Sunday, August 17, 2008

Guilty displeasure

What's sure to be a new favorite term, from Carl Wilson's (of Zoilus) book about CĂ©line Dion, A Journey to the End of Taste:
If guilty pleasures are out of date, perhaps the time has come to conceive of a guilty displeasure. This is not like the nagging regret I have about, say, never learning to like opera. My aversion to Dion more closely resembles how put off I feel when someone says they're pro-life or a Republican: intellectually I'm aware how personal and complicated such affiliations can be, but my gut reactions more crudely tribal.
Wilson later links guilty displeasure to Julia Kristeva's notion of the abject - but Kristeva's writing is not really ideal for what's supposed to a semi-accessible blog, so I'll quote Barbara Creed instead: "The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self." It is, in short, something that is a part of you but which must also be denied, these denials being as important in your ability to fashion a coherent identity for yourself as are your affirmations.

Wilson's examples of guilty displeasures work for me, too, though I find myself struggling to find less obvious ones: the idea of patriotism, probably, since I'm sure that it's more nuanced than it seems in many cases but I'm nonetheless eager to dismiss its usefulness on the whole. Maybe I'll come back to this post and either add some items or add them in the comments as they come to me - more banal and poppy stuff. Though I'd love to here about what other people find a guilty displeasure, too.

8 comments:

James said...

"the idea of patriotism, probably, since I'm sure that it's more nuanced than it seems in many cases but I'm nonetheless eager to dismiss its usefulness on the whole."

This, and religion for me. Sports for something more banal.

neilshyminsky said...

Religion, too, of course, though I didn't want to come off as a total malcontent. But I probably focused on patriotism because the Olympics are everywhere and the emotional investment that people show in it is... unsettling.

Also? James Taylor. I hate James Taylor.

Jason said...

I get disproportionately irritated whenever I witness an online discussion of the Star Wars prequels and people talk about how TERRIBLE Hayden Christensen is. He is so "wooden and boring" and whatever else. As if everything else in those movies is not also boring and crappy?

It plays to this whole notion of worshipping Star Wars religiously -- you've got these movies that are just bad and not worth thinking about, but people are so obsessed with the SW franchise that they sit around pulling it apart and saying, "Well, if this and that had been different, it could've been good ..."

Which of course is something I do with all my own pet loves, fetishes and obsessions. But hey, that's why it's "guilty."

Omar Karindu said...

I'm not so sure sports and nationalism -- if not patriotism -- can really be separated in most instances. If nothing else, statist ideologies (in the context of a state system) tend to capture and deploy such forms of belonging as sports fandom just as they take in and reconstruct or realign ethnolinguistic community. (Damn you, Benedict Anderson!)

I might draw some line between patriotism and nationalism, but these days that serves bugger all. The state has developed into little more than a kind of branding; China and the IOCC seem to reflect this quite well of late.

No one "important" notices or cares because to notice or care is to subvert the wonderfully profitable collusive bond between the state-as-brand and the multinational-as-postterritorial-state. The Olympics are simply one of the products of these new conglomerates and their productive operations along the circuits and networks of global capital.

The concept of guilty displeasure does underline the deeper question of ethical choice and the concept of ethics/ethical practice as the new foundation of (particularly Continental) philosophy as against metaphysics or ontology.

Guilty displeasure is perhaps an ethical judgment prior to ethical practice or consideration. (I am quite improperly mashing together the notion of aesthetic judgment as a subspecies of ethical judgment, before which charge I can only plead the extenuating circumstances of blog-comment brevity and a misspent youth perusing Kant's third critique. 'Tweren't me, y'r honor, 'twas th'Enlightenment.)

This could be considered a reframing or translation of the terms of abjection, and partcularly the ways in which abjection outlives or exceeds its practical function in identity formation and determination. Just as the abject is refused before and at moments (the moment) of self formation, guilty displeasure enacts the operation in the more limited (more mediatory) field of the aesthetic, safely distant from the deep identity formation of which it is part and symptom so that even a kind of guilt can be permitted at no real cost to oneself.

I really hate Britney Spears, even though everyone insists to me that "Toxic" is a masterpiece of pop confection and production. My dislike of Mark Millar's comics work, on the other hand, belongs more to the realm of a guilty pleasure turning into outright displeasure.

neilshyminsky said...

omar: That they can't be so easily separated - I love Anderson's book! - and yet we do so easily anyway is actually part of this function of 'guilty displeasure', I think. It's a reductive gesture, and nothing is more reductive than hating on something like 'patriotism' without taking care to untangle it from the institutions with which it is mutually implicated.

"This could be considered a reframing or translation of the terms of abjection, and partcularly the ways in which abjection outlives or exceeds its practical function in identity formation and determination"

I mostly agree, though I think you're splitting hairs with a distinction between the practical and the aesthetic. For someone whose cultural criticism goes a long way toward defining his sense of self, the aesthetic does seem to be a part of deep identity formation, doesn't it? In general, it seems like a fluffier or more superficial subcategory of abjection, but I'm not sure that's fair.

