Staging female dispossession: A phenomenology of Euphoria’s explicit female subject Haneen Odetallah 13219472 2020\2021

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Staging female dispossession: A phenomenology of Euphoria’s explicit female subject

Haneen Odetallah 13219472


MA Arts & Culture

MA Thesis Comparative Cultural Analysis Supervisor: Dr. Emily Ng

Second reader: Dr. Niall Martin


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Female Site 3

Where does that leave me: Dislocation of female subjectivity 4

Site to background: subjected-ly objective 5

Background-foreground: His look gave me hierarchy 11

A little bit dramatic 14

Chapter 2: Explicitly Female 18

Euphoria’s female figure(s): What’s so explicit 18

Euphoria: Rue’s style 21

Style as background: Rue’s phenomenology 23

Chapter 3: Queerly Female 31

How Important it is,especially for a woman: Jules’s style 32

Taking up that space: Jules’s phenomenology 33

Queer failure: Conquering femininity 37

It is from here that the world unfolds: That changes when she encounters Rue 41

An effect of towardness: Female as homing devices 43

Chapter 4 Excessively female 48

The other whom I love: Kat not Fat 49

The particularity of *my* desire: Kat’s phenomenology 50

Excessively female: Made you look 57

Abnormally Female 65

A female like her: Maddy’s style 66

As a would-be lover: Maddy’s phenomenology 67

Trouble in the gender narrative 74

Conclusion: Female dispossession 79

Works Cited and Consulted 81


Chapter 1: Female Site

“Because some of the best words to describe our female punks are phallocentric: ‘spunky, ballsy.’...Why is a comparison to our vaginas not considered a compliment?”

-Vivien Goldman or some angry Riot grrrl

Female almost always arrives with a meta-question. No matter how specific a performance of that question might get or even if it’s punk. Is it women, gender, biology, is it the lack, the crack?

Being female, is ever being a site of inquiry (in both senses).

Where does that leave me: Dislocation of female subjectivity

When I felt too female, the world we occupy seemed so extravagantly immersed not only in binary ascription of gender, but in phallocentrism that prevails all that is this world, necessarily including the very tools, of knowledge, of language, of theory and so on that one might resort to, in an attempt to abstract oneself from this world, as subject, as female. The struggle is thus extended from on-ground—political—discontent, notwithstanding flirtation with death in many cases, to a struggle with tools of theorization, distrust in whatever one might fancy to use as females for ontological inquiry, for theorization of the self and aspired status. In many ways, the narrative of female almost always begins with a lack that turns into a loss—Freud with a capital Ph(allus). And so often that it is a narrative—the centrality of particular “narratives” and

experiential claims in Post & third wave & latest feminism (Budgeon). Female; the concept of female “subjectivity” is always pre-determined by a set of formal qualities inaccessible to the


females themselves—that is the real lack. To actually theorize as female then, one begins as and from female, the firsthand female experience is key—nevermind that the personal is still political (Budgeon 250)—precisely by virtue of a “distinctly female knowledge” nonetheless persisting in

“a privileged epistemological position” (Budgeon 259), by virtue of “site”. All attempts for feminist thought start there and persist as an observation of performance within that site: Gender;

we’re doing it and it’s trouble to be so—basically Butler. As females, we are obliged to observe a set of strict predetermined formal qualities of our site from without, as appearing from a

distance, and consequently to act out a performance in relation to that site all the while insisting on an urgency to maintain that observation distance precisely for the necessity of maintaining index in those set parameters or so they say. That schema alters on-ground performance and transposes a theoretical one. On exile, dispossession of access to homeland, home “site” in a similar sense as that discussed, Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata argues that the

“extra” romanticization of the details of homeland is a privilege of those who hold excess access, that those Palestinian artists who are dispossessed of that access to their homelands, those who are forcefully distanced, are necessarily forced to recreate a personal experience of home(land) in the site of the “canvas”. To break through the distance that separates them from their site by abstracting their experience\performance of exile, of dispossession, within that canvas-distance, in relation to, overlooking homeland (Abdel-Rahman). In other words to reconfigure time and place and thus a subject position as once emergent from that site, as a perspective on that site that withholds its concreteness. To theorize the site of being as female from a distanced perspective, is thus to abstract one’s subjective performance of that cultural ascription also known as gender in terms of its spatial dynamics as means to reconfigure an infamous ontological position, by

“turning” to that site from that distant perspective.


Site to background: subjected-ly objective

When I felt too female, I started channeling an attempt to abstract a character of being such through expressionistic—completely—basic black-and-white sketches on an Instagram blog under an (Arabic) alias that translates to “That lady” or “The guarded”. I illustrated—myself—a faceless character in a blank space in which only elements that act as representations of forces appear. Elements that situate the character, a half-nude faceless female body in a precarious state.

Elements that compose an anxiety for that female body, that hinder its bodily posture within that blank space. In the series of illustrations—the blog gallery, the character appears in various perspectives, from various distances, often fully but sometimes only as a minor non-indexical detail; a few locks from her hair or her hand, or leg, in an overall ambience of associated hindrance to that body\part\s, sometimes induced by her own self/parts whether she is doing anything or not. In the profile picture (illustration), the character appears as looking through an eye on the back of a hand placed over her face; looking through her body\parts. When I posted these sketches over and over, the viewers, consequently, constantly and mostly noted about these sketches the extent to which the character resembles me.

The character itself is not even close to a detailed illustration, in fact, it’s a very rough sketch of a female body with her head always turned away, so you can never assign a concrete facial identity to it, instead, it always appears as covered by her hair. Her hair is black which is a trait we share, sure, but so are the lines of her figure that outline a typical representation of a female body as per cultural hegemony à la Barbie, and so are the lines of the rest of the sketch. Nor do the elements


placed around her represent exclusive and popular elements renowned from my own life, everything was too abstract even for those in my closest circles. However, whether these commentators were intrigued, seduced, gloating, or (seriously) contesting the representations in these sketches, in relation to or at the point of knowing me personally, they all expressed what can be called an intense experience of the semblance.

The seam of this experience, I believe, is not solely in the character, for the character alone is unidentifiable as especially similar to one or a particular person. Even the colors don’t indicate relationality for the entire sketch is black ink on a white page; its sole relation to me, is that I created it. But rather, I believe, that semblance actually draws from the overwhelming ambience repeatedly experienced through the placement of the female body in various precarious

situations, that it has something to do with a quasi-perceptual experience. Merleau-Ponty’s “view of perception depends on the idea that the background of our perception of objects and their properties, like the background understanding of a thinker, must recede from view and yet

functions everywhere to guide what is focally articulate” (Kelly 76). So when the character or the female body is repeatedly placed within these situations as part of them, the ambience or the subject of the illustrations—or even the profile—thus called forth emerges into the perception of a viewer as the female body itself is recessed into what is the receding “background” i.e. the field of environing forces that functions as to allow the subject to emerge into what is “focally

articulate”. The female body functions as the “real” thing, as that which I cannot fully grasp because it’s affected by a field of environing forces that alter my view of it; it is “the norm from which I experience the object as presented in my current perspective to be deviating” (Kelly 95).

