Filed under: affect, ambivalence, Attachment, Belonging, Craziness, Detachment theory, emotion, Encounters, Love, Mood, non-sovereignty, optimism, Ordinariness, pedagogy, psychoanalysis, sexuality, sovereignty, supervalent_thought, Theory of this Blog, writing | Tags: Bloomingdales, Camera_Obscura, cigarettes, femininity, french-wrap, high_heels, mother's_day, nominalism
I noticed, over the last few months, as my mother was dying, that I had taken pictures that seemed very specific. Now I am looking at the archive, as one looks at a drying hand after a manicure.
My mother died of femininity. I told her that I would say this about her. She had said, “Will you write a book about me?” and I asked if she wanted me to. She said “Yes. I want you to say that I left the world a better place because I had you!” I said I thought that this was a bad idea: people would think it an excuse to write about me. She said, “Can you think of another topic?” I offered this phrase about femininity, and explained why. My brother-in-law thought that it would be better to say that my mother died from vanity rather than from femininity. I can see why he would prefer that story; it’s interesting to see how a label shifts the implication.
In her late teens she took up smoking, because it was sold as a weight-reduction aid. When she died she had aggressive stage 4 lung cancer. In her teens she started wearing high heels, to enhance the back arch and ass-to-calves posture whose strut transforms the whole body to a sexual tableau, shifting between teetering and stillness. Later, she had an abortion and on the way out tripped down the stairs in those heels, hurting her back permanently. Decades later, selling dresses at Bloomingdale’s, she was forced to carry, by her estimate, 500 lbs. of clothes each day. Shop girls, you know, are forced to dress like their customers. They have to do this to show that they understand the appropriate universe of taste, even while working like mules in that same universe, carrying to their ladies stacks of hanging things and having to reorganize what their ladies left behind on the dressing room floor. She liked this job, because she liked being known as having good taste.
These tasks threw her back out anew, and the result of this was an overconsumption of painkillers that ultimately blew out her kidneys. She had to go onto dialysis: she died three days after turning off her dialysis. In the meantime, more comically, she had two fingers partly amputated because her nails got infected by a “French wrap” gone wrong, and she was too ashamed to tell anyone about it, numbing the pain of infection with Anbesol, which she had also used for many years to avoid going to the dentist. This is not the half of it: ok, maybe it’s half.
Her name was Joanne. She asked me whether knowing this story might change any woman’s relation to her health: I said I didn’t think so, although you never know. First, no one thinks they’ll be defined by disaster until they are. They can sense it on the horizon, but the gamble is a gamble, and you never know. Second, things are so bad, so minimally imaginative for sexual relations, that people tend to do the thing they heard about doing just to keep things going, and if it means poisoning themselves and wearing out their bodies, or being over- or understimulated, even, they’ll do it. I do it. I make better decisions but not different kinds of decision.
Once scavenged, we take habits on as beloved objects, as partners in the project of getting by, as ways of gaming the situation of making a life. I learned to think about this from Michael Eigen: you wake up, you see the world, it’s your eyes that are seeing that thing, you breathe, you sense your next breath. Those are your feet, your skin, your hands. You begin to read beyond the body. A singular world is there, it’s your partner, fixing in images the sense of continuity you carry around. Which is why loss is actually loss whatever else it is—even if it’s also a relief, a victory, an occasion for sentimental self-encountering, or a thud, almost nothing, as it is also the loss of a revitalization of sense that was bound to the image, which was itself just a stand-in for relation as such.
This is why deriving modes of attention and conceptualizing skills matters to me, you know. Once you see all objects as placeholders for the encounter with the world, as organizing the process of moving through the situation of the ordinary life, they become enigmas alongside of the ways they gain specificity through use, over time. You can rely on them and have curiosity about them, and not only be scared of the way you don’t understand them. The fact that a thing is an enigmatic relation means not that the thing is replaceable, because it isn’t: but that it changes when it’s close to other things. Take a glimpse of this modernist phone I shot, for example.
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