I don’t know about you, but I love hate-reading. My favorite person to hate-read is Wordsworth, probably because it’s so easy. In my opinion, anyone who calls himself “Nature’s Chosen Son” is basically asking for it. And it gives me a thrill, letting that self-centered prig have it — it concentrates my negative capabilities, you might say.
Bad references to Keats aside, you balk at my use of the word hate, I’m sure: we live in a culture in which negative emotion is stigmatized; we go to a school in which we often feel pressured to feign happiness. Hate has a lot of negative connotations, I’m not denying. Like anything else, hate can go too far. It causes grief. It causes pain.
But like many dirty words, the “hate” of our everyday lexicon has become boring, uncomplicated. We have forced it to convey every shade and flavor of detestation; we have bleached it of meaning. “I hate midterms!” cries the friend too busy to communicate her distress. Why? One wants to ask. What horrendous thing did a midterm do to you? Did it steal your lunch money, and call you a poophead? Or do you just have a traumatic history with scantron machines?
The little monosyllable has been stretched too thin, dulled and deprived of sense. It is in this lack of sense, I think, that people refer to “hate-watching” or “hate-reading.” Like sitting self-contentedly in the vapors of one’s own fart, we — “hating” — become passive, paralyzed in clouds of dissipating toxicity. Just as we secretly glory in the perversity of our own noxious odors, hate-watching a bad TV show is the only mode through which we can engage with what in all other contexts our culture of positivity has deemed disgusting.
Yet this hate — like, yes, a fart — is an ephemeral substitute for something more truly taboo, more solid, more permanent. Rarely does it possess us. This “hate” has no discourse with the mind, causes no spasms of the heart; it rests heavy like a doughnut in the gut. What we call “hate” decays into gluttony — a luxurious binge on an imagined sense of superiority and “taste.”
But I believe that, like anything else, antipathy can be cultivated. After three robust years, I like to think of my hatred as a finely aging cheddar. It grows sharper all the time, and goes well with a full-bodied red.
It is hard today to think of hate as a valuable emotion — I know. But I insist on hate, dear reader, because hate shares a slender coin’s edge with love.
True hatred is as essential as love, and as rare. Like love, true hatred develops slowly, and lives in the mind and the heart. Both can become obsessive, overwhelming — but the certainty of such passion can be affirming. Hate, like love, can also be grounding. You cannot love without knowing what you love — just so, hate requires understanding. It demands, and provokes, thought. In this way, what we hate defines us. And often, what we hate leads us to what we love.
If you feel, for example, that you hate the music of Katy Perry, consider why “California Gurls” are so unfortunately “unforgettable.” It might be the way her voice consistently cracks like a particularly ugly boy going through puberty, or maybe you’re just terrified by the idea of someone “melting your popsicle.” Either way, you develop a sense of your own aesthetic. In meditating on Katy Perry, you come closer to realizing the platonic anti-Katy Perry. (By which, of course, I mean Ke$ha.)
We fear hate because it runs a higher risk than love. Hate, in action, is destructive. Hate sent Salman Rushdie — who visited campus last Tuesday — into hiding for almost a decade. Even though I really dislike his poetry, I would not do the same to Wordsworth. Some people find Wordsworth’s poetry beautiful: others think his “egotistical” outweighs his “sublime.” But without Wordsworth, how would good poets know what to avoid? The place for my hatred is to show those poets what I see in him, and to respect my peers who get off on free-verse ekphrasis.
Hate, unlike love, must be contained by our regard for other humans. Love can be enacted into the world in a respectful way, because love creates. Hate, to quote Dante, is il foco che gli affina. It is “that fire which refines them” — that purgatorial fire: redemptive, but only when enacted on the self.
If you have ever felt remorse over an action, you will understand the apophasis by which hate builds love. You have discovered a thing that you hate: now you hold both sides of the coin firmly in your hand. The paradox collapses in on itself. Catullus wrote it first: odi et amo. I hate and I love.
Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Her column runs on Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .