. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


This Week in Shakes (more Hundreds)

My friend Martha Howard asked me to post my experiment with shakes. I might post others.  There’s a lot of variety, as you can already see from the last few posts.
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This Week in Shakes

Monday

The protein drink is a chalky substance diluted and well-enough flavored that a small store sample persuades you that you would drink it at home–only to find at home that, no matter how much attention you’d paid at the time, you can’t get the makeup to look as good or the hair to fall again the way it did at the original moment of optimism. I had committed to two tubs of vegan breakfast powder. One recalled the feel of inhaled bugs and the other a bully pushing my face down thoroughly into tough wet dirt. Continue reading



The Game (2)

2. This game is called “Watch Your Step.” I am not sure that it’s a game or that any of the games I’ve described is a game.  It’s more like a scene that stimulates games of encounter, which is to say, scenarios of risk. My thinking about this was world-shaken by Diana Taylor’s article on double-blind scenarios, which came out after her book, which I also loved, but as I was the editor for the smaller, later piece, my bones know it as deeply as a body would that has many times leaned toward its object. This is not objective knowledge.

The best a thought can do, after all, is to make itself available to be found, by documenting its encounter with something so well that it shifts things into a new proximity, as though words in a dictionary had suddenly slid down into each other’s definitions. That’s not too eloquent, but the event of eloquence has only a little to do with meaning emerging. I was researching what a “scene” is while editing Diana’s piece for a “special issue on the case,” which the University of Chicago Press refused to make into a book because they thought it wasn’t “sexy.” Continue reading



The Game

1. The Test

There’s a can of blueberries at the back of the shelf amid dust and flour mites or whatever it is that gets into the rice, like an old writing file where you made a deposit in the darkness of a late style. As though berries too syrupy even for ice cream and the cheesecakes your mother never got to make were just waiting around for you to be found, like that child in the game. Continue reading



The Book of Love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing . . .

Delaminated from week 1 lecture notes, Love Theory (Winter 2012)…

I am a love theorist. I sometimes feel dissociated from all my loves. I sometimes ask them to hold more of an image of me than I can hold. By “sometimes” I mean all the times. The image is the regressed form, not the narrative noise that comes later to try to apply adhesive to the fantasy and its representation in objects, so that I know I am an event that lives in the world. The love and the images available for it are in a Thunderdome death-love match, yet we act as though affect could be held within a steady-state space like meat on a hook, or the image of meat on a hook, since actual meat turns green. Most storage lockers are cold enough to slow down that decay, as we know from narrative and domesticity. Aggressions and tenderness pop around in me without much of a thing on which to project blame steadily or balance an idealization. So it’s just me and  phantasmagoric noise that only sometimes feels like a cover song for a structuring shape or an improv around genre. In love I’m left holding the chaos bag and there is no solution that would make these things into sweet puzzle pieces. See Phillips’ reading of attachment as the drive to return to the taste of another person: the “sweetness” love stands for binds itself to an infinity of objects and plots and strategies for investing the scene with a worthiness matching our intensity of a need for its nourishment.  This is why, perhaps too, Laplanche uses the word “metabolize.”

This is a philosophical “I”. I don’t feel like using “we,” because I fall into the banality pit when I do. (See Derrida on film on love. He should have trusted his first instinct to say nothing, since what he says is nothing, but he was being a good boy, and trying to maintain his availability for the interviewer’s idealization, the death in life of the call and response: he was trying to be loveable.  Maybe the phrases one offers as gifts are the best love because they metarecognize the demand for love in any call: but, in itself, the professor’s discourse is not an opening to the other’s inconvenience, and it is not love if it is not opened to that.) Continue reading



For example

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.

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Affect Theory Roundtable Questions, MLA 2012 Authors: Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, Jonathan Flatley, Neville Hoad, Heather Love, José E. Muñoz, Tavia Nyong’o

These are our questions for the MLA roundtable.  Section one takes up genealogies of affect theory; section two takes up the problem of affect in the historical present; section three takes up a variety of concerns about queer theory, sexuality, racialization, specific cases and archives, and modes of orientation that are in proximity to whatever we might call affect but in different idioms.  You can download them here.  mla roundtable 2011

745. Affecting Affect Theory is scheduled to take place at 1:45+3:00 p.m. on 08-JAN-12 in 615, WSCC; Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place (Pike St. and 8th Ave.)

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Affect Theory Roundtable Questions, MLA 2012

Authors:  Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, Jonathan Flatley, Neville Hoad, Heather Love, José E. Muñoz, Tavia Nyong’o

I. Genealogies of Affect Theory 

1.  How do we think about the different trajectories of affect theory now, especially as the Deleuzian/Massumian project/idiom has become so important to its critical circulation?  How do we think the proximity of public feelings, minor affects, psychoanalysis, Sedgwickian syncretism (Buddhism, Tomkins, Klein), and affective labor’s version of affect-as-immateriality in relation to the Spinozan tradition?  How to keep the event of affect open to maintaining the multiplicity of traditions, trajectories, tendencies, and critical tactics? Is spanning all traditions important to ways we think about addressing future problems?

