"A term of lack"?
February 18, 2021 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I realize this is very little to go on and thus a long shot, but I remember some kind of personal essay or radio piece that used the phrase "a term of lack" (or possibly "an expression of lack.") That phrase stuck in my head and in context it was referring to/examining the idea that sometimes you can describe (or view) a situation as an absence/lack or as a presence of something else. I don't remember what the writer was describing, but I'm interested in this concept lately and would love to find the essay.

My best googling hasn't gotten me anywhere. I think it was likely a piece from between 25 and 2 years ago (i.e. not very recent.) I'd thought it might have been from the This American Life show Living Without (what I'm remembering had a sort of Sarah Vowell-esque quality to it) but it appears not to be.
posted by needs more cowbell to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
In the 1997 novel As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem, a physics experiment creates a void called the Lack.

Maybe you heard a review on the radio?
posted by JonJacky at 2:48 PM on February 18, 2021

Response by poster: That doesn't ring a bell. To clarify a bit more, from what I remember, it was examining some kind of phenomenon or state like (for example--I don't think any of these is it per se) being unemployed or being anorgasmic that's referred to by what it isn't (and maybe then turning that over and looking at it from the other side? I don't remember, which is why I want to hunt it down)
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:55 PM on February 18, 2021

There's a trope in the Deaf community that people don't have hearing loss, they have deaf gain. Similarly, people in education talk about deficit thinking ("this college student grew up in poverty and therefore is at risk. Let's help her overcome the many terrible barriers she faces") and the need to reframe it to asset thinking ("this student grew up in poverty and therefore to have made it to college she must be adaptable and resilient and good at learning. Let's discuss how she can use those skills in the classes that are giving her trouble.") Do either of those sound like what you're looking for?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:04 PM on February 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

The Science of Discworld discusses the concept of a privative, i.e. that the presence of darkness is actually the absence of light or the presence of cold is actually the absence of heat.
posted by eruonna at 3:07 PM on February 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, for some reason even though I'd spent a huge amount of time trying to figure this out before posting, writing it out to explain for other people helped me realize what it was. It's from a piece of writing where someone is talking about embracing "stone" sexuality as a powerful identity versus anorgasmia as a term of lack (for that person stone and anorgasmia are connected; I wouldn't say they're necessarily connected for everyone who uses either term.)

While I was able to find the essay once I thought of it, it feels like a piece of writing that wouldn't be fair to potentially direct a bunch of random attention to suddenly so I won't link.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:11 PM on February 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Could the phrase have been "a concept of absence" rather than "a term of lack"? That phrase gets a decent number of google hits, including some talking about that Discworld passage and some talking about Derrida and other philosophers.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas everyone. I feel foolish about having done an AskMe only to have answered my own question so quickly, but I truly did spend a long time trying to figure it out on my own first. Go figure. Also, if anyone is particularly interested in the essay, I can send you a link if you message me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:13 AM on February 19, 2021

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