. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


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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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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The Whole Ethic of Sleepless Evidence

#2 in the series.

I spent most of the summer reading the kind of fierce poetry that moves fearlessly into barely inhabitable breathing space three beats beyond the object that was supposed to anchor attention.  A poetics of associology whose noise world sits me down in disbelief at the rare freedom of other people’s minds. Not because attention gets things right (any more than attachment guarantees love), and not because there’s always in operation productive energy that can never be tamed but because—in these poems, and for me–revolt requires curiosity, a tipping over on a verge.

I can’t remember how I heard of  C. D. Wright; this book written from within incarcerated space seems to have migrated onto my desk from a lateral impulse I must have had once. People who liked this also liked. It’s been in a pile of revealed intention that I’ve been reading up and down.

iphone 2011 july 107

Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit is one version of the commons: C.D. Wright includes it as a kind of acid irony.  After all, the next line, si bleu, si calme, isn’t available as realism to the incarcerated–or the manumitted for now who swerve around aggressively while looking down at their feet, or anyone with a stomach overfull of the indigestible. I read this book and my brain clicked around over it all summer: glory hole, dream hole, peephole. Continue reading



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. Continue reading



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



In the Air (1)

The fantasy of a common sense, a sense of a capacity or of something affectively general at the core of democracy, is not necessarily sentimental. But the drive to create a more capacious democratic sensorium so often tips into intimacy’s sentimental vernacular that its placeholder status as conceptual magnet, not origin or experience, is very hard to discipline–and the drive to discipline it is the source of so much social theory. The local occasion of this post is the Theatre Oobleck production of There Is a Happiness That Morning Is. The  play, riffing on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, was classic Oobleck:  noisy, vital, and entirely intentional.  There wasn’t a supervalent moment in it, which was an achievement of sorts, since it is about love and fucking and freedom and  lyric poetry and death, and how they shape profound scenes of self-encounter that reveal enigmas of suffering and impaired autonomy at the heart of ordinary intimacy. But it was unsatisfying, because it aimed to be too satisfying: the writing overdramatized every emotion, including disbelief, as though to color within the lines must amount to blackening an entire page. In this it was exemplary of so much aesthetic and theoretical work that works over the emotions, attempting to drown out the affects and to claim that when we are authentic we feel one known thing at a time.

The problem of writing about this play is that any substantive discussion of it will make it more wonderful than any minute of seeing it. This is what critical engagement does: it adds value through staging interest that’s been magnetized to a form. It converts the event of form into a situation. In reading with a thing a transitional environment emerges that changes what attention can attend to. The encounter makes change prehensible, resonating toward a leavening sense of a concept whose potentiality is virtually affirmed even if the encounter itself fails to have much afterlife. But what I am trying to do is to think about the downsides of potentiality modes when they are tethered to a simplifying desire for emotions already normatively held in common to provide a foundation for (aesthetic or political) transformation.

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