Monday, August 07, 2006

A Short, Yet Wholly Inadequate and Unworthy Guide to Grovelling

Apologize to those loved ones you've offended here.

Alas, the age of the apology is past. One could formerly get away with just about anything, provided one apologized for it sufficiently. Even one’s victims, when acknowledged, became forgiving, even flattered. Apology is a true sign of civilization: it deflects harm with rhetoric, it is the triumph of wit and cunning and dramaturgy over dull justice. Justice requires no imagination but the opposite; retribution is mere exchange [footnote], but the apology is transformative. It is, in highest sense, art. The greatest dullard can go the gallows as easily as a cow to the slaughterhouse, but only a man of civilization can plead for his life -and get away with it.

The apology is tied into the essence of our civilization, our modernity, for it presupposes a unique soul that can repent. A good apology has insight, understanding, introspection -authenticity, sincerity. In short, it is proof of modern subjectivity and its mythology of free choice and conscience: it is deontological. Its very idea is essential to the modern idea of universal peace.

And yet the age of apology is past, perhaps because our civilization is in true decline. Today we have reverted to primitive ideas that are really too crude to be Old Testament. The important thing today is to punish. Somebody. And all the time. It really matters very little what the original reason was or if there ever was a reason: when you punish someone long enough, this becomes reason enough: they start to look like bad people and by the end of the process you are sure they must be. People are no longer interested in reasons because they are no longer interested in thinking.

Time was that truth and reconciliation were so important that one could even commit war crimes and pay only the penance of admitting to them. Whereas everyone came to formerly agree that apologizing was good, making one the “better man” and children were taught to apologize, groveling, apology’s ecstatic sibling, never enjoyed a vogue. This, however, is part of groveling’s success and effectiveness, as we shall see.

The merest human interaction is offensive, odious and torturous without groveling. Show me a man who can get through an entire day without saying “Sorry I’m so late” and I will show you a total savage, irredeemably primitive in his ignorance of punctuality, or the pleasures of not being prompt. If you are ever at a dinner party and the host or hostess does season the food with apology (“I’m sorry your steaks are so huge, it was all they had”) you can be sure that you are supping with wild barbarians, total cannibals who may kill and eat your baby without asking.

The ideal grovel is seductive. It is invisible and transparent. It is charismatic: indeed, it is messianic, in that it redeems and transforms an unworthy situation. It restores hope to an otherwise hopeless situation. The potentially offended party is so distracted and redirected from their own feelings, expectations and situation that the idea of being offended strikes them as totally unthinkable. Ideally, the grovel takes them out of their lives all together and, like a romance, involves them entirely in the life of the groveler.

The ideal grovel is an unconditional surrender that goes one better; it adds conditions so onerous and unthinkable that the victor feels unreasonable and a little embarrassed. Indeed, victory itself has become unbearable. War will probably never become unthinkable; but some apologies certainly are. This indeed is the secret of groveling; it is something so shameful and degrading that neither party can really admit it happened; in this sense, it never really happens; in this sense, it is truly magical, a happy ending, a deus ex machina -ex nihilo. This is why groveling never enjoys a vogue; because it is always in vogue, it is the secret currency of the world, but unlike gold or oil it cannot be seen or viewed. It is the most secret lust and debauch whose satisfaction and desire is never spoken of.

Apology is rational, sometimes necessary and highly appropriate. Groveling is irrational, theatrical and tactically inappropriate. Apology may genuinely signal repentance and a change of heart, the beginning of understanding and the end of conflict. Groveling is that conflict continued by extraordinary and inverse means.

Blessed are the grovelers; they may not be the bringers of true peace or understanding, but they are easier had than either.

[Note: Indeed, retribution is caught up in a mythology exchange and “the same.”]

Sorry this post isn't up to snuff; next week will be better.

TURN #74: WEEK 60; WORDS: 64,931

1 comment:

matthew said...

just f*****g awesome writing in this one.. i shall do my share of groveling henceforth and usher in, if not an age of peace and enlightenment, at least a moment of entertainment...