Hurricane Katrina was two years ago today. It was also my cat’s fifth birthday. Today he is seven. He has lost two fangs in the intervening time and Louisiana has lost two fangs as well. I have lost a molar to Katrina-related family tragedy, still unresolved, but I have gained four fangs by rejecting Reeducation. The following post is one more of the many I wrote in the two July weeks during which I accomplished this feat.


Here is why Reeducation was such a distraction. In essence, it said:

1. Consider the possibility that what you feel may not be what you feel.

2. Slowly – in the way that the characters in The Magic Mountain convince themselves that they have tuberculosis – convince yourself of this.

3. Decide, if you can, that what you feel is in fact something else – that you feel something far less healthy – that, in fact, you feel as we expect you to feel.

4. Now, try to learn how not to feel this thing which you do not in fact feel, but have just, on our instructions, tried so hard to convince yourself that you should and may perhaps feel.

5. At no time trust yourself.


That was the deal, and that was why it was all so strange, and so utterly disabling. It was very reminiscent of the more dysfunctional situations I had ever been in, except that now it was called the road to health. The fact that the road to health looked so much like what, heretofore, I would have called utter insanity was the most confusing aspect of all.

And I thought it could not be, and that I must have misunderstood, but the messages kept on being these. And they seemed ludicrous, but since I did not leave soon enough, I absorbed them. And I was too stubborn to leave without getting what I had come for, and too willing to believe that the reason for this was that I had not worked hard enough or waited patiently enough.

To walk around with these messages was to carry a great weight. With each step I had to lift not only myself but their enormous building. It is amazing what a light and lithe spirit one can be when not surrounded by that Gothic structure.

Now I am drawing a magic circle around myself. The world as constructed in Reeducation is gone. The lightness is amazing. I could do gymnastics. I could fly right through all my books and into the great, uncharted skies like a jet-powered, pointy-nosed aeroplane.


One could go (and I have gone) into long, convoluted speculations on how it was that I fell prey to this. On how, for instance, I managed to recreate the situation of me, the five year old, but now writ large and overly Gothicized. I was certainly frozen to the spot, and I certainly found myself unable to avert my eyes from the Horror.

One of the most essential points is how anti-feminist Reeducation was. In high school, college, and beyond we had had feminism. We learned that we need no longer believe the things we had been told earlier on about resignation to unreasonable limits. In Reeducation, however, we learned that what we had been told originally was in fact true. And not only was it reality, it was also health. Many manipulative techniques were used to beat this into us. This was the bad news of Reeducation, the true Horror.

This Horror was perpetuated through emphasis on the examination of the soul, the discovery of sin, repentance, and confession. This ritual was traumatic. It retrained us such that life became much more difficult. One could no longer simply act in accordance with ones lights and tastes. Everything had an underlying motive, and these motives were necessarily dark. Every feeling must be mistrusted and second-guessed, every decision guilt ridden and drawn out.


In Reeducation as in many forms of education for women, self-doubt and self-torture were absolutely required. If you had come to Reeducation, it must be that you needed these. It was utterly improper to have a positive self-image, to feel innocent, or to think you knew what you were doing. You must find and confess your imperfections, mourn and repent.

I was surprised and horrified by this news, but I still learned the lessons. I have spoken a great deal about self-doubt in these pages, but what I have not said explicitly is that I began to be able to distance myself from Reeducation when I realized one sunny day that I had known before that self-torture was a bad thing, that through Reeducation I had somehow installed an automatic self-torture machine, and that I could authorize myself to turn it off right then. I could pull it out by its roots.

And it is not useful to reinflict old wounds, or to inflict new ones. Nor is it a crime to live sparely, and innocently, and in the light.


Perhaps truest or deepest Horror of Reeducation was perhaps not its misogynist content but its inquisitorial form. Reeducation claimed not to be religious and indeed, although it mimics religions it would not pass muster with a real one. It was like being in a Puritan cult and Agent Orange, an analyst of the 12 steps, makes some good points on faux religiosity in his Snake Oil chapter. Agent Orange is bright, and I recommend his whole book which is not just for 12 step refugees but for anyone living anywhere the 12 steps have penetrated the culture.

