. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


Do You Intend to Die (III)?

1.  The Campaign Against Living Miserably

Every day digs me deeper into the bumpy surface of this situation. Today, just for fun, I was reading a wonderful Open Democracy post on the women of Greenham Common and then the post turned suddenly from a discussion of women’s emancipated political agency to a discussion of the global suicide epidemic among young men.  The interviewee, an activist called Jane Powell, is now working in Manchester UK with a project called–heartbreakingly, really–“the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).” Sit there with that for a bit.

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Do you intend to die (II)?

1.  I was by myself when I fell, but I wasn’t alone. (Slogan for UK Telecare)

I have been trying and it has been trying to write the second installment of this post, as it is difficult to couple the distance and transference necessary for this stage of things, which requires some reporting on concepts, some associative building on them, and an emotional weather report about a case that feels exemplary of this historical moment in the U.S. but whose exemplarity is constituted partly by the form of its enigma.

The problem with writing across different, incommensurate, and oblique archives is striking the right tone of reportage:  dispassionate, passionate, comic-absurd, comic-slapstick, stentorian, melodramatic . . . No tone feels right ethically, which says something about tone itself, which is that it provides an affective epistemology of its own, holding the object just so, so that we can walk around it.  Tone is to voice as atmosphere is to the environment phenomenologists call a world.  In this case, though, to strike the “right” tone would be to risk homogenizing the incommensurate and describing the obscure so well that speculation looks like evidence construction. What follows is speculative, and I am a worm in an apple.

The question was about detaching. We were thinking about the intention to die.  We were thinking about a particular case of the intention to die, that of suicide.  There are other intentions related to risky addictive modes of physically self-undermining behavior that might also be characterized as part of the set of practices associated with intending to die (and writing in these tiny sixteenth notes makes me sound like a David Foster Wallace character, which scares me a little), but I think risky self-medicating behavior is as likely to be evidence of the drive to stay in proximity to life, to feeling, and to being present as it is to being dissociated and leaning toward the ultimate detachment. But one can’t tell from the outside whether a given form of self-interruption moves toward life or its dissipation, for a little perturbation can mount a grand defense: a shift in the tonalities of dissociation can pretend to be a shift from absence or numbness to presence, while being actually a shift between dissociative modes.

My wonderful student Anil told me lots about this before he killed himself a few years ago.  (He was my first adult-life personal encounter with this series.) According to him, his warmth and presence intellectually, pedagogically, and intimately were just as detached as were his depressive recessions from life; according to him, each style of attachment-defense provided pleasure and armor of its own sort.  I think he thought he would go on forever like this, living from a distance that often felt like too-closeness.  But what he had no language for, and what I have some research language for developing now, is why those attachment-defenses might not have kept him in life, despite seeming both enervating and animating.

Here are the keywords:  “affect regulation,” “ego depletion,” and “resiliency.”

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Political Happiness–or Cruel Optimism?

This responds to a slew of emails and links I’ve received warning of left wing stupidity and complacence in the wake of Obama’s election. It revises and summarizes some previous thought in re the political season that I’ve been working through on this blog.  I’m posting it during an interval in the Brussels airport.

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Dear Friends, Please do not allow your political optimism about Obama’s election to make you stupid! Here’s how to stay sharp and smart…

If mainstream politics significantly shapes your mood, this week has been a blow to normalcy.  For the moment, Obama is the President of our emotional Infrastructure as well as the economic and physical ones. As a result, if you’re like me, you have been inundated by condescending and vitalizing exhortations not to become naive or stupid where political happiness also is.

This bolus of anxiety expresses the fear that political happiness will lead to a flatlined complacent brain, diminished political judgment, and the revelation of your bad taste. The claim that anxiety makes you smart makes me laugh. But solidaristically, not condescendingly.

