Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Anaesthetized Impersons

E. E. Cummings once described a world of “anaesthetized impersons,” which I imagine to be people who have become strangers to their environments and to each other. When we interact with others according to the rules of the built environment or the practices of social norms or the uniforms we wear, we become impersons, and so do they: not quite dead but, rather, anesthetized.

The cop who pulls you over for a traffic infraction must know your name and other personal information. But she should not, cannot, care to learn your personal story. Doing so would invite the specter of favoritism, corruption, even when faced with the most dire circumstances. For example, were she to ask your opinion of the previous evening's presidential debate while writing your speeding ticket, an essential line between personal and social life would be breached, perhaps with fearful consequences.

After all, in the matrix of bureaucracy, even the most humanistic among us wisely fear the administration of power that claims to know our souls, particularly when the relationship can never be reciprocal. One can hardly detach these relationships from the practices of power, most obviously of class.

Indeed, one might consider the etymological connection between the architectural "manor" and the social practice of "manners." In both cases, one must "know one's place." The psychic burden of such inequity can be too heavy to bear. Better to sleepwalk through our interactions with impersons, to not look to deeply into our own lives when acting as impersons ourselves.

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