In the sense that the real thing\the female body in the images grounds the subject spatially in


some kind of an inevitable gendered position yet to be revealed—one that a naked female body, presented alone without gendered cultural signifiers, cannot reveal. And so the subject as deviation from this norm; as ambience of the image, brings into the foreground, the blank white space of the canvas around the sketched situation as the focal object—where the gender of the character ‘must’ be revealed. This brings back—or forth—the infamous skewed female-image relationship.

Artwork: Haneen Odetallah


In her attempt to articulate a female relationship to cinema—to the image, by interrogating modes of female spectatorship, Mary Ann Doane articulates an analogy between female and the icon (image) itself:

“The intimacy of signifier and signified in the iconic sign negates the distance which defines phonetic language. And it is the absence of this crucial distance or gap which also, simultaneously, specifies both the hieroglyphic and the female. This is precisely why Freud evicted the woman from his lecture on femininity. Too close to herself, entangled in her own enigma, she could not step back, could not achieve the necessary distance of a second look.” (Doane, Film and the Masquerade 75)

This inability to achieve distance subsequently alludes to a female relationship to image production, a female relationship to the image remains of closeness and proximity, so a female image is assumed to be inseparable from the female herself. By that, the “distance” of the blank white space which came into perception as a focal object is troubled by a suspended female body which receded in the background as a functional force in the production of a subject. The

ambience associated with a female body alludes to a state of femaleness; immediately initiates an imago.

It is in the distance of the blank space between the suspended female body in the images and myself, the person attempting to represent a female self or to abstract my figure as female, that a viewer is inclined to (mis)identify a person's position hinged to that figure. Even when the ambience functioned almost as abstract—or resonated with some female viewers, their

identification with the image subject was “despite that it’s you” and even apologetic “we have the same hair” and “so I see myself in those illustrations”; incapable of overcoming assumed


female-image proximity. The non-personed space of the female images implies distance from the (female) person and thus creates alarming unfamiliarity for the viewer, one that defies “common”

sense; a space that demands immediate intervention of contextualization by the external gaze. A female must dwell so close to her image (representation) therefore the female as a subject is always determined by the external (male world) gaze as having some hierarchical position among objects of the world (gaze), as spatialized, as woman or a kind of woman; a process of subjection.

In this thesis, I will conduct a close reading of gender, desire, and space in the Gen Z HBO teen drama series Euphoria. When I watched Euphoria, something about it felt very familiar. For although the series is set around being an American teenager in 2019, the majority of its audiences were “online” (Porter)—a more global demographic, and personally, I found myself intensely relating to each female character despite the striking particularity of each, let alone context gap (as a Middle-Eastern female “millennial”). A hint of something familiar roamed the series’ corporeal femaleness. Dubbed by The Guardian as the “most shocking teen show ever”

(Hayes) derived from its abundance of unsolicited graphic content on various levels—the series is noted for its infamous “30 penises” scene (Hayes) where one of the (male) characters sits in a locker room surrounded by naked guys. Despite that Euphoria portrayed shocking material in terms of nudity—both male and female in a biological binary sense, something remained

“noticeable” in the way in which this material was “staged”. “Male” nudity was very pornographic in presentation, while “Female” nudity was very casual. Euphoria takes this aesthetic technique as an affective approach to themes surrounding gender in a digital

era—sexuality, pornography, body-image, in addition to addiction and violence. While the digital


era of—highly visual—social media and porn websites brings representations of these themes to the extreme; nudes, “revenge porn, and social media-orientated kinks like findomination”

(Yalcinkaya), particularly in a world where “men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (Berger 47), indeed something very Kafkaesque was about the “everydayness”

mode of portraying female nudity (or bodies) in such an extreme environment\show. Whereas one of the female characters (Rue) gives a very detailed theatrical presentation of types of “dick pics”, a viewer on the other hand barely catches a glimpse of her (female) friend Jules’s naked body or nudes and instead watches their sweet bonding as Rue assists Jules in the process of making these images, for example. This presentation is reminiscent of theories which critique the placement of female desire in the phallus, and place a fulfilled female as the phallus (Butler, Gender Trouble), thus creating a hierarchy of the female subject among objects of desire with reference to a fulfillment of their (expected) function. Like in the drawings aforementioned, where the non-personed\blank space around the female body called forth the (male) gaze’s intervention to contextualize or engender the female subject, portraying these female bodies in Euphoria against a background of dramatically sexualized phallic content so casually articulates

an attempt to “make visible” something about femaleness. In this thesis I will combine an analysis of character arcs of the series’ female characters with a phenomenology of space to analyze gender, sexuality, and power dynamics to investigate this instituted hierarchy of the female subject as portrayed in Euphoria.


Background-foreground: His look gave me hierarchy

“I am given no chance. I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance.” (Fanon 87)

While gender and race produce distinct points of departure, something remains common to both when speaking of a “body that does not belong to itself rather belongs to the gaze” (Sithole 28), both Black and Female share the condition of being disfigured as subjects and relegated to that of objects, with a little twist on the female’s part. In particular, Fanon articulates a black subject that has zero ontological resistance (Fanon 83), as in “it is abstracted ontologically to what exists of it in that it is signified as not been human” (Sithole 31); an object of the world of Anti-blackness (Sithole 24). For the female subject, its ontological reference is not of Anti-Femaleness but of Female-subordination. For that, an ontological hierarchy always places the female as deficient as a subject; however it does not render the female as body\object entirely, yet. While the black subject is always haunted by death as a bodily courtesy of the anti-black world (Sithole 37), the female subject is always haunted by sex. Again, as the perception of a black man is that of a void—the dehumanizing project by whiteness (Sithole 30), perception of a female is that of a sexual position, the presence and absence of it. The female can never exist as a subject extracted from a position apropos male desire; a gendered position by the male (world) gaze.

And since gender is performative—both informed and constituted through performance (Butler, Performative Acts 519), we can understand it in terms of the figure being both distinct and embedded into the background against which it is perceived. So in the case of female subject, a


process of arrangement is always at work, one which alters background-foreground (figure) relationships in the presence (upon perception) of a female body i.e. the figure, and the space which it occupies, always in an attempt to constitute its positivity in that space. Since the female figure is always perceived as existentially lacking (disfigured as subject and relegated to object status), negative space around a positive female figure experienced in reiteration unsettles that idea for it implies existential sufficiency—ability to withstand an existential subjectivity without reference to its sexual position that is necessarily related to maleness. So the logical step by—in a sense—a performed colonizing gaze is to constitute that figure’s positivity through that

subjecting gaze; by assigning that figure that positivity through foregrounding what otherwise would’ve been a receded background as the foregrounded figure. In other words attaching the sexual function to the figure, like the—gender—identity of the maker i.e. me—filling the gap of a non-personed (or non-gendered) space despite my elaborate constituted abstraction. The background-foreground relationship plays are thus central to the conception of a female. The positivity of the female figure is necessarily constituted through what is presumed by an external (world) gaze, hence the female-as-subject is always altered in the process of perception because it is always spatialized from with-out. And that shift, that external arrangement of the female subject institutes female dispossession for the female.