We’ve all been in bad love affairs before, where our attachments made us stupid. Once you attach to an object, after all, you become aware that the object isn’t in your control. Suddenly the prospect of having the object and losing the object, of getting more and less than you want from it, rule you. You become aware that the intensity of your attachment is not unconditional, even as you demand unconditional fidelity from the other person. When the pulses that brought you to the person subside you ask, “What did I want when I wanted that?” Then your affect and intelligence shift around, trying to make new sense of things. If the object is a political figure, perhaps you start circulating screeds to your friends, reminding them not to be stupid where there is desire.

But these efforts to manage the anxiety of political attachment and of optimism about it are actually oversimple about how (political) emotion can work. I don’t have the space here to make the long argument. Here’s a bit of it. Attachments are intrinsically optimistic. The event of attachment does not make us stupid but releases a slew of smart but often overwhelming thoughts about how complicated attachment is.

We are ambivalent about what we want, for lots of reasons. Attachment reveals our dependency on something, our need for reciprocity and recognition, and the place of fantasy in managing life. One strategy of managing this is sometimes to pretend that our feelings aren’t mixed. Then when the world disappoints us we can say that we were true while the other was false. Another way to manage this is to claim that we are complex while the other people are disappointing, limited, and deserving of critique and complaint. But presuming a self-interested distinction between complexity and simplicity where attachment is concerned itself performs a fantasy that there are unmixed feelings and that people are ever simple. Even your grandmother wasn’t that simple, trust me. But you knew that. You just wanted someone to be simple so that you could reliably rest in proximity to the scene of the love.

So can we think about political emotion differently, and be less afraid of optimism? The process of managing the ambivalent feelings that come from active political commitment is fundamentally optimistic, and no one needs to be protected against that. Optimism is what keeps you in the scene as it veers between being joyful, stressful, and tedious. Indeed, David Graeber argues that solidarity amounts to a comic commitment to practicing expressing political desire and finding pleasure and sustenance in disagreement, along with all the other political emotions (such as, boredom, aversion, outrage, betrayal). Not that there’s anything wrong with a rigorous fear of one’s own stupidity–after all, fear can be a teacher of sorts. But let’s not equate a sense of happiness with shallowness and emotional darkness with truth and profundity.

Oh yes, about Obama, the neoliberal, gay-marriage compromised, “market guy…” Here’s what makes me politically happy about the event of Obama. He is the first mainstream politician in decades who loves the political process. He does not confuse “Washington” with politics. His organization’s practice of training other organizers demonstrates his commitment to producing skills for political world-building beyond his campaign.

In this way the event of Obama has already massively advanced the skills for democracy in the United States. In other ways he seems committed to constraining and even undermining what that might entail concretely. Protesting and appreciating, though, are some of what we do to maintain the optimism of any attachment. They keep you bound to the (political) scene, to the cognitive and affective difficulties of remaining critically present to desire.



Marry, Hang the Idiots….
October 31, 2008, 10:53 am
Filed under: Attachment, Belonging, Love, Politics, psychoanalysis, queerness, sexuality, supervalent_thought, writing | Tags:

I tried but failed to complete a challenge made a few days ago by Jaime Hovey to write something about Proposition 8 and the problem/desire of gay marriage, even though I’m neither enthusiastic about marriage as a political project or foundation for the good life; nor enjoy writing useless polemics only to be read by progressives who are as ambivalent as I am about bracketing the whole feminist/queer critique of marriage as moral aspiration and property right, let alone the routing of GLBTQ politics to appeals for normalizing statuses;nor enjoy writing something in haste when I am trying to learn to write beautifully, or at least more effectively.   But as my friend Kay Sera says, “Whatever.”

In any case, I am not about to cede civil rights to heterosexuals just because they have a sexual pattern that they like.  It’s a sexual pattern, not a way of life!  A way of life is a much richer and more complex thing than a sexual pattern.  That’s really all I’d like to say.

