Scratch, Eclectic and Bizarre, Defies Simplistic Analysis
As said in Star Trek’s Day of the Dove, reminiscent of what the Buddhist Lotus sutra has to say about this reality: “Only a fool fights in a burning house.” And yet, I do feel that, when someone criticizes my work and I think misses the mark, I do have to defend myself. Perhaps I am a fool to do so in this world of ridiculous values, this world of military-industrial complexes, of mental health industries, and of sexual harassment industries. But then a fool I shall be. I suppose it is better to be a fool than to suffer from a “dissociative disorder,” such as I am now accused of, or to suffer from some other label my critics would like to give me in the future. I reject all such labels up-front.
What prompts these reflections? I have recently visited the MySpace profile of my super-villain character “Scratch,” from The Deviants, where I, as an author, playfully, and hopefully in a somewhat Kierkegaardian, pseudonymous manner, write as if I am indeed Scratch. I even have a blog entry entitled, “Scratch’s brutally honest advice column—enter at your own risk.” This MySpace profile, where I “am” Scratch, also is an attempt to advertise for my work. And I do so enjoy writing Scratch—it is indeed quite a delight.
Yet also there on my profile, within Scratch’s “brutally honest advice column,” I have recently encountered an analysis of Scratch that I find sophomoric, simplistic, and rather dismissive of me as an author—perhaps my would-be interlocutor, prognosticator, and erstwhile assailant took that title as an invitation to be brutally honest with me. But in her attempt, she entirely misses the mark.
However, her missive is somehow worthy of a response, since I predict future would-be readers and gallant prognosticators may also be quick to categorize me, explain me away, and hence dismiss me. Especially dismissive, I am sure, will be those readers who apparently are heavily invested in two things I am critical of in my work: the mental health industry and the Sexual Harassment Industry. (Even though Scratch, as a character, is not meant to say much about these issues, at least not in the original work The Deviants—though it is true that I will use him to explore some of these issues in later sequels).
As in the quote famously attributed to Kierkegaard, “If you label me, you negate me,” I feel both labeled and negated by this analysis which, though it contains some accuracy about my background, does not go much in-depth into who I am as an author, as it purports to do. Again, it entirely misses the mark.
I share it here for my other readers’ perusal, and follow it with my own comments about what I see as its dreadful inadequacies:
“Are you the online manifestation of a dissociative disorder?
“Like roughly three to four percent of other adults, perhaps some trauma in your real life has been simply too difficult to deal with, too emotionally and psychologically traumatic and therefore you’ve escaped into this alternative identity.
“It is interesting, is it not, that you’re named ‘scratch.’ As a middle-aged, white male, from Alabama, with a Christian background, having pursued ministry, attended two different seminaries, and having some knowledge of the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority), it is striking that you are named after a nickname for the Devil. Perhaps you are representative of Richmond’s inner struggle over what is right or what is wrong? And your bisexuality…well, let’s just not go there.”
Thank you, sophomoric doctor, for your analysis.
I must admit that I am somewhat sympathetic to Freudian interpretations of “deeper meanings” to characters, as well as to postmodern arguments that our various social locations do impact our writings. I admit that and, to some extent, agree that such can be tools of useful and fruitful analysis. Though, of course, postmodernism does at least encourage us to look beyond “deeper” meanings and realize that there is a multiplicity of surface meanings to any character. There is not just one meaning.
It bothers me, though, as a writer that this commentator, this doctor of my mental state, this prognosticator, this brilliantly simplistic person apparently omniscient about all that I am, brings in so much about my life onto Scratch’s profile. If one wants to do that, come onto the “Richmond West” profile to talk about Richmond West. This commentator is deliberately spoiling the playful style of the Scratch profile by saying that he, Scratch, is the author, Richmond West.
I disagree—this goes too far. Scratch is a character unto himself. I think the commentator, my erstwhile prognosticator, is being far too Freudian. Rather than a “deep meaning” to Scratch that captures Richmond West, it could be that Scratch is rather a postmodern surface play of a multiplicity of meanings. Thus, I think he deserves a postmodern rather than just a quasi-Freudian interpretation. So, while relating my personal life and struggles to Scratch has its place, I also want to affirm him as a character very unique from me.
My well-meaning but erroneous prognosticator, you say I “escape” into this identity—then do not all authors do the same with their characters? All authors “enter” into their characters. Thus, what is it that you are accusing me of? Are you saying thereby that all authors have “dissociative” disorders? That may be a fascinating theory, if you universalize it so. But then it would be somewhat banal and redundant to accuse me of it, and not say anything specifically about me as an author.
