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I'm a phony and I love it! - Salon Interviews Thomas De Zengotita
March 9, 2005 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Let's say you like cats. When you visit a friend's house and he happens to have a cat, you make a big deal about stroking it, picking it up, talking to it. And you do the same thing with every cat you encounter. It demonstrates to the people around you that you're a sensitive, sympathetic, tactile person. All these things are true of you, including your innate adoration of cats. But that doesn't mean to say you haven't cultivated your cat-fancying into a self-conscious, gushing performance that somehow represents you. This doesn't make you a phony; it makes you something else: mediated. "Me" culture : Reality is so passé
Salon interviews Thomas De Zengotita, author of The Numbing Of The The American Mind and Closure for You, Jedermensch ein Übermensch.
posted by y2karl (50 comments total)

 
Wait, what if you own a cat? I have 4. And I guarantee, I'm completely unmedicated.

I mean unmediated.

Oh.
posted by RockCorpse at 1:20 PM on March 9, 2005


Reading the articles--good post.

I'm pointing this out, instead of just doing it, as a means of showing that I'm an intelligent kind of guy, I suppose.
posted by kenko at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2005


What would Nietzsche say? Maybe he'd say:
'To give style' to one's character -- a great and rare art! He exercises it who surveys all that his nature presents in strength and weakness and then moulds it to an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason, and even the weaknesses delight the eye."
(Ecce Homo if I remember correctly.)
posted by octobersurprise at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2005


That stuff kinda makes my head spin after awhile.

I mean, it's interesting, but after a while it's like that "Maybe all the atoms in my toenail are little universes, so maybe our universe is just an atom in some creatures toenail...."

Worthy questions, but think about 'em too much and you'll never want to get out of bed in the morning.
posted by jonmc at 1:37 PM on March 9, 2005


Heck, if I had 4 cats, and stroked them - I'd be completely unable to breathe due to my allergies...

I shall pass on this most interesting con(ACHOO!)cept.

J.
posted by JB71 at 1:44 PM on March 9, 2005


What, exactly, is one supposed to do about this?
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:45 PM on March 9, 2005


Really, jonmc? Thinking about these kinds of things is why I get out of bed every morning. But my wife is of a different mindset, so I sympathize...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:47 PM on March 9, 2005


Really, jonmc? Thinking about these kinds of things is why I get out of bed every morning.

I like thinking about stuff, definitely, but when you get into extremely abstract (and probably unresolvable) questions like this, I just start to lose my footing and go blank. Has more to do with my intellectual limitations than the worthiness of the subject matter.
posted by jonmc at 1:50 PM on March 9, 2005


*inserts finger in mouth, chews a thousand universes thoughtfully*
posted by quonsar at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2005


I like thinking about stuff, definitely
Hey, me too!
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:54 PM on March 9, 2005


"Reality is becoming indistinguishable from representation in a qualitatively new way," de Zengotita claims.

Can indistinguishability be qualitative? I would say that the tension between reality and representation has altered as representation has become an ever larger part of our reality, but I'll have to give this a little more thought. Either way, I'm sure it's applicable to some of the behavior here on metafilter.
posted by liam at 1:56 PM on March 9, 2005


De Zengotitia is right- this is not bad. The alternative is being very real and very poor, very hungry, and very miserable. The idea that this is fundamentally repellent is like saying we should all go back to the trees, or perhaps the oceans.
posted by Maxson at 2:00 PM on March 9, 2005


Was the double "the" a deliberate attempt to highlight mind numbness? If so, kudos. If not, I'll go back into my nitpicky corner, thank you very much.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 2:03 PM on March 9, 2005


Was the double "the" a deliberate attempt to highlight mind numbness?

Nope. It was unmediated numbness.
posted by y2karl at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2005


Just finished reading the Numbing article... incredible. y2karl really knows how to scour the web, and that article is fantastic... Time to go read more.
posted by knave at 2:09 PM on March 9, 2005


Worthy questions, but think about 'em too much and you'll never want to get out of bed in the morning.

Jonmc hits the nail on the head. If all things are just choices, it's easy to think that nothing matters. If nothing matters, we might as well live to please ourselves, or die. So we pretend something matters.

