On Alternatives and Language

I'd like to riff off Andrea for a minute, if you don't mind. She's written a couple of posts lately that have gotten me thinking about language and subcultures.

As you can see in the comments of that first post, we got into a conversation about the accuracy of the word power in reference to a consensual relationship. In my lexicon, power and consent are to at least some extent mutually exclusive, so, while I can see using it in a scene context, where it's understood that it's make-believe, the word just doesn't work for me in the context of a 24/7-type relationship.

In the second above-linked post, Andrea talks about not wanting to use the word slave to describe her bois, while blithely referring to them as her property. I find this especially jarring to my lexicon because the conceptual distance between my (white, female, affluent, Western) life and the reality of slavery is much farther than the distance between my life and the reality of people-as-property. If one of those two words is going to be available for me to redefine away the cultural baggage, it ain't gonna be property. But Andrea's lexicon is different, and that's fine.

These two posts, though, got me to thinking. What's going on is that we have a set of phenomena (inflicting pain, subservience, the control of one person's life by another) that are for all but a vanishingly small proportion of the population thought of exclusively as non-consensual.1 What this is going to mean is that, for the majority of people, even people who experience these phenomena consensually on a regular basis, the words themselves are going to carry a lot of connotative baggage of non consensuality.

So what are you going to do about it?
It seems to me that there are three options available. First, you can always describe your relationships in multi-sentence terms, referring to your partner as "the person over whom I have been given authority in the matters of X, Y, and Z (and B to a lesser extent), always contingent, of course, on his consent and subject to renegotiation when desired by either of us." Some people will try this option, but it never lasts. Languages evolve not just over generations, but fairly quickly and repeatedly within one speaker's lifetime, and one of the selective forces on language is efficiency. People don't like using multiple sentences to express what they can say with one word. So people will look for a word. Which brings me to option two: neologism. You can just make up a word to describe the kind of power/authority that is contingent on consent. You can call it glogan, and have one partner be the gloganee, and the other the gloganer, or whatever. This eliminates the problem of efficiency found in solution 1, and the problem of connotation found in solution 3 (we'll get to that), but it brings with it its own host of problems. While it's true that languages evolve, they kind of resist deliberate change. People feel uncomfortable and awkward deliberately using invented words.

This leaves solution 3: reclaim, reinvent, and redefine. And this is what people are doing. It is easier for a speaker to take an existing word and alter its connotations slightly than to invent a new one, and the words people choose to apply in these new contexts will depend hugely on the individual's experiences with them, and the connotations they've acquired, and that's fine.

What this doesn't mean, however, is that people get to throw words around willy-nilly, uncritically redefining and re-redefining on a whim, without ever making their meanings explicit or acknowledging that the cultural consensus about what that word means is being violated. That sort of behaviour only leads to the post-modern bullshit known as philosophy, and makes intelligent conversation impossible. It's important, first of all, to have a sufficiently large vocabulary that, if a word already exists to describe whatever it is you're doing, you know about it and, second, if you do have to redefine, to do it explicitly and transparently so that people can still converse meaningfully with you.

What I guess I'm trying to say with this is that, contra Andrea, I think redefinition is a necessary and inevitable aspect of trying to talk about things like BDSM and, in fact, I think she's doing it.

1. Yes, I'm aware that pain and power play make it into the sex lives of many, if not most, people who would call themselves vanilla, but since they don't tend to think of their sex lives that way, my point stands. back

Another Book Meme

Via Pharyngula, I came across this list of supposedly pretentious books. That is, the 106 books most often marked unread on LibraryThing. I've started reading 17 of them (italics), and completed 10 (bold):

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Silmarillion
  • Life of Pi : a novel
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Don Quixote
  • Moby Dick
  • Ulysses
  • Madame Bovary* (this I started and failed to finish both in the original French and in the English translation)
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre*
  • The Tale of Two Cities
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • The Iliad
  • Emma
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Kite Runner
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations*
  • American Gods
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver
  • Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury tales
  • The Historian : a novel
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New world
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault’s Pendulum
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Once and Future King
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  • 1984
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inferno
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver’s Travels (I read an abridged children's version of this when I was little, but I hardly think that counts)
  • Les Misérables
  • The Corrections
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  • The God of Small Things
  • A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neverwhere
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being*
  • Beloved
  • Slaughterhouse-five
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake : a novel
  • Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed^
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Confusion
  • Lolita
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • On the Road
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (seriously overrated. If you didn't already know that correlation != causation then you might give it a look, but otherwise it gets a resounding "meh".)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down
  • Gravity’s Rainbow
  • The Hobbit
  • In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield
  • The Three Musketeers

*books that I was required to read for school. It's amazing how few I managed to get through!
^this one isn't in the abandoned pile yet. I had to put it down because I don't really have time to read nonfiction during the school year, but I fully intend to pick it up again over the summer.