Omar Karindu said...

I agree that aesthetics is (a mode of) practice, even venturing that discourse on abjection (of necessity) is itself an aesthetics by which we approach an unnameable function or practice of "being." (Here the shadow of an infinite regress looms.)

But the aesthetic involved in guilty displeasure is, I think, a way of mediating/deferring a larger ethical-aestehtic judgment -- one that would properly be rooted, as you say, in a more nuanced or complex analysis -- for any number of reasons.

Not the least of these is the difference of time-scale between the accomplishment of that disentangling (or, alternately, totalizing) analysis and the more instantaneous window of opportunity that surrounds something like the ghost of a "judgment of taste" in some sort of false isolation.

Vernacular discourse demands the rapid, serial, perhaps endless production of such judgments of taste. Thought and ethics, and in them aesthetics, demand a more thorough and nuanced sort of judgment, perhaps a deferred judgment. In order to produce vernacular discourse -- Jay Sherman's "It stinks!" or Homer Simpson's "It's groin-grabbingly transcendant!" -- we split the difference. We defer the task of analysis to produce a snap judgment; at the same time, via the label of guilty displeasure, we defer the commitment that a longer analysis is supposed to (doesn't always) justify or ethically ground.

We eat our cake, and have it too.

omar karindu said...

Oh, I'd add that I'm only flirting with some jargon of authenticity in the above comment. I'd speculate that what motivates both the judgment we're calling guilty displeasure and the act of calling it "guilty displeasure" are vestiges of some concern with authenticity of identity. The visceral, seemingly immediate quality of the first, guiltless moment of guilty displeasure sets up the second stroke of the engine, the moment of guilt in which the self-defined scholar or analyst redefines themselves as "really" a thinker for whom snap judgments are not "authentic" practice.

There's perhaps more of a time-lag to guilty displeasure than there is to the usual kinds of abjection. (A usual abjection -- ha!) Perhaps guilty displeasure is, among other things, a kind of half-hearted or postintentional effort to reclaim notions of authenticity which we now consider incompatible with our notions of ourselves, but which would surely make things easier if we could merely allow ourselves the illusions of those dead stagings of authenticity.

neilshyminsky said...

"But the aesthetic involved in guilty displeasure is, I think, a way of mediating/deferring a larger ethical-aestehtic judgment -- one that would properly be rooted, as you say, in a more nuanced or complex analysis -- for any number of reasons."

A blog is really the ideal venue for guilty displeasure, then, isn't it? I can defer (endlessly) a more complex ethical-aesthetic judgment and excuse my own lapses because this is only a blog.

"We defer the task of analysis to produce a snap judgment; at the same time, via the label of guilty displeasure, we defer the commitment that a longer analysis is supposed to (doesn't always) justify or ethically ground."

When I read this, I thought of my dislike for Peter David.

"Perhaps guilty displeasure is, among other things, a kind of half-hearted or postintentional effort to reclaim notions of authenticity which we now consider incompatible with our notions of ourselves, but which would surely make things easier if we could merely allow ourselves the illusions of those dead stagings of authenticity."

It is, after all, an expression of a very Kantian sort of "taste". But guilty displeasure wants to avoid the positivism and implicit moralizing associated with a term like taste and approach the question of aesthetics from an angle of ironic distance. But you're right, I think, to suggest that it doesn't stand up to scrutiny - guilty displeasure wants to deny its complicity in hegemonic culture even as it (albeit more subtly) produces and reproduces relations of high and low cultural power inequalities.

"The visceral, seemingly immediate quality of the first, guiltless moment of guilty displeasure sets up the second stroke of the engine, the moment of guilt in which the self-defined scholar or analyst redefines themselves as 'really' a thinker for whom snap judgments are not 'authentic' practice."

Interesting, i hadn't really conceptualized it in that way. But there are displeasures that we feel just as immediately, displeasures that don't eventually register a postintentional guilt. It seems to me that the guilt involved in a guilty displeasure isn't expressive of a resistance to the authenticity or reliability of snap judgments, but of the refusal to engage with the text beyond that snap judgment. In other words, to acknowledge that the issue is more complex and/or varied than that snap judgment allows but to refuse any further engagement regardless, an approach which is, in theory, antithetical to the critical practice of someone who is "really" a thinker.

And so I think it muddies the waters of "authenticity" a bit, yes, though I might be leading in a different direction than you. The critical position of the thinker in this moment comes to look like something of a facade, and the guilty displeasure an expression of the "authentic" person - who is prone to arbitrariness and whose critical faculties can, on occassion, be overwhelmed by a (subconscious? extra-critical?) visceral response - who "really" lies beneath the artifice of the critic.

Though once we start listing and/or bragging about our guilty displeasures, the authenticity of the exercise is quite obviously problematized.