Notational, No. 4

Axiom 1: People are different from each other.

It is astonishing how few respectable conceptual tools we have for dealing with this self-evident fact. A tiny number of inconceivably coarse axes of categorization have been painstakingly inscribed in current critical and political thought: gender, race, class, nationality, sexual orientation are pretty much the available distinctions. They, with the associated demonstrations of the mechanisms by which they are constructed and reproduced, are indispensible, and they may indeed override all or some other forms of difference and similarity. But the sister or brother, the best friend, the classmate, the parent, the child, the lover, the ex-: our families, loves, and enmities alike, not to mention the strange relations of our work, play, and activism, prove that even people who share all or most of our own positionings along these crude axes may still be different enough from us, and from each other, to seem like all but different species.

♦ Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet

To surmise this passage differently: we are all strange. This strangeness substantiates the membranes that surround us and characterize us, our permeable boundaries, as we integrate with one another in the diurnal churn. It is an almost flippant categorization at this point, levelled and attached to nearly everyone and anyone, in an almost universally co-operative but fervently individualistic environment of aggregated bodies. It is tossed out as itself or as a synonym: “You’re strange;” “he’s weird;” “my family’s dysfunctional;” “those people are odd;” “I don’t get her.” We exist in an ocean of surplus and disparity, and despite the stable, recognizable elements of code we all carry around within ourselves, that marks us as walking equivalents—and despite our ability to integrate, albeit in exploitative, unequal, discriminatory, and hierarchical networks and patterned distributions—we remain alien to one another. The “coarse axes” available do not describe categorizations of truly meaningful detail. They are approximations dishearteningly broad. “Do not reduce me to an archaic signifier!” is the war cry in an age where personal identities are being continually mined and panned for any gleam of coherence; where forging demographic badges to pin to a virtual avatar is a full time occupation. We resist this infringement on the finer classifications we chose and nurture for ourselves. We lose sleep over being digitized and rendered as a mark in a column that ignores all the tables of data that reflect our choices, our biases, our investments, and our characters. Doesn’t it take work to learn those things about another human being? Don’t we have to search and strive for the common ground that we might share with the others we find ourselves enmeshed with? Is genuine translation not the hardest part of any interaction for us all?

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