But maybe "please ourselves" is all we humans have, and people who think otherwise are just kidding themselves about the importance of whatever it is they're doing, which, for the overwhelming majority of us, is not much. Self-sacrifice, when it isn't necessary, is indistinguishable from self-indulgence.

Seems to me this philosophy is just another perfectly valid, but bleak and scary, view of society. It's similar in that way to evolutionary biology - the concepts and conclusions are undeniable, but the easiest philosophical conclusion to draw from it is that you personally don't really matter much. Which is an assertion that we humans, for reasons easily explainable by of evolutionary biology and self-construction, react badly to.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:09 PM on March 9, 2005


This seems to relate to the "drama framework" for human interaction put forth by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. An interesting book, and accessible even to an undergraduate taking his one single sociology class.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 2:09 PM on March 9, 2005


I hate cats
posted by IndigoJones at 2:23 PM on March 9, 2005


Unmediated reality can no longer be accessed by people without relying on accident and inevitability -- but this became true when human beings created language! It can only get more true as the mediasphere expands. As it expands, our sense of reality retreats. The result is a circumscribing of what ideas and activities qualify for "unvarnished truth".

From both a philosophical and personal point of view, I don't have a problem with this. It's better than being poor on the streets of Calcutta!

On preview: CrunchyFrog, good point bringing in Goffman's idea of stages!
posted by growli at 2:24 PM on March 9, 2005


Heck, if I had 4 cats, and stroked them - I'd be completely unable to breathe due to my allergies...

I shall pass on this most interesting con(ACHOO!)cept.


Someone is living an unmedicated life. Get you some Flonase, buddy, and then go see what the world of kitties has in store for you.

I read this article when it was posted on Salon - interesting concept, thanks for the additional links. I won't be getting anything done this afternoon......
posted by salad spork at 2:29 PM on March 9, 2005


I'd say that living as a mediated representation of yourself is TOO MUCH DAMN
EFFORT.

My experience has been that people who think about the representational
possibilities of all their actions and then mediate them accordingly are female
and have high levels of insecurity. On the opposite end of the gender spectrum,
boorish males (including myself) act totally without thinking at all and find
the act of representation to be an unneeded obstacle to continued boorishness.

And another thing, the next pontificator that confuses (American)
entertainment's representation of culture with (American) actual culture is
going to get my boot to their head. /rant
posted by sandking at 2:35 PM on March 9, 2005


so sandking, it's easier for you to self-represent as a boorish male rather than any other persona, is what you're saying? :-)
posted by growli at 2:41 PM on March 9, 2005


For more on "being a phony," read David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon" in his book "Oblivion." Any attempt at explaining the story is futile.
posted by iamck at 2:46 PM on March 9, 2005


I think there's some connection between the society in Brave New World and this Numbing essay, and it's got me all in a tizzy.

Right there where I said "all in a tizzy" it was a self-conscious, gushing performance that somehow represents me. I'm not a phony, but it was an example of a mediated action. Even my reading of Brave New World has contributed to my illusion, my mediated personality, the projection of society onto the canvas of my soul (is that cribbed from The Matrix?).

But what is the alternative, and is it good? Oh, boy, let's not bring "good" into it. But what is the alternative?

Disillusionment. That's what happened to Neo. And a long time ago I read a Zen-type book called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. One of the goals of Socrates, the Zen master in that book, was disillusionment.

I, for one, would like to limit the painters with access to my canvas.

Gosh, even my writing is mediated. "Gosh" has become part of my vocabulary.

I'll see you all after the lobotomy.
posted by joecacti at 2:49 PM on March 9, 2005


Get you some Flonase, buddy, and then go see what the world of kitties has in store for you.

No, you should get yourself a genetically engineered allergy free cat and define yourself by what you buy/consume/own.
posted by fixedgear at 3:38 PM on March 9, 2005


Kind of reminds me of a 'Society of the Spectacle' for the 00's, with some Baudrillard thrown in, and replacing "Revolution!" with "Rip, Mix, and Burn!"

