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Music: Vasko: Enough Enough (2011)
The nature boy said that the hardest thing one will ever know is not a singular surrender, but a certain form of exchange. He didn’t mean it in the way Mauss described the gift as “total prestation,” or representative of a total way of communal being and relations based on a muted demand of reciprocity (he traces this back to agonistic display between tribes and so forth). But nature boy was on to something quite profound nonetheless, for implicated in the love relationship is the whole of the world of social being, a reflection of a certain cultural way of interaction. If one wishes to understand a culture, then one need look no further than the gift which, fundamentally, is a negotiation and gesture of love. Objects of exchange and display are reductions of bodies: family bodies and singular bodies, but bodies nonetheless; in mythic (and lived) schemes, these bodies historically have been those of women (“don’t forget to bring your wife,” or “who gives this woman?”) and children.
A scented candle in a gift bag is nothing so weighty, one thinks. But were that true, Martha Stewart would not have a job.
Many of us have mastered the art of giving, but that is not knowledge (necessarily)—certainly not a consequence of learning, but an (almost) automatic response to the crying. One can give too much, especially of oneself, as in the destructions of hysterical self-effacement, or the faux-effacing sadism of sharing one’s private pain (often to as large a receivership as possible).
Too often the gifts of love are offered “for our own good.” Learning to accept these gifts, or at least recognize them as intended gestures of affection, is sometimes difficult, and part of that difficulty is Mauss’ astute observation that there is no such thing as a free gift (or lunch), that a form of reciprocity is implied with just about any gift, however unwittingly so. Some frequent gift-givers (I do not exempt myself here) would be horrified to realize that their gestures of affection and care were at some level demands (at the very least, for recognition). Perhaps that horror is abated, somewhat, by the realization that this demand is not lodged at the level of the personal (although it may be for some) but at the level of culture. We are just emerging from “the holiday season” and every news story, for months now, has been about the retail purchase and return of “gifts.” Presumably our “economy,” now synonymous with U.S. culture, sits precariously balanced on the gesture of the gift. In other words, you cannot escape this “social fact”: to opt out entails consequences (Grench, Scrooge, etc.) and for many risks the possibility of love.
There are ways to navigate this, and thankfully, we still teach our children that “homemade gifts”—construction paper art, finger paintings, flowering weeds from the side of the road—are “just as good” as an iPad. I saw this message repeatedly in the mass media, and was encouraged. If you cannot opt out, one can at least participate in the cultural exchange and acknowledge the social fact in meaningful ways.
With each year’s shedding it has become easier for me to accept tokens of esteem (what another would have you wear, or read, or believe), to see beyond the object of the gift to the person who bears it, to see the gift as a vehicle for something else: a relationship, cultural reproduction, necessary forms of loving.
“Thank you son,” my father said when he received his gift from me on Christmas day. “You thought about this, I know you thought about it.”
“I know it’s not much,” I said, “but I hope the fact I puzzled over what I might get you makes up for that.”
“It does. Papa used to give me a twenty, and that was that. It’s nice to get something you thought about.” He said this at least three times during my visit, and it made me feel good.
My father’s mention of his own father’s gifts was a pregnant moment, to queer a metaphor, because the cross one cannot bear and the bridge one cannot cross often concerns fathers and sons. My relationship with my father is a working-through of a relationship with his father, something I’ve known at a very young age and, I suspect, something familiar to many of us “sons” out there. Closely related to these complexities—how I’m not quite sure—is my father’s passion for guns. I have never understood that passion (I’m scared of most weapons, with perhaps the exception of knives), and I’m always careful when I open a drawer in the house not to explore or fumble with my hands unaided by the reconnaissance of the eye. As much as it troubles me to feed my father’s fasciation with things that kill, I gifted my father a weaponry magazine subscription and an encyclopedia of firearms for Christmas. There is, admittedly, a perverse pleasure in knowing this is a gift for which Jesus would not likely approve (unless, of course, it is the Jesus of a certain Georgian culture that I’m quite familiar with, the kind in which the Holy Bible is stored in the armrest of a Ford F150 with “monster” tires and a Confederate flag sunscreen applique right behind the gun rack).
