. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

The Failure to Fail to Thrive is Life

I.  Kathryne Lindberg

Awhile ago a student killed himself and all I could do was take his parents to dinner—it was a nice dinner. Later a friend offed himself and all I could do was take his “next of kin” to lunch and to miss him. Then over a year ago, a lovely, lost while alive ex-student whose people I don’t know killed herself and all I could do was to email mutual friends and protect the loved ones who don’t know me from me for fear of a stranger’s extending a wound, which isn’t worth it.  Then my friend seems to have left her car a shell on a bridge with the keys still in it. She vaporized, although her daily friends reported that in recent sightings she was exuberant. A bipolar friend of mine calls us academics all extroverted introverts. Exuberant was the name of my first blog, which was a failure. In sum: a mood is neither anchor nor plot. (. . .)

II.  The Nervous System

Supervalent Thought has been, among other things, a project that tries to reintroduce dissociation as a mix of psychoanalytic, formal, affective, and performative modalities of detachment from the scene and sense of expressive continuity between outsides and insides, spaces that, like public and private, are effects rather than causes, differentially produced, and existing in projected perceptions of origin and event.  I wanted no longer to presume some naturalized feedback loop between inside and outside, as has been endemic to affect theory, missing the spray of things.

I called the project “detachment theory” originally because I wanted to get at the modes of relationality that dissociation demands, to point to the longing, anxiety, and relief of proximity over against the sense of continuous overpresence that enlarges our sense of the event of nervous system performance. Why I’ve been loving Latour and the Speculative Realists:  arranging being on the outside.  Why the fictocritics and Deleuze: thinking of the subject as composable or decomposable according to the effects of affectus, and thinking about effects not as a line between causes and impacts but rather having autonomous existences of their own, their own resonant patinas or atmospheres (“percepts”) that can be encountered and expressive without being the expression of anyone in particular. (Representing these scenes is one of the great gifts of Katie Stewart’s work.)  Likewise here are Marxist and psychoanalytic conceptualizations of subjectivity as an effect, as extimate, relational; likewise understanding normative identity as propositional and aspirational (this is what Cruel Optimism charts, one might say, the work of fantasies like normativity within the non-sovereign movements of ordinariness).

Affect theory, as I’ve argued, is also a new phase in understanding ideology:  delineating the subject and the world, a mood, a structure of feeling that articulates the personal and the impersonal by symbolizing them in all kinds of zone.  To study affect is always to embark on serious referential (not causal) speculation, since one is always having .to radiate guesses about an overdetermined and striking here that seems to have forced one’s sensorium to focus in a particular way.  I’m summarizing a few years’ work on this blog about mood and atmosphere; see also Jonathan Flatley’s Heideggarian work in Affective Mapping; Teresa Brennan’s atmospherics in The Transmission of Affect.; Mick Taussig’s work in The Nervous System and after, Katie Stewart’s moodish Ordinary Affects, Steve Shaviro’s affective architectures in Post-Cinematic Affects; Rei Terada’s work on “offbeat perception” in Looking Away; Madalina Diaconu’s work on atmosphere, patina, narrative…

III. . . .

Amidst all this, the non-survival of attention is not necessarily affect or defense, but minimally technical, a relief from experiencing the states of self-organization. We are not always banging into atmospheres and moods and getting focused and we’re not always haunted dramatic marionettes. None of the work on ellipsis has really dealt with its aggressive recession. The fragile propping of life onto the forms available for it is at the heart of the ellipsis that is comedy, where the inside joke stretches out into the joyous or comforting feeling of having dodged a bullet and delivered instead belonging and discernment .  The comic is defined by communicating the sense that it could have gone a different way. This is around Virno’s great political point about jokes in particular too, although his account is not nearly overdetermined enough about the multiplicity of transactions saturating the event of otherwiseness that he wants the joke to open. He is not really a theorist of ambivalence or incoherence. He is making a simple formal point about the drive to innovate against which language cannot defend and from which resistance and revolt are made.  In the slapstick ethics I’ve been developing here, the jarring of relationality finds a bearable version of a destabilizing recognition, whatever else it is: but sometimes the batteries just don’t take the charge.

This poem is astonishing and boring,  although this segment is something else, that line about the mouth as stripped down an emblem of the fragility of attachment to life as I’ve ever seen: I’m not sure I’ve read it yet.


(By the way, the title for this segment, as generally in this series, is another phrase that’s working its way through my system, from Susan Schultz, Dementia Blog.)

3 Comments so far
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This entry has me thinking about detached attachment and how the sensorium of stable relationality is quite distinct from what comes into play of the nervous system in moments when deep attachment is lived as detachment.

Comment by Ali Altaf Mian

Yes, this is why you can’t tell a thing about the internal state from the external one.

Comment by supervalentthought

Lauren, Luke here from years past now. I haven’t visited a blog in awhile but sat down tonight to eulogize emma as I always thought I would and never have, but it is seasonal and the feeling comes and one reaches for the apparent field of consequence such gut-grabbing plays at affording one. Or at least this is my underwhelmed response to the trial. BUT, i did read your blog and read first of dead friends, and thought to say thank you, and thank you for finding / insisting on some open-endedness in the apparent field of consequence. It feels almost fair.

Comment by annunce

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