. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


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



Political Happiness–or Cruel Optimism?

This responds to a slew of emails and links I’ve received warning of left wing stupidity and complacence in the wake of Obama’s election. It revises and summarizes some previous thought in re the political season that I’ve been working through on this blog.  I’m posting it during an interval in the Brussels airport.

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Dear Friends, Please do not allow your political optimism about Obama’s election to make you stupid! Here’s how to stay sharp and smart…

If mainstream politics significantly shapes your mood, this week has been a blow to normalcy.  For the moment, Obama is the President of our emotional Infrastructure as well as the economic and physical ones. As a result, if you’re like me, you have been inundated by condescending and vitalizing exhortations not to become naive or stupid where political happiness also is.

This bolus of anxiety expresses the fear that political happiness will lead to a flatlined complacent brain, diminished political judgment, and the revelation of your bad taste. The claim that anxiety makes you smart makes me laugh. But solidaristically, not condescendingly.

We’ve all been in bad love affairs before, where our attachments made us stupid. Once you attach to an object, after all, you become aware that the object isn’t in your control. Suddenly the prospect of having the object and losing the object, of getting more and less than you want from it, rule you. You become aware that the intensity of your attachment is not unconditional, even as you demand unconditional fidelity from the other person. When the pulses that brought you to the person subside you ask, “What did I want when I wanted that?” Then your affect and intelligence shift around, trying to make new sense of things. If the object is a political figure, perhaps you start circulating screeds to your friends, reminding them not to be stupid where there is desire.

But these efforts to manage the anxiety of political attachment and of optimism about it are actually oversimple about how (political) emotion can work. I don’t have the space here to make the long argument. Here’s a bit of it. Attachments are intrinsically optimistic. The event of attachment does not make us stupid but releases a slew of smart but often overwhelming thoughts about how complicated attachment is.

We are ambivalent about what we want, for lots of reasons. Attachment reveals our dependency on something, our need for reciprocity and recognition, and the place of fantasy in managing life. One strategy of managing this is sometimes to pretend that our feelings aren’t mixed. Then when the world disappoints us we can say that we were true while the other was false. Another way to manage this is to claim that we are complex while the other people are disappointing, limited, and deserving of critique and complaint. But presuming a self-interested distinction between complexity and simplicity where attachment is concerned itself performs a fantasy that there are unmixed feelings and that people are ever simple. Even your grandmother wasn’t that simple, trust me. But you knew that. You just wanted someone to be simple so that you could reliably rest in proximity to the scene of the love.

So can we think about political emotion differently, and be less afraid of optimism? The process of managing the ambivalent feelings that come from active political commitment is fundamentally optimistic, and no one needs to be protected against that. Optimism is what keeps you in the scene as it veers between being joyful, stressful, and tedious. Indeed, David Graeber argues that solidarity amounts to a comic commitment to practicing expressing political desire and finding pleasure and sustenance in disagreement, along with all the other political emotions (such as, boredom, aversion, outrage, betrayal). Not that there’s anything wrong with a rigorous fear of one’s own stupidity–after all, fear can be a teacher of sorts. But let’s not equate a sense of happiness with shallowness and emotional darkness with truth and profundity.

Oh yes, about Obama, the neoliberal, gay-marriage compromised, “market guy…” Here’s what makes me politically happy about the event of Obama. He is the first mainstream politician in decades who loves the political process. He does not confuse “Washington” with politics. His organization’s practice of training other organizers demonstrates his commitment to producing skills for political world-building beyond his campaign.

In this way the event of Obama has already massively advanced the skills for democracy in the United States. In other ways he seems committed to constraining and even undermining what that might entail concretely. Protesting and appreciating, though, are some of what we do to maintain the optimism of any attachment. They keep you bound to the (political) scene, to the cognitive and affective difficulties of remaining critically present to desire.



Optimism and Distension ("Something about what happens when we talk.")

I heard from two friends today who wanted to say something on the blog, but were too shy and too averse to the appearance of insiderness that the very presence of the blog as a public incitement is supposed to obviate but never really does, sigh.

One friend is like me, or was finding the likeness in me, in the way that s/he is shaken up constantly not by detachment or existential loneliness but by the optimism of attachment, the optimism that brings us back to the pleasure of self-dissolution in the zone of the intimate other’s potential to relieve one of oneself a bit. This is what we wrote about entre nous. Dehiscence: the thing we get when we talk. The other friend and I said, in reference to the earlier Sedgwick/Moon post, that we don’t want all being to be “wound dehiscence” or patterns of mourning, and we hope not and think not, because there’s always that potentiality of lightening in the suspended present that brings people back to making contact and then, having made it, wondering how to repeat that feeling, even to the point of politics (struggling for the world that sustains people rather than wears them out. All convergences happen in the stretched out, activity-activated, present).

The optimistic thing makes us actually desire being in the room with the good-enough misrecognitions. The optimsitic thing keeps us in the house with inconstant love. The optimistic thing makes us talk to strangers. It makes us abstract and hopeful when attached to the anything at all that feels not like a metaphysical foundation, but an episode of relief. The thing that makes us optimistic about distension, which Deleuze and Guattari define as “when . . . two sensations draw apart, release themselves, but so as now to be brought together by the light, the air or the void that sinks between them or into them, like a wedge that is at once so dense and so light that it extends in every direction as the distance grows, and forms a bloc that no longer needs support” (“Percept, Affect, and Concept,” 168). This describes the sense that a good conversation produces, as it feels autonomous from the conversers, like a dream that gets made between them. Continue reading



Supervalent Thought

Think about a phrase that resonates. A supervalent thought is a thought whose meaning resides not only in its explicit phrasing, but in the atmosphere of intensity it releases that points beyond the phrase, to a domain of the unsaid. A supervalent thought produces an atmosphere in the world, makes an opening in the potential for apprehension, consciousness, and experience.

It’s a concept from Freud’s Dora. Freud uses it to describe an expressed thought (I don’t love you) that covers up a concealed thought that is its opposite (I love you). But I think the spirit of the concept is that in the penumbra a concept generates all kinds of contradictions can be magnetized to induce an impact beyond what’s explicit or what’s normative.

 




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