I never knew, by the way, Gram Parsons was serious when he wrote that Jesus was just alright with him. He was a fool, not a grievous angel, not to pursue Emmylou instead of death. But I regress . . . .
There is a tall, non-descript, stone Confederate soldier with a moustache toting a rifle in the middle of the city square in Monroe, Georgia. I spent some time in Monroe over the holiday. I learned the city government gifts the community every year with a “live nativity” at the Walton County courthouse in the middle of the small, downtown area. Monroe is the type of small town that had died and then returned with a struggling but “revitalized” town square. The old hardware store is still in operation and, despite having been closed for two days, the owners left a flank of nice, handmade rocking chairs on the sidewalk. No one would think to take one unless she was visiting from out of town (yes, I thought to take one, although I would never actually do such a thing). The other vibrant business is, apparently, a tattoo parlor, which is in a small flat above what is dubbed a “Family Billiard Hall” (reminiscent of, I think, of stylings Hooters, which my friend Rob humorously describes as a “family titty bar”). I had an inedible salad, which I ate, in a nice restaurant with a best friend near the town square on Christmas Eve, and after we said our goodbyes, I enjoyed a secret cigar as I toured the town square alone. The “nativity” scene on the courtyard stuck me as an odd gift. What odd “prestation” was this?
When I came upon the manger scene, there were no live people animating it; for that I would need to come back in a few hours, after nightfall (and I would have, but most things were closed and there was nothing to do and I didn’t bring a book and I am not yet brave enough to get those tattoos I’ve often fantasized about getting). In their stead were a series of plywood cutouts painted to resemble the New Testament nativity action figures. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had rosy, pink flesh and wore some fetching pastel garments. The three wise men were deliberately depicted as the raced Other come to honor the white baby Jesus, one of them painted in very dark hues (the African wise man, you know), all dressed in fancy garb. I had seen such a scene thousands of times in my youth, but what puzzled me at the moment was the strange way in which a racial history was negotiated in this holy re-presentation. Rising just twenty feet behind the scene, between the makeshift hay shelter housing the plywood Christ and the steps of the courthouse, stood a thirty-foot monument dedicated to fallen Confederates who gave their lives to protect Monroe city and Walton county from the War of Northern Aggression. It’s a common monument to see in the rural-ish south (apparently hundreds of replicas were made and dispersed to widows’ groups in the early twentieth cetury). Standing at the corner of the square was the nativity, and rising above it, the stone soldier with rifle, and just above it, the modest edifice of the courthouse erected in 1884.
“Where do I locate the mediation?” I wondered. Is the black wise man mediating the relation between the Confederate monument and Christ? Or, was Plywood Jesus mediating the relation between the wise man and the Confederacy? Given the white Holy Family gathered in the hay to the right of the wise man, one could easily conclude the stiffs were created and painted by a white man (no doubt well intentioned and probably donated as a gift some years ago). It’s also true the courtyard scene overdetermined an obvious, intended meaning: through Christ there is racial harmony. One is challenged to call this kind of gift anything other than tough love, since the economy of racial harmony is not one of exchange, but assignation. Oh, and assassination, lest we forget. It’s a difficult love to accept and we are right to examine the horse’s mouth very closely when the gift is to know our proper place.
Then again, isn’t the gift about one’s station? Prestation, indeed.
With this familiar, southern scene there is also a widely acknowledged, cultural pedagogy: this child is God’s gift to humanity and you should learn to accept it and be grateful. The gift of the nativity scene is a pedagogy of receiving a gift, of knowing how to receive love. And the wise men, of course, brought gifts of their own in a proper reciprocity, following yonder star.
I would have liked to have seen the live nativity. I would have enjoyed observing how visitors reacted, or seeing if the actors moved. Would they have broken into spontaneous song? And what would they sing? And what is the racial diversity of the crowd?
