A glorious McSweeney post – “Why you should not have broken up with me, according to various critical theories”

This cracking piece is by Tommy Wallach:

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE BROKEN UP WITH ME, ACCORDING TO VARIOUS CRITICAL THEORIES

Deconstruction

Ferdinand de Saussure famously said, “In language there are only differences.” What he meant by this was that words have no meaning except insofar as they contrast with other words. Thus my failure to hold down a job for more than a month cannot implicitly carry the meaning of “failure” ascribed to it by you, Tandy. A word such as “unemployed” carries a semantic value only in terms of its partner word “employed,” just as “flat broke” defines itself relatively to “financially independent” and “manic-depressive” to “emotionally stable.” The noble goal of deconstruction is to overturn these simplistic oppositions and, in Derrida’s words, reject a “hierarchizing teleology” of language. In short, the deconstructionists certainly would not approve of my being compared to our more “successful” friends, such as Steven, who grew up in a wealthy household and whose job at the New Yorker is a clear-cut case of nepotism.

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Marxism

Marx believed that the arc of history bends inevitably towards a more equitable distribution of the means of production, but that the battle for socialism would be a long one. I’m confident he would agree that my current financial straits are an inevitable result of the current socioeconomic moment, rather than “a permanent shitstorm born out of sheer laziness,” as you described it in your letter. In spite of your attending that Occupy rally last year, which I missed because I was hung over from drinking too much at your work party (you’re welcome for supporting you, BTW), you seem to have forgotten the socialist credo: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If you were ever incapable of making rent on your own, I certainly would have been willing to get a job in order to help out. But you always insisted on focusing on the negative; you had no trouble criticizing me when I couldn’t pay for dinner, but you never thanked me for going to the trouble of ordering it in the first place.

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Structuralism

Structuralist readings of texts tend to collapse differences, seeing the underlying patterns and paradigms and ignoring surface variations. Viewed this way, our relationship is really no different from that of Romeo and Juliet. True, we did not overcome decades of internecine violence and the harsh judgments of our families in order to be together, but all of your friends did originally tell you not to date me, because of my criminal record and facial tattoos. To focus on the things that make us different from other couples—my request that you not look me in the eyes during meals or sex, the fact that I’ve yet to introduce you to my parents even though I still live with them, my insistence that you give up your cat for adoption because of my childhood attraction to Catwoman—is a failure of intellectual rigor on your part. Our relationship is all relationships, and don’t all relationships involve some amount of compromise and/or abandonment of one’s more physically attractive cats?

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Existentialism

Life is meaningless, and any attempt to find connection through human relationship is doomed to failure. In other words, your insistence that I support you and validate your existence was misguided from the start. Also, your stubborn belief that it was “wrong” of me to send those late-night texts to your best friend, Sarah, posits a dualistic notion of good/bad that is belied by human experience. There is no such thing as morality, only authenticity (i.e. acting in accordance with one’s freedom). And there was nothing inauthentic in the way that I asked Sarah if she was “down to clown around on the town, Leroy Brown” (though her refusal on the grounds that she was your best friend reeked of bourgeois conformism).

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Positivism

Looking at the data, our relationship was clearly a winner. We were together for three years—more than 10% of our lives. Have you held on to anything else for that long, other than that cat you were so attached to before we got together? By my calculation, I spent over $2000 on gifts and meals for you during our relationship, which represents more than 15% of my earned income over that period, if you include the money I got from that settlement with the guy in the motorized wheelchair who ran over my foot at that AA meeting. And while I can’t speak for you, I’ve achieved orgasm in 98% of our sexual encounters (and the other 2% are accounted for by times the commercial break ended and I willingly forewent climax). The numbers don’t lie, Tandy; unlike your friend Sarah, who gave me her word she wouldn’t tell you about those texts I sent.

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Historicism

All questions must, in the end, be settled within the cultural and social context in which they are raised, yet you insist on viewing our relationship through the lens of your parents’ relationship, in spite of the fact that this represents a reactionary, pre-feminist interpretation of man as “provider.” And sure, it’s technically true that both of your parents had careers, and that your mother was significantly more successful in her field than your father was in his, and yet that didn’t cause any problems because they were both happy and fulfilled in their own way. But Tandy, it’s unfair (not to mention philosophically untenable) to take us out of our historical moment. The job market is bad for everyone, and for no one so much as an ex-con with an uncompleted minor in philosophy. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you’re giving up on me. Looking at the history, it’s clear you’ve always been a quitter: I mean, look at how quickly you gave up on that cat.

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This piece originally appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which you can find here.

One response to “A glorious McSweeney post – “Why you should not have broken up with me, according to various critical theories”

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