Monday, June 18, 2012

Essay on Shame #17

Shame is a restraint, a check, a negative reinforcement, a trap. It happens in the borderland, the place where the boundary between my I and the I or we of others is most permeable and smoky and mutually contaminated -- the I that feels shame and the I that commits the shameful act are shaped by others, or at least our ideas of others, individual people with names and bleachers full of a giant social and cultural other-than-me, or in-addition-to-me, that blurs together. People who have decided for me, without anyone making any individual decision, that one act is shameful and another is admirable. I caught it from them. Their shame, their admiration, is mine.

But the blur isn't total. It's not just a case of me flinching back from the mob or being swept up in it, as if by the moral and emotional equivalents of football hooligans. Historically, I have resisted situations, like shows and protests, where this could happen. I prefer not to be swept up; I want to be able to extricate myself, to withdraw my participation, at will. This makes me wonder if I'm also trapping shame, clinging to it, as well as the other way around.

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