“Everyone is female and everyone hates it”(L. Chu 25), Andrea Long Chu advances that being female is “Defined by self-negation” whereby “the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another” (L. Chu 25), and that it’s the universal state of being, beyond which, gender is just coping with it. Indeed, because females are not female; to exist as female is to exist as

female-in-a-state-of-dispossession. If we adopt Long Chu’s argument, then we can understand


this dispossession from the female’s perspective as the displacement of the desire for desire, for self—the idea of the figure into the far-fetched foreground. In the sense that female desire is unattainable or suspended since the figure itself comes to signify desire, but the desire of the other, such that the figure is relegated to background status as object (in the drawings the female subject is constituted through its embodiment of the spectator’s desire: to desire the character or to abandon it, to frown upon it...); the female figure operates in the background as background.

All the while female desire is replaced with a desire to harmonize oneself with other background objects. In other words what is brought to place the actual figure of the female is a figure hinted by those background elements that signify its problematic nature as female; the constituted situation in the drawings can only be perceived as subject-positive if the “hindered” posture of the figure comes to be understood in terms of the deviation of the figure from an ideal (thus normative) female object of desire—the “problematic” of taming the female subject or

perceiving its—sexual—subordination. And if desire is what advances the figure, what propels it to enter new backgrounds or proclaim foregrounds, then female desire is retained only insofar it designates a resolution to that “problematic nature” as the female’s Lacanian imaginary (Loos).

The struggle of female is in the space between that problematic nature, signified by the body, and the world over that far-fetched self (the desire for desire). And that space varies in configurations according to the constituent complex relationships that are psychological, social, cultural, sexual etc., those which assert the body’s place in background and proximity to the foreground—the possibility for resolution. These configurations vary across milieu, they demarcate ranges of the constituted positivity of the female figures, in some cases a female can be ascribed a position of Anti-maleness (Anti-subjectivity), fully recede to background\object status; completely lose the—human—self (the possibility for resolution) and fall into the death haunt category, in Honor


killings for example (in that sense we can understand Black at times as a position of femaleness).

A little bit dramatic

Yet these configurations not only situate the body (within the background as object) but also spatialize it in such a way that the space between background and foreground is always subjected with rules of gendered performance. In that sense the—female—self is transposed infinitely to an imaginary register, while the female might still retain that self (or desire) is attainable via the informed performance. All the while, that performance actually embodies a symbolic register of the (male) gaze, one which constantly grounds the female in the suggested background as an object. Carrot and stick. In that sense also, the line drawn between the performance of gender (as an extension of one’s desire), and theatrical performance (as the manifestation of the status quo) disappears once more in the performance of the female. “In the theatre, one can say, 'this is just an act,' and de-realize the act, make acting into something quite distinct from what is” (Butler, Performative Acts 527), while a female’s act is just “the act’ towards a far fetched self. The female body serves as the stage on which the “act” of the female (desire) takes place, the act recesses the female body to the receded background from which a focal object is called forth by the act; the female figure thus emerges as prescribed routines of the female body which address its problematic nature as female; its relation to subordination.

If desire is the propellant of subjectivity in the Lacanian sense, in that it propels the subject to consider its positioning within a new background that could therefore reveal the figure as the ideal desired version of that “I” (Loos), then female subjectivity can be considered as the act of


finding an ideal position within the background it has been installed in or assigned. The female ideal-I is thus redacted to what the background offered by the male gaze permits. In Masquerade Reconsidered, Doane considers that this norm of female subjectivity could be understood in terms of the masquerade, by bringing forth the case of psychoanalyst Joan Riviere’s famous female patient, who “like Riviere herself, was an intellectual whose skill and professionalism were recognized by her colleagues. But in order to compensate for the supposed masculinity of such a role, the patient would assume the exaggerated aspects of femininity, flirting with her colleagues after each of her professional performances” (Doane, Masquerade Reconsidered 43).

Doane’s concept of masquerade illustrates how female “becomes the very image of femininity in order to compensate for her "lapse" into subjectivity” (Doane, Masquerade Reconsidered 42). In other terms, we can understand femaleness as a prescribed set of routines in a dramatic

sense—intended as effects. Female self or subject is thus merely the act disjunct from

concreteness that is retained in the background—that which motivates that figure to be oriented towards certain directions, and in turn to find new backgrounds to inhabit. Yet that background à la Merleau-Ponty’s view of perception is that which functions for us to identify it as the “real thing”, as femaleness in this case. So the constituted positivity of a female figure via a

phenomenological account becomes that which recedes into the background to allow itself to be revealed as some projected background routine dramatized into a figure—as the reiterated act or play of that original sexual position assigned by maleness. So what concrete possibilities for female-as-subject can we observe benefitting from a phenomenological attitude? How can we theoretically demarcate a body of femaleness in an abstract sense without falling into the loopholes of gender performance?


For that, a phenomenological account of film (or moving image) as embodied subjectivity, as

“temporal gestalt”, or “an intentionally organized whole that changes and moves in time”

(Yacavone 167) allows for the “worlding” of perspectival standpoints on and from a series of figures. It allows for a corporeal examination of an array of figures and backgrounds along finite temporal points. To examine illicit patterns of femaleness for example, topographically. What kind of configurations and plays of background-foreground would come to work and what can it contribute to an attempt to scavenge the abstraction of the female figure and for the conception or re-conception of the female subject from a female waste-world. Euphoria, offers a pattern of femaleness through worlding perspectival points on the issue of femininity tapping into areas of body image, toxic masculinity, and female subordination; a series of phenomena that surround the constitution of a female figure. Euphoria presents us with a female composition whose figures come to be articulated through a zoom-in on their spatial responsiveness to the governing forces of the—heteronormative—world. Euphoria’s female characters are hardly encountered in conflict with each other, rather their existential conflicts are stretched to assume shape along temporal progression through gradual staging of their spatial shifts around the compelling demands of the subordinate female position; Rue confronts lesbian loss rather than queer

oppression, Jules the passing transgirl styles herself as queerly feminine rather than cishet, while cishet Maddy navigates heteronormativity not to get burned in it, and big-sized Kat capitalizes on masked masculine fragility rather than negate it. In that sense, the following chapters will examine Euphoria’s staging of femaleness itself as spatial relations, or the staging of the female figure as a “background” that denotes a female subject, with each chapter focusing on a

particular (female) character and their staging of the female subject\female dispossession.


Chapter 2: Explicitly Female

Artwork: Haneen Odetallah

Euphoria’s female figure(s): What’s so explicit

I came across a meme on the internet the other day, an image of some female with an “extra”

look; two high bubble pigtails neatly done, some fancy heavy and glamorous eye make-up, and a


maxi see-through bodycon white dress that complimented her especially busty hourglass body, a graphic dress that says in bright red:


And the image was captioned: “The girls in Euphoria be like: On my way to school”.

