Filed under: affect, Belonging, economy, emotion, Ordinariness, Politics, sovereignty, supervalent_thought, teaching | Tags: Democrats, political_emotion, political_rhetoric, sentimentality, Trump
I wrote this column in case anyone’s going to be teaching the election this fall.
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? 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 enforcing imbalances of power—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.
Let’s sit with that.
Filed under: Belonging, class, depression, Detachment theory, economy, emotion, Mood, non-sovereignty, optimism, Ordinariness, pedagogy, Politics, psychoanalysis, teaching, Theory of this Blog, writing | Tags: amitava_kumar, crisis_of_the_university, fantasy, Latour, realism, the_ordinary, Zizek
(This is a very lightly revised version of the paper I tried to deliver at the American Studies Association conference as a performance piece that also riffed on the talks just given around me: a complete failure as a performance. Chronologically it was written after the previous two combover pieces were written, and so represents a development of the idea I’ve been serializing here.)
Amitava [Kumar] originally called this panel “The Message Chain.” Its idea was to ask some scholars who see themselves as writers, how, for them, a particular space becomes a “locale” for writing, an event that requires not just attention and consideration but a decision to write outside of the usual academic idiom or medium. This was to be a panel about crossing over, not into death, but toward a bigger life for writing. A spatial impact becomes-event in this view when it induces a communicative action—writing, teaching, and performing–you know, the kinds of things that our careers are made from, although few of us would admit to having the career as our ambition. But that is because ambition is one of the obscene affects of capitalist culture. It’s hard not to think about it, though, when someone asks you to talk about “crossover” writing: when you’re crossing over it’s because your ambition isn’t hiding in a repetition but in sincerity, in the desire to do something for an audience whose relation to reading is unprofessional or outside of the norms our professions perform.
It would not be too strong to say that the capitalist subject is distinguished by its education in judging ambition.