I have no doubt I’m going to repeat a lot of what I said on this subject back in May, which goes to show how I effectively anchored myself in the inevitability of giving into childish desire. Of course, calling the desire to own another gaming console “childish” and then doing nothing to stop myself from acting on that desire goes to show how I give zero fucks about anything meaningful in this life. Instead of, say, devoting myself to a real cause or standing up for what I actually believe in,* I’m choosing instead to avert my eyes, once again, from my fellow human beings’ suffering in this world in favor of saving Princess Zelda (and soon enough, Peach) from the dastardly Hyrulian (and soon enough, Mushroom Kingdom) forces that continue to keep her in her (and soon enough, her too) damsel-in-distress place. As it turns out, I’m the Link to the past (and present) of White Male Privilege.
Pointing to a thing isn’t the same as caring about its lived reality. I understand – intellectually – the intersectional privilege I enjoy and continue to enact. Most of my writing converges on it. I don’t, however, feel its reality, and so I can’t really understand it. I can simulate it in my brain and body via the consolation of empathy, similar to how I can simulate alternate universes and lives via the console of Nintendo. Am I proposing a false equivalency here? Absolutely. I have no other straws to grasp at. I am a straw man, easily pushed over and pulled apart. Unlike Scarecrow, I don’t need a brain, but a heart and courage. I think through everything to its irrelevance. I write my way into and out of real problems; I use the word “real” as an approximation for what I assume is real. Since I don’t have the experience, I can’t understand the full weight of anything I speak about. I point and bemoan and then I point at myself and do the same thing. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m getting “myself” right when I point there.
All of this is a convenient way of dismissing any potential existential responsibility I might take on. By turning my life into a thing that I can marvel at and simply be curious about, I don’t have to participate actively in its unfolding; after all, nothing can unfold from an ultimately empty signifier. On that note, let’s pursue a tangent (not that there’s a guiding focus here): By stripping words of meaning, (invariably white) modernists and postmodernists everywhere believe they are liberating people from the shackles of unjust names. If words are slippery illusions, then they have no real power over us. Unfortunately, elite intellectuals spend their time jerking each other off about the idea of this truth and rarely do anything about the reality** that words have crushing power. I’m not saying anyone who’s spent their energy deconstructing language hasn’t put their skin in the game and actually put any part of their life at stake, but when you get too caught up in the game of picking apart words, it’s easy to forget that for people buried under those words, you’re not actually doing anything. Being “woke” in this way is lazily pointing at a sleeping world and then dreaming up possibilities that don’t disrupt the slumber.***
I’m dancing around the point because that’s what I’ve been trained well to do. Instead of acting, I reflect on the idea of acting. I think about it. If I do this critically, I’m somehow providing a service to others, or at least to myself. But what is the end of critical thinking? Does it serve anyone if it’s done in an echo chamber? What good is all my thinking if it’s stuck feasting on itself?
I think I teach students to write their way into greater awareness and understanding, but inevitably, I’m teaching them to write their way to college, where they’ll learn to write their way to an interview; where they’ll then learn to talk their way to a career; where they’ll then learn to talk their way to the grave. Put even more cynically, their words become necessary coins for life’s transactions.
Meanwhile, I collect coins so an Italian plumber can save his Peach.
*I’m sitting down, as it turns out, for what I actually believe in: nothing.
**And yes, reality is an idea too.
***How does a tree not being a tree do anything? Then again, in W.B. Yeats’ “Memory of W.H. Auden,” he says, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Interpretations are boundless, but let’s look at two here. (1) Poetry is purposeless in that nothing actually comes from it. It’s inert ink coalescing against a white background. (2) Poetry can make nothing happen. In other words, even the empty word and reality of nothing can come alive and dance because of poetry. So for all my stupid circular criticism of language in this post, I abide by the latter interpretation here. Words do indeed make nothing happen, although I imagine that’s all that’s happening for any reader of this right now.