. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


Feminism and the Institutions of Intimacy

Yesterday Corey Robin wrote a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Erotic Professor,” and in it he positively mentions a piece of mine called “Feminism and the Institutions of Intimacy.” Quite a few people have written me to find it:  here it is.  I don’t especially think that Corey, whom I respect deeply, has fully captured the problem of clarifying what it means to be professionally responsible in the scene of attachment that can grow from close collaboration between people working together in institutions, especially when the attachments grow from projects of knowledge where talking things through might change not just ideas, but forms of life.  I could go on about this–but I basically agree with his critique of the self-regard blazoned by people who think their own responses and attachments to students are and should be indexical for all transferential relations.  What strikes me is both that attachment styles vary a lot (some students want to be known as biographical persons; some want close intellectual work not to include information about their lifeworld; some want intellectual work to be less close and more casual, and so on.). But the ambition to have a personally saturating mutual intimacy between feminist/queer students and teachers is what my 1997 article argues against, anyway, as it considers how the couple form model of teacher-student relation reproduces inequality under current conditions of precarity.

I would write about the institutional and economic contingencies of the historical present differently now.  For another time.  Meanwhile, the two pdfs below are from xeroxes made 21 years apart, which I find funny.

Berlant feminism institutions intimacy

Berlant new xerox of feminism and the institutions of intimacy



The Predator and the Jokester
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“Pop!” from jakelikesonions.com

Al Franken has said he’ll resign.  If so, he will be gone from the Senate not because he was a vicious predator but because there was a bad chemical reaction between his sexual immaturity, his just “having fun” with women’s bodies, and this moment of improvisatory boundary-drawing that likens the jokester to the predator. What’s going on?

Lots of people are worrying about this.  Some are using the language of the “witch hunt,” which is a term people use when they feel women coming after men as though the worst guy is the typical one. Some queers are reviving the language of the “moral panic,” in fear that this moment justifies and amplifies erotophobia, an already pervasive hatred of sex that ends up harming women, LGBTQ-identified people—anyone whose sexuality or body or appetites have been historically disparaged by the state, the hygienic bourgeoisie and the religious.

Everyone has appetites: yet many people think their own aversion to sex or ways of managing desire are evidence of moral virtue. Nowhere is this more evident than in how they process the casual pleasures. Continue reading



Trump, or Political Emotions

I wrote this column in case anyone’s going to be teaching the election this fall.
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Trump, or Political Emotions

Dear America, if I read one more article about the Danger of Political Emotions in an election season, I might take my own life.  If I do that and fail, will the state bring me up on charges the way it’s considering to do for Chelsea Manning, whose recent suicide attempt might be prosecuted?[1]  If Obama has an ounce of decency in him he’ll make that possibility quietly go away.

If x had an ounce of decency, x would deliver justice.  Such bad math, so emotional.  But politics is always emotional.  It is a scene where structural antagonisms—genuinely conflicting interests sustaining regimes of power and value—are described in rhetoric that intensifies the fantasy of vulnerable and possible worlds.

Here is the thesis of this piece, which is about the contemporary United States.  People would like to feel free. They would like the world to have a generous cushion for all their aggression and inclination. They would like there to be a general plane of okayness governing social relations.  It is hard for some to see that the “generous cushion for aggression” might conflict with the “general plane of okayness.”

When I listen to Donald Trump, I think he’s not wrong about some things, especially the awful neoliberal-Clintonian trade deals and bank deregulation that sold out the working class in the US because of a muddled idea that any wealth at all is a general social benefit.  But Donald Trump is our current best exhibit of two other pretty solid truths about politics, thinking, and feeling.

One is: A Good Account of a Problem Predicts Absolutely Nothing About the Value of a Solution.

I am a professor.  I have read three decades of essays that set up problems beautifully and then fall apart in the what is to be done section.  Sanders and Trump inflamed their audiences with searing critiques of Capitalism’s unfairness. Then what? Then Trump’s response to what he has genuinely seen is, analytically speaking, word salad. Trump is sound and fury and garble. Yet—and this is key—the noise in his message increases the apparent value of what’s clear about it. The ways he’s right seem more powerful, somehow, in relief against the ways he’s blabbing. Plus, apart from rebooting capitalism, nobody in mainstream politics is that visionary about what to do, because everyone has to be patriotic toward capitalism, since that’s come to stand for freedom.

Two: the second thing about Trump is that Trump is free.

