Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Nick Diamond vs. Zatar the Alien

Some things are bothering me. A mood came over me before Christmas and I bought myself a book about how to deal with the issues that you have about money. Because you have issues about money, right? Yeah. Later we can play Celebrity Deathmatch with your issues and mine.  

As it turns out the deathmatch was Xtin vs This Fucking Book. A book which purports to be so up-to-the-minute that the frontmatter lists the at-time-of-press exchange rate between Australian dollars and sterling. Every succeeding page holds up the writings and lives of dead white men, slave owners, pictures of privileged-class refinement from the eighteenth century and ancient Rome, as models of how to think more clearly about money. It is so class-blind, gender-blind, history-blind, fucking blind, that I threw it away. I mean I actually put it into the garbage, a thing I have never in my life done with a book before. 

I could write a critical piece about how angry I am that it is out there, and how mindlessly it reifies shitty, shitty politics without a split-second of reflection. I should write it, because throwing the damn thing away is surely not enough.  I should put my hand through its skull and pull out its brains like Zatar the Alien.

There is also a continuing debate that I've been watching unfold on Twitter about the etiquette associated with tweeting or retweeting praise of oneself (or one's writing, usually). There is lots of all-capsitude and pearl-clutching and people cringing privately to one another about how this is making one or other writer or critic look. 

This has exercised me a lot. I'd like to know a lot more about what the fuck the problem is with saying "here is a good thing about me"! I don't know anyone -- literally anyone -- who doesn't share some species of this intuition. There is more slang to describe this sort of bad behaviour and those who perpetrate it than for all the sets of genitalia there are. But it's a dogma, and people are busily policing the edges of their own intuitions about what crosses the line without wondering what offence the line-crossing really perpetrates. This is not to say that there's nothing there, but that we might like to see what is there. There's precious little actual analysis that goes beyond pointing at examples and going SEE? AWFUL. What little there is is typically something about it being better for social cohesion, or something. That might be true. But that's an empirical claim, and no-one's that concerned to defend it. And it seems to me much more like it is better for the enforcement of structural power relations. Certainly you're pricelessly stupid if you do not notice that the way the edges of self-praise are policed are different (like, are-you-kidding-me different) depending on whether you're a woman, or a person of colour, or a person with not very much money at all. 

In short, I've got some thoughts, some of which would be quite strongly worded if I wanted to write them.  But I don't want to write them. 

I'm very good at analysis like this. (Yep, invoke your preferred pejorative vernacular now. Personally I think we should revive gasconade). I've many years of training, and also the kind of temperamental suitability that is often called 'natural talent' but which doesn't really have anything to do with talent. I could destroy the terrible money book, carefully and in a way that makes sense to people who might otherwise find its toxic privilege palatable. I could give an illuminating conceptual analysis of our norms of social capital like recognition and commendation. Sometimes if I am in the right mood I can write this sort of thing with a proper, witty dose of snarky appeal. Maybe lots of people would read it.  

But I don't want to do it. I want to think more about how to describe how the red dicky on the robin looked when it was bathing in the guttering this morning -- like a little brown-and-white bird was wearing a bedraggled rusty red Santa beard, or something. It is not quite right. I need to look at it in my mind some more.

This seems to me immoral. It seems to me, clearly and presently and dangerously, that there are finer ends to which I could turn my mind. To which I should turn it. I should tear down the bad and build strength into the good. I should do the thing which people with analytical skills have to offer, which is maps to the destruction of the Death Star, ways of revealing the two-meter thermal exhaust port of terrible, toxic, people-hating, stupidity-rewarding arguments, being the one who can find the thing that is small and hard to hit but nonetheless leads straight to the reactor core. 

But instead I want to think about robins and why the experiences of my life have hinged so much on the naming of things, like Ged and the Master Namer, far to the north of Roke in the Isolate Tower.

I have no idea what to do about this. 

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