by Johannes Goransson on May.01, 2013
I sometimes think about this passage from Zizek’s book Violence (and other places, he does famously repeat himself…):
Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.
I am frequently reminded of this quotes in discussion in American poetry. It seems frequently that having a difference of opinion (no matter now meekly expressed) amounts to a gave offense, that there’s something “aggressive” or rude about expressing opinions. One becomes a “troll” by expressing one’s opinion.
I remember an angry email I received from a poet for disagreeing with her on a public blog; she wrote “this isn’t about you” and “you are from somewhere else” – as if I was being a megalomaniac foreigner (which of course might be true) by disagreeing with her on a public forum. I was hurt by that; I still think about it.
Of course, there are also these “trolls” that are repetitive and insulting in comment sections, and I find they often tend to be inherently normative (attacking people who express unconventional opinions). I used to have an “open” comment section to my last blog but stopped because I would just get tons of these hateful, thoughtless comments, so that’s why I have to approve comments to this blog (even though I seldom decline comments, and the few times I have I probably shouldn’t have). When does someone with different views become a “troll”? (Troll is of course not human, and that seems important here.)
Recently I noticed somebody wrote that Seth Oelbaum was a “troll” because he had expressed his views (in a highly performative fashion, as always) about poets he liked and didn’t like (as well as disagreeing with my ideas about “the glut”). You may disagree with him, but is he a “troll” for having strong opinions? For being too performative in the way he expresses them? Or for quite simply having opinions that differ from the common consensus?
Can we imagine a version of poetry discourse that is based on exchange or engagement with different opinions, and not on ‘tolerance’ or its phantom twin, shunning (i.e. don’t feed the troll…)?
(For the record: I totally agree with Oelbaum that Joyelle and Chelsea Minnis are two of the “top poets” in the US. But I also really like Aaron Kunin!)