Critical Theory Catastrophes & Luv From Afar

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Dear Duke of Swarthmore,

So today in my Analysis of Queer Pacific Islander Literature of the 19th Century seminar, someone projected their conception of the self onto my self, but to me their own self signifies the other, so like, if the other projects a concept onto the self who serves to function to the other’s self as the other, does the self lose the concept of selfhood in experiencing an unbinding of a bound identity, or is there a way to bind one’s sense of selfhood so that the other does not unbind the self?

Seeking Self Identity

Images by Allison McCarthy

Dear SSI,

So my trophy wife’s off perpetuating the phallocracy through the hand-manufacturing of lace doilies, and since someone who has the actual capacity to work outside the household needs to bring home some fucking bacon, it’s up to me to answer this shit. Granted, some people can get by through fantasizing about the sexual behaviors of the genus Cavia, but I am not one of them.

So actually, I have no idea what you’re talking about and am presuming that you don’t either. I’m tempted to just tell you to come back when you can speak in the vernacular, but in the event that a sad and lonely child is lying under this deluded piece of imitation intelligence, I’ll swallow my vomit and try to work through this.

You’re having some sort of identity crisis because, faced with the opinions of other people, you’ve realized that you might not be… uh… you? Oh, hell, you have no actual personality and lack the quality of being a somewhat interesting individual, so you’re speaking in jargon to hide the fact that you have nothing to say.

Well, that profile fits a good number of the people at Swat, so I’d say you have nothing to worry about. Your selfhood or whatever can’t be corrupted by people who are as empty and boring as you are. You know, it’s like poor people looting a store that’s been empty and boarded up for a decade.

Advice? Watch Derek Jarman’s “Jubilee.” It’s an educational film that depicts what the world would look like if overrun by Derrida scholars. Decidedly post-apocalyptic. Oh, and Queen Elizabeth I comes to post-modern England with her court midget and an alchemist to survey the damage. When you’re perpetuating a trend that could lead to the fall of Mother England and compel Elizabeth I to discover time travel in a last-ditch effort to save the Empire, you know there’s something wrong with you.

Anyway, once you’re finished watching that, you’ll probably be exactly where you were. So go back to doing what you’re doing, maybe with the consoling thought that you’re lost in your own shallowness to the point of immunity from outside forces. Either that, or learn a trade, such as cobbling. I hear cobbling is radically authentic.

– The Duke of Swarthmore, OCD, PTSD, BPD, and Bestselling Author

Dear Duke of Swarthmore,

I am having serious dating troubles at Swarthmore. I’ve fallen into a serious rut: let me explain. It always goes like this: I see a Swattie from afar, and I become very interested in them. But, when I try to stalk them unnoticed, they try to engage me in conversation. And pretty soon they’re reciprocating feelings of sexual attraction, at which point I lose complete interest in them. Help me Duke of Swarthmore, I think I might be a secret stalker.

Luv From Afar

Dear Luv From Afar,

It’s times like these that make me think we need a closed group for stalkers. However, for better or for worse, I think your particular neurosis is far less romantic… though I would still really like to see you argue that SBC proposal (”$300 for binoculars, $50 for industrial bleach, $150 for chloroform”).

Since you’re a Swattie, I’m going to make the operating assumption that you’re consumed with raging self-hatred. Combined with a paradoxical dose of delusion as to your own self-importance. As such, it’s probably easier to think you’re a creepy stalker than, y’know, deal with your actual problems, which are probably more mundane than you think. Way to exotify yourself, asshole. (By the way, you probably are a stalker, but that’s not the point.) That being said, I have no idea what the fuck is behind your weird goggles-and-bushes shit, and I really don’t want to send you a reply e-mail asking you for gushy details about your sad childhood.

Bizarrely enough, I think you may also be suffering from an affliction more foreign to this campus than Trichomoniasis: attractiveness. Since from the tenor of your message you must be one of the top-ten creeps on campus, the only reason I can fathom anyone would even come close to you is because you’re an elite liberal arts Adonis. (Other individuals on said list include that one professor who you always find wandering campus at midnight when you’re coming back from Olde Club. You know the one. The Duchess and I play a game where you spot said professor, racking up more points the more horribly awkward the time, place, and context you spot him in. Fun game.)

