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Thursday, January 17, 2008

I love Netflix! (and cilantro)



If you're anything like me (first of all, God bless you -- it's messy up there, huh?) there are few things as amazing as stumbling across a movie, a book, a philosophy, anything that sort of lays it all out there in a way that not only connects seemingly disparate kinds of things and thoughts, but also does all that in a way that seems true (and you don't know how you feel about this idea of "true" to begin with -- that's sort of what makes it special). Oprah would call that a light bulb moment; I'd call it learning something really cool, feeling a little more clued in to what's really up.

So, in the event the foreshadowing has been inadequate, I had one of those experiences or, rather, the catalyst for one of those experiences watching Half Nelson the other day. The movie itself I really liked, but it's this idea of dialectics that it deals with in explicit and more subversive ways that has me thinking about it still. Before the movie I really wasn't familiar with these dialectics, but was very much attracted to how the protagonist (Mr. Dan Dunne) was teaching history -- not how he was teaching high on crack, which admittedly leads to some practical problems, but that he was teaching through this dialectical lens, if you will. The lessons were dynamic and weird -- I question whether the kids were getting it, but I choose to believe kids are as smart as I think they are, so I'll give them and the movie the benefit of the doubt on that one -- and I wanted to learn more about this philosophy that had gotten idealistic Dunne in such a frenzy, to both good and bad effect (to simplify: good = caring and engaging teacher; bad = self-hating drug addict with terrible personal relationships).

So, I did what any self-respecting office job holder would do and googled dialectics at work. Suddenly I was reading Marx and Hegel and Wikipedia! Now I'm not going to try and explain the whole thing to y'all because 1) I only know what I know about it, which is relatively little and 2) I wouldn't want to condescend to anyone who does actually really get it, especially the linguistic conventions of talking about philosophy. But, to the point, it has to do with conflict, paradox, change, progress, movement and uncertainty. In the context of history (of Half Nelson), we can understand events, changes and history itself as reactions to internal and external conflicts, as struggles between opposing forces: it isn't cause and effect (if a then b). Dialectics doesn't really work for science (or rather the scientific method; Darwin was all about this shit), but, if you ask me, science can teach us how to make an iPhone (debatable), but not how to live our lives.

So, opposites and contradictions have at least three properties: 1) they're interdependent, 2) they interpenetrate and 3) they're in union. A lot of Eastern thought, to be totally Orientalist, relies on this -- hence the beautiful green yin-yang you see, which is probably why I dig it and subconsciously why I found myself consulting the I Ching the day after watching Half Nelson. But, if it's valid, to use a word, it ought to hold up to any part of my life, like, and here it is, my hatred of cilantro. How can dialectics inform my understanding of this hate?

Well, as it turns out, it has totally shed some light. First, there's hate in every love and love in every hate (that's the interpenetration part -- the little white and black dots in the yin-yang). What that really means to me is that nothing is pure, nothing is the real ideal of the thing ever, certainly not in reality. So, I can hate cilantro as much as pure hate is possible (and I do; I hate it more than mean people), but it's only so possible. What's more interesting to me is the interdependence of love and hate. For better or worse, I need cilantro lovers both to define myself, as in opposition to something and for tons of fodder -- I love making fun of those morons. Without cilantro love, cilantro hate couldn't exist, cilantro would just be. It couldn't be loved or hated, or it would have gone extinct from lack of consumption or taken over like a weed or who knows but it certainly wouldn't be like this: the silent culture war instigator that it is.

Then, there's the union of opposites, that the closer you get to the extreme of something the more it is it's opposite. It's like my friend Miki's always saying, hate isn't the opposite of love, indifference is; I think she's right. In my case, it's not so much that I hate cilantro so much that I love it; it's that it's become so much fun to hate it I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for it.

I hate cilantro, but I love it too.

4 comments:

Alexis said...

Erin – A brief quibble with this last post that will undoubtedly make me late for work this morning. What I think you begin to do with your I Ching bullshit (damn hippie), is insert cilantro into a somewhat malleable binary opposition. You set up your hatred for cilantro against the concept that somehow, somewhere, deep down in nether regions of your formidable brain, you actually lurvee cilantro. So much you want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

Okay. Cool. But for one little snag. Our dear friend Miki is wrong. The opposite of love is not indifference, nor hatred either. The opposite of love is there are no opposites. You, my love, are falling victim to a classic formalist mistake. By using cilantro/harmless cilantro lovers (such as yours truly, ahem) in constructing your notion of self, (“For better or worse, I need cilantro lovers both to define myself, as in opposition to something”) you are simply reinforcing the binary that there are two categories in this world, cilantro lovers and cilantro hatas (to borrow a phrase from my students). You are reinforcing an “historical power balance” akin to speech trumps writing or life trumps death.

Despite your incessant championing for the little guy (“I choose to believe kids are as smart as I think they are,” blah, etc.), you are in fact, in setting up a binary opposition to nuzzle your cilantro hatred in, as though it were a snug newborn in one of those lambswool things that attaches to the parent’s body that all the hip Carroll Gardens’ mama’s wear, one as damaging and insidious as – say – the patriarchy. Poor form, Hollignsworth. Derrida would be very disappointed in you. Especially if we were having beers over some of my signature guacamole.

Erin Hollingsworth said...

Funnily enough, I agree with you, except for the part where you say I'm wrong. Indeed, the problem with any philosophy, in my book, is that its system(s) of logic deconstruct(s)at some point.

Isn't it possible that we need the "idea" of opposites to show that part of the definition of these would-be opposites is that they dissolve as such upon scrutiny because 1) they interpenetrate, 2) they're interdependent and 3) they're in union. So, when I use the word "opposite" in the post to which we both refer, perhaps it would be more apropos to write the word as "opposite" or ostensible opposites, or seeming opposites or what we will soon prove to be not so much opposites, but, in fact, and let's take this even farther, in the end, actually the same, both part of and at the same time the whole whole (like the Hindu idea where a thing is both part of a larger thing and also contains the whole thing and IS the whole thing; love that idea).

Cilantro love is cilantro hate (in one view), it is also the opposite of it, opposites also don't exist, but if they did they would seem to be opposite and by highlighting their ostensible oppositeness, we really only highlight their connectedness.

And, Alexis (who is this girl by the way?;)) Derrida would never be disappointed in me, "As soon as there is language, generality has entered the scene." but "I can do everything I think possible or acceptable to escape from this trap." To use a word is not to embrace that it exists as it has been understood to exist, but, rather, in some cases (ie in this one) to borrow those meanings and reconsider them. I think he would encourage us to deconstruct one another's assumptions and assertions ad infinitum.

And to quote my man Chomsky, "Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation."

Dale said...

I was thinking of subscribing, but I actually love cilantro...a lot. We call the stuff coriander, and restaurants that specialize in it are the best. Persian restaurants that serve the stuff with cheese, nuts and a little mint...desert food some call it are wonderful and it might just convert you...

Erin Hollingsworth said...

Dale, do you hale from New York? I'm wondering if you could recommend a "good" version of this Persian mint, cilantro cheese thing. I can just about guarantee you I won't like it, but I would certainly like to try the best version so as to decide fairly.