While the meme specifies its subject as the ''girls'', it’s equally if not actually a take on Euphoria's explicit attitude. Euphoria, a 2019 American teen drama series around themes of

drug use, sex and sexual dynamics, and violence, conveys its subject matter in extremely graphic content. The narrative reveals itself in characters who are always “on edge” of the difficulties of what seem like teenage matters accounted for by dramatic narration and visual presentation.

Narrated by Rue, a sixteen-year-old addict who’s struggling to stay clean after she survived an overdose as she gets a hold of a new addiction: the new girl in town; Jules. Jules, a passing transgender girl, who is trying to “conquer femininity” (“Trials and Tribulations” 40:09) by engaging excessively in imaginary “love” stories with male strangers. Juxtaposed with Maddy, the classic teen flick sexy girl who’s madly caught in a toxic relationship with her abusive boyfriend in particular and with masculinity in general. That same masculinity that set Kat on a dominance quest over men’s finances online and (sexual) obedience offline, throwing—back at them—her body image as over-sized. The masculinity that Cassie desperately tries to horde “true love” or validation from, in an attempt to find a meaningful relationship with herself; yet she fails due to the overwhelming libido and sex appeal to which she is always reduced.


So Euphoria’s “girls”or main characters, are females associated each with their own extreme struggle with the female state. We experience their positivity each as extreme, as an extreme case of a certain relationship to their presented subjectivities: whenever Rue’s around she’s pondering some kind of pill, Jules is constantly measuring her relationship to men and thus to femininity, Maddy in the on and off loops of toxic exchange with her boyfriend, Kat casually checking out her male encounters as targets over whom she seeks more dominance, and Cassie struggling to stay fulfilled with that one guy or without him. These main characters present a subjectivity that is constructed based on some kind of “fault” in their sexual function, a skewed relationship to the other’s desire that inhabits them, reminiscent of Long Chu’s idea of Female as self-negation (L.

Chu 25). It is a sense of subjectivity that unfolds through their character arcs as a linear formula, whereby a prescribed array of possibilities is always haunted by that “fault” along the character’s temporal progression in a stylistic manner (as described earlier it is the motif underlying each character's struggles throughout the series). The narration foregrounds this fault or style as habit, and we can locate it in each character’s performance, including the draw off of their childhood in dramatic picturesqueness. As Kelly put it, “the style of an oeuvre, like the style of an individual or an epoch, is so pervasive that it recedes into the background and is largely invisible to those who manifest it most.” (Kelly 75). That “Style” functions as background which, recalling Merleau-Ponty’s conception, “must recede from view and yet functions everywhere to guide what is focally articulate” (Kelly 76), i.e. the characters’ foregrounded figures.

Yet style forms epistemological grounds; “ways of knowing as ways of showing” (Mitchell 149) as Mitchell conceives of style’s dual nature, both as an internal expressive feature and a more exposed feature “as a collectively shared language” (Mitchell 149). Style constructs the space of


the characters’ performance. In the described meme we recognize; we “know” of a style because it is manifest in the girl’s look, “the girls in Euphoria be like” (Emphasis mine) denotes the expressive feature of that style. Particularly in the red graphic words of the dress, in which we directly recognize an attempt to convey internal meanings or characteristics by transposing them to the outward appearance. The way “Mindfuck” is repeated ten times, while each of them appears in a stylistically different, distorted version of the word; stretched, zig-zagged, inflated, compressed, etc. could be articulated as a way to convey not only the meaning but also the repetitive performance that achieves this meaning. Yet the meme recognizes this style also as something that wouldn’t be so exceptional normally. The caption “be like: on my way to school”

(Emphasis mine) recognizes the incompatibility of such a particularly graphic style as “public”

or exposed, or that it’s seemingly over-dramatized, while still constituting an implicit shared language, like any other style. It’s as if the descriptive words of the dress “Crazy, Emotional, Irrational and Mindfuck” are something of the domain of the subconscious, of the functional norm experienced as background which shouldn’t appear as focal—that it’s internal—yet something that still manages to be embedded into the perception of that figure; over-staged, in the case of Euphoria, and constitute the positivity of the figure as a (re)performance of

subconscious matter (like the repetition of the word in different graphic styles). This is the kind of multi-layered explicitness that Euphoria poses.

Euphoria: Rue’s style

Examining Rue’s character, she is already posed at dissonance with herself. Her relationship to herself, mirroring a relationship to an external world, is one contaminated by emotional and


sensational numbness as a result of bombarding her systems with substances (whether by various mental health medications she has been prescribed since her early childhood or substances of her adolescent abuse). Using and abusing, or rather the need for it i.e Addiction, is her norm. That numbness came to relieve or “treat” her anxieties with the world and with being in that world. In the first episode of the series dedicated to Rue’s backstory, she is diagnosed early on with a very long list of disorders (OCD, ADHD, GAD, and Bipolar disorder), but the viewer is never really certain—“but she’s a little young to tell” the psychiatrist adds while young Rue confused witnesses her parents cry. In her preteens, that numbness has also come to relieve sexual anxieties; the foregrounded traumas of widespread sexual harassment coupled with adolescent body anxieties that are highlighted by the seemingly random rape threat texts she receives online.

And as she grows older, these anxieties are propelled by porn’s visibility and influence in today’s era—her highschool classmates flash porn on their phone screens to their female classmates and make sexual gestures, Rue glances at her classmate, then to the camera and sniffs another line.

Rue’s character is only revealed through her relationship to substances, her relationship to people is facilitated by these substances through achieving that emotional numbness—Rue wakes up unable to respond to her household until she manages to steal a pill from her mother’s bathroom.

A couple of episodes later, in a conversation with Jules, who would become her love interest after she returns “clean” from rehab, Rue is revealed to have had little interest or urgency for sex throughout her life. As she admits it to Jules, even in her few engagements in sexual activity, she has been more of a facilitator of someone else’s sexuality than a sexual subject herself. For instance, she recounts that one time, she taught her best friend how to kiss when her friend was asked on a date for the first time; emotional numbness thus has contaminated her libido as well.


Style as background: Rue’s phenomenology

For phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, the perceptual experience of a background against which a figure is perceived can be understood as such: “when we experience something as a full-fledged three-dimensional object, there is some sense in which we experience it as having sides that are now hidden from view” (Kelly 96). These hidden sides are perceived in Merleau-Ponty’s account as “a positive but essentially indeterminate aspect of perception” (Kelly 97), as in they allude to an indeterminate or hidden feature that we yet perceive as existing there. These “hidden features”

are the function of the background that on-looks the figure, as they are revealed by the

background which hosts this figure, and this is the sense of the term “background” which I'll be using as I approach Euphoria’s female figures in this and the following chapters. In

phenomenological terms, we can understand addiction as Rue’s style: as expressive of internal features and as embedded in the perception of her figure; as the background that functions to reveal hidden aspects of her complete—female—figure.

