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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sh*t I Personally Guarantee You Will Never, EVER Hear Said Aloud, Even If You Live to Be One Thousand Years Old

The French composer Claude Debussy is quoted as saying that, "Music is the space between the notes".  I think that's a very apt recognition of the shared responsibility between artist and audience in unearthing the latent content of any piece of art, and I very much like it.  Make your work too overtly programmatic, and you end up with stale self-parody, a la Norman Rockwell.  Overburden it with too many layers of obscure, self-referential ciphers, like Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake", and risk alienating your most enthusiastic audience.

But if you have a lot to say, it can really be difficult to avoid the "Finnegan" trap.  The very fact that you are capable of generating enough observations worthy of communication, of making very fine distinctions in kind and degree, springs from a hypersensitivity that can seem emotionally overwhelming, and very much at odds with one of the inviolable principles of effective communication itself:  clarity.

This is where a solid understanding of the rhetorical ecology will come in handy.  In order to be truly effective, you need to be able to "play the music between the notes", which is to say, have an appreciation for the various types of person who will read your work the context in which it will be read, today, tomorrow and 200 years from now, and what they will be looking to draw from it.  And you need to accept the fact that some of your strongest, most affecting points will not be articulated by you, but by your critics.

A lot of creative types say that they never read critical reviews of their work because it over-intellectualizes the process and drives from them the passionate commitment they need to perform with conviction.  That may be their reasoning, but I say it's a pretty sad commentary on their perspicacity and emotional stability.  Rather, I would ask them, "How can you claim to be committed to your craft if you don't care how it's interpreted?"  On the contrary, I say that artistic conviction itself is not possible without engaging a work's limitations and repercussions.  The relationship between the critic and the artist is ultimately symbiotic, not adversarial.

The same applies to polemical speech, although it seems not to be generally understood or acknowledged.  Many poor fools have allowed themselves to be deluded by the outwardly combative character of electoral politics into believing that all one can hope to achieve from the analysis of political speech is a depressing laundry list of nominal yet irrelevant "facts" that come no nearer to establishing any objectively true proposition other than the speaker is determined to capture your vote.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

You, as critic, play the most vital role in forming the prism through which the prevailing discourse is viewed.  And you have some powerful yet deceptively simple techniques close at hand and totally free of charge.  For example, the technique of focused absurdity.

By imagining a statement that anyone can agree WILL NEVER BE SAID in the context portrayed, you, as critic, contribute to the civilizing of mankind, identifying, revealing and rolling back the limes[1] of dark misunderstandings cast by society's "leaders".  An artistically cast bit of unadulterated critical blasphemy is probably your best opening gambit to establish what yer man did NOT mean to say--and thereby better define the limits of what he DID mean to say.

Just how long it takes you and your interlocutor to decide precisely how much of this "non-statement" is due to objective falsity or strategic opacity will depend on your creativity, generosity and intelligence--but at least you will have established one incontrovertible point of agreement.  And acquired an appreciation for the wealth of complementary and sometimes counterintuitive rhetorical tools available to you.
So in this spirit, I offer to you, a small sample of sh*t which I personally guarantee you will never EVER hear said aloud:

"I am personally responsible, as an individual, for foisting a dishonest criminal governor upon the state of Wisconsin.  I should have realized that my critics were right--I am a bland, insincere drone next to whom a flabby, balding felon like Scott Walker seems positively glamorous.  There is a reason I received no major union endorsements during the primary--because I actually used Scott Walker's law to undermine the public union workers whose cause I unconvincingly co-opted in an attempt to advance my personal career.  I should have known from the beginning that my candidacy would be seen by Wisconsin voters as the betrayal of what had been a populist uprising on behalf of workers' rights into a cynical rehash of my perennial failed partisan ambitions."
          Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and three-time losing gubernatorial candidate

"Throughout my career, my most valuable asset has been and remains the partisan Democratic voter.  The tens of millions of dollars in out-of-state contributions from a murky cabal of trust fund brats and ideologues didn't hurt, but I never could have done it, never could have survived the furore over my crypto-fascist endrun around parliamentary procedure if loyal Democrats hadn't gone out of their way to identify the least charismatic man in the lower 48 and run him against me."
        Scott Walker, once-and-future governor of Wisconsin

"The most daringly radical aspect of my career has been the unimaginative and transparently stupid nature of my policy positions.  In fact, I offer nothing that has not been in the programme of each and every administration for the last thirty years--just more tax cuts for the wealthy, increased military spending and a reduction of governmental services.  Christ!  Even my hair's been lacquered into a frozen torpor redolent of Ronald Reagan, Brill Creme and the vague nursing home perfume of Ben Gay and stale pee."
       Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Committee on Budget

