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4. Contact Sheet
It is only evidence that she has been somewhere at the same time that her camera’s been there. There’s a pig in a doorway, a street, a man from behind. The places seem akimbo, as though executed by the fist of a small, tight child. The problem of a book is that it is fixed. But “archive” senses a strewn thing, of stuff and gesture moved by weather systems. Will we want to know later that the insurgents at the skirmish wore brightly colored jeans? We can imagine the folders into which they will go, each according to his palate.
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Consider the following examples:
I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we
– we own this country.
We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.
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(This is a very lightly revised version of the paper I tried to deliver at the American Studies Association conference as a performance piece that also riffed on the talks just given around me: a complete failure as a performance. Chronologically it was written after the previous two combover pieces were written, and so represents a development of the idea I’ve been serializing here.)
Amitava [Kumar] originally called this panel “The Message Chain.” Its idea was to ask some scholars who see themselves as writers, how, for them, a particular space becomes a “locale” for writing, an event that requires not just attention and consideration but a decision to write outside of the usual academic idiom or medium. This was to be a panel about crossing over, not into death, but toward a bigger life for writing. A spatial impact becomes-event in this view when it induces a communicative action–writing, teaching, and performing–you know, the kinds of things that our careers are made from, although few of us would admit to having the career as our ambition. But that is because ambition is one of the obscene affects of capitalist culture. It’s hard not to think about it, though, when someone asks you to talk about “crossover” writing: when you’re crossing over it’s because your ambition isn’t hiding in a repetition but in sincerity, in the desire to do something for an audience whose relation to reading is unprofessional or outside of the norms our professions perform.
It would not be too strong to say that the capitalist subject is distinguished by its education in judging ambition.
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1. I am reading other people’s work during a long travel corseting. Much of it is interesting and plausible: I try, it tries. I feel dull toward it, pickled.
Most of the writing we do is actually a performance of stuckness. It is a record of where we got stuck on a question for long enough to do some research and write out the whole knot until the original passion and curiosity that made us want to try to say something about something got so detailed, buried, encrypted, and diluted that the energetic and risk-taking impulse became sealed and delivered in the form of a defense against thinking any more about it. Along the way, something might have happened to the scene the question stood for: or not.
2. I never fall out of love, but run out of gas. That’s what I mean by thinking as a transformation within stuckness. All the noise of research and explanation gets created to materialize the thickness of an interest; the noise circles around its object and barely, usually, congeals the force to move it anywhere, although sometimes it does. The thought is never finished—in Deleuzean terms, the problem-event that governs the situation is in potential–but what I’m talking about in the finishing is something else, the movement within stuckness between making an opening and defending against so much of that which spikes out from the openings one makes until the thing has to be relinquished and moved into the world. Continue reading
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The number of things you can not pay attention to now is diminishing. Pluming beneath the visible water draws out attention the way an earthquake makes the ordinary sway not just before your eyes but in the surround, ungrounding and expanding the senses. The sheer increase in accurate metaphors for marking disintegration is one way to track it: the sticky surface of the metaphor-that-works helps to keep in focus the expanding archive of the splintered, the broken, the frayed and the fraying stressed out structure of involvement. Language can hold things loosely clustered together in a kind of technical way and one can navigate the present by playing pick-up-sticks with the accumulated phrases.
First, the surging number of natural disasters and atmospheric tendencies induced the sense that the weather, after all, might be industry’s fault: and this problem looked like it had a remedy, too, if only the stentorian paralysis of the political world would be interrupted by a rush of sovereign courage; or if only the administrative branch could sneakily make regulations according to a realism that it’s difficult for lawmakers to admit in its revelation of how bad the lived real had been allowed to get.
Then the crumbling physical infrastructure of the built environment from Bhopal and Chernoble and Three Mile Island seemed linked to the massive proliferation of potholes, sinkholes, train wrecks, exploding pipes, and collapsing bridges across the industrial world. In these the present became increasingly apparent in the serial shock of always yet one more crisis of a connectivity dream so extensively realized that its upkeep seemed unnecessary and could, in any case, be deferred. After the era of expanding public works, the public infrastructures came affectively to resemble bodies whose health seemed solid and could be taken for granted. You know the internal monologue: I was healthy until I got sick, my mouth was fine until I awoke with that toothache, if only there had been a convincing sign, I would have dodged x disaster–but no, I had the bad luck not to have things go my way, and it’s my own damn fault, but really, things don’t always happen, and worrying about this thing too was just too much on top of everything else.