Rachel Cusk on rudeness. This is characteristically brilliant, especially in its treatment of mock-politeness, worse in its way than outright rudeness.

“My mother and I don’t speak to each other anymore, but I’ve been thinking about her lately. I’ve been thinking about facts, about how they get stronger and clearer, while points of view fade or change. The loss of the parent-child relationship is a fact. It is also a failure. It is regrettable. The last time my parents spoke to me, my father said something very rude. He said I was full of shit. He put the phone down straight away after he said it, and I have not heard from him again. For a long time afterward, I was profoundly disturbed by his words: For my father to speak to me of shit, and claim that I was full of it, seemed to remove my basis for existing. Yet he was half of me: It was, I realized, for that reason that he felt he could speak to me the way he did. I was his child; he forgot that I was as real as he. It could be said that one-half of our country has told the other it is full of shit, deliberately choosing those words because it knows that their object finds rudeness — the desecration of language — especially upsetting.”

10 thoughts on “Rudeness

  1. What an interesting passage. Not really what I’d call ‘mock politeness’, though, as linguists use the term – that would be more like sarcasm. What we have here is bald, on-record rudeness intended to hurt. Still pretty nasty. Unfortunately we’re seeing and hearing a lot of this kind of thing on the news at present. Haven’t read any R Cusk; your posts are persuading me to give her a try…

  2. i agree anthony. it’s one of the things of the english that continue to baffle me to no end, especially as someone coming from a ‘call a spade a spade’ nation, how the english can sneer full-on about someone and verbally annihilate them and then that person says one little bit back and they go on all high and mighty how rude that person was. one could almost call it elegant if it wasn’t so cruel… and i think she’s right it has to do with the reality of people, some people are not seen as having a reality and therefore can be subjected to this kind of mock-politeness….

    • Anita Brookner captures that ‘elegant’ cruelty of the English beautifully in Look at Me. It can only come from an absurd sense of privilege, concealing howling fear.

  3. I just read E Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey; she nails u-middle class rudeness brilliantly, e.g. Lady Swayne, who begins each rude outburst with ‘I’m afraid’ (followed by, e.g., ‘I don’t find that at all funny’). Apologies for misconstruing your point about mock politeness

  4. I bought cusk’s book but hadn’t realised it was part 2. Will hold back until I acquire part 1. After all, it’s a kind of story!
    By the way have you read Amelie Nothomb? I just read Fear & Trembling which though perhaps dodgily characterising the Japanese, & aggrandising the author-character, was really rather an extraordinary, minimal book – dissecting power & hierarchy

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