. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

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.

We will be following the theory of this optimism in attachment as an optimism not just for becoming solid, or building houses over graves, but for becoming liquid, becoming light, as we move through the Bowlby tradition, which tells the tender story of return over and over not only as traumatic symptom, but also something else, a refusal to be defeated, an orientation toward producing a world worthy of the trust you want to project in it. It is not always melodramas of loss crazily returned to as the center of being. It is not always a desire for possession or for being possessed. It is not always compensation for lack or wound, a desperate thinning out of personality that gets created in the near compulsive return to the optimistic fix. It is also the desire to be delighted, and you know what that leaping feels like. On the other hand, people can only bear so much openness: in cats, overstimulation produces displacement behavior; in the political season, all sorts of cynical noise.

As the object of others’ drive to be relieved, one also experiences other downsides of this patterning: from, say, the people who fix you somewhere in space and talk at you until they can diminish that intensity within them. That intensity, that deep loneliness, hasn’t defeated them yet: they’re dying for relief from it, they need you to stand still for a minute, minimally. Thus even their aggressive motive is tender, delicate: it’s an attempt to connect for an exchange of potential weight-bearing, and what’s terrifying or irritating is the need that makes them have to not care whether you want it when they need it.

In so much cultural studies psychoanalytic work on projective fantasy you would think that drives to attach produce weight (see Salecl’s On Anxiety; Dolar’s work in Gaze and Voice as Love Objects; Sedgwick on the Paranoid/Schizoid position in Touching Feeling). There, one’s anaclitic fantasy really does engulf the object, solidifies the object by keeping it at an extimate distance so that it can be fixed, pinned, displayed, tortured.

But propping doesn’t have to be heavy–as Sedgwick/Klein says, as Bersani writes, and as I’ve gestured toward in Intimacy and (any week now!) The Female Complaint. To approach an object from within the situation of an attachment does not necessarily involve projecting out solidity onto the intimate other so that, transitively and parasitically, one can take its whole being for oneself. One might also be looking for an interruption or diversion, a rerouting of just a little bit of too muchness or too closeness. Being diluted by the voice, the sight, the smell, the potentiality of the idea, or a whatever interlocutor can do the work to spark: one senses being held lightly in what’s there, leaning against or maybe just even brushing against it.

Even a brief encounter can wear out the walls of resignation welcomly.(Or not so welcomly: an unwonted optimism can feel like the painful recovery from not caring, like frostbite.) I don’t know whether the metaphorics of new skin (Ahmed, Probyn) is necessary for this: it has to do more with the warmth of proximity. I am gesturing toward a sad and a gloriously low bar for the optimism of attachment: glorious because it takes so little warmth to sustain someone, and sad because the kind of lightening or quickening relieving transaction is barely reliably there for so many who are then leaning over into the wind in some infinite tilt.

(Oh, and the parenthetical part of the title is a Lucinda Williams song.)

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This is a poem in its lightness. Every observation is a tendril; all attachments are tentative, even at the level of the image. Brief, light, dilution, diversion. You’re damned if you do, though; reach out, and it signifies loneliness. You close with sadness, but there is so much admiration here for the strength it takes to keep casting out the net. Here’s to the house of inconstant love!

Comment by Sfrajett

I actually meant to say, “Here’s to surviving in the house of inconstant love,” but you get the idea.

Comment by Sfrajett

I love the image of “casting out the
net” as a description of optimistic
repetition. It makes me want to make
jokes like “sometimes one reels
in the dolphins with the tuna” but
also it measures the distances
traversed. Stay tuned for a related
query. xx

Comment by supervalentthought

What I’ve got from a series in progress, which seemed apropos; don’t know how it will translate to this comment space formatting, but here goes:


We’d proved susceptible
to suggestion, nibbling at
the aperture, ear, deadpan
before the whip, slurred
humanly. As once again

it was early; patefaction
of morning, a schedule of
transparencies. We worked
outward from the phrase, not
so much high as wanting

to write, on to some ambit
of the hard return—said,
supposed, brought to bias
the various degradations
of the spur.


