I’m not exactly sure what causes people to flip when they see the word privilege, though.
Some time ago [Popular Blog] was asked whether they considered themselves privileged. It was a perfectly polite ask that was quite clearly not meant to ignite animosity or taunt or shame or make [Popular Blog] lose authority and status in front of its followers. It was quite clearly simply prompted by the fact that [Popular Blog] does not seem to fall under any of the major axes of oppression discussed around here, and seems to live a perfectly cosy life. [Popular Blog] flipped anyway and termed the word privilege inherently offensive.
That was an extremely bizarre moment of internet wtfery to me.
I cannot shake off the idea that if the question had instead been, “would you say that life has treated you kindly so far?” the answer would have been completely different, even though the question is, at heart, the same minus the word privilege.
If that anecdote is an accurate model of the instinctive reaction people have to that word, it seems to me that the word itself (though not necessarily the concept) has at this point outlived its usefulness. If your gut reaction is to flinch away from it, you cannot think about it critically. You cannot imagine ever thinking even of yourself in those terms, which I thought was supposed to be the whole aim of Tumblr discourse.
(And if the aim isn’t encouraging people to think, “wait, does this apply to me? Do I in fact wield some power over the people around me and what can I do with it to make life easier for those who find themselves in a worse position than mine?” then, in fact, what even is it?)
Because if the idea of someone being in a worse position than you makes you instinctively defensive — either because you’re losing oppression points or because you feel that the amount of hard work you’ve put into achieving your current position in society is being dismissed, mocked or invalidated — then the whole terminology used to describe privilege cannot possibly be helpful or useful any longer in any practical sense. It means we’ve reached the point where we’re unconsciously equating “privileged” with “inherently evil.” And that is not the best strategy to encourage either self-analysis or understanding (let alone decency) towards other people.
What are your thoughts on Olivia marrying Sebastian in Twelfth Night?
My thoughts on this subject are far from simple, because it’s a question that’s tied up with my understanding of the play as a whole and with the way the play presents desire.
The first thing to note is that Shakespeare takes great pains to establish just how alike the twins are. Viola’s identity is strongly bound up in Sebastian (which I believe has to do with the metaphysics of twinship). When she arrives on the coast of Illyria, Viola has no idea what her life is worth anymore: ‘And what should I do in Illyria? / My brother he is in Elysium’ (1.2.2-3), and although it isn’t clear from the beginning, Viola later makes it clear that her disguise as ‘Cesario’ is based on her brother Sebastian:
I my brother know Yet living in my glass. Even such and so In favour was my brother, and he went Still in this fashion, colour, ornament, For him I imitate. (3.3.346-50)
Viola actively copies her brother in manner and in dress, right down to the details. So ‘Cesario’ lies somewhere in between ‘Viola’ and ‘Sebastian’, it’s not a straightforward persona of Viola, and this is reaffirmed by Sebastian when he finally comes face-to-face with Viola
Do I stand there? I never had a brother, Nor can there be that deity in my nature Of here and everywhere. (5.1.224-6)
He recognises this other creature as an ‘I’, as himself. His closeness and his paired identity with Viola is confirmed at the end, when Sebastian says to Olivia ‘You are betrothed both to a man and maid’ (5.1.257), which, on a literal level means that she’s married to a virgin male, but suggests that in marrying Sebastian, Olivia marries someone who is at least partly Viola himself.
Having said that, the ending isn’t necessarily comfortable, because it doesn’t resolve all of the sexual confusion that the play has raised. One way of viewing the paring off at the end is to say that the play affirms a sense of heteronormativity, some critics would even say that the play positions same-sex desire as a narcissistic phase that the characters overcome at the end. Another way of reading it is that the play reasserts dramatic conventions to impose an ending onto an otherwise complicated plot.
But Shakespeare is never so uncomplicated. I always think that any sense of discord or discomfort at the end is deliberate, especially considering how Shakespeare’s comedies become problem plays later in his life. Just like As You Like It, where the comedic ending is made patently transparent through the use of the Deus ex Machina tradition and the all-too-convenient marriages, I think that the ending of Twelfth Night highlights the artificial nature of comedy endings and how there is no resolution to the complications raised by uncategorizable sexual desire and the fluidity of gender. After all, even heteronormativity is up in the air at the end, where Orsino continues to call Viola ‘boy’ (5.1.261) and says ‘Cesario come – / For so you shall be while you are a man’ (5.1.375-6); suggesting that his love for Cesario isn’t actually dependent on gender.
I have no straightforward answer to this question because my feelings about the marriage of Olivia and Sebastian are ambiguous at best. To some extent it reveals something about identity and twinship, in another way it won’t resolve the problem that Olivia was wooed by ‘Cesario’, who also contains in him Viola’s femininity and understanding of feminine desire. But I do think that the marriage is not necessarily a way of resolving these contradictions; if anything, it continues to raise problems about finality and normalcy.