A way of life involves the cultivation of everyday habits, habits of reproducing life (work, care), of paying attention, of inattention, of intensities of focus that are serious and frivolous.  A way of life involves managing the habituated way you show up and the way you check out of relations you are having. A way of life is a thick space of connection, habit, aversion, demand, deference, and pragmatism, enriched by fantasies of what makes it worth maintaining, only some of which you can bear to own while others are more secreted.

A sexual object choice comparatively is a flat empirical episode that endures or not, that repeats or not, that explains you, or not.  What do I know about you when I know your sexual pattern?   When Alfred Adler invented the term “lifestyle” in 1929, he was talking about such patterning, the patterning that constitutes personality, not the normatively and morally saturated theatre of appearances that is now over-shaping the political in California. Continue reading



Ich bin, aber ich habe mich nicht

Of course that could be the ghost title of anything anyone writes.

All summer I’ve been failing to finish a post about David Halperin’s What Do Gay Men Want? and Adam Phillips and Leo Bersani’s Intimacies:  I’m finding it hard. There’s a lot to say. This is part one. My focus is on their attempts to imagine sexuality as something other than a reenactment of shame or the death drive; their desires to remind sexuality theorists that realism about sexuality requires more than tracking tragicomic scenes of loss, belatedness, risk, shame, grief, and paranoiac misrecognition.

Bersani writes from psychoanalysis and Halperin writes here against it: but they advance a similar claim, that sexualized attachment is possible precisely because lovers are incoherent. Objects of desire/attachment can only partially be adequate to our needs for them to be perfectly in synch with us, given our out-of-synchness with ourselves, their enigmaticness to themselves, etc. But this does not doom desire or attachment. The very structures mourned as shame/loss are also scenes of vitalized self-extension and animated optimism. The impossibility of sexual self-governance produces affectional, political, and cognitive creativity. Lean on me; feel the stress and release in our mutual propping; now what? These are sweet theories that try to put lipstick on the pig of ambivalence.

Their question is whether we can rehardwire our relation to partiality, to process, and to the brittle contingencies of being with desire; whether we can cultivate a sexual way or attachment style that isn’t organized by the macho-paranoid-aggressive mode that tries to control being sexual, e.g. out of control. Which is to say that Bersani and Halperin are producing accounts of mediation and ideology without really providing an account of how mediation and ideology work:  nonetheless, in engendering a new sexual realism both provide prospects for rehabituating the sensorium.  They offer a different aim for personality, a personality organized by, reliable to, and identified with the delicacy of the process of staying proximate to and working with the objects of desire with which we make the theatre of our self-extension in the world.  Affect, gesture, and episode rule over emotion, melodrama, and narrative.

To summarize, briefly: Bersani works toward a transvaluation of narcissism

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On Potentiality, #1

I have a childhood friend who is just a tiny bit younger than me but always so much younger, her skin never showing her age, her cheek marked with a birthmark so Hawthornian it seemed impossible ever to finish looking at her, my eye caught forever in the optimism of her incompleteness.

She always had her face tilted up toward the sun. Yet she had also contracted the illness destined mainly for men in my family: they could have been a contender. Smart, hilarious, winning, full of life and potentiality, energetic-depressed rather than just depressed, eloquent, almost smooth, and unsettled, unsettled so deeply that nothing, no project, could absorb them. There was rarely a career; just jobs, while the creative energy sought out just the right outlet. People defined by having potential. People whose observational intelligence takes your breath away: they’re Dorothy Parker, write the best letters to the editor, blog with perfectly formed opinions. Quipsters, they blaze hot and then enter a fallow time, until they forget somehow that they’re there and then say something revealing their brilliance, which restarts the arc of almost sustaining its energy into something like a life, but not quite.

