Filed under: Affect Theory, Attachment, Belonging, Love, optimism, Ordinariness, psychoanalysis | Tags: Attachment, conversation, Deleuze, Love, psychoanalysis, Sedgwick
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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