Everything! Everything! Everything! Everything!

8 08 2019

I something is everything then it’s also nothing.

This is a problem when trying to sort out something basic: it’s basic because it’s a part of so much, and because it’s basic, it’s easy to find evidence of it everywhere.

Thus with naming-power: it’s basic, and it’s everywhere—which means it’s hard to get my analytical mitts around it.

I guess I could get into a discussion of the different dimensions and levels of power—hell, I once taught an entire course on this—but given that I see naming as a manifestation of power, that whole thing would just collapse in on itself.

(As an aside: it’s pretty clear I think of power as some kind of manifestation or expression, that is, that it exists in relation to or through something else; on its own, well, I guess it doesn’t exist, does it? Power has no being, no ontology; it is not a thing-in-itself. Okay.)

Anyway, one way to find naming-power’s edges is to put it in a particular context. Since I am—surprise!—interested in the cultural and political aspects, specifically, in the sharpening of the concept of “identity”, then that’s my mud-pit.

~~~

You can get some sense of how I learn to sort things: I have an idea, I run it out a few paces, see if it holds up, then decide to stretch it further. Of course, in the stretching I see the thin spots and irregularities and tears and Oh, look at this line, let’s see where it goes. . . .

And then at some point I stop and go, Wait, what was the question? And I have to retrace my steps or maybe I just find another way back and sometimes the point is still there and sometimes it’s. . . not.

That’s fine. I mean, that can be frustrating as all hell, but how can I know if an idea can fly unless I toss it out there?

(Oh, and welcome to the mixed-up metaphors of Ms. Messypants NewYorker. Whatever. It’s late.)

So that’s what I do: I fling ideas hither and yon and see which ones hold up enough to stitch into a thought-line, and, maybe, just maybe, to make some sense.

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I’m afraid of the words

5 08 2019

So, there are a couple of different types of naming-power.

There’s the power to determine what it is to be a part of a group. This is so common a form of naming that we often don’t call it as such; instead, we call it ‘defining’ and defenses of such definitions, ‘boundary policing’.

Examples: Who is American? Who’s Christian or Muslim? Who’s a Democrat or Republican? Conservative, liberal, leftist, etc. Such defining is a basic part of any society, and any politics, and, really, any commentary on society or politics. We seek to make sense of a jumble, and so sort things into “this” (and “not-this”) and “that” (and “not-that”) and “the other thing.”

This matters in politics, not the least in determining whether something counts as political as all, and conflicts over such definitions can lead to great anger and, in the worst cases, violence. Who’s in and who’s out and who gets to decide is a foundational set of political questions.

There’s also the power to name oneself: I am this, and this, and this, and not that, or the other thing. This self-naming can set eyelids to twitching; asking or reminding or demanding that others recognize one as this, and this, and this can, yep, set others off.

Coupled with this is the shrugging off of what others have named you: You have said I am this, but, no, I am not-this. Not only are you claiming the power to name yourself, you are denying the power of others to name you. Ditto on the off-settings.

Now, what can also happen in the process of claiming a name for oneself is the unearthing of the history of names, and how what was assumed, should not be.

This last bit sounds abstract, but it’s not: Consider how “the race question” in the US was so often about [white people discussing and defining] black people. Then black people said, loud enough for white people to hear, No, we’ll define ourselves, thank you very much. Oh, and by the way, we have a thing or two to say about white people. And over time something known as “Critical race studies” emerged, and race was jostled out of its convenient eternal meanings and historicized, with one result that whiteness was no longer a timeless standard, but just another historical artifact.

This is an utterly incomplete and not-accurate account of the evolution of the study of race in the US, but you get the point, yes? Whiteness had been claimed as the default, worthy only of defense and otherwise off-limits to the commentary of those who were deemed not-white. To take whiteness out of the assumed and into the studied is to destabilize it. It’s not that whiteness has no power—christ, no—but that it is contingent means that it is not, strictly speaking, necessary.

