This is Lauren Berlant’s research blog, tracking academic and random engagements with two scenes and concepts: ordinary life and attachment/detachment. I want to know why people stay attached to lives that don’t work. This is a political and a personal question. Psychoanalysis meets affect theory and Marxist critical theory. The projected book’s title was originally Detachment Theory, but the project has foliated and the focus will be serial: its aim is still to describe non-sovereign subjectivity in a variety of scenes, of anxiety, limerence, passive aggression, torture, and affective labor, but the first scene of detaching from sovereignty and the appearance/performance of subjectivity as sovereignty will involve a slightly different register.
Usually “detachment” points to liberal theories of consciousness, and is related to the exercise of reason and the potential for disinterest. Disinterest, a state of affect that can never be achieved, is not what I’m thinking about here. Cruel Optimism (Duke, 2011) looks at the process of detaching from objects (lives, worlds, scenes) as a problem in itself that’s both usual (in the activity of appetitive self-medication or self-interruption, for example) and catastrophic (when one is forced to become disorganized or lose one’s shape, forced to lose one’s access to oneself because of a structural transformation in one’s relation to the object world–death, divorce, ideological breach, war, imprisonment). The following book will look at a variety of stunned, unresponsive, recessive, underperformative modes of bodily comportment to tell a story about contemporary post-melodramatic subjectivity. Its running title is Matter of Flatness.
Another aspect of the blog’s animating project is to learn how to write: to experiment with narrating the ordinary via the usually lost moments of gesture, glance, and tonal intensity; to track aleatory experience; to figure out how encounters open up consciousness and concepts without having themselves to be dramatically memorable events; to understand better what an event is, and can be. This is a question of storytelling, remediating the stuff of paying attention, and of interfering with (without negating) the hierarchy of normative philosophical abstraction over other registers of knowing. I want to think about how, in these encounters, people endure what’s overwhelming–being in the room with what’s structurally unjust, affectively impossible–and how they find registers (genre, media) for floating the affective event that impacts their sense of attachment to the world and its terms of reciprocity. Like all affective scenes, injustice is both a structural fact and a sense of something unfair, imbalanced, not right. I think that these wants are related. Classicly a “supervalent thought” is deemed an idea covering over psychic encounter with a wish that is its negation: but more properly, I think, it’s a thought alive with an overdetermined set of barely articulated investments, a thought (a happening that finds a genre) that organizes these processes without neutralizing the resonating pressures they bring to bear.
Citations of this blog are invited according to the guidelines offered by Creative Commons.
If you’d like to see some of my published work in article form, click the “Anxiety, Urgency” link under “Blogroll,” go to the “Pedagogies of Feeling” page, and click “essays.” Also, I understand that the type on this page is very small. If you want it to be bigger, and you have a PC, press CTRL and the plus key and it magnifies. Press the minus key, it contracts.
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