INTRODUCTION: SWEET NOTHINGS | Cat Pierro | The Hypocrite Reader

Cat Pierro



“Don’t listen to anyone who’s drunk or in love.”

So my father told me; not bad advice, dad! The drunkard seems not only to have forgotten certain basic facts, he seems convinced of certain alternative facts and of his own absolute helpfulness in sharing them. The lover is not really different, inhabiting an alternate universe in which obviously inadvisable courses of action seem like capital ideas. Least trustworthy of all, the combined lover-drunkard mistakes a closed door for an open one, a goodbye for a hello, a stern police officer for a friendly confidant.

It’s therefore clear that we shouldn’t believe any information spouted by someone under either influence. Then again, what if a lover tells you, “I’m in love”? Either he’s not in love, in which case we have no special reason to distrust him, or he is in love, in which case he just so happens to be right. So either way we can probably trust someone who says “I’m in love.” Unless, of course, he is also drunk.

The reverse applies equally; we can trust someone who says “I’m drunk” unless he’s in love. It is only the confluence of intoxicants that can make someone wrong about how they’re intoxicated. So the logic goes, anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone totally sober, nor anyone who was on exactly one drug. So I don’t trust anyone, least of all myself.

Ever since I was a little girl the nonsense phrase “I’m in love” (or variations thereof, defensively absurd ones like “I love you more than anyone has ever loved anyone,” but most often just “I’m in love”) has surfaced upon my brain-screen again and again, across all manner of life-circumstances, relationships, etc. It enters my brain and then I give it meaning or don’t. Probably it held some different, fuller signification when I was a little girl, but as far as my sentience extends backward it has been accompanied by an amused detachment, and lately it consists only in that, an unattended, probably harmless thought that reminds me of its other instances. A few years ago—high school?—I would chase the recurring phrase down with a question: “With who?” And then I would conjure a person’s name and image, or else the word “everything,” along with a vague, not-anxious awareness that my silly string of words was creating my loves and dictating my fantasies. And of course there has always been the ignored murmur of the cartoonish notion that the words are confessions of my unconscious, that they actually reveal something about me.

I have no idea how to fit this foible into a narrative about myself, though I’m sure it would be interesting and meaningful. It is a piece of a puzzle, though not a corner piece. I would have to compose a series of vignettes and place it among them so that a benevolent reader could trace the connections.

It seems futile to ask what alien, what muse with what purpose, or which cog in my unconscious takes hold of me and implants ideas into my brain. Equally impossible to answer is what that muse encounters when she comes. Is there an ordinary self, a simple story into which to drive a wedge? As Mikayla McVey points out, the word “intoxicant” presumes that someone healthful and complete has become intoxicated. It suggests two entities—not only the toxin but also the “in” place, the fragile body which, though capacious enough to admit the toxin, is not capacious enough to remain itself once it has done so. It is vulnerable from within to corruption from without. In an intoxicated state, the body, though once complete, is no longer quite itself; it is partial, it does not cohere as an entity.

Incoherence is a low point for any entity; incoherence can get you kicked out of a party, even if everyone else is drinking too. It’s embarrassing to be reduced to incoherence, or rather it would be embarrassing if the self were still around to be embarrassed. But it would seem that it shouldn’t be embarrassing, really, because whatever is incoherent is also illegible. If your speech does not make sense you can’t be pinned to any meaning at all, let alone to an incriminating meaning.

Often it seems just the fact of incoherence has made someone a laughingstock. If he does not speak meaning he speaks noise—that makes him a nuisance, so we laugh him out of the party. We laugh and shake our heads, because some member of our community has allowed himself to become noise and a nuisance. Is that it? Is that the whole of it? So we claim!

But just as the world tempts the drunkard to fantastical interpretations that the sober mind would easily dismiss, so too does the drunkard tempt the world to interpret him; for this reason drink has been called a truth serum. For this reason we have to warn ourselves against listening. He passes the night insisting on stories, avowing passions, issuing threats; schizophrenic though his antics may be when taken as a whole, each stance by itself is all too legible. After we’ve laughed him off together, soberly, comforted by the good sense and moderation of the group, his succession of faces may return to haunt us when we are alone; each face is a demon.

We do not mistake the demons that occupy the drunkard one after another for “true selves,” not because their expressions are nonsensical but because they are painfully clear. The all-too-legible—both of the intoxicated as he appears to the world and of the world as it appears to him—cannot have come from any real thing. If we are thoughtful, its very legibility makes us into skeptics. Skepticism neutralizes toxins by refusing to read. In a roundabout way, then, intoxicants sweep away the ground that makes interpretation possible: by introducing a superabundance of meaning, they induce a reactive sobriety that declares everything illegible.

To thematize intoxication is to try to turn that very illegibility into a text.