Rue’s figure, her spatial stance, is always (pre)determined by her responsiveness to the choice of taking the pill or the drug—it is a recurring moment that persists in every encounter of hers, particularly whenever Rue must relieve a certain anxiety that’s been leveling up. In episode three for example, after Rue’s been getting only more anxious by her closeted jealousy of Jules’s new online love interest, her anxiety escelates as Jules asks for her help in taking sexy photographs to send to her lover. Yet after shying away from Jules’s bedroom and her—longed-for—hugs and kisses congratulating Rue for being clean for two weeks, Rue runs to the kitchen to drink water and to collect herself. She witnesses a few pill bottles on the kitchen table; Rue glances at the


pills and utters “Fuck me”, the viewer immediately recognizes that the next image will be of Rue swallowing the pill she stole and hurrying back home to wither away and be high, away from those anxieties. Rue’s responsiveness to external elements—other people, substances—functions as an effect of what Merleau-Ponty accounts for as the “positive presence” (Kelly 79) of the indeterminate features of the figure or the indeterminate background; “we must recognize the indeterminate as a positive phenomenon” (Kelly 80) thus to understand background as

“experienced normatively instead of descriptively” (Kelly 79). As Rue is an addict, her

immediate need in the face of any desire is fast forward fulfillment or euphoria, yet when those desires are unmet they propel further anxieties which cause an urgency on Rue’s part to

(re)formulate her desires. In that way, Rue withdraws from that anxiety inducing urgency—the need for a spatial shift like reorienting herself to occupy the friend zone around Jules in order to remain in that relationship or friendship. Instead, when her desires are unmet, Rue reaches for a space where her desire is no longer pressing or active because she no longer feels it. Addiction thus normalizes Rue’s performance in relationship to desire, whilst her fixated desire is that of the “euphoria”, she simultaneously desires the emotional numbness achieved by fast forward euphoria when the anxiety of a necessary rearrangement of her subject or a spatial shift is present—like avoiding the pain of jealousy or Jules’s unavailability, by allowing herself to be unaware of those desires thus unaware of the spatial work needed. In that sense addiction comes to demarcate the figure or the positivity every time by allowing her such an exit.

Yet, we are also presented with the overdose incident in the first episode as the epilogue to her backstory, thus pointing to overdose as a possible consequence; her near-death-experience as symptomatic of her performance. Rue’s aspiration, on the whole—a Lacanian “ideal-I” (Loos),


or what is “foreground” in a sense of a projected self-image—is haunted by that overdose, thus we can understand the overdose as foreshadowing a possibility of subjectivity beyond the

addiction such that it predetermines her “self”. The risk of overdose isolates the farfetchedness of the projected foreground. In that sense Rue’s possibility for subjectivity is a routine of that projected background function of addiction pertaining to her problematic nature, of constantly reaching a space of non-desire, or being incapable of desiring in fear of anxiety. Rue being female, this is diagnosed as a “faulty” or, in her case, a nonfunctional sexual position apropos the dominant gaze because, although a heterosexual norm would require females not to have desires of their own they are still required to desire being desired, while Rue abstains from the process entirely by seeking its abolishment and she recognizes that the only possible outcome for her subject is the overdose. In heteronormative terms the only answer to a—male—non-desiring female is a non-subject (in Rue’s case death by the overdose). The overdose is the impasse that Rue reaches, and she experiences living or being as constantly headed towards that impasse; yet, for a second, that changes when she encounters Jules. When Rue befriends Jules, or rather is connected to her in a “relationship”, a new possibility for a subjectivity opens up as Rue engages in a relationship with reference to her sexual desire, yet how is it possible that her sexual

function is restored or rather how is it that the impasse is overcome?

Addiction as background still functions in constituting Rue’s figure, Rue narrates her arrival in the first episode “I had no intention of staying clean, and Jules had just moved to town” (“Pilot”, 08:52). After all, it is the drug dealer that “delivers” to her the news of the arrival of “a new girl you might be friends with” (“Pilot” 09:09). Moreover, when he is describing the new pill Rue’s just about to obtain—and her first pill back into abusing for a matter of fact—just after she’s


arrived clean from rehab, the description of the pill’s high is narrated over an image of Jules from her first encounter with Rue which comes a little later in the episode. While Rue’s relationship to Jules is constantly marked by Rue’s addiction sponsor as dangerous and “addictive”, it still manages to overcome that impasse posed by the overdose. Rue talks about a future with Jules, dreams of living together in New york while Jules attends that university she dreams about. But if we extend along Merleau-Ponty’s account of the positive presence of the background in the constitution of a figure in perception, we remain within the first analysis, we are able to

understand Rue’s performance as prescribed routines which are inherently dramatic as they “act”

to disclose that addiction; whenever Jules is missing, non-responsive, or busy with some other crush of hers, Rue relapses—and the overdose symptom is back.

Merleau-Ponty’s view is that the experience of a figure with hidden features, is really the experience of a background with multiple viewpoints on the figure from which I can see the figure’s features that are now hidden from my view. Yet, he defines an “optimal view” of a figure as it “really” is, as the point or points that “would give me a maximum grip on something

experienced as a three-dimensional object, that would most reveal the object as it really is”

(Kelly 90). And since I cannot realistically have a spatial point of view that would entirely reveal the figure, he theorizes the view from everywhere, from all perspectives or viewpoints, as “the optimum perspective from which to view the object” (Kelly 91). The experience of any figure against a background, by his account, is an experience of the figure as deviating from an optimal view (Kelly 90) and so is every perspective on the figure, thus the background, or context of the figure is the norm which alludes to the figure’s deviation from the optimal. By these terms, the symptom of the overdose is the kind of normative experience of Rue’s figure, whereby it makes


the figure appear as “not presented in the optimum way” (Kelly 85), for Rue we always recognize that she is at a distance from the overdose (the optimal view), and so when Jules

“enters the picture”, we experience Rue as further deviating the optimal—the overdose. Jules’s presence offers Rue a fast forward fulfillment of desire minus the anxiety as long as she provides Rue with attention. But, just a little towards the end of the series, Jules asks Rue “Why don’t you kiss me… I want you to kiss me so bad that you don’t even ask” (“And Salt” 24:12). There, Rue is stunned.

The question exposes the hovering symptom (what was thought as suspended), Rue’s addiction to Jules is revealed as such as Jules’s question sheds light on Rue’s sexuality as not driven by active desire, rather driven by addiction—another distraction. Jules provides Rue with a relief from the anxieties that attack when she must deal with being Rue; finding something to occupy her time to distract her from the need to suppress the variety of mental health issues or the need to find a desire that drives her towards the foreground—the projected self-image. And it is at that moment of questioning her desire—to kiss Jules or the sexual desire in this case—that Rue starts acting more properly like an addict apropos Jules; she relapses as the question of “the pill” rises again, was she to drop the addiction and to run away with Jules to New York right now as Jules proposes? And as she approaches overcoming the overdose impasse through her relationship to Jules, when she is forced to (re)formulate a desire, she backs off at the last minute in courtesy of maintaining that overdose symptom to sustain her subject, and ends up resorting to the drugs she originally maintained. But that incident reveals something additional as well, it reflects on Rue’s sexuality as mediated by Jules in the sense that her (lack of) sexual desire was only perceivable via Jules.


