ASK AVANT: What’s in a name?

Ask Avant is a series in which award-nominated internet persona Avant Garcia helps everyday people by imparting wisdom from the Council of Hedgehogs. Today's advisee is Jeremy Stewart from THE VOID.

If I know anything, it’s that I don’t know anything. This is especially true when we talk about language, which is a completely arbitrary system devised by humans to communicate with one another. Language has proven time and time again to be utterly useless. Let me give you an example.


Recently, Collin Kelley wrote a poem called “Saving Anne Sexton” in which he wrote about saving Anne Sexton metaphorically or something. Friend of the Queen Sonya Vatomsky and Kia Groom analyzed the poem for Quaint. Kelley, originally having apologized for the offense caused by the poem, suddenly decided that he was un-sorry and that the poem should stand. He then wrote a lengthy thing about how he felt Kia and Sonya were cyberbullying him via subtweets and thoughtful critiques of his work.

As is often the case of misunderstandings, language is truly to blame here. The problem is that Kelley used words to create something, and somehow people interpreted his words to be a part of a system created to enforce societal norms (a common misreading of Kelley’s work, no doubt, but still a misreading nonetheless). What people misunderstood is that Kelley knows that words don’t mean anything. We can see this from when he apologized; had the phrase “I’m sorry” actually meant something, it would’ve meant that he was sincerely upset that this misunderstanding caused offense, despite who he hurt or how he had hurt them.

Kelley is constantly subverting language this way, and any astute reader would have surely picked up on this. For example, Kelley says:

[Kia and Sonya's] colonization of Sexton is far more patronizing.

Kelley is clearly purposefully playing with the extraordinarily loaded term of “colonization”; to say that Sonya and Kia, two white women, are “colonizing” another white woman, is, at best, nonsensical. That’s simply not what colonization is. A good example of actual colonization would be when I tweeted:

And then white people responded to it by proceeding to appropriate the experiences and feelings of minorities. They, of course, didn’t mean to cause me any offense–they even said so:

I have to accept that this apology is actually sincere (in part due to the fact that it wasn’t immediately retracted). This person was kind enough to recognize that I was offended and, despite the fact that I was clearly frustrated by the experience, they were nonetheless still sorry for having engendered negative feelings in me. They recognized that maybe–just maybe–they weren’t able to see everything entirely from my perspective. In fact, more than that: they even accepted that I had the right to be angry about it.

And I, too, recognize that I don’t see everything from their perspective, and I certainly can’t claim that I see things from Kelley’s or Kia’s or Sonya’s perspectives. I can only claim to know my own feelings, and the rest is just an interpretation of the words they use.

As I’ve said before, that’s how this kind of thing works. Anyone–particularly someone of privilege–can call subtweets and critiques cyberbullying and colonization just as much as they can call an autopsy a poem. Those things are just words, and, as Kelley illustrates so well, words don’t mean anything.

What means something are the human beings that are affected by these words and whether or not you possess the humility and kindness to recognize that maybe–just maybe–you might’ve made a mistake. But kindness and humility, I suppose, have never made for good art–only good people.


Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, right. What to name your thing. Ask yourself this: what, truly, is the difference between “Practical” and “Radical” except what we read into it? These are only words–useless, dumb words with meanings attached to them.

For that reason, it seems futile to name it anything, as surely no word could contain what you want it to. Instead, leave it nameless; the feelings it engenders are much more important.

(Or, if you absolutely must name it something, call it “THE AVANT INSTITUTE OF PRACTICALLY RADICAL AESTHETICS.” Best of luck!)

If you need advice, tweet your questions to @Queenmobs or @AvantGarcia.

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