Statistics thumb ellipsis…
with (slimming) eyes No
thing occludes our wintering
the viscera tantamount
to every sex of overuse

Blind apparatus, rhythm
around these songs fast
sadness bid, balletic in fact,
and rivaled by eccentricities Each

deserves a moon if
the state is to talent its mass,
the avid interhuman bent
on our sun drunk, quartered stag
exaggerating responsibility.


She seems therefore to sleep
ooh la lah ooh la lah ooh la lah
sings sympathic sleep, a picture
the blood resolves
And you watch waking now

Bodies sufficiently soft
dissemble their watch
one lash absolute and slack
obviating personality.
You love your vision—

demonstrative, hackneyed, old;
yet she seems to pick the wind
from her lips… Sensate chills
order the abdomen a progression
of weights. Having a thought

trails you for want
of warmth, automotive
dint of discarded type.

Comment by Kool Everything

so we lost some tabs–

“the blood resolves” shd float more toward the middle

and the last tercet shd kind of eddy more.

but whatever.

Comment by Kool Everything

2 thoughts about this entry, possibly related thoughts–my gut tells me they are related, but I can’t really predict that what I write will make the connection. Help me if you can or want.

The first thought, which stayed with me for a couple of days after I read this entry, is really some questions about the preliminary remarks concerning the feeling or perception of “insiderness” as a resistance to adding a comment on blogs, and/or on this blog.

I don’t get it. I mean, if a person had to be invited to dinner at the home of the blogger in order to be privy to his or her ongoing thoughts about the topics posted here, then I could see the architecture of insiderness maybe–ie, “I know this blogger in a special way which allows me access to his/her as-of-yet unpublished thinking and/or his/her private thoughts and feelings.” Still, wouldn’t that form of insiderness (dinner, candles, drinks, cats) actually provide a more likely scenario for interaction? Invited into someone’s home, people usually put out in the way of conversation, reaction, etc.

How is a blog an insider phenomenon? I get that blogs count as a semi-public rather than an Obama speech type public (or supply your imagination of public here). I think a blog is much more like a classroom, a semi-public in which people might be expected to participate (if they share the goal of making the blog as strong as it can be) in the form of the desire to inhabit thinking with other people. The insiderness, one might argue, is the email that comments on the blog without posting that comment on the blog itself.

I wonder if, in this case, the anxiety (if it’s an anxiety) is really about outsiderness. To comment on the blog is to experience one’s lack of incorporation with the blogger in exchange for one’s collaboration with the blogger, right? Is that right? Have I got this backwards?

This leads, possibly, to the second idea, which should be called something like “Something About What Doesn’t Happen When We Talk.” Dehiscence, a great thing to think about, is so often accidental (good), and also often a huge disappointment or failure itself (ow). I know, duh.

But I have been thinking about 2 friend/talkers I have. Person A has been ranting at me about Hillary for days, weeks, very intense talks for her–for me, I’m reading her intensity–a rhetoric that implores *me* to understand several things that I do understand but with which I disagree–with a strong feeling that I am not being addressed at all. And the more intensely that she tries to hail me with words, the more onvious it becomes that I do not exist.

Person B is really stressed out, and so talks to me from a position of panic about her life with a lot of discursive confusion–just as I get a handle on one topic, the subject changes, and etc.

My point is only to think about the scarce potential mutuality of dehiscence. When I think about it this way, I begin to understand how hard the optimism thing really is and why I so rarely experience the feelings (or potentialities) described in this post.

When I think of the mutual encounters I have had that correspond to the this mode, I realize that they are 1) memories, 2) very private, and 3) very private for me because they are the moments that the world views as the most absolutely useless kinds of experiences there could ever be. If I thought I was a living breathing parody of Lilly Briscoe (from To The Lighthouse) I think I would kill myself. Woolf had some great moments of optimism. I find that hilarious, in the painful this-is-how-I-live-my-life way…

I think these 2 thoughts go together.

Comment by Mandor

Psychoanalysts resources…

[…] rock star charade, given his repeated demonstrations of unfitness for the presidency, is a subject better suited for psychoanalysts. But we can chalk up the media”s irrational exuberance to their eagerness to have someone of like mind […]…

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