Our story, in short, has been the story of the potentialized. It’s never too late to have optimism, right? Thwarted potential is an endtime discourse–involving deep knowledge of the time you have wasted, the relationships you have scuttled out of fear or laziness or the blithe cruelty of being unwilling to be inconvenienced. The sickening sense of knowing that you’re what gets in your own way; and the complexities of living with it when it’s not you producing the blockage, when it’s your DNA or your bank account, your lack of the architecture of confidence or your cluelessness; your rage and sorrow: structural discrimination and exploitation; your ambivalence. The world wearing you out as it wears itself out. That model of the subject-in-potential looks at achievements and intimacies as proof that one really did deserve to have lived, after all, despite everything; that model puts the agent’s will to feel undefeated in the face of the “ego’s exhaustion” at the center of the story of optimism that represents modernity’s promise to everyone.

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From my mouth to your ear…

The inevitable Sex and the City post, belatedly. I forgot about the film the minute after I saw it, but if you write a book called The Female Complaint people ask you all the time whether you saw the latest chick flick, and whether something other than the predictably condescending thing can be said about it. Here’s what I wrote the night I saw it, raw. More on Intimacies soon.

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Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips’ new book Intimacies opens with this hilarious sentence: “Psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex” (1). This is the funniest thing I have ever read.

The difference between Intimacies and Sex and the City is that the women in the film are not in psychoanalysis. But, as they are not having sex with each other, they can simulate the freedom to talk about sex where it isn’t. It’s a good thing that they have each other, too, as they are incapable of talking about sex with their lovers. But ladies, this is a problem.

If any of these women had ever even walked by feminism on the sidewalk they would have learned that one of the points of sexual liberation was to put your mouth where your mouth is. Sex talk was to be part of sex, part of sex pedagogy, part of allowing fantasy and desire to produce creativity and improvisation in the now of the event. Sexual liberation culture gave skills and permission for not just resorting to reenacting the default expectation out of fear that sex talk would make sex disappear.

But in this cinematic romantic world, the reigning fantasy is that sex and love ought to go without saying. Love objects are supposed to be like purchased objects, which in this film give instant radiant satisfaction and harbor no enigmas. But where love is concerned, the problem is that lovers are not objects, but subjects. Discussion is a fall from grace. Discussion is a sign that something is off. It puts you in the room with what’s too achingly human.

These women are so frightened of what’s uncontrollable and uncomfortable about sex that, rather than to talk well about it to lovers, they prefer to laugh and complain to each other about it. At one point, they even have to use the word “coloring” for “sex,” ostensibly to protect a little girl from hearing that it’s not about fantasy and play after all–but really, of course, to protect themselves from the embarrassing fact that they desire romance to corral sex into being something simple. Here’s Carrie’s description of Big’s sexual prowess, I kid you not: “he colors outside of the lines.”

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Optimism and Distension ("Something about what happens when we talk.")

I heard from two friends today who wanted to say something on the blog, but were too shy and too averse to the appearance of insiderness that the very presence of the blog as a public incitement is supposed to obviate but never really does, sigh.

One friend is like me, or was finding the likeness in me, in the way that s/he is shaken up constantly not by detachment or existential loneliness but by the optimism of attachment, the optimism that brings us back to the pleasure of self-dissolution in the zone of the intimate other’s potential to relieve one of oneself a bit. This is what we wrote about entre nous. Dehiscence: the thing we get when we talk. The other friend and I said, in reference to the earlier Sedgwick/Moon post, that we don’t want all being to be “wound dehiscence” or patterns of mourning, and we hope not and think not, because there’s always that potentiality of lightening in the suspended present that brings people back to making contact and then, having made it, wondering how to repeat that feeling, even to the point of politics (struggling for the world that sustains people rather than wears them out. All convergences happen in the stretched out, activity-activated, present).

