Facilitating intercourse

Words are fun things, and of course the core of many acts of communication. Lately, I’ve been exploring the context and development of a bunch of them, trying to reach a deeper understanding of what they’re all about. I thought I’d jot down a few notes on the subject.

Crisis, a word all too familiar these days, seems to be a relative of krisis, a Greek word meaning judgment. How appropriate is that? Judgment has been the subject of quite an ongoing crisis.

Theory, a word that I spend a lot of time with, comes from the Greek theoria which has several nuances lost in the current usage:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Speculation
  3. Sight

Contemplation is the strongest connotation that survives, though speculation is often appropriate as well. But lost to us is the tie to spectacle, which is a fruitful association. I think that this tie needs to be kept in mind, for the same reason that Barthes sought to attach the word spectrum to the emanation of the photograph. The word is related to theoros, or spectator, and also to theoric, which means pertaining to spectacles or displays. Theory, it seems, is taken in through the eyes. It comes from watching, not just thinking.

This discovery made me remember a distinction proposed by Pythagoras. In the arena there are three classes:

  1. The performers who sell their talent.
  2. The merchants who sell their wares.
  3. The spectators who watch the show.

Pythagoras explained that the spectators were the highest class of men, because they were above the spectacle both physically and metaphorically. A person watches a show because they like it, or even love it. There is no gain involved. They are the amateurs— outside and above the realm of the professionals.

The more I think about it, the more I want to retain my amateur status. Intercourse, without hope of gain, holds different values than the goal oriented motives of commerce.

The whores hustle and the hustlers whore
Too many people are out of love
The whores hustle and the hustlers whore
The city’s ripped right to the core

                                                                      [PJ Harvey]

Theory rips me up. Descriptive theory, I can handle fine. The theory of the spectator, or of the lover. But prescriptive theory bothers me. It’s the theory of the hustler, the theory of the whore.

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