Thursday, March 19, 2009

That slippery A

I was reading an interesting article about Dracula today*, when this sentence popped out at me:

How can we have sympathy for the Devil and still regard him as the Devil? That question seems to have occurred to Stephenie Meyer, who is a Mormon.

What's interesting to me is not that Meyer is Mormon, which accounts for the non-consummated nature of the vampiric relationship as Acocella points out--once again proving that consummation is nowhere near as dramatically interesting as anticipation, but that she uses an article, changing her from a person to a specific thing. By identifying her as "a Mormon", rather than "Mormon", Meyer is wholly identified by her faith. As opposed to being someone whose faith is an aspect of her being, the way someone might be broodish or chipper, it's the defining aspect of her being; the descriptor. And for some reason that bugged me. Or perhaps my reaction bugged me--that it was like hearing "this very successful novel written by a cult member whose dearest desire is to inculturate you into her coven" as opposed to "the book written by that woman who goes to a temple in Salt Lake and writes about vampires as well."

That "A" is slippery. It's used ironically with gay now, as in "he is a gay" or "The gay" (Thank You, Kathy Griffin), which does the same thing. As a person who knows that gay is much more than sexuality, and probably does go a long way in defining much of my sensibility and how I look at the world, it is by no means all of it. Nor is just a modifier, which some suggest, as innocuous as whether I like cheese or not. I'm Jewish, too, by birth, but I don't know that I'd call myself a Jew. I probably wouldn't, and I'd more than likely find it reductive if someone else did, though I am fiercely proud of my heritage.

No answers in this, but it did make me wonder more how categorizing works, and how that little article becomes something much bigger than just quantification, at least in this context. So I guess it's something to watch out for, and watch how I use. Language is sharp and sticky at the same time.

*I once again need to tell you how much I love the New Yorker for interesting articles about things you don't really need to know but are beyond glad you did. And I love that they call Acocella a "Critic at Large". Look out! She might attack! She's still at large!

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