I don’t ask these questions cynically. My “reading” of the scene as a gifting-zone and site of social reproduction is clear, I think. But that does not mean folks assembled there would recognize this reading at all; I think, perhaps, they would experience what Mauss said of the exchange of gifts in general, that it is a quasi-spiritual experience in which the community refashions the image of itself.
Watching television with my mother and father during the last night of my visit, my mother, a ridiculously early-riser, dozed off by 7:30 p.m. A story appeared on television about corporate greed, and my father began complaining about the wealthy, corporate jet set (embodied, I think, by Michael Douglas as Gekko in Wall Street). Last week I reviewed an interesting book in which the author made an intriguing (and at times very funny) analogy between the transnational corporation and a cyborg in order to explain how these entities of Capital are structured in such a way as to make individual responsibility impossible to identify. I explained the analogy to my dad, and shared the author’s example of the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (it’s hard to hold any one person at BP accountable because the spill was a beautiful storm of instrumental reason and hive-like decision making). “That’s an interesting way to see it, and it makes a lot of sense,” my father said. “But tell me, would you rather not know that you know that? Now that you are an educator, do you ever sometimes think that ‘ignorance is bliss?'”
I thought about the fabled role of the Receiver of Memory and how teaching in the humanities has become the realization of Giver. Children’s literature is the new pornography, the new threat of the repressed returned. I also thought about where the level of ignorance lodged: that the true state of ignorance was thinking there was someone, or a group of specific someone’s, to hold individually responsible. The problem, as the socialist “we” would say, is the system.
“No, I’m glad I know it,” I said.
My father responded that the amount of energy it takes to think complexly about “the world” seemed exhausting, and the reward was often depressing. I thought immediately about Adorno and his insights about the culture industry revisited (or as I put it to my students, borrowing an example from my buddy Laura borrowed from The Matrix: “do you want the steak?”). Channeling Adorno in my folks’ living room, however, was not a good idea at the moment.
I remembered earlier in the day my father had asked about Socrates, so I went with an example from Plato: “In one of his plays about rhetoric,” I said, “Plato has Socrates win an argument with this dude about knowledge. He gets everyone to agree that knowledge is good, and even more astonishingly, that to know the good is to do the good. I don’t know about that, since capitalism seems to prove the opposite is true. Anyway, as a side note, Socrates argues that it’s better to suffer evil than commit it. Or something like that.”
My dad thought the claim was interesting. I said I did not believe a lot of what Plato seemed to believe (though we really don’t know), but I agreed with that particular ethical truth. And the observation that evil seems to entail some degree of knowledge, of knowing someone will suffer and doing it anyway.
There’s really no moral to these ramblings other than the obvious one: the only true gift is the thoughtful one, and the only bad gift is the one that one gives knowing it’s a bad gift. The worst gift is the one that punishes or puts others in their “place,” either because it is “good for them” or what you or someone else thinks they “need.”
Music: Aztec Camera: Knife (1984)
Sitting in the middle of a buffering, hydrocodone haze, in that unfamiliar echo chamber of the muted screeches of chronic pain, this post comes. The pain is neither wicked nor the consequence of some misdeed, but rather, and complexly, a result of a genetic disposition finally flowering.
In my foot.
I’m enduring my second bout of gout in as many years, a largely genetic form of arthritis caused by a build of uric acid in the blood. “Gout,” interestingly derived from the medieval Latin gutta meaning “drop,” got its name from the not-too-far-off idea that the pain was caused by the blood depositing disease in the body’s joints. The disease was thought to afflict only the wealthy (and obese), who could afford the kind of rich foods that contribute to the build-up from uric acid (red meat, shellfish, and other foods high in purines). When I was first diagnosed—after mistakenly thinking I broke my big toe—I thought somehow my diet was to blame, at that time a high protein, low-carb attempt to maintain my weight (obesity is also a family issue stretching way back on my father’s side). But I’ve since learned from my doctors that diet is not the causal factor in most of the afflicted: it’s genetically predisposed in a majority of the cases, exacerbated by diets rich in purines. I’ve had a relatively healthy diet since that time (mostly eat fish and chicken as my proteins these days, with a steak every four months or so) and exercise daily, but still, that doesn’t mean I have avoided the affliction. Once you have an attack, you have the disease and are prone to “flare ups” for the rest of your life. My mother reports that father used to get it pretty bad (managed well today), but I don’t remember that. My grandfather had it much worse; when I was a kid, I can remember his swollen elbows and his immobile posture on the couch watching reruns of Matlock . . . .
