The diminishing returns of distinction-making

Nan Z. Da in n + 1:

IN HER MEMOIR Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, the contemporary Chinese American writer Yiyun Li recounts something that Marianne Moore’s mother had done, which recalled something that Li’s own mother had done. The young Marianne Moore had become attached to a kitten that she named Buffy, short for Buffalo. One day, her mother drowned the creature, an act of cruelty that Moore inexplicably defends: “We tend to run wild in these matters of personal affection but there may have been some good in it too.” Li appends a version of this story from her own childhood:

The menacing logic by which Moore’s mother functioned is familiar. When my sister started working after college, she gave me a pair of hamsters as a present. I became fond of them, and soon after they disappeared. I gave them away, my mother said; look how obsessed you are with them. You can’t even show the same devotion to your parents.

Having something that you love snatched away because you love it is maddening because there’s no way to gainsay it. You can only protest on the grounds that indeed you experience the attachment of which you’re accused. This leaves the child Li in a position roughly analogous to anyone who, having been punctured, bristles at the accusation of being thin-skinned. Protesting would have been to play into her mother’s hands, proving her mother right.

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