1.22.2012

Screed

The most exhausting aspect of life — and the reason I spend most of my time alone — is the endless negotiating and parrying of the dominant discourses.  Yes, I know my use of "discourse," not to mention "dominant," pegs me as an academic asshole (when, in fact, I'm just a quasi-academic asshole).

But, first of all, discourse is the right word here.  And, second, that's precisely my point!

Everything we say and do positions us, vis-a-vis both ourselves and others, in some way. And this way is not thoroughly creative: we don't express ourselves from the well of our individuality onto a blank slate eagerly awaiting our words and thoughts. No, we speak within a field of expectations that are rarely explicitly prescribed — and are prescribed all the more ardently by not being explicit.  They are the terms of discussion, the very manner we assume to address each other, imagine each other — not to mention imagine ourselves.

Just look at auto correct. I can barely write a word without the engine thinking I've erred.  Just now, it turned "dick" to "duck."  This is not a spelling correction — some Apple slave writing that program assumed that people don't use the word dick so, well, they must have meant duck.  But you know what? Some of us never say the word duck but do say dick with some frequency.

Discourse is an infinitely complex auto correct program.  If only I could fire the fucker who writes it.

Cursing is one of those issues for which I am often put on the spot to defend but the other asshole questioning me doesn't have to defend his lack of cursing. I, for one, am suspicious of those who don't curse. But that somehow only makes me more of an asshole.

Years ago, after being asked not to swear in the classroom by none other than the esteemed radical philosopher, Judith Butler, I wrote this piece.  Years later, I get a call from a reporter at CNN writing a piece about profanity on television.  She had plenty of people to speak out against it — most notably, some creepy parents group — but couldn't find someone in favor of it.  Her Google search yielded my blog and so I became the sole defender of profanity. And, to the journalist's infinite credit, she made me look like the responsible, good parent. A small victory! Here's her article >>

Now, look at this comment on a blog entry of mine that appeared on Thought Catalog: "Not voting," writes this discursive enforcer, "is painfully ignorant and irresponsible."  Jesus! It was not an article about voting; it was an article about anonymity. But this bozo slips immediately into the accepted discourse about such things — voting is a matter of knowledge (hence my ignorance) and ethics (my irresponsibility).

Voting may not be the best example as more and more people are coming around to its futility (although the point in my article was not the futility of voting but the humiliation of voting). The discourse is changing, albeit it slowly. But my point is not that voting is good or bad but that there are ardently prescribed terms about the subject so that when I say something tangentially about it, it stirs the enforcers who don't have to say anything other than that one line: Not voting is painfully ignorant and irresponsible.

That's one of the great benefits of being enmeshed within the terms of a discourse: you don't have to work very hard.  Why? Because what you say is so obviously true.  The fuckwad who questions my cursing doesn't have to say squat but I have to defend myself.

To voice a different opinion takes an incredible expenditure of time and energy — and still inevitably ends badly.  Foucault understood: the will to truth is the most insidious mode of power.

Now take romantic relationships.  Think about all the different kinds of romantic relationships there could be. Now consider what you expect from a relationship — date, spend the night more and more, meet friends and family, move in together, marry, breed.  I mean, it seems so obvious, right?  Any attempt to alter this course means that the person is probably hung up, has issues, is afraid of intimacy, or the one I get all the time: I'm jaded.  It's not that I've been through these things, that perhaps I know something. No, because I question the prescribed teleology of romance, I'm jaded. It's so fucking infuriating. 

This is what we have to negotiate when dating — not a world of endless possibility but a tightly prescribed set of rules reinforced by an infinity of movies, songs, magazines, and people's true feelings.  And that's what makes discourse so difficult to change, to combat: the believers really believe! And there is nothing necessarily wrong with this.  What's wrong is when one trajectory becomes the only trajectory.

Of course there are some who follow different paths. But those people, and anyone who imagines a different order of things, are deviating.  They are choosing what we call alternative paths.

But aren't they all alternatives? Can't we begin from a more generous place in which we create our own course of things?  Can't one desire intimacy but not want to live together?  And can't one just do that without having to justify, argue, plead, explain for hours on end?  If one just follows the path, well, there's no work to be done — just stick to the treads.  But, fuck, try to deviate and, man, it's exhausting! It's as Nietzsche says: saying no saps one's vitality. 

This is the way of all things — the way we talk about movies, politics, ideas, travel, the way we talk about talking, tv, love, lust, porn, booze, drugs, life, kids, parenting, family, friends. There are such aggressively enforced rules about how we discuss these things, how we think these things, how we act.  I can't have a discussion about some idiotic film and whether it was good or bad (thumbs up/thumbs down is the best we can do in the form of film critique?). I can't listen to casual jokes about "Republicans" — as if we're all on the same page, nudge nudge, wink wink.  I don't assume that kids are the most wonderful thing in the world and should be paid attention to every moment; that tv is dumb and reading good; that the news matters at all; that my home team is the team I want to win; that Fox News is evil (it's all the same drivel to me); that tears are less aggressive than yelling; that I must have a career; that...that...that...

Travel is one of those things white liberal middle class folks just assume is a good thing.  But you know what? I don't really like traveling.  It's exhausting — I don't know the language, the money, where to shit, get a glass of water, eat.  The most banal tasks of life become difficult and I am reduced to an infant.  Don't get me wrong: you like traveling, go for it.  My point is this: your love of travel should demand as much of a defense as my disinclination for it.  

Constantly having to explain myself is simply exhausting. So I spend most of my time alone. And try, however meekly, to change the discourse to be more generous, to begin from a place less ardently prescribed.

No doubt, were this piece to appear on Thought Catalog, I already know what the comments would say: You're such a snob. You're an elitist. Hopefully, at least one would say, You're an asshole. 

Goddamn, the anti-intellectualism of this country will be — nay, is — the death of me.

5 comments:

what the Tee Vee taught said...

I think you're the guy in the futuristic jumpsuit

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/an-tJ7GJ2ttnhbbb7/a_serious_man_2009_defamation/

Daniel Coffeen said...

I'm headed to the Jolly Roger, for sure. If I'm lucky.

drwatson said...

It's both terrifying and a bit hilarious that Judith Butler of all people would make that comment.

I should admit that I know her more by reputation and the excitement that a certain kind of grad-school student gets when invoking her name along with the word "performativity" than by her actual work. I tried reading a book once and found it kind of painful.

When did colleges classrooms begin letting students "feelings" dictate content? I mean I'm glad we don't have the classroom of the 1950's, but there has to be some kind of balance, I hope. My department throws around the term "student-centered." Every time I hear it, I die a little inside, convinced that just saying something so stupid must have terrible metaphysical consequences.

Daniel Coffeen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leelahp said...

Oh I feel your frustration not because I have gone against the social "norm" in significant ways (I am a bit of a scardie cat.), but because through luck of birth and upbringing, I understand the "minority/non-normal" experience. I can't really offer any insight. Other than, don't loose hope and the best way around it, is through it.