After enduring the pain for four weeks, and after various meds, some helpful some not-so-much, I finally had enough and went in today to get a cortisone shot directly in the toe to speed the healing. Apparently the pain from this kind of injection is almost unbearable, but one has no choice but to bear it for the benefits to come in a couple of days (they give you a “bullet” to bite on). Sitting in the doctor’s office today, feeling dopey and playing the new version of Bejeweled on my phone (an horribly addictive game on painkillers), I got to thinking about the experience of pain and the limits of language. We know of a rather large number of experiences that are incommunicable, love and ecstasy among them. Love inspires all kinds of words (I can write long letter after letter in swoon), and spiritual experience, much of the same. These ineffable affects also motivate all kinds of positive behaviors. Pain, on the other hand, invokes one conscious desire and narrows the need for expression to one simple demand: make it go away. Or, to pull all the powerful affective experiences of life into one well-worn phrase, “Oh, for the love of god, please make it go away!”
Because what ties together most of my intellectual interests today is, more or less, the experience of the ineffable and our attempts to talk about that experience, I have predictably started thinking about “the rhetoric of pain” as a future avenue of research. I started my academic career writing and teaching about the experience and uses of popular music; for me, the “rhetoric of music” concerns the ways in which folks speak and write about the musical experience (that, in fact, is the topic of the third book I plan to write). Currently I’m working on a manuscript about cultural or collective mourning and the role of human speech in that process, and I’ve recently written about talk about “love,” whatever that is. Pain, however, confounds a lot of my assumptions about ineffable experience, the key among them: that we want to talk about, that we want to share our experiences of the ineffable in the proximity of its immediacy. In pain, sharing is not as much of a deep desire—one just wants it to stop. Maybe we want to talk about it later (like I am now, with the pain held at bay), but in the strange, elongated experience of pain, sharing is not the secondary impulse.
Of course, I don’t mean psychological pain (mourning, depression, anguish, regret, hurt, and so on). I mean here physiological pain. I realize, when you push the concept, distinguishing between the physiological and psychical is not so easy (and, in a sense, one of the founding challenges of psychoanalysis)—and in one’s conscious life the two are often conflated. Thinking pragmatically, however, I do think the distinction is helpful because the validating discourse of medicine lends legitimacy to the physiological and has trouble contending with the psychical, which is where the body butts-up against “culture.” The logics of distinction between the two are fundamentally rhetorical themselves, and interesting to think about (for there is where ideology is, more or less, naked for all to see, like the emperor).
I started to think about the rhetoric of pain when I was in the hospital a few years ago with acute pain in my chest. I had a virus that attacked the lining of my heart, and until that point in my life, I had never felt such pain. It was truly breathtaking—debilitating to the point I couldn’t breathe with each pang. I remember the nurse pointing to a chart on the wall with happy faces and increasingly sadder faces, asking me which face (or number, from 1-10) best accurately indexed my pain. I thought the request was absurd and, of course, in retrospect I never pointed the most pained face or highest number when I should have. In retrospect, my pain at times was a solid 12 on a 10 point scale, but I said “uh, six?” Why did I say that? What forces were at work to get me to impose a modesty on my physiological experience? What cultural filters were at work, there? What rhetoric of pain was I channeling?
Recently a dear friend had a child, and she hinted at the pain (and her husband’s abject terror at seeing her in such pain). There is an experience—childbirth—that is routinely described as the most unbearable pain a (female) human being can experience. And yet, it is literally “the way of the world.” Much as been written about that experience, and to some extent the pain of labor, but it’s often couched in terms of the tremendous pain endurance of women.