The optimistic thing makes us actually desire being in the room with the good-enough misrecognitions. The optimsitic thing keeps us in the house with inconstant love. The optimistic thing makes us talk to strangers. It makes us abstract and hopeful when attached to the anything at all that feels not like a metaphysical foundation, but an episode of relief. The thing that makes us optimistic about distension, which Deleuze and Guattari define as “when . . . two sensations draw apart, release themselves, but so as now to be brought together by the light, the air or the void that sinks between them or into them, like a wedge that is at once so dense and so light that it extends in every direction as the distance grows, and forms a bloc that no longer needs support” (“Percept, Affect, and Concept,” 168). This describes the sense that a good conversation produces, as it feels autonomous from the conversers, like a dream that gets made between them. Continue reading



Secrecy, a Hoard (med.L. secretia, a royal treasury)

Read a great and useful piece on secrecy: Shersow and Michaelson, Is Nothing Secret? Does “secret” in the title mean deliberately to dogwhistle “sacred,” and what does that suggest? Or does it point more to that other great pronouncement of ethical failure, “Have you no shame?”, a near-rhetorical question that accuses someone else of losing moral discipline or withdrawing from a commitment to normative ethical views and acts. Have you no x? You should have x. If this is a rhetorical question, you don’t even deserve to have heard it.

The shamelessness of political antinormativity: terrorism, now, has become defined as a commitment to hoard knowledge from the state of any political views and intentions. For pro-HUAC politicians the shame was secreting communist affiliations and for people like Joseph Welch (who famously accused McCarthy of shamelessness) it was McCarthy’s embodiment of the state’s equation of democratic freedom with citizen transparency. The fear of the citizen’s opacity rubbed up against the ideology of individual sovereignty. Absent somebody’s discipline by a sense of duty, somebody‘s shame was supposed to relax the contradictions, one way or another. I learned the word “dogwhistle” from Amanda Macdonald, by the way. In Australia, it refers to a connotation that’s inexplicit in an utterance but seeks to confirm solidarity with a specific kind of ideologically-defined ear/subject/being/population.

I also learned from the learned essay something I ought to have known, and shame on me. The etymology of privilege is “law of the private”–privus lege–by which we can understand here less the modern sense of privacy (the law legitimating possession of that which can be called personal) than the traditional sense (the law legitimating the sovereignty that derives from ownership). The law of the private, or privilege, points to the sovereign rights of any individual, but historically that individual was the Pope, who had ecclesiastical privilege. But knowing this history puts a new penumbra around accusations of privilege, for now they can be understood as accusations that someone or some institution has asserted a private law that self-benefits or benefits a class. It reminds that the property word title organizes a sense of an actual entitlement.

Secrecy, hoard, trust, title–this reminds me of Aristotle’s always startling revelation of how often the terms of ethical discourse derive from the economic. Maybe that’s why I’m as suspicious of ethical as of capital logics of value: I don’t trust most self-privileged guarantees of good intentionality or the normativity of most forms of reciprocity.

Meanwhile, to secret the loss of your commitment to normative ethics, to not tell the world that you have withdrawn from the normative agreement that x behavior will denote y moral state, practice, or commitment, is to assert a privacy that the state/your interlocutor can’t bear, these days. The body politic is petit objet a, and has to be beaten for it.

It’s one thing when people hoard transparency from each other: usually it is a betrayal of trust to violate the intimate’s promise to be transparent enough. These departures into opacity are inevitable, though, and anyway much secreting of alterity can actually come from motives of care, to protect the big picture of love from malign variations of mood. But that doesn’t mean that exposure will not be an event: it’s always an event to discover the alterity of the lover that was always and will always be there, and is there right now.

But the politics of who gets to secret the secrets–this is what Kim Scheppele wrote about a decade ago, and what Michaelson and Shersow are thinking about. In “The Epistemology of State Emotion” I argued that the state defends its own opacity from accusations of antinomianism by claiming that the terrorist practices of secreted secrecy force the state into mimetic overdrive. Here’s the view of The New York Times.
Michaelson and Shersow’s real aim is to explain secrecy in terms of Derridean-inflected genre theory, and to approach the Constitutional history that made the Patriot Act seem legal. Of course it should have been called the superfluous, supernumerary state secret act, since it legalized already legal suspensions of due process. Bush/Cheney were angry that they had to ask permission to do what they wanted, claiming that speed of execution in an era of rational paranoia is a priority over the boring business of supervision. But perhaps one ought to save the word “supernumerary” for its best phrase partner, “nipple.”

