The Real Of Meaning

(This idea was inspired by a comment Slavoj Zizek made in the movie Zizek!, which I saw tonight and I will post thoughts on soon. This tirade isn’t directed toward anyone, and it makes sweeping overgeneralizations. Consider it a polemic, in that case, and let it provoke your mind.)

It seems to me that a lot of people nowadays think that we are living in corrupt times and that our existence if devoid of meaning and that we take nothing seriously. These feelings of moral self-hatred propel things like the current conservative right-wing Christian movement. People want to return to “the good old days” and often seem overcome with nostalgia. I am not going to provide proof of these things right now, but if that is a real issue, I can expand upon them at some time.

I’m not sure why people feel this way, because, to me, our current era and whatever generation I belong to (I was born in 1981, so that makes me “Generation X” by some accounts and “Generation Y” by others) is actually more real and more genuine than other generations.

Take the way we talk, for example.

I remember in fifth grade I was introduced to the idea of sarcasm. A friend of mine, who had a friend who was a year older, informed me that in order to be a fifth grader, you had to talk sarcastically. Everything you said meant the opposite, basically. “Oh yeah, school was real cool back then.”

Granted, talking sarcastically was a way of setting ourselves apart from adults, who tended to talk more literally, but I think it also expressed some sort of deeper ambivalence we had toward the world. We didn’t want to say anything was certainly one way or another, and felt the need to leave ambiguity in our language.

Despite the fact sarcasm started, for me, as a thing fifth graders did, it remained almost a second language for me. I cannot think of a day that has gone by when I haven’t made a sarcastic comment. Sure, my grandma makes sarcastic comments, too, but I think it tends to be more prevalent in my generation. The dominance of sarcasm wasn’t just some isolated thing among fifth graders at Gatewood Elementary School.

I think that we are afraid of confronting the Real in our everyday speech — or, rather, we are afraid of superficially confronting the real.

If something is really “good,” we will say so. If something is so-so “good,” we will say it sarcastically. In order to confirm whether something is “good,” you have to ask, “Are you serious??” And even if we are serious, you have to ask again, “No, really?? Are you serious?”

When we do use precise, real, and meaning-filled language, we really mean it. For us, language loaded with meaning isn’t something we throw around.

Another example: love.

Granted, I cannot pretend to know how things used to be, but it seems that nowadays, telling someone you “love” them is a pretty powerful and meaning-filled experience. We don’t throw the word around lightly. We save it for someone when we mean it and when it is worth it.

Some argue that our generation is too promiscuous and that we lack values because we will have sex before marriage. Also, though, we don’t require that someone falsely tell us that they “love” us in order to have sex. Saying a meaningless phrase is no longer part of the act. When we say, “I love you,” chances are we mean it.

Nowadays, we take things more seriously and we don’t appreciate the historically empty way of treating serious issues. We may seem apathetic and indifferent, but I think that a lot of the time, that is merely our disgust in traditional way things have been done. We don’t appreciate the empty threats and empty promises.

As Zizek has said, ideology isn’t dead — it’s alive now more than ever. Instead of the ideology-for-ideology’s sake that has pervaded throughout history, we are taking it serious now, and it is frightening. As Lacan has showed is, encountering the Real is traumatic. Don’t mistake the shock for us being jaded or apathetic. Who knows what will come of it all.

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