Pain is a very curious and fecund area of rhetorical study, I think, and perhaps one place at which those in the social sciences and those in the humanities might collaborate. Those who work with numbers and those who work with words are faced with the very same impossibility: measuring and describing the experience of pain. So much cultural work has to be conducted at that intersection, the place where the body and language meet-up, in pain.
I’m gearing up to watch the season finale of American Horror Story tonight, which is rooted in the experience of pain. So much of the show works to suture psychological and physical pain together; Violet, the goth-ish teenager of the show, is a “cutter.” The narrative of her cutting has been that the physical pain she imposes on herself concretizes the otherwise ineffable psychical pain she experiences (which would indicated it is not “depression,” at least in the clinical sense, but something else). Last week’s episode was about the pain of childbirth. For some characters, death is a relief from pain, but for most of the ghosts, death is merely an other-worldly preservative: it not only concretizes pain in material finality, but spiritualizes it to the point that it “haunts” the living (and each other; the television show is interesting because the ghosts are very complex characters). Pain is the place at which the living and the dead come in contact, and the locus at which the living can commune with the dead. (Such a belief, I’m reminded, is central to exorcism; one encounters the demonic via his or her own pain—it’s where the demon gets in, and it’s where the exorcist encounters the demons of the one s/he’s exorcizing, through the exorcist’s own pain.)
When you suffer chronic pain, your senses for it in other places—Others’ experiences—are heightened. You start to notice the “rhetoric of pain” everywhere, you start to see it as one of the central experiences of life, all these things we do to contemplate pain, and all these things we do to make it go away. It could be argued (as Freud and others have) that the experience of pain is sometimes courted, because there is some pleasure mixed up with it. I would say, however, that this pleasure is “rhetoric” getting in there, somehow, the word lodging between body and its representation. Words create a metaphorical distance; the death of the word—the dead word—is a strange palliative, a version of Plato’s pharmakon, if you want.
Is the hydrocodone typing? One wonders. Paging Timothy Leary . . .
Music: Belong: Common Era (2011)
I am normally not one to get “addicted” to television programs, and largely because I don’t have any “premium” channel subscriptions like HBO. Owing to my love of (psychological) horror, however, this fall I was glued to two series: The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. The former was not very good (except for the last episode of the “first half” of this season), so I’ll reserve judgment. AHS, however uneven, has been, as a whole, a delight to watch: it’s very different and one of the most perverted shows I’ve ever seen on television. Because of travels I missed out on a couple of episodes, however, last night I’m all caught up and ready for the season finale on Wednesday. Readers who have not kept up with the show or who want to start watching it (you can stream it on Hulu and the FX websites) should stop reading now, as there are some spoilers below.
First, let me talk about the perverted aspect, because it’s an intriguing connection with haunting that I have not made before—or, at least, not in the context of televisual horror. Long time Rosechron readers will remember that perversion, from a Lacanian vantage, refers to a peculiar subject position (a brief recap of the Lacanian take on perversion is here) in which the subject has undergone castration, thereby experiencing alienation, but has refused or is incapable of separation. The idea here is that the pervert knows very well the paternal forbids a continued union with mama, yet still remains within the maternal zone, refusing to acknowledge “Mother” is totally other (or more technically, that she lacks something). What’s so interesting about AHS is that this is the default condition of the “ghost”—the ghost is someone who has been killed (or killed herself), yet has not left the murmuring house. So, the “cut” from the corporeal has happened, but each ghost cannot separate, stuck in this strange liminal space that both knows “the law” is there and has been announced, but refuses to acknowledge it. There is a continuum of perversion too: some ghosts want to go but have to stay, while others seem content to haunt (Tate and Hayden—the most perverted pair). Nifty.