When Merleau-Ponty accounted for background as a norm from which the perceived figure is deviating, he accounted for this deviation as a determinate perception of some indeterminate feature, and what is actually determinate in my perception of a figure’s background is the actual objects of that background. “Merleau-Ponty’s account, instead, is that the background objects are experienced as stand-ins for the point of view one gets on the focal thing from the position in which they sit” (Kelly 91). Thus when we referred to Rue’s sexuality in relationship to Jules as deviation from the optimal, we referred to a point of view further from the optimal or with a lesser grip on the maximum—on Rue’s subjectivity as headed towards the overdose. Originally our perception of Rue’s subject was from a point of view that manifests her sexual function as

“off”, and a subjectivity that doesn’t surpass the overdose. While, when Jules “entered the picture”, when she entered our view as an object among the objects that constitute Rue’s background, she came to offer a standpoint from which Rue’s sexuality was functional. In that sense Jules functions an object of Rue’s background (one that stylizes the addiction nonetheless) which offers a stand-in for another point of view, one from which we get another “grip” à la Merleau-ponty on Rue’s figure, one in which her sexuality is perceivable.

Rue’s endeavor with Jules illustrates the interplay of background-foreground. The projected background routine is Rue’s constitution; the addiction still manages to be sustained in the definition of her positivity only because it constitutes the only possibility for subjectivity, thus symptoms such as the overdose fear in Rue’s case contaminate or rather inform her performance every time. Rue is already prescribed as a female subject, a non-sexual sexual position (apropos males) because she doesn’t engage in the desire play, she doesn’t intend (or desire) a

foregrounded self-image—in the lacanian sense—in which she is perceived by the gaze as an


object of desire. This interplay, the female as a subject as theorized earlier in a state of dispossession of foregrounded desire, incorporated what was perceived as a “restored sexual function”, thus what could’ve been a new possibility of subjectivity, in the manner of a formal fetishistic substitution. Whereby the submissive tendencies in the female-as-subject to the background she is prescribed, the background which comes to constitute her figure by removing the figure’s own determinate features—her problematic nature as female or her sexual desire, manage to withdraw only to be replaced by some other kind of desire projected onto her. In any case the acts carried by Rue, like towards the promising relationship with Jules, remain an “act”

because subjectivity is disclosed within the “original” possibility, a new subjectivity is rendered impossible from that original perspective (which both the viewer and Rue hold on Rue’s subject).

In spite of this, the endeavor with Jules accounts for a loophole; that is to simultaneously inhabit another standpoint that doesn’t merely expose a positive presence of an “indeterminate feature”

of Rue’s figure. For Jules retains subjective capacities in that image—she’s a focal object herself, she herself has her own possibilities and her own determinate (and indeterminate) features when she enters the viewer’s perception. And while for Rue, this attraction might not be a determinate feature (as in a perceivable sexual desire on Rue’s part), in the case of Jules’s figure it is, and so the new possibility for subjectivity is noted only in the presence of an intercorporeal femaleness across the image; the presence of a multiplicity of female subjects. This possibility, while it replaces the original for a moment, alludes to the dramatized aspect of the female subject in each individual character by giving out the “act” as an act that refrained from the new possibility, afterall the function of normative background is to “Lead the gaze instead of arresting it” (Kelly 84) or in other words “to orientate”. Sara Ahmed writes that “Orientations" depend on taking points of view as given” (Ahmed 14), by that, taking up a new focal point (Jules) transforms


another focal point (Rue) into background—as a given towards Jules’s subject. Ahmed writes on

“how objects and bodies acquire orientations in part by how they ‘point’ to each other”(Ahmed 5), if we consider that Jules’s repetitive initiative towards sexual relations as orientated towards males, then we can understand Jules’s encounter with Rue as pointing to a new focal point. One inhabited by a third subject whose sexual function diverges from both of their prescribed backgrounds.That is, if both of their symptoms “lead our gaze”, then there’s a third hovering symptom from our current view that is the synthesis of both their symptoms, which leads us to that third focal point, one with a more “flexible” sexual position, but one that is necessarily female (this is not the only time that Jules deviates from her orientated sexuality towards males, as she also attracts another female character during one of the last episodes). In other words, Jules is exposed to the possibility of female romance after she meets Rue, Jules thus is orientated accordingly.

When orientated “the lines we follow might also function as forms of ‘alignment,’ or as ways of being in line with others” (Ahmed 15), this is the kind of explicitness that Euphoria advances:

what we’re offered is multiple standpoints and perspectives on an intercorporeal female subject constituted among these standpoints as lines of direction. “This question of direction crucial to the emergence of subjectivity" (Ahmed 15), Ahmed here invokes Butler’s conception of subject formation through “turning” as one is being “hailed” by the police, but Ahmed goes on: “the

‘turning’ allows subjects to misrecognize themselves in the policeman's address, but it might also take subjects in different directions.” And so “depending on which way one turns, different worlds might even come into view” (Ahmed 15); different conditions for subjectivity. So what lines of direction can we articulate from the intercorporeal female subject if we were to occupy multiple standpoints that emerge between the female characters of Euphoria?


Chapter 3: Queerly Female

Artwork: Haneen Odetallah

“How Important it is,especially for women,to claim that space, to take up that space through what one does with one's body…. And so when I am at my table, I am also claiming that space, I am becoming a writer by taking up that space.” (Ahmed 11)


How Important it is,especially for a woman: Jules’s style

In the first episode of the series, our first impression of Jules is that of a colorful stylistic “Sailor moon” (“Pilot” 09:14) girl, smitten with love, on her way to a date in a motel room with a guy she’s been texting on a (gay) dating app. The date seems pretty dreamy; the guy is there, well dressed with the champagne glass he promised, gently handing it over to Jules while he caresses her face and calls her very beautiful. The next thing we know, he inserts his thumb in her mouth, flips her on the bed, tears apart her clothing, and engages in a somewhat violent sexual

intercourse until he is relieved. Jules later flips through his phone while he’s in the shower to learn that he’s married, she leaves disappointed like every other time. This pretty much sets up Jules’s character and subjectivity.

Since a very young age, Jules has been engaging excessively in self harm; she’s been a gender dysphoric clinically depressed boy, the gender she’s assigned at birth, who just hated himself, body and soul. As a “boy” she had spent her time in and out of therapy until she was abandoned by her mother in a psychiatric hospital for some time, then, some time later, her mother retreated from her life to alcoholism. In the fourth episode "Shook Ones Pt. II" dedicated in part to Jules’s backstory, her young “boy” self is portrayed in an androgynous style: colorful oversized

“feminine” shirts that conceal her body, tight pants and Hello Kitty backpacks, while her mother is already emotionally distant and clearly fed up. When Jules is back from the hospital trap feeling better, her mother leaves. At sixteen, she had already been three years into transitioning, and since then, she enlisted herself on a quest to become the very image of femininity (Doane,


Masquerade Reconsidered 42); to become “all that men desire” (“Fuck Anyone” 06:24). And every other date of hers has been the spitting image of that one described in the opening, an unavailable white “cis” man who would “always, always” insists upon being “a hundred percent straight” (“Shook ones’’08:00 ), a sensational and imaginary love story, epitomized in the first meetup, and concluded with a mini “heartbreak” routine for Jules herself. This need for love or acceptance as female is her style, one repeatedly haunted by rejection or failure.