~~~

I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, and I definitely want to hit on gender-identity issues, but this is enough for tonight.

~~~

Oh, and you absolutely should listen to this.





That’s not my name

2 08 2019

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1 John 1:1

The power to name is one of the most elemental powers: to name is to identity, and to identify is to place.

If I name you as X, I’m identifying you as belonging to a particular kind, a particular history, as having a particular potential, a particular worth.

I’m claiming a knowledge of you and over you; even if I’m not conscious of the power of the claim, the power remains, nonetheless.

This sounds portentous—I certainly write as if it is—and it can be: anyone who’s ever been the target of slur knows the sting of bad naming. But it can also be affectionate, silly, a form of play; it can divide, bind, clarify, obscure, demean, liberate, and on and on.

Any power worth its salt is a trickster.

~~~

All of this is a preamble; now let’s see if I follow up.





The kind of skin you can see through

3 04 2019

“Don’t touch me!”

That was pretty much my mantra throughout my teen years and into college. No hugs, no kisses, no thank you.

There’s no trauma beneath that, just an angry, depressed and otherwise-articulate kid who couldn’t figure out any other way to set boundaries, be they physical or emotional.

As I got older I eased up, and today can reasonably tolerate and even enjoy non-romantic physical affection. (Except for holding hands: hate that.) It’s been years and years since I’ve flinched at a friendly arm flung around my shoulder.

Which is good; flinching is socially awkward. Also, given that I live in a city in which I am often snug up against others on the train or bus—although most of us have the decency to pretend we each have our own space—it’s probably for the best I don’t freak when I don’t have at least 36″ between me and the next person.

You know what this is leading to, right? Fuckin’ Joe Biden.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the ‘Uncle Joe’ of the Obama years, the Onion bits about Camaro Joe and the guy who’d ‘get out over his skis,’ but it was always a scam—hell, I enjoyed it because it was a scam.

Oh, sure, he might really (really) like gettin’ up close ‘n personal (in that hoarse-whispered Scranton ‘Joey’) way, but the man was a senator from the state of banking and credit for decades and ended up VP and, jesus, you gotta be full of knives if you’re going to get anywhere in DC.

Especially if you’re going to be as folksy as Joe.

In fact, that folksiness was, if not all, then certainly also about the power. He was the one who pulled you in, who cracked the slightly-off jokes, who caressed your shoulders, and, uh, sniffed your hair—not you. He may not have been mean or nasty, but he was in charge. He liked being in charge.

There’s no point in disentangling motives: the power granted him the leeway to be touchy-feely, and the touchy-feely-ness perpetuated the power. It’s not complicated: he likes both.

I never met Biden and don’t know how I would have reacted had he leaned in, uninvited, toward me, but I’d like to think my inner teenager would have reared up and snarled.





The heaviness, the heaviness

30 07 2018

I’m no longer shocked by stories of men who think they are owed others.

I mean, I doubt sexual abuse is shocking to any woman, although I do admit that the authority with which these men asserted this access did shock me. I was used to stories of men who bragged that they got away with it or who thought that bitch had it coming; the breeziness with which Rose and Lauer and Weinstein et. al. attacked women, well that was something.

No more.

So now I notice other things about these stories, these men: they don’t have to remember. The women, they remember, they can’t forget, but the men? They don’t recall, don’t remember, don’t remember it that way, have no recollection.

Over and over and over again:  Did I do this? I don’t recall, so, no.

The assaults were too inconsequential to be remembered, too ordinary, too light. It was nothing.

This is power: to forget, to offload the memory, to deny there was ever any burden at all.





You’re gonna lose your soul

9 11 2017

Read the entire wretched thread:

I don’t want to hear another fucking word from another fucking Republican about any fucking kind of morality.





Hit the road, Jack

12 10 2017

Enough with the fucking men.

Oh, I know, I’m supposed to say Most men aren’t predators and #NotAllMen and maybe even Some of my best friends are men, but, honestly, enough.

It’s not just Harvey Weinstein (who deserves every shitty non-violent thing coming to him), or Donald Trump, or Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly or R. Kelly or Bill Cosby, not just Hollywood and the media and politics, but the university (see here and here and here and . . . ), finance, tech, and pretty well any damned place where men and women work.

