My tastes in art have always veered into the dark corners of the human psyche. I love tales that are perverse, gory, blasphemous, wicked, cerebral. My favourite film director at the moment is Catherine Breillat whose film A Ma Soeur! was banned in Ontario. Before that, it was Peter Greenaway, whose arguably most popular film, The Cook The Thief His Wife Her Lover, features a sadistic lout of a man whose actions lead to a spectacular revenge scene that involves cannibalism. In high school, I was a fangirl for stories like Ballard’s Crash and Battaile’s Story of the Eye. All these texts always seemed to me, to capture some truth about humanity and modernity that I wasn’t getting from mainstream society.

Another story I liked in high school was Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. It’s been a long time since I read it so my memory has probably coloured the main character with personal projections, but as I recall him, the Underground Man, he’s a miserable, vicious little guy. If there was ever a great example of self imposed suffering, Underground Man is it. His entire being is composed of defiance, of refusal, of a two year old’s first angry NO! and his perception is wholly based upon this ontological position of negation. What I loved about this character is how simultaneously petty and principled he is. He spends pages obsessing over a non-event (some guy brushes his shoulder in the street while walking the other way) and nursing this self perceived slight into a festering personal affront that he’s going to somehow avenge by finding the same guy and doing the same thing to him. Yes, he spends pages going on about how he’s gonna… bump the dude’s shoulder. It’s hilarious, right, but also deadly serious in its vindictiveness, a real vindictiveness that causes people to perpetuate cycles of affliction.

The thing is, the Underground Man is clearly driving himself crazy but his craziness is so familiar. Who hasn’t rebelled for the sake of rebellion? Who hasn’t found themselves unable to figure out what to do, except for knowing¬† that you’re not going to do that? And frankly, how many of us, when faced between the “right” choice* and the “wrong” choice, have done exactly the wrong thing, even as you’re harming yourself – and really fucking enjoyed it? And I mean, enjoyed being wrong to the hilt, lost in sensory damage, empty calories and carcinogens, pure meaningless distraction and arrogance, burning bridges, just doing it and doing it and doing it until you’re sick all over yourself. What a wonderfully twisted bunch we can be.

My first reaction to imagining a world without self deception was that we would lose all this rich art full of suffering and perversions and kinks. Which I don’t think is really possible. Not in an age of modernity anyway. Although who knows, maybe this whole capitalist-democratic-modern paradigm is in the final paroxysms of dying? I digress. So I started tracing that thought about losing self deception further and I think what bothered me was what bothered the Underground Man, that is, losing the ability and the desire to make the wrong choice. Without that, people would somehow become inhuman. That choice is such a precious thing, really. It’s a crossroads we stand at everyday – to act as a whole being and to treat others and ourselves as whole beings, or, to just not bother or, in more extreme situations to actively inflict harm and to like it. I mean, if there wasn’t an element of liking it, of really savouring the NO, why bother? What’s the point?

I spend a fair amount of time around self destructive people. I have a lot of patience for individuals expressing misogyny, racism, criminality and suchlike, esp if I can find that egalitarian one on one dyadic connection I’ve written about earlier on this blog. And at the end of the day, I see myself in these maladjusted people as much as anyone else I come into contact with. Or to be more precise, I see the potential for it. Why I have turned out the way I have is really beyond me. I may have put a lot of conscious effort into the whole process to becoming, but I must admit that ultimately, I haven’t a clue how it all works. All I know is that everyday, I stand at this crossroads with everyone else. And over and over again, we make choices.

*I am conflating for brevity’s sake, two “right” choices. The first “rightness” being choices that are constructed along modern, mechanistic, biopolitical lines (e.g. Radiohead’s Fitter Happier) and the second being the “rightness” of moral behaviours.