. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


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 mean you, Paul Krugman), 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—are described in rhetoric that intensifies fantasy.

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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The Game (3)

3. What is the wish of the dream?

I open my hand and a small cluster of people peer up at me out of it silent and bug-eyed. I draw them out of my palm like taffy, but there is no snapping sound and no lost teeth. In a minute the crowded room buzzes harshly, wondering why it had bothered one more time to show up for nothing but an exhausted optimism. I was lucky to be the dreamer because the dreamer never stops being interested. People know when they haven’t said enough, that’s why they dream. Or that’s not why they dream, but why they continue loving.

When I met him he was raking leaves, in his tiny yard; usually they’re across some table in a room. And what of the very bald one who practices his Foucault Face™ in the mirror each day? If I try to write the story of someone who worked hard in case he showed up to work, what is the plot? She played touch tag by saying a thing then running into a field of noise. The delay architecture is so deliberate I can feel the shot-reverse-shot, the voiceover, and the signs of truth tattooed on my often-entered vagina. Continue reading



The Trumping of Politics

Consider the following examples:

Clint Eastwood:

I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important.  It is that, you, we
— we own this country.
(APPLAUSE)
We — we own it.  It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it.  Politicians are employees of ours.
(APPLAUSE)

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The Book of Love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing . . .

Delaminated from week 1 lecture notes, Love Theory (Winter 2012)…

I am a love theorist. I sometimes feel dissociated from all my loves. I sometimes ask them to hold more of an image of me than I can hold. By “sometimes” I mean all the times. The image is the regressed form, not the narrative noise that comes later to try to apply adhesive to the fantasy and its representation in objects, so that I know I am an event that lives in the world. The love and the images available for it are in a Thunderdome death-love match, yet we act as though affect could be held within a steady-state space like meat on a hook, or the image of meat on a hook, since actual meat turns green. Most storage lockers are cold enough to slow down that decay, as we know from narrative and domesticity. Aggressions and tenderness pop around in me without much of a thing on which to project blame steadily or balance an idealization. So it’s just me and  phantasmagoric noise that only sometimes feels like a cover song for a structuring shape or an improv around genre. In love I’m left holding the chaos bag and there is no solution that would make these things into sweet puzzle pieces. See Phillips’ reading of attachment as the drive to return to the taste of another person: the “sweetness” love stands for binds itself to an infinity of objects and plots and strategies for investing the scene with a worthiness matching our intensity of a need for its nourishment.  This is why, perhaps too, Laplanche uses the word “metabolize.”

This is a philosophical “I”. I don’t feel like using “we,” because I fall into the banality pit when I do. (See Derrida on film on love. He should have trusted his first instinct to say nothing, since what he says is nothing, but he was being a good boy, and trying to maintain his availability for the interviewer’s idealization, the death in life of the call and response: he was trying to be loveable.  Maybe the phrases one offers as gifts are the best love because they metarecognize the demand for love in any call: but, in itself, the professor’s discourse is not an opening to the other’s inconvenience, and it is not love if it is not opened to that.) Continue reading



For example

I noticed, over the last few months, as my mother was dying, that I had taken pictures that seemed very specific. Now I am looking at the archive, as one appraises a drying hand after a manicure.

My mother died of femininity.  I told her that I would say this about her. She had said, “Will you write a book about me?”  and I asked if she wanted me to. She said “Yes. I want you to say that I left the world a better place because I had you!” I said I thought that this was a bad idea: people would think it an excuse to write about me.  She said, “Can you think of another topic?”  I offered this phrase about femininity, and explained why.  My brother-in-law thought that it would be better to say that my mother died from vanity rather than from femininity. I can see why he would prefer that story; it’s interesting to see how a label shifts the implication.

In her late teens she took up smoking, because it was sold as a weight-reduction aid.  When she died she had aggressive stage 4 lung cancer.  In her teens she started wearing high heels, to enhance the back arch and ass-to-calves posture whose strut transforms the whole body to a sexual tableau, shifting between teetering and stillness. Later, she had an abortion and on the way out tripped down the stairs in those heels, hurting her back permanently.  Decades later, selling dresses at Bloomingdale’s, she was forced to carry, by her estimate, 500 lbs. of clothes each day. Shop girls, you know, are forced to dress like their customers. They have to do this to show that they understand the appropriate universe of taste, even while working like mules in that same universe, carrying to their ladies stacks of hanging things and having to reorganize what their ladies left behind on the dressing room floor. She liked this job, because she liked being known as having good taste.

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Father, Can’t You See I’m Burning?

I’m converting a cafeteria to a café—Valois just got wi-fi and I wanted to be in a capacious space, light with big tables and no soundtrack. It’s empty, almost, mid-afternoon. A few old people are sitting around schmoozing as they will, and we look after each other’s tables when we need bathroom breaks or a refill. After a few hours a father and son come and sit two tables up. The father, young, instructs his son relentlessly: on how to use a laptop, how to play a game, how to sit, how to be quiet, and how to eat without smacking his mouth. I am working with my head down trying to drown out the noise. Then at one point I hear him say to his son, why do you want to give up on your dream, why do you want to give up on your dream of being a football player? Kid: I want to draw cartoons. Father: you also want to be in the NFL, why do you want to give up on your dream? Kid: I want to draw cartoons, I have lots of stories to tell. Father: tell me, why do you want to give up on your dream?

A piece of paper falls off the table. It has boxes drawn on it and word balloons. The figures they’re attached to look better than stick, but there’s a not lot of detail. His father says, Don’t you see, when you’re 35 and you’ve been in the Super Bowl, you’ll have the skills of a 35 year old man, not a 9 year old boy, and when you’re 35 and a cartoonist, you’ll have the skills of a 9 year old boy?

They call it a skill set, the father says.

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Being Alive

Contact.  I just saw the most anorexic woman I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.  She was walking in 90 degree heat in full Gaga:  white face, red lip, yellow blonde streaks all beautifully blown out yet so sprayed that it barely touched the face it surrounded. Her face looked like an @. She was crossing the street wearing a yellow cape, black skirt, and black opaque tights over legs that could not possibly be thinner. The platform shoe gait was ungraceful, but it was haughty, and my first thought was competitive, as in, when I was anorexic I still could pass, people said, for a manic New York Jew: whereas this person really did look as though if she’d had to dodge a bike too sharply she would have snapped in two.

At Banff a group of us who liked each other turned out to have in our backgrounds the overlap of Oberlin and eating disorder, and I got the impression that the back is not too far a ground from the front for some of us. The curse of recidivism attaches to predators and eating disorders.  The revelation of that form of fort/da appeared in this group of people otherwise professionally linked when someone commented that another of us who had just walked by was surely bulimic, and the assurance with which she said this made me ask how she knew, and it was interesting.  She saw semi-circles around mouths and eyes. We were all eating at the time, which seemed to be proof of something, although it was proof of nothing.

I thought of all the things I know about the “deepest problems of modern life” that “flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life,” and I thought about another kind of impact I’d been amassing as I continue to think about contact as the intensification of the encounter with non-sovereignty, so of course this series twist happened without quite being a project.  All summer I have been taking pictures of phrases that hit me and induced reveries and reorientations that made me both stupid and more alive. Continue reading