As to “Scratch” being a name for the “Devil”—does my prognosticator, omniscient of all that I am, suppose herself brilliant to point this out to me, who chose the name? Of course that is part of why I picked the name! Would an author pick such a name and be blissfully unaware of what he was doing? Such is surely to insult my intelligence. If she does think I was aware, she has made no great revelation to me by pointing out what is to me obvious.
However, what she has failed to miss in such a simplistic interpretation is that this is not the only reason I picked that name, and indeed not even the original reason. Far more fun for me as an author were the playful puns I could make with it, such as how Scratch can “scratch” your itch, how his pictures end up being “scratch” paper after he loses his power, etc. Thus, there is a playful multiplicity of meanings to “Scratch,” which a mere “Devil” interpretation, while of course there, does not alone do him justice. I think that perhaps my prognosticator would have seen this, had she bothered to read my work, which I suspect that she did not, so dismissive was she to “unmask” Scratch and “reveal” the author.
Also, I admit that, because Scratch is a character who says and does whatever he wants, he is indeed very fun to write for me as an author.
Yet, this respondent, this would-be prognosticator and doctor, omniscient of all that I am, in equating me, Richmond West, with a character I am writing, Scratch, does disservice to authors everywhere. Despite my personal history, Scratch as a character does not have a “Christian” background. Such would be anathema to him. And he is not from Alabama. Nor has he pursued ministry, nor has he attended two different seminaries—such would go against everything he stands for as a character.
If future prognosticators want to bring in my background for a fruitful discussion of my writings, that is fine, and indeed I welcome it (if it is not so simplistic as to proclaim I have a “dissociative” or some other disorder). But to equate my own personal background with a specific character of mine, and dismiss the uniqueness of that character thereby, does a profound disservice to me as a writer, and indeed to any author anywhere.
Does Shakespeare’s writing of Macbeth prove that he, Shakespeare, is somehow a repressed murderer with a dissociative disorder? Do the creators of such things as comic-book arch-villains, such as Batman’s The Joker, thereby have dissociative disorders? Does every creator of a villain, or a bad person as a character, necessarily share the characteristics of that character?
Or else they should cart off to insane asylums every author who dares try to write an insane character. I will dare do so. But to that I add this:
You can put me in chains, but I will always be free.
My prognosticator attempts to sound so brilliant, but she tells me nothing that I don’t already know. Yes, I’m a white male from Alabama with a “Christian” background. Wow, that’s so postmodern a point as to no longer even be original. I’m a white male. As if I did not realize that! Yes, that is important. But I also want to say this: So what? I am quite aware of that. Does any of that loose, perhaps predictably prejudiced sketch, tell anyone anything about my postmodern position? Does that tell anyone anything about the “mystical” and “agnostic” elements of my religiosity? Does that tell anyone anything of how I consider myself to fall under the pragmatic theory of truth as a philosopher, how I am not only very postmodern but also very existentialist, especially in the manner of my favorite philosopher, Kierkegaard? Furthermore, my prognosticating “doctor” brings up my “Christian background” as a writer. This is a somewhat accurate, though very simplistic, label which shows she has little understanding of me.
First of all, when I wrote The Deviants, I was technically an agnostic rather than a Christian—my views have changed and I’m sure will change over time—though it is certainly true that, looking back over the material, I do see a theme of acceptance of differences, which I do think is part of the Christian Gospel in its best, non-fundamentalist form.
However, ninety-nine percent of “Christians” would probably find me heretical. I call myself a mystical Christian rather than a Christian—key word being “mystical,” emphasizing mystery. I have been influenced by Wicca, by Buddhism, and by Native American spirituality, among other things. I perceive of God as female and hear her voice in my life (far more beneficial would be an analysis of that, in my opinion, than of my character Scratch). I am very postmodern and zero percent fundamentalist. That is, I think the Bible, while inspired, is not infallible or inerrant, and belongs with other inspired books such as The Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Tao te Ching, and so forth, all of which I have read as much as I’ve read the Bible. Does my prognosticator’s sweeping characterization of me as a “Christian” capture anything of this?
