Saturday, June 04, 2005

Putting on the squeeze. The other night as I was falling asleep, I was thinking about the squeeze as a cultural motif. It's simultaneously pleasurable and uncomfortable, productive and destructive, forced and spontaneous. I first thought about it when watching microscope footage of human egg cells being prepared for cloning by squeezing out the nucleus (to leave room for the injection of a nucleus extracted from another cell). The image of the jelly-like nucleus oozing out under the pressure of forceps made me think of the disgusting satisfaction of squeezing a pimple.

Then yesterday I was sitting on the tram with my jacket fully buttoned. Apart from luxuriating in what a jaunty pussy I was, it felt quite comforting to be squeezed tightly into my clothing; to have it pressing lightly on me; almost like being hugged. Obviously I am bibliographically ill-equipped to theorise the squeeze, but I want to try to describe it in my retarded, pseudo-intellectual way.

Think, first, of the corset. It's designed to squeeze the body: to mould it in deliberate, unaccustomed ways. Fashion history writing on the corset tends to couch it as a disciplinary device, controlling women's unruly bodies in order to produce them as socially and politically docile subjects. Erect posture was explicitly conflated with moral fibre: uncorseted women were "slack" and "slovenly". Simultaneously, the corset was a tool of social distinction: clothes that limited the wearer's movements revealed that their economic position didn't rely on physical activity; and the stiff fabrics that lent themselves to corseting, like silk, were the most expensive.

But the sexual fetishisation of the corset provides a clue to the erotic meaning of the squeeze. One's sexual or romantic partner is called one's "squeeze"; and I'm sure we can all envisage our favourite body parts to be gently or roughly squeezed during sexual play. But what is erotic about the squeeze? In the example of the corset, the squeeze dramatises contingent containment. The body appears invincible, encased in its fabric, elastic and metal armour; but it bulges voluptuously over the top of the corset. So, the heaving bosom of the corseted woman serves to undermine the corset's security: it suggests that at any moment, the corset will burst, releasing a gelatinous torrent of flesh. Here, the squeeze is a metaphor for anticipation; a pleasure yet to be unleashed.

There is also the tender squeeze: a desire for physical closeness as a sign of security or affection. Wringing a dear friend's hand; clutching a departing loved one at an airport. In this sense, the corset (or the equivalent close-fitting garment) is a substitute for body contact with the loved one. For the wearer, it feels comforting and secure. I don't think it's a linguistic coincidence that we describe these garments as "snug-fitting" - this is the squeeze as affect.

Think now of the imperative sense of a goal narrowly attained; a position reached with difficulty.
"She squeezed through the crowd to the front row."
"He put in a last-minute spurt of effort to squeeze into third place."
Here, the squeeze is a negative affective state that produces affirmative results: a period of physical or psychological discomfort endured in the expectation of rich future reward. It's the reading of Deleuze in order to attain superheroic insight into the world. How sweet orange juice tastes when you laboriously have to grind the halves yourself!

But the squeeze also dramatises productivity through violence. Think of a confession being "squeezed" from a prisoner, or the extortion of money through intimidation. Something is euphemistically being violated or destroyed: the integrity of the subject's body; his or her mental composure or sense of security; moral or ethical codes. I think this sense of the squeeze is closest to Glen's example of the kiss as a shared, knotty event. The squeeze is both catalytic and liminal. It is the agent of a simultaneously productive and destructive change, and the threshold of that change.

Moving on, then, to the idea of the squeeze as a threshold, I'd say it is the threshold of deliberation and spontaneity. Slow, targeted pressure gives way to an unruly burst of activity. Think of the pimple-squeezing example - the almost jouissant explosion of pus against the bathroom mirror. The idea that we cannot predict or control the results of the squeeze adds extra piquancy to all my previous senses of the idea. What if someone retaliates to sustained blackmail by escalating to hideous violence towards a third party? What if you hug someone you love to death?

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