A Hot Mess: Marriage, Derrida, Nabokov, and Whatnot

I don’t really understand what the same sex marriage hullabaloo is about. I can understand it at a personal, anecdotal level. I know a great many people who are upset and concerned and animated about this issue. But I do not have a clear grasp of what is really going on.

As a Roman Catholic, I understand marriage as a sacrament. I’m not even sure what it means to be “married” outside of the sacrament of marriage. I guess filing taxes is the only place where it makes some concrete sense to me.

If this is just about taxes, I am inclined to think that everyone should be allowed to cheat as much as possible on their taxes. It’s the American way.

There is also the anthropology of marriage, its history and role within human civilization. I’m not an anthropologist, but I have read enough of the Old Testament to know that “one man, one woman” is not exactly traditional. Right, King David? Traditional marriage is really just a placeholder for a way of life we’ve developed over time and formalized and it will always be changing. Divorce has become at least statistically traditional, too, right? Woman’s suffrage and all that jazz has transformed so-called traditional marriage. What’s next?

This is why sacramental marriage is important and distinct from anthropological marriage: it can inform anthropology, but it does not submit itself entirely to tradition. Sacramental marriage is radical and exceptional to tradition. But the two are not entirely unrelated either. Where and how and when they come together is not clear to me. Things were easier when Church and State were one, I suppose.

When we begin to have a serious discussion about marriage, my first question is always “What is marriage?” No one, to date, has been able to explain this to me with the slightest sense of consensus. It seems like the Supreme Court has trouble agreeing on what the term ‘marriage’ refers to, too. So at least I’m not the only idiot.

And no. The Constitution does not help. Not at all. It makes things far, far worse. For one, everyone seems to equivocate between something being good or just and being constitutional. If something is legal, it does not follow to assume that it is good or just. Same goes for anything that is (un)constitutional. The Constitution of the United States is a sham document that only confuses and forces us to make leaps in reasoning that are downright insane. I see no need for a constitution of any kind. It is not a Creed. I would abolish the Constitution and replace it with something like common law—and common sense.

Then there is homosexuality.

Maybe I’m just too old fashioned, but I find it laughable that same sex attraction is a big deal, politically speaking or otherwise. From classical antiquity to the present, homoeroticism is a constant, vital part of Western culture. I do think that both sides forget this most of the time, and I find it very hard to sympathize with either for precisely that reason.

Gay pride isn’t edgy or new or cool or an abomination; it is quite old and commonplace and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, thank God. This, too, shall pass—for better and for worse. Everything stays the same.

Jacques Derrida seemed to understand how odd it is to hear people railing for or against something they don’t know the first or second thing about. In this case it was not only the Western tradition he sought to trouble, it was also his own work. In this brilliant review of a new biography on Derrida in the New York Review of Books, Emily Eakin argues,

Even Derrida claimed astonishment at the way his elusive and poetic glosses on Heidegger and Husserl were refashioned into a blunt, all-purpose tool—a kind of lethal deep-reading app—wielded by Americans determined to wage war on a canon they hadn’t always bothered to read.

There it is: a canon they hadn’t always bothered to read. This is the lesson I am learning from this whole charade: read books, lots of them, old ones too. Read books you hate lovingly, to be sure you know exactly why you hate them. Read books you love with rage, to ensure you really love them. Do your homework, period. Until then, there is very little to discuss.

Creativity is wildly overrated, sometimes.

In another gem from the New York Review of Books, we catch a glimpse from the classroom of Vladimir Nabokov, at Cornell, circa 1950. His insight on reading is more inspiring than my own:

He said we did not need to know anything about their historical context, and that we should under no circumstance identify with any of the characters in them, since novels are works of pure invention. The authors, he continued, had one and only one purpose: to enchant the reader. So all we needed to appreciate them, aside from a pocket dictionary and a good memory, was our own spines. He assured us that the authors he had selected—Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, and Robert Louis Stevenson—would produce tingling we could detect in our spines.

There is a distinction between creation and invention.

To invent isn’t necessarily worthwhile, to create is impossible. Chris Hedges seems to enjoy re-inventing Noam Chomsky, fitted for the present generation. I really don’t think Hedges is saying anything that Network (1976) didn’t accomplish in the “mad as hell” scene, but I do like to see what he is up to every once in a while.

Here’s a nice rant from him, writing at Bill Moyers:

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system — to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid of self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews — who makes an estimated $5 million a year — did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability — known in television and advertising as the Q score — not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

Yawn. All this whatnot is making me tired. I am growing more and more interested in seeing Spring Breakers.


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