Filed under: Affect Theory, Attachment, Detachment theory, Mood, optimism, Ordinariness, psychoanalysis, teaching, Theory of this Blog, writing
Slowly, I aspirate from myself the choking wave of obligations that the 2009-2010 term induced: never have I had a time of such incessant institutional demand, and as I breathe through the final tsunami of papers, my mind volleys, “How did it get to be this way?” and “I still don’t know how to live.” I don’t know how to fix it or even to fake fix it. Then, a few minutes ago, as if on some mysterious cue, an old Jewish New Yorker wearing a Mets cap and jeans that hang loosely off him walks in the cafe door and intones, “Oi am still in juniah high school when I am neah a beautiful woman, Oi am seventy-noine but insoide I am nointeen” over and over, at first loud, then louder. Save me from the inutility of a time when all I have left for contact with the world is a loud voice that even the wind doesn’t want. Apostrophe’s poetic tradition is grand, but to be forced into an apostrophic life is a bitch.
At least blogging is . . . quiet.
I turn to the New York Times article on “eating disorders not otherwise specified,” usually known by its acronym Ednos. Ednos describes eating disorders that invent non-normative forms. They’re far more disordered than the conventional ones that at least imitate a known symptom cluster. When it came out, the Times description of disorganized eating induced me to gather up some thinking I’d been doing around my Ordinariness seminar about the place of passivity in ordinary subjectivity. I’ve been trying to write this post since January, dig?
In the seminar passivity emerged as a register for describing the myriad ways in which the aesthetic represents subjects delegating their agency to a form or norm of being in the world, a delegation that induces the kind of state I’ve been gathering up here under the umbrella of “non-sovereign subjectivity.” Zizek calls this kind of delegation interpassivity. It is a beautiful concept, but it could be much more beautiful. As so compulsively often, he uses it to describe how persons refuse to become genuinely politically rational. Interpassivity describes the relation of disavowal in which one hands off one’s affect to a media form or other persons, thus producing room for disowning and managing one’s own intensities. His point is that much of what passes for interactivity is really interpassivity.
His version of it is a coarse measure. The idea of an affective hand-off does not at all necessarily perform or denote a lack of self-knowledge. Interpassivity may describe relationality itself; it may be synonymous with extimacy; but it might describe many other kinds of more finely-grained sociability too, or it might be a compulsive formal performance of a tethering to life, the most minimal attachment; it might well give the lie to sovereign agency without needing to lie. What is the subject doing when it seeks a form or norm as foundation for coasting, cruising, or moving with heavily lidded eyes through the world? Is the very activity of being the same thing as agency? Or are there particular features of the sentience of the subject that count to Zizek as genuine activity, as opposed to what he sees as a kind of sneak or trick that people play when they hand off their complexity to form? Is all object-oriented activity passivity, a kind of submission to form’s fantasmatic auto-continuity? Once you start thinking about it it’s a vortex, and so exciting. In the seminar we kept seeing the aesthetic mediation of being as the aspiration of characters to a form they could ride in and that therefore allowed them space not only for aggression and reflexivity but half-consciousness, bare sentience, habitude, projective regression, and a surfacy incoherence, among other things. Anything to maintain one’s story, which is never not threatening to fray.
For years I organized myself emotionally by becoming impossible one way or another, overfocusing, the way addicts do, on having one defining habit, one defining appetite–academics will often call this “having a project.” I sought incessantly the one thing that I could rely on to produce an affective infrastructure. It was feral, the way I threw myself over to the dream of one: one object, one project, one style of askesis, one style of aphanasis, one overpresent pleasure, one secret life, but the gesture toward making a rhythm to ride on never worked, and I came to think I didn’t want the discipline of it, or maybe I was fundamentally incompetent to fidelity to any form.
It was false to think that one orienting habit could organize the rest: one just miscasts the rest of the noise as an inconvenient intrusion. At some point, after another lapse in compliance to my self-organization occurred, or maybe after reading Winnicott or Pema Chodron, it just dawned on me that I had many inclinations waiting for attention in the wings, pulses that I tried to disavow in the medium of a toxic consistency. Then the project of being reliable while maintaining loosely quilted leanings that have to be herded emerged. (The medical literature discusses this problem under the heading “compliance.” I read much related material for “Slow Death,” and it changed fundamentally my view of the tendency of agency to seek passivity.)
Understanding formal modes of self-organization as expressions of the desire to be passive to form seems promising to me: but, as with shame, what passivity actually looks like is not always what it will seem. What this line of thought will mean for my pursuit of varieties of non-sovereign being and experience remains to be seen, but if unraveling is one version of what non-sovereignty looks like another version might involve an aspirational hyperfidelity to form, or what looks like will, passivity’s putative opposite.
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