Filed under: affect, Attachment, Belonging, Craziness, emotion, Love, Mood, optimism, Ordinariness, Politics, sexuality, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: ambivalence, Clinton, daily_show, emotion, Jeremiah_Wright, Love, Obama, optimism, Politics
Column 2 in a series; see below.
This is how love starts: a crush. Your body intensifies, gaining and losing confidence in the presence of a person, an image, an idea, or a thing: in a crush, you have a feeling that you feel compelled to keep having. The pressure disorganizes you, opens you up to reverie, anxiety, defense, risk. You are forced into frenzies of adjustment; you feel tilted forward. Sometimes that’s enough: being mentally with your crush is all you want. Sometimes you try to repeat being near the thing that stimulates the intensities. Later, you notice the collateral damage: what you have had to put up with to have that feeling. Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s not that hard to endure. What’s really hard to endure, though, is facing up to ambivalence.
In love plots and politics, popular culture has a terrible track record dealing with ambivalence. This is another thing the Jeremiah Wright story reveals. The media focuses on the negative side: aversion, disappointment. It doesn’t focus on the pull: this part of the person is great, the other not so much. It’s as though it’s idealization or nothing. Politics becomes chick flick. Ambivalence, then, is seen as evidence of failure, not as what it is: evidence of desire, attachment, longing, not just for a better world but for assurance that it’s worth staying attached to the political itself. The simple crush on having that feeling again translates politically into wanting to re-experience the feeling that made you optimistic.
Grant Farred calls this “fidelity to the political”; Antonio Gramsci called it “optimism of the will.” To give up caring, after all, is to stop resisting what’s clearly outrageous, unjust, not fair, wrong. It’s giving in to political depression. To stay close to that desire, though, one might shift to a softer optimism–I think that’s the usual thing. Just as people close their eyes when they kiss, so too there’s an impulse to close one’s eyes during the political season just to protect their optimism for a less bad politics, maybe even a good politics, enabling the chance for change that would be fundamental yet not traumatic. Change without loss; revolution without risk. We know better, because in any desire, political or otherwise, there’s always risk and the possibility of loss (of comfort, privilege, or knowing how to live). The fantasy of change that would produce flourishing without loss is a deep logic of the crush that can turn into love.
I’m writing this now for obvious reasons. In this season the cynic and the critic provide choruses of shame against my nervous system’s interest in caring about what happens in the political, in wanting something from it. Whenever Hillary Clinton opens her mouth sarcastically to demean political hope I am filled with rage, and my mouth spills out excessively with expletives. Without a desire for the political there is no democracy.
Outrages proliferate around us, and Maureen Dowd writes about the cojones it takes to eat frosting, ice cream, orange juice, and drink Budweiser. James Carville crows about Hillary Clinton’s mutant testicles. When did balls become a legitimate political metric, by the way? I blame The Daily Show. In any case, let me repeat: Without a desire for the political there is no democracy. All that other stuff is noise trying to dilute our focus on the substantive material that props up the intensity of our commitment to that.
You might also want to check out Jacques Ranciere, Jose Munoz, David Graeber, or Avery Gordon on this subject. Additionally, there’s an anthology of interviews called Hope, edited by Mary Zournazi. Their politics are not identical to each other’s, nor to mine. They alike value the drive to remain attached to the political, to not confuse small victories with no victories, and they respect the havoc of desire as something that a vitalized political sphere incites and requires. To learn things, to be animated and expanded, one does not have to agree with everything in what one hears or reads. One can be ambivalent, and figure out whatever it takes next to push things toward the better good life. Do I really have to write this?
I guess this means that I am an elite. An elite, in this season, is not someone with more money than other people: the word for that is privilege. When the aspirsion “elite” is cast, it means that some incitement to normative political emotion has not produced normative moral clarity. It means that someone wanted to step back and be curious about what Wright meant when he said x, and what he meant when he said y, and to assess the confusions in it all, since no matter what political orientation someone has, people are politically incoherent. It means to want realism about how people listen to each other at church or in class: that is, not very well or consistently (sigh). I think that solidarity can be strong while being mixed. It’s not that I’m not visceral, but I also have curiosity about what’s visceral, since my intuitions are trained.
I want to know, who is orchestrating these political emotions, and to what end? But the bigger question is: how can we become educated by our political ambivalence, to make stronger and more effective demands on the political to deserve our desire for it?
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