On Flirting

Althussers Ideological State Apparatuses? Dont even get me started, love!
"Ideological State Apparatuses? Don't even get me started, love!"

If reality really is only a series of immediate, empirically measurable phenomena, then how do we account for that most perilous and complex of human activities: flirting? Flirting is a process of reading another person and interpreting reality. It’s a whole series of shunting and shifting, toe-dipping and testing of waters, advances and retreats (most of which are invisible). It is plagued by questions of hermeneutics: ‘Why is she touching her hair like that – what does it mean?’, ‘Why is he looking at me and smirking slightly – what does it signify?’, ‘Did he look at me for one second too long on purpose, or is he just slightly autistic?’. Flirting is one of the supreme arenas of empirical, factual incertitude.

What is flirting, anyway? How do we know when an act of flirtation has taken place? What appears to one person as a completely neutral act – the shaking of a bracelet, or the licking of a lip – might seem to another to be a clear signal that the game is on! In terms of the second example, a bio-chemist could reel off myriad facts about the chemical constitution of saliva, or the digestive capacities of enzymes; an industrial cosmetics manufacturer could explicate the molecular nature of the lip gloss; and a speech therapist could explain the oral muscles involved in the action of lip-licking; none of them, however, could tell you definitively whether the lady in question happened to be feeling particularly parched, or whether she was insinuating that if I continued to regale her with the minutiae of Althusser’s theory of ideology then my reward would be an act of fellatio.

And this is serious stuff. I’m sure we’ve all experienced – especially as teenagers – the pre-first kiss abyss. My lover and I, standing beneath the midnight stars in a run-down park, with empty bottles of White Lightning scattered at our feet: who dares to make the move, who has the audacity to make the leap of faith? Scientific rationalism breaks down here. This is the moment where the objective laws of material reality cease to matter – literally. It is the moment of sheer potentiality, one which threatens to explode in a million directions all at once. If I try to kiss her, will she kiss me back, pounce on me, scream for help, or slap me? Will I be celebrated as a bold and virile Casanova, or will I be decried as an attempted rapist? There is nothing certain about the act of flirting.

In that respect, it is not a million miles from the act of faith.

Night Couple
Night Couple

4 thoughts on “On Flirting

  1. J. says:

    You seem to know a lot of this “flirting” business Mr. Hartley. And there I was, thinking it was the mystery of that Spanish air that had me hot and bothered.

  2. ClaireM says:

    Finally, a post I can comment on without being out of my depth! very nicely written too. I seem to remember you me and rach sitting in your house one year at uni, discussing this very topic with much hilarity and incredulity from rach!

    the worst flirting experience is when you try and flirt with someone and they are totally clueless about the whole thing!

    1. Daniel Hartley says:

      I remember that conversation too! Red wine and red cheeks! 🙂 Just out of interest, if you’ve taken a peek at the other blog posts, do you think they’re too difficult for people? I.e. too academic? I’d like them to make people think, but not to alienate them!

      Great to hear from you, by the way!

  3. ClaireM says:

    I really enjoyed the ‘academia’ of them – don’t get much of that these days. I quite like how you have a mix of subjects and degrees of seriousness!

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