Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity

Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity

People are calling Stephen Fry’s comments about sex abuse victims “an extraordinary attack,” because he had the temerity to suggest that trigger warnings on literature are bullshit and that self-pity is an ugly, self-defeating emotion.

He stated this bluntly and without the usual hand-wringing and tiptoeing that accompanies discussion of sex abuse in liberal circles. OH NO. WHAT AN EVIL JERK.

Here’s the thing though – he’s right. Trigger warnings amount to nothing but clumsy, amateur “therapy” that can have an adverse effect.

The truth is – and there is a wealth of literature and studies on the subject, really – triggers are random. You’re not going to precisely KNOW what it is that triggers you on a given day, that’s kind of the whole problem of being psychologically vulnerable.

Being triggered can actually be useful, because it helps you understand and potentially expand your boundaries. It can allow for a dynamic process of healing.

And environments that are meant to be safe spaces for victims of abuse work when there are professionals around, when the safe space is part of therapy.

Amateur “safe spaces”, on the other hand, are frequently more stressful than your regular, bunch-of-normal-people-who’ll-occasionally-say-bullshit-to-you spaces. Why? First of all, because everybody’s worried about saying the wrong thing. Interaction is so thoroughly policed that it becomes a maze of potential wrong turns.

I experienced abuse as a child. It destroyed and remade me, and – yeah, it was a terrible thing. You can trust me on this.

But let’s say I had my choice of whom to hang out with: Option 1 is a group of college students who think that it is important to never! say! the wrong! thing! to people like me – and who would accuse me of being a self-hating sell-out should I disagree. Option 2 is some loudmouth who can push my buttons and even – dear God! – call me on my bullshit, i.e. treat me like a fellow human as opposed to a glass vase that will shatter if mishandled.

I’m going to go with Option 2. Option 1 is re-traumatizing.

This goes to Fry’s point about self-pity. Amateur “safe spaces” absolutely foster self-pity. Because the only real power they afford to members is the power to call someone out when they’ve been triggered. Agency depends on their status as victims. Agency = “You triggered me! You said something offensive! How dare you! Asshole!” You can’t exercise that kind of power if you’re generally committed to practicing self-care and living a better sort of life. And your energy doesn’t go towards untangling your own issues, it goes toward reminding everyone that DAMMIT, YOU HAVEN’T MOVED ON.

The notion that these amateur “safe spaces” are liberating is a lie. They just introduce a different hierarchy. The bigger “victim” you are, the more “rights” you get to have in policing others. Interaction as equals is impossible, because someone is always a bit more ravaged/in pain, and that person gets to shut down others. It is a poisonous dynamic. It harms people, because, again, status is derived from pain. Dealing with pain means losing status.  Continue reading “Stephen Fry is right about trigger warnings – he’s especially right about self-pity”

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

Original publication date: MONDAY NOVEMBER 30TH, 2009. Republished with kind permission from John Williams.

His Sin, Her Soul
By Natalia Antonova

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The luster of scandal wore off Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a while ago. Anyone reading the testimony of Roman Polanski’s teenage victim on The Smoking Gun must have little capacity to be shocked by Humbert Humbert’s fictional crimes. I’m willing to bet that for the modern reader, the only shocking thing about Lolita is how the writing transforms the subject matter into a thing of startling beauty, and how effortlessly Nabokov avoids prurience in order to create something more chilling.

But while the scandal of it may have faded, the book’s vocabulary continues to live a life of its own. When a young girl is called a Lolita, we imagine a knowingly hyper-sexualized child, one who wears too much of her older sister’s make-up and lets her underwear peek out as she wanders into the peripheral vision of some man. If “Lolita” isn’t always code for “she was asking for it,” it’s at least a suggestion of some impropriety or mitigating factor, an indication that an older man’s younger victim wasn’t exactly a gentle-faced virgin — or she certainly didn’t look like it, Your Honor.

In light of this cultural appropriation, I wasn’t surprised when a fairly good friend asked me why on earth I — a stridently vocal survivor of sexual abuse, someone who screams her head off every time someone shrugs that “boys will be boys” — would profess so much admiration for Nabokov’s most famous book. Don’t I realize that Lolita the book and Lolita the term feed off one another in the public sphere? And that even if it were possible to separate it from the hiss of cultural static that has amplified around it over the years, Lolita is still a book that takes an extremely ugly story and makes it extremely gorgeous? Implicit in these inquiries was the real question, of course, which emerged after my replies failed to satisfy: “How can you stand reading it, with everything you say you have been through?” Continue reading “His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)”

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

A lot of people who talk about Stephen King tend to qualify their statements with a “well, it’s not real literature or anything, but at least it’s entertaining.” There is something very self-conscious about this. It’s like saying, “I’m not a pig-faced consumer of mass media like them other folk, or anything, but they were fresh out of French existentialism at the library, so…”

Pleasure, as we all know, is sinful – and reading for pleasure is practically a 9th circle of hell type of offense, considering the fact that every time you crack open a Stephen King book, a Fairy of Aesthetic Analysis drops dead somewhere. Hardy har har.

Actually, I firmly believe that King, of all people, will be remembered as a great writer, perhaps in the same way that Alexander Dumas (who makes a humorous linguistic cameo in the film version of “The Shawshank Redemption,” of course) is remembered, perhaps in a different way altogether. But remembered, folks, nonetheless.

For all the sneering or, worse, plain cold-shouldering (yes, I just made up that verb) that King’s work elicits, his work continues to have deep reverberations throughout our culture.

By that I don’t just mean the dreaded chimera of “popular culture,” the monster that lies in wait among the dust bunnies and dog-eared volumes on modernism under the beds of the fundamentalist followers of High Art.

the girl who loved tom gordon

Like it or not, King is an Important Writer. He needs no champions in the academia, and he sells books by the bus-load… no, by the Boeing 787-load, which automatically makes him suspect if you happen to have a discerning taste in literature.

Then again, I’ve always thought that if you have a problem with reading a books that Other People (otherwise known as Hell, at least according to Sartre) read, this may not necessarily be the author’s problem. I don’t extend this thinking to everyone (Dean Koontz certainly comes to mind, for example), but I definitely do it with King (my God, why does this last phrase suddenly make me fee so dirty and disgusting? When will I learn to think like an innocent again?).

I’ll tell you why I like this guy , and, to spare you the suspense: it’s not just because Harold Bloom (who can always be counted on to dump a bucket of bile on any number of popular writers, sometimes rightfully so, sometimes in a rather cranky and bizarre manner that does him no justice) loathes him.

Call me the Girl Who Loved Stephen King, baby. Continue reading “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”