Taking up that space: Jules’s phenomenology

The previous chapters offered a phenomenological account of the female figure as that which emerges against a background of perception as dramatized, as some projected\foregrounded routine of that background (situatedness in the male-scape) which constitutes the positivity of that figure, established upon Merleau-Ponty’s account of the background of perception as normative to the perception of a figure:

When we perceive things, however, we are constantly sensitive not only to what we perceive but also, and essentially, to how well our experience measures up to our perceptual needs and desires. The norms involved in perception, therefore, are norms about how best to see the thing perceived (Kelly 97)

The background as norm, is that which elaborately discloses the perceived thing as that “thing”

by accounting for the perceptual needs and desires of the viewholder. For Jules’s character, her subjectivity is entirely based on a willful dislocation of desire—she desires to be an object of desire for men. This desire then constitutes the normative background of the female figure Jules


aims to become; how is it perceived best such that it achieves love and approval as female, yet Jules is aware of it as such.

Young Jules hates “himself”, she doesn’t find any possibility for subjectivity within that original framework or “background” of a male gender identity. Merleau-Ponty accounts for the

perceptual experience of the background of a figure as those objects “having a point of view on it” (Kelly 97) which I can’t have and thus “perceive from various angles the central object of my present vision” (Kelly 92). Such angles are considered to reveal more of the figure’s revealing or exposing features, that is, when young “boy” Jules observes her figure, she doesn’t find

standpoints from which she can perceive herself as a subject (or as a subject of desire) or: the standpoints offered by the original background do not reveal her as such. In her “backstory”

young boy Jules stands in front of the mirror, she hates her brain, and her body, “not every part”, just her shoulders, arms, hands, chest, stomach, thighs, knees, ankles, and her feet. “And it would just play on an infinite loop, until she can’t breath or think or even stand to be alive” (“Shook Ones’’ 05:35), so she attempts to destroy that perceived non-desirable figure by self

harm—cutting herself. This “destruction” lands her in the psychiatric hospital from which she returns better and starts transitioning i.e. she admits herself to a new background; that of femaleness. A background which would offer a view from many standpoints or ideally from

“everywhere” from which her figure would be perceived as “desirable”, as female.

But Jules does in fact perceive that a female figure is essentially of a “background” status apropos maleness (the foregrounded\projected background as routine described earlier). She recognizes that “conquering femininity” (“Trials and Tribulations” 40:09) or becoming female


means abandoning any object of desire outside of her body; becoming the object of desire. So she bases her subject over a background of being female for being female—hence she embodies

“the very image of femininity” (Doane, Masquerade Reconsidered 43). She gives out herself as a

“canvas” for males’ desire to borrow Long Chu’s phrasing (L. Chu 25) i.e. she lives out her sexual function, she basesher “entire womanhood around men”, building her body, her

personality, her soul, around what she thinks men desire(“Fuck Anyone” 06:24). In other words, Jules tries to embody a fully subordinate sexual position—a functional sexuality as per male apprehension—as she perceives a female of this world “should”.“By sixteen, Jules had gotten a little slutty”the narration goes on while we skim through an overview of Jules’s dates and sexual evolution, we see her piercing a seductive look into the camera while dressing up. In the series, Jules is hardly present without looking sexy; always in mini skirts and dresses, “Jules certainly stands out among her peers in a pastel-colored babydoll top or floral-embellished turtleneck”

(Bobila). An image that mimics those erotic Ecchi (soft-porn) anime girls both in erotic lolita-ish clothing and colors, she is “like eye candy on camera” (Bobila) and on dating apps; always ready to be consumed sexually by men.

But the conscious element of this performance relegates it to that of the masquerade of a

spectator (Doane, Film and the Masquerade 82), in the sense that Jules recognizes that she must

“see herself” in order to properly present herself as a spectacle for males. The creative aspect of her fashion style, particularly shining in her outrageous neon and glitter geometric yet casually worn eye makeup for example, conveys something more than simply taking up

the—male—audience’s point of view as given; it necessitates an intuitive “illustration” distance that she takes. In the date described in the opening, the “cishet” married man, or the closeted


bisexual “locked into sexual identity” (Doane, Film and the Masquerade 81) of a cishet male, point’s to Jules’s style saying “you generally look like this? You’re beautiful…I am envious of your generation.. You don’t think much about the rules” alluding to Jules’s capacity to switch backgrounds particularly at “I look at you and I think there are two versions of how your life can go” (“Pilot” 32:17); her capacity to overlook and choose backgrounds. “The effectivity of

masquerade lies precisely in its potential to manufacture a distance from the image, to generate a problematic within which the image is manipulable, producible, and readable by the woman”

(Doane, Film and the Masquerade 87). Jules thus recognizes the need for a distance, she

recognizes that in order to produce her “figure” she must produce its background, as in to inhabit points of view that “reveal” something about that figure’s constitution, and in her case, that reveal more of a female object (of desire).The backstory, the narration, continues on Jules’s dating history:

Some were sweet, some were weird, a few were aggressive. And whenever anything got too uncomfortable, Jules would just imagine that she wasn’t really herself, and this wasn’t really her life. She was just a character in a book or a movie or a show. That none of it was real, and if it was, how did it matter? It’s not like her body ever really belonged to her in the first place. But fuck it. She’d save it for the memoirs” (“Shook Ones”)

Some points of view are more revealing of the female figure she attempts to become than others.

Jules must embody revealing standpoints every time to allow the positivity of her figure to be constituted, “To be ‘potentially lodged in’ the background object that now stands behind the figure” (Kelly 99), thus for Jules to produce her subject as orientated accordingly. Jules’s masquerade simultaneously attempts to conceal the masculine that she possesses i.e. to abstain


from viewpoints that potentially overlap with the old background; her subjectivity is thus entirely spatial work.

After all, things must get “too uncomfortable” before Jules could abandon a certain standpoint she currently occupies and reinscribe that distance once again: to imagine “this wasn’t really herself”, but even if it were, “it’snot like her body ever really belonged to her”, Jules recognizes that her figure is just the embodiment of that spatial work she does with her body. That distance Jules attempts to maintain is haunted by failure to be perceived as she intends, it closes in precisely when Jules occupies those standpoints she had sought to inhabit before, “saving it for the memoirs” indicates both the failure of that distance (the retreat from those standpoints) and a self-representational moment—the reinscription of that distance once again. In artist Monica Majoli’s portrait paintings of photographs of her ex-lovers in the mirror,“the portraits are made after the love affair has ended and represent what we think of as failure—the failure of love to last, the mortality of all connection, the fleeting nature of desire. Obviously desire is present in the very gesture of painting, and yet desire here, like the black mirror, devours rather than

generates, obliterates rather than enlightens.” (Halberstam 104). Jack Halberstam calls this desire as a reinscription of a distance away from a subject position, in Majoli’s case the lover, and in Jules’s case the female subject, “The queer art of failure” (Halberstam).

