Other Questions

Demands and Other Questions

To ask or not to ask–we have learned to ask questions as a means of not receiving an answer; we have learned to respond at times as a means to avoid answering. What us it we do when we ask? Is it the question to question? Asking and questioning are not one and the same. To inquire might have separate connotations; what remains connotatively different must not occlude the likeness and similarities between or among the synonyms. The lack of absoluteness in any synonymy must also never preclude us from understanding where and when they are interchangeable, these words that share a limited synonymy.

I can say that I like asking questions, have always liked asking questions, had never had much fear about asking questions, different kinds of questions of course could be asked depending on the situation or circumstance. I also had what I would call a sensitive understanding of the inappropriateness of some questions; there are always questions that come to mind that are inappropriate. There are questions the media should be asking power that are uncomfortable, but not inappropriate. Although today, these are too few and very far between.

Now, what I should avoid asking, I understand clearly. What to avoid when and where and with whom, to whom–these are clearly drawn in my mind. Again, there are always questions you do not ask people; you have to remember the questions you never asked your grandmother, questions you never asked your father, never asked your best friends beautiful girlfriend, questions you would never have asked any teacher, even your favorite teacher, but might have thought about how you should not ask these questions, or how you could imagine asking these questions although you knew you were never going to ask them.

There are a thousand what ifs that are appropriate for pondering that must never cross our lips to another’s ears. All of this sensitivity is at least what I had assumed was a sensitive understanding, what I imagined was carefully employed nearly always. I had impeccable timing for my questions as I did for my humor–at least I thought so, and I do say that I have been a fair judge of my talents and skills. I am not given to delusion about them, not in the way American cultural norms almost demand. I could go on here about how I loved to question ideas, question assumptions, question the meaning or the significance of events, or just the simple questions asked when questioning authority, something I did not do in the reflexive ways my generation had assumed either necessary for purposeful social corrective or simply as a birthright that needed exercise otherwise it would wither and die and thus so would democracy.

Going on about this might be interesting, would fit the opening, but no, I will not go on about the questions I could ask, would ask, might have asked but did not and why. Questions always beget more questions; questions leading to questions after answers especially. I have always suspected that the reason most of us do not answer the questions we are asked and only respond to them is that if we answered, a new question would be asked and the force with which it would be asked would put greater stress on the next answer being delivered. Only responding actually stlalls the process by getting stuck on a question that needs to be asked again because responses in themselves are not answers.

Demander in French is to ask; it is the origin of the English verb to demand. To ask and to demand in English are not the same. In French they share a word, again, the fore mentioned demander. What do we do when we demand something of someone, from someone? We know there is a way of asking someone for something or to do something or to give something that this someone feels is a demand. Our response, we know at times, is incredulous. I’m only asking, any one of us might say. You demanded, is the reply. Yet . . .

There is always a demand in every French question. To demand is an imposition in English; a demand is not simply a question to be answered, but a toll to be exacted, to be taken. We are very sensitive in America. In French, I assume that to ask is to demand, but to demand is also simply to ask. Who has the thicker skin? France is not the United States as so many American bigots, braggarts, jingoists and jinglists never fail to remind us; I have found American anti-French bigotry to be more pronounced and less articulate than across the Franco-Anglo-American lake. My tongue is in my cheek, which is far better than having it up your ass as so many of my compatriots do when it comes to food, not speaking.

To answer in French is repondre, literally, ‘to lay again,’ a kind of re-putting or re-placing, that is, laying out the answer, or in this case, the demand or the question. Repondre is the origin of the English to respond. In English, the word answer and the word respond share a degree of synonymity, but no two words are ever completely synonymous, interchangeable in all contexts of usage. This is the case for the verbs to answer and to respond in English, where a response is not in itself an answer, but to answer is to respond, in a way. At least in French, one takes the responsibility to respond, which is, once again, to lay out the demands of the question asked. Yes, responsibility is answerability, to be answerable for the demands one faces is what responsibility is; we are answerable for what we say and what we do, all of them of necessity in the logic of our lives. Even doing nothing or saying nothing in face of our lives is a choice, is a decision, with consequences, thus the answerableness . . . no words, no deeds, are themselves rhetorical positions, thus political ones.

Of course, interroger is also a way to say ‘to ask.’ It is also the origin of the English to interrogate. Every one, we know, poses questions, but not all asking is interrogating; yet, virtually all interrogating is demanding, although there are ways to demand that are not interrogating. Again, the French sense of demander. Every interrogator must demand otherwise it is not interrogation.

How to ask or not to ask is now the question. Whether it is nobler to respond responsibly when we answer the questions demanded of us, or instead, to avoid responding because we are unable to take responsibility for whatever demands are in question.

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