Here’s a bit of what Michaelson and Shersow have to say:

In any case, a secret evidently can—or must—be shared by more than one; and yet, to remain faithful in any sense to its own concept, it cannot be shared by every one. . . . In those cases that are called, in English, “open secrets,” and in French, “les secrets de Polichinelle,” only the sharing of the secret is secret, not the secret itself; and even such sharing remains always suspended just this side of a necessary limit which it may always encounter in, for example, the voice of a child proclaiming an emperor’s nakedness. Are these problems of number and limit (as such phrases and examples seem perhaps to indicate) the source of the faintly comic note that seems to play, as we shall see, around the whole idea of the secret, even in its most serious (and secretive) political form? We will also suggest that this question of the secret is a kind of ghostly double of the question of democracy itself, to which it remains inescapably linked by exigencies at once practical and theoretical. Democracy and the secret pose a sort of double problem whose two sides can be denoted in French by the single phrase plus un (cf. Derrida, Politics 101). How many can share a secret? The secret replies, so to speak: this many, but no more. And how many [End Page 125] can join in a democracy?

This passage calls up Jodi Dean/Zizek’s argument too: that democracy produces an evidentiary crisis. Who has the information that organizes life? The enmeshing of “openness” with democracy, equality and freedom requires suspicion on all sides, and a play between the sovereignty and injustice of kept secrets, open secrets, fetishes of transparency on all sides, and a suspicion that things are never equal, which they aren’t. Intellectuals can fetishize the circulation of knowledge, as though knowing all equals an even playing field. But rather than be cyncial about it, let’s turn to Ranciere’s work, where democracy is a desire and a process of opening and claiming that refuses the norm/law of class privilege, and it’s not the same thing as openness or equality, which is a measure in a moment. Secrecy might be anti-democratic, a treasury or hoard of value, but transparency is a fantasy horizon that does not guarantee or constitute democracy. We know that and yet the impotence of the truth and the seduction of the wish remains, that a sense of openness equals openness of access to power, resources, and indeed privilege, with all the unimpeded mobility of impact its etymology suggests.

Below I’m starting a new genre for riffing, for keeping suggestive connections alive. Interruption is my stylistic ethics: to self-interrupt, to force openings in my own habit of self-tracking and self-regard, to be idiomatically non-monogamous, as you would predict. Adultery, fantasy, philandering, swerve (I read an article today about adultery, where the commentators kept saying “she got her swerve, he got his”).

Side effects: Secrecy may dissolve or engender solidarity, paranoia, and love. Its genre is the stage whisper. Secrecy may induce constant surprise at leakage. Be prepared, ask your doctor. It can perform coercive binding, as when, after information is “shared,” the speaker says, “You mustn’t say a word about this,” as though by listening you had already consented to pretend not to have heard or been changed by the event of the dirt. It may induce pervasive skepticism about the meaning of gifts and of love. It may make one long for stupefied and stupefying defenses against any assurance at all. See extimacy. See also political depression. Unimaginative and thrilling inversions can develop, too, as in: retaliatory acts of openness, disloyalty to that open secret which shields privilege from experiencing its own fragility, compulsive uncaring frankness, or gossip (the sublation of once-hoarded information to pseudo and then actual performative authorlessness). Hearing commentary on you that open with phrases like “people say” may lead to an adrenalin rush, the sensation of being tipped over, and generalized hate or love, depending. People who are cruelly made to discover that they have been out of the loop, discourse fellowship, or sentimental holding chamber of insiderness may go crazy on you: do not open up the treasury while driving a vehicle. Secrecy may cause more hoarding, more secrecy, more informational auto-poesis or lying. It may cause diarrheas of deniability, falsely innocent assertions of not having known, not having been on the inside, and not having had a will to the death of the other from whom x was kept and who could not therefore understand or shape the condition of their lives. Refusals to protect the secrecy of the open secret dissolve the assurance of others, and may create a will to saturate all sensual fields not in kind but with acts of reason or pseudo-openness that really amount to an ungiving turned-away back. Sinthomo-epistemology may induce vomiting. I thought some of this during a meeting at school a few weeks ago. Why bother going to the gym when I’m getting so much exercise rolling my eyes while keeping my face straight? Composure uses up glucose. Writing keeps me from flying off into the air from all that fluttering.