If the Jolt still existed, I’d tell you to check for your name on a hot list or something to convince yourself of this point, but really it’d be filled with references to some chick named Ariana, and then we’d all just start talking about worst fucks and mowing down freshmen, and, Jesus, you’re crazy enough as is. The point is, you’re probably hot… at least relative to this Carnival of Ass. (Excepting LaSS… they do dress to impress.)

The take-away? You’re probably too hot for this school but you can’t use that to your advantage because you’re way too fucked up in the head.

You need to get satisfaction, by fucking. If you’re unsure of what that is, call up the SHC most attractive to you and they can give you a demonstration, I’m sure. I can only hope that getting that close to someone (CONSENSUALLY, motherfucker) might overload your neurosis and break it so you can start using your looks to screw every halfway-attractive boy/girl/sentient on this godforsaken campus.

Also, please see a therapist, so you can stop bothering me. Thanks! – The Duke of Swarthmore, OCD, PTSD, BPD, and Bestselling Author

Dear Duke,

I am a socially inept and alienated individual who has been struggling to make meaningful connections with my fellow humans for the past 19 years. I grew optimistic in coming to Swarthmore, anticipating scads of instances of rewarding and healthy social intercourse. I was terribly shocked when it occurred to me that such intercourse was not to be had here. After several semesters of striving valiantly to “make connections”, I sunk into a deep despair. I soon became convinced that initiating physical intimacy with everyone around me as a substitution for the emotional intimacy that I believe I shall never obtain would be the only solution to my problems.

Yet, after 17 and 1/2 sexual liaisons, all terrible, I feel empty and used. The only solace in my life is the thought of contracting leprosy and living among fellows who, feeling as isolated as myself, will have no choice but to enter a meaningful relationship with me. However, I am now afraid of ever being touched again ever.

What do you think I should do?

Alienated Resigned Gentlewoman Of Swarthmore


Stop trying to disregard the instincts that, thanks to roughly 1.5 billion years of sexual reproduction and evolution, are inherent in any sexual liaison. Sorry, but as a human being, you can’t be a pleasure-slave to your nymphomaniacal r-complex without your limbic system causing emotional complications. Trading in the concrete for the abstract is entertaining when you are bored and have ready access to alcohol, but, as great as it looks in theory, you might just be too damn human to pull off physical intimacy without emotional attachment.

Incidentally, if you must stabilize your pathetically emo self with sexual overload, don’t engage in “connections” within a community where almost everyone is batshit insane. Combining your own neuroses with those of another will result in a disturbing amplification effect. Probably you’ve already experienced this, if leprosy is looking appealing, but you’re probably too instinct-driven to notice. I’d say use your despair as a reason to obtain SSRIs from CAPS. The resultant sexual dysfunction might help you clear your head.

Should you rather continue to fall prey to your sex drive, remember that leprosy is really hard to catch. You should bring a syringe with you when you go to visit your neighborhood lepers and inject yourself with their blood. But don’t date your blood donor: if they are insane enough to actually consent to this madness, they might be too insane to date.

Personally, I think you should take your fear of intimacy and ride with it. And then read Sartre’s Intimacy. It probably has some weird crit-theory interpretation that I don’t want to think about, but the common man’s reading (i.e. my reading) is that people are absurd in general, and approximately psychotic when it comes to relationships.

Just run for it. Cardio feeds the soul.

– The Duke of Swarthmore, OCD, PTSD, BPD, and Bestselling Author

Got any burning issues that you need answered by someone who obviously knows best (if only by his/her/hir̢۪s prodigious amount of honorifics)? Write to the Duchess of Swarthmore, Esq., PhD, OB/Gyn (or her angry husband) at!


