. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


My posts take forever to write, because they are trying to–my fingers want to type “to survive a genre,” but I meant to say “to invent one,” and that says it all about where I live. But the long duration also comes from the ways that a “post” is a mnemonic genre of its own, a recording of an instance in the pursuit of a problem. What would I need to understand to shift around this thing? Post-making enables me to track a point in my response to x, and how I thought to maintain fidelity to the pressure it incites. I am grateful to my readers for their bibliography and apercus, too: it might not seem that I’m responding sometimes, but it takes awhile to reorganize myself around a new complex thought.

My encounter with problems and the scene of writing provokes sometimes a zone of scarily quiet being in the world. But there is always a soundtrack–at the moment some loud person in a cafe who believes that her addressee is all that exists and to whom the rest of us are apparently failed trompe-l’oeil. (“I’m on a water and ice diet,” she told her friend, who’d dared to put milk in her coffee.) Today also, Pierre Boulez; Fred Anderson; and the new screechy P. J. Harvey collaboration. Also, this phrase cluster: I almost got out, I can’t believe I got out; I’m not sure whether I was trying to get in or get out. Amidst all of this my deep quiet focus is unpierced by the noise: it’s protected by it. Nonetheless, to continue the last 2 posts, to me worldness (which is to “world” as “historicity” is to “history,” in Jameson’s sense of intending a present) involves proximity to the activity of being in the social, not necessarily engagement. Nearness can be very comforting when one is writing, like the intimacy of sitting in profile with someone you’re attached to when you’re watching a movie.

Today I read a great Peggy Phelan article on Francesca Woodman, who captioned a photo: “I could no longer play I could not play by instinct” (1977).  I could not play by instinct is a synonym for “I could not play” because it’s not play if every gesture is a leech that commands from you more sovereignty).  It’s not living either, when every gesture demands sovereign inflation: it’s life as a discontinuous series of conscious decisions to live or not. The difference between the world-intending action of the present participle and the halting framing of the infinitive.

Phelan’s interest isn’t in gesture like mine is, insofar as mine is absorbed in the increments of enduring ordinary consciousness. She is thinking here about big questions–art and death and desires for immortality (the fear of not having mattered, of not having had an impact on the world, being of not only not remembered but unmemorable). She argues that usually the people who worry about the future in which they will no longer be alive find their peace in the stuff they leave behind, like children and art. “The immortal is the history and futurity of death” (999). Foucault’s great rumination on the possibilities of death hotels, on analogy with the Japanese Love Hotels, also understands death as a player in the time of life. (This relates to the last five posts on the live performance of absence, suicide to flatness, still wondering here about the terms of the calibration, for example: when suicide is, as Gerard wrote a few posts ago, an act of liberal sovereignty at its most inflated or, as I had been thinking, sovereign exhaustion itself, the letting go of the sustaining fantasy of reciprocity in non-sovereignty as such.)  I have never felt what people describe as nostalgia for themselves in their leavings.  But that may be because I am more interested in floating, scanning, and becoming than having been. Check out the beautiful phrase in the middle of Williams’ meditation:

In fact to return upon my theme for the time nearly all writing, up to the present, if not all art, has been especially designed to keep up the barrier between sense and the vaporous fringe which distracts the attention from its agonized approaches to the moment. It has been always a search for “the beautiful illusion.” Very well. I am not in search of “the beautiful illusion.”

—William Carlos Williams, Spring and All

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A New York Times article, “Escapism in Minutiae of Daily Life” (June 1) reviewed the most recent edition of the Sims video game.
The article writes the following:
“Most video games build their psychological attraction around an uncomplicated, almost willfully naïve idea of escapism: the chance to play a role outside one’s self. Game designers, presented with the opportunity to transport a player, often take full advantage by getting as far from reality as possible. Distant galaxies bursting with aliens, mythical realms of dragons and demons, zombie-infested postapocalyptic wastelands — these are the milieu of the usual role-playing game…The Sims series is different. What makes it special is its exuberant, big-hearted, unabashedly joyful embrace of the minutiae of daily middle-class life…For children, especially the millions of schoolgirls who are the franchise’s most enthusiastic audience, The Sims provides a training and socialization playground. For adults The Sims offers an unflinching, potentially uncomfortable and perhaps almost psychoanalytic view into one’s desires and fears about that real world beyond the computer screen.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/arts/television/02sims.html?scp=9&sq=sims&st=cse
I am wondering about a potential link between the version of subjectivity-in-the-world posited by the Sims game and this blog’s interest in understanding encounters as different than gestures always en route to action or meaning. In the past two posts three things struck me as potentially linked to this discussion of Sims whose personalities are created by the player but whose actions are not: (1) in “Unworlding II” – you compare the rain in chicago to “a video game full of menacing threats to survival” (2) in “525,600” – you talk about how “there is always a soundtrack” (3) in 525,600 – the difference between “surviving a genre” and “inventing one.”
I think of these (3) instances as referring to, and insisting on, a form of inhabiting the world that is creative, but not always controlling. Also, these (3) sentences make me wonder whether what’s so difficult about the questions you’re posing is related to trying to imagine a version of “object-relations” that is not (necessarily) organized by/around what an object intends/wants/means/needs, etc?; a relation of objects with different definitions of what “objects” and “relations” might mean?

Comment by ashtor

Yes, you’re totally getting what’s going on. The whole cruel optimism project is trying to change what an object is and what attachment to it might mean, in the face of a world that is restucturing what’s available to be attached to (reciprocity/meritocracy/intimacy). Not just the repetition of a structure but an attempt to find an opening where one also performs a defense, and also a way to think about the object as an organizing function to protect or stabilize incoherence. I am writing the intro now and it’s a killer. I mean that in the bad sense, unfortunately. Writing chapter summaries is so hard. It intentionalizes and systematizes the genre-as-opening function too which I am so much attached.

Comment by supervalentthought

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