The Life drive
January 15, 2008, 7:03 am
Filed under: Affect Theory, Detachment theory, Love, psychoanalysis, Theory of this Blog, writing

Mood, a shallow, shadowy rancidity interrupted by adrenalin when needed. Cheery! Fakeness actually works. I started this post right before school started on Jan 7. These first three sentences summarize what’s to follow.

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A few posts ago, I asked, “What happens to the life drive when it finds no traction for its optimism?” I learned about the life drive from an essay conversation on trauma between Peggy Phelan and Cathy Caruth, a beautiful thing. (Cultural Values 5, 1 (January 2001): 7-27). Caruth talks about fort/da not just as Freud’s symbolization of the traumatized subject’s attempt to experience affectively what she does not actually have, mastery over loss (the child’s father is away at war; the mother is out of the room). To Caruth, the child’s game with controlling and losing control of the top also demonstrates a drive to sustain life in the face of death. To face and to turn away from death is not to disavow anything, or to drown out contingency and vulnerability with the noise of play and presence, but to become two-faced. To face and turn away from death (vulnerability, contingency, the thinning out of fantasy) makes possible living on without guarantees.

Indeed the main consolation the life drive provides the traumatized subject is its assurance that there are no guarantees, since she otherwise feels bound by the guarantee of the repetition of her impossibility. The life drive offers the possibility of repetition’s interruption (however low the bar–as mere variation, for example, a vacation), of a surprise, an unpredicted affect, within trauma. This suggests the possibility in advance that the subject might, sometime, be detached from the imaginable field of experience now clotted with the desperately predictable activity of affect management.

And yet. Talking to my lonely friends on New Year’s Eve, I was reminded to stay aware that there’s a corollary question to do with another optimism of which traumatic repetition itself can be a ground, shaped by resignation and its corollaries–treading water, not stopping, being around, being homeless, drowning, being detached not as a relation but an enduring condition, the numb whatever of a humming defense. As we know, sometimes a defense represents the last stand of sphincteral control over personality’s mirage of intention.

A few of the people I talked to on New Year’s week were lonely. But they embrace their refusal of optimism about becoming otherwise. One is chronically ill, and has gotten quite fat and short of breath. The other is chronically depressed, and has been digging a hole to nest in righteously. The former’s life shuttles between depression and spectacle. She only overcomes when she’s going to be on display–a high school reunion, a family celebration—events for which she can prepare to be fabulous, and to hold the gaze and center stage.

Until now, anyway: now, she’s giving up even that inclination to interrupt her depression, isolation, and mentalized life. She’s post-fakeness. She says that she has accepted herself, by which she means she embraces expressing her cruelty and disappointment. She tells me that as a feminist I ought to be against fakeness. What I say is that her survival matters: her fakeness produced for her reminders of what the life drive felt like, a grandiosity that relaxed her enough to provide some time for the other pleasures, involving looking around and being curious about things, and being interested in what she saw and, frankly, telling me about it. The reports from her intelligence were always interesting. They didn’t amount to confidence or self-love or trust of others or the world, so it wasn’t everything. But her attentiveness drew her along through life, made the performance of observational intelligence seem like a good, a contribution to things, a call that could get responses.

I’ll talk about the other friend in some other post. But I’ve been thinking about Peter Kramer’s Against Depression, and his rage at the romance of depression that confuses the disease with authenticity and the subject’s dissolution with creativity: and I see this not only in the adolescent and intellectual embrace of depression as higher intelligence and realer realism but also in a massive disrespect for optimism as something that’s somehow unethical.