Three words reliably deflate my heart when I hear and read them: 1) narrative, 2) practice, 3) performative. I’ve caught myself groaning.
I am removing these words entirely from casual speech, but keeping some of them for very specific technical uses.
Where there were “narratives” there will be stories or ideologies. There is no reason to use that word ever again. It is irretrievably ruined by association with this idiotic moment in history.
“Practice” will be replaced by methods, tools, or other less fancy-pants terms. I’m ashamed of my own overuse of this word. I will make it up to you, somehow. The only place I plan to use it now is when I discuss “praxis”, which I still consider an excellent word, provided you use it when you aren’t being an asshole, a qualification that will reduce use of the word to almost, but not quite, zero.
“Performative” will be strictly limited to two technical senses, the only permissible uses for this rotten-ass word. First, when a speech act demonstrates or implies a belief which potentially contradicts the content of the speech. (For example, the famous paradox “This sentence is a lie.” The act of assertion implies conveyance of truth, while the content of the assertion denies that what is conveyed is true. Or saying “You do not exist.” The act of addressing you presupposes your existence, while the content claims your nonexistence.)
The other technical meaning of “performative” is where the essence of some thing is its performance. The most famous use of this word comes from Judith Butler who argued that gender is performative — that is, that the essence of womanhood or manhood is the performing of these gender roles, as opposed to the expression of some biological condition.
But the use of “performative” to mean merely-acted is entirely pointless when we have simpler and more beautiful words like “phony”, “ostentatious”, “insincere” or “bullshitty”. Ironically, saying “performative” seems performative, in the sense I claimed I was retiring. See, in that last statement I just performatively contradicted my resolution to stop using performative, but in this present sentence I am not. Shut up, self. You’re boring everyone, including yourself.
I’m listening to Brett Easton Ellis’s latest novel The Shards.
It is an absorbing story but Ellis’s writing is annoying.
Now I will gripe. I will limit my gripes to three, because this angry blog post was brought to you by the number three.
Gripe 1: The constant music references are cheap and carry too much weight. In some random places he attempts to convey fresh novelty of certain bands who now seem banally ancient (“a band called the Stray Cats”). But most of the time he drops the names of bands and songs as spray-on atmosphere.
Gripe 2: Ellis is a hamfisted abuser of adverbs. One memorably dumb example (so dumb I actually, physically slapped my own forehead in the parking lot of Kroger) was when he had hippie cult members “eagerly” ringing doorbells while casing neighborhoods. Huh? What does an eager doorbell ring look like? C’mon, Brett. Don’t write when you’re stoned. It shows. I’m not motivated enough to dig up more examples of misguided adverbs. I have no work ethic. You go do it. It’ll only take two or three pages, and you’ll have dozens. Had Ellis’s editor removed every adverb, even the rare well-chosen ones, it would have been an improvement. Maybe his editor was stoned, too. This book could be an exhibit in a case against the legalization of marijuana.
Gripe 3: Ellis’s frequent and thoughtless use of “performative” and “narrative” irritates the everloving fuck out of me. It is plain bad and brainless, but it is even worse than that. It stands out like a conspicuously contemporary hair-do in a period piece. Hair is where a director ingratiates characters to us by making them relatable and desirable, and these worn-out now-words are how Ellis gives us the secret handshake that signals to us that he is actually morally up-to-date and not really amoral, after all. I think it is the cowardice of it that’s getting under my skin.
If you’re going to be amoral, commit and do it for real. I’m doing a citizen’s arrest and revoking Ellis’s Gen-X credentials. He can go shop himself around and see if some ethical generation will have him.
I hate this book, but it is fun. I do intend to finish it, but I also intend to supplement the fun and avenge my annoyance with more griping.