Queer failure: Conquering femininity

“If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style” (Crisp 196)


Later in the second episode of the series, Jules starts texting an anonymous guy online, he loves her looks and her nudes; Jules falls in love once again. Jules falls really hard for the guy, they text and sext for hours and days and by the fourth episode they plan to meet, that's when the guy is revealed to be Nate, her classmate and Maddy’s boyfriend. Jules is disappointed given their history (he bullies her and tries to attack her in the first episode) but Nate, seemingly so sincerely, confesses that he’s never gotten this close to anyone and he kisses her by the lake.

If an “optimal view” (Kelly 90) on the figure she attempts to produce is a view by which the

“real” figure of femininity is revealed, it would be a view from which Jules has really

“conquered femininity”—managed to become that female figure she’s after. Yet Jules always fails to “be really loved” as female. The kiss with Nate takes a turn when he inserts his thumb in her mouth and mimics the guy from the motel Jules had met with earlier, after that, it’s revealed that Nate has been scamming Jules in order to blackmail her with the nudes to prevent her from speaking up about the motel sex date; as the motel guy turns out to be his dad. This is the case with Jules, she’s constantly pointed out for her female inadequacy, every guy she meets “always, always” begins the date with “I’m a hundred percent straight” (“Shook Ones’’08:00 ); they already begin with dismay regarding her non-heteronormative femaleness, which subsequently points to a denial about their own sexuality. Even Nate, who despite the fact that he tracked her as a plan to blackmail her in the end—and to attack her as one of the reachable subjects of his (childhood) traumas regarding his dad’s secret homosexual life—was implicitly attracted to her.

Hewasn’t really obliged to kiss her but her did, and he did in fact sexually harass her in the street in the beginning of the first episode even before he learned about both her identity and relation to his dad; thus he, like the others, did recognize her as female *yet* inadequately so.


Jules recognizes this point of view on her, she always hunts for emotionally unavailable men;

married with kids, in a long-term relationship, etc., precisely because she cannot recognize

“what’s next?” (“Fuck Anyone”), given that she is perceived as such. In that sense, the

subjectivity impasse for Jules, the symptom hovering over and preventing the perception of the subject she tries to produce, is the insufficiency of the image or the background she is trying to produce (the standpoints she attempts to inhabit around her figure which reveal that figure’s features as full\positive or three-dimensional à la Merleau-Ponty); some of the viewpoints are inaccessible to her and\or implied through the other as simply not revealing of the features she attempts to articulate. Afterall, she constructs her female image, or the background that would reveal her figure on a gay dating app for example, a figure doomed to failure by heteronormative standards. This failure is the failure of abandoning subjective desire, the failure, of an “ideal”

female subject articulated solely through the other’s desire, due to “the fleeting nature of desire”

(Halberstam 104); that desire demands constant reinscription of distance because it’s essentially about perceiving a projected self-image rather than accommodating the other’s viewpoints on one’s image or figure.

Ahmed writes that “Perception hence involves orientation; what is perceived depends on where we are located, which gives us a certain take on things'' (Ahmed 27). Jules’s perception of her own figure “faces” a problem of inhabitance—inhabiting certain standpoints. “If orientation is about making the strange familiar through the extension of bodies into space, then disorientation occurs when that extension fails.” (Ahmed 11). To understand Jules’s impasse as a problem of orientation, of how the extension fails to constitute these standpoints, we therefore admit to an


unfamiliar position, an unfamiliar location vis-à-vis location (Ahmed 12), a relationship which Jules cannot establish, a direction Jules cannot take to face her figure.

“For Husserl the interpretation of the object as having this or that property is a secondary act involving what he calls a ‘twofold directedness’. First, I am directed toward an object (I face it), and then I take a direction toward it (for instance, I might or might not admire it)” (Ahmed 28)

When accounting for objects of perception or the perception of an object, such as “the table”, Husserl turns to "the table" as an object by looking at it rather than over it (Ahmed 35), “that phenomenology must "bracket" or put aside what is given, what is made available by ordinary perception” (Ahmed 32); or what is familiar. That is, only by abandoning what he terms a

“Natural attitude, which keeps us within the familiar indeed” (Ahmed 32), towards an object, in other words "to put out of action", can we actually see the object as an object, as “self-same”

(Ahmed 35). Seeing requires some distance from familiar assumptions. Husserl suggests that

“the table as object is given as ‘the same,’ as a givenness that "holds" or is shaped by the ‘flow’

of perception” (Ahmed 36). Ahmed continues: “Phenomenology for Husserl means

apprehending the object as if it were unfamiliar, so that we can attend to the flow of perception itself” (Ahmed 37). And if that table is Jules, then to actually see Jules’s self-sameness as the

“female” figure she’s trying to constitute is to lose sight of her function in this mess—as a

producer of an image, a projection of some normative subject that is capable of desiring, which is a position unfamiliar to Jules herself. In succumbing to the male gaze, Jules is conditioned to experience herself solely as an object of desire, and this would mean losing familiarity with the subject she’s creating, by turning solely to the male’s subject position as a view on herself. The flow of perception is broken when, in the second fold of the attempt to interpret her figure as


female, Jules loses direction toward her self-sameness, when she is denied femaleness by the apprehension of the other—she grows disoriented as she fails to extend her body through space when she is denied that revealing standpoint by the male subject occupying it.

It is from here that the world unfolds: That changes when she encounters Rue

When Jules enters a relationship with Rue, a new possibility for subjectivity opens up as Jules’s figure comes into view as female (Rue “sees” a female named Jules). Rue falls in love with Jules and Jules falls in love with Rue. This new possibility opens up only insofar as Rue offers a continuation of the perceptual flow Jules is trying to maintain. In other words, Rue comes to offer a view from which Jules’s self-sameness is perceivable (afterall Jules didn’t "introduce”

herself as female to Rue rather she was perceived as such), and so Rue familiarizes a position once unfamiliar to Jules herself; where Jules needn’t lose sight of her function rather her function is bracketed as background from Rue’s standpoint—when Jules fantasizes about a “happy

ending” with Rue, Rue is seen assisting Jules inject her feminizing hormones. The relationship

“puts out” or displaces both of their (sexual) functions. Rue’s usual apathy which extends to her sexuality from a male point of view is viewed as not functional (as discussed in the previous chapter). But this position is disregarded for a short while, as Rue is attracted to Jules (until her relation to Jules is revealed as just another addiction that cannot see beyond the emotional escapism, as a substitution for the actual drugs). The alignment of the desire for euphoria and sexual desire in Rue’s case is achieved with the figure of Jules entering Rue’s picture, which relieves the anxiety of having to seek euphoria through the introduction of the euphoria of love




Related subjects :