Filed under: affect, Craziness, Detachment theory, Encounters, Mood, optimism, supervalent_thought, teaching, Theory of this Blog, writing
The days were long and the weeks were short during the term that has ended, the rhythms of which extend like a membrane across the late weeks’ email exchanges and hastily arranged furtive-seeming encounters with student beings suddenly stunned and muddled in the face of writing something now. In the middle of all that I left to give a talk, and talked with my hosts about another scene of the university ordinary that I find baffling:collegiality. On this trip I asked a former colleague to tell me how she maintains such grace when the relation of structural to affective dynamics so often induces a hot mess involving lots of disavowal of aggression and vulnerability. She said that there’s no helping it, collegial mistrust is structural, and therefore so are abreaction and dysfunction. But I swear it isn’t: only inequality is structural. The rest is an ineducation for which we are constantly paying intuition.
The day I returned, though, the fog lifted for a minute. My friend Sarah Schulman visited town to do a reading and promote her two new books. Her confidence in her truths thrusts me back into myself constantly, as I tend to think of multiple explanations for problems for which she has found genuinely beautiful clarities. I have only been in the same bodily space as Sarah four times in the last two decades: but each time has had an impact because she moves me, she too is constantly knocking her head against the wall of her objects so that they might move a little and she too always seems a little surprised that the optimistic returns leave her bruised and frayed. But she enjoys her victories. She is not afraid of the return, more afraid of not having the encounter than of having it. Me too. And yet, there is the question of resilience.
I can’t remember what we talked about at dinner, except that I felt like I was the child learning moral lessons and she the impatient teacher calling a thing a thing and telling my noise of “what if” speculative pleasure to shut the fuck up. She didn’t really do that, but as things unfolded my sense grew that my capacities are also defenses. As we were leaving, she asked me what I wanted out of life, and I said, at the moment I am trying to learn how to write. She said, do you have 20 minutes? I could teach you to write in 20 minutes. I started laughing, but she was serious. So we sat in the car outside The Knickerbocker Hotel and she taught me how to write. Here is a picture of what she drew.
Filed under: affect, Belonging, Detachment theory, economy, Encounters, Mood, Ordinariness, psychoanalysis, supervalent_thought, Theory of this Blog, trauma, writing
The rain was still torrential when I left the library to make my way to the far northwest side of Chicago: through the windscreen the traffic was in a slow chaos, cars shuddering from the beating wind and barely moving forward, the flooding streets outlining once again the urban infrastructure crumbling in real time. Potholes, puddles, and spray pounced out into sight as if the out there were a video game full of menacing threats to survival and not also ordinary life.
In the middle of all that a well-placed Shell station on Hollywood was processing a lot of traffic. In the back right hand corner of the pumping area, though, a man stood just watching the cars. His gray and white cardigan and black cargo pants were becoming just dark with rain. He was tall, no longer young. He seemed to have no relation to a car or the cars or to becoming soaked. He was standing there just looking without watching. It was easier to suss out what wasn’t happening than what was. I wanted to get out of the car and ask him something but couldn’t figure out the mechanics. Or the ethics.
Then things cleared up and moved on and so did the hard day of wondering about those scenarios of the ordinary that are predictable by now and yet feel immoveable too because their accumulation–as data, as exempla, as anecdote–does not lead to clarity, let alone transformation via something made live when the phenomenon turns trope. Continue reading
Filed under: affect, Affect Theory, ambivalence, Belonging, Craziness, Detachment theory, Encounters, Mood, optimism, Theory of this Blog, writing
It is pouring with rain here right now. Outside of the window of my library study thunder and lightning soften and expand the knot of the visible world, which recedes to a background behind the rain’s thick glass. After awhile the university fades out, the possibility of which fading is one of the privileges of working at a university.
I am trying to write something other than this entry today, but something interferes with my surround of the material. The paper, called “Matter of Flatness,” is an early go at one of the scenes Detachment Theory will address, as it details how to think about non-sovereign personhood in some of its varieties of being unraveled.
The essay in question focuses on the emergence of a flat acting aesthetic among cinematically mediated queers. It involves articulating flat affect as an effect of some combination of:
bad acting (low production values); casualized emotion; underperformed response; aspirational social belonging through performances of avant-garde detachment (Warhol), Punk-style refusal (Lipstick Traces), Goth nihilism, and bohemian coolness (Gen-X); nineties-style views of dissociation/PTSD; event-related affect management; and the attenuation that comes from living as a subject organized by longing and crisis amidst other scenes of longing and crisis that avail no traction or potential for rest in their normative terms of implicit belonging.
By the end of that list you almost forget the topic: flatness. The point is that this animated mutedness forces a different approach to apprehending a person and an artwork. Knowing what it isn’t doesn’t tell you what it is, though. Gathering up all the forces necessary for explaining the scene right in front of you takes a lot of work, and the scene almost can’t bear the weight of what animates it. Of course, psychoanalytically speaking, that’s what makes it a scene.