20 December 2007...5:07 pm

The Arrogance Of Being Me Without You In My Nothingness

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Some weeks ago, a friend asked me to recommend a good bar in my neighborhood. He was looking for somewhere to take his friends from univ. (That’s how he wrote it, univ. If we hadn’t been on the internet I would have pinched his post-colonially anglophilic ass.)

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I told him to go to the Lower East Side Toy Company of course. I described it as a speakeasy, and then I sounded like an asshole:

maybe it’s the age of the internet that makes us so eager to go to speakeasies–a final, albeit artificial, bastion of mystique and anonymity in a time where the most immediate, intimate details of our lives can be broadcast to the entire world in a moment? I sound like a new york times magazine article.

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Then after I sounded like an asshole I sounded more like myself:

also, prohibition was a sexy time. ladies wore hats & gloves & things, or at least in my historically uninformed imagination they did. but so that might be another reason people like speakeasies.

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What I meant by the second theory was that I feel glamorous in my long leather gloves. What I meant by the first was, yes, that I am an asshole and also that faux-secrecy is alluring. In essence I meant that I am a third-rate Foucault. In History of Sexuality, Volume I, he writes:

We have…become a singularly confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites; one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, whatever is most difficult to tell.

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The same friend who asked me for a bar recommendation later told me that he’d stopped attending Catholic school as a child because he refused to confess. I told him he might have just informed the priest he was innocent of sin. That would have challenged Christianity at its core, though, probably amounting to a sin itself.

In the very act of confessing we are forgiven; I write here about acts of social self-abnegation because in the writing I want to be redeemed. I don’t know how the adorable (pronounce it the Spanish way: ah-door-ab-lay. Practice: ah-door-ab-lay) Julia Allison rationalizes it, but I think the public airing of dirty laundry proves that it maybe isn’t so dirty, after all.

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Confessing is also an act of reification; we let a mistake outside ourselves and it isn’t only our mistake anymore, it becomes tangible and then something that is safer, open for manipulation. An audience affirms the right of our stories to exist. We give ourselves, we lose ourselves; it’s less my fault than it used to be because now it’s practically your fault too.

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Lyotard rewrote the Confessions of Saint Augustine right before he died; he used Augustine to illustrate the roots of the modern conception of self as aware of its existence as a subject. He wrote:

May I say that you test me, that you yoke me to the trail of writing this confession in your silence so as to be assured that, wavering on the thread run out between yourself and myself, I do not fall back into the arrogance of being me without you, in my nothingness? If so, you would not only be the addressee of my writing, that to which it is addressed, but also that which gives rise to it, its author.

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I love Lyotard; years ago Ben Lerner assigned me to write some sort of collage poem once and I spliced a Lyotard essay about the subjective existence of violence. The line there is no war repeated over and over, sometimes I added I’m sorry there is no war like the war was something we couldn’t find amid the rubble.

The rest was about my mother, the rest is always about my mother. That way, I won’t fall back into the arrogance of being me without her, in my nothingness.

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