Filed under: Belonging, class, depression, Detachment theory, economy, emotion, Mood, non-sovereignty, optimism, Ordinariness, pedagogy, Politics, psychoanalysis, teaching, Theory of this Blog, writing | Tags: amitava_kumar, crisis_of_the_university, fantasy, Latour, realism, the_ordinary, Zizek
(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.
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 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.