Out walking the dog yesterday AM, thinking about the post and the discussion on swearing, including George’s essay on the linguistics of popular profanities, and the example of NYPD Blue’s Sipowicz, who embodied the spirit of the cuss without ever breaking the big rules, it occurred to me that the the key is defiance – defiance of rules of proper conduct and decorum, verbal and otherwise, and whatever they may signify to the cusser; defiance of God, the Devil, the ruling class, or destiny; defiance of a particular adversary or enemy; defiance of parents, teachers, bosses, betters, superiors of any type. In the moment of the curse all of these may come or be forced together into a single object: When Kevin Bacon “fu-u-u-ck you”‘s the sandworm, the character obviously doesn’t expect a dead monster to understand that it’s been defied, or that it’s as fucked as the rest of us, or anything at all – it’s dead, and, even when it was alive, it probably didn’t understand English – but he expects all observers, including himself, to understand that a seemingly superior and hostile being has been successfully defied, and will always be defied, because in truth it’s just as much a fucked up piece of shit as every other motherfucker.
“Fuck you!” means “be abjectly humiliated in your corporeal being.” I imagine someone, myself or an accomplice or servant, raping you – dishonoring and ruining you, rendering you forever disrespectable: Bringing you low, lower even than you thought or tried to bring me. The word “disrespect,” like “spite,” brings us more directly into the visualization of power relationships (front and back, high and low, etc.), but “to defy” means to break away from faith and loyalty, the usage developing when it was perhaps better understood how social relations depend on and presume the oath, including the oaths of one’s parents and of their masters to their masters’ masters, and tracing back through the mists of philosophical time to the ideal and all-but-infinitely repeated moment, in Hegel’s symbolic history, when a few exhibit their willingness to kill and die rather than accept anyone else’s power over them, and thus assert lordship over the many who accept slavery or bondsmanship (“swear an oath”), rather than risk everything.
In this sense “fuck you” is an imaginary overcoming of inferiority, a fantasized reversal of relations: The working slave conjuring an image of the lord and master, as symbolically incarnated in whichever “you,” made like himself: totally fucked. Even when the exclamation is taken as a magical imprecation – as though the statement “shit on you” in some way works like a spell, conjuring “your” beshittance, actually objectifying it to some extent, in some direct variation with the shit-wizard’s powers – the person who “swears,” “cusses” (curses), or “profanes” is confirming his own belief in a force, being, or relationship of superiority, implying a higher power that can be sworn by, that can carry out a vendetta in unseen ways, or that can be blasphemed. When a word like “fucking” is woven through Deadwoodian colloquys in polymorphous re-combinations and concentric implosions – that fucking cocksucker’s fucking shit is fucking fucked-up, etc., etc. – the result is a discourse of defiance, even defiance of one’s own verbal-intellectual limitations, that at the same time confirms the same suborn relationship it assertively, but merely temporarily, merely ironically, short-circuits.
The gentleman-lord-master doesn’t need to swear. He, or his position, is already a continuous get-fucked. His silent refusal to acknowledge or repeat the lower class’s over-chewed obscenities already carries the force of a fuck-you-twice, you’re the one who’s really fucked, and every time you pretend to fuck me, you’re just reminding us both how fucked you are. Now, fuck off while those of us who matter think up new ways to fuck you up.