The show—what with the “rubber suit” logo and all that—deliberately confuses haunting with perversion, such that “horror” represents that point of “no return” when the law has been clearly transgressed (but with no “safe” word). Last night, one of the ghosts even mentions that haunting is “perverted” . . . .
I’m wondering what you AHS watchers thought about last night’s episode, the show itself, and particularly your predictions for the season finale and season two. Here’s my thinking (spoiler alert spoiler alert spoiler alert):
LAST WEEK’S EPISODE: I sorta figured Vivian might die (since they seemed to be writing her “down,” as it were), but I don’t know how she will now last or in what capacity, since . . . well, she’s the least sad of the bunch.
Last week we had a weird wedding of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen: the birth scene was like the RB rape scene (same blurry techniques) and Tate is sort of line the soul of the antichrist whom Violet tells is, you know, evil (dis)incarnate.
And Constance—the campiest of all—emerges as a racist and homophobic bigot. Well, duh. She just gets better and better.
Now, if we go the Rosemary’s Baby route, Ben will simply accept it and convince himself to stay with the ghost wife and raise the antichrist . . . well, not exactly sure. But it will not be until season 2 for Ben to kill himself—if he does at all. They’ve painted him as the most narcissistic character on the show, so he will be the last to go.
The show will conclude with Ben’s decision to “take care” of the house and become it’s living protector or whatever.
FINALE PREDICTIONS: The “folk” ritual worked, but not on Zach; Teddy got it.
The stillborn child wasn’t really stillborn. The ether-addicted doctor gave it to his wife; they were putting on or something. Probably Ben’s kid, but who knows. Still, baby ain’t dead (yet). Likely scenario: Vivian will get the stillborn/newborn, which will be the ghostly counterpart to the living child. Perhaps the innovation here is that the ghost baby will similarly age, mirroring the living evil baby. Maybe the ghost-baby will emerge as a sort of savior in ghost-land.
One of the twins (presumably Tate’s) is the antichrist or whatever, and the Pope thread will pick up in the season finale. This is where the Omen thread will pick up, Tate being the temporary body of Satan who must work through ghosts and shadows because direct contact with the living is not possible (so the living kid is Satan’s son, a life for a life). The show will take a sort of religious twist, a la REC 2.
SEASON TWO PREDICTIONS: The second season will be about rearing the Antichrist/Satan in that house and about Vivian and/or Ben’s indecision about whether the kid is evil or if he can be saved or whatever.
Connie Britton will get increasingly uncomfortable with how absurd the writing is going to get, and eventually they’ll write her character out. I don’t predict she will last past season 2.
Ben will go insane next. But he won’t kill himself, since his narcissism is abject.
Constance will have yet more surprises to reveal. Of the cast, only she has let on that she knows what is going on (like when she screamed at “Tate: Do you know what you’ve done!”). Someone made a deal with the devil, I predict. Constance did, you know, to preserve Addy or what have you—and she is cursed, thereby, and so all her children go one by one or something. She is immortal or something–the price she has to pay for the bargain.
What do y’all think?
Music: Brian Wilson: Smile (2004)
I’m taking a very brief break to report I head out tomorrow to the headquarters of a very, very, very large U.S. retailer to deliver a presentation on Halloween as a cultural practice. I’ll share with leaders and executives what scholars know about the history of the “holiday,” however, the bulk of my focus will be on the cultural and ritual elements of celebration. Some of what we’ll be discussing I cannot talk about for confidentiality reasons (not sure what at the moment, but I’ll be debriefed); still, I look forward to writing about it upon my return and sharing with my readers (most of you are buddies) my observations about the experience, since this is a pretty unique opportunity. Most scholars hang out on the “reception” end of the culture industries from a critical vantage; this is a rare opportunity to get a peek a the production side.
