A Special Kind of Grotesque
It's quarter to nine on a Saturday night in Paris and I'm sitting in bed alone drinking an IPA & eating a large bowl of poké. I stopped by Pokawa's new location on Rue Oberkampf* on my way home from thrift shopping. The Pokawa staff are super friendly and they even let me create my own poké ... for an extra euro, of course.
Mo' money, mo' possibilities! I've been thinking a lot about capitalism and choice lately. Sometimes it's hard for me to reconcile my identity as an anti-capitalist with my interest in the acquisition of certain goods (i.e. silk shorts from Comptoir des cotonniers). French companies are particularly good at manufacturing desire. "Buy now or cry later," a sign declared proudly behind a counter of the dépôt-vente Bobby.
We are constantly encouraged to make choices NOW; otherwise, we'll regret our inaction! Not making a choice comes at a cost! We are made to believe we have little to no time (!) to reflect on how we should move forward.
This week, I'm dwelling on a piece sent to me by a friend in Spain, titled "Exhaustion & Exuberance" by Jan Verwoert.
Verwoert notes that consumer society claims to be "founded on the principle of limitless choice. With their slogan, “'Where do you want to go today?” Microsoft promised that their product could serve as “a universally applicable performance tool.” The irony of this promise, Verwoert continues, “lies in the fact that the system on which computing machines operate is a binary logic of zeros and ones. In other words, it is a system based on the constant repetition of either/or choices.”
This reminds me of an entry from Sylvia Plath’s journal: “I have much to live for, yet unaccountably I am sick and sad. I could trace my feeling back to my distaste at having to choose between alternatives.” Zeroes and ones.
The generous offer to go wherever you want effectively entitles you only to select a predefined option. Verwoert’s words leave me spooked. Would it have even occurred to me to "create my own poké" had I not viewed the suggestion on the board (below the list of pre-existing options)? I was merely reacting to what I saw in front of me.
Part of the reason I created this blog is because I feel like a sham in life. I wanted to hold myself accountable for creating content. Sure, I have been known to mock people who call themselves "content creators" but if you don't want to join 'em, you should beat 'em at their craft... right?
I am a special kind of grotesque.** I become preoccupied by trouncing people (including myself). I worry that my drive to create is too often fueled by what I view as the incompetence of others. In high school, I became an editor and columnist of the newspaper not because it was my passion but because I felt the existing content was in dire need of improvement. I have no singular passion… unless you count intense scrutiny?
Back to "Your Potential. Our Passion." Note that with the first person plural pronoun, Microsoft is implicated in the presumed passion. "Our passion" reminds us that "your potential" can and will be appropriated.
I know I have the potential to do so many things. It's Saturday night in Paris. I am fortunate, I don't have mobility issues. Where do ~I~ want to go? I could travel to any other arrondissement. And yet... I remain in my room.
"Rachel, why don't you go out alone?" you ask. “Take a stroll, discover something new organically?” Don’t fret, dear reader, I am well acquainted with the benefits of an independent lifestyle. I arrive at most places and events unaccompanied in this city… though I wouldn’t even have to go far to encounter new people… There happens to be party going on in my own apartment. Right now.
In French, “fête” is homophonous and synonymous with “fait.” Much more emphasis is placed on the creation of the party. It’s not just something you have… a good party must be made under the right circumstances. En tout cas, because I was not involved in the creation of the party, it doesn’t interest me as much as it should. I grab a lukewarm beer (I have no choice), survey my environment, then retreat to my room to continue writing. The people at the party won’t make me happy.
People are happy, according to Plath, “if that means being content with your lot: feeling comfortable as the complacent round peg struggling in a round hole, with no awkward or painful edges- no space to wonder or question.”
If I am a round peg in a round hole, I feel like the hole is too big and it is swallowing me up. I have too much space to wonder and question I could almost fall out of the hole together. I’m a peg that can’t remain pegged down. I yearn to encounter some edges in the form of a budding romance. I am so rounded off by my own sense of self and the routines I’ve succumbed to I have no edge. I’d like someone to take me out of my own cycle for a little bit.
* Spotted a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra on the counter. Anyone who reads Nietzche when they're not speaking to customers is the kind of person from whom I'll make a purchase. At Christmas I was gifted a copy of Le Gai Savoir that I look forward to finishing soon.
**Plath wrote that the very content that comes from finding yourself “is overshadowed by the knowledge that by doing so you are admitting you are not only a grotesque but a special kind of grotesque.”