And people say that the 12 steps do not have to be inflected with Christianity, but I note that they do require a belief in a monotheistic, personalistic God who watches over one, and the enactment of a series of self-flagellation rituals. I further note that many of the “spiritual” beliefs they espouse are far less advanced, although more convoluted, than what you can get from any actual religious text.

Although I have shed a great deal of Reeducation I still have noticeable trouble just doing as I like and see fit some days, remaining confident, uncrippled, innocent. Every day I must remind myself that I can and in fact should now act and respond in freedom.


11 thoughts on “Fangs

  1. It’s the ascetic priest phenomenon, as we agreed before, isn’t it? I suppose that it works in some instances, when somebody really is quite emotionally (spiritually?) sick, and therefore latches on to something that distracts them from the immediacy of their depression by giving them something accessible to “work on” — ie. themselves.

    Working on oneself is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is a difference between the obsessional inwards quality which achieves nothing but temporary distraction from one’s overall depressing circumstances (as some people might have) and you know, working on yourself in some more interesting and productive way. I work on myself, for instance, in improving my kickboxing. (see the new photos on the blog). It’s not easy, but it does produce some positive byproducts: greater fitness, muscle tone, self-awareness, endorphins, an adrenal rush, etc.

  2. Yes, it is the ascetic priest phenomenon. This Reeducation wanted the attention which could be given to things like kick boxing given to itself.

    Also – interestingly – a key element was getting rid of
    self, not trusting the self, etc. … and at the same time you were supposed to obsessively examine yourself (all for purposes of annihilating the actual self and replacing it with, it seems, Reeducation’s thoughts).

  3. Something from Jonathan Strauss’s article on The Inverted Icarus:

    Indeed, the common element of
    society must receive existence itself from its other, since thehomoge-
    neous alone is incapable “of finding in itself a motive for requiring
    and imposing its existence” (ibid. 147). This tendential aspect man-
    ifests itself within homogeneous society in the role of the productive
    individual, who is valued not in himself but for what he produces and


    who therefore ceases to exist for himself, becoming a “function, ar-
    ranged within measurable limits, of collective production (which
    makes him an existence for something other than itself)” (ibid. 138).
    Through his commensurability, the productive individual loses him-
    self as reason for being and is alienated from his ‘own’ meaning. This
    same loss of an existence “for itself” operates within the homogeneous
    community as a whole, and the latter derives its organization
    from its tendency towards an other which bears its end in itself.

  4. Brilliant. Two things:

    1) A friend in philosophy used to say that the problem was that Reeducation encouraged one to remain in the Sartrean being-for-others.

    2) Reeducation, of course, claimed to be precisely rescuing people from that mechanized role of the productive individual.

    Although of course that was the bait (as Agent Orange would say) … the switch was that they wanted to make you just “functional,” not more – so really they were performing the repressive act Strauss describes, while saying they were doing the opposite.

    And this saying they are doing the opposite of what they are doing, sounding like they almost make sense (and perhaps will if one just thinks a bit harder, as when reading philosophy), is *precisely*
    the kind of mind control, draw you in technique one sees in cults.

    What is interesting about Strauss, of course (and other bright analysts) is that they show how these things are at work in the broad highway of mainstream life, not just in fringe groups which can be seen as anomalous.

  5. And so I Googled the article and it’s in Yale French Studies 78 (1990) and accessible through JSTOR.

    I also saw that there is an interesting 1991 thesis on Bataille, from Denmark, on the idea of sovereignty – sets in context/contrast (I didn’t read it) of Hegel and Marx.