You watch him calculating, yet not seeming to care about the consequences of what he says, and you listen to his supporters enjoying the feel of his freedom. See the brilliant interviews on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, where RNC conventioneers say, over and over: We’re for Trump because he’s not politically correct, PC has harmed America, and you think, people feel so unfree.[2]

Let’s sit with that.

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I went back 2 the violent room for the time being

Prince was at the cusp of my unclenching. I’ll never be able to tell the story as long as people are still alive but I won’t tell a cover story either. I mean, I won’t intentionally tell a cover story, but all stories are cover stories: you can’t say everything, even if you would. But if you are not free all the way through you can still build from a space where your freedom’s not entirely crushed. Comedians call it commitment to the joke. Where the lung’s even a little unencumbered, possession and dispossession are just bad memories.

So for the moment, let’s say it’s been seven hours and thirteen days, divided by your weight in dog years, say. Frankness stands in for facts. Thunder sounds out what the lightening speaks. I was driven to tell you something simple. Forgive me if I go astray. Continue reading



The Game (8 and 9)

A few posts ago I mentioned exploring experiments in observation and form, with Katie Stewart, in a project called The Hundreds.  Two of them have just been published in the experimental journal TAG.  You can download them there.  Here they are, for the record, though: and this way I can revise them as I refine the project over time.

Abusive Encounters for the Revolution

1. I take writing classes because art that says it loves women hates women and it can’t be undone by theory. Any “story about a woman who” is doomed to be but a laugh. As in love, though, a body can have an episode that savages the story-spectacle shackle, blazoning a freedom for which there’s no world yet and bad luck in the one that is. Bette Davis fires gestures, Cate Blanchet lunges into panorama–and then there’s the Mahalia Jackson incident. Insist on the upshot of the encounter. I have deleted five instances of the word “really” from this hundred.

2. A colleague’s combover is a living crop circle whose origin might just reveal the hand of god. His club sandwich of shame and contempt is braced by the sourdough toast of xo’s. After I ate one I blistered in hives and slept hard for two days in a Benadryl haze. I now have spontaneous “episodes.” O love, we know that the fidelity principle makes details inconvenient. O love, your history is only and always one of collateral damage. But what is it when no love is there or lost? It is as though analogy can force itself into full-bore likeness.

3. On a street corner I was accosted by a homeless mind. It pressured me to house it; I mimed a vomit. Having found no time to invent an intention, I am now bound forever to fail reparation. Aristotle says debt is material and moral and Nietzsche says this way debt can’t be retired. As Arendt says, there is no unsaying. Philosophers of the desert make aloneness less lonely. I aspire to deadpan femininity. An anorexia of the encounter would be a gift card allowing for sadism and the feeling of smallness to run free like flies that shoot through screens.

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The Game (7)

The Hundreds: Method 2x

The game is a form of life coming into being, extension, and activity, the blinking open at the start of the day and the beyond to anything that was explained.  If I run out of gas but not out of love, if you let a piece go without completion, if the session isn’t finished but definitively over, if the delicious coffee could only wake us forever, if we could come forth as “I” with the other objects, if we would take in that all things don’t happen for a reason, if the flat voice were other than contract or trauma. If we could be the person we would go out with again, if we could hoist our accusations against ourselves, if I could stop motion sugar and labor power, if we could feel the chance touch with soft eyes and no ducking, if you can bear the arbitrary, if they can bear the common structure, or vomit, or accident, if we could take the hard hit that it’s all brevity and struggle, if the form of life turned toward a way of life, sidestepping this event and that one’s tough but only seeming infinity. Sometimes things have to be forced.

(Lee Edelman, Juliana Spahr, Keston Sutherland, Katie Stewart, Lynn Hejinian, Fred Moten, Joshua Clover, Lacan, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Harryette Mullen, Catherine Malabou)



The Game (6)

Tit Variations (for Claire Pentecost)

pentecost 3 women

1. Sketched on your wall, “Three women wearing the same pair of breasts” does time like a caveman artist relic. The various faces above the breasts bear yet withhold their statements.

2. Nakedness never fails to shock: the bared chest prompts a snap reaction and a quick shift up to the face clogs hearing.

3. Breasts, in short, compete with the face, with its demand for recognition. Nipples look back without seeing. They refuse love’s demand for a shot’s reverse shot; they judge with a cat’s flat Jack Benny eyes.  Deadpan smacks the gaze like desire does, or like bad news.

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