Also, this does not take into account either my postmodern philosophical position or the fact that I am a student and teacher of philosophy and world religions. In the book The Deviants, I make a conscious effort to reflect on many of the world’s great religions. Johnny Knight, the central character, and far more fruitful for a comparison with me than Scratch, struggles with his Native American spirituality while at a Christian seminary. He also encounters a Hindu, a Buddhist, and a Muslim in one scene of the book. He thinks about the Jewish thinker Levinas. My characters Greg and Rusty also struggle with their own prejudice when they encounter a couple of Muslim characters.
Rusty, a lover of comic books and rather innocent, is also fruitful, along with Johnny Knight, as a comparison to me. But Greg Garrison, a member of the military and conservative, does not represent my position. I think it is a strength I have, and many authors have: when an author can “step outside” his or her own position and, with empathy, imagine another. I believe I do something similar with Scratch. I wonder, with Scratch, what the terrible corrupting effects of such a power as he has, to attract anyone he wants, could be. Does that imply I am Scratch? Hardly. Again, a comparison with my hero, Johnny Knight, would be far more accurate than a comparison with my villain, Scratch, who represents certain problematic things I find about the human condition. And by that I do not mean his bisexuality—let me make that clear.
Scratch’s bisexuality—my prognosticator says she won’t go there. Well, I will, and I challenge her to do the same, since she brings it up in her rather simplistic missive. It would be a profound mistake of anyone to read so much into Scratch that one reads the author, Richmond West, as struggling with bisexuality. Though it would not matter to me if I were bisexual—and arguably the main theme of The Deviants is uplifting and celebrating difference—this is not the case with me. I am very far over on the “heterosexual” end of the Kinsey scale, perhaps unfortunately. Yes, Scratch is bisexual. Does that mean I am, or that I struggle with that? No. Not necessarily. Except that maybe I do wish I could love everyone equally. But this is not a choice for me.
However, when writing Scratch, and thinking about the dangerous implications of such a power, I began to believe that it would be most effective, and in line with the book, to show Scratch’s power as universal—that he could have anyone he wanted. And that made him the dangerous villain I so loved, and still love, to write.
Now, if someone tries to argue that, by doing so, I am trying to put down bisexuality, that also is an incorrect interpretation and not in line with the theme of the book. It especially goes against the scene where a couple of intersexuals come to Johnny Knight’s seminary to present a version of “queer” theory, and push us all to go beyond bifurcations and see diversity and difference in sexual expression as a value. And, by the way, diversity in sexual expression is something that my prognosticator’s statement about “inappropriate” sexuality, and for that matter “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, does not adequately take into account, in my view.
If anything, I personally think being pansexual, accepting of any kind of sexuality, would be a divine ideal, more in line with what a compassionate, loving God would be, and I make that point with Johnny Knight’s character in The Deviants when he states to his asexual wife Kelly that he believes maybe God is pansexual. Perhaps an author like me is concerned with the ethical implications of such a character as Scratch. If one begins to analyze Scratch in an ethical manner, then one comes closer to an understanding of both Scratch as a character and Richmond West as an author. Scratch does represent for me a “morality tale,” of sorts. But simply to equate us does a disservice to us both. Yes, an author’s personality impacts his or her characters. But we also try to transcend our own personalities in the interest of story.
Furthermore, while it is true that I engage the issue of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law in my later works, I barely deal with that issue with Scratch in his initial book, and the minor manner in which I actually do address that in The Deviants seems to have entirely escaped my erstwhile interlocutor. Scratch hardly ever deals with the issue of making sexual advances to people under his authority, except once, with his secretary. And, because she wants his actions, everything he does is okay. This, of course, is a point my prognosticator has entirely missed in her brief analysis. In that minor portion of Scratch, perhaps I am giving hints as to how I will use Scratch in future sequels to deal with these issues in more expansive ways.
Otherwise, Scratch uses his power to trample upon those “in his way,” which makes him ironically very much like the woman who was equal to me (not my student and thus not “inappropriate” for me under my prognosticator’s simplistic definition), and who charged me with “sexual misconduct,” even though she was the one constantly coming to my school library. Just who was “stalking” who, just who was “harassing” who, thereby?
Far more important is that Scratch uses his power to climb over others on his way to the top. Thus, he has far more to say, for me as an author, about the ethical implications of having no concern whatsoever for another person you’re dealing with sexually.
Far more endemic to the ethical implications of Scratch, then, is this question, far more profound a question, I believe, for so-called “radical” feminism than my prognosticator’s simplistic account of sexual “harassment”:
How does one claim power without being domineering?
Oh, feminist Caesars, we who are about to die salute you!
