Notes on the Periphery

One thing I noticed about me-in-Paris (rather than just "Paris" itself) was my distaste for its centrality. Paris has (and has had) a reasonably good claim to being the center of the universe for a lot of people, French and otherwise, and I deeply resented that pretension. I didn't resent it because it was wrong, that is to say incorrect, but because its centrality called on everyone who was in Paris to live up to that vocation, to be worthy of living there. For various reasons, the most important ones lingual and social, I couldn't/can't do that very well.

This speaks to a larger thing for me: I've always like the second tier, the left of center and the periphery. I like being from Oregon because there is no possible pretension to being an Oregonian, a state that half of the people in the US mispronounce "O-ree-GON" and that the other half just never have a reason to think about. I like the inherent lack of seriousness in being peripheral, in having such easy access to irony, and to have any excellence come as a surprise to people ("you're from there but you can do that?!")

So, this relates in turn to two related psychological complexes on my part: fear of failure, with the escape option of that failure being expected and anticipated. In other words, if I speak bad French, if my dissertation isn't rigorous enough, if I do not get a tenure-track job, well that's okay, because I'm just a kid from Oregon who earned degrees from "second tier" universities.

That said, there is something to the periphery that I'll always stand by, even if I do succeed in some sense: I think it makes it easier to see how full of shit a lot (most?) people and things and ideas are from the "centers," and it makes it easier to imagine different hierarchies of value than the ones those centers produce.

(This post brought to you by having to re-read Gorz's torturous self-analysis in The Traitor. Envy my job. Do it.)


Trust in Steel said...

It can be argued, important innovation has always happened along the periphery because the center often begins to bear the burden of its own ridiculous pretentiousness. Run to the hills!

Rachel said...

*properly envious*