"I'm just an average Joe.  Yeah, I attended a few college-level classes, and possibly even received formal credit for them, but I only paid the bare-minimum attention to history, economics and philosophy.  Mostly because I don't believe there is such a thing as 'objective truth'--only a consensus experience of reality determined by whatever the guy shouting loudest is saying at any given moment.  But can you blame me?  I'm just one, very very small man.  It's simply not realistic to expect me to buck any major trends.  However, I am willing to vote for someone who claims HE is--especially if he's not really.  That guy's like a hero to me."
      Average voter, Anywhere, USA

"I know I'm doing wrong, but I just can't help myself.  I mean, you can see where I'm coming from, right?  From the Right I'm dealing with upfront attacks on my very existence, and on my "Left" I'm saddled with a partner of obvious bumbling incompetence and dubious moral fibre.  I've taken it on the chin for "Lefty" time and time again, and almost certainly will again.  But I just can't abandon this arrangement--acting with real moral commitment takes too much effort.  With any luck my death will be a quick and painless one."
      Any labor union leader actually considering the endorsement of a mainline Democratic candidate

"Sh*t.  I really backed myself into a corner with all that 'Hopey/Changey' cr*p.  Only so many campaign promises you can break, so many plausible coverstories you can spin for the incompetent squandering of legislative majorities or administrative blunders before it all comes back to bite you in the *ss . . . . But I can still throw a few strategically timed wet sops like some non-binding temporary policy implementation orders.  I have to somehow bank on the fact that this other dude's no better . . . . You know what they say:  No one ever went bankrupt underestimating the intelligence of the American voter.  Guess there is some "Hope" there after all."
     Barack Obama

"What the f*ck does being rich have to do with knowing how to run an economy?  First off, I started off from a position of inherited priviledge--not as some kind of freak working his way through a sh*tty community college as a dead-end factory drone.  I don't know how to operate a dog carrier much less an economy.  Second of all, the very notion of private profiteering is intrinsically inimical to the notion of the public good.  The textbook definition of money is that it's a unit of account, store of value and medium of exchange.  How is the value of a medium of exchange supposedly enhanced by hoarding?"
    Mitt Romney, presumptive nominee of the Republican Party

"Y'know, I really am a kind of a genius.  For serial here, folks.  Now I don't mean in the sense of a super acute understanding of economics or the finer points of constitutional law--clearly I don't.  I mean in the sense of providing my followers with a robust, comprehensive world view.  See, by painting all of society's ills as the result of some dark, external force's hidden cabals, and prescribing a programme of opaque private institutions to combat them, I totally avoid the trap of creating a falsifiable hypothesis.  If the proof of your opposition's mendacity is the mere fact that they don't agree with you, how can you ever be proven wrong? "
     Ron Paul, libertarian candidate for the Republican Party nomination

"It's really a wonder that I haven't been tarred and feathered and run out of town yet.  The objective evidence is that my regime of deregulation and lowering tax on society's wealthiest has lead to a diversion of capital to unproductive speculative schemes like automated algorithmic trading, massive unemployment and severe declines in economic and defense infrastructures like education, communications and energy networks.  The ineptly top-down character of my policies of concentrating wealth and centrally planning the economy through an oligarchic elite is actually more reminiscent of the rotten carcas of the old Soviet system I accuse the opposition of supporting than anything else."
     Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform

"Yeah, yeah.  I know.  I said government regulators were an even bigger threat to the financial system than rampant fraud undertaken by taxpayer insured private banks.  And yes, my bank racked up at least $ 3 billion, possibly as much as $6 billion in speculative trading losses in a scheme so convoluted in its wackiness that it took three weeks to explain it to ME--even though I billed myself as the very model of an on-top-of-it global risk manager.  But on the other hand, what can you realistically do about it?"
     Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

"As far back as I can trace my family, we've all been peasants.  Every mother's son of 'em, on each and every branch.  The world been f*cked up since time began and there ain't a good g*d-damn any peasant could ever do about it.  You can git outta line to 'fight the man', and 'assert your human dignity' if you like.  In fact, I encourage you to.  That just puts me one place closer in line for the *ss kissing.  The oily, nutty flavor of the corn in that guy's sh*t is really beginning to grow on me."
     Average American


[1]Latin for "border" or "boundary", specifically chosen over any English cognates in this context for the connotative aura of intellectual abstraction and exercise that it imparts.  NOT the f*cking citrus fruit, you g*ddamned chimp.