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ishan shahi

Rejection as Misrecognition

Rejection in love and the way men tend to take it has often and quite rightly been seen as the manifestation of a form of male privilege. But rejection in the matters of the heart is something that all of us across genders do resent. It would be safe to argue then that there is more to the resentment that stems from rejection, than male privilege, which has, unfortunately become quite a terrible cliché. The philosopher Axel Honneth uses three frames to understand recognition; love, law, and achievement. Here I would predictably concern myself primarily with the first frame of understanding recognition: love.

Now if we think of love as a deep and fundamental form of recognition, then rejection becomes its obverse, a deep and fundamental form of misrecognition. We tend to use metaphors about oneself and others, who get rejected in the matters of the heart as a ‘door-mat’ or an ’emotional tampon’ (excuse the sexism). The implication of an almost total loss of human dignity stems from the fact that it involves complete disclosure to the one you are in love with, which upon being rejected amounts to the very denial of complete human self.

Now it is usually in the face of this denial of self which has both normative and psychological implications, and has to be dealt at a very personal level and is hence, open to ridicule. That people do really-really stupid things. Which can range from acid attacks to drowning oneself in liquor or even worse. The reason such an action stems from the fact that we have normalized a very positivistic understanding of sexuality.[1] Since there are no rational reasons for why people prefer a person over another(It is more often that we like a person over another and then look for the reasons why we do so.) those facing the muzzle end of the rifle take it to be a sign of deep and fundamental misrecognition. The norms of masculinity drive men, much more often than women to correct the wrongs done unto them by taking recourse to violence. The violence can be targeted at various places (the self, the wrongdoer, a convenient scapegoat), and is manifested in varied forms (physical to emotional), a large range of permutations and combinations are possible here, one of which would roughly correspond to almost all of us. As it happens we tend to tell ourselves that such a thing passes away with time and that we get over it. Little do we realize that a denial of this kind has the capacity of becoming an ‘ontological wound’ and to withstand such a denial of recognition requires a certain kind of moral fortitude.

The problem with the idea of fortitude is that in our conceptual imaginary fortitude stands as a concept, which is associated with war, hardship, persecution, and is in some way seen as the ability of a person to withstand larger forces which others are not usually able to do. It does bear a strong resemblance to the Machiavellian idea of virtù which is seen as the ability of the prince to mend fortuna to his own ways.[2] This rules out the need for thinking in terms of moral fortitude when it comes to the such matters.

The specificity of the denial makes it hard for us to look for the moral resource, which here is something akin to fortitude, as there is no tradition of deeply engaging with the moral resources that help us deal with instances when we are wronged or happen to believe that we have been wronged in a deeply personal way. The reason for this might be traced to the inherently masculine nature[3] of the various traditions of thinking from which we tend to borrow our epistemological and moral resources.

I do not know is the creation of “society of people wronged in the affairs of the heart” would be of much help, as the problem that we are dealing with here is linked deeply with the kind of the world we live in. The modern dichotomy of the personal and the private are the two reasons for the predicament that people find themselves in as there is no conceptual locations where the issues of the heart to rightfully belong.



[1] One can recall how school textbooks of sciences especially those dealing with biology, describe attraction between opposite sexes upon hitting puberty as the physics textbooks describe the attraction between opposite poles of a magnet. If that were the case the world around us would have been, one large orgy.

[2] Machiavelli portrays fortuna as a woman and a force of destruction and virtù is the ability of the prince to suppress fortuna, preferably with utmost ruthlessness.

[3] I personally hate using this as a descriptive category, purely because its abuse in common parlance has rendered it more or less meaningless.

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