Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mr. Pound and Mr. Rockefeller Go to the Bank

Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it. If Mr. Rockefeller draws a cheque for a million dollars it is good. If I draw one for million it is a joke, a hoax, it has no value. If it is taken seriously, the writing of it becomes a criminal act.

Ezra Pound (ABC, p. 25)

The latest round of talk about Flarf has an interesting feature that I would like to get at by way of an analogy. Suppose you overhear someone at a party telling a bigoted joke. On that day, let's say, you're in the kind of mood when you say, "Bigot! Asshole! Fuckface!" He quickly changes his tune. "It was just a joke," he says. He might even apologize and admit that it was a stupid thing to say. Except, he actually doesn't like "those people", you soon find out. This comes out because, for some reason, you started to defend those people. (What you forgot was that in order to mount this defense you had to accept the bigot's original category.) In the course of the discussion, you find out he has a series of uninformed opinions about "them". These opinions are not as vulgar as the original joke, which he has taken back, but they are nothing more than unfounded generalizations about a group of people he knows nothing about. When pressed, he finds examples of all manner of perverts and reprobates among "those people". You tell him that "they" can't be responsible for the failings of individuals and that the examples he cites are, in most cases, ordinary human imperfection magnified by a crusade against a larger foe. In other cases, there is talk of individuals no one has ever claimed to be especially proud of. Finally, to show his openmindedness about it all, he challenges you to find just a handful of "decent people" among "them" that he will then "civilly" measure his judgment (of all of them) against. After all, he's not prejudiced, he assures you, somewhat offended that you might have ever entertained the idea.

(To avoid a needless misunderstanding: I am not saying that Seth Abramson is a bigot. I'm saying he is arguing like one.)

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