2. Affect vs/alongside mood, feeling, emotion etc. What are the stakes of synthesizing these different ways of talking to our about states of the sensorium?

3.  Cavell (a great affect theorist who is not often included in the genealogies of affect theory) says that professional philosophy has been emancipated from an obligation to be therapeutic, but that it should be haunted by that very emancipation.  What about the critical work we do: what about questions of theory and utility, of reparativity, of failure?

4. In response to thoughts about genealogies and the increasing institutionalization of Deleuzian affect studies, I would like to take the chance to think in some detail about genealogies for public feelings/feel tank type affect studies. The Cavell thing got me thinking about other possibly overlooked figures. Continue reading



In the Air (1)

The fantasy of a common sense, a sense of a capacity or of something affectively general at the core of democracy, is not necessarily sentimental. But the drive to create a more capacious democratic sensorium so often tips into intimacy’s sentimental vernacular that its placeholder status as conceptual magnet, not origin or experience, is very hard to discipline–and the drive to discipline it is the source of so much social theory. The local occasion of this post is the Theatre Oobleck production of There Is a Happiness That Morning Is. The  play, riffing on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, was classic Oobleck:  noisy, vital, and entirely intentional.  There wasn’t a supervalent moment in it, which was an achievement of sorts, since it is about love and fucking and freedom and  lyric poetry and death, and how they shape profound scenes of self-encounter that reveal enigmas of suffering and impaired autonomy at the heart of ordinary intimacy. But it was unsatisfying, because it aimed to be too satisfying: the writing overdramatized every emotion, including disbelief, as though to color within the lines must amount to blackening an entire page. In this it was exemplary of so much aesthetic and theoretical work that works over the emotions, attempting to drown out the affects and to claim that when we are authentic we feel one known thing at a time.

The problem of writing about this play is that any substantive discussion of it will make it more wonderful than any minute of seeing it. This is what critical engagement does: it adds value through staging interest that’s been magnetized to a form. It converts the event of form into a situation. In reading with a thing a transitional environment emerges that changes what attention can attend to. The encounter makes change prehensible, resonating toward a leavening sense of a concept whose potentiality is virtually affirmed even if the encounter itself fails to have much afterlife. But what I am trying to do is to think about the downsides of potentiality modes when they are tethered to a simplifying desire for emotions already normatively held in common to provide a foundation for (aesthetic or political) transformation.

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Contact

Remember the time I told you about the day I took a vacation from work during which time I watched a movie I needed to watch for work about a man who was taking an extended vacation from work as a way of life but who was redeemed from lifelessness by a woman who embodied a younger generation’s practice of diffused ambition, so that a baffling heterosexual tendency could be saved for another day and the confrontation with not understanding the lover, oneself, labor, or what “a life” is could be delayed and preserved in a sweet promise not to give up on sick dogs and to hang around for whatever potential whiff of relief might emanate from anywhere?

Maybe mumblecore is right, that all life needs is a “whatever” at the points where it seems impossible—a gesture of optimism that can’t bear a lot, but that can indicate an otherwise that could become the something stacked right above the nothing.  Life, friends, is gestural. We must not say so.  A gesture is the performance of contact that makes a conjuncture of the abstract and the immediate.  Contact is a potential anchor, a movement that makes a moment stick or become passable, sometimes shaped toward the possible. Those haps can be a mere flicker or can build into atmospheres and environments for affective, imaginative, and politically collective activity, whether or not we pay attention to them. In the next few posts I’m going to engage some different ways of mediating contact’s gestural structuration of affect, its presentation of an opportunity to encounter the affective event. The aim is to brainstorm some extensions of the “structure of feeling” concept toward different aspects of the sensus communis that will undergird my next two books. Continue reading



Crossover/Combover: A performance piece (Approach 3: from ASA 2010)

(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 actionwriting, 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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Combover (Approach 2)

Us living as we do, upside down…

Another try: I’ve been arguing that a person is a loosely-knotted cluster of impulses, reflections, apprehensions and prehensions moving through ordinary time (imagine a net with head, hands and feet), and not, ontologically, an extreme solidity of form constantly under threat of dissolution by the fragile infrastuctures for maintaining fantasy. The latter is best exemplified by the iconic image of the combover subject. The subject of the combover stands in front of the mirror just so, to appear as a person with a full head (of hair/ideas of the world). Harsh lighting, back views, nothing inconvenient is bearable in order for the put-together headshot to appear.  No one else can be fully in the room, there can be no active relationality: if someone else, or an audience, is there, everyone huddles under the open secret that protects the combover subject from being exposed socially confronting the knowledge that the world can see the seams, the lacks, and the pathos of desire, effort, and failure.

Who isn’t the combover subject? No-one. The combover subject literalizes the plaint of ordinary subjectivity to be allowed to proceed in its incoherence and contradictions. The very fantasy of a subject bound to itself as a solid structure is itself material for a combover. Even a philosophical skeptic like Cavell, at home with the failure of language to be adequate to its situation and its desire, finds satisfaction in style; and even a depressive realist like me, who sees her failure to be idealizable as confirmation of her good sense, takes comfort in encountering a version of herself that will not be surprised by delight but by being the recognizable thing she has come to trust, the thump and the stumble.

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