    And I saw you gave a talk on Marechera and Bataille last month which sounds *really* interesting – I’m glad I have the poems on the way, I must check out this person. I am trying to resurrect some neglected research on a different poet (well, he also wrote in other genres quite a lot) of a different era but who sounds uncannily similar – here being the blurb

  6. Perhaps, to try to iron out the seemingly contradictory elements of reeducation, they detected too much of what was resistantly heterogeneous in academic endeavour. Academic work is ‘homogeneous’ in so far as it is assessed by supposedly (or let us just say ‘on principle’) objective and fixed standards. Yet there is a great deal that is very personal, idiosyncratic, or unpredictable at the offset, in academic processes and content. So, these aspects I have mentioned would be heterogeneous aspects of homogeneous academia. So, perhaps it was precisely these heterogeneous aspects (which YOU would term ‘productive’, but which they would see as wayward because heterogeneous) that there were trying to rescue you from? After all, the term ‘productive’, to a homogenised mindset, means something that is calculable, easily reduced to an equivalent, etc.

  7. Yes. In a nutshell, yes, although I am having to unpack it. And upon reflection, had I been a more humdrum academic, Reeducation probably would not have minded the academic in me.

    Reeducation seemed simpler: achievement was overachievement was false was bad. So things like Fulbright years, book contracts, etc., because they look good on a curriculum vitae, were bad. They mean conformity to rules in an academic competition. So one could not have put anything genuine of one’s own into getting them, or be able to use them to gain genuine knowlege of one’s own. At this point Reeducation was saying it favored more ‘heterogeneity’ – perhaps it did, but did not realize where heterogeneity lay.

    The model Reeducation was working off of was something like the person who goes into accounting because the family says it is safe, and is successful at that, but secretly miserable and not doing anything to fulfill their own interests. So, the story went, this person would need to give up “success” so as to take a risk and do what they really wanted. And successes of children of alcoholics obtained before psychotherapy were necessarily false successes. Therefore I *must* be like that accountant.

    All of this logic seems really poor, laughable, until one remembers or understands that homogeneity was the goal – the heterogeneity to which lip service was paid really just meant one’s hobbies, gardening and so on, I do believe.

  8. Hmm. Stranger and stranger.

    Here’s another try:

    Given that what is considered heterogeneous and homogeneous in a society is mediated by cultural values, including gender roles, maybe they were just trying to push you into feminine ‘productivity’ — as in the production of various introspectively oriented emotions, tranquil feelings, social niceness and so on. These things are also arguably ‘production’ since society expects this from women, and since traditionally men have consumed these niceties at their will. So maybe the heterogeneous hobbies they were pushing you to do could be coded as socially homogeneous in that they could conform with the types of productivity defined by gender roles?

  9. Definitely a big goal was this push to feminine productivity, yes. Although it took a long time to figure that out – I so did not expect that, I didn’t think it could be true, but it was (and would have been plain as day had I not insisted on hanging onto other hopes).

  10. Haha! Isn’t it interesting when you reach a level of development (for want of a better word) where you actually trust your own perceptions without complicating them with additional notions? The complication tendency is definitely one of the pitfalls of being an abstract thinker. The effort that gives credit for complexity where none is due is misapplied in the practical sense. Still, in my own case, this process of misapplication and over-reading was the only way that I could come to any insight, ultimately. You over-read and you over-read, but eventually you create a kernel of truth — and can hopefully then get rid of the dross of useless ‘knowledge’ which was the result of reading too much into things.

  11. It was the complication tendency which got me hooked on Reeducation. I thought they just couldn’t be that shallow and irrational, I must be misunderstanding … and they agreed … and so I took convolution for complexity.

    Intentionally presenting convolution as complexity is a mind control technique I think. When I thought all this through before (yes I’ve thought it through once before, but this is my more sophisticated, final version) I realized this and thought of prisoners of war … although I thought this was too dramatic. Now I’ve finally figured out it was one of the main structures and strategies of abuse, and so I can claim to understand what happened and get rid of it.

    The other set of things I figured out is that the point of abuse is to place someone in an abject position and yet tie you to them, and a good way to do that is have them continually trying to figure you out. And that when you come away from a conversation feeling oddly invaded somehow, you’ve been a victim of passive agression. These are two excellent pieces of information, for me at least.

    And – when I was doing all of this it was supposed to be normal to feel *weird* from therapy … so nobody I talked to (until I actually went to a domestic violence counselor about it) would say anything except that these must be ‘growing pains’ or some such rot.

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