  1. 0
    The Duchess of Swarthmore Esq PhD says:

    Dear Loyal & Traitorous Subjects Alike,

    For what little it is probably worth to your precious little heads, all questions were submitted (although perhaps not in earnest) to the charming little e-mail address you can find at the bottom of the article.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, though, two originate from a frequent commenter on this very forum for discussion? Praytell, with the rigorous stylistic analysis occurring under the banner of this thread, was that too much to gauge? We heartily encourage all of you to send in more questions so that this one loyal subject need not pull all the weight in this sovereignty.

    (Furthermore, what is this, "The Duke" … ?! A scurrilous impostor, as much as we may agree with their general sentiment regarding Messieur Green. Perhaps, "The Duke," if you are so lonely, you may wish to give ARGOS a ring?)

    Most sincere and warm regards,
    The Duchy of Swarthmore

  2. 0
    j says:


    You have insulted me in every possible way, and can now have nothing further to say. That you would wield Byron so vulgarly, it is all a gentleperson can do but keep from weeping or throwing caution to the passions. Good day!

  3. 0
    Argos says:

    Oh, I read Barlett's. Here is something from Lord Byron:
    "War, war, is still the cry – even to the knife!"

    See, that is very relevant to the argument I was going to make, but Byron made it for me. Invent your own context.

  4. 0
    j says:

    2 points:

    1. Argos, you need to back off. You know what's the alpha and omega of suck? Not this column! This negative energy you're giving off is just overwhelming to my chakras. Also, I don't think you understand acronyms. Alienated Resigned Gentlewoman Of Swarthmore could be anyone. It's a commonly used phrase. Clearly you need to keep up with your reading of Barlett's Familiar Quotations!

    2. Dude, someone made an honest response to my comment. I've no idea what to make of this.

  5. 0
    Argos says:

    Not only is this the alpha and the omega of suck, but that question from me was totally not from me. I have had way more than 17.5 sexual liaisons, and they were all awesome.

  6. 0
    dumb-ass-swattie says:

    In trying to defend the Duke's inferior new installment, you pointed out its fundamental flaw. RAMBLING! Even if the Duke's "observations" were keen, it would serve them better not to be obscured by his WA-copy-level writing. I know Swatties are really busy, but it's not that hard to make your point (once!) in fewer words. (And for that matter to have a point in the first place.) Rehashing the old tricks of Swattie-mockery is only worthwhile if, as in the Duchess' installment, it's clear, concise and (heaven forbid!) an easy read.

    (And please, Duke, save the Reading Recommendations for–well, never. Or just write long, rambling book reviews.)

  7. 0
    The Duchess of Swarthmore Esq PhD says:

    Dear Loyal & Traitorous Subjects Alike,

    For what little it is probably worth to your precious little heads, all questions were submitted (although perhaps not in earnest) to the charming little e-mail address you can find at the bottom of the article.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, though, two originate from a frequent commenter on this very forum for discussion? Praytell, with the rigorous stylistic analysis occurring under the banner of this thread, was that too much to gauge? We heartily encourage all of you to send in more questions so that this one loyal subject need not pull all the weight in this sovereignty.

    (Furthermore, what is this, "The Duke" … ?! A scurrilous impostor, as much as we may agree with their general sentiment regarding Messieur Green. Perhaps, "The Duke," if you are so lonely, you may wish to give ARGOS a ring?)

    Most sincere and warm regards,
    The Duchy of Swarthmore

  8. 0
    Aidan says:

    George, were you and I reading the same column? I'm not really built the right way to debate humor, but, to add to the growing polarization in this thread, I actually really liked it, especially contrasted with the Duchess' equally venomous but much more coy stylings. (For what it's worth, the Duke and Duchess definitely seem like different people, and it actually almost seems as though more than one person answered as the Duke in this installment — contrast number two to three, for example.)

    Don't overthrow the Duke, please? After "Hamlet" switched to (funny) psychodrama, I need more too-close-for-comfort lulz. 🙂

  9. 0
    George says:

    It is a really crappy column. I say that as someone who loves bile (at least in text form). The issue for me is not the bile; the column simply isn't funny. The jokes aren't particularly inventive and way too predictable. Humor is hard thought, as is getting enough people to write in actual questions in order to be mocked. I think it is essential, however, for the questions to have a different voice than the responses. This is most easily achieved by different people writing them.