Thus, I’m not just talking about myself here when I raise the question of how one claims power without being domineering, though it is an important question for me and I think for everyone. I am also raising this question to the “radical” feminists who use, in a hostile manner ironically, “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law to slam the unattractive.
Scratch is never seen as unattractive—and hence the issue of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” cannot come up for him. That’s part of the point, and indeed the only point I as an author make with him regarding this, in this initial book.
How can Scratch be accused of unwanted advances when his advances are always wanted? This is the only thing the Scratch character, at least in the initial book The Deviants, has to say about “hostile environment” sexual “harassment,” something minor to the character overall, but something my prognosticator’s analysis of “the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority)” fails to cover or even address.
What really ticks me off about my commentator, my prognosticator, omniscient of all that I am, is her mentioning that I “know” the “inappropriateness” of going out with someone “under my authority.” I do not “know” any such thing. I think professorial authority is what needs to be challenged, not some supposed “inappropriateness.”
My prognosticator has indeed gotten me riled up, which, if that is her intention, she has quite well succeeded. I guess this is good—I can use my anger as incentive for finally finishing the first draft of Witch Hunt. Nothing pisses me off more than “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law (which hypocritically creates a “hostile environment” to any sexual expression it deems “inappropriate,” even when it hurts no one), or those who use it with vindictive cruelty to slam someone just for being unattractive to them.
My prognosticator’s MySpace comment about Scratch tries to psychoanalyze Scratch into merely my own struggle. While perhaps there is some truth to that, her analysis also really bugs me—it’s like an author can’t step outside of himself or herself and take on a different character. Not so much my internal struggle is Scratch, but rather a showpiece, I feel, about the corrupting nature of sexual power.
Yes, included in that is some subtle reflection about how inconsistent “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law is in punishing the unattractive and favoring the attractive. Scratch can do whatever the hell he wants and it is “okay” because it is “wanted.” That is part of how I interpret Scratch. He is not so much my internal struggle as he is a “morality play” I want others to consider. Does my personal experience play into that? Of course. But it is a struggle I have with my society more so than within myself.
My prognosticator, by limiting that struggle to me, refuses to look critically at her own views: which is what I am trying to get my readers to do! And this is part of why I find her comment so dismissive. Perhaps she attacks me rather than looking at herself as I am calling her to do.
There have indeed been two cases when I have been charged with “sexual harassment” or “sexual misconduct.” Do they inform my writings? Sure—I’m the one who has admitted that, so my prognosticator is telling me nothing new or extraordinary. One of the cases I was charged with, the far more severe case, did not in any way involve any authority on my part whatsoever—I was a Ph.D. student, and the woman who lodged the complaint was another Ph.D. student from another program—we were equals, and there was no issue of authority. Thus, my prognosticator’s simplistic analysis of the “inappropriateness” of asking out someone “under my authority” does not even apply to what I consider to be the most profound case I faced. If anything, the woman I dealt with, as far more attractive than I, was the one with power in the relationship—perhaps, if anything, Scratch represents her, not me. Consider that next time you would-be prognosticators decide to make an analysis of my character and write me off so simplistically and dismissively. In fact, one of the things I did while writing Scratch was to think of the many attractive females I have known who were cruel because of their attractive power.
In the first of the two cases of sexual “harassment” I was charged with, it is true that I, when I was a very young and naïve instructor, and didn’t know better, asked out a student (actually, it was so innocent I hardly deem it worthy to be called, as my prognosticator wants to call it, a “sexual advance”). It seemed to me at the time that my flirtations were wanted—the woman in question even invited me out to lunch. I had no clue at the time that my advances were unwanted. And, indeed, I have been taught by all the literature on sexuality, from The Rules to How to Succeed with Women, that as a male I am expected in this society to make all advances, that a woman uses “no” to control the pace, and thus that I am expected to be gently persistent in a playful way. Since she invited me out to lunch, since she told me in an email that she was impressed with my persistence, I did not have any clue from her mixed signals that I was doing anything wrong or unwanted.
Later, of course, this student claimed that I “showed up” when I went to meet her for the lunch she invited me to—that is so ironic to me. I admit now—having far more teaching experience—that I should never have asked her out before that or gone to meet her for lunch.
However, far more problematic to me was the “zero tolerance” shown me as a young, naïve instructor by the school, and the Dean shivering at me with hatred and saying, “That’s…immoral,” when I, then in my twenties, was very naïve and unaware of the issue.
