Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Morality and Aesthetics of Cursing

The title of this post sounds like an actual essay.  As always, sorry to disappoint.

Both this post and the next post will be about the play that I just finished writing, of which I mentioned a few days ago.  Of course, this means that the play better be good, or else I'll feel rather dumb for wasting my time on three posts about a play that smells like rotting flesh.  Yikes, that's an unnecessarily gruesome image.  Here I want to talk about what the purpose of cursing is.

Personally, I do not swear.  I have gotten into the terrible habit of saying, "God damnit," which in a way is worse than using curse words, at least within my belief system, but I'm working on it.  The reason I do not swear is that I see no purpose to it whatsoever.  Seriously.  My poetry professor used to always say that italics make no sense in a poem because if you want to emphasize a word or phrase there are other more worthwhile and consistent techniques to do so.  I've come to agree with him fully.  If you want to emphasize your anger, frustration, or shock, or want to show how cool or rebellious you are, then a little curse word should be your last option.  There are numerous other, and better, ways to be who you want to be or to be the emotion that you hope to express.  Namely, you can simply be, in all of who you are, what you are trying to be.  It's that simple.  Thus there is no point in cursing.

The pointlessness of cursing goes a bit further when you believe in God or in the greatness of humanity.  Whenever people ask me why I don't drink alcohol they generally ask if it's for personal or religious reasons; after answering that I don't drink for both personal and religious reasons, some will then ask me what my religious reasons are.  At that point I respond, "If you believe in God then you wouldn't drink alcohol."  Then they say, "What in the world are you talking about?"  Quite simply, unless you drink alcohol only for the taste (which, of course, is never the original reason for why anyone drinks alcohol, so I don't think that anyone can say that their reason for drinking is for the taste), then you are drinking alcohol for a purpose that God should fill in your life.  Want to calm down?  Pray to God and you'll calm down.  Want to loosen up?  Pray to God asking to learn how to loosen up.  Et cetera et cetera.  God is taken out of the equation by drinking alcohol and that, in the religious context, is immoral.

Now you may either be ferociously arguing with me or wondering what alcohol has to do with cursing, or both.  To answer the latter question, however, I say again that instead of cursing one can simply be--be the emotion or person that cursing is meant to portray.  Like with alcohol, if we believe in God and curse instead of being--being through prayer and relationship with God, who can do all things, or so we say we believe--then cursing becomes immoral.  As far as I'm concerned there's no way around this.

As a writer of non-fiction I'll never curse, which is good since non-fiction is mostly what I write.  But as a writer of fiction I must ask whether or not there's ever a time when cursing can be a moral act, or at least an a-moral act.  Is it immoral for me to write, and ask others to say or read, curse words that I do not approve of?  Or can it be moral if the work promotes morality and religiosity?   These questions become pressingly pertinent because there is plenty of swearing in the play that I just finished.

The major reason for including swearing in my play is that one of the characters, and one of the scenes, would not be believable and would not feel real without swearing; and I believe that the play generally does at least point the way to some higher form of living.  So perhaps I have answered in favor of a-morality, but then I have only pushed the question into the field of aesthetics.  Indirectly we can ask whether it's necessary to swear to be funny, but more relevantly I want to ask whether a dose of reality makes a work of art real to the spectator.  Frankly, the answer is no: a good artist makes any work of art "real" to the spectator, no matter what the content.  Besides, as Oscar Wilde said, "Art does not imitate life; life imitates art."  Why, then, must I have my drunk character swearing left and right?

I don't know.  That's it.  I don't know.  Maybe the answer is that we sometimes must seek greatness without a defensible explanation.  But I don't like that answer.  It goes against everything I believe.  Or maybe the answer is that, when we hope to understand why we do what we do, we can only answer, "I don't know."  And that's the life of a writer.

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