  10. 0
    Seth Green ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I've got another!
    Quoting from the bad writing contest, 1998:

    Finally, a tour de force from a 1996 book published by the State University of New York Press. It was located by M.J. Devaney, an editor at the University of Nebraska Press. The author is D.G. Leahy, writing in Foundation: Matter the Body Itself.

    Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the self-identity which is not identity, while identity is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self). This is the real exteriority of the absolute outside: the reality of the absolutely unconditioned absolute outside univocally predicated of the dark: the light univocally predicated of the darkness: the shining of the light univocally predicated of the limit of the darkness: actuality univocally predicated of the other of self-identity: existence univocally predicated of the absolutely unconditioned other of the self. The precision of the shining of the light breaking the dark is the other-identity of the light. The precision of the absolutely minimum transcendence of the dark is the light itself/the absolutely unconditioned exteriority of existence for the first time/the absolutely facial identity of existence/the proportion of the new creation sans depth/the light itself ex nihilo: the dark itself univocally identified, i.e., not self-identity identity itself equivocally, not the dark itself equivocally, in “self-alienation,” not “self-identity, itself in self-alienation” “released” in and by “otherness,” and “actual other,” “itself,” not the abysmal inversion of the light, the reality of the darkness equivocally, absolute identity equivocally predicated of the self/selfhood equivocally predicated of the dark (the reality of this darkness the other-self-covering of identity which is the identification person-self)."

  11. 0
    Seth Green ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As an Interpretation Theory Minor, I find myself both highly personally affronted and intellectually perplazzeled by your problematical and highly polemical critique of the critiquing of contemporary social norms to which I have been so thoroghly socialized which inform me, both qua information and vis a vis my position in society as a member of a hegemonic power structure (given that I fall within the constructed identity of white maledom), and feel further that incomprehensible academic discourse which disguises all meaning has a long and illustrious history, i.e., this seminal quote from the seminal and not at all problematic queer theorist Judith Butler, which won some kind of award for best writing in the past year (though the awarding of anything for "merit" is highly problematic qua itself):

    "The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."

    So, to step out of character, that's actually a real quote from Judith Butler. Go ahead. try and understand it.

    and secondly, I wish you weren't anonymous because we should be friends.

  12. 0
    j says:

    Dr House:

    Your video, barring the sexy sexy bear of a man with IBS, brings up an interesting analogy: The Duchess:The Duke::pre-Raphaelite:abstract expressionism. Though this may be illuminating in some ways, I personally feel that romanticism:hysterical realism may be more proper. The duchess, like an Austen or an Eyre, takes small-scope minutiae and eviscerates them with a winsome smile. The Duke however, seems to relish in the initially absurd, fielding questions of such exaggeration and forced social importance that you may feel they are easy broad swipes at Swarthmore. But as with Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie and the other so called hysterical realists, the true beauty of the column is in the details. Through the somewhat rambling narratives of his answers, the Duke weaves together many keen observations of the nature of Swarthmore. Is it a little bit of throwing everything at the canvass and seeing what sticks? Perhaps, but it worked for Pollack, it worked for Pynchon and it certainly works here.

  13. 0
    Dr House says:

    You lack the subtle sarcasm and wit of the duchess. Please, hand the keyboard back to her, I mean I am all for misogyny and rampant mockery of those who deserve it but you lack her ability to be funny while doing so. I mean, I agree with what you say and all, and I respect you for calling these people out and not being a typical Swattie (read: emasculated), but honestly picking on Swatties is ridiculously easy and you really only get credit if you can be hilarious while doing so.

    Here is an analogy that I think best summarizes the difference between you and the duchess' writing styles… she is painting a beautiful portrait with a very fine brush, whereas you are doing something along the lines of this

  14. 0
    Lauren says:

    I really don't like this new advice column, because the questions are so obviously made up by the person who answers them, and s/he answers with such venom, that it just seems like someone's opportunity to caricature AND castigate the people they don't like. I feel a little queasy after I read one. There's so much bile in here, it's like I just watched someone throw up in public.

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