. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

Combover (Approach 1)

I sat in at another conference recently, hearing lots of promising work, including a paper by Leo Bersani called “Illegitimacy” that pursues his current project, to understand what the Cartesian attempt to elevate thought over bodies, attachments, appetites, and sociality itself has wrought and what new social relations might be developed alternatively and in proximity to it. He has three models on offer these days for not reproducing the kinds of compensatory fantasy that allow one to feel autonomous, adequate to oneself, and separate/superior to the [enigmatic] other: one, a radically negative abandonment of the normative world, a project of becoming unnamable, illegitimate, and nonviable (he associates this with Edelman’s No Future); two, a sweet Bollasian affective sociality that focuses on effecting attachment in a way that does not require a full revelation of being; three, the Socratic model of impersonal narcissism that Bersani developed from Homos to Intimacies, involving the lover’s loving not just his own likeness seen in the lover (the Greek anteros  or “backlove”) but also loving in the beloved a virtual form of universal individuation that at once gives the lover narcissistic satisfaction but also, motivated by love, induces the lover to foster the beloved’s becoming more like himself.

These three models for sidestepping the bubble of ego inflation do not cohere:  they invoke different models of an alternative formalism that might be found in relationality. But all of them counter in specific ways what Leo calls normative personhood’s murderous drives to eliminate alterity.  In a fine theorist, non-coherence is never a failure, but an expression of an experimentality I love: the feeling out of a problem in real time, even in the mode of a propositional definiteness, is what makes theory intimate, when it is. In Epistemology of the Closet, Eve called such liveness to the whole body work of conceptual transformation the “pincers movement”:  one theory-driven claw forward, another claw lagging, such that movement keeps happening across a field made from scratches that don’t add up quite to an even plane. 

But being me, I would foreground non-coherence as a principle of being rather than a cumulative effect of serial finitude:  I never thought that the subject ought to be seen as in one state.

The intimacy of psychoanalysis with theatre, tableau, and dramatics has the effect too often of  exemplifying subjectivity in discrete overorganized states that look one way, a fetishy way hiding a complexity that is often represented as unbearable. That might be good for clarifying a problem, but this tableau of the subject tragically sacrificed into form is not, to my mind, capacious realism. Not that melodrama is not realism, it is: in its way of partial distortion. But the subject in a pose of self-inflated organization or an overconsistent self-mirroring mirage of totality is a state that only occasionally interrupts the ambience of what’s ongoing. This inflated stabilization is what, in this series of posts, I will come to call the combover state.

In the alternative model I have been developing here for the last four years I imagine ordinary subjectivity—subjectivity moving through ordinariness—not as a thing borne in an image that seeks a copy to have, hold, or destroy (see Salacl) but as a scene of usually undramatically unstable, incoherent, disorganized activity whose work of being is to assume a form—form as the aim of effort, not the ground of being as such. Form as the achievement of relationality in time for the subject as for any mediated thing. Lot’s wife. I always want to pull back from the object and become more formal, by which I mean to see the taking up of a position in form to be something that happens in psychic and real time and in structures of sociality too that loosely suture all the inhabited times and registers of the subject’s ordinary encounter with herself. 

Ha! I love all the pronouns in that paragraph! I won’t edit them out, they’re pointing to my limit.  I am overhearing a Patti Smith documentary as I write this.  When she rehearses her voice is a few registers higher and enunciatively looser than when she sings the same material in concert.  The precise, lower register is the seduction. The nasal, whiny register is her loose broken doll vernacular. But she says her voice is always the same because it’s constituted by a rhythm, not a register. Sometimes, in the middle of a thought, all the encounters one has make a racket of analogy, such is the hunger for form/relationality.

5 Comments so far
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Approached from one side psychoanalysis looks like the critique which reveals order in apparent disorder: at the very place of greatest apparent disorganization, analysis reveals a disavowed order. (From this perspective psychoanalysis’ affinity with the dramatic is the epistemological bet which constitutes the unconscious– there is order here.) Approached from the other side, analysis is the critique and reduction of order itself: the ego as defense which must disavow precisely that which it defends against. (Hence the ego can never be paranoid enough.)
So for psychoanalysis disorder doesn’t take place in the (all-too-ordered) unconscious, nor of the (aspirationally ordered) ego, but in the space where two orders meet, where the unconscious constantly disrupts the ego’s pretensions. Activity, the effort of living, and the possibility of relation all occupy this space, but only as so many compromises.
I have been wondering whether this space is adequate to a “capacious realism,” and in particular whether the “work of being” here isn’t relegated to the realm of more or less successful avoidance.
Can I think of your project as an attempt to expand this space-between? I ask because it seems important to me to understand it *as* between, in a psychoanalytic way, which is to say that I don’t think either activity or relationality can be understood as external to melodrama. What’s hard for me to think here is the relation between two temporalities: the closed time of tragedy, which begins with its end in view, and the open time of life, which keeps picking up the pieces and lives through all the ends. Life rarely feels quite like a tragedy, but tragedy is somehow continually present as the other of ordinariness.

Comment by Michael Kinnucan

As you know that last sentence seems entirely true to me, except that tragedy is only the “other” to the ordinary because of bourgeois/liberal normative universalization of the subject who maintains composure and a cool atmosphere in the everyday: melodrama is bourgeois tragedy. I think that norm really shapes the psychoanalytic norm that describes the subject in its inflatedness as the subject-in-ordinary process-drama. Apart from that, I don’t see the ego as you do (establishing order): I thought it was a technology for managing affect, for riding the wave of intensities. So I am not sure about expanding space *between* but expanding space within which drama rises and falls (see Freud on the Economic Problem of Masochism).

Comment by supervalentthought

“But the affect attached to the non-relation between predictable you and incoherent you could be otherwise, and the stakes of developing a comic space of grace (of self- and other-directed generosity) in sociality are not just affective but have analytic and political consequences.”

I love the idea of generosity in anything other than its material sense [or best, alongside its material sense] and firmly believe in its world-changing capacities! But for cultivating anything other than a capitalist-style generosity, which usually presupposes so much financial or psychic stability, we don’t yet have a lot of forms or frames. In so many political contexts ‘generosity’ is viewed with suspicion, as contamination or laxness of ideological rigor. And I don’t think there’s good ‘how-to’ for expanding the scope for how much alterity – or also, how much of another’s self-revelation – one can take in.

In actual practice, I also (still) don’t find academia a good space for self-revelation, or (public) generosity towards one’s gaps … A different example is new-language learning, at least with a language like Cantonese. When it works, this is a terrain that seems to me to have a very clearly outlined model of generous interaction and forms for how to pleasurably (mostly) inhabit control and lack thereof, the predictable and incoherent, precision and ridiculousness! For both the learner and the random teachers encountered in supermarkets, streets, cafes, etc.

Comment by fuhrmann.arnika@googlemail.com

My point about the generous relation that could be cultivated (as opposed to the murderous relation) between the version of oneself inflated and overcoherent and the version of oneself that’s an ongoing and loose cluster of impulses, responses, and heuristic forms isn’t pastoral: by specifying, noticing, dedramatizing (but not flattening out) one can notice things without thinking that they’re the fate of being, obstacles to coherence (as opposed to a part of a larger range of ways of being one has), etc. On the other topic, academia is full of shame except in the places where one’s stumbles are seen as humorous openings to be interested in a mistake: I like the language learning model, which has to write awkwardness in to the story of self-development as something organic, not exceptional to it.

Comment by supervalentthought

[…] hangover, like a single-entendre invitation to the viewer for personal wreckage. Mavis has a hair-pulling problem and needs a hairpiece to complete her daily […]

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