May 8, 2017 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on May 7, 2018

Pangs of regret coming from I-don’t-know-where. Perhaps sparked by something A. said in our Skype conversation yesterday, about yet another long walk he had taken that day in Berlin, and now, me, getting up at just before 6a.m., doing my thing, sitting down to write, looking out at this ever-expanding immensity of leaf cover, of urban forest, a sea of green inundating my field, no: my sea of vision, and thinking, “Where shall I walk today? …And with whom?” The regret comes from realizing (I think) that soon I can take walks with A. again, but I’ll be sad on his behalf that it will have to be here, and not some more appropriate place.


That’s a verb, not just an adjective.

They – the two roles – can scarcely be reckoned to derive from the same root. And yet they do. The verb seems to have become a social justice warrior’s bad guy; the adjective a social justice seal of approval. How is this possible?

Appropriate, as in cultural appropriation, is about the worst “crime” one can commit according to armchair cultural Maoists of the Orwellian-language variant. But of course to act (verb) “appropriately” – to engage in appropriate behavior – is considered good, as though Foucault never pointed out what he did in his work on disciplining and punishing.

The word’s root must lie in “proper,” which also has this double-edge. (Morning Pages are not the time for looking things up, so I’ll proceed on my – I hope – appropriate [sic] assumption…)

Proper. Proper young lady. Proper gent. Definitely a discipline-and-punish language conduit. But proper also still means – and this is more explicit and in use in French – “own.” As in one’s proper place being the “right” place, but also one’s own. Propre, in French, is still used that way. Propre jupe is one’s own skirt, and jupe propre is a clean skirt, but also “proper,” that is, a skirt that covers one’s nether regions appropriately. Presumably.

Proper also points to the root for property – and there the meaning of “own” is of course very strong, active and passive. It’s almost as if appropriate has some bad meanings now nearly embedded, as though ownership were bad. What nonsense.

We’re supposed to share, we’re not supposed to take something from someone else, we’re not supposed to be greedy – that’s acting appropriately without “appropriating” others’ things, identities, and other intangibles. But since we own, at the end of the day, our mistakes (and regret them, to return to my starting point), what is the purpose of pretending we’re above appropriation? Isn’t it a fantasy of the first order to think someone else might not come along and appropriate all the wonderful “things” we’ve dissolved into the realm of ideas …and left undefended, except by words? And words and words and words. Look at Hamlet. Even he talked (and only talked) …about taking action …against his sea of troubles.

Meanwhile, not to sound too melodramatic (or Darwinian), I’m looking at my ocean of green tree canopy and see an army of crows – well, maybe not an army, but definitely a small murder – out on a raid, swooping from out of the lower part of a tree’s fully-leafed crown, chased by a very small group of very small birds, fiercely and oh-so-desperately defending their small clutch of freshly laid eggs. The crows think the tree tops are a supermarket where they can shop for eggs (without paying). The tiny producers think their eggs are their legacy, their babies, and defend them as their property. The crows are acting appropriately by acting inappropriately (in the small birds’ view). The latter intend to keep the crows from appropriating the seeds of their continued existence. Crows will be crows. Fact of life – or death – for the little birds.

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