And whose fault is this? I think you know.

Yes, it’s women’s fault that men harass them (us), for not being professional, for being too casual, for being too sexy, for being naive, for being too yielding, not fighting back, for having the goddamned audacity of daring to walk into the world in our female bodies.

(And, oh yes, men are also abused—see Terry Crews and Corey Feldman—which serves to demonstrate that shitty male sexual-power dynamics can ensnare anyone.)

If there are rumors or whisper campaigns? Well, maybe that’s not the real story, or maybe it’s just women misinterpreting things, or, y’know, maybe there’s just not enough evidence, he-said/she-said, whattayagonnado? And, oh, cmon, that favorite actor/comedian/musician couldn’t really have done that, could they? I mean, they’re famous: why would they have to take what so many would willingly offer?

And then when the harassment and abuse can no longer be ignored? Well, then, it’s our fault for not having IMMEDIATELY reported it or IMMEDIATELY denounced the abuser and, really, aren’t we just a part of the problem with our silence?

This is where I snap. I am unshocked by violence against women, by sexual harassment and catcalling and the everyday-ness of treating women as the sexual adjuncts of men. I should note I have never been sexually assaulted, am not usually catcalled, and have dealt with only a handful of harassers/abusers, so my rage is less personal than ontological: this is how it is to be a woman in our fucking world.

So Harvey Weinstein, a major Democratic donor, is exposed as criminally creepy, and. . . it’s somehow Hillary’s fault? Anthony Bourdain has gone after Weinstein and those who covered for him, but he made sure to take the time to express his “disappointment” in Hillary Clinton.

Yes, the Democratic Party and countless Democratic candidates—including male ones!—have taken Weinstein’s money, but, really, it’s a problem that Hillary’s response has been “uninspiring”, that she said she didn’t know?

Such horseshit, such worm-infested horseshit.

Here’s where the “enough with men!” comes in: if “everyone” really did know, then why is it only the women who should have spoken up? Jane Fonda said she feels “ashamed” for not coming forward a year ago, when she first found out; how many Hollywood men feel guilty for having known for years? How many of them are wondering why they didn’t take those rumors more seriously, didn’t take the women seriously?

Anthony Bourdain: if everyone knew, if you knew, then why didn’t you say something?

I don’t hate Bourdain, enjoyed Kitchen Confidential, and have watched and will likely watch some of his t.v. shows. I’d probably enjoy a barstool-bullshitting session with him, and would be unsurprised to find out he treats people decently. In short, I don’t think he’s a bad guy.

Which is rather the point: He’s not a bad guy, and he manages to slam a woman for not reacting in the right way to a bad man.

He’s not horrible, but, really, that’s all that can be said.

~~~

When I first jumped on Twitter and started following a bunch of people of color, I’d commonly see withering references to white people (or wypipo)—references which would inevitably lead to white folks jumping into that person’s mentions to say “. . . but not me!”

I didn’t do this, but I understood the impulse: You want to be one of the good guys, and just as if not more importantly, you want to be recognized as one of the good guys. #NotAllWhitePeople. . . .

The original Tweeter would usually react with anything from exasperation to impatience to contempt: If this truly doesn’t apply to you, then why do you need to make this about you?

I understood that response as well, or thought I did. I mean, I could see that the Tweeter had a point, but weren’t they, maybe, a bit. . . harsh?

Well. Yes. And?

I have come to see that the harshness was merited, an honest expression of distrust in the goodness of white people, of skepticism that white people really have any interest in confronting white supremacy, in getting outside of their (our) own whiteness.

I think most men are not rapists, are not harassers, and think most men probably treat people (including women people) decently. I also think most men don’t see themselves as in any way responsible for the culture which make it easy for some of them to behave so horribly.

So, enough. No credit for not being horrible, no credit for meeting minimal standards of humanness.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly, can’t be decent colleagues, can’t enjoy ourselves in a session of barstool-bullshitting, but, when it counts, until I see otherwise, I don’t expect men to step up.