So is this comment mediated?
posted by carter at 3:39 PM on March 9, 2005


Interesting post, y2karl. Related to Jean Baudrillard's
Simulacra and Simulations.
posted by semmi at 3:41 PM on March 9, 2005


Wow, cool. This is an idea I have but I use long-winded phrases like "tethered to your model of yourself;" "mediated" works better. I think I'll be getting this book.
posted by abcde at 3:44 PM on March 9, 2005


Every comment is mediated. How else can someone have an "online personality"?
posted by dragstroke at 3:49 PM on March 9, 2005


Dang, dragstroke. I hadn't realised that I was doing it.

Oops - there I go again!
posted by carter at 3:53 PM on March 9, 2005


Incidentally, I'd propose that Catcher in the Rye is about Holden's frustration with the impossibility of dealing with this problem in himself and others (hence "phonies"). I'm not a huge fan of the book but for that reason I can definitely see the appeal.
posted by abcde at 4:10 PM on March 9, 2005


semmi beat me to the Baudrillard reference.

I might go so far as to say that De Zengotita's ideas are a subset or logical extension of Baudrillard's. Except that De Zengotita seems less clear about where he stands on the idea that there is anything really real.

For more about performative identity, cf. Judith Butler
Gender Trouble and
Bodies That Matter

Butler's idea is that the performance of yourself (which is produced and constrained by all kinds of social forces) is your identity, and that the idea we usually have of a "true self" which resides somewhere in the core of our being is actually an effect of our performances. There is no doer that precedes the deed, in other words. Which, incidentally, is also from Neitzche.
posted by mai at 5:11 PM on March 9, 2005


Butler's idea is that the performance of yourself (which is produced and constrained by all kinds of social forces) is your identity

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
posted by jonmc at 5:17 PM on March 9, 2005


"Weaseling out of things is important to learn.
It's what separates us from the animals ...except the weasel." - Homer

Having the capacity for abstract thought means, by definition, that we create and experience representations of the world that are ultimately more real than whatever the "real world" might be.
posted by squirrel at 6:08 PM on March 9, 2005


I don't know this De Zengotita, but the Salon interview left me wanting more. Looks like I've missed out on an interesting guy. But, not for long.

And I only fawn over dogs so men won't think I'm one of those "creepy, cat lover" types.

Thanks for posting this, y2karl!
posted by Kloryne at 6:10 PM on March 9, 2005


Even my reading of Brave New World has contributed to my illusion, my mediated personality...

That's partly true, joecacti. The problem with this model, as I see it, is that it presents self as something created and projected by an individual. The real mindfuck of reality isn't just that we generate meaning as a representation, but that this process is coordinated with others. Your reference to Brave New World, for example, is meaningless without the work that the rest of us need to have done, and need to do, in order to give that reference a meaning context. And to make matters more complicated, we all bring something different to the reference because of our different life experiences. For more on this, see Pierce's Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM).

My brother and I have an old saying that applies here: every discussion of the nature of reality should be followed by a night of drunken snowmobiling.
posted by squirrel at 6:32 PM on March 9, 2005


So what would he say about guilty pleasures? I can see how one pretending to hate cats is trying to create a persona, but what about the other side of the coin? When someone really does like cats secretly, hiding it from everyone. Do guilty pleasures define people more accurately than the fake persona they show in public?

Ow, my brain. Hope that made sense, I just got out of an evil midterm.
posted by idiotfactory at 8:10 PM on March 9, 2005


This is good stuff, but you can escape more of what he talks about by not watching TV than you would think.
posted by MillMan at 9:20 PM on March 9, 2005


Excellent post, y2karl, thank you muchly.

Intellectual pain! I've got to read the rest of these links.
posted by blacklite at 9:27 PM on March 9, 2005


After reading through the thread: I'm with squirrel.
posted by blacklite at 9:39 PM on March 9, 2005


As for this part of that last link...
What would it be like to gaze into your own eyes? What would it be like to caress and comfort, to love and care for, a clone of yourself? To kiss a person who looks exactly like you did thirty years ago?
...Randy & Issac didn’t need to ponder and mull. They figured it out likkety-split:
Clone of My Own
(sung to the tune of Home on the Range)

O give me a clone of my own flesh and bone,
With its Y chromosome changed to X.
And when it is grown, then my own little clone
Will be of the opposite sex.

Chorus:
Clone, clone of my own,
With its Y chromosome changed to X
And when I'm alone with my own little clone
We'll both think of nothing but sex.

