The Philosophy of Complaining

The outraged traveller, the disappointed gourmet, the lazy tweeter, the postoffice grouser: there are as many complainer genres as there are varieties of neurosis or flavors of potato chips. Everyone’s a critic, but what possible theory can unite these diverse types? What could carping and griping, lamenting and whining, tell us about subjectivity itself?

InterCcECT welcomes Aaron Schuster to lead a mini-seminar on the art, science, and pleasure of the complaint. We’ll read selections from his book The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis, and his recent essay “Primal Scream, or Why Do Babies Cry? A Theory of Trump,” along with an excerpt from InterCcECTer Adam Kotsko’s book Awkwardness.

Join us Tuesday 18 April, 4:30-6:30pm at Volumes BookCafe 1474 N Milwaukee Ave (Blue Line: Damen). Coffee, booze, and snacks available amid the great indie book selection.

To request the readings, contact us.

Also on our calendar:

11 April “Designing Infrastructure”
13 April Jared Hickman, “Black Prometheus”
21 April Rodolphe Gasche

As always, get in touch to propose events, and follow us on facebook for frequent links and updates.

Awkwardness infects The New Yorker

Elif Batuman has a post up at a New Yorker blog about awkwardness, which engages with my work on the topic at length. She makes a slight tweak to my historical progression toward awkwardness, arguing that it was specifically the shock of realizing that the Iraq War was a total scam that shattered the patriotic sincerity that briefly reigned after 9/11 and ushered in the era of unmitigated awkwardness. It includes some interesting thoughts on the inherent awkwardness of the family and on Mad Men as a product of the awkward age as well.

Women’s awkwardness

It’s widely agreed that the lack of women’s awkwardness is a glaring fault in Awkwardness. I defended myself initially by claiming that there were not very many women characters or woman-centered shows that belonged to the contemporary “awkwardness trend,” and at the time that was true enough. If I were to rewrite the book today, though, I would not simply include the newer “awkward humor” explicitly centered on women, which has arisen in the wake of the trend I was responding to. Instead, I would have to place awkward entertainment in a broader historical context, which would reveal a shocking truth: women have always been awkward and have always been portrayed as such in American television. I mean this very precisely. “Girls” are not awkward, because girls have a set place — as the object of boys’ affections. Mothers are also not awkward, because they have a set role. Women, however, are awkward, and more radically so than any man could be. Career women, young women out dating, even young married women who are still feeling their way into the role and don’t have children yet — none of them have a place, none of them have a standard or model.

Women’s awkwardness seemed to be absent from the trend because women’s awkwardness has been a constant feature of the comedy landscape. Hence we can understand the reactionary character of Apatow-style men’s awkwardness — it is attempting to claim the comedic territory that has previously been identified with women. It claims there has been a reversal of power, such that women are essentially in charge and therefore in possession of convincing standards and norms. In this view, women are not afflicted with awkwardness, but are the cause of it. This reclaiming of awkwardness goes hand in hand with an agenda of taming it through domestication — a phenomenon for which women are also paradoxically blamed. It’s as though men were watching Sex and the City and felt jealous that they couldn’t experience the same insecurities.

Social constructs

One often hears people declare something to be “just a social construct” as a way of dismissing its reality or relevance. In reality, the fact that something is a social construct makes it infinitely more powerful and difficult to escape than if it were, for instance, a biological brute fact. We get around biological brute facts all the time. Social forces regulate our eating, drinking, defecation, urination, sexual pairings, etc., etc. Social forces can drive us to suicide — meaning they have overcome the most fundamental biological drive of survival. Biology isn’t infinitely pliable, of course, but it is hardly destiny.

Continue reading “Social constructs”