Rachel Maddow is My Fucking Hero

I've mentioned Maddow on the blog before; I like her a lot. She doesn't giggle or pull punches or defer, like so many women on news-like TV. She always makes her point eloquently and accessibly, and she's always right. So I've liked her.

But today she became my hero.

Seriously. Check her out in this clip from Crooks and Liars. On TV, in the middle of a heated discussion, being condescended to by an asshole older man who obviously doesn't respect her, and she manages to:
1) keep her cool, stay cogent and articulate, and make her point,
2) shut him the fuck up long enough to do that, and
3) in the heat of the discussion, without missing a beat, eloquently call him out on his condescending bullshit, to whit: "Let me make my point and then you can dismiss me."

What I wouldn't give to have her superpowers. Where do we sign up for the Rachel Maddow lessons?


You Have Got To Be Fucking Kidding Me

Seriously. I can't even bring myself to wonder what the justification is. I'm sure all manner of mirth and hilarity will ensue once it goes to trial.

It's been pointed out to me that not everybody has the same wacky obsessions that I do, and some context might be useful. Here it is:

Premise Media is the production company behind the ID creationism movie Expelled. XVIVO is an animation company that created a rendition of some intracellular processes for Harvard University. ERV has the whole nasty story, but basically Expelled uses a copy (as in forgery, not as in Xerox) of the XVIVO/Harvard animation. XVIVO's lawyers sent Premise a don't-do-that letter and have filed a lawsuit. Now, according to the first link up there, Premise is suing them back, on what twisted pretext I can't even imagine. Hence the hilarity. (I'm fresh out of outrage. These guys aren't competent enough to warrant it.)


New Discovery -- Curry in a Can

Did you know that curry comes in a can? It's quite possibly the most exciting discovery I've made all year. Before now my sources of curry have been Indian restaurants and making it myself. I knew that you could get those carboard boxes of stuff that you add water to and heat, but they made me nervous because dry stuff you add water to is never any good.

But Dave and I discovered an Indian grocery store in our neighbourhood last week, and today when we were there, trying to decide what would be the most efficient, non-budget-breaking way to get meals during exams, we discovered that curry comes in cans! And it's yummy! And enough food (if you make rice) to feed two people for 1.99$. 1$/person is seriously not bad as meals go. I almost never average better than that even when cooking stuff from scratch.


This is Me

I don't know why, but I feel a strong sense of identification with this cat.


I See You!

Sitemeter tells me all about you. The two most interesting things it tells me are how you find me and whence you read me. Let's do the latter of those:

Of the last 100 visits to this site there were:

  • 38 from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 5 from
    • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
    • Somervill, Massachusetts, USA
  • 4 from
    • Georgetown, Ontario, Canada
    • Avon, Indiana, USA
  • 3 from Jamaica, New York, USA
  • 2 from
    • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
    • Edison, New Jersey, USA
    • Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
    • 60 N, 95 W (where the Nunavut/Manitoba border touches Hudson Bay)
    • 38 N, 97 W (middle of nowhere, Kansas)
  • and 1 each from:
    • Baltimore, Maryland, USA
    • Detroit, Michigan, USA
    • Mcallen, Texas, USA
    • Avon, Indiana, USA
    • Rainford, Lancashire, UK
    • Richmond, Texas, UK
    • Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    • High Point, North Carolina, USA
    • Brampton, Ontario, Canada
    • Los Angeles, California, USA
    • Village of Nagog Woods, Massachusetts, USA
    • Tempe, Arizona, USA
    • Providence, Rhode Islande, USA
    • Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
    • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
    • Louth, Louth, Ireland
    • Delft, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
    • San Jose, Costa Rica
    • Seattle, Washington, USA
    • Berwick, Pennsylvania, USA
    • Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persukutuan, Malaysia
    • Chatham, Ontario, Canada
    • Dublin, Ireland
    • Kiev, Kyyivs'ka Oblast', Ukraine
    • New York, New York, USA
    • Mountain View, California, USA
    • London, UK
    • Joensuu, Eastern Finland, Finland
    • Hillard, Ohio, USA
    • Lafayette, Indiana, USA
    • Helsinki, Southern Finland, Finland
Of course this all depends on none of you spoofing your IPs, and your ISPs telling the truth.