O give me a clone, hear my sorrowful moan,
Just a clone that is wholly my own.
And if it's an X of the feminine sex,
Oh what fun we will have when we're prone.

(Chorus)

My heart's not of stone, as I've frequently shown
When alone with my dear little X
And after we've dined, I am sure we will find
Better incest than Oedipus Rex.

(Chorus)

Why should such sex vex, or disturb or perplex.
Or induce a disparaging tone?
After all, don't you see, since we're both of us me.
When we're making love, I'm alone.

(Chorus)

And after I'm done, she will still have her fun,
For I'll clone myself twice ere I die.
And this time without fail, they'll be both of them male,
And they'll each ravish her by-and-by

The first verse and chorus are by Randall Garrett. The other verses are by Isaac Asimov.
posted by mono blanco at 10:14 PM on March 9, 2005


this is no good.

this isn't, either. but it's not as bad.
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:07 PM on March 9, 2005


"Comfortably Numb"
(imagine Van Morrison singing)

ello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?
Come on, now.
I hear you're feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again.
Relax.
I need some information first.
Just the basic facts,
Can you show me where it hurts?
There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.
Ok.
Just a little pinprick.
There'll be no more ...Aaaaaahhhhh!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working. Good.
That'll keep you going for the show.
Come on it's time to go.
There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'.
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.
posted by nofundy at 8:52 AM on March 10, 2005


At first only a few of us noticed, and we didn’t talk about it until later—though most of us probably tried to check with someone early on. I know I did. Putting it as a matter of curiosity, in passing, but seriously, the way you might ask “Have you ever had a dream where you dreamed you woke up?” But of course, in that case, a lot of people say yes, and the others at least know what you mean...

Reciprocal touching in social situations, handshaking and so on, that ended quickly. It led to clinging and violence. Besides, there were pairs and groups forming everywhere for all that. Almost everyone who lasted gravitated into the touching groups during the last stages. But, though comforting, such groups were risky, subject to obsessive pacts or outbursts of impulse that couldn’t be contained. The most durable groups prohibited both looking and touching, relying instead on conversation—and, of course, the singing. They stayed together and found some peace, right up to the end. I was in one of those groups, thank God. It just worked out that way, by accidental encounter. We gave ourselves in gratitude to music, and to words, which took no sides. We dwelt together in our voices and the stories that we told, stories of our world remembered. There were many beautiful moments.


The Other Side* by Thomas de Zengotita
posted by y2karl at 9:12 AM on March 10, 2005


there's an assumption lurking behind all this ... that we are making free choices ...

what if we aren't? ... what if most of our choices and mediation with the world is determined by our environment and nature and we only think we're choosing?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:42 AM on March 10, 2005


Right now is when I miss troutfishing coming in with something like maybe Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar."
posted by nofundy at 10:58 AM on March 10, 2005


And you do the same thing with every cat you encounter.

Hey, isn't that exactly why that crazy old Chinese dude cut the cat in half with his sword, thousands of years ago? Our virtual reality may be more refined technologically than it used to be, but it's still just a pale imitation of the real thing. Try as hard as you like to escape into reality TV, the world will still swallow you up in the end. Cat fancying as a constructed representation of self is like whistling in a hurricane.

Adrift like a Lunatic Lifeboat Crew; Over the Waves in whatever you do. ...

And so, on to the automatic writing part of this non-disintermediated series of characters:

It doesn't get mediated, it doesn't get spoken. It doesn't get in from the first place of love. There isn't a wire, there isn't a harness, it speaks on the moon to emotionless rock.

It doesn't seem right that the wrong side is winning, it doesn't seem fair that the virtuous are lost. There isn't a reason, there isn't a law, there isn't a place where the paths all converge. We speak and we listen, we think and we sing; our actions are guided by muscle and bone.

Media matter, the lattice of logic, but only in madness is the spirit at home.
posted by sfenders at 5:06 PM on March 10, 2005


I like cats.
posted by briank at 5:29 PM on March 10, 2005


Cat fancying as a constructed representation of self is like whistling in a hurricane.

Has whistling in a hurricane ever got you laid?
posted by squirrel at 10:50 PM on March 10, 2005


Singing in the rain works better.
posted by sfenders at 5:04 AM on March 11, 2005


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