Also problematic are the lies told to me, and the cruelty and vindictiveness shown to me, simply because I had asked someone out whom I treated as an equal rather than as some underling.
After all, I had been taught by feminist pedagogical literature to break down the hierarchy between teacher and student and treat students with equality. I guess it is indeed ironic to me that I got slammed by the very ideology that I had up to then believed in—radical feminism. I still support postmodern feminism, because it uplifts and allows for differences in sexual expression. Not so “radical” feminism. I am radical feminist no more.
And I was told, ironically, by the sexual harassment officer of that school: “You can’t treat her as an equal.”
Think about that phrase—I can’t treat her as an equal. This comes from feminism? What is wrong with that picture? Students and teachers are not “equals”—why so? Can my prognosticator not see the problematic nature of that? The great teachers in history, Socrates, Jesus, etc.—taught for free…and gave no grades. And it would not have mattered if they had an affair with a student or not.
I guess universities are now trying to protect their power rather than call it into question.
As I say, I still believe in postmodern feminism, because it respects differences and realizes that people approach sexuality differently, and does not slam people for approaching it in a different way. “Radical” feminism is, in my experience, more concerned with slamming people for “inappropriateness,” which really equates to unattractiveness—at least that has been my experience.
Thus, my prognosticator’s simplistic, black and white interpretation of this as “the inappropriateness of an instructor (a person in authority) making sexual advances on students (people under your authority)” misses many of the marks of the issue.
Far more problematic to me is why I have supposed “authority” over students in the first place. Where is the feminist critique of patriarchal power structures here? Where is a feminist critique of grading systems here?
It seems to me that my prognosticator’s flimsy analysis keeps all structures in place.
Thus, in my humble estimation, “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law merely keeps current power structures in place.
My current place of employment keeps encouraging me to wear a tie and come in as an “authority” with the students. I still refuse to do so. This flies in the face of feminist pedagogical theory. But it does not fly in the face of a simplistic view that supports the over/under power structure regarding “inappropriateness,” as my prognosticator actually, ironically, seem to do, along with the “radical” feminists who support her position.
Finally, and most problematic of all to me, is the way my prognosticator makes some claim about my mental state and argues that I have some disorder which, of course, she defines.
I have indeed been taken against my will, though I was a danger to neither myself or to anyone else, to mental hospitals on three different occasions, when I was struggling with what had happened to me (I could not finish my Ph.D. because I considered my program’s treatment of my sexual being both harassing and hostile, terms the Sexual Harassment Industry ironically tries to claim for itself, even as it harasses in a hostile manner those it finds unattractive and also takes away their due process).
Once, in protesting the fact I was being held against my will in one of these mental hospitals, I was given a shot, drugged, until I conked out, and then was taken back to my room: all against my will, for merely raising a protest….
These visits to mental hospitals were, of course, after I had written The Deviants.
But I was not nor am I “mentally ill”—I refuse to accept that label. I knew it was a lie the moment I heard it, a lie that would have crippled me if I had believed it. I was undergoing a profound spiritual crisis and disconnect with the values of this world, including “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, incipient to a profound spiritual awakening.
One doctor, after talking with me for just four minutes, said that I was “profoundly mentally ill.”
I beg to differ.
One doctor said I had some form of “schizophrenia.” Another some form of “manic depressive disorder.” And now this prognosticator comes onto MySpace and diagnoses me with “dissociative disorder.”
Today I teach philosophy still, I have written two novels, and I am finishing a third, Witch Hunt, which does attack both the mental health and Sexual Harassment Industries, both of which my prognosticator apparently uncritically supports in her willingness to so quickly label me, and negate me.
Thus, my dear critic, my “doctor,” my prognosticator, and, since you apparently know everything about me, I might as well call you my “God”—when you label me with a quick perusal of one of my characters, without any real depth of understanding of me or my work, as someone with merely a “dissociative disorder,” you say to me far more about yourself than you do about me.
I’m sure my future readers will come up with all kinds of labels for me, all kinds of ways to explain away and ultimately to dismiss my complexity as a writer.
In light of this, I say to you and all future prognosticators: I do wish all of you who would label me in this manner would be consistent, so that I may understand what it is you are actually accusing me of being. Am I “schizophrenic,” “manic depressive,” “dissociative,” or what? In other words, please be consistent when you hurl your insults. Thank you.
I say I am none of these.
I say I am Richmond West. And your simplistic labels will never capture or contain me.