Over at An und Fur Sich, Beatrice Marovich has written a brilliant post on contempt. In my view, she’s describing what Mark K-Punk once called “the sneer from nowhere” that is so common in online discussions. Over at An und Fur Sich, they’re talking about contempt as arising from class distinctions. I think there’s a limited truth to this, but it doesn’t explain the ubiquity of contempt as a rhetorical phenomenon on the internet, where class distinctions are far less visible. Rather, I think it makes more sense to follow a hybrid theory of Lacan and McLuhan, pointing out how a cold medium such as the internet invites a massive return or dominance of the Lacanian Imaginary or rivalrous struggles over identity. Here’s a taste:
By using language, and the body, to make another body feel worthless and ignored, contempt serves to lift the contemptuous person up. But this is such a trivial and fragile leap. If given the conscious choice, how many people would choose to lift themselves up onto a throne of worthlessness?
Am I missing something about contempt? Have I gotten it entirely wrong? Help me with this. Change my mind about contempt. Really, I wouldn’t mind thinking differently about contempt. Because I am convinced that we are living not in the age of irony, but in the age of contempt. Often, what passes for irony might otherwise be called a performance of contempt. It’s everywhere. It’s layered into the tone of critique and commentary, sustaining its very cleverness. Contempt is just under the surface of almost everything I read in the blogosphere. It appears in little bursts in social media. We go to theaters to bask in it, and perhaps (also) to achieve something else if we’re able to deflect it. In a culture with an absurd distribution of wealth, where most assets are effectively owned by a tiny percentage of the population, we can build ourselves up on the crumbs of contempt. We can live like royalty on the little thrones built of someone else’s pangs of worthlessness. Do you think it’s possible to abstain from contempt? Would this be delusion, or folly?
Read the rest here.