Reviewing films, television programs, and popular texts (papers and magazines) from the last century on the holiday has been very interesting. We see, from the 1920s to present, a number of transformations in how the holiday is celebrated, enjoyed, and experienced. Halloween used to be a kind of “independent culture” for young people to vent aggression (especially class-based aggression); it transformed post-war in the 1950s into a family-focused mediation (of adulthood and death); in the late 60s and 70s Halloween started to evolve what I’ll simply term “two cultures”: the innocence focused child-and-family culture, and the gory/sexy adult culture. Although my mind is not completely made up, it seems to me that today (based on what little empirical research there is and personal experience) these two cultures are in pretty stark tension: Halloween is increasingly becoming, on the one hand, an amplification of carnival (think Mardi Gras) for adults, while on the other hand, a forceful battleground for arguments about what constitutes a family. We see the latter beginning in the 1970s and reflected, not coincidentally, in Spielberg’s E.T., which chronicles the successful “one parent” family vis-à-vis Halloween. The “trunk or treat” parties hosted by family-friendly groups (e.g., churches) also reflect the reinscription of the family concept as a protectorate; in 1982 it was still a “kids left to themselves” activity. Today, not so much.
I’ve noticed a lot of changes in my lifetime, too. I was a rabid monster fanatic, and Halloween was always (and remains) a big holiday for me. It seems like the “adult” culture has deepened substantially as I’ve grown older. These pop-up stores like “Spirit” did NOT exist when I was a kid, and if they had, I would have lived in them . . . .
I’m curious—as most of you are my age—if you’ve also noticed a similar transformation? Gore and sexy are on the rise, while “cute” similarly has ramped up for the child-centric culture. Halloween was always a big holiday for me, but culturally it seems to have grown in significance for the U.S. It’s also becoming somewhat of a “battleground” for the culture wars—particularly in respect to “family values” or larger, socio-economic transformations of what a family “is.”
What changes are y’all noticing? I may cite you!
Music: Ezekiel Honig: Folding in on Itself (2011)
Perhaps with age the rest of us can develop an organ for detail, a thing to help process the kind of observations that a born artist can whip up at a very young age (in word or image or dream). Even a facility with detailed observation, however, doesn’t mean one can self-monitor with the same, “natural” or hard-won skill. This is the blindness of the artist and the nudity of the aged. One of us tends to put on more clothes, to dress more conservatively or, to echo a mentor of mine, to channel an advisor in gesture and deed.
[I put my hands to my chest, to relay a funny story, like my advisor does, and the gesture was a deliberate homage.]
Borrowed patterns are sure, even loving. Dresses made of meat are not.
In our present posty predicament, there is little insight to the observation that we cannot occupy another’s interior monologue without invitation. As a culture, we’ve learned “the Respect.” You know? Yeah, you do. But I worry this kind of recognition, the respect of that non-psychical occupation, has created a strange brand of over-projection—that the more we have refrained from prying into the personal in “meat space,” the more we start projecting the missing information, the information we crave, the very human information of intimacy, onto our stranger peeps in ways that fashion them into unwitting mirrors.
In other words: in Being and Nothingness, Sartre describes the cultural fantasy of romance was invested in “the look,” and paints this disturbing scenario of two hypnotists battling it out in a padded room. That much is the Hell of the Other, the ceaseless drive to “know” the mystery of the other, the stranger . . . . In postmodernity, we have sluggishly (if not cynically, but I do not yet think we are cynical, or may be prepared now to argue we have never been cynical)—we have sluggishly given up the drive to understand mystery for “mad props.”
How many Facebook friends do you have? Why?
Coupled with the almost complete evaporation of secrecy as the horizon of intimacy and the increasing necessity of distortion or honest deception (e.g., social networking personas), “the Respect” is becoming almost a kind of entitled self-reflection (“in your eyes” is no longer a wedding day metaphor for the depth of conviction in a stranger, but rather, where I see myself in the pupils).
I’ve been reading R. Crumb’s illustrated Book of Genesis, which is delightfully disturbing, so God is on the brain (a very hairy God that looks like Heston, with a beard down to his knees and who has seen every B-movie). And I think God perhaps gets the worst of it: “Thank you so much, to the Firm, for voting me in for this award; I’d also like to thank God, who makes all things possible . . . .”