 and Thelema as though that were a substitute for conversational debate.

[8] Dworkin, Irigaray, Halberstam. Not only that, Butler, Irigaray, Haraway and several others have gone back and revised their original ideas. As if to say, “Yea, that worked in 